Thursday, January 31, 2008

Gratitude - Day 57

It has been over 8 years since I last walked through the stage door of the Lyric Opera of Chicago; in 1999 I was fresh out of the Houston Opera Studio, and was hired to cover the role of Ruggiero in Handel's "Alcina". As far as I was concerned, I had MADE IT! I was a professional singer collecting a flesh and blood paycheck. I had been granted a front row seat to watch Renee Fleming, Natalie Dessay and Jennifer Larmore shape their performances in daily rehearsals, under the guidance of Robert Carson (in his famous production from Paris). My daily goal was to act cool - to act like I really belonged there, so no one would guess that I was secretly freaking out at my 'luck', and that they wouldn't realize their mistake in my casting and kick me out of the room!

Anyone lucky enough to have scored a ticket to one of their sold-out performances surely have those glorious voices still ringing in their memories. It was a magical time for me, because here I was, not being kicked to the curb, and witnessing first hand how a world class performance was born.

The image of Renee hovering in the shadows in the far upstage right corner in utter despair during "Ah, mio cor", or of Natalie making love to Bradamante's left-behind jacket with each staccato and flirty turn of the phrase in her show-stopping final aria of Act 1, or Jennifer's coaxing of the most plaintive legato line for her "Verdi prati" were all hallmarks of great singing and acting, and without question set the artistic bar to the highest level for this impressionable young mezzo. I didn't want it to end!

So many memories linger from that magical time here:

*Each of those stars were real people, generous in their artistry and humility, giving breathtaking performances, and serving as a beautiful example to an up and coming singer - one who, by the way, was clocking their every move.

*John Nelson, the conductor, graciously agreed to hear me (a real-live nobody) for an audition in his spare time, which in turn began a lovely relationship with him, giving birth to many memorable projects together - and encouraging this eager singer that you just MIGHT be in the right place at the right time, but you will never know when it's actually coming - so preparation really is the key.

*A simple gesture can make all the difference. Having served as a cover on COUNTLESS operas and projects in the years of my training, I knew the drill: be impeccably prepared, sit quietly in the corner of the room, never making your presence known unless called upon, and graciously never express how disappointed you are that after all your work, you will never have the chance to prove yourself to everyone. You can't begin to imagine the thrill I felt when I, a cover - a mere understudy! - received an invitation to the opening night party. That was a first for me - just to be included was an enormous honor.

But I was not prepared for what followed: after the wine was poured and the buffet had been depleted a bit, Mr. William Mason, LOC's General Director, rose to make the traditional introductions of the triumphant cast to the patrons and donors in attendance. As he began speaking, it dawned on me that he was talking about the importance of great covers in this repertoire - and he actually took the time to say my name and introduce me to this star-studded crowd. I know it doesn't sound like much - a simple introduction - but I was bowled over by what he was saying: my service had been invaluable to the Lyric Opera of Chicago! That gesture made such an impression on me, that I knew I would do anything to return to a theater that treasured their artists in such a demonstrative, sincere way.

*But perhaps the most important memory of that period came without warning or lighting bolt: I remember sitting quietly in the "cover corner" watching the intense rehearsal unfold before my eyes, and thinking, "You know - if I had to go on for a performance, I would actually be ok. I think I could actually make something of this role."

Again, it doesn't sound like much, but I felt some sort of an 'artistic shift' happening within me. It wasn't "I can sing this as well as her..." as I probably would have arrogantly and ingnorantly professed a few years earlier. Not at ALL - she sang it gloriously. It was, instead, a sense that I had something I wanted to say with this music - something that wanted to be heard. In master classes now, I offer my opinion of how important it is for "young artists" to find a way to bridge the HUGE gap between being a well trained, conscientious student to being an individual, unique artist who actually has something to say.

Perhaps this is a lifelong pursuit (in fact, I truly hope it is!), but I clearly remember something in those rehearsals slowly dawning on me: "I think that I can actually DO this", and consequently, a confidence began to build in me - not a fabricated buffer I gallantly called "stage presence", but something that was growing deep within - something that began a shift in my thinking from "I hope they like me", to simply aiming to express.

