Sunday
Jan152012

Sh*t Opera Singers Say

After some a very serious post the other day, here's a little comedy to lighten things up. Enjoy! 

 

 

Friday
Jan132012

New York City Opera in peril

There is a group on facebook of colleagues past and present from New York City Opera, where we discuss, sometimes quite heatedly, the current tragedy that is the possible collapse of a great American Institution; the New York City Opera. Even though I have no "dog in the fight," that is, I have not been hired by the current administration, nor am I part of the chorus or orchestra currently in union negotiations, I am terribly interested in the proceedings for many reasons. The first is that I am a member of AGMA, the union representing the singers and directors that is currently locked out of rehearsals. The second is just my general love and commitment to the company after all it has done for me and my career, as well as the carreers of many artists just like me. The third is that I strongly believe that having a second opera company in a cultural center like New York City, one that doesn't have the biggest budgets in the country and the biggest stars, but has a very high profile nonethelss, provides an incredibly valuable artistic contribution to a city, and as an example, to a nation, which is already suffering terribly from cultural antipathy and an almost unhealthy fixation with things like Kardashians and Snookis. 

The first reason listed above, the fact that I am a member of AGMA, is one of the things causing a bit of controversy among certain current and former members of the company. Many people may not be aware that both the singers of the chorus and the solo singers are represented by the same union. It makes sense, since we are all singers, and we therefore have many of the same needs in a union - adequate breaks, safety, scheduled days off, etc. But of course the tricky part is that under the current City Opera model, solo singers are freelancers, while chorus singers are employees, and so the union can effectively negotiate things like guaranteed weeks of work, health insurance, and unemployment benefits for only one group of its constituents. It actually only becomes tricky when there is a possible strike at a company like City Opera, which employs both freelancers and employee union members (many companies hire the chorus on a freelance basis) because the soloists are required to strike with the chorus because they are members of the union, even though the nature of the soloists jobs is not necessarily one of the items on the negotiating table. Soloists often feel they are unfairly thrown into the fight although they have no items of their own being fought for, while some chorus members feel that because the union represents us all, soloists are being selfish if they suggest that they do not belong on the same side of the picket line as the choristers (and in this case the orchestra, although they have their own separate union). It is a sticky situation, and one that can lead to disagreements and frustation among people who would normally never find themselves in opposition to one another. If there is a strike, the performances will likely have to be cancelled anyway, so I imagine it will be a moot point. It does, however, continue to ruffle some feathers and hurt some feelings on both sides. 

There have been some people suggesting that although the fate of City Opera is terrible, it is inevitable, and that the chorus and orchestra should realize that some work is better than no work, and that this reduced model is the only way City Opera can remain open. However, others suggest that the financial shortfall has been a result of gross mismanagement on the part of the current administration and the Board, and that the direction the current administration wishes to take New York City Opera does not reflect the way the company was intended to be run by its founders, and by the generations of impresarios that have lead the company since (as reflected by the letter of non support written by Julius Rudel, as well as the petitions signed by many former company lumanaries). 

I obviously have not been privy to the numbers that the Board and the administration have been looking at which have caused them first to vacate the newly renovated Lincoln Center, and then decide that the system of artist employees should be abolished, so I certainly cannot state with authority that there must have been another alternative. I am however of the opinion that if you want to be an Opera producer, trying to shrink a company and change the business model to something smaller is not necessarily the only way to "save" the company. New York City Opera, although possessing a much smaller budget than the Met, was still always thought of as a "Grand" opera company, partly because of its location at Lincoln Center and the size of the theater, but also partly because of the number and variety of productions each season, which would have been impossible without a full time chorus and orchestra. And why do we need another Grand Opera company, when the Met, right next door, does everything so well, and with so much money - and even provides access to less expensive ticket alternatives?

For me, the answer is because Grand Opera, when produced on a grand scale but not necessarily with a grand budget, provides a different and yet equally valuable artistic experience for both the artistic community and the audience. A sparser production may thrust a performer more easily and clearly into the spotlight, and a young cast which is thrown onto the stage for the first time without the benefit of an orchestral dress rehearsal has a spontaneous energy and enthusiasm which is hard to match in other situations. When a company becomes itinerent and employee-less, there are still certainly possibilities for great art to occur, but it is simply of another variety than the one we have grown accustomed to in these past 60 plus years, and why some people argue that the new way of running the company that is envisioned by the current administration should not be called New York City Opera. 

