Thursday, December 17, 2009

Hiatus, part ??

So, I seem to have taken a bit of a hiatus again, and I'll probably continue to do so through the new year. Audition season and some family concerns have kept my energy away from writing for the past few weeks. We'll get through the holidays and see how things look in 2010!

Have a wonderful Christmas season and a joyful celebration of the coming of a new year!

Valmont Amateur Astronomy Group Recital

Tonight at First Presbyterian Church in Boulder, CO! Come on down if you're nearby...

“These Fair Stars”
A night of song celebrating the heavens & supporting the VAAG

Anne-Carolyn Bird, soprano
Christopher Zemliauskas, piano

Sure on this shining night, Samuel Barber

Clair de lune, Claude Debussy
Jupiter has seven moons, Leonard Bernstein
from I hate music!
“Gold is a fine thing," Douglas Moore
from The Ballad of Baby Doe

* * *

“What good would the moon be?," Kurt Weill
from Street Scene
Son, Sergei Rachmaninoff
Nacht und Träume, Franz Schubert

* * *

A mezzanotte, Gaetano Donizetti
Ständchen, Richard Strauss
Die Nacht

* * *

“Ain’t it a pretty night, Carlisle Floyd
from Susannah


“O du, mein holder Abendstern," Richard Wagner
from Tannhäuser

* * *

Mein schöner Stern, Robert Schumann
Mein Stern, Clara Schumann

* * *

Nuit d’etoiles, Claude Debussy

* * *

I wonder as I wander, John Jacob Niles
O Holy Night, Adolph Adam

Carol Sing! Please stand and join us.

O Little Town of Bethlehem
It came upon the midnight clear
We three kings
Silent Night

* * *

The Astronomers, Richard Hundley

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


I’m starting this post without a clear vision of where it’s going to end up, but I’ve had some encounters in the past few days that need airing, things that might be interesting to young singers wondering what it means to “make it” as an opera singer. So bear with me...

I had an audition on Friday (more about this later, but it was a far cry from last week’s!), and as is usually the case I ran into several colleagues in the waiting area. Audition Season is a fun time of catching up, a time for the intense relationships we forge during a rehearsal process to be revived a bit. It’s a time for the 1-minute update, a good hug, for congratulations and encouragments to be given. I look forward to the surprise reunions at every audition.

At this audition, I ran into a singer I haven’t seen in quite a while, and she said something that has stuck with me. She said something along the lines of “you’re doing so well, singing everywhere, I’m surprised to see you here, surprised you still have to audition!” Wow. I can think of maybe 25 singers in this entire business who don’t have to audition anymore! I feel like it’s as much a part of my job right now as learning roles and going to rehearsal. Until a singer is an international superstar, there are always going to be companies who don’t know you, new administrators who need to hear your goods and see your personality. “Success” doesn’t mean you don’t have to keep working, to keep asking for it.

Also over the weekend, I spent some time with a friend who has had a lot of success recently on one of his main projects. Lots of national publicity, lots of great press. It was great to hear his perspective on the process and exciting to hear about things that were in the works, but it was humbling to hear him say that he was far from financially stable (his wording).

I can totally relate. B & I are both working full-time, a fact for which we continue to be grateful, but we’ve had some hiccups this year and have had a few periods of touch-and-go in terms of finances. This life is never comfortable, not until you reach the absolute heights. We have eight years of school loans between us, and we both had several lean years before we started booking good A- & B-level gigs (translation: lots of credit card debt). Life in NYC is expensive, and we are both still studying and coaching. Every month is a juggle of paychecks and bills, and we have been lucky not to hit any major snags. But it has been close.

All this to say... Success is a very strange idea. Yes, I am successful! I’ve been booked almost full-time for the past four seasons, and there is more on the horizon. I get good press. I have a good manager. BUT. None of this is a given, it could go away at any time, and I am far from comfortable financially. Successful, yes. Set? Out of the woods? Resting on my laurels?

Not on your life.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Chart Madness

Some of you may remember this rather complex memory aid that I created to help me memorize the Act I Finale of Barbiere. The math dork in me loved the process of breaking down the music and text into a pattern and assigning numbers and letters, like a complex algebra problem. I carried the “cheat sheet” around with me through hours of staging rehearsal, and by opening night it was solidly memorized.

I haven’t really had opportunity to put this method into practice again - until now! On November 19*, Jocelyn and I will perform Hillula for the third time, and this time I’m determined to have it memorized. Judd has made a few revisions, streamlining the work a bit, and I love it even more. (There is also talk of totally expanding the work, into more of a chamber showpiece; can’t wait to see how that evolves!) I started spending some time with it to refresh my knowledge of the piece, and quickly realized that I was going to need a system to memorize this. There is lot of thematic material repeated, but with different texts, and several little interjections of material from other sections. It took me about three hours of adjusting and regrouping and relabeling, but I think I found it.

What I learned through the process this time was that these charts are more about the time I spend with the piece than they are about the final product. Those three hours of looking at the score and analyzing it and coming to terms with how it is laid out did more for my memorization process than this chart probably will, in the long run.

So, do you want to see it? It’s rather mad... But here’s a look inside the crazed workings of my mind! (#’s = Music, Letters = Text)

1 - Ax4ax5
3 - B(b2)Cccc’c
4 - D
4’ - Aaa
5 - EEF
6 - Gx4
6’ - eE
3b - H(h2)IJjx4
1b - BKL
1c - M(e)m(a)m
1d - Nnx4
4b - Ppx12

* Come check it out! Beth Morrison Projects presents a 21st C. Liederabend at the awesome Galapagos Art Space. The incredible lineup includes works by Corey Dargel, Caleb Burhans, Missy Mazzoli, David T. Little, and performances by David Adam Moore, Kamala Sankaram, Abigail Fischer, and many more. It’s a big night of vocal music, with lots of great stuff happening. Hope to see you there!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Tweetie Bird

Just a quick note about Twitter: I've been really enjoying the ability to jot out a quick thought here and there via Twitter. I don't always have time these days to sit down and write a big thoughtful post, but I've had little things to share. Twitter has really fit that bill. It's becoming a good complement to the blog, I think.

