Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year 2008

Again, time seems like it is flying – it is the eve of 2008 – yet another event of the holiday season that has apparently come flying out of nowhere.

The turn of the year seems like it would be a natural time to take a moment to take stock and recap the events of the last twelve months, but with the pace that life has taken lately, it seems that I will have to press the pause button on life for the moment in order to review – something which I would like to do.

My highlights of 2007 were:

- The feeling of homecoming after moving (back) to New York and falling in love with our new place

- The satisfaction and pride of meeting the challenge that Lindoro posed and learning a great deal from him

- The sense of feeling changed after my three-month sojourn in France

- The excitement of seeing two of my best friends enter the world of parenthood and welcoming their beautiful daughter into the world

- The fun and sense of teamwork while working with the group in Chicago on Il ritorno d’Ulisse

- The joy and inspiration of my first summer at the Marlboro Music Festival

- The relief and excitement of buying my new Sony Vaio laptop

- The thrill of sinking my teeth into Jonathan in Saul for the first time

- The love and emotional warmth of getting to spend a wonderful (albeit too short) Christmas with my family and loved ones in Ann Arbor

Overall, it feels like it was a year of quiet growth and transition. The process of deciding to move to New York took up much of it along with a steady stream of interesting work and some intense challenges at the end. There was so much to be grateful for, and in 2008 there is so much to look forward to.

All the best to everyone for much happiness, health and fulfillment in 2008!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Transition

So upon my return to America, my brand new laptop was waiting for me expectantly. She is beautiful, and I love her for weighing so little and turning on without drama. Her name is The Italian Girl, since that is what paid for her.

As soon as I complete the transition from my jalopy/lemon of a Dell to my new wonder, the blogging "schedule" will resume as normal. The transition has been delayed due to the holidays suddenly appearing out of nowhere and beginning rehearsals for Abduction down here in Houston. Hopefully I can get with it and get one more post in before 2008 hits us.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

French Learning

As I began singing my first aria (the one with 24 high b-flats, 3 high c’s, and tons of fast notes) at the start of last night’s show, I noticed that it actually felt easy. I thought back to all of the lessons I have had on this role, slaving over each b-flat and every coloratura passage in my lessons, trying over and over again to keep them in line and properly supported and placed, wondering how I was ever going to manage to do this on stage in front of a theater full of people. As yesterday's show went on (our 10th performance in the tour), I began to realize that I have learned a lot during my time here in France.

A sampling of the things that I have learned over the past three months, ranging from things vocally technical, things musical, life lessons, to random miscellany:

  • It is actually possible to sleep on a plane from time to time.
  • I’ve learned a ton of new French vocabulary (like how to discuss train strikes, for example).
  • I have a tendency to hold tension in my left shoulder and arm when I sing, and this prevents me from grounding into a lower support and causes me to lock my abdomen. (Thank you, Susie, for pointing out my perpetually bent left arm – it was a bigger problem than you realized)
  • I have learned to rely on resonance to project the sound even more than I used to (rather than muscle).
  • The French tax situation is better than the German one for us singers.
  • Being alone on the road is easier than it used to be.
  • You need a fairly good internet connection for Skype to work effectively.
  • I can navigate my way around Paris Gare du Nord, Charles de Gaulle airport, and London St. Pancras Station quite easily now.
  • I am constantly reminded that phrasing is a good thing.
  • Marking in rehearsal is not always a bad thing.
  • Slow and steady wins the race (although not tempo wise in Rossini…then simply being steady wins the race).
  • Champagne takes a long time to make.
  • Bulgaria fought on the side of Germany and Austria-Hungary during World War I.
  • Always explore the local farmer’s market as soon as you can – don’t wait until the last weekend you are in a city.
  • Even if I feel tired, if I immerse myself in the music, it will feed me the energy I need.
  • The lower and more grounded my support is, the more musical options I have at my disposal.
  • Recording is a REALLY useful tool.
  • Arriving 35 minutes before a trans-Atlantic flight is not enough time, no matter how good your excuse is.
  • The French are an incredibly polite people.
  • It had been ten years since my last tetanus shot.
  • Tetanus shots make your arm really sore for days.
  • You don’t need a prescription in France to buy the tetanus vaccine at the pharmacy.
  • It is possible to learn a great deal of things vocally on my own without a voice teacher holding my hand.
  • I can do an upward bow in yoga now.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

What Holidays?

For days now, Jeremy has been asking me if I need him to buy any of my Christmas presents for me so I don’t have to lug them back across the Atlantic. I keep telling him not to worry, I have plenty of time.

It dawned on me yesterday that Christmas is merely a week away.

The fact that this is a holiday season has just not sunk in yet. This week has me immersed in performing L’italiana 3 times, singing two auditions (one of which was yesterday in London), trying to cram the dialogue and music for Die Entführung as dem Serail into my head before rehearsals start in Houston next Wednesday, packing to go home, and then flying to NYC and repacking for another 6 weeks on the road. I will spend 26 hours on the European train system this week alone (my absolute favorite mode of travel - as long as they are not on strike or being vandalized), as well as at least 15 hours on planes to my various destinations, not to mention the time spent waiting in airports, which will hopefully be kept to a minimum with no delays. Somehow, I forgot about Christmas shopping amidst all of that. I call it happily living in denial.

The one thing that disturbs me about all of this is that I am quite happy doing every single one of these things. It begs the question: Am I becoming addicted to my work?