I wish I could imagine a solution to come up the the shortfall of cash missing from the budget that would allow City Opera to remain at Lincoln Center, and produce 13 productions, and pay the orchestra and chorus their hard earned salaries. If I won the lottery, that is definitely what I would do with the money. However, I also acknowledge the fact that whether we like it or not, Opera in this country is produced by people who have money to produce it, and they are in charge. If we don't like that model, our choices are to move to Europe (where there are still healthy government subidies of the arts), start our own artist run company where everyone donates their services, or find another line of work. That's not to say that artists who have been employed for years and years by a company and now find their compensation cut down by 90% shouldn't do everything in their power to insist that they don't lose their livliehoods. It just leaves us with that question that we continue to be unable to answer with complete authority - how do we create more of an interest in the arts, enough so that we can continue to afford to do it? The money is out there, but we have to continually, and creatively, find a way to funnel some more of it in our direction. We have to keep working to maintain the grandness, so that the final outcome for gathering an audience doesn't become hiring Kim Kardashian and Snooki as Susanna and the Countess. 

Wednesday
Nov232011

Feeling Afraid

My dear friend Nick Phan sent me this short clip of actor Edward Norton speaking about what it's like to start some new artistic project. I sang some Bach concerts with Nick this weekend, and shared with him how nervous I can sometimes get while singing Bach (Nick always amazes me with his grace under pressure in those situations). I find it inspiring to know artists of all calibers and fame levels struggle with fear and performance anxiety. Enjoy! And Happy Thanksgiving to all my American readers! 

Saturday
Oct222011

What a difference an ocean makes

Lately, I've been contemplating the differences between working in Europe and working in the U.S., since I think I've now had adequate experience working at Opera companies in both places to make some observations. One of the big differences is that in Europe, there is no union representing the solo singers, and the unions that represent the choruses and orchestras function very differently than in the U.S. Some perfect examples of this occurred during the dress rehearsal here in Liege. I was standing back stage next to one of the guys who also works backstage, and he had his nice SLR camera out and was taking photos of the singers from backstage. He caught a great one of me jumping out the window, and showed me on his little camera screen after I left the stage. Then he gave me his card and said I could email him for copies of all the pictures free of charge. I remembered that when I was singing in New Orleans, I had recently gotten more interested in photography having purchased myself an SLR camera, and since I was singing Stephano in Romeo and Juliet, I had a lot of downtime offstage. So I brought my camera and was in the wings snapping photos during a dress rehearsal, until one of the stage managers told me I had to stop - I wasn't allowed to do that. I wasn't going to sell them or anything, but one of the unions (maybe AGMA, but I'm not sure) prevents anyone from taking pictures who isn't the company photographers - I suppose, to protect the singers from having their image taken without their permission. But I was personally very happy that this nice guy backstage was taking photos of me, and so I give one point here to the no union for singers category.

Then later on in the dress rehearsal in Liege, I had a bit of an accident on stage, and fell into this gap between the back of the rake and the platform behind it during a scene where another singer is staged to push me. I lost my balance and fell down into this gap, and didn't break anything, but managed to get a big bruise all up and down my leg from smashing into the back of the rake. When I left the stage, nobody had seemed to notice my fall, because nobody asked me about it (except the baritone who had watched it happen from the stage). I was fine - I didn't need any medical assistance, and if I had needed it, I certainly could have asked the stage manager, but I am used to any accident on stage being extremely well attended to and reported, from my experience with U.S. companies. For example, back to New Orleans; during one of the scenes on stage with Romeo (who was being sung by Paul Groves), he was supposed to shove me out of the way, and during one of the performances, I tripped and fell down onto my hip and hand pretty hard. As soon as I left the stage, stage management was all over me, wanting me to fill out an accident report, and there was an ice pack waiting for me in the dressing room. So I guess that's one point for the unions compelling the company to look out for the singers. 