If you don't already follow theconcert, please do! If you're not on Twitter, you can add theconcert to your RSS feed and get the latest blips and blurbs through your feed reader.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Audition Lessons

So... Monday’s audition will probably go down in my version of my history as the worst. ever.

I can not begin to tell you all the “lessons” I learned. But, since that’s kind of the whole point of this blog, I guess I’ll try. On the subway on the way home, I thought, “WHY did I mention this audition on the blog?! Now I have to tell them all about it!” It’s one I’ll never forget, but one that’s been surprisingly easy to leave behind.

Lesson #1: Sing what you have been preparing for!! If you’ve been preparing a new aria and you have a low-stress audition opportunity in which to debut that aria, do not be swayed by the fact that you might also be considered for a role in a crazy, sexy, rarely produced show.

I got so excited by this obscure sexy role that I let a chance to rock my new rep pass me by. Sure, in the coaching room two hours beforehand, both arias sounded great, but when I got into the audition, other factors (see Lessons #2 & #3) came into play, and I lost my focus. Badly. I should have presented *my rep* first and foremost, and let them see me and the other sopranos and then make whatever casting decision they will. As it was, I feel like I wasted their time, whereas if I’d just come in and nailed “Come scoglio,” I might have gotten a job.

Lesson #2: Know who your pianist is going to be, even if you are scheduled fairly last-minute for an audition. And if you are not 100% certain that they can play your difficult rep, DON’T OFFER IT.

I spent way too much energy while singing worrying about what was happening at the keyboard, wondering if we were going to make it. I wasn’t performing. I was thinking, and worrying, and I’m sure it showed all over my face.

Lesson #3: I can sing high notes after low notes, but not vice versa.

In the coaching room we ran through Fiordiligi first, to test my memory and make sure my tempo in the second section was set. Then we sang through the last half of Zerb, mostly just for kicks. The high notes were really there, and I was stoked. But when I got to the audition, I was so excited to sing the Strauss (see #1) that I started with it. When it didn’t go nearly as well as I wanted (although the E was pretty good!), I got tense, and when I got tense, my larynx raised, and I can’t sing Fiordiligi’s sexy low notes with a raised larynx. FAIL.

It was not fun. It was the only time in my auditioning career that I felt like running off the stage in the middle of singing. But we ended with the usual “thank you, thank YOU” and I went home. Disappointed in myself, but grateful that it was a small-house international audition and not a US house with colleagues of mine behind the table. And then...

I got home to a voice mail which led to a phone call about a potential job this weekend: a colleague was ill, and I might be needed to step in and sing a performance if she wasn’t better by opening. All of a sudden, the terrible audition is a thing of the past! We are moving forward here, people! No time to sulk; life, and opera, goes on.

The company ended up not needing me*, but the effect was as big as if I’d done the gig. I was reminded that all things, good and bad, pass. That audition was over and I couldn’t do anything about it, so I might as well move on. The rest of week was filled with other reminders that I am more than one bad audition. Great rehearsals, job possiblities, good singing, and most importantly: putting more auditions on the calendar.

There is always something to learn (or to be reminded of) in this business; we are never done. And there is always another audition.

*This is a good thing. While it would be a great adventure for me to step in last-minute, that sort of thing is very stressful on a cast and company, not to mention the poor sick singer who did all that work in rehearsal. Remember, we only get paid for performances, not rehearsals. I was happy for her and for the company that they got to present the show they rehearsed. Toi toi, all!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Bet'cha didn't see THIS coming

I can’t believe I’m doing this, especially after the latest installment of Vocal Identity Crisis 2009, but I have an audition tomorrow, and I think I’m going to offer... Zerbinetta.

What the... ?!?

I’ll write more tomorrow after the fact. I’m not 100% sure yet that I’m going to offer it, but the audition is pretty specific and I feel like Zerb would best show the goods needed for this role. However, I haven’t sung it in about a year! I know I still know it - it’s easily the one piece I’ve spent the most time on that has never really seen the light of day. It has seen an audition or two, and I know I rock it, but I rock it for different reasons than most “Zerbinettas.” My German is good, my acting is good, my musicianship is good, my E-flat is... ok. But I can’t think about that now!! (And besides, this role doesn’t have an E-flat...)

Tonight I recover from my flight - lots of water and a healthy dinner - and get a good night’s sleep, then wake up tomorrow and see if the voice is there. I feel much more “in the driver’s seat” after my crisis and resolution this weekend, so I’m kind of excited to see what happens tomorrow.

Won’t this be fun!! Stay tuned... :)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Deep Breath

Sometimes it feels like I will never know how to sing.

I’m having an unusually difficult singing day today, and for no apparent reason. But maybe it’s a good day to try to write it out, to see if I can get to the heart of things...

This rep shift... whooboy!! There is nothing worse for a singer’s development than for someone to tell you “Wow, your voice is really getting big!” or “You voice is so much richer than it used to be!” The power of suggestion is very strong, and no matter how present you are in your singing, it is way too easy to start singing bigger and darker and richer the more people tell you that they hear those things. Make sense?

So I’ve added new arias - and new roles - this year, and I’ve been finding myself getting repeatedly tied up in knots. I can sing my new pieces just fine, but then when I pull out a Debussy song for the December recital or an older “lighter” aria, I find that I have zero nuance. No control, no float. Like my voice is a Mac truck. Not. Fun. And more than not fun, very frustrating and discouraging! Things I am not used to feeling when I sing...

Singing has always been easy for me. Maybe not cool to say that, but it’s true. I’ve had good teachers who haven’t gotten in the way of my voice’s natural development, and my reliance on text and acting has always lead me right. But now I’m getting in my way... I’m trying to sing with a voice that is not (yet) my own.