In truth, I’m not in bad shape – I only have a couple of people left to get things for, and hopefully I’ll be able to find appropriate things here without a problem. With the Caen Christmas Market a block away, I should be ok.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Time Warp

Standing on the stage of Hill Auditorium at the University of Michigan last week felt like I had gone through a time warp and suddenly found myself in the midst of my own version of Back to the Future. The last time I had performed there, I was a senior in college singing a solo with the University Choir. Here I was again, with an excellent soprano with whom I sang fairly frequently while at Michigan (she was completing her DMA while I was doing my undergraduate studies there) and the director of orchestras, with whom I had also not worked with since college. At one point, I turned to one of my colleagues backstage and said, "I feel like I never left and I am 19 years old again." It was a surreal and nerve-wracking, yet totally fun experience. I've been waiting for a while now to go back and sing in that incredible hall again, and it felt good to be back.

As surreal as it felt, the performance went well, and people were very moved by the new piece. At the concert, we premiered the orchestral version of a song cycle written by one of the composers on the faculty the UM, Evan Chambers, and then the University orchestra played an amazing performance of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring to finish off the evening. It was great to see so many familiar faces in the audience: family, friends, and former teachers. It’s so rare that I get to perform for people I know, and it was a real treat to visit with them for a bit afterwards.

I’m back in France now, rehearsing with a new conductor and a new orchestra in Caen for our last stop on our tour of Northern France. It is a very strange, yet great experience to have new input on a production after having performed it 9 times and worked on it diligently for the past two and a half months. While we are tired and ready to put the piece to rest, we are getting fresh new ideas about the music and are having a rare chance to go back and clean things up in the rehearsal room while breathing some fresh musical life into the piece. It’s really exciting, and I look forward to our performances next week.

Even more exciting is that I will actually get to sleep in my own bed one night next week after we put our L'italiana to rest (who knew I would miss New York so much?). Immediately after having spent about 12 hours at home, we will fly off to Ann Arbor to spend the holiday with my family and friends in Michigan. The best part of this is that when I get to my parents’ house, the brand new laptop I just bought will be waiting there for me (and yes, I am firmly remaining in the PC camp…I just can’t bring myself to convert). It weighs less than 3 pounds! I can’t wait.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Amiens

This last week in Amiens was great fun. Never having toured a piece before, I really didn’t know what to expect in Amiens. It turned out that we all arrived feeling refreshed from the week-long break, so the piece felt fresh again, but also much more settled – a very new feeling. Having greater confidence with the seven performances in Lille under out belt, we began to discover new layers and fun moments during the two shows in Amiens.

Our director, Sandrine, told us that even though La Maison de la Culture d’Amiens is a very important performing venue in France, our performances of Italian Girl were the first opera to come to Amiens in four years. As a result, we were greeted with incredibly receptive and energetic audiences, which helped our energy enormously.

The next stop on our tour is in Caen, but first I have a bit of a break from our surrealistic Algiers and am taking a musical trip to 19th century New Hampshire graveyard for my first of three premieres this season.

While in Lille, Thomas Mouchart, one of the Lille stagecrew, took pictures from the wings during some of the performances and rehearsals in between his duties backstage – the crew in Lille was one of the most enthusiastic, fun, youthful, and sweet stage teams I’ve ever encountered. The photos in this entry were all taken by him during our run in Lille.


Thursday, November 29, 2007

One Hundred


I’m so happy that I decided to do the insane and fly to a time zone nine hours behind French time for the break between Lille and Amiens. Being able to get a little taste of America, spend five complete days with Jeremy after more than a month apart (our longest period apart), decorate my little brother’s Christmas tree, and visit with some of my closest friends has replenished my soul. As I procrastinate packing my bags for my flight back today, I find myself refreshed and ready to go back to Algiers – I mean France.

Some business items:

For those of you who are interested in coming to see me perform, there have been some important changes recently to my calendar for this season. They are listed on the calendar page of my “official” website. Most notably is a premiere that I will be touring with the University of Michigan Symphony Orchestra – a piece that I have been cramming into my brain and body this week.

I’ve added some blogs to my list of blogs that I follow: Jewish Slater is a good friend’s blog about his recent move to Jerusalem to take a French Horn position with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra. Hobo Camp is a fellow tenor’s (and also a good friend) account of his life in the opera world. I also have added Brian Dickie’s blog about life as General Director of Chicago Opera Theater – his dedication and discipline regarding the regularity of his blog entries is inspiring, as well as his interesting perspective. Little Miss Bossy tells about life in our business from the perspective of the Assistant Director. Houston Grand Opera has also joined the world of blog, and I have added them (proud alumnus of their Studio that I am), as well.

I’ve also added some non-musical links that I frequent. These are the places I go on the web to keep me in touch with America when I am away from it. They also represent a bit of my left-leaning political bent…

And finally – this is post 100!

Ok, off to pack my bags and fly back to La France.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Deep Thoughts in the Air

Sitting on the plane from Paris to Los Angeles, sick of studying music, too tired to do anymore crosswords, and yet unable to fall asleep, I succumb to the glowing and convenient allure of the in-flight entertainment system. This being Air France, I actually find some of my cinematic options interesting. Among my possible choices are a few French films as well as some American independent films. I am relieved that there actually movies that I might be interested in spending my time watching, trapped in my coach seat in the back of the plane.

Two hours after making my choice, pensive about my childhood after my aerial cinematic experience, I find myself wondering why there weren’t any girl Transformers, and how amazing it would have been if there were.

Wait, maybe there was one – wasn’t she pink?

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Gobble

Happy Turkey to all those who are celebrating Thanksgiving.