I don't mean to sound that I have it all figured out, but it is nice finally returning to this wonderful company for my 'official debut', being able to connect a few of my personal dots, being able to thank Mr. Mason personally for bringing me back, and for being able to pull up a chair in my old cover corner and strike up a conversation with the very well-behaved young artists!

Yes, gratitude is a-flowin'!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008


So let's catch up! I hate being sick. When you’re in a balmy place for the winter, you’re supposed to be able to circumvent THE BUG, no? When you drink fresh squeezed orange juice each morning (mmm…when in Rome…), loading up on vitamin C, nature’s perfect medicine, you’re supposed to be able to skirt THE AFFLICTION, no? When you’re happy and enjoying life, you are expected to shun any kind of infirmity, NO?


That ‘dust’ I inhaled during my unforgettable, moody backstreet tour of Barcelona decided to take up near-permanent resident status in my throat and morphed into a rather nasty throat infection. Definitely a nightmare for any singer. I made a visit to the local Catalan ENT (Graçias, Dottor Clarós!) on the morning of my second to last show, and despite the incomprehensible behavior of my taxi driver who repeatedly and unfathomably refused to stop and ask for directions as he got us more and more lost on the endless one-way streets of his city, the patient Doc took a long look at my throat and gave me the thumb’s up for singing that night. He assured me I would do no damage, and that my cords looked fine and dandy. (Quick detour: it floors me each time I see a photo of vocal cords, because their diminutive and unassuming properties boggle my mind!)

Even though I still couldn’t phonate fluidly or consistently in my middle register, I was holding on to the words of the good Doctor that my cords were fine, and any swelling could be brought into check with a mild anti-inflammatory. So, as the clock ticked obstinately away, I desperately fought to stay positive and once again, coax my voice into singing this role I love so much.

5:00 pm: I’m in my dressing room, and there is simply no phonation happening (or even hinting at happening) in my middle voice. And by ‘no phonation’ I mean NONE. The top was there, and I had a rather extraordinary ability to access a rowdily resonant chest voice (which I enjoyed quite a lot as visions of Amneris floated in my head!). But Eb to G# in my middle octave? NADA. ZIPPO. ZILCH. As I was about to stand up from my piano bench to slink into the artistic administrator’s office, admitting what felt like defeat and saying I had no choice but to cancel, a Spanish vision walked through my door: the brilliant, great, lovely Carlos Chausson.

I first met Señor Chausson where, as a bonafide newbie and out of place American, I was fulfilling my 2nd cast duties as Cenerentola in Madrid. From day one, he took this lonely, non-Spanish speaking girl under his wing and made me feel more than welcome, with his disarming humor, excellent English and smiling face, always encouraging and supporting in every way. Fast forward a few years, and we found ourselves playing evil guardian and kept ward in the Paris production of “Barbiere” – and again, his compassionate, wise guidance carried me through some really tough times. Well, as the fates allowed, he was substituting that evening for an ailing Magnifico, and he bounced into my room ready to take the Liceu by storm, but immediately he knew I was in trouble. He listened to me vocalize a bit, offered a few nuggets of council and said, “Well, you’ll be 60-70% vocally, so you can do it – but you are not 100% and you just have to decide if you want to risk it.”

The chemistry of a stage family is a strange one – a single person can completely change the dynamic for better of for worse, tipping the ‘energy’ balance dramatically in either direction; Carlos happens to be one of the golden ones who lights up everyone around him. I knew that going out with him by my side, I just might have a fighting chance. I also knew that this was a role I knew inside and out, and even if vocally I wasn’t in prime form, I could still give a (hopefully!) moving and touching performance. I also believed that I could pace it in the right way in order to arrive in one piece at the end. Specifically: I could alter some of my cadenzas, shorten some of the longer held notes, cheat a bit on the big ensemble numbers, and beg my colleagues’ indulgence! (For example, Juan Diego was quite gracious, tailoring our duet to be a bit more ‘intimate’ so that I could adjust some of my normal dynamics, etc. Oddly enough, I found it perhaps the most touching duet of the run!) And, because this role is so ingrained in my body and spirit, I knew I could afford to concentrate completely on the technical aspect of how to survive the 3 hours.

