Thursday, December 24, 2009

A holiday full of thanks

Dear wonderful fans (or random stranger who happens upon this blog!),

I wanted to send out a very heartfelt, sincere THANK YOU to each and every one of you who have taken part in my journey over this past year, and throughout the years. I love singing and performing, but there would be no "career" without each of you who fill the seats, buy the discs, spread the word, and most importantly, who derive some bit of statisfaction, insight, or joy from the music I help make. In sum, YOU are the very reason I do what I do.

I cannot begin to express the fortune I feel to do what I love to do and to have the opportunity to share it with each of you. For some reason, things have fallen into a beautiful, miraculous configuration that provides a way for me to make a living in music. This never escapes me, and it continues to fill me with joy.

There is really no proper way to thank you, but I wanted to try! I have bought a LLAMA, which we can call the "Drama Llama" for obvious reasons, via one of my favorite charities, Heifer Interational. In your name, oh fabulous Yankeediva Fans, a llama will be given to a family/village most in need, and as a result it will help bring sustenance, income, and dignity to people who may struggle with such things we often take for granted. Llamas are great, because not only can they survive on scrub vegetation, hence not robbing families of precious food, but they fertilize the ground in a great way, while their fleece serves as a fabulous source to knit clothing as a source of income! They are the best. (Not to mention that they are the cutest things in the universe - this alpaca stole my heart this past summer in the San Juan Islands!)

How ADORABLE is he? Or she.

It is a small gesture, but certainly anything but a small one for the family that will welcome this animal with open arms. Should you feel like reciprocating in any way, you, too, can purchase geese, sheep, rabbits, or even a part of a heifer!!! (Fat lady jokes commence!) Just click the link above and enjoy the rush of helping someone in a very significant, substantial and concrete way.

In the meantime, I'm home for Christmas, baking cookies, choosing ornaments (the Handel variety, not the red-ball variety!) and getting ready to enjoy every moment with my family. May each of you enjoy your holiday with gusto, overflowing with love and joy, or at least great music!! Again, you have been so very good to me, and I share in the beauty of this life with each and every one of you!

One last little gift to smile about -- ENJOY!!!


Friday, December 18, 2009

Opera News Awards

I realize I'm a wee bit tardy on this post, but you know - there has been sunshine to enjoy, ornaments to write, and lyrics to memorize! But I didn't want to let too much more time pass before sharing the amazing evening that I participated in a few weeks back.

The Metropolitan Opera Guild began hosting the "Opera News Awards" 5 years ago, and it has become quite an event in the social calendar of New York City, not to mention in our wonderful, whacky opera world. They honor 5 different artists in the course of the evening, usually consisting of one or two singer on the younger side (eh hem!), one or two luminaries or legends, to say the least, and a composer or conductor of great merit. 2 years ago I was asked to present an award to the incredible Olga Borodina where Leontyne Price was also being honored - and the impact of her speech and very presence alone moved me deeply:

But this year it was my turn, along with Gerald Finley, Philip Glass, Martina Arroyo and Shirley Verrett. Sadly, the effervescent, elegant, refined and awe-inspiring Shirley Verrett could not attend the awards. She was sorely missed and celebrated with gusto by everyone in attendance in her absence. The video clip of her singing Dalilah was ravishing beyond words, and her legacy was deeply felt and celebrated by us all.

Gerald Finley, dashing as ever (and with whom I've had the privilege of sharing the stage on several memorable occasions), spoke eloquently of the importance of our art form and those who make it possible; following a witty introduction by none other than Paul Simon, Philip Glass accepted his award while speaking of the high calling of composing an opera; and Martina Arroyo - RADIANT with her beaming smile and twinkling eye, inspired all of us who are still singing to be sure to carry the torch, especially bringing in the next generation as we move through our careers. (She's putting her money where her mouth is, doing marvelous, intensive work with young singers as a part of her foundation.

I cannot speak for what the other recipients were feeling as they took their moment in the spotlight, but I can tell you that I was overwhelmed and perhaps even a bit incoherent! The "force of nature" that is Stephanie Blythe served up an introduction to me that reduced me to tears. (Although the tears had no strength to fight themselves back since I was attending the gala with a sleep deficit of about 48 hours!) But I'm rather certain that they would have shown up even with a full night's sleep, for she was incredibly eloquent and heartfelt and deluged me with the most touching and sincere words I could have imagined. She is a treasure, and I felt quite honored to be receiving this award from her.