This is my first Thanksgiving that I have spent abroad, and it felt very much like a normal day. I almost forgot that today was a holiday, actually – I was more focused on the audition that I sang this afternoon in London. Of course, there was minor train drama for this audition, too – this time on the tube. Still, much, much less frantic and much more manageable than yesterday.

The only Thanksgiving meals I will encounter today are the one that was sent to me on Facebook from various friends this morning and the lovely lunch that my wonderful and kind management treated me to this afternoon after the audition.

In a way, part of me is happy to be away this Thanksgiving – while it would be great to spend some time with family and friends, I am a little wiped out from the events and intensity of the last seven and half weeks and am looking forward to some relaxing time to unwind tonight before tomorrow’s final show in Lille.

Still, it is a day of thanks for us Americans, and I have many things to be grateful for: Jeremy, family, friends, good health, good work, good people to work with, just to name a few.

I miss everyone back in the states, and I hope that you are eating a lot of stuffing for me today.

Trains

I sat down at the mirror, ready to practice my conversational French with my very kind and supportive makeup artist, Elisa. We’ve established a little ritual before each show where we speak about inane and random things in French while she paints my face. Little does she know it, but she plays a key role in my mission to master the French language in my time here. As she began to put base on my cheeks, we started off with the typical conversation starters:

“Ça va?”

“Oui, ça va! Et toi?” And so on…well, all was fine and dandy until she asked me what my plans were between the current show and our last in Lille, on Friday. I have some auditions, I told her, full of excitement, anxiety, and anticipation. I was grateful that the days would be filled with scheduled activities for a change. When I told her where, and how complicated the logistics would be (a train to and from a city in Southern-ish France on Wednesday, and then a train to London on Wednesday night) she froze mid-brush stroke, and took in a sharp breath. Realizing that she had not poked out my eye while lining it with eyeliner, I asked her what was wrong. “Mais, les grèves continuent demain!” This is how I reviewed the French word for “strike” during my pre-show conversation practice session.

I left the make-up room, and bumped into my very own French superhero, Alice – also known as Wonder Woman Française. I begged her help, yet again, in navigating the French Train System’s website, and, ever the rescuer, she helped me find solutions to my dilemma. Instead of taking my original direct train from Lille to said Southern-ish French city (which didn't exist anymore), we found a train to Paris Nord and transfer train stations across town to the Gare de Lyon and then catch a second train to my southern-ish destination. Alice, with her superhuman powers of gathering information, even found me options (yes - note the plural!) of various trains I could take to get to my destination and back and still be on time. She was – in a word – amazing.

After the show, I scrambled back to my dressing room, quickly scrubbed off my makeup, and then headed off home in order to get to bed so I could wake up in time to catch my early train the next morning. I tossed and turned for a bit, unaccustomed to going to bed an hour and half earlier than normal and feeling the adrenaline of performance slowly seep its way out of my system.

My alarm went off at 7:15, while I was in the middle of a dream. The dream immediately faded from my conscious brain, and I groaned as I fumbled with the alarm. I got up, got ready to leave (yoga, breakfast, shower, pack a bag – the morning pages would have to wait for the train) and headed to one of the two train stations in Lille. As I entered the station, a kindly French woman in a loudspeaker informed us all that the train bound for Paris would instead be departing from the other train station in Lille and sorry for the inconvenience. I looked at my phone (read watch) and saw that I had two minutes to sprint 400 meters to the other station. I thought, my day can’t be over at 8:28am – I have to try this. I ran as if my life depended on it and managed to miraculously catch the train.

Thinking I was golden, I wrote my morning pages as we sped through the French countryside. Then we came to a halt. “Sorry, we’ll be delayed 25 minutes due to vandalism on the tracks”, said the conductor over the loudspeaker. All this news that I don’t want to hear coming through loud speakers, I thought…

We arrived in Paris – the metro was also affected by the train strike, so I tried my luck at the taxi stand first. I only had 25 minutes to make it to the Gare de Lyon now (as opposed to my original layover of 50). The line for taxis wound around itself 4 times. Being an optimist and idealist, thinking that this might be an easy solution, I went to the limo service line, which was empty, and inquired how much it would cost to get to where I need to go. 120 Euros. Right. So, I decided to brave the Paris metro, strike or no strike.

After watching two trains go by, I found myself crammed into a metro car like a sardine in a can. That bit in circuses with the plethora of clowns and the impossibly tiny car came to mind and was not funny.

Finally, I got to the Gare de Lyon – 15 minutes too late to catch my train. Still, (Stubbornly? Idealistically? Full of faith in the impossible?) I looked at the station board in hopes that I could still catch a train that would get me to my audition on time. Miraculously, my planned train had been delayed 20 minutes because of yet more vandalism on the tracks. I wasn’t sure whether to thank the vandals for making my trip possible or curse them for the undue stress. They hadn’t even listed the track yet. As soon as the track was listed, I hurried and boarded the train.

20 minutes became an hour delay. I placed a frantic call to my managers, asking them to contact the company in question, and apprise them that I would be late and have to rearrange things (10 minute rehearsal with the pianist, warm up time, and audition time). My blessed management did so, calling me back to say that all had been rearranged.

My train arrived (finally) into the station at 13:20 (my rehearsal with the pianist was supposed to be at 12:45, originally), and I hopped into a cab to the opera house, having absolutely no idea where it was. The taxi whisked me to the opera house, where they seemed to have no clue of my situation…still, I insisted on having time and a space to warm up as well as time with pianist. The opera people were quite flexible, although I must have been really feeling desperate and very focused on the task at hand in order to assert myself and my needs so.