Yes, my voice IS bigger and warmer and all those things people are hearing, but it is still my bright, clear, pliant instrument. That hasn’t gone away. It’s not as if I woke up one morning a year ago and had an entirely new instrument! It’s just growing up, maturing. (Add “fine wine” metaphor here...) If I let go of my easy high notes or flexible tone in sacrifice to this bigger, warmer voice, I will lose. Lose facets of my voice, lose years of longevity, lose confidence. This is not a sacrifice I am willing to make.

So... how do I proceed?

I get back to regular voice lessons.
I haven’t had one in about a year and a half, and self-diagnosing is always a bad idea, whether it’s looking up “abdominal pain” on the internet at 2am or trying to move into a new Fach. I’m going to take some lessons with a soprano; all of my post-undergrad teachers have been men or mezzos, two summers with Phyllis Curtain notwithstanding. I’m excited about this change, and curious to see what it will be like to get back into “the shop.”

In my practicing, I keep it light but keep it connected. Avoid pushing. If I tire easily, something is not lined up correctly, so stop and reassess. Start my sessions with warmups and familiar pieces in order to remind my voice how it works. Then sing the new stuff with that same voice. If I jump into the deep end, I’ll only be fighting my resonance and placement, rather than working with it.

I stay aware of my body. Don’t look down (deep in concentration) when starting a phrase; keep the face lifted. Don’t curve the shoulders (another “thinking, working” posture); let the torso be buoyant. Practice in front of a mirror in order to keep those damn concentration wrinkles OFF of my forehead!!

In my performance, I just do what I do. If I bring this kind of mental activity onto the stage with me, I won’t be able to be in the moment with the music or my colleagues or the audience. I’m not falling apart; I can still sing. In those moments of performance, I need to just trust that and enjoy doing what I do. (Also, I’m not singing Marguerite tomorrow; I can sing 1st Alms Collector very well right now!)

Ok, I feel better. I can do this. I can work through this transition. It’s scary to feel like I don’t know where I’m going, but I need to remember that I’m the one in control here. Slow and steady and all those good things... and deep breaths.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Mid-Fall Miscellany

A few things that are rattling around in my brain today:

* I was recently reminded of the responsibility we have as artists to bring JOY into people’s lives. But the reminder didn’t come through a recital or performance or anything opera-related at all; instead, it came through the group Improv Everywhere. Someone posted their Grocery Store Musical on Facebook, and after watching that I spent a good hour going through their past “missions.” The High-Five Escalator and Rob! made me smile so much my face hurt, and I imagine there are hours more smiles on the site.

Their “mission statement claims that they cause “scenes of chaos and joy in public places.” How cool is that?! I’ve signed up to be an agent... Stay tuned!

* I chopped off all my hair! Well, six inches of it, anyway. It was time for a change, I guess, and I was tired of wrestling with it to get my long locks in pin curls. This should be much easier in that department. I’m still figuring out how to maintain my inner (and outer, I suppose) rocker attitude with a cut that many people are calling “cute,” but I’ll come up with something. When in doubt, add eyeliner..

* I have lots of thoughts about Maury’s latest post (and not only because he mentions again how much he likes Hillula). His idea of getting pop singers to give masterclasses to opera singers is brilliant, and reminds me of a conversation I had with a young student a few years ago. We were talking about music, and he mentioned that he loved Feist or Death Cab or some other wordy indie rocker. He then sheepishly “admitted” that he often sang along with the music, and that he knew he should stop and should only sing “correctly” all the time. I begged him not to do that! Good pop singers like Regina Spektor and Feist and Andrew Bird and John Legend are good because they communicate. The use the myriad colors of their voices to talk to you, to make you feel something. Maury is right: they “connect bodily with their music.” It’s not about the pretty sounds they’re making; it’s about the music. Would that more opera singers would do the same. More on this later, I think.

* I got to play around with a Sony Webbie HD video recorder this weekend, and oh boy did I love it! If Santa is good to me this year, expect to see some video blogs in the future! Or, now that I think of it, I could just use my Photo Booth on my Mac... I couldn’t go on location like we did this weekend (documenting our search for a tv airing the Giants game), but I could get some thoughts down. What do you think?

* And speaking of movies, a few weeks ago B and I went to a screening of this documentary: BRATS: Our Journey Home. I’ve mentioned my “brattiness” a couple times on the blog; it’s always been part of who I am. But I don’t think I realized how much I identified as a Brat, how much it influenced who I am today. I’m not “from” anywhere, but thanks to this film I’ve realized that I belong.

If you or anyone you know is or was a Brat, do not miss this film. Order a dvd if that’s the only way to see it. You will not be sorry.

* A reminder that if you’d like to be on my mailing list, please sign up by sending me an email. (Go to my Profile and click “Email.”)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

In Room Dining

This week I am technically “on the road” but not for my own gig - I’m visiting B! We continue to be lucky with the timing of our gigs, having yet to go longer than three weeks without face-time. I’m in the middle of a two-week break at the Met, so I’m here in Ohio, doing my studying and role prep at the Marriott instead of in my apartment. Being away from my office and kitchen for ten days is a small price to pay for the luxury of hanging out with my husband, sharing our daily lives in person instead of over the phone.

That said... we both are missing that kitchen! I’ve eaten well when staying in hotels for a few days here and there, (I learned years ago that I could open a ripe avocado with a hotel key card...) but we’re here for a few weeks. Our hotel suite has a mini-fridge and a microwave, so B and I have been getting creative with our cooking, seeing as how a) take-out options are limited in cities that aren’t New York, and b) we are not made of money. Thank god there is a Trader Joe’s nearby, so B was able to stock up on sandwich makings, fruit, pre-cooked rice & lentils, and a few high-quality pre-made meals before I got here. I brought a few things from home when I arrived a week later, including a big microwave-safe bowl and some plastic wrap, and we’ve been brainstorming ever since.

Last night we ate a pork tenderloin and roasted Brussels sprouts - all made in the microwave! Just kidding. Those I made at home on Monday night and carried on the plane. It was delicious! A little microwaved polenta on the side and we ate like kings. The front desk downstairs has free cookies every afternoon, so today we made sure to go grab a couple for tonight’s dessert. Free is good!