Enter: “Amnerisentola”. I am a HUGE lover of those daring, golden age ladies who plunged audaciously and capriciously into the depths of their chest voices – how it could thrill! Well, this particular Cenerentola ‘went there’ and I dipped into that chest voice all night long, knowing full well that my voice teacher may well have had a heart attack had he been in the stalls that night, but it was a survival mechanism for those 3 hours. As I self-monitored my voice, I could still float the top notes, could still access any dynamic, and my lower register had never been so reedy! But those stubborn middle notes simply REFUSED to come into play. Halfway through the second act, I get one last chance to vocalize in my dressing room before the ‘big number’, and I try the first phrase:

“Nac /qui / all’affanno…”

(The “/”s are shorthand for the loud, broken cracks in my voice.)

“OK, then…I’m cracking.”

“I’m cracking on the opening phrase of the final aria that I’ve sung hundreds of times.”

I sing the phrase 4 times.

I crack 4 times.

There is nowhere to hide.

There is no one to call.

The loving but horrified look on my husband’s face (sitting on my dressing room sofa) says it all: “Oh sweetheart, you’re in trouble, aren’t you?”

Time to put my money where my mouth is, right? How many times have I spoken the innocent phrase, “It’s only opera, after all”?

Well, there is no doubt that I’m a risk taker. However, I am definitely a calculated risk taker, and I knew that even if I blew a few lines here or there, I had nothing to prove with this role. In fact, I never step on stage to ‘prove’ anything – so in a way, I felt more or less safe: our taping for the DVD was successfully completed, Barcelona had embraced me, ‘the world’ knows I can sing the role, more or less. But all the rationalizing and intellectualizing in the world can’t camouflage the powerful, encompassing fear of “oh my GOD what if I CRACK????”

Well, I tip-toed my way through the opening phrase – attempting to avoid wretched cracks, trying constantly to not panic and to focus simply on hooking up the breath. But most importantly, I tried to follow the advice of my teacher: I continued to take risks. I just went for it.

It was definitely not one of my best vocal performances, (or maybe the opposite is true) but the audience stayed with me, my cast members held me up, and even though at the end of the night I knew it was a risk I probably would not take again, I got through it.

(And for those keeping track, in fact, TWO of those beloved rose petals fell directly into the palms of my hands that night … go figure, right?)

3 days of rest followed, with my final performance challenging me, but not nearly as much as the previous, and before I knew it, our bags were packed, Barcelona disappeared below my feet, and I was on a dry, crowded airplane headed home for a 48 hour stay, with just enough time to do laundry (oh how I miss a dryer when in Europe and using my simple Bounce sheets!), sort through stacks (and stacks!) of mail, find a dress coat on sale, and realize how much I miss sleeping in my very own bed. The trip home was so short and hectic, I didn’t even get to say hello to any of my family before being assaulted in yet another security line at the airport, and landing smack in the middle of freezing-cold whirlwind stay in New York City. Quick hop back to Kansas City, with more of those horrid security clearances, to gather the warmest clothes I own to weather the Windy City, and before I know it, I’m back in ‘Seville’ in the most zany and delightful production of Barber!

All of THIS, however, must be another entry, (but I promise it will be a GREAT one, with tales of Leontyne Price, Van Cliburn, et al!) for my fingers are tired of typing, surely if you’ve made it this far, your eyes are weary of reading, and Handel is calling me to work on his little black notes. Let the games begin!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Gratitude - Day 56

I'm grateful to be singing (or, I should say, rehearsing at this point) in a show that is a complete BLAST to be a part of, full of laughs and old-time gags, with the fingerprints of all the greats who have been in this show for the past 20 years. This is another production that Frederica von Stade debuted a number of years ago (and yes, I still have that "Are you kidding me?" moment when I think about it...), but also the great Claudio Desderi inventing brilliant stage moment after brilliant stage moment. I love hearing the stories from the great and incomparable director, John Copley, relaying how they came up with the 'stick in the *ss moment', or how the lingerie bits came into play; it's a true testament to the brilliant artists who debuted this show some 20 years ago for me to be able to step into it and feel completely at home. A whacky home, yes - but home nonetheless!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Gratitude - Day 55 (after an intense absence!)