There has been a lot of discussion about AGMA recently among the New York singer set, because of the negotiations between New York City Opera and AGMA. Because AGMA also represents the chorus of NYCO, and they are in a large dispute about the terms of their contract, solos singers have been informed by AGMA that if there is a strike, they will also be required to strike, or face legal action from the union for being considered scabs. While most singers are in full support of their fellow AGMA members, some take umbridge with the fact that the soloists are required to strike with the choristers, since even though we are part of the same union, said union is not able to provide the same job protection for soloists as it is for choristers because of the fact that soloists are freelance artists. There has been some argument amongst people about this issue, and it has lead to discussions about what exactly the unions do for soloists, who require different protections than people with full or part time employment. Having had a lot of experience in non union houses in Europe, as well has having worked for years at City Opera and other AGMA houses in the U.S., I think I can make a pretty fair assessment of what a union can and can't do for a soloist. 

Two things that stand out are safety (see above story) and rehearsal hours. There aren't really any restrictions on rehearsal hours in Europe, nor is there anyone around to enforce a rehearsal being over at 7 when the schedule said it was over at 7. In Italy, the rehearsal call was often 4 PM til 10 PM with no break scheduled in. Of course, we were always given a break, or a few, and rehearsals generally ended much earlier than 10PM, but I know some American colleagues who would have been horrified by the idea that they couldn't count on eating dinner until after 10 PM. In AGMA houses, you have no more than 6 hours of rehearsal a day, with scheduled breaks, and rehearsals begin and end promptly when they are scheduled. There is literally a stage manager with a stop watch, who will stop the director mid sentence if needed, in order to end the rehearsal on time. I personally love rehearsing, and prefer to just finish the scene we're doing instead of stopping in the middle, but I also find that the imposed rehearsal times forces directors to be more organized in what they are doing, and also forces a kind of economy and time management, which is what allows most U.S. companies to go from the first rehearsal to the opening in only 3 weeks, where in Europe it often takes as many as 6 weeks to arrive at the same point. In Europe there is generally more stage time and more orchestra time, which accounts for some of the extra time, but there is definitely more leeway during the staging process. Some argue that this produces a better artistic result, and it definitely does in some cases, but in some cases it results in a lot of wasted time. It totally depends on the director and the situation. 

One reason that I actually love the lack of unions in Europe is their ability to video rehearsals and performances both for distrubution, but also lately, for web consumption. Liege not only has many videos of the rehearsals from Nozze up online, but they will be live streaming an entire performance on October 29th, to anybody in the world who wants to watch it. To me, that is an absolutely wonderful way to share the art form and to keep it alive and kicking in difficult times, and I think it's a pity that both AGMA and the orchestral unions make this almost impossible for U.S. companies to consider doing. Speaking of the live stream, here is a link to the website where the transmission will take place, 8 PM Europe time, October 29th. There are also lots of fun videos from rehearsals, interviews, etc. I LOVE that Liege is sharing in this way - I think it is a great idea, and allows them to have an audience around the world! 

I'm not one of those singers (and there are some) who compain that AGMA does nothing for solo singers - I have seen first hand certain ways it can protect soloists. But I haven't had any particularly terrible experiences in Europe as a result of not having had a union either. I guess my opinion is that I am lucky to get to experience working on both sides of the ocean, and I wouldn't necessarily want to change either one to be more like the other, because they both have their positives and negatives. One day, when I run an opera company, maybe I can figure out a way to get the best of both worlds to come together. Until then, enjoy the live web stream, from whichever side of the pond you find yourself on October 29th! 