I put out an APB on Facebook for my friends’ best “hotel cooking” ideas, and got some great ones: baked potatoes & veggies, wilted spinach salad, a simple chicken soup, even a variation on an Egg McMuffin! Great ideas, all, and we will certainly be using them. Thanks to SH, SS, PDB, LAM, CC, & MP! I also got an incredibly detailed gourmet option from my friend CO; here’s is a sample:
5. Dice one small shallot into the coffee maker. Load two to four sprigs of fresh thyme into the filter basket without a filter, then run 1 cup of cream and 1 teaspoon of lemon juice through the coffee maker together. Season with salt and pepper, and allow the sauce to reduce over the hot plate for 15 to 20 minutes. Just before serving, add 1 tablespoon diced butter and swirl to melt. (Note: Coffee maker will require heavy cleaning afterward.)
Brilliant! You can tell that many of my friends have spent months and months living on the road...

Tonight I went a bit more simply: pasta with salmon and sugar snap peas, which is really just a fancy way to say “mac & cheese with canned salmon and whatever veggie we could find on the side.” The only real trick was draining the pasta, so I got creative with a paper bowl:
Could have used a few more holes, but it got the job done! I had to use two socks as hot pads; that microwave-safe bowl still got pretty damn hot. A box of TJ’s mac&cheese can be dressed up pretty well with some canned salmon, and who doesn’t love fresh sugar snap peas? A sprinkling of pepper from the S&P shakers that B swiped from a room service tray in the hall, and voila! Dinner is served.
Bon appetit!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Fun Theory

A bit of brilliance, via my friend MI:

Love it!

Friday, October 09, 2009

Sidebar pic

I've gotten a couple questions about my current sidebar photo, so I thought I'd explain. I'm not able to post pics in costume from backstage at the Met, so rather than a pic from my current show I thought I'd show me backstage several years ago. Several years ago!

This is the first "backstage experience" that I can remember. I was eight years old, dancing with the children's corps at the Chicago City Ballet. The only thing I remember about being onstage is that I couldn't wear my glasses, so everything was very blurry. But backstage was a different story! I loved putting on my makeup with my fellow "mothbeetles" - blue eyes and pink cheeks and lips, very glamorous - and watching the "big girls" doing their own hair. Of course I loved watching the ballerinas, too, in awe of their long legs and beautiful arms.

It was the beginning of a life-long love of being in a theater, and I am grateful that my parents gave me that experience.

In the Night

I think everybody knows how much I love programming a recital, and this astronomy program has been no exception. I keep calling it “the astronomy recital” because it is for an astronomy group, but it is obviously more of a night-themed program, and I’m loving how it is shaping up.

There are practical as well as artistic elements to consider this time around. Since the program is in Boulder and Jocelyn is unable to travel with me this time, I will be using two wonderful local pianists. We’re still figuring out how to divide up the program, and I’m trying to select music that we already know or will have a fairly easy time putting together. B will also be singing a few pieces! I’m still on the lookout for a good night-themed duet, so keep those ideas coming. (I’m using several of the ideas that I’ve gotten from comments and on Twitter! Thanks for your help!)

On the (much more enjoyable) artistic side, I’ve divided the program into four sets, each with 3-4 songs and an aria that center on a theme. The first half of the program will focus on things in the sky - Stars & Planets and The Moon - while the second half deals with the less tangible aspects of “the night” - Seduction & Romance and Dreams.

That last set theme was the last to make itself clear to me, and in truth, that didn’t happen until I received a comment on my last post. I had asked for help with determining this last set via a Twitter post, asking if maybe “dreams or dreaming” would work. I knew I was thinking something about the way we dream when we look at the sky as well as the dreams we dream when we sleep, but this reader summed it up perfectly:

I like the dreams theme. Not referring to the dreams one has while sleeping but the dreams one has while looking at the night sky. The vast expanse of sky, the limitless boundaries for the imagination to explore, the incomprehensible beauty, the possibility of finding something new. Maybe I'm being naively romantic but I think that's what astronomers dream about every time they look up - as maybe the rest of us do too. Astronomers may talk about "Star e4.632056" and all sorts of technical stuff but I'd bet underneath that they're all hopeless dreamers.

I mentioned Nacht und Traume the other day because when it ends with:

"They listen with delight,
cry out when day awakens;
Come back, Holy Night!
Sweet dreams,come back!"

I thought that might sum up the feelings of astronomers everywhere. Listening to the night sky, disappointed when the sun rises, and wishing the stars would remain above so they could continue looking up and dreaming.

Pretty cool, right? I got chills when I read it, realizing that s/he said exactly what I wanted to express in this final set. I am thrilled to have had such wonderful help with this program! Thank you, twelvethoughts, where ever you may be...

I feel like I have most of the program set, but I’m still hunting for the right aria for the Seduction & Romance set. It could for be soprano or bass-baritone, or maybe an opera duet, but it has to be sexy! Should be an obvious choice out there somewhere, but I’m drawing a blank. Send me your ideas! I won’t be sharing the final program until close to the recital date (mid-December), but it will be worth the wait...

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Baby steps

I’ve got a lot of free time these days. A lot. Now that Nozze is up and running, and we haven’t yet started Angelica, my days are pretty much free until the end of the month. And nothing prevents me from getting work done like free time!

I don’t know what it is, but I sure am productive when I am forced to structure my work time around rehearsals and appointments and such. Then, when my days free up and I think “I’ve got plenty of time to work on my projects!” I don’t get a thing done! Please tell me I’m not the only one...

Today I was determined not to get to 6pm and realize I’d accomplished nothing with my day except a trip to the gym and several laps around my internet entertainment course. In the past, I’ve started the day with a general statement like “Today I’m going to work on my recital program.” And, sure enough, I don’t crack a score or research a single song.

(Maybe it’s the naming of broad goals that freaks me out. A few weeks ago, when I told B that I wanted to lose five pounds in the next three weeks, I promptly stopped going to the gym. Not helpful, Bird! Once I forgot about the weight goal, once I was only thinking about getting exercise cuz I feel better when I do, I was back at the gym, enjoying my workouts. What does it mean?!)