I'm BACK! I've been sick and spending a LOT of time in airports in the past 10 days, NOT taking photos - but being extremely grateful nevertheless. But I'm back in action, now, almost recovered, and grateful for a stunning view from my new 'home' for the next few weeks in Chicago, Illinois, USA!

(PS - more soon!)

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Gratitude - on hold...

...only until I get better. Wish I knew what has decided to take up a most unwelcome residence in my chest cavity, but I can't quite get a hold of it! However, it means the only interesting photo I'd be able to snap while homebound today would be of my cup of hot tea - which I tried to actually capture in some interesting, meaningful way, but it was not cooperating! So - I continue to rest, for I'd love to be able to sing 100% tomorrow night for the ticket-buyers, as well as some dear friends who are travelling here to see the show!

Come on meds - DO YOUR JOB!!! (Most sadly, I'm even missing Rolando's recital here in Barcelona because of this stupid thing! I wish him EVERY success tonight - I know the entire theater will be cheering him on.)

I HAVE been able to finally finish my copy of "Cold Sassy Tree" (along with the last of my kleenex - what a tear jerker!), and to catch up on loads of translating - so those are other possible subjects for photos, but it's just not in me today!

Off for another steaming cup o' tea!


Saturday, January 12, 2008

Gratitude - Day 54

I don't actually have a photo to post for Day #54, quite simply because I had other things on my mind. On Thursday, my husband and I were treated to an incredible day in Barcelona: Joan Font, the head of El Comediants and the director of this vivid production of "Cenerentola", took us on a most intimate, back street tour of Barcelona, his hometown and the source of his wild imagination and love of theater. The first stop was an old shop (originating in 1838!) that surely gave birth to Joan's passion for all things theatrical. We discovered there was a maze of back rooms in this seemingly tiny shop, El Ingenio, located in an unassuming back alley, which houses what must be thousands of traditional Catalan masks and moldings, dating back hundreds of years. Each region in Catalunya has it's own signature persona and accompanying mask, and these are all housed here, and replicated upon request.

It was beautiful to see the artisans at work first hand, and to wander the shelves of these creations. Truly magical.

And truly dusty.

Not to mention musty.

And ripe with smells and traces of the past hundred years - because I'm pretty sure regular (or even semi-regular) spring cleanings are not carried out here.

Add a few other dusty stops to an old bookstore, and some hidden churches, and that explains the hacking, wheezing, persistent cough that hit me like a thunderbolt when I got home. You see, in general, I aim to not be a hyper-sensitive singer always worried about the tiny pieces of gristle in my throat. I prefer to attempt an ordinary life free of paranoia and worry. I suppose I could have been a tiny bit more on alert when the smells and dry particles hovered over me with glee, but I was too caught up in the magic of the moment, watching the transformed Joan marvel at the world of masks coming to life around him to notice that my throat was about to revolt.

To make a long story short, the hacking cough kept me up all night, leaving me with no, (and I do mean NO!) voice in the morning....the morning of a performance of "La Cenerentola" know that role with all the vocal fireworks, spanning over 2 octaves with lots of high floaty notes and huge high notes at the end of the 3-hour marathon - you know, THAT little opera?


So it was a day full of panicking and gargling and flushing and coating and cooing and hacking and worrying and resting and humming and plotting. It wasn't until roughly 7:15 that I thought I might be able to do this. But oddly enough, I don't have a lot of experience of being sick on performance day, so I honestly didn't know what to expect.