I sang the audition, and then rushed back to the train station to head up to my next stop – London, making my total time in the mysterious southern-ish city roughly a little over one hour and a half. The trip back north was uneventful, minus another crowded experience on the Paris metro.

I wasn’t sure whether to be thankful for the drama of the trip taking away my nerves for the audition or be annoyed that there was drama at all. Either way, I slept well once I got to London.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Downward Dog

It's show number 5 today - our only matinee. I whip out the blue yoga mat, a daily event, pop in the yoga dvd into my laptop, and start to salute the sun, which is not visible behind the thick grey layer of clouds shading the sky today. The instructor, who is flowing seemingly without effort through the poses in some desert on my computer screen, tells me to move into some sort of forward bend. I feel the muscles in my legs begin to shake with strain as I stretch them out, and a thought occurs to me: It takes great inner strength to achieve flexibility.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Restart

About a year ago, Jeremy and I walked into a book store where they had prominently displayed on the new releases table a pristine copy of Finding Water, the latest of Julia Cameron’s Artist’s Way books. I immediately grabbed it and started for the register, when Jeremy took it back from me and put it back on the table. “You can’t get that now,” he told me. I looked at him, confused, and assumed he was trying to tell me to be responsible about my money. A little over a month later, I tore open some Christmas wrapping paper and unveiled my very own copy of the book. Excited, I even wrote in this blog that one of my New Year’s resolutions was to devote myself to working through it as the year progressed.

I packed the book in my bag when I headed out to Chicago at the end of February to work on The Return of Ulisses at Chicago Opera Theater. I unpacked it, and it sat closed next to my bed the entirety of my time there. Then, it traveled with me to St. Louis, where it never made it out of the suitcase. I took it with me to Berkeley, New York, and then to Frankfurt, where I finally opened the book for the first time. I made it though Chapter 1, and then I packed the book into my suitcase and brought it with me to Vermont, where it gathered dust on my desk for seven weeks.

Finally, now that it is the middle of November, realizing that time is running out for me to keep some grain of my resolution, I have picked up the book and begun reading it and working through it again. I am going to state here, publicly, that I am going to try to devote the next 11 weeks to completing it (it is organized into 12 weeks/chapters, like the other books). Hopefully, by publicly declaring this, I will be shamed into keeping my promise to myself. We’ll see if that works...

This week, I reviewed Chapter 1, since it felt like eons had passed since I did it this summer. The most interesting part of the experience was the Artist Date, the date that I must make with myself once a week in an effort to "romance"my inner artist. While I have been pretty diligent about doing my morning pages everyday for the past four years, I find artist dates very hard to keep. I always tell myself that I have so much alone time already, why would I seek more of it out? Well, today, I discovered part of the reason why.

My date with myself today was to explore the Rue de la Monnaie, a cobblestone street that is in Vieux Lille (Old Lille) and is lined with various shops that occupy all the historical buildings. I had walked up and down it with Alice many times, because that is where the doctor’s office is (I’ve seen this doctor more times here in the last week than I saw my own doctor in the states in the past two years). There is a strange orange wall there that I have been meaning to get a picture of for weeks now (since my first visit to the doctor for my cold a couple weeks back), so I decided that today was the day.

Armed with my camera, I set out exploring, stopping at all the shops I have been wanting to visit since my first visit to the doctor and taking pictures along the way. As I took pictures and window shopped, I noticed that I was starting to take in the details and beauty of what was around me and began to get rooted into the present. All the alone time I spend on the road is a dangerous trap – it is easy to become focused on dreams and the realm of lofty ambitions that have no root in the work. Getting a bit more rooted in the present keeps me more focused on what I am doing right now and all that I have right now. After wandering around exploring Vieux Lille for a couple hours, it was so much easier to practice afterwards. I had nothing to prove to myself – I just had the tasks that I needed to accomplish in front of me, and I really enjoyed doing the wood-shedding that I needed to do today.

I came across this quote in the margins of the book the other day, and it stuck in my mind during my work this week:

“The best things are nearest: breath in your nostrils, light in your eyes, flowers at your feet, duties at your hand, the path of God before you. Then do not grasp at the stars, but do life’s plain, common work as it comes, certain that daily duties and daily bread are the sweetest things in life.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

I think I get that now. At least for now.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Susie, the Hairball, and the Zoo

Susie, a good friend and amazing pianist who I met during my time in the HGO Studio, came to visit for the third L’italiana yesterday. Aside from an unfortunate train delay leaving from London and a giant hairball in her pot of marinated mussels at lunch today, we had a really wonderful time having a drink after last night’s show and touring Lille today.

It was really reassuring having Susie come to the show – after toiling away for so long on my own here, it was a relief to finally get feedback from someone with whom I have had a musical as well as personal friendship for a long time. The musical and dramatic staff on this show have been truly incredible and encouraging, but Susie knows where I have come from and a lot of the journey I took to get here. Hearing her constructive and supportive feedback was a welcome relief and reassurance that my work is continuing to take me in the right direction. She helped me put things into a perspective and gave me some things to think about for tomorrow’s fourth performance.

In the large park surrounding the Citadelle, a large 17th century fortress that is in the center of town, Lille has a small zoo that is free to the public. It was a strange experience to walk amidst exotic animals from South America, Australia, and Africa in 40 degree (F) weather, although it was cool to have the experience of being so close to animals from such distant parts of the world.