Monday
Oct172011

You're invited

To see me perform Cherubino live on the internet! There will be a performance of Nozze di Figaro streamed live on the Internet. Here is a sneak peak:
Le Nozze di Figaro (Mozart) - Rehearsal 12... par operaliege

Wednesday
Oct052011

Cherubino forever

Oh blogosphere - can I just sing Cherubino for ever and ever, all over the place, and never have to do anything else? I'm telling you, if I had to pick just one role to sing for the rest of my life, it would definitely be this one. It has the perfect combination of being the highest impact with the littlest amount of effort, which means I feel no stress when performing it (which frankly, is really great), I adore playing this little trouble maker who is always dressing up like ladies and jumping out of windows, and most importantly, I could listen to the music to Le Nozze di Figaro every single day for the rest of my life and never, ever get tired of it. Mozart's music, and particularly the music in this opera, just does something transformative to me every time I hear it. Even if it's just in a little practice room with singers and a piano, I am absolutely transported every time I hear it. I'm positively giddy when we get to the sitzprobe and I get to hear it with the orchestra. I get goosebumps every single time I hear the overture. And I've been performing the role for 10 years! 

I'm in Liege, Belgium, by the way - as I mentioned in my previous post about traveling. I haven't actually sung Cherubino in several years, and being back in his trousers just reminds me every day of what I love about this opera. And especially after all this fiendishly difficult baroque music that I've been doing lately, Cherubino is like a fabulous vacation from stress, where I not only get to relax and have fun, but also get to hear my absolute favorite music every single day! Last night, I was called to a rehearsal where all I did was sat and listened to the finale of Act II for two hours (my favorite part of the opera, musically - it's a pity that Cherubino jumps out the window just before it begins so I only get to listen, not sing in it!). Normally I would probably be annoyed to sit there for so long and not rehearse, but not with this music. And I'm such a dork - I'm constantly telling everyone "Ooooh - I LOVE this part!!" and humming and swaying and mini conducting when I'm sitting there listening. I can't help it - Mozart really brings out my inner music nerd. 

And one thing I've been particularly enjoying about this production is that there are two italian singers in the roles of Figaro and the Countess, and I have been listening carefully to the way they deliver the text of this libretto that I know so well. As I get older, I have learned which things to pay attention to as teaching moments for myself, and one of those important things is to always listen carefully to the way the native speakers of any libretto deliver the text. I was listening to a lot of italians when I did Clemenza di Tito in Torino, but since it was my first time with the role, it didn't have the same impact as it does listening to this libretto that I know so well. Plus, this is the first time I've performed Nozze since I learned to actually speak italian myself, and although I always knew what all the words meant, speaking the language allows me to play with the text in new and exciting ways, and easier comprehension frees me up to play with other things more. 

Speaking of languages, this is my first time working in a francophone country, so I'm really giving it a go with french. It's funny that it has taken me this long to really improve my french, since I started studying french in the 9th grade. I took 4 years of it in high school, and was at least somewhat proficient, and then have had not one, but two french speaking boyfriends in the years since, and have studied privately a bit here and there. But I have honestly never had the occasion to really speak french for more than a few words here and there. (Lesson learned; if you're going to find a foreign boyfriend, make sure they don't speak any english!!!). And then, since I took all those lessons, I actually learned to speak italian, and that became my default other language. So when I first arrived here in Liege, I knew most of the words I wanted to say were in my head, but the passage from brain to mouth was slow and rocky, and peppered with about 25% italian words. I insisted to almost everyone, however, that they please speak to me only in French, because I knew that I would never get any better if I didn't force myself to speak, even if it meant sounding really stupid 95% of the time. It has definitely gotten a lot better in the two and a half weeks I've been here, although I still hate how tongue tied I get if I try to speak too quickly. I can understand everything everyone says to me, I just sort of sound like a french hillbilly when I respond. And in the meantime I still speak italian to the italian singers because I don't want to lose that while I'm switching to french, so my brain is basically on high alert at all times. 

By the way - I received a comment on a post that the YAP tracker facebook page had put a link to my blog, so I want to say hi to any young artist type singers who might be checking in - I basically write this blog for you guys - and so my mom and dad can admire their daughter's lofty prose. I really want to recommend to all you YAPpers, if you haven't already seen it, please check out Susanne Mentzer's blog posts on the Huffington Post. She's a great lady and a really wonderful writer, in addition to being one of the best American mezzos that has ever graced the stage. Here's a link to the most recent post. Trust me - worth a read. 

Oh also - I'm now officially on itunes! Like as in, if you type my name into itunes, tracks of my singing actually appear!! It's because they have now released the Agrippina recording to itunes, so there I am, in all my 99 cents per track glory! Pretty neat-o, huh? Okay, see y'all later - I mean, a bientot! 