Everyone was on alert, the management could not have been more helpful and supportive (muchas graçias!), an announcement was made (only my 2nd in my career to date, I'm happy to say...), and I was still standing at the end. In fact, on a VERY personal note, I really didn't know if I would make it to the end or not - and that's an immensely frightening feeling for a singer, because should you fail, there is absolutely no where to hide. (Granted, let's be clear: it's not frightening like being diagnosed with a fatal disease, or not being able to make your mortgage payment - I don't presume to elevate this experience too dramatically - I just put it in the context of my own personal experience.) But it was as scary a feeling as I have known on the stage. So, what did I do? I thought strongly of my Dad, hoping that in some way I might draw strength from his memory. Well, if anyone knows this production, at the very end of "Non più mesta" rose petals fall from the sky, and I usually end the aria with my arms outstretched - I know, classic singer pose! I can't help myself! But last night, for the very first time after roughly 18 performances of this production, one single petal fell perfectly, gently into the palm of my right hand. Call it superstitious, call it coincidence, call it anything you like - all I know is that I felt my Dad with me, and I finished the aria in tears. It was indeed a special moment of gratitude.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Gratitude - Day 53

I'm grateful I have a head.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Gratitude - Day 52

Where to begin? Here at the Liceu , a stunning exhibition is on display of many of Maria Callas' jewels from the great, historic roles and productions in which she starred. Actually, perhaps more accurately, in which she changed the face of opera. One glittering creation outdoes the next, but the photos that accompany the displays call to mind the reality that it was, in truth, not about the jewels at all - in fact, these stunning jewels somehow fade into the background when asked to compete against the intensity and fire raging in her eyes and the unbridled yet always studied passion of her voice. Ironically in seeing these astonishing pieces in person, it's all the more clear HOW potent "La Divina" must have been to surpass such stiff competition! There can be no mistaking the fact that she did change the course of opera through her fierce attention to details scribbled by the composers she revered, to her complete absorption of the characters she created, and by the way she redefined the definition of a true diva (a term sadly hijacked today by all too many wanna-be's.) I can't begin to imagine the torment that was her life - and now it feels impossible to separate her tragic life from the lines she sings which we listen to decades later, but this exhibit calls to mind the impact her artistry and her life had on so many numerous people. For these and so many other reasons, I am grateful for Maria Callas.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Gratitude - Day 51

I haven't been posting too many 'portraits' for this Gratitude Journal, simply because I don't ever want someone to think that if their photo isn't posted I'm not grateful for them - not at all! But I snapped this photo tonight of the beautiful Adela Rocha who is on staff of the Liceu Theater (in the press department, actually) and while I am grateful for her boundless energy and infectious enthusiasm, it makes me think further of how very many people are behind the scenes of the theater all working together to bring a 3 hour show to the public. It's easy for the audience to think it's all about the singers at the end of the night, but we really are just a part of the entire machinery to bring our piece to life. This beautiful face is one of the many who help this theater sell out all our shows - and indeed, I am grateful! (Graçias, Guapa!)

Monday, January 7, 2008

Gratitude - Day 50

I'm grateful for hard workers. We snuck into part of the final orchestra rehearsal for Aida which opens here on the 9th, and I shot this candid photo while the 2 cellists worked together a bit after the proper rehearsal was finished. I loved the site of the empty pit, no overtime being paid, no one waving a baton, and musicians just working to make it better - simply for the sake of making it better. I know this goes on in many orchestras (not all - but many!) but I still love to witness it - it brings me a feeling of solidarity with the folks in the pit. Graçias, Amigos! (And for the record, it's like Christmas all over again to hear Dolora Z in this role!!!)

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Gratitude - Day 49

Tonight my little brother treated us to a really delicious meal at a true Barcelona 'establishment': Los Caracoles, est. 1835. To be a good sport, I did taste the signature dish (snails), but opted for the gazpacho as a starter instead, and then the 3 of us did very well by an enormous serving of Seafood Paella. It was really delicious, and the perfect ending to my brother's trip here - considering he complicated his final few days by breaking his ankle! (Note to self - start taking out traveler's insurance in the New Year!) We've had a wonderful time, and I've been spoiled getting to spend so much time with a member of my family!

But my gratitude tonight is usurped by this photo - mainly because I'm grateful I took it AFTER we enjoyed our meal!