So this morning tried a different approach and set small goals for my day:
*work for (at least) 30 minutes on Hillula, getting reacquainted with the score
*work for (at least) an hour on programming rep for the Astronomy recital
*work for (at least) 30 minutes on arias

Here is it, 6:00, and I’ve accomplished 2 out of 3! (I’ll get to those arias before dinner, though, I’m sure of it.) And it wasn’t drudgery, either; I spent more than the allotted time on each task. I love my work, and I’m always puzzled why I don’t jump out of bed ready to hit the books. Whatever the reason, I seem to have discovered something today about how to address my free time, and I’m excited to observe the results!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Opera Journal

Before we headed out to Aida last night, I realized that I was going to be adding a new opera to my “list” of works I’ve seen. I’d never actually written them all down, though, so this morning I’ve been going through my memory (and opera company archive websites), and I think I’ve come up with most of them: 67! Not bad, I think.

Do any of you do this? Maury? JSU? What’s your “number?”

Here’s my list, to be updated as time goes by. I’ve put a star by works in which I’ve also performed in some capacity. (Ugh: the formatting is a mess; stay tuned...)

Adams The Death of Klinghoffer
Ades The Tempest
Barber Antony and Cleopatra
Beethoven Fidelio
Bernstein Candide*
Bizet Carmen
Blow Venus & Adonis*
Britten Midsummer Night’s Dream*
Peter Grimes*
Albert Herring
The Turn of the Screw
Charpentier Louise*
Donizetti Don Pasquale
La Fille du Regiment
Lucia di Lammermoor
L’elisir d’amore*
Glass Satyagraha
Gluck Iphigenie en Tauride
Golijov Ainadamar*
Handel Agrippina
Heggie The End of the Affair
Humperdinck Hansel und Gretel*
Janacek Jenufa
Katya Kabanova
Levy Mourning Becomes Electra
Martin y Soler Una Cosa Rara
Massenet Manon
Menotti Amahl & the Night Visitors
Mozart Die Zauberflote*
Abduction from the Seraglio
Cosi fan Tutti
Lucio Silla
Le Nozze di Figaro*
Don Giovanni*
The Impresario*
Offenbach Les Contes d’Hoffmann
Ponchielli La Gioconda
Prokofiev War and Peace
Puccini Turandot*
La Boheme
The Girl of the Golden West
Madama Butterfly
Suor Angelica*
Il tabarro*
Gianni Schicchi
Ravel L’heure espagnol
L’enfant et les sortileges
Rossini Il barbiere di Siviglia*
L’italiana in Algiers
Strauss, J Die Fledermaus
Strauss, R Ariadne auf Naxos*
Die Aegyptische Helena
Sullivan The Mikado*
The Pirates of Penzance
Tchaikovsky Eugene Onegin
Ullmann Der Kaiser von Atlantis*
Verdi La Traviata
Don Carlo
Wagner Die Walkure
Tristan und Isolde

A singer who acts

Last night B and I went to the final dress rehearsal of Aida, and I can not tell you what an incredible revelation it was for me.

There is a lot of talk around NYC and around the blogosphere these days about traditions in opera and new productions and the vices and virtues of each. I don’t really want to weigh in on that aspect (especially considering that much of the buzz is centered around my current place of employment), but last night was my first real exposure to “grand opera,” and it was amazing.

It sounds strange to say this about an opera that boasted 200 extras and five horses and ballet dancers and lavish costumes, but there was something so pure about what I saw on stage last night. The singing was spectacular! The principal artists used their voices and talents to serve the music, and in the end I was moved to tears. People started applauding before the curtain closed or the music ended, but I could only sit there, stunned by how I was feeling.

I felt like I had really seen “an opera.” Not a movie, or even a play. The music - and , therefore, the singing - was the most important thing on that stage last night. As someone who came to opera through my love of theater, I’m embarrassed to say that I think I forget that sometimes.

This is not to say there was no acting last night; far from it! But the singers’ energies were so focused. They weren’t flailing about onstage trying to show us how upset or happy they were; they just sang. They had a quietness of body* that I find elusive at times.

I worry that with a part like Marguerite, a character who is tormented by the devil while praying in church and who sings an intense trio (at the end of the night) after losing her mind, my body will get so wrapped up in the emotion of the moment that my singing is impaired. I need to remember what I saw last night, and how moved I was by the end of it. The music will move the audience, will make them feel tense and scared and relieved and sad. I am merely a vessel.

This reminds me of what a coach said to me years ago at Tanglewood: “I want you to be a singer who dances, not a dancer who sings.” With the projects I have on the docket this season, maybe it’s time I start shifting from an actor who sings to a singer who acts. A slight difference, to be sure, but after what I experienced last night, I think it is paramount.

So, how to do it? Stay tuned...

*Some people call this “stand and sing.” After what I saw and heard last night, I no longer think S&S is an entirely bad thing...

Friday, September 25, 2009

Early Fall Miscellany

Not sure if it’s this late summer (early fall?) heat wave in NYC or what, but I’ve lost my steam a bit. So here’s a quick teaser post, hopefully to stimulate me to write as well as you to read!

* Opening night of Nozze was just as cool when singing Bridesmaid as when singing Susanna. Maybe even more exciting, because I actually had energy at the end of the night to go have a cocktail with B!
* Coffee today with a composer working on his first opera. Going to talk about the “traditional” delegation of voice types to character types - and all the fun ways to mess with them!
* Hillula, the first Bhakti Project commission, will be returning to NYC this November! Save the Date: Nov. 19th at the awesome Galapagos Art Space.
* Speaking of Bhakti Project, I am mulling over a potential new plan, one that would ideally involve several composers... maybe even a recording this time? Time to start summoning that grant money ”from where ever it is right now.”
* I’m finally getting a mailing list put together! If you’d like to be on it, please send a message to annecarolynbird at me dot com, or go to the Contact page of my website and click the link.
* Working on Suor Angelica (music and text), reading Faust, researching songs for the Astronomy recital, and getting to know Hillula again. Looks like we’re back in full swing!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The French Connection

On Wednesday and Thursday, the covers of the Nozze cast rehearsed to make sure we knew the blocking in case any of us need to go on during the run. We’ll have one more run-through of the show on Monday, and then the show opens! Final dress was yesterday, and it went great. My fellow Bridesmaid and I felt like we finally nailed our little number; it’s harder than you might think, that two page ditty! We settled into the tempo right away and finally got the bounciness and space that the conductor was wanting. It’s great to feel like we’re on top of things before opening night!

