Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Gelato, Rossini, and Rollercoasters

What a whirlwind this summer has been. My head is still spinning with the range of emotions and experiences I have had, which may account for my lack of writing for this journal. I don't intend to make a habit of being so absent! In short, this summer has been a tiny capsule of what life as a singer can be: a fast and furious ride on a roller coaster which relishes in whipping you around unseen curves, transporting you into the heavens and then mercilessly plunging you into those scream-inducing drops. At the time you may think your stomach will never make it through the final turn, but when it finally lets you rest, you step off, smile and say, "That was amazing, can we go again?"

I've realized during this summer that one of the big challenges for singers is that our environment is constantly changing. Our "office" changes every 6 weeks or so, our co-workers and bosses are never the same combination, and certainly our "home" is a series of apartments that we pray will be clean, mildly convenient, and if there is a wine opener on hand, that's strictly a bonus! We are not allowed the luxury of putting down roots, of settling in, and if we do, that's the precise moment it's time to pack up and move on. That is the very reason we have to work so hard at keeping the roots within us very strong and centered, because there will be a lot of things that come along and try to knock you off your center.

This summer I have had several challenges thrown at me, which I must say, has made the successes I've been given all the more sweeter. When you have a sick parent in this business, you're not granted the luxury of being by their side. You're left to the comfort of email updates and lots of praying that the stay in the hospital will be shorter this time. When you have the birth of a new niece (or in my case, the homecoming of a beautiful, strong-willed, joyful little angel from China!), you're left to the magic of digital pictures emailed to you in the middle of the night to try and decipher all there is to know about this new family member. When you receive professional news about another singer being awarded a job you think you're perfect for, without much more explanation other than "well, you see, they are on the 'star-track'," you have to digest that, put on your game face, and go out and perform as though your heart wasn't just broken! When you are collaborating with people who have a very different vision of your craft than you do, you have to find the way to accompish their vision while not compromising yours. When you encounter egos that seem to wipe out everything in their path, you have to find a way to still be professional, keep your dignity, and hold your ground. When your partner is miles and miles away, and that is the one and only shoulder you need to cry on, you have to put on your game face, dig down very deep, and re-learn WHY it is that we tolerate this lifestyle. Why is it important that I continue to live with such distance from the people I love, the people who need me, and the people that I need, to go out and sing "Una Voce poco fa" one more time?

I'll tell you why. Yesterday I performed a recital at the Rossini Opera Theater. It was a short recital, but quite compact in its intensity, I have to say. I only sang 3 pieces (Haydn, Handel and Rossini), and rather quickly, they seemed to win over the crowd, I'm happy to say. (I'm happy to say that, because I will never take it for granted anyone will ever applaud something I do -- I feel I need to earn that with each phrase that I sing.) The full house gave me quite an ovation, which lifted me up more than I can say. To sing Rossini for a group of people who are passionate about it (the same can be said for the performances of Barbiere which are going on at the same time here), I feel as if every nuance I do, every musical gesture, every expression is deeply and sincerely appreciated. This makes the hours of intense rehearsal and concentration really feel as if they have paid off. But to answer the question above, it was talking to the people afterwards that truly made me feel grateful that I have the opportunity to perform for them. I had people say they had travelled from Paris to hear me, others that took in all my performances in Milan and now here in Pesaro as well. And then there was the wonderful English gentleman who must have waited an entire hour to tell me he had heard me in a competition in London back in 1997, and although I hadn't made it to the finals, he pegged me then to do great things. It seems as though he took great satisfaction in seeing his words come to fruition. (I was also happy to tell him that the judges in that competition did NOT, in fact, peg me for great things, saying that in their expert opinion, I "had nothing to offer as an artist". That's my favorite quote EVER!)

My point of all of this, is that when I can see that people have been lifted up by a performance, for whatever reason, THIS is the reward that makes the distance and the difficulty worth it. I may sound like a corny girl from Kansas (wait a minute...I suppose I AM a corny girl from Kansas!), BUT, I think there is so much squallor and anger and fear and trepidation and worry in this world, that if I can carve out a tiny corner of beauty amongst the ugliness, and if a few people can step into that corner and experience what ALL humanity is capable of for a few precious minutes, well, I'll take the distance and the difficulty and the isolation, and I'll carry on happily for as long as I can. I truly do not mean to sound grandiose about this, instead, I want only to demonstrate that perhaps from stage we seem effortless and glamorous and privileged beyond belief, on the occasional occasion I can feel those things, but it is also a lot of sacrifice and work to sing that opening line "Una voce poco fa...". I truly feel privileged that I get such an opportunity.

Crash. (That is me getting off my soapbox.) Now, a few fun memories and thrills of this time in Pesaro:

*Singing with such an extraordinary cast. Someone told me the radio announcers during our live broadcast said something along the lines of (don't sue me if I'm misquoting!): "this is most assuredly the best Barbiere cast in recent history, possibly even surpassing the great Abbado recording!". Well, I'm the first one to recognize that surely everyone will have their own opinion about a statement like that, but I'm happy to relish in it for a moment or two! Sincerely, it is an extraordinary cast, and I am truly honored to stand alongside each and every one of them.
*Gelato. Pistacchio, banana, mela verde, fragola. Is there anything better?
*All the propietors here in Pesaro. As part of the festival, they really welcome the singers in such a warm and sincere way. The wonderful Spanish lady at Cartuccio Leo... what a fabulous Insalata di mare... The shy and wonderfully friendly host at Bar Rossini... Lorenzo at Bristolino!... the food is ENTIRELY too delicious... The Napoletani Pizza family of Donna Amalia...best pizza in the world...And the lovely husband and wife team who run the Boa Bar where I read email every day, always with my Diet Coke ready for me! I feel very much a part of the family here, which means the world to me.
*The public here...they adore Rossini, and they have welcomed me with the most open of arms. I am more grateful than I can say.
*Fans. Not the clapping kind, but the air-blowing kind. I'd be melted were it not for both the motorized kind, and the hand held kind, usually made out of folded paper notes.
*My family and friends who have kept my spirit up this summer. I love you all very deeply.

Well, there is one VERY good reason for me to write here more often, and that is so that the entries can be a bit shorter! If you've made it this far, my hat is off to you. Thank you for reading me, for tolerating my tirades a bit, and I'll see you next time!

(Photos: With Juan Diego Florez, rehearsing with Luca Ronconi his new production of Barbiere di Siviglia for Pesaro; with David Zobel, my brilliant pianist, after our recital;

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