 

Sunday
Sep252011

The Traveler (what to bring)

Okay, so I am averaging only one post per job. That is not very prodigious. However, having arrived in Liege, Belgium, into my umpteenth sight-unseen apartment, I realized that I want to help others who may be traveling in Europe for work or auditions, with a list of helpful things to pack in your suitcase. I've been gone so much in the last couple of years, that some people my boyfriend has met several times in New York were teasing him that I am a figment of his imagination, since they've never met me. I'm hoping that all this time on the road will profit anybody else who follows the same path and ends up spending a lot of time abroad. Here is a list of things that I think are helpful to pack for an American living in Europe for any period of time.

1. Pack enough underwear and socks for a couple of weeks at least. I usually pack 3 weeks worth. Sometimes I have a washing machine in my apartment, but about half the time I don't. Which means figuring out a foreign laundromat (see my video of my attempts at laundromatting in Innsbruck). It's not a big deal, but I like to put it off as long as possible, and underpants are small and you can fit a lot in your suitcase.

2. A suction-cup showerhead holder. I actually forgot mine this trip and I'm annoyed at myself. Often, when there is a bathtub, there will be a showerhead, but it won't be attached to anything - you are just supposed to hold it over your head when you shower. This annoys the crap out of me and I still haven't figured out a way to do it without soaking the entire bathroom in errant water-spray. So, I bought on Amazon.com for under 10 bucks this shower head holder that suctions to the tile of the shower wall wherever you want it, and allows you to stand under the water and use both hands to wash your hair. Revolutionary!

3. Coffee paraphenalia: If you drink coffee in the morning, maybe you'll want to go out to a cafe each morning (in Italy it's pretty easy and cheap) or maybe the apartment you're staying in will have some type of coffee maker, but don't count on it. I like to drink cappucino in the morning, so I have a tiny portable stovetop espresso maker and this amazing milk frother that I bought in Berlin, that heats the milk on the stovetop and then uses a pump to make it foamy. I use it even at home instead of the steam wand on my espresso machine. Or, if you prefer American coffee, you can bring a little french press. You won't find American style drip coffee in most European countries, although weirdly, my apartment here in Liege has a Mr. Coffee. But you really never know what will be provided for you, and it's better to be prepared. I know people who travel with a little bit of coffee and some powdered milk so that first morning they can wake up without having to trek to the store first thing when they arrive.

4. Cooking paraphenalia: If you're like me, and you like to cook for yourself, you have to realize that while most rental kitchens have some stuff, there is always a shortage of certain things. If I'm feeling zealous, I'll prepare myself a little cooking package to put in my suitcase with a small wooden cutting board ( I have NEVER found a cutting board in a single European apartment - I don't know why - I've been using the top of a margarine container this time in Liege), a good knife (not in your carry-on, please!!), a corkscrew with a bottle opener (another thing often missing and so frustrating when you're staring at a bottle of wine after a long day), and any tools that you use a lot in the kitchen that aren't too big. Just don't forget to pack them and take them home at the end of the trip.

5. A hobby: This sounds like kind of a weird one, but let me explain. Usually, you will only be rehearsing 6 hours a day, sometimes less. Sometimes everyone in the cast will socialize constantly and you will have a blast every night. However, more often than not, people go home and do their own thing, and you have hours to fill, without your friends to hang out with, without a tv in your language, and in a city you don't know. Some people certainly like exploring and being tourists, but often this is tiring, and not as fun all by yourself. I have my computer stocked with movies and tv series to watch and unwind at night after rehearsal, I bring my fancy SLR camera and go out in the hood and take interesting photos, and this time I actually brought a little portable sewing machine, and when I find a fabric store or a used clothing store, I plan to go to town. This differs for different people, but most singers I know go a little crazy and get terribly lonely when they don't have something to occupy themselves, which can be more of a challenge when you're not at home with all your stuff. Thus my statement; bring a hobby.