During the cover rehearsals, I was happy to be on my feet revisiting Barbarina. As we ran my short little scenes, I was surprised at how easily the recit was flowing! I remembered my stumbling two years ago when I was first trying to get Susanna in my mouth, and was comforted by the realization that maybe Italian recit is like a bicycle: once you learn how to sing it, you’ll never forget.

I’ve now done principal roles in three Italian operas in four productions, including my second time around with Susanna this past March. I can honestly say that I feel completely at home in the language, and as I’m working on new arias and roles in the years to come it will not be an issue. A wonderful place to get to!

But now? Time to start the entire “getting comfortable” process all over again... On to French!

Time to read the play and a few synopses.
Time to spend hours pouring over the Nico Castel libretto translation book and then more hours with the French-English dictionary making up the worksheets that I will carry around in my bag for the next few months.
Time to repeat lines of text over and over again to feel how those French vowels and consonants fit in my mouth.

If you see me mumbling to myself on the subway, I'm not crazy, I'm just studying...

Here we go!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Split Personality

Ok, ok - so I say “I”m back” and then I take ten days off. Lame, I know, but I’ve been kind of at a loss as to how to write about my current working situation.

You see, I’m back at the Met right now, singing a tiny role in Nozze di Figaro and covering Barbarina. It’s been a very strange and, frankly, humbling experience, and I haven’t been sure how to write about it without seeming snobby or ungrateful. I’m still not sure, honestly, but if this blog is about an honest look into my career, I need to try. Bear with me...

It happened like this: when I sang for the Met last winter, they were pretty quick to offer me a great contract with roles and covers that were a clear “step up” from my contract two seasons ago. I was thrilled, obviously, and especially happy to think that they were starting to view me in less of a Solo Bit capacity, and moving me into Supporting territory (even Featured, as in the case of Naiad). Awesome! A step in the right direction.

Then we got an email asking if I would also be available to cover Barbarina and sing a few performances of the soprano Bridesmaid. I was so confused! What happened to my forward progress? I’ve already performed Barbarina, so why would they want me to cover it? How did this offer make sense with the first one?!

At the time, I had a conflicting hold on my schedule for a principal role, so my managers called the holding company to let them know it was time to “fish or cut bait,” as my father would say. They cut bait, sadly, so I was free to accept the additional offer from the Met. (Ironically, the company then called two months later and asked if I was available again. Grr!)

Now, you may be asking why we didn’t just turn down the addendum offer from the Met. I asked that question myself! But the Met is a complicated machine, with MANY working parts that require many other working parts. One of the ways they make sure they have everything covered is to “bundle” contracts like this, particularly with the weekly-salaried singers like me.

In addition, in this financial climate with opera companies cutting productions and fees left and right, how could I turn down six additional weeks of great work? I couldn’t. I was - and am - grateful to be working.

But it has been strange and challenging in so many ways! While it is great to be back in the familiar and memory-laden halls of the Met, it is hard to shift from being the leading lady in other houses to singing a role so small it feels like an afterthought. My ego has had to take a seat for a while... I’m watching rehearsals of the opera I know better than any, watching two roles that I have performed and loved. It’s been hard to turn off the judgmental voice, the one we all have that says “I can do / should be doing that,” and just focus on doing my role in this production, but I’m trying - and succeeding, I hope! One thing’s for sure: it’s given me a new perspective on times when I know Young Artists were watching *me* in rehearsals and probably thinking the same things!

All in all, I’ve had to realize that I’m at a time in my career when sometimes I take the first bow and sometimes the last. Big roles, smaller houses; small roles, bigger houses. It’s all part of the same fabulous art, though, and, in this case, it takes place on the greatest stage in the world.

Monday, September 07, 2009

A year of Figaro

I’m planning to do a full blogroll overhaul and introduction of new blogs, but in case I don’t get to it in the next week or so, here’s one to add:

A Year of Figaro

My friend Andy is singing four productions of Nozze and one of Barbiere this season, and has decided to take us all along for the ride. He is one of my favorite people, funny and charming and talented, and I am so happy he is blogging. It’s tech week for Barbiere, so hop on over and check out his adventures.

He happens to be working at Skylight Opera, which has been in the headlines this summer, as you know. He has some great posts about his experience, and is happy to be working there again on such an exciting project.

Go say hello!

Armchair Line-Judging

When I married B, I had no idea that I would be gaining a new diversion for my “armchair work:” professional tennis!*

The US Open has been on for the past week, and I’ve been using the hours to start marking up my scores. In past years, it’s been a football-watching activity, and that will pick up again starting next week (oh, my poor Broncos...), but for now, it’s me and Oudin and Federer and Marguerite and Micaela.

I haven’t had to mark a score in a while, since my last two roles were repeats**, so I thought I’d run through my prep routine here again. Maybe it’s the wannabe stage manager in me, but I love the colored pencils and whiteout tape and post-its. Here’s the method:
Put tabs into the score marking “my” scenes.
Underline my text. I have never liked highlighters, and I used to just mark the beginning of each stave of music, but I have recently started underlining the whole line. I like to choose a different color for each character I sing, something that I think represents her. So far, Genovieffa is yellow and Marguerite is sky blue.
”Erase” the (usually awful) English version with whiteout tape. TEDIOUS, but so worth it to me. I love the clean look it gives the score, and it gives me plenty of room to...
Write in a word-for-word translation. I still have to go through the French version of this process before I can write in the texts for M&M. And of course, whiteout tape and translations for my scene partners, as well.
Mark dynamics and phrasing. Not sure if I’ve gone through this here, but the general idea is to circle forte marks with red, piano with blue, de/crescendi with green, tempo markings with orange, and accents & phrasings with yellow. I also mark the dynamics of the orchestra (all of them) and of other singers (if they are different than mine) so I can be aware of balance.