Both Susie and I discovered that we felt very mixed about zoos – yes, we probably would never have the experience to be so close these animals without them and the zoo does an excellent job of trying to teach people the importance of being ecologically conscious. But Susie summed it up best when she said, “How would you feel if you were in some sort of human zoo, down in the ‘grecchinois’ cage, having people point cameras at you all the time expecting you to smile?”

Monday, November 12, 2007

Madame Pommery and the Champagne Factory

My parents, being the food and wine lovers that they are, took me and our family friends to Reims for a visit on my days off between shows two and three. And, yes, for you Rossini fanatics out there, I am aware that I made a viaggio a Reims.

Our first stop in Reims was interestingly enough not the cathedral where 34 sovereigns were crowned from 816 – 1825. Instead (think back to the food and wine lover comment), my parents took us first to the Pommery champagne house for a tour of their caves or cellars. It was an interesting place – the widow Pommery apparently decided to buy 80 Gallo-Roman chalk pits when she inherited the business from her husband to store her champagne while it fermented. Our tour guide took us through some of the quarries all the while explaining the process of making champagne as well as what made Pommery’s champagne so special.

The section of the quarries that is open to the public also doubles as an art exhibition space sometimes, and one such exhibition had just ended with some of the pieces still in the pits. The very first thing we saw as we descended into the ancient pits was this:

I immediately looked around for oompa loompas and prayed that there was no Violet Beauregard in our tour group. Instead, I mostly encountered dusty champagne bottles and our rather quiet tour group. The best part of the tour, of course, was the tasting at the end.

Today, we toured the cathedral where France used to crown it’s Kings – it’s a magnificent place, and I could have easily spent an extra couple of hours there taking pictures. Unfortunately, we had to check out of our hotel, and my camera’s battery died.

It was fun to be a tourist for a couple of days - I am really bad at exploring and being a tourist when I am away singing. I am glad that I had the excuse and opportunity for an excursion. Maybe I'll do more of that here in Lille now that I have time and am armed with a fully charged camera...

Number three is tomorrow evening, and my friend Susie is coming for a visit and to see the show, which I am greatly looking forward to. Time is flying by here – I can’t believe that the first leg of this tour will be done in about a week and half.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Due

Normally, there is a certain energy slump that plagues the second show of any given run. Silly things tend to go wrong, people’s focus is not as sharp as it was at the opening, people don’t have the same energy fueling their performances. Oftentimes, the second show of a run feels like it takes twice as long as the premiere did.

We had a rare occurrence here last night, where the second show had even more energy than the opening. This is especially rare, because our opening felt like quite as strong performance, and second show syndrome tends to strike even more pronouncedly after a good opening.

I think part of it was the fact that many people had family at last night’s show. Mustafa had two of his sons visiting, the conductor, director, and choreographer all had various family visiting, and I had my parents and some close family friends in the audience as well. It’s always an exciting feeling to know that there are people who are close relations out in the audience, and it gave us that extra spark. Also, with the pressure of the opening off of us, we continued to relax into flow of the show, finding new layers in our character’s relationships to each other and new moments of humor. The show is continuing to find a life of it’s own, which is exciting.

I’m off to explore a bit of France with my parents and our family friends today, and then back to work tomorrow afternoon – I have to start working on the projects that are coming up after this…time is truly flying by.

The other exciting development of last night was that I managed to pull yet another centimeter long piece of wood from the stage floor out of my knee as I was changing the bandaging after the show was over. Finally, my knee is free from the events of the dress rehearsal! I know this sounds strange, but I am tempted to keep this piece of the sliver for good luck...

Friday, November 09, 2007

The First Italian Girl

We opened L’italiana to thunderous applause yesterday – a really nice reward for all the weeks of intense of rehearsal we have put into this piece. The audience really seemed to enjoy themselves, and we started to enjoy ourselves as the evening wore on and got used to their laughs. Comedies are tricky creatures to rehearse. After repeating each scene so many times without an audience, we weren’t sure what was funny anymore. Yesterday was the second time we had an audience, and it was nice to know that we were still funny. The cast sang incredibly and beautifully – it’s a strong group of people here, all of whom have been great colleagues, and it was nice to hear everyone shine vocally as well as make the audience giggle.

My parents and some family friends arrive for performance number two tomorrow, which should be fun. It will be nice to have some visitors after being a hermit these past few weeks.

I’ve actually come to enjoy my solitude these past few weeks – it’s allowed me to have an intensity of focus on the musical and dramatic challenges that face me here that I’ve never achieved before. This piece really does require it from me – it’s the kind of thing where I have to conserve every ounce of energy for it, and I’ve really learned a lot about myself, my singing, and music in the process.

I was talking with Jeremy about this today, and it really feels like I’ve embarked on some sort of quest for my very own musical/vocal holy grail. I’ve seen ups and downs with this journey, and I learn something new every step of the way, whether it be about myself or my singing. Last night felt like a huge step forward on that journey. I really look forward to the fact that I have so much farther to go and so much more to discover, since I still have six more weeks of these (we have six more performances here in Lille, two in Amiens, 3 more in Caen, and some rehearsals in between – a little tour of Northern France).


Wednesday, November 07, 2007

My Battle with the Stage Floor

At the end of the Lindoro/Mustafa duet in Act I, Mustafa and I slowly come to our knees as we sing loudly clutching each other (me in desperation and he in an over-friendly, congratulatory bear hug) and then once the singing is finished, he bids me farewell and I collapse and pass out in despair into a dress at the front of the stage. Normally, at this moment, I feel a great sense of relief as the most difficult singing I have in the evening is over, and I can relax and enjoy Isabella’s first aria as I pretend to be unconscious.

