Friday, February 29, 2008

Gratitude - Day 77

So, I've missed a couple of days, but I'm catching up slowly here .... But man, am I grateful for good - actually, make that GREAT olive oil! How in the world did I go for so many years in my life without knowing its abundant goodness?!?! In a wonderful turn of events (which includes being photographed by the LEGENDARY Victor Skrebneski - WHAT?), we ended up with his recommendation to eat at La Scarola. Considering that Leo's face melted away to nearly 20 years ago and memories of his Grandma's homemade "Parmigiana" ("Eggplant Parm" for us American's), the stamp of 'authenticity' was granted, and we ate ourselves silly as if in the old country!! This is such a classic Italian 'joint', replete with the Frank Sinatra and Billy Joel photos (as well a number of Skrebneski's autographed photos, naturally), but it is alive and well on its own merits - not just folklore. It's a GEM. (And the Veal Mondelli also is highly recommended!)

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Gratitude - Day 76

I'm grateful for gentle reminders of beautiful times.

Over 11 years ago I first set foot in Europe, spending a summer in the picturesque city of "Spoleto" in the Umbria region of magical Italy. Stepping off the plane I was to call the administration of the festival to tell them I had arrived, and they would then send a car to meet me after my 45 min. train ride from the Rome airport. I assumed I could call them from a pay phone with some spare lira, having dutifully changed my dollars before making the trip. However, silly me - they only used phone cards - no coins allowed. This was only announced by the cruel, uncaring and prerecorded operator - IN ITALIAN - and I spoke none of her incomprehensible language. I was jet lagged, tired, lost and scared, imagining I'd be spending six weeks camped out in the smoke saturated airport, never making my way to the first day of my new job!

Well, times do change: there's a different currency now, I can get by their rhythmic language, and I am able to deftly navigate my way out of most public transport hubs. Thankfully I DID arrive in Spoleto, and the summer of gelato, burro & salvia pasta, gorgeous vistas, beautiful music and breathtaking moments swept me off my feet.

This reminder of the beauty that is UMBRIA, came to me as a welcome source of heat after the chill of Chicago overcame me! (Which means I was grateful for the heat, as well as the memories!)

Gratitude - Day 75

I'm grateful for vibrant, brilliant color.

This is taken from the Modern Ice Museum display at the Millenium Park, which has been showing the entire month of February. It's living art, as each day the formations change (both by design and by nature), existing in a constant state of flux. It was mesmerizing to see up close.

Another favorite:


And another:

Ice, Ice Baby

Friday, February 22, 2008

Gratitude - Day 74

I'm grateful for the great artists who have come before me, creating links in this complex chain of operatic tradition and legacy. I work in a field replete with historical practices and unforgettable legends, but at the same time, we search for ways to make it come to life in the moment, thriving and spontaneous against this backdrop of memories and ghosts. At times it can be overwhelming to think that on one level we are seen by some to be 'competing' against these ghosts, but ultimately, if we're focused on competing, how in the world can we be focused on communicating?

But I digress...

What made me think of this, was our final rehearsal today: even though we've already opened, we're putting another Bartolo into the show (the inspired Andrew Shore), and so we were thrust back into our tiny, dingy rehearsal space (after having lived in the lap of luxury on the beautiful stage and under the flattering lights!) with select set pieces hijacked from backstage. This particular set/prop, I am told, was the ONLY surviving piece from the original purchased production from (I believe) Parma; the Lyric had bought the production sight un-seen from the Italian theater, but when it arrived in Chicago, it was entirely too small for the Lyric's stage. They trashed the entire set, except for this red harpsichord - with its foam keys - and scrambled to come up with the current settings inspired by Magritte in a matter of months. I look at it and can't help but think of the Italian workers who crafted this delicate instrument decades ago, the technicians who have restored, reinforced, and repainted it, and the singers who have sat at it's delicate keyboard to tell the same story we are telling, some 20 years later. I LOVE this connection to the past, but I also love that for us and for many in the audience, it is the very first time they've seen it - and so it springs to life for the very first time (again) living in full the moment.

I love how the theater teaches me.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Gratitude - Day 73

Even though our apartment didn't have a view of the stunning lunar eclipse tonight, it was an exceptionally clear evening to try and take a great shot of part of the Chicago skyline. Unfortunately, I could only last on the balcony for a few seconds, due to that WICKED wind and freezing temperature, so there was a fair amount of 'camera shake', but it was still such a beautiful evening that I couldn't resist.

I'm grateful for a breathtaking view!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Gratitude - Day 72

I'm grateful for HEAT.