As with the language/translation process, I use these multiple trips through the score to get familiar with the opera. How do the scenes unfold? Where do the most vocally intense scenes fall? When exactly does my character lose her mind? The idea being that before I do any actual singing, I’m working with a fairly detailed knowledge of the score. The OCD teacher’s pet in me loves the “busy work,” and the “in the moment” artist loves the preparation that allows for spontaneity. Win-win!

Of course these activities will be much harder when we’re up in the grandstand watching Serena and Rafa tomorrow night! Watch for us on ESPN2...

I’ve even picked up a racket a time or two, and have dreams of being able to play tennis with B into our golden years. I still haven’t bought a tennis skirt, but so far I love it! Next up, some real lessons...

** Should I do a recap of the “year of silence?” Or should we just move on from here?

Wednesday, September 02, 2009


For those of you who read The Concert on a feeder, you may want to pop over to the blog and check out the new look. I figured five years was long enough for the old design, and, besides, who doesn’t love a new outfit for fall?

It’s not terribly exciting, but I hope to change the main photo more often, maybe from whatever show I’m working on at the time. I’ll give you two guesses what the current pic is from... Shouldn’t be too difficult!

There are also a few sound clips up, finally, on my website: Mostly songs for now; I keep promising new arias for a demo, and with the new rep this season maybe I’ll finally get around to it.

I am also planning to overhaul the Blogroll (please send your new faves!) and Favorite Posts list. Maybe some better organization of the Archives, too... we’ll see.

Oh, and by the way?

I’m back.

On the “piano”

In an attempt to focus myself and organize my study, as well as catch you all up on what’s going on and coming up, I thought I’d run through all the music that is stacked on my imaginary piano. (B asked if I was going to rename these posts “On the Current Project Shelf,” since that’s what we have here in Brooklyn, but it just doesn’t have the same ring...)

In order of appearance (details of the gigs to be found here):

Parts scores: small score excerpts from the Met for my small covers this fall: 1st Bridesmaid (Nozze), Young Lover (Il tabarro) (yes, I’m covering my debut role; yes, it’s weird, but the rest of the season is worth it!).

Suor Angelica: Two roles to learn in this one, Alms Collector to perform and Suor Genovieffa to cover. For those of you who have seen the Met’s new Trittico, either live or on a broadcast, you might remember a donkey onstage during Angelica. Well, I get to bring him on! He’s the basket carrier for the Alms Sisters, and I remember him being so sweet (if a bit stinky...). I don’t technically get to lead him on; there is a handler for that, but I’ll for sure get to pet him!

I’m more excited about the singing aspect of the Genovieffa role. The character is so sweet and has some really gorgeous lines, including a bit about how much she misses being a shepherdess. I hope to get to show a bit more of my range with this role for those folks at the Met who might be noticing those sorts of things.

Micaela and Marguerite: These two roles are the farthest away, but pose the biggest challenge many ways: first roles in French, first serious roles, new styles of music... I am starting me detailed process of score-marking and text exploration; I think you can expect to hear about Marguerite as much as you heard about Susanna. For those of you who missed it, imagine a play-by-play of how I learn and embody a BIG new role! Hope you’ll find it interesting...

Finally a **Request for assistance:** I’m brainstorming a recital program! My father is a member of an amateur astronomy group in Boulder, CO, and I have agreed to do a fund-raising recital for them in December. I’m in the “hunting and gathering” stage of organizing, collecting as many ideas for repertoire as I can. The theme? It’s a stretch: the sky! Anything to do with the stars or the sky or the moon or night or the planets... Got a favorite? Send it along! I’ll post a list of my collection soon and we can brainstorm more together.

That’s all for now! More to come.

PS Almost forgot: Tons of new arias! This will likely be covered in it's own post, but, briefly: Come scoglio, Margie's Jewel Aria, Micaela's "Je dis que rien ne m'epouvante," the aforementioned Juliette Poison aria, and - hold on to your hats - Violetta's Act I cavatina/cabaletta! Here we go!!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Out of Body

Well, after all that, they didn’t even ask for Susannah! Oh well, it was a good excuse to get the aria ready for this coming season.

They asked for Juliette’s “waltz” aria instead, an aria I have sung many, many times - and an aria that many people hate. It is sung by young sopranos for many reasons: it’s not difficult (in the sense that it’s easy to learn the notes), the accompaniment is light, and it shows some flexibility and a few high notes. It is often interpreted by said young sopranos as a joyous romp through Juliette’s birthday party, nothing more than an expression of how happy she is in the moment. “What a great party! I wish I could stay here forever!” This treacly approach is why the aria is widely loathed by audition pianists and panelists.

Yes, it’s a waltz, and it’s her birthday, but what is joyful about
“This intoxication of youth lasts, alas, only for one day!
Then comes the hour when one weeps.
Far from the morose winter let me slumber
and inhale the rose before it’s petals are plucked.”

Sounds like a girl going kicking and screaming toward womanhood, if you ask me, but I swear to you that I have seen a soprano pick up a prop rose with a smile, sniff it, and then toss it gaily over her shoulder at the end of those lines! I died a little in that moment...

I put the aria away for a long time, because I wasn’t sure I could sing it with the necessary gravitas, but a couple of years ago I put it back in the line-up. I’ve been 30-something for a while now, and I think I understand a bit more the longing that Juliette was feeling. It was fun to watch my interpretation grow as I grew up...

And then this summer I started working on Juliette’s second big aria, sung as she takes the poison in the tomb. It is a very mature, very womanly aria which I love to sing and which will be making an occasional appearance this audition season. And - and this shouldn’t really have been a surprise - I think my knowledge of the rest of the character has put the finishing touches on fleshing out the Waltz. There we go.