Last night, at that very moment in the final dress rehearsal, I noticed something felt funny in my knee as I was lying on the dress. I wondered, “Did I cut myself? Will I stand up with my knee all bloody?”. I got up for the following recitative, sang it, and ran off stage to check my knee. There was no blood, but it seemed like there was a huge splinter from the stage floor in my knee.

I ran to the stage manager to ask for some first aid stuff and told her that I would be in my dressing room trying to squeeze it out. I tried, but to no avail. Then every single free stagehand came to my dressing room with bandages and antiseptic. Tweezers of various sizes soon followed. I ran onstage for my last couple of moments in Act I, in between returning to my dressing room to see if we could get the damned thing out. The quote of the evening was uttered by the stagehand who was the primary “surgeon” at first: “Putain! C’est profond!” or “Fuck! It’s deep!” for those who aren’t Francophiles. Not the words I wanted to be hearing.

We tried and tried and finally conceded that we had to call the doctor. Luckily, the company doctor was in the invited audience. He came backstage at the intermission, and we spent most of the intermission digging out (yes, digging – it felt like we were in some medieval battlefield) what we could of the giant splinter. Finally, he gave up saying that he was simply causing me pain at this point and told me that my body would push the rest out over the next couple of days. After I assured everyone that I was ok, they left me to have 30 seconds alone before I had to run out to the stage to sing my second aria.

The rest of the dress rehearsal became about my knee. I do a lot of kneeling in this show – it almost became a game to see how I could find a substitute position for kneeling and still be grounded enough to sing. I honestly have no idea how the show went as a result. I am told that it was a good run off the show and that we had made strides since the last rehearsal. The audience seemed to enjoy it.

After the rehearsal, I had a beer with the cast and crew and gave a mini interview to one of the radio journalists who was in the invited audience. Unfortunately, the interview was in French, so I am positive that I made an ass of myself. The high point of the interview came when he asked me how old I was and I responded that I was 18 not understanding why that caused everyone in the room to laugh.

Today, still feeling like there was a substantial amount of wood left in my knee, I went back to the doctor with the artist liason, Alice, in tow in order to make sure that the doctor and I could understand each other. He concurred with me about the amount of wood still in my knee and got an anesthetic, a razor-like object, and some tweezers so that he could dig out the remainder. Alice (who has been my guardian angel throughout this whole process) tried to make conversation with me in order to distract me from the mini-surgery going on in my knee and midway through us talking about my lodgings here in Lille, the doctor said, “Voilà,” and held up a fairly thick, centimeter-long sliver of the stage floor.

I breathed a sigh of relief, looked at Alice, and said, “This is most definitely going in the blog.”

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Hearing the Truth

My father has a hobby (obsession?) of collecting electronic equipment and computers. For as long as I can remember, he has loved searching for a deal on the latest technology, purchasing it for a good price, and then ensconcing it in one of the rooms of my family’s home. Some of his projects include creating a small home theater in our basement and creating an elaborate network of computers that are all somehow connected even though they are in various rooms and floors of the house.

When I was in high school, my father just had to have the newest toy out on the market – a mini-disc player. He had done some research and discovered that it was cheaper to buy one in Japan. It just so happened that my uncle was making a trip to Japan in the near future. So, at my father’s request, my uncle picked one up for him and brought it back to us. It was a moderately heavy silver brick covered with buttons all labeled in Japanese.

When I became a senior in High School and was sure that I was music school bound the following year, I decided that I needed to have it. My father generously “lent” it to me, probably knowing that he would never see it again. No matter – there was a newer, smaller, sleeker model coming out that he wanted to upgrade to anyway.

I originally had wanted it so that I could make good quality audition screening tapes cheaply. I never thought to use the thing as part of my practice. I mean, who likes listening to themselves?

A couple of years later, when I was in the Houston Grand Opera Studio, the Studio director and I were having a meeting about my progress when she asked me, “Do you ever record your lessons and coachings?”

“No,” I said.

“Well, you should consider it. It can be a really helpful tool.”

“I prefer to work by feel. I don’t like to record myself. It feels like a waste, because I know that I won’t listen to it, and I really do learn by how it feels – not how it sounds.”

With a simple “ok”, she let the issue drop.

Fast forward another couple of years, to this summer at Marlboro. After a morning dress rehearsal, a recording engineer came up to me at lunch and handed me a CD labeled “Schumann Dress Rehearsal”. I muttered a thank you as I took another bite of my sandwich and put the CD in my binder, promptly forgetting about it. Later that day, after I got back to my room, the CD fell out of my binder as I was putting my things down on my desk. I thought, well, why not give it a listen?

I popped the CD into my laptop, donned my headphones, and pressed play.

We were good.

Quite good, actually. But I was singing a little flat in a passage in the second song. I could hear myself coming off of my breath as I approached another high note in the third song, causing a little bump in the smoothness of the line. I was singing a little too loud in one place, but could afford to give a little bit more in another.

Why didn’t I do this all the time? I mean, this was like being my own voice teacher or vocal coach!

When I left Marlboro, I resolved to dig out that mini-disc player that had lain dormant for almost 10 years and make use of it. I was going to record my lessons. I would then take it on the road with me and record rehearsals.

I actually kept my resolution when I got to NYC and had some lessons. I recorded most of them in September and was really happy with the result. I could actually study what I had learned in detail in between lessons! So much more information began to stick.