And for having a roof over my head in the middle of this INCREDIBLE, WICKED COLD of CHICAGO!

Wicked, I tell you!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Gratitude - Day 71

I'm grateful for music. Again. But I REALLY needed reminding of this as I sat at the piano yesterday for countless hours, often in what felt like a daze thinking, "I don't even know where to start!" I'm drowning a bit in new music at the present moment - so many notes, so many ornaments, so many words, so little time! But the beautiful thing is that it IS music and each note is a gem, - from Handel to Vivaldi to Chausson to Bellini to Gershwin - so it's inspiring work to say the least. I just need to stop feeling overwhelmed and dive in, wasting no precious time. (And here I thought, after Ariodante it would all be downhill this season! HA!) Let the games begin!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Gratitude - Day 70

I'm grateful to have made my Lyric Opera (of Chicago) debut, and in the most adorable shoes as a bonus! These are Kenneth Cole gems, and aside from the addition of elastic straps (for this klutz-prone Rosina), 'period flowers' and a heel grip, they are the perfect addition to making a character feel fire-y and adorable, all at the same time!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Gratitude - Day 69


I am SO grateful that the sun came out today - here in Chicago it has been weeks of grey clouds, slushy steps, and bitter winds - and even if it was still cold today, the SUN made all the difference! Finally I can start trying to capture the infamous Chicago Architecture abundant throughout the city!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Gratitude - Day 68

I'm grateful for love ....

Happy Valentine's Day!!

Gratitude - Day 67

I'm grateful to be a part of a show that is a genuine pleasure to perform in every way ... from the fabulous cast to the gorgeous (!!!!!) costumes, to the thrill of hearing the audience genuinely LAUGH at the antics we go through. It makes coming to 'work' a pure joy!

You'd never know that there was such a handsome man underneath this makeup (although his smile does give it away a bit!), but Wayne Tigges performs Basilio, and he is such a wonderful, beautiful colleague - as is every singer in this show - perhaps more portraits will come over the course of the run!! We open on Saturday night, so I say 'let the games begin'!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Gratitude - Day 66

I'm stumped. I'm completely at a loss for good photos, because every single day here in Chicago, it is FREEZING cold, snowy, slushy and essentially unwalk-able (at least for a singer trying to stay somewhat healthy and warm-ish!) Leaving the theater tonight, it was a bit warmer and snowing in the most beautiful, soft, symphonic way - but I was too busy dodging 4-inch puddles of mush everywhere to take out my camera and capture the fogged in city. So tonight I came home a made a cup of my MOST favorite tea (not plugging here, but how GREAT is this Aveda tea?!?! ), and while the photo may seem uninspired or poorly composed, I was too eager to actually drink it, (and yes, slightly sulky that I am not getting the opportunity to take photos like I did in Barcelona!), that I snapped it, and soaked up the goodness of a hot cup of tea on a cold, blustery evening. It was perfection.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Gratitude - Day 65

Gratitude - Day 6I'm grateful for inspiring (or, uh, humorous and sometimes painfully true) quotes! This is posted in the Lyric Opera rehearsal department, where the staff always goes above and beyond that proverbial call of duty, making everyone who passes through the stage door feel right at home.

*I'm told this particular quote belongs to Thor Steingraber, who I had the pleasure of working with (on Mozart!) back in Santa Fe in 2000 - he came up with the best little bits for Cherubino in that particular production, so I'll cut him some slack on this particular quote! ;-)

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Gratitude - Day 65

I'm grateful for teachers - which can arrive in the most unexpected moments, imparting their wisdom freely. This lovely man was shooting me during a costume fitting for an upcoming article, and naturally I couldn't resist to start talking 'lenses' with him. He generously allowed me to try out a gorgeous wide-angle lens, as well as to turn the tables on him, which was not at all part of his job contract! Thank you for sharing, Mr. Osgood, and thank you for the mini-lesson!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Gratitude - Day 64

To encounter a person who possesses the gift of clarity is a beautiful thing. A simple, lucid, clear vision surely can generate greatness. I encountered such greatness recently – in ridiculous abundance, in fact - and what a humbling, awe-inspiring thing it was!

I had been asked to present the great Russian mezzo, Olga Borodina, with one of five “Opera News Awards” given out this year by the magazine, affectionately referred to by the brilliant host, Ms. Susan Graham, as “like porn” for us nerdy opera lovers – anyone with an appetite for opera who lived outside of a major city can surely understand her perfect metaphor. It was a thrilling evening to be a part of, for so many great, legendary people were in attendance, and the room crackled with excitement as even today’s biggest stars were wonderstruck by the presence of those legends.