Gratitude - Day 48

Again, I'm grateful for comfortable shoes! Poor Cenerentola might have to go around in rags, but I guarantee you she doesn't have aching feet! It's actually also a bonus since this is quite a physical show for me, and it makes my chances for wiping out a bit smaller! It's true that I'm quite accident prone, and after many a spill on the stage (oddly enough, usually in the role of Rosina - she's given me 5 different ankle injuries!), I'm always keen to avoid those accidental falls witnessed by thousands of on-lookers!

I was all the more relieved to finish last night's show on my feet - it was a live broadcast on Spanish National Television (and also taped for future DVD release!) I love these kinds of live broadcasts, especially when they're a video feed as well, because the level of adrenalin surges (who needs those "Happy Pills" when we've got it in abundance naturally!), and the demand for concentration inches up, which I think gives a better overall performance for the people in the audience: everyone seems to win. I do love knowing there is a camera zooming in to capture our every expression, because the second I drop concentration, or committment, or honesty, it reads like a flashing neon light in the desert. It just makes me a better performer. Of course, it's also a tough mental game, because it's tempting to start singing with the single aim of 'perfection' instead of 'expression', and that's a thing I continue to learn . (I suppose it's a true predicament for all performances, but knowing that it is captured for eternity can add a certain degree of pressure.) Luckily, I'm getting more opportunities to participate in these kinds of broadcasts, so it's a skill I think I'm acquiring more with each event, but it absolutely requires a strong hold over your self-monitoring side, for if that little critical voice takes over, you're doomed!

Overall I thought it was a good performance (naturally with a gazillion things I'd like to do better), but it felt spontaneous and expressive, with each cast member 'on', and the audience again seemed to really enjoy themselves.

I'll take it!

Friday, January 4, 2008

Gratitude - Day 47

So in reaction to this little story, and in solidarity with all the opera singers who are looking for our quick fixes, I can highly recommend this store in Barcelona, which in fact, I'm grateful for.

(In fact, it's only a candy store, but our neighborhood street corner here in Barcelona, being the colorful city it is, happens to be FULL of folks able to satisfy every chemical desire: cortisone I'm actually not so sure about, but anything else you should care for can easily be arranged!)

While my tongue is firmly planted in my cheek, I do find it interesting that our profession is suddenly undergoing such scrutiny: DRUGS! SURGERY! FAT! THIN! AFFAIRS! DRUGS! CANCELLATIONS! CHE SCANDALO!

On the one hand, it means that we are fodder for headlines, putting us squarely into the public limelight which could be a beautiful and wonderful thing - fill those seats, right? Definitely! Publicity is nothing new to this gig. On the other hand, it could also reduce us, once again, to mere caricatures, only this time without expanded waste lines and horns on our head, but instead with plastic smiles and empty words. I find it ironic that all of a sudden it seems that there is this immense pressure on singers to "look good" - when in fact, that pressure has always been there. (Toscanini in his letters spoke often of the size of his prima donnas - chastising them with his usual flair; any perusing of photos of the great divas of the 20's and 30's show TRUE glamor in action: Rise Stevens, anyone?) Of course, there were heavy singers - but I propose that the myth of "The Fat Lady" has, in fact, only been a myth, perpetuated by writers that are looking for a headline with cachè. Yes, there have always been big singers, just like there have always been large accountants and comedians and mechanics and movie stars. But some of these folks just happen to be blessed with an amazing, heart wrenching talent to move me to tears, helping open my eyes to worlds far beyond me, while other perfectly proportioned singers can really piss me off for the insincerity they toss around so liberally. Balance - it's just all about balance.

It's such a peculiar, exciting time to be a part of this profession, and honestly, I'm again grateful to be in the thick of things. Personally, I believe that as long as singers take a vested responsibility for the talent they have been given and give of it sincerely and honestly to the people who have paid their hard earned money to receive it, all should be right with our bizarre world of warbling. Let the headlines come; let the people wax rhapsodic about that mythical fat lady; let people on an airline seat tell me how much they love "that (I can hardly write it) opera singer girl from Wales": I'll keep professing that our best weapon for retaliation is sincere, moving, heartfelt performances. Get them in the seats, and then trust this art form that we love so much.

