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


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.


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


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


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.”