I dutifully packed the mini-disc player in my suitcase when I left for France.

And it remained into my suitcase until today.

Why did I leave it there for so long? I was afraid to hear myself. I was afraid that I would hate what I heard.

Lindoro is scary. Lindoro strikes fear into my heart, because his music is simply so technically demanding. I have slaved over this role for years and only recently had the feeling that I know what I am doing.

Why would I ever accept such a role, you ask? Well, because I know I can do it. I have done it before – twice, in fact. I was sick as a dog the last time I did it, but it still went fine. Also, it’s a challenge that, somewhere deep inside, I know I can tackle. And by overcoming such challenges, we discover a deeper layer of our singing, as well as a deeper layer of ourselves.

When I caught a cold ten days ago, I was out of commission for almost a week. The past few days of rehearsal have mostly been about trying to build back my vocal stamina and strength. It’s been a frustrating process trying to find my voice through all the mucus again, and I was beginning to panic.

For some reason, I decided that today I should record myself.

After running the first aria, I was discouraged. My cold was still bothering me just a bit, and I felt like I was negotiating a mine-field as I sang it. Singing isn’t supposed to be that scary – it’s supposed to be fun. The choir inside my head began ranting off thoughts like “that was awful”, “you are a terrible singer”, among other choice phrases.

At the first break, I picked up my ancient mini-disc player and listened to what I had recorded.

It wasn’t bad at all. It was actually quite good.

I could hear the problems, but they weren’t ridiculous and insurmountable. I could quickly address them and begin to solve them myself. Phrases that scared me in their difficulty I discovered actually sounded quite easy. I didn’t need to worry so much about singing them, and I could actually ease up a little in some places. I needed to make sure to get a good breath here and there, make sure not to push in another place, maybe take this lick slower, another lick perhaps faster. I could hear that I needed to make adjustments – not overhaul my technique.

As the rehearsal went on, I made the adjustments that I thought I needed to, and I gradually felt my voice open up and my body relax. I started to feel like “myself” for the first time in over a week. I finally felt like I was beginning to take steps forward again instead of just slogging through mucus and negativity.

As a singer, I often have a hard time being objective about my singing. I often assume the worst, as I tend to be my own worst critic and I have a cheerfully negative choir that sings songs of self-deprecation in my head constantly. Other times, I don’t notice things that go awry because I am caught up in the heat of the moment. Turning to a recording of myself helps me be objective, because all it can do is show the truth. And the truth shall set you free.


Monday, October 29, 2007

Changing Times

Can anyone tell me where October went? I would love to know.

I guess the fact that time is flying is a good sign – it feels like I got here just yesterday, but a whole month has flown by. Time flies when you’re having fun, they say.

I had a “cultural” experience with time today.

I woke up this morning, moderately refreshed and happy to have had a day off. I turned on the ipod and let the Handel fly, like I do most mornings, and proceeded to sit down as I wrote my morning pages. As I let my subconscious spew onto the page, I hummed along with various singers singing my favorite Handel arias and realized the following fact: I had won the battle against mucus!

For the first time in a week my voice responded easily without feeling like it was a car that won’t start. The jalopy in my throat felt like it morphed into a new-ish sportscar.

I thought ahead through the day’s rehearsal plan: Finish working on the finale of Act 2, run Act 2, dinner, and then come back to run Act 1. I could actually sing out today and get a feeling for pacing! As I finished my morning pages, I jumped for joy and continued my daily routine. I did some yoga, ate some breakfast, hopped in the shower, and scooted off to the opera house. I glanced down at my phone as I walked in the stage door, waving to the security guard. 14:45. Damn, I thought, I only have ten minutes to warm up – I’ll have to speed through my exercises in order to get on stage in time. I ran up to my dressing room, whipped out the pitch pipe, and started making the crazy noises that constitute my daily warm up, cutting corners where I could in order to be on time. 15:00 struck, and I zipped to the stage, which was completely empty.

Where was everybody?

I looked at the clock over the stage management console.

14:00.

Apparently, the whole daylight savings change occurs at a different time here in Europe than in the states.

I had absolutely no clue that the time had changed at all. Discovering the time change like that really threw me for a loop physically. 21:30 struck in rehearsal tonight, meaning we had an hour to go, and I wanted to collapse and cry with fatigue. Between the time change and the fact that my body still needs to build some strength back after being sick for a week (something I discovered the hard way tonight sometime towards the end of the Lindoro/Mustafa duet in Act I), I left rehearsal feeling like a shell of myself.

Honestly, I’m strangely hungry right now, and I’d like to eat my exhaustion and frustration. But I’m going to resist and go crawl into bed.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Making It and Getting There

As Kim Witman reports on the process of putting together Wolf Trap Opera’s 2008 season in her blog, this recent entry about her Studio applicants’ career goal statements caught my attention. Those applicants who wrote that they “just wanted to make a living at what I love” seem to have a measure of wisdom that I lacked at that stage of my training.

Throughout college, my brief stint at a conservatory, and my various apprentice programs, “making it” pervaded my thoughts and goals and became an obsession. I ambitiously tried to do anything I could to get out of school and into the working world, and I looked at any success that I had as a sign that I was going to “make it”. I fantasized about winning competition after competition, making my debuts at the worlds biggest opera houses, giving recitals in the most famous concert halls, the thunderous applause that would greet me at those performances, the photo shoots for my album covers, and the sense of coolness I would feel at having “made it”.