Oh right - the pills. We're also human. We have all the same faults and idiosyncrasies that civilians do - it's just that our lives can take on exaggerated qualities, to put it delicately. But that's another post ... time for my Happy Pill ;-)

Gratitude - Day 46

I'm grateful for blue eyes - which makes me think that I'm also grateful for Frank Sinatra, naturally!

This photo was snapped in the Cloisters of the Barcelona Cathedral - I'm guessing the goose was there for the Nativity Scene?

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Gratitude - Day 45

I'm grateful for a tall glass of beer at the end of a performance. In this case, it was courtesy of a neighborhood establishment, "Tasty", the beer was "Estrella", and the after-show snack was a salad of fresh tomato and mozzarella di bufala. Divine!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008


It seems next to impossible that the year 2007 came to a close yesterday. I know I'm not alone in pondering where the year vanished to, how quickly it dispersed seemingly without leaving a trace, or how unlikely it seems that we should be inching closer to this new century's second decade! I should no longer remain shocked when it's time to add a single digit to the end of the year, but I always feel caught off guard, astonished at how quickly the time passed.

To make an all-too convenient analogy, I feel a bit like Octavian wanting desperately to cling to what he knows, unable to grasp the need to change, mixed with the Marschallin endeavoring to stop those insistent hands of time from purging forward. Oh, I don't mean to sound too melodramatic or distraught here - not at all, it's simply that I would prefer to receive the equivalent of a 'get out of jail free' card, only along the lines of 'get one free week to process your life' pass, then I would happily, eagerly, even enthusiastically, jump into '08 with gusto and not a look back.

Why does this year feel a bit heavier than usual to process and catalogue? I suppose it's simply because of the sheer magnitude of change which presented itself to me, combined with the enormous volume of work. Even as I type this, it is dawning on me that 2007 was a truly pivotal year - how it plays out over the course of my life remains to be seen, but there is no doubt that it will be personally, and even perhaps professionally, monumental.

From a purely business standpoint, how could I argue with the past 365 days? I started what will hopefully be a long and rewarding journey with some of the premiere operatic roles: Octavian, Ariodante, and Alcina. Each one proved to be an immense lesson about my craft simply from tackling such demanding masterpieces, about artistic integrity from the exemplary work of my colleagues, and about the kind of work I want to do as an artist - but more on that later. I feel so enriched from these professional experiences, and while they left me quite drained, the amount of energy and insight I gained from plunging full force into them was worth every moment. I also had the joy of returning to two roles that have served me quite well: Rosina and Cenerentola. Returning to these effervescent characters shows me the value of role repetition, serving as a guidepost for how much work goes into getting a role ready to debut.

In some ways it feels as if this was the year of my 'arrival' in New York, if it's necessary to flag that sort of event. Taking part in Peter Gelb's innovative and colossal project of bringing live opera into cinemas across the world, and therefore, astoundingly into the popular culture - a venture that no one in their right mind would have conceived of as feasible a year ago - proved to be an undeniable high point of my career to date. I only give it such importance because I continue to hear from people who tell me what a memorable experience it was, and how it has single-handedly changed their perception of opera. I think those of us that love this craft so much have always believed in the power of opera to captivate and on occasion, truly move people in significant ways, and I'm certain that this new venture of the MET's will go miles and miles to make that possible.

Capping off my time in New York was an encounter that I never could have predicted would have taken on such importance, for I was most fortunate to meet Beverly Sills before the world lost her - one of the pillars and true champions of the American cultural scene. I wish I had more time and opportunity to soak up each of her countless pearls of wisdom, but I will happily take the little time I did have with her, turning to her example of enthusiastic dedication as a role model in using your gifts to, dare I say it, better the world.