As if to prove a point, at the audition on Friday I did something new, something I wasn’t expecting and, frankly, something I’m not sure is even “done.” The waltz ends with a cadenza, a long running stream of unaccompanied notes. This cadenza is kind of shaped like a mountain, building up to a quick high D and then back down again before rejoining the piano and ending with a big finish. I have always sung the cadenza fairly evenly; it’s entirely comprised of 8th notes, after all. But Friday, when I got to the D, I actually held it out, probably not more than an extra second, but long enough for my brain to scream at me!! “What are you doing?! You’ve never done this before! Do you know how to get back on track and end this thing without falling to pieces now that you’ve totally broken your rhythm?!?!”

Heh. I made it out unscathed, but those moments when instinct takes over can sure be scary! I hadn’t, after all, “totally broken” my rhythm; I just stretched it a bit. The phrase was alive, vibrant, and apparently it wanted to blossom. It was kind of an awesome moment, one in which my voice seemed to exist outside of me for a moment. I hope it won’t be the last...

Friday, August 28, 2009


I have an audition today, the first of the season!

In a funny twist of audition repertoire, I’m offering both Susanna and Susannah! The heroines of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro and Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah share a name, but not much else. One is a feisty Italian who is always at the head of the action, either manipulating it or cleaning up the messes, literal and figurative, and who ends the day in the arms of her beloved. The other is a young Appalachian girl, pure and sensual, who is desired and misunderstood and shunned by her town in such a way that it leads to her ruin. You know my long love affair with Susanna, but I’ve also had a place in my heart for Susannah (keep your eye out for that H in this post!) over the years. It is a wonderful opera, with a great heroine with a great character arc. I sang several scenes throughout my schooling, but was never sure my voice would gain the required heft to make it through so dramatic a role. Well, here we are!

As I was warming up this morning, I was thinking about which aria to start with, and I’ve decided to go with Susanna. I know the aria very well, I have two great productions on my resume, and I have another already booked for the 2010-11 season. It should be a good introduction to the panel! (Although technically I think I’ve sung for them about ten times over the years...) If they ask for Susannah after that, I’ll have some things to watch out for.

First, character. Gone will be the crafty yet dreamy lover hoping for a good end to a crazy day, and in her place will need to be an innocent, wide-eyed, hopeful girl, longing to see the world. The Floyd aria needs to start without a trace of guile or desperation. In fact, I think the whole aria (“Ain’t it a pretty night”) should be sung with hope and innocence; the outside world hasn’t yet become real to Susannah.

Second, vocal style. Well-sung Mozart is all about line, line, line. Legato for days. With the American aria, I need to get back to truly speaking the text, similar to how I would sing a Mozart recitative. There are moments in the Floyd where I will pour on the legato, but not on every phrase. There are several chunks of phrases (that’s the technical term, “chunks”) that come back at the end of the aria. I need to remember to sing them the first time as if the words are just pouring out of my mouth as quickly as I think them up, without schmaltzy embellishments. Those can come in at the end, tastefully, of course.

It’s exciting to think about rep like this, to take two arias that are so different and remind myself of the potential areas for danger. Too much legato in Susannah will lead me to sing too heavily which will lead me to blowing the high notes. Too much Susanna sass won’t allow the purity of Susannah’s character to come through. A great challenge.

I’ve got more thinking to do about purity and innocence this season, as my three new roles are all wide-eyed wonder girls: Genovieffe, Micaela, Marguerite. The approach to these ladies will be very different from that of Susanna, Rosina, and Zerlina!

Stay tuned...

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Tonight's Program

University of Georgia Performing Arts Center
recital with Jocelyn Dueck, piano

Henry Purcell: Music for a while

Sergei Rachmaninoff:
Vocalise, Op 34, No 14
Dreams, Op 38, No 5
Zdes xhorosho, Op 21, No 7
Fso xhotchet pet, no opus

Francis Poulenc: Calligrammes (1948)
Vers le Sud
Il pleut
La grace exilee
Aussi bien que les cigales

Henry Purcell: O lead me to some peaceful gloom

-- Intermission --

Henry Purcell: If Music be the food of love

Richard Strauss:
All mein Gedanken, Op 21, No 1
Ständchen, Op 17, No 2
Die Nacht, Op 10, No 3
Heimliche Aufforderung, Op 27, No 3

“Seven Deadly Sins”
Lust - Modest Maid (Marc Blitzstein)
Pride - Amor (William Bolcom)
Gluttony - Lime Jello Marshmellow Cottage Cheese Surprise (Bolcom)
Sloth - TBA
Wrath - Another reason I don’t keep a gun in the house (Tom Cipullo)
Envy - The Stepsister’s Lament (from Cinderella) (Richard Rodgers)
Greed - The Pocketbook (Cipullo)

Henry Purcell: Evening Hymn

Thursday, March 05, 2009

The Bird starts tweeting

If even Bob Edwards is doing it, maybe what The Concert needs is Twitter.

I have definitely entered a new chapter of my life, both personally and professionally, and with a total of eighteen posts in the past eight months, I think it's safe to say that this blog doesn't really fit.

Yesterday I joined Twitter after listening to the big NPR story about it, and this morning I thought: "Maybe this is what The Concert needs!" No more 300-500 word mini-essays about role preparation or life on the road, which means no longer spending an hour composing said mini-essays a few days a week. I don't have the time anymore, and while I have missed writing, I think I need to explore a more private avenue for that.

But I also miss sharing my career with people, passing on lessons or recounting funny moments or working out frustrations... So I'm going to try Twitter. A few times a day, probably, I will post tidbits about what I'm working on and how it's going. Kind of like a Facebook status update, but for The Concert. There are new themes to pursue: new rep (next season will see Micaela and Marguerite), being part of a two-singer household, and hopefully some new companies/states/countries to explore...

Maybe? I'll give it a try. If you're interested in following along, check it out here: The Concert on Twitter.

Tweet tweet!
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