Monday, March 5, 2007

"Dear March, come in"

Is it July, yet? How about May? How can it ONLY be the start of March? (However, having said that, thank GOD it’s only the start of March!) I must apologize to all of New York City, for I fear that the high, lusty, gusty winds we're experiencing are strictly the fault of this whirlwind traveling vocalist. Once I catch my breath here, I'm sure they’ll die down! At the close of Saturday night's recital at the thrilling (and I DO mean THRILLING) Spivey Hall in Atlanta, Georgia, I turned to the poor guy opening and closing the stage door for us and nearly screamed, "Remind me NEVER to program 4 recitals in 7 days EVER again!" To which he looked at me quite sheepishly as if to say, "Um. OK. Don’t do that again."

Now mind you, I’m the very first person in line to say that the singer's schedule, repertoire, career, etc. are no one's responsibility but their own. It's far too easy to blame everyone in the world before looking at yourself for answers. So naturally, I'm the one holding the buck for the scheduling of this tour. But starting out earlier meant less time at home, and there wasn't one venue I wanted to omit; so I 'squeezed' the timing a bit. I do have the sensation that I 'squeezed' rather successfully, but I learned a valuable lesson: too much squeezing of the calendar is a dangerous thing if one values their vocal and mental health. Lesson dutifully learned.

(The ice storm cometh!)

With that tired disclaimer on the record, I want to shout from the rooftops that I've had the most extraordinary time with the first part of this tour! (After a run of Rosina’s at the MET, I'll revisit the program in six cities throughout Europe, and I can't WAIT to get back to it.) I began dubbing it the "Power Outage Tour", because at the start in Iowa, we were drenched in hours of freezing rain, followed by inches upon inches of falling snow, all of which led to power failures throughout the entire campus and town. The concert organizers galvanized their resources and gathered countless candles to prepare for the inevitable candlelight concert. Sadly, the power came back on just in time for the program, for I would have loved to have had the experience of singing the program surrounded by burning wicks and dripping wax. Happily, I’m sure the audience was much more comfortable not listening to a vibrato made all too quick from chattering teeth! It was a glorious way to kick off the tour, due to the fervent students and faculty there at Grinnell College.

Washington, DC was next, as I was guest on the prestigious Vocal Arts Society Series. What a warm, knowledgeable, enthusiastic audience. It's one of the only active series in the US that programs strictly vocalists, and I'm thrilled to see their gallant efforts paid off with a sold-out audience jumping to their feet. It also astonished me to feel how much a single program can grow from one concert to the next. I could feel an enormous leap in confidence and command between the two inaugural concerts, solidifying my strong belief for singers to repeat, repeat, and repeat. (And then, yes, repeat it once again.) On a personal note, the beautiful Evelyn Lear, a legendary American soprano and teacher, was in attendance and went out of her way to speak with me at length. She lost her husband last fall, a legendary man in his own right, Thomas Stewart, and both were very supportive and influential in my early years of training in Houston. I was deeply touched by the passion and fortitude she exuded. My heart goes out to her for her loss, and my gratitude is great for her tenacity and directness. I hope all 'young' singers get the chance to talk with some of the legends along the way; I know we are the future and we are moving forward in exciting ways, but we also work in an art form that must never lose the precious links to the past. It is yet another tightrope to walk.