All the while, I would moan constantly at the opportunities that weren’t offered to me and complain that the opportunities that I did have were not good enough, were not what I wanted, were not what I deserved. I would look at the success of others and jealously wonder how they had managed to achieve their accomplishments. My ex-boyfriend, Luiz, once pointed out to me that it never seemed like anything was enough. He noted that even being in the Houston Grand Opera Studio (where I was at the time of this conversation – where I had the opportunities to share the stage with some of the most famous and accomplished singers of our time as well as get free lessons, coachings, career advice, language lessons, etc.) was not enough for me. I bristled with anger when he told me this, furious that he could see so easily through to my unbridled, all-consuming, youthful ambition and my spoiled sense of entitlement.

The strange thing was that my fantasies and ambitions were never specific. When fantasizing about singing in the greatest opera houses of the world, I never thought about which roles I would sing. When dreaming of photo shoots for my album covers, I never had any idea about what music would have been recorded on those CDs. I never knew what I would program for my dreamed-of recital tours around the globe. Music, the core essence of what we do, was mysteriously absent from my fantasies.

The summer before my second year in the HGO Studio, about to begin rehearsals for my first Barber of Seville at Wolf Trap, I began to notice the adverse affects of my ambition on my soul. Warming up before our first rehearsal with the conductor, I found myself panicking that I wasn’t good enough. I became certain that everyone would hate my singing and even had nightmares about being fired. I worried that this was going to be a disaster and that my career would never recover.

Something inside me snapped, and I realized that I absolutely could not live the rest of my life like that.

So, I picked up the copy of The Artist’s Way that the ex-boyfriend had given me earlier that year, found a journal to do morning pages in, and resolved myself to finding a therapist the minute I got back to Houston. It was then that my attitudes began to change.

I discovered that gratitude and humility were important aspects to life as a musician and a performer. I discovered that my love of and passion for music had been usurped by ambition and “career” aspirations. My desires began to change and become more specific. I stopped fantasizing about a vague future and became more focused on the details of the present. I became more focused on doing the best work I could possibly do and constantly trying to improve as opposed to being the “best”(whatever I imagined that was) and comparing myself to other people. Competitors became colleagues, and I discovered that it is not the flashy result or performance that is important, but the substance of the work and the journey to get there. I discovered that in reality, there is no “making it” or “getting there” – there is only the going.

As much as I hated to admit it, I found that I had sort of stumbled into life as a musician. I liked music, first as a violinist in my youth, and then as a singer in my teenage years into college. Looking back, I realize I was responding to a calling that I had to answer. But by blindly following that call, I never bothered to ask myself why I was pursuing the path I had chosen. I decided it was what I wanted to do without a single thought as to why, and I naïvely thought I was entitled to a successful career doing it.

Speaking with Jeremy last night, the differences between his path and mine as professional musicians were interesting to me. His attitude is inspiring to me, especially in the fact that it has always been present in his work ethic. He pointed out to me last night that regardless of whether he is playing for a choir of junior high students, playing for a bevy of young violists trying to learn how to deal with their instruments, coaching professional singers, or playing a rehearsal at a great opera company that he always chooses to try play musically and with inspiration in the hopes that whoever he is making music with will respond in kind, and be that much better, enjoy the experience that much more, and come that much closer to discovering that extra level of beauty, technical proficiency, or whatever truth it is they are after. “Isn’t that why we are here? Isn’t that why we do this?” he asked me. Listening to him talk, I agreed, wishing that I had realized that when I started on this path.

Jeremy’s primary goal has always been to be able to make a living as a musician. He always has known that it is an earned blessing to be able to call music our vocation and to be able to support ourselves from this work. As a result, every milestone he has reached and every accomplishment he has achieved are real privileges to him and opportunities to be savored. It also shows in his fierce commitment and care for the work, which is something I marvel at. It was never something I realized until I was far into my training, and I must say that I am glad that I can see it now. It allows me to do this and find real happiness and fulfillment as I explore the paths that this profession opens for me.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Working / Cold

I said to someone recently that I have not ever worked as hard as I am now here in Lille.

I think between my work-aholism and an adventurous and intensely fun visit with Jeremy this weekend, I’ve pushed myself a little too hard, as I now find myself at home with a nose that is running like a faucet.

My comment about working so hard wasn’t a complaint, actually. I have really been enjoying toiling away on this role, because it is the scariest thing that I will ever sing. It is high, it is fast, it is slightly uncomfortable, and it is a lot of singing. Technically, it requires me to walk a very narrow tightrope in order to pull it off, all the while trying to be expressive and run around on stage. Working diligently on it everyday both in my practice room and in rehearsal is how I deal with my fear. It’s a great feeling to confront my fear – it’s like lifting a fog that pervades my mind, and I see more clearly and proceed more confidently with every step I take. As the days go by, I find that I am learning to enjoy myself as I negotiate the technical traps that riddle the piece – my fear begins to give way to fun.

The most enjoyable aspect of rehearsal has been getting to rehearse in the theater itself. Oftentimes, either for expense or budgetary reasons or simply because the theater has so much going on, rehearsal time in the theater is severely limited. Oftentimes we only get about five or six rehearsals in the theater itself, and we spend almost a month in the rehearsal room. Here, we have the opportunity to have almost a month of rehearsal time in the theater, on the real set, with our real props. It is great to be able to get to know both the physical space of the set and the theater’s acoustic so well, especially because the theater here is such a gem.

Now I wish my cold would hurry up and go away so I can get back to working this music into my body and voice.

*The top picture is a picture of the exterior of the opera house in Lille. The second picture is the view from my dressing room (which is also functioning as my practice room while I am here).