Monday, June 27, 2011

The Tricks of the Trade

I tweeted this a few weeks ago, but it still has me chuckling (it was one of the many things that had my Poppea colleagues and I in stitches while I was in Florence), so I figured it was worth it to share again here.

We could all use a few laughs to start off the week, right?

"Oops I Crapped My Pants" meets the Opera World - too bad this ad was actually a legitimate one and not a Saturday Night Live sketch...

Happy Monday, everyone!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Greek Sunset 1

In between the Maggio Musicale and the Saint-Denis Festival, I've escaped to Greece for a few days. After spending almost every summer here as a child and a teenager, this is my first trip back since 1997. It feels really good to be here. I just wish I hadn't forgotten most of my Greek. Languages are like muscles they say...they need to be exercised.

Sunsets are pretty here, too...

Friday, June 24, 2011

Poppea in Florence

The rehearsal process for getting our production of Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea up on its feet was luxurious in that we were able to do all of our staging rehearsals onstage in the theater instead of being trapped in a rehearsal room trying to imagine what the set was going to look like and be like to navigate.

Since we were in theater, I had a chance to play around at taking rehearsal shots with my camera, a few of which are below. Some are in costume and some are not...

Poppea (Susan Graham) and Nero (Jeremy Ovenden)

Poppea and Nero kissing each other goodbye

Drusilla (Ana Quintans) looking a bit sad that Ottone isn't paying attention to her

Poppea thinking about Nero as Ottone (Anders Dahlin) sneaks up from behind

Ottavia (José Maria Lo Monaco) sings of her frustrations as Nutrice (Nicola Marchesini) looks on

Poppea in the shadows

Ottone upset that Poppea has dumped him for Nero

Poppea and Nero

Poppea and Nero - they are pretty passionate about each other, as you can see...

Seneca (Matthew Brook) looking angrily at Ottavia

I must say, this production of Poppea was one of the most fun operatic experiences I have had in a long time. On top of being incredible musicians and actors with stunningly beautiful voices, my colleagues were some of the funniest people I have worked with in years. We shared countless laughs over some incredible meals and phenomenal bottles of wine, and I will treasure the memories from these past few weeks for a long time to come. My stomach and throat are still a bit sore from laughing so hard...

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Florentine Sunsets

In addition to some phenomenally sexy and sublime Monteverdi singing from my colleagues, Florence has also offered countless stunning sunsets. Crossing the Arno every night, walking to or from work, I have been greeted by some of the most beautiful sunset views I've ever seen. I tried to capture as many of them as I could with my iphone or camera. Here are some from these last few weeks here.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Cognitive Power of Breath

During my first semester of Opera Workshop at the University of Michigan, our director and teacher’s mantra was “remember your breathing”. At the time, I remember thinking that such advice was so obvious that it bordered on the obtuse. “Of course I’m breathing! How could I sing otherwise?!” I thought. It didn’t take long to dawn on me that he wasn’t asking me to remember what my voice teacher was trying to teach me – he was trying to get me to slow down my perception of time and root myself in the present moment.

As my yoga practice has intensified over the past few years, I’ve been thinking a lot of that seemingly simple advice from my Opera Workshop class at University. Just about every yoga teacher tells their students to focus on their breathing – it’s integral to the whole moving-meditation aspect of yoga. As I flow through my practice, I do my best to make sure that my feet are grounded, my knees in line with my middle toes, and my sacrum properly aligned all while I try to twist my body and my arms in all sorts of directions – it's a lot that one has to be mindful of as one flows from one pose to the next. I’ve found that in the midst of trying to achieve these crazy contortions, it’s been that focus on the breath that allows my panic and frustration fade way to clear-headed mindfulness, allowing me to ease my way into deeper realizations of the poses.

The ceiling of the Théatre des Champs-Élysées

While I was touring Handel’s Ariodante with Il Complesso Barocco last month, I found myself in a rather extraordinary situation in which I was making three major debuts in three very famous venues in three different countries within the space of a week. People often ask me if I ever get nervous – I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t that week. While I was excited about all of those concerts, I think that the one I was most excited about was our performance at the Théatre des Champs-Élysées, which marked my Paris debut. After dreaming for so many years of getting the chance to sing in Paris, I found myself making my debut there with some of the most fantastic colleagues I have ever had the pleasure of working with on the very stage where Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring premiered 98 years earlier. Getting ready for the concert, I kept marveling at how incredible it was that I was getting to make a debut in Paris in such style.

