Sunday, June 18, 2006

Santa Fe to the Rescue

For nearly 4 years I have been waiting to get back to this city, and after one of the most hectic periods of my life, I’m more than happy to say that I’m finally here! Santa Fe has a remarkable power to relax you nearly immediately, and I have been so grateful to be the much-needed beneficiary of such a gift! Santa Fe? I’m all yours!

Why the need for such help from the city of “Holy Faith”? Well, the final month of my journey abroad was quite busy (as my last entry alluded to), and add to that 2 rather hectic weeks at home, well, the phrase, “Calgon take me away” never felt more appropriate. Here’s the recap:

After finishing up the run of Clemenzas in Geneva (minus the stomach virus, thank you very much!), I flew immediately to the amazing city of Barcelona for 2 exciting concerts of “Nabucco” with the timeless Nello Santi conducting, the scene chewing Maria Guleghina and supreme master of Italian legato, Leo Nucci singing. I’ve never witnessed, literally, 25 minutes of applause from such a ravenous audience before, but I can see how that would become rather addictive as an artist. It is one element of what separates some of the European Houses from American ones – these Spanish opera lovers could NOT get enough, and it was thrilling to sing for them. Not only that, but I fell in love with the city of Barcelona and cannot wait to return.

(A snapshot of the lively and colorful street scene in Barcelona)

The tough part was cramming 3 days of recording my Spanish disc in between the 2 concerts. The recording process is such a demanding and exhausting one that it seems to suck every bit of energy I have. It’s not simply a matter of vocal resources, although without question, there is no time to work out vocal problems in a recording studio, but more a matter of keeping your mental focus and making each “take” full of the kind of palpitating energy you have in front of a live audience. This, to me, is the most challenging aspect. Luckily, I loved every single song I sang, and found it a complete joy to do. It made me realize I’ve learned a lot about the recording process: primarily that shooting for perfection is NOT the objective, but rather to find the soul of the piece immediately, infusing it with all the interpretive ‘smarts’ I can. As a result, I enjoyed every single moment of the (exhausting) process, and HOPE the end result will be a truly enjoyable, engaging disc!

(Julius Drake and I celebrate the miracle completion of our Spanish disc, PASIÓN!)

And then? Another of those whirlwind trips home. There is NEVER enough time to catch up, wind down, re-group, you-name-it! It quickly becomes a matter of priorities and a marathon race against the clock. Throw in a fabulous wedding, a few reunions, a hometown recital, a barbeque or two, finishing off my 2005 taxes (YEA!) and watching my beautiful niece go through outfit after outfit of dress-up, not to mention shopping and packing for a 3 month summer gig, and you have a hectic, beautiful, slightly insane trip home.

However wonderful the last month has been, it did wear me down a tremendous amount, and the prospect of jumping into a big new role (my first significant French role, at that) was a bit daunting – but then: Santa Fe to the rescue! You arrive here, and the pace and energy of this place seems to pull you deeply into it, and you begin breathing a bit more slowly, knowing that you’re about to settle into a great, relaxing rhythm. It helps, as well, that this is my 4th summer here, and so it feels a bit as if I’m coming home.

(The glorious landscape outside of Colorado Springs: Pikes Peak, the magnificent!)

After the 14-hour drive from Kansas City, arriving here at midnight under the light of a full moon (no kidding), the cast and musical staff of Cendrillon jumped into rehearsals at 10:00 am, all eager to discover this amazing piece that none of us have ever performed before. It’s very rare that you’ll start an opera where every participating member is new to the work, but it lends an extraordinary level of excitement knowing that we’re all about to discover something for the first time. (As opposed to say “Barbiere”, where everyone knows how it goes!) It means a bit of fumbling and negotiating, but the process feels very fresh and inspiring. I can’t wait to bring this piece to the Santa Fe public, as it will be a discovery for most of the people, I imagine, and I think they’ll be bowled over by a great cast performing a magical, inventive opera full of comedy, passion, love, and heartbreak, with perhaps a dash of fairy dust. Can you tell I’m more than excited? It is an immense privilege to sing this seldom-heard piece, and I hope that people will find it as moving as I do!

Now it’s a matter of getting to the gym as often as I can to manage the drastic change in altitude. The 3rd act aria of Cendrillon is staged so that I’m running frantically around the stage, non-stop in an attempt to describe the terrifying journey from the Prince’s ball back to my deserted house in the middle of the night. It’s a challenging aria standing still at sea-level: when asked to run around the stage at nearly 8,000 feet higher, well, it necessitates some serious cardiovascular work. (…with the added benefit, I hope, of enabling me to enjoy several helpings of authentic guacamole throughout the summer, without worry of still fitting into the ball gown!)

(In rehearsal on the stage of the Santa Fe Opera, with Jennifer Holloway)

I think those people lucky enough to make the journey to Santa Fe this summer will be in for a real treat. They are pulling out all the stops for their 50th Anniversary season, and it is an incredible thrill for me to be a part of it. I owe a great deal to this opera company. I did an apprenticeship here in 1995, and it was, without a doubt, the start of things taking off for me. Not only did I learn a tremendous amount here, but also I made numerous contacts that continue to play an important part in my development as an artist. Returning here, I’m reminded of what an immense operation this is and how committed they are to continuing the art form in a vital, magical way.

Here’s to an enchanting, captivating summer, with wonderful guacamole, hikes, singing and friendship!

(Photo: A notorious Santa Fe Sunset)

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