One of the more exciting events of the year for me was walking into "Wolf Camera" on Van Ness Street in San Francisco, and meeting Joe, the friendly, knowledgeable, neighborhood camera guru. He introduced me to the magic of a single-lens-reflex camera, and now my husband is calling himself a "Canon Widower". I had no idea the photo bug would capture me so completely, but it has, and I'm loving every minute! I find that I see the world around me differently, that the weight of being away from home is eased a bit as I gain a deeper appreciation for the places I travel to, and that I can chronicle the beautiful encounters with colleagues and friends around the world. (Who knows where it will take me, but if anyone has an 'in' with National Geographic, I'm all ears!)

Speaking of National Geographic, there is no denying that the highlight of my year was our adventure to South Africa. In scoping out the itinerary, I really had no clue what a life changing experience it would be for me, in the sense of seeing the 'real world' in action, of getting a severe 'reality check', and simply being reminded one more welcome time that balance is essential to all that we do. Nature has a way of driving home that point loud and clear, and in the end nature always wins. Any time we upset the natural balance of things, whether on the stage, in our homes, in our hearts or heads, nature is there to provide the needed check and balance. That has been my food for thought ever since stepping foot in that beautiful country, and I truly cannot wait to return.

The final piece of the puzzle of 2007 for me, was the loss of my Mom, compounded by being so close in time to my Dad's passing. Looking back, it seems as if they went out side by side, hand in hand with no time lapse at all - but then I remember the painful, difficult 6 months my Mom spent missing my Dad after he was gone. The last time she saw me perform was at the Cinemark movie theater in Lenexa - and truth be told, that's the reason that event will be a highlight in my life - not because of the professional gains. That was my Mom's chance to shine and revel in the experience of seeing one of her children shine in something they love to do. Countless friends told me at her funeral, just a month after the broadcast, that their last image of my Mom was seeing her cheering with her arms waving over her head, saying, "That's my daughter." I wish I could have been there to see that, but I can only hope that she knew that her influence on my life was one of the singular reasons I was standing on that stage that day, and the applause belonged to her.

While I know it's not the nature of things, I do wish that time could stand still every now and again. What I wouldn't give to see my Dad and Mom standing at their front door waving hello with open arms after a long stay on the road, eager to hear about all the adventure. Even though I love being a world traveller, independent from a very early age, how much I wish that I could ring their doorbell and know that I was home. What I wouldn't give to hear my Dad's voice one more time providing comfort as only he could give, providing guidance and assurance along with the perfect dose of humor.

But time marches on and nature stubbornly stakes its claim on the natural rhythm of things. We seven children all had to say goodbye to our childhood home and carry on without having a clue as to what would come next, or how in the world we could stand with the ground shaken so terribly underneath our tentative feet. I don't profess to know how singing opera ultimately figures into the scheme of things; I still get very upset when a colleague's last thought in the world is generosity or sincerity; I don't begin to pretend that I understand what makes one singer a star, and another disposable; but I'm not sure these are answers I need to find just yet.

2008 will mark the start of my 10th year as a professional opera singer. Could I have predicted ANY of this? Not a chance in hell. But I'm finding my own voice throughout this journey, and while searching for closure is inevitable at this time of year, at the end of this ENORMOUSLY LONG ENTRY, I find that I'm happily looking forward and thrilled at what lies ahead.

And in a final (I swear!) wish for a beautiful New Year in 2008, here's something to start the year off with a perfect, infectious, spontaneous and GIDDY smile - I dare you not to love it!


Gratitude - Day 44

In Barcelona, the tradition holds that at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve you are to eat one grape for each chime of the bell, supposedly bringing you luck for each month of the coming year, IF you can manage to eat all 12 by the last chime. Despite that the local folks at the party I attended knew better to take the seeds out of the grapes ahead of time, I still managed to consume all 12, seeds and all, so I feel quite good going into the New Year!

I wish each and every single one of you the very best for the coming year, and hope that it will invite you to:

"Dance like there's no one watching,
Sing like there's no one listening,
Live like Heaven is on earth,
And Speak from the heart to be heard."

I wish you a wonderful, magical, memorable 2008
full of unabashed joy,
abundant good health,
countless celebrations,
unadulterated laughter,
boundless love,
and explosive, resounding, earth shattering peace for us all.