Stephanie Blythe, the first recipient of the evening and rightfully introduced by Jack O’Brien as a “force of nature”, radiated humility and integrity with each syllable uttered as she thanked the Opera Guild. I have long been a huge fan of this incredible lady, for she has held a clear vision for herself from day one of the kind of performer and artist she aspires to be, never wavering in her commitment, simply incapable of insincerity. What an inspiration she is to up and coming singers, and to her peers (me!), for she is truly a unique legend in the making. Clarity, you see?

The next recipient was Olga, and as I introduced her, listing off her myriad accomplishments, it struck me what an incredible story she tells. 20 years ago, the chances of her attending an evening like this as an honoree would have been much slimmer, to say the least: think of the Russian repertoire that has now become nearly mainstream because of the shift in political dealings; think of how fortunate American audiences are to have heard her gorgeous accounts of Eboli and Pauline and Carmen; think of the dedication it takes to be a stranger in a foreign land, competing with established norms, and still make the life you want for yourself. Clarity.

Thomas Hampson began his thank you speech by apologizing, something along the lines of: “I realize that over the years I have seduced, molested, threatened, condemned, cheated on and even murdered many of you seated in this room – all in a days work, you see!” It brought into focus what a small community this opera family is, and how understanding we can be of the complex nature of humanity. It was inspiring to hear him speak of the “profession” that we are all in – choosing that word very carefully, begging us to keep the word ‘business’ from creeping in to describe our craft. He certainly is unambiguous on why he sings, the importance of music in our culture and how he wants to go about leaving a discernible legacy for future generations. Another deserving winner – another dose of clarity.

As Sherrill Milnes introduced Julius Rudel, his admiration and regard for the Maestro was a thing to behold. He was introducing a man who fled his homeland before the destruction of WWII was fully realized, arriving in America with $17 in his pocket. Watching the now 80-something conductor take to the stage to accept his award carried quite an emotional impact, knowing all he had endured to arrive at this very moment, celebrating what must have felt like an impossibility those many decades ago. A walking example of clear, determined vision and, again, clarity.

The final presenter to take to the stage, quite frankly, rendered me utterly speechless: Van Cliburn entered the room and I do declare I got a bit woozy. I was seated at a table at the very foot of the stage, just feet from his towering presence, and it took a good minute for me to realize I was in a daze, probably with my mouth gaping open, focused only on his endlessly long, miraculous fingers – (how many silver, fleeting notes have sailed effortlessly from those fingertips?) - which clung to the podium with both apparent ease and a seeming twinge of discomfort. His opening remarks related how jealous he was of ‘us’ – the singers - for not only did he always wish he could have been a singer (good thing for the world he stayed with that other instrument!), but he admitted to a great jealousy of us, for we are part of a “real family” – and his was always a solitary career. That admission blew my mind – for I foolishly assumed that for people of such greatness, the adage “the grass is always greener” simply COULDN’T hold true, could it? How lovely to rediscover that humanity is such a unifying element of us all, regardless of rank or position.

He spoke of first meeting Ms. Leontyne Price in 1951 while they were both attending The Julliard School of Music. Did the heavens quake, just a quiver, on that first handshake? Did the stars shiver the tiniest bit when they met over coffee and compared notes? Did either of them sense the profound greatness in the other? Was there a flash in their eyes that foreshadowed all they would accomplish and change? Perhaps. But what came across to me in that hotel ballroom was that a simple boy from Shreveport, Louisiana, and a simple girl from Laurel, Mississippi changed the world.

He spoke at length about their early days (sharing the same debut date in NY – he at a matinee, she in the evening, “tearing the roof off the place”), of her elegance and composure, and of her patriotism. He looked around the room at all of us in our duds and bangles, coiffed and well-fed, and he said, (I paraphrase his eloquent words)

“This is the glory of America: only in American can folks from Roswell (Susan Graham), Spokane (Thomas Hampson), Kansas (yours truly), a refugee from Vienna (Maestro Rudel), East Texas (himself) and rural Mississippi (La Price) rise up and lead the world of Classical Music, and Leontyne knew that. She knew that in this great country, she could live her dream.”

And live it she did.

