Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Voyeur

One of the most incredible blessings and greatest challenges of having this opportunity to cover here in San Francisco has been to watch my colleagues who have been at the top echelons of this profession for some time now work their craft. Since I have been here, I have seen one performance of Lucia di Lammermoor, one performance of Das Rheingold, and 8 or 9 complete run-throughs/performances of Ariodante plus a couple of staging rehearsals and two orchestra rehearsals. It’s been a great opportunity to watch a lot of opera and a lot of opera singers – something I don’t actually get to do very often. The blessing is that watching these people has been an incredible way to learn. My colleagues here, while all very different, are masters of the art form in their various ways, and it has been inspirational and educational to watch them deal with the pressures of live performance.

The challenge has been that watching them also shows me how far I still have to go. All this time spent watching has provided a lot of time for reflection. On the one hand, it is great to see how far I have come – one of the first assignments I had in the Houston Grand Opera Studio six years ago was to cover Ariodante, with many of the same cast members that I am working with now. Then, I couldn’t imagine how my colleagues dealt with the pressure – now I’ve come a long way in learning how to cope. On the flip side, I also see many directions that I need to grow into and work towards, which is a bit daunting and humbling. I am seeing how endless the possibilities are in finding details in the text, I am realizing what I need to work on vocally, I am understanding how much more of my body I can use in performance. It all inspires me to get my butt into the practice room. On the days that I don’t, my inner critic’s voice gains volume and plants bitter weeds of self-chastisement for not being good enough already that start to choke out my confidence and drive. I try to remind myself every day that I do this for the journey by going to the practice room, because any sense of having “arrived” is illusory and fleeting, at best.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Apologies for the Heat

In the months before I got here, every time I mentioned that I was going spend part of the summer working in San Francisco, people would warn me about how cold the summers are here. Jeremy forced me to buy a jacket and pack warm clothes for this trip, quoting Mark Twain's famous comment about how the coldest winter he ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.

To a point, everyone's warnings proved true - it does get chilly here, and while I have yet to experience the infamous fog, I have had to make use of the layers I take with me everyday to brace myself against the sudden changes in temperature. Until the last few days, in which we have experienced a heat wave. Suddenly all of my friends who live here are apologizing for the hot, 90 degree weather (which to me is still much cooler than a humid 100 degress in the East village), wondering how I can manage to stay cool.

Google weather tells us that the weather should drop back down to it's usual 50-65 degree span tomorrow, and the city seems to wait with great anticipation for a return to the chilly summer normalcy that they are accustomed to kvetching about with hidden glee.

Friday, June 20, 2008


When looking for an apartment to rent for my month here in San Francisco, I wanted something that was close to the Opera, as I have never really spent any time here before, and I don’t know the city very well. As I am practically across the street from the Opera, I am also across the street from City Hall, where gay couples have been getting married this week now that the California Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage has taken effect.

Walking to work Tuesday, I saw a lesbian couple waiting to cross to my side of the street to get to city hall. They were both wearing nice dresses, and holding small bouquets of flowers, a couple of their friends armed with cameras, anxious to witness the ladies tie the knot. One of the ladies turned to her partner and smiled as the orange hand imploring us to stay on our respective side of the street became a bluish-white figure inviting us to walk. Her partner smiled back, took her hand, and they ventured across Van Ness Avenue to get married.

The unabashed joy in the air was infectious, and I smiled as I skipped up the curb and made my way to the stage door, awed to see dreams I had never imagined would be possible begin to come to fruition after so many years of struggling and waiting.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Just In Case...

As I took my seat next to a fellow understudy, settling in to watch the opening of Ariodante on Sunday afternoon, it suddenly struck me how paradoxical a situation covering is. What is difficult about it is that covers must sit, be silent, watch, and be ready just in case. Having prepared for the job just like any other – studying, practicing, and coaching the music within an inch of its life – there is a significant part of you that wants to go on, that wants to sing. As a singer, the choice to do this as a profession was a choice made from our passion for music and performing – that fire still burns hot within us, even when we are the understudy.

At the same time, my colleagues on stage are the singers whose recordings I have listened to day in and day out for years, they are my heroes in whose steps I wish to follow. I look up to their artistry, musicianship, and passion as examples of how I want to be as a performer, musician, and singer. The opportunity to get paid to watch, listen, and learn from them is a gift. So, as much as I want to sing, I never could wish anyone ill, let alone these people that I respect and admire so much. I only want to watch my colleagues succeed, flourish, stay healthy, and make their magic on stage as they mesmerize the audience.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


Pulling my tongue out as far as she could with a piece of gauze, the doctor peered into my mouth and pronounced the back of my throat a "beefy red". Most likely strep, was the conclusion, and the appropriate drugs were prescribed. Thankful for her generosity in squeezing in my appointment time, I headed home to continue my efforts to nurse myself back to health. Thanks to the magic of modern medicine and some intense napping, I am quickly beginning to feel like myself again.

My body has cried out very vehemently for a rest, the past couple of weeks still feeling like a blur. Why does time feel like that so much these days? The concerts in LA feel as if they were a lifetime ago, as opposed to last week, and while I have only been in San Francisco for a week, it feels as if I've spent months here. I should have known that I was headed for a crash, the hazy passing of time a warning signal.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Summer Camp '08

In my mind, although I am not suddenly been freed into three months vacation anymore, Memorial Day marked the arrival of summer. Since Portland, life has been a blur, flying by with that stressful feeling of tying up loose ends before the semester ends. Those Camrina Buranas seem like they happened months ago. Carlos' incredible energy on the podium, the orchestra's passionate playing, the chorus unable to stop themselves from dancing along and singing with unabashed joy, and the unselfconscious, smiling faces in the audience that reminded me of why I love being a musician are all distant memories now. The concert up at Tannery Pond last weekend felt in some ways like my final exam of the semester. After we were done and in the car on the way home, I felt the sudden rush of my mental seasons changing. Returning home Sunday night, I had the sensation that I was about to embark on some summer adventure, as if I was about to head off to Interlochen Arts Camp again for the summer.

My summer "music camp" experience is spread between four places this year. My first adventure is actually almost over - the American Premiere of Jake Heggie's new song cycle, Friendly Persuasions, was yesterday afternoon. As always with premieres, it felt very adventurous, but really gratifying, Jake's music is always full of an incredibly wide and fun range of emotional drama and humor, and I am looking forward to pushing the envelope even further with the next two performances.

After our final concert on Tuesday, I head up to San Francisco Opera to be a cover for their upcoming production of Ariodante. Having a month to focus on Handel, revisit Lurcanio, watch and learn from an incredible cast, and explore San Francisco is something I have been looking forward to for a long time. Next comes a month at an authentic music camp experience at Marlboro. I've been waiting to go back since I left last August, and every time I speak of Marlboro, I do so dreamily and with that tone of someone who has had a life-changing experience. My final stop will be at the Ravinia Festival in August, where I will get to step into Pedrillo's sweet and rambunctious shoes again.