Sitting on stage as patiently as I could until the end of Act I, waiting to sing my first aria, I felt my excitement turn slowly into nerves, the voices in my head starting to shout out thoughts of unworthiness and painting out scenarios in vivid detail in which everything went awry. As my mind would start to wander off into some alternate universe of doubt, I found myself constantly coming back to my breathing, letting the sensation of the inhalations and exhalations carry me back to the present moment, which was in reality, one to savor and enjoy. When I finally got up to sing my first notes of the night, it was that focus on the breath that allowed me to completely clear my mind of its crazy inner dialogue and open myself up to letting Lurcanio’s story flow through me. My breathing didn’t just help me sing well, leading my expressions and emotions, but it also helped channel my thoughts to the present moment and focus on the task at hand. Funnily enough, the advice that I initially thought was so silly in college proved to be the one thing that enabled me to enjoy our performance that night.

I’ve been watching a lot of the archived TED talks lately in my free time here in Florence, and I stumbled across this one given by the soprano, Claron McFadden, last year, in which she sings a cool piece by John Cage – Aria. Her story about her experience at a meditation retreat in Thailand is what really struck me about her talk – I loved how her host compared singing to a meditation. My experiences over the past few weeks have made me think of singing the same way lately.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Thoughts on Practicing

We could all stand to channel this little guy in our own lives, I think...

Happy weekend everyone!

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Catching Up

Sorry for the light number of postings so far this year...I've been a bit overwhelmed with all of the singing that's been going on lately. I'll try to pick up the pace in the coming weeks...

In the meantime, for your viewing pleasure, here's a picture of one of the many sunsets I've been enjoying here the past few days in Florence, Italy.

It's a rough life, I tell you... :-)

And for your reading pleasure, here is a repost of my most recent entry at the Collaborative Institute of Chicago's blog, Collaborative Musings:


Let’s start this entry off with a few statistics. In these first 5 months of the year, I have given 28 performances of repertoire ranging from Bach to Britten. In those 28 performances, I performed 2 operas (Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia and Handel’s Ariodante), 6 oratorios (Carmina Burana, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, Bach’s St. John and St. Matthew Passions, Bach’s B minor Mass, Mendelssohn’s Elijah), a ballet (Stravinsky’s Pulcinella), an orchestral song cycle (Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings), and a song cycle for harp and tenor (Britten’s Birthday Hansel). It’s been a very exciting first half of the year so far, filled with incredible music and music-making colleagues.

The main reason I list all of these statistics is simply to give you a snapshot of how intense my musical life has been like since New Year’s. With so much wide-ranging, diverse repertoire to keep abreast of, it’s been quite challenging to keep abreast of it all without tying my throat in knots. The most intense period was when I found myself singing 8 concerts in 3 different cities in the first 9 days of April. At the beginning of week, I found myself wailing at the extreme heights of my range for Carmina Buranas in Denver, only then to fly back East to jump back and forth between Stravinsky’s arrangements of Pergolesi’s delicate vocal music for concerts in Philadelphia and the intricate twists and turns of Britten’s last song cycle for recitals in New York. In those 8 days alone, my vocal cords musically spanned 250 years.

In my efforts to stay on top of all of this diverse music and the packed schedule of the past few months, I’ve spent as much time as possible checking in with my voice teacher in New York during my days off between concerts. In our lessons over the past five months, I’ve noticed her asking me a musical question with increased frequency that has rarely been posed to me: “What do you want to do?”

Every time she has asked me that question in a lesson lately, it has inevitably been because I had no idea what I wanted to do in that particular place. It was a spot that I had glossed over or taken for granted. It was a phrase for with I had no specific plan. The best part is that each time she has asked that question, it has forced me to find an answer. It’s forced me to make choices. Both the grueling schedule and my teacher’s insistence on decision-making have forced me to take even more ownership of my musicianship.

In so much of our training as singers, we are taught how to sing by our teachers, taught musical styles and phrasings by our coaches, taught how to enunciate text by our diction coaches. Then after all of that preparation, we begin to rehearse with conductors who show us with their batons how they want the music to be sung and directors who shape our performances through their stage direction. But in the midst of all of that, it’s important not to become too passive. It’s important to keep thinking about how all of this information allows us to enhance what we are already trying to do. Both the grueling schedule and my teacher’s insistence on decision-making have forced me to take even more ownership of my musicianship.

Going back to my blog post a few weeks ago about – I have been finding that so many young singers are incredibly focused on trying to plan out their careers. Lately, I’ve found myself musing again on what I wrote back then – career plans are important, but it is our musical plans that are of the highest priority. When it comes to the music – do you know what you want to do?