Every single person who strives to “make it” as a classical musician encounters enormous obstacles and barriers on the way to realizing their dream – each in different proportion, and to varying degrees - you cannot arrive at the top level without encountering enormous hardship. But even knowing that, I can’t begin to fathom the obstacles Ms. Price must have endured. What fortitude, endurance and CLARITY she must possess to have continued forging ahead on the journey of what she knew she was meant to do. But instead of focusing on all that she was up against in this country during the pre-civil rights era, not to mention during, and seeing only the boundaries enclosed around her, she chooses to see this as a great country of possibility and dreams come true. That, my friends, is pure inspiration and beautiful, perfect clarity.

If I look to apply some of this to my path, it becomes so obvious to me that the moments when things are flowing in an easy, good way, I’m incredibly clear on what I want. When I begin to get sidetracked by things out of my control, that is when the difficulties rise up. I count myself fortunate to the “nth” degree to be in the presence of a spirit like Ms. Price that quickly puts into check all the noise and confusion. What a beautiful evening and experience. (Oh, and I can officially say that I have heard the great Price sing live, now: as part of her brief acceptance speech, she launched into the most haunting, shattering rendition of “Homing” which she said she had learned back at Oak Park School. It was incredibly moving (complete with what must have been a high b-flat, which she diminuendoed!), but I haven’t had luck finding the lyrics anywhere. If anyone happens to know the song, I’d love to see the lyrics.)

Upon my arrival here in Chicago, one of the first things I did was run to the Art Institute. (Last time I saw it was when my high school prom date took me to Chicago for the day, before our prom dance that evening – that was a fun date!) It was one of those surreal evenings when you turn the corner, and there is “THAT” painting! I can’t wait to go back. With each painting that captured my attention and stole a bit of my breath, I couldn’t help but notice that through all the brushstrokes those Impressionists employed, or the cubes put to use by Picasso, they had a CLEAR VISION of what they wished to reveal.

Clarity, my friends. It’s a good thing!

P.S. See for yourself:

Photos: Courtesy of Opera News ©Dario Acosta 2008; ©Troy Chromatic Concert, Inc; and "The Old Guitarist" by Picasso (©JD)

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Gratitude - Day 63

I'm grateful for music. Joyous, profound, moving, uplifting, humorous, glorious music.

Gratitude - Day 62

I'm grateful to finally be on the stage of the Civic Opera Theater rehearsing. The move from the rehearsal room to the stage is always an exciting one: we get to test the acoustics of the hall firsthand, feel how the space on the set feels looking out into the enormous house, we have the actual set pieces around us, the chorus joins us, and it means opening night is getting a bit closer. It also gives an amateur photo-nut (me) the opportunity to roam the theater freely and capture a few of the details that make this theater so beautiful! I love those perks!

Monday, February 4, 2008

Gratitude - Day 61

After a THRILLING Superbowl Game (that last drive by Manning was UNbelievable!), we exited the party to this scene: the most exquisite snowfall, where you feel warm and enveloped by it - not threatened and annoyed. It was quiet, soothing, and perfectly untouched. My key to enjoying the perfect moment is to stay still and serene without a single thought of how it will be transformed into unpassable puddles of slush and gunk by rush hour traffic in the morning! I'm grateful for such a beautiful sight. (And grateful that it was a really great Superbowl match!)

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Gratitude - Day 60

I'm just loving being in this city for many reasons: catching up with old friends, great work environment and really fabulous food. God help my waistline for the next few weeks, but I'm enjoying every minute of it!

Friday, February 1, 2008

Gratitude - Day 59

I missed the name of this sculpture and artist (bad art viewer, I know), BUT it really captured me: for the angle of the head, the slightly guarded placement of the hands, the feeling of hope that emanated from it's upturned face. Then afterwards we braved the slushy curbs and the blowing snow and ate at "Oprah's Favorite Thin Crust Pizza Place", Pizano's, and ate SUCH good pizza (the crust, I'm pretty certain, was a cornmeal crust....delicious!) And what was on the 7 large flat-screen tv's hovering above the diners? NBA? NHL? American Idol?

Nope: the Democratic Debate. Now, I'll try not to be too political here, but I will say the hope that welled up in me watching the Democratic nominees felt really good, and I was immediately reminded of this sculpture: hopeful, looking forward, but still guarded and cautious. I'm grateful that our country has a debate like this showing in a local pizza joint - and that people were actually tuning in, because maybe, just MAYBE, we might send an overwhelming number of informed voters to the booths this election year - and then, obviously, we might just have a hope...

Gratitude Journal - Day 58

I'm grateful for the sculptures of Rodin, and grateful to be in a city that has such an incredible museum. It's the perfect place to escape to when snow is blowing and wind is howling, especially on Thursday evenings when it's free...