6. Vitamins and Medicines: If you're a singer, then you're also practically a medical doctor. You know exactly what's wrong with you from the first second your throat feels a tickle, and you know what works to treat it. But the medicines in different countries vary vastly, and if you know when you have a cold, sudafed with mucinex works, bring it! I also use emergen-C vitamin powder in my grapefruit juice every morning, and have an array of prescription drugs that I know cure me when I can't sing. Oh - and melatonin is not over the counter in Germany, and I use that natural supplement to help with jet lag for the first few nights. Once I forgot it on a trip to Germany and had to take something else, which didn't work at all. Now I never forget it, and I take it at night for three nights, and I'm fine. I hate Ambien - it gives me insane nightmares and makes me groggy, but some people swear by it. 

7. Ear plugs, eye mask; like mine is now, your apartment might be on a busy boulevard where drunk people are yelling at all hours of the night. You need your beauty rest to be able to sing - don't forget your earplugs, and your eye mask in case there aren't good curtains. 

8. An extra unlocked mobile phone; If you are in a place for more than a few weeks, it often makes sense to buy a sim card (usually only 5 euro) with a local number and some minutes (purchased in 5 euro increments ) so that the theater can send you messages about rehearsals, and you can call or text other cast members without incruing heavy fees from your American carrier. It's a different system in Europe, and you can have a number in every country for pretty cheap. Of course, keeping track of those tiny sim cards after you leave the country is a challenge, and my Berlin friends are always a litle annoyed that every time I come back to Berlin I have to buy a new one and they have to reprogram their phone with my new number. Sometimes I'll find an old one and see that I have 12 new messages because people were still trying to call the old one. But I'm disorganized like that. I'm sure you all will be much more careful! 

9. Excercize: I like to bring a travel yoga mat and some yoga videos on my computer, plus my running shoes. Gyms aren't exactly prevelant in Europe - they exist, but you have to look - so I like to do my own thing in my room. When I'm not too busy eating chocolate croissants, that is. 

Of course, there are a million other things that people like to bring when they travel, and none of this is exactly revelatory, but I do kind of wish I would have had a list like this the first couple of times I went abroad to work, just to remind me of some things to throw in my suitcase to make the whole experience more like home. 

Bon Voyage! 

 

Thursday
Aug252011

Is this thing on?

Oh dio mio. First my excuse was that I was on vacation from singing and that's why I wasn't blogging. Now my excuse is that I'm too darn hot. That's not exactly a proper excuse, but seriously, if you've ever been in Italy in the end of August, you just might understand. 

I arrived in Jesi about a week and a half ago to begin rehearsals for another production of L'Olimpiade - the same opera I sang and recorded in Innsbruck, but in a completely different production. I have to say it was pretty awesome to get hired to sing L'Olimpiade again, because as you might remember from my blogs about it last summer, learning it was a pain in the butt, and I had no idea if I would ever have the opportunity to sing it again. But here I am! 

So, I was really excited to come to Italy. If you've read my blog from the beginning, you know that the reason I started blogging was because I was working in Italy for the first time and wanted to record what was going on. And though I was baffled by some things, I was basically in love with Italy and couldn't get enough of it. But here's the thing; I was never here in August. And apparently, it's even hotter than it normally is, and for many more days. There hasn't been a day where the high temperature didn't reach into the nineties. And even for me, who generally shuns air conditioning with even the hottest temperatures, it has been absolutely overwhelmingly horrifying. And there is not an air conditoner in sight. And my aparment is on the top floor of a very old building with very poor ventilation. I feel like a baked potato.  

When I first arrived, I had my usual bout of anxiousness about being in a new situation, and was upsest to discover that the usb stick that I was supposed to use for all my internet purposes only worked intermittently. I almost had an anxiety attack when I thought I wouldn't be able to use skype to call my family for an entire month. I've said this before and I'll say it again; there's no way I could do this job without the aid of the internet. I NEED to stay connected to those people that ground me in life or I feel like I'm going to float away. And those first couple of days in Jesi when I thought that there wasn't going to be a way for me to keep in contact with them that wasn't prohibitively expensive, I wondered whether I was going to have to turn around and go back home. I know that sounds drastic, but remember that I have been safely ensconsed in my apartment in New York all summer with no stress except for my cat loudly meowing at 6 in the morning. And then suddenly I find myself in a foreign country with no reliable connection to the outside world. 