How does one get to Carnegie Hall? Well, I took a taxi. (And I'll admit it: I LOVED saying to the driver, "56th and 7th Avenue, please. That's Carnegie Hall. The artist's entrance, please!") I am quite certain that if my career goes another 10 years or so, I'll still be like a little girl on Christmas morning thinking, "I'm at CARNEGIE HALL!" It is a dream come true, and I'll never pretend otherwise. That having been said, I felt as if I belonged there, and when it came time to warm up and make my entrance, I was there to sing. Weill Hall is the 'small hall', (and yes, you can believe that I vowed to return to the bigger hall next time!), and it dawned on me very quickly that it would be a VERY exposed place to sing – meaning there was no room for error. Looking out into the hall I could see and recognize many faces, knowing all the time that they could hear every single rasp or cheated breath because of the proximity of the seats and the somewhat dry acoustic. That's a most disconcerting feeling for a singer. I think most of us prefer some 'cushion' between the audience and us, either of space, or reverb, or blinding lights. It's astonishing how much more naked you feel in a space like that, both physically and vocally. However, going back a few journal entries, when I spoke about how aiming to be 'right' for an artist is deadly, I quickly took mental hold of my nerves and just went for it. Again, I felt we took another colossal step forward in the artistic content of the program, and that is a tremendous feeling as an artist – knowing that growth is transpiring. The celebration across the street afterwards with my dear friends was the delicious icing on the cake.

By this time in the 'tour', I was exhausted. It's an emotional exhaustion more than anything, but surely the traveling every other day contributes to the rubberband-y feeling in your muscles! But there was one more recital to get through, and I couldn't wait, for everyone in the business was warning me, "You just wait until you get to Spivey Hall. Just WAIT!" Well, the wait was worth it, as it's quite truly a marvel. Maybe it seats 400 people? It's only 15 years old, and yet it already had the feeling of history about it. Maybe it's the hundreds and hundreds of photos of all the great musicians of the past 15 years that drown the hallways with their veneers and strings, or maybe it's just that unspoken magic that ignites itself in the odd, rare hall, but I sensed it immediately. I was also moved to read that the legend himself, Robert Shaw, gave the dedication when the hall opened. ("Spivey Hall is to music what light is to painting," he said.) If my Father had to name one musician that was his all-time favorite, it surely was Maestro Robert Shaw. His recordings of all the great choral music served to announce the Christmas Season for my family (and still does to this day), was played at my Father's funeral, introduced me to the glories of Bach and the soul of the spirituals, haunted me with so many of the great Requiems, and is on the most-played playlist on my ipod. He is the pinnacle of musical genius for me. And here I was in what was more or less 'his' hall. I was honored, to say the very least.

(A sigh of relief shared with Leo, as the first leg of the tour finished up!)

My head is still spinning with thoughts from the past week; so much music is still running rampant and unleashed through my mind with thoughts of what I could do better, how I can find better pacing or make a greater impact, and I’m wondering how it is that music can continue to speak to you with greater force and color when you simply continue to sing the same notes and words over and over again. This must be the magical power of music. The other element that is so clear to me is that the recital platform is perhaps the single, greatest teacher for a singer. You simply cannot fake it. Surely it can be the most intimidating as well, but I feel as if I have learned so much from these four evenings of music. I'm finding that the less I ask to receive from an audience, ("Did you like me?" "Did I sound ok?" "Do you think I'm OK as a singer…as a person?"), the more free I am to simply give.

Coming off the cloud of recital-land, today was the 'first day of school', as we singers sometimes lovingly refer to the first day of rehearsal on a new show. It does sum up the feeling quite well, as you're meeting a whole new class of people, as well as catching up with those you haven't seen for a few productions. It’s wonderful. I found out that for my role debut of Rosina at the Metropolitan Opera, I will see NEITHER the stage NOR the orchestra before my opening night. Gulp. (Insert "singing requires a thick skin" analogy here!) I'm just thrilled that Rosina is a role I know backwards and forwards and that I'm doing it with a world-class cast that I know and adore. As incredibly nerve-wracking as this could be, and while I'm sure the ensemble may have a few intriguing moments, I guarantee that it will be an EXHILARATING night: personally I think an opera like Barbiere benefits from excitement like that, when the singers are on the very tips of their toes, alert and full of anticipation. Naturally I would love a full run-thru in costume with orchestra, etc, but I'm jumping into this with everything I have: it is a true honor to sing Rosina at the Metropolitan Opera and I plan on enjoying every electrifying moment, hiccups and all!

There. You see? If it were May already, I'd be missing out on all that excitement. Happy March, everyone!
"There came a wind like a bugle…"

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