But luckily I made it past those first couple of days, found a couple of internet cafes, and found the best programs to use with this fickle usb stick that seemed to work more of the time than not (google chat seems to work better than skype, which won't work at all). And I discovered just how different this L'Olimpiade would be from the last one. 

I assumed that it would be many of the same singers from Innsbruck, since the conductor and the orchestra will be the same, but it was just little old me and a whole cast of new singers. There are some illustrious names in the group, including tenor Raul Giminez, who has sung in all the major houses in the world, and soprano Lyuba Petrova, who you may remember as the Queen of the Night from the Kenneth Branaugh Magic Flute Movie. But the production is very different than I imagined, because the format is different than anything I have ever experienced. 

I assumed we would be performing in the theater named after Pergolesi himself, but instead we will be performing in a church just down the street, which has been converted into a little theater. But instead of performing on that stage, a platform has been set up in the shape of a cross the covers the entire floor of the theater, and there are seats for the public in the four corners of the cross. The orchestra will be on the stage behind the platform, and the singers will face any direction they want, since there are audience members on all sides. It is a type of theater in the round, with the public very close and seeing things from different vantage points. There is virurually no set other than the platform, and there are 6 supers who play various roles, from moving various pieces of furniture to playing servants to dancing. It is actuallly going to be really interesting from the audience perspective because instead of watching everything from afar, it will almost be as if they are inside what is happening, which is extremely rare for an opera production.

And even with all the turmoil and anxiety I was feeling in the first couple of days, I had to admit that I was in Italy, and there were some things that were balancing the heat and isolation - namely; the food. I don't know why the food that you buy here tastes so much better than it does at even the fanciest farmers market in the U.S., but there is just a huge difference. The peaches are bursting with flavor, the egg yolks are almost red, and the sausage never turns a dull grey when you cook it. The ricotta tastes like it came directly from the udder of a cow and the arugula is so spicy it's like eating black pepper. There is just no place I have been where food is taken so incredibly seriously. I will never get tired of eating here, that's for sure. 

More soon, assuming I haven't melted......

Tuesday
Jul122011

I'm still alive

Um, hi. It's been a few....months(!!) since I've written anything here. MONTHS!! What has gotten into me? I'm the world's most delinquent blogger!!! You know how someone calls you, and for various reasons you put off calling them back, but the longer you wait, the harder it is to call? Well....

But I've gotten enough emails and comments from people asking me if I'm still alive, that I felt I needed to write down a few words, just to reassure anybody who may not have given up on me. I haven't written anything for several reasons. First, I haven't been working, and since this blog is all my opera stories, I didn't have a lot to share. I have been off since March, and don't go back to work until August. There's nothing wrong with me, it just worked out that my schedule was really empty for the summer, and I didn't mind one bit, so I didn't hustle to try to fill it. I know that some singers go non-stop for their entire career, but two years of barely being home was enough for me to need a large break, so that's what I've been taking. It's been fabulous, and I've been entertaining myself by learning to sew and cooking and hanging out in NYC, which I haven't done in a relaxed manner in some time. And I guess I could have posted pictures of the food I cooked or the purses I've sewn, but I had a feeling that might not be particularly interesting. Even my facebook friends were starting to get annoyed by my "look what I made today!!!" status updates. 

And you know what, YES, having a boyfriend makes me need to blog less often. Even reading that makes me cringe a little bit (I'm not one of those girls who gets a boyfriend and suddenly stops calling all her girlfriends, I swear!!!). But it's not because I'm running around swooning in love, and therefore too mooney-eyed to bother to write a few words. It's just because I started blogging because I was on the road a lot, and I was lonely, and I wanted to have a platform from which to share all the experiences I was having with other human people. The blog was a regular thing in my life that gave me comfort, and all the readers gave me support. And with an actual partner in my life, I don't feel so lonely all the time, and I share all my experiences with him, so the blog kind of fell by the wayside as a result.

But the fact is that I love writing, and I love that people have written to me and told me that the honesty of the blog helped them in some way. I have tried to cut through all the crap and just write an honest account of what it's like to have this particular life. And it really does make me feel all warm and fuzzy when fans, young singing students, and just regular folks email me and tell me they are enjoying reading what I'm writing. So, no, I'm not quitting the blog. I was just taking a rather large hiatus. 

During the hiatus, the Pergolesi CD finally officially "dropped" (that's right, one CD and I'm already a master at the lingo). You can buy it on Amazon here. I wish we still had actual CD stores in the U.S. so I could go wander around the store and casually pick up the CD like "oh, what's this? This looks interesting..." but alas, those stores are a thing of the past here. I did have a friend tell me he had seen it and listened to it in a store in Paris, so at least it's sitting on a shelf somewhere! 

In other CD news, the Harmonia Mundi Brochure which announces the release of the Agrippina CD also just came out, and they posted a couple clips of arias there. If you click the listen link you will hear one of the soprano arias followed by one of my arias all in one track. In fact it decided to play right now on my computer as I type this. And I can stand to listen to it, which, for me, is great news (I can be a little, let's say critical, of my own singing, as you might have noticed from my previous blog posts). And the orchestra sounds frigging awesome - they are REALLY something else!! 

That's about all for now. I leave for Italy in August to go sing another production of the very same Pergolesi from the recording at the Pergolesi Festival in Jesi, Italy - Pergolesi's birthplace. It's not going to suck to go to Italy in late summer/early fall and be right near the Adriatic Sea. I promise I'll go back to reporting then. I hope you are all having a happy, healthy summer!!

Saturday
Apr162011

Okay.... don't get mad

But I might have sung the Messiah last night, and it might have been broadcast on the radio, and I might not have told you about it because, well, I wasn't 100% confident that I wanted anybody to hear it. It's not that I'm not confident about my singing in general, it's just that the Messiah is REALLY low, and I always think of myself as an impostor when I'm bellowing out notes below the staff. I've only sung the Messiah once before, and even that time was kind of an experiment to prove to myself (and my friend Will, who was encouraging me to sing it and standing next to me singing the tenor solos) that SEE - it's too low - I suck at this. It wasn't so bad that time, as it turned out, which is why when the Music of the Baroque Orchestra called me last week and asked me to jump in, I thought - okay, I can do this. I just wasn't sure I could handle the pressure of knowing people I knew were listening on the radio. But, as it turned out, it went fine. So..... sorry. And anyway, you didn't want to spend your friday night listening to the entire Messiah on the radio, did you? No, I didn't think so.

In other news, the Pergolesi opera that was recorded last summer in Innsbruck is being released on Amazon at the end of this month, and you can pre-order one now!!! My agent received an advanced copy in the mail the day I left for Chicago, and thanks to technology, was able to send me the tracks with my arias on them via email, and so I have already had the chance to listen to them. Now, my normal Jenny way would be to tell you all the things I think are wrong with my singing, and give you the whole "It's a live recording, so please excuse the blah blah blah." But I'm not going to do that. Did the sound engineers always use what I thought were my best takes (choosing between 3 performances)? No, not how I remember it. However, there were many moments when I did not want to rip the headphones out of my ears and pound my eardrums until they bled, which, when listening to a recording of oneself, is a good sign. And I have to say that the orchestra sounds fabulous, and I'm quite sure the other singers do as well, although I haven't had the opportunity to listen to their tracks yet. But having just sung concert versions of this opera with them, I know you will all be amazed by their singing and musicality. I was also very interested to listen to one of my arias in particular where I happened to be constantly in motion and climbing all over the set while singing. Could I tell I was climbing stairs? Yes. Will you be able to tell? I have no idea. 

One thing is for sure however - the first aria in L'Olimpiade is pretty much exactly an octave higher than the first aria in the Messiah. And that's just the life of having a voice type that means middle - you sing in the middle, which pretty much means everything from low F to high C, and everything in between. 

Here's the link to the Amazon page. Mostly, I am excited for you to hear this wonderful opera, which I bet none of you has ever heard since it doesn't currently exist on recording. Enjoy!!!