As I accepted the award, I truly felt the presence of everyone who has touched my life in a significant way: the teachers who inspired with their wisdom and patience, the critics who, oddly enough, also inspired with their dismissals and oversights, the colleagues who challenged me to be better, the friends who lifted me through the most difficult of times, the manager who believed, the family members who walked with me, ... and it was each of them that overwhelmed me that evening, knowing that I could not have been standing there with the crystal in my hand without them.

We never know the impact we may have on another's life, but I can say that there have been COUNTLESS people in my life who have taught me, challenged me, lifted me up and tore me down. Yet the reality is that none of them can ever stand on the stage and make me do what I do - no artist or performer has the luxury of leaning on someone when the cue is thrown your way and you're not sure if you can do it or not. That's our responsibility alone. But somehow, the strength they have given you along the way, the lessons they have taught you, the times they have abandoned you and forced you to find the strength deep in yourself - somehow they all contribute to the making of an artist, and it was this which was heavy on my mind that night.

There is another element to building up an artist and helping them stand on a stage in front of thousands of scrutinizing people: the fans. The wonderful, passionate, discerning and sometimes whacky fans!!! None of this makes sense unless it arrives to the audience for people to hear, experience, live, breathe and FEEL the music and emotion. How privileged I am to be given the honor of singing for you!

Oh, there was one more element of the evening - which nearly put me over the edge! My brilliant husband was busy conducting "Casanova's Homecoming" in Minneapolis the same evening of the awards and was unable to be my date for the night, but the ever thoughtful Met Guild found a way to bring him to NY that night, via a video greeting. As you can see by my reaction, I was taken completely by surprise and felt overwhelmed by the outpouring of love not just from him, but from everyone that evening!

Thank you, Dario Acosta for the use of your lovely photos!!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Rainy days and Mondays...

...can often get you down, but in LA it's a bit hard to let it settle in and take hold, I have to say! Perhaps it's actually a most beneficial thing for my career that today is rainy, because loads of work beckons (or, is that loads of work beckon?), but I must admit that the last week of sunshine did my inner child a WORLD of good! I'll actually let a few pictures do the talking:

I really shouldn't say anything just yet (touch wood, please!), but my leg feels back to normal now. After loads of physical therapy, I have felt immeasurably lucky to be back on form, and while being cautious, have immensely enjoyed getting active again. In fact, I look at the roller skating as quite good therapy for the ol' legs! Not to mention the rush of just PLAYING! Ah, it does a soul good, so that when I have to play a young teenager... doesn't feel like QUITE as a big a stretch as it might otherwise! I just think finding JOY around you is one of the greatest gifts you can possibly give yourself. Life is not always easy, and challenges present themselves on such a regular basis, it is true. But if you can find a way to train yourself to see the humor or the laughter or the joy in it, somehow it passes a bit more easily - and the bonus is that I think you leave yourself open for the truth of the experience.

Even if that's not always possible, I'm a big believer in that when life is GOOD, make the MOST out of it! Celebrate it, and let it refuel you for when the tough times arrive. Which they will. But in the meantime - celebrate!

Or at the very least, LAUGH!

Now my Italian Art Songs are calling...."Amarilli......"

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


Taken out of context, as we all know, things can carry very different meanings! I just snapped this photo from my window in GLORIOUS Santa Monica, CA, and found it very funny that, framed simply as it is, one could make countless different assumptions. If I had taken the photo in a landscape (vertical) direction, you would have found the bride's groom and photographer about 20 feet to her right, waiting to finish their photo shoot. However, as it is, I love the possibility for imagining what her story might be.

I think as a singer, imagination is one of the most important tools you can utilize. Being able to imagine a character's backstory, or the off-stage conversation she may have just had with the baritone, are enormously important to fleshing out any kind of character. (What happened during Fiordiligi and Ferrando's "walk" just after Gugliemo has seduced Dorabella? What ever did Donna Anna and Don Ottavio speak about before Giovanni burst into their lives? What was Mimi doing just before coming to knock on that creaky door?) The more specific a singer can be in their vision of the character, the more real he or she will be to the audience.

In "Una voce poco fa", usually no one is on stage with Rosina, and yet, isn't it feasible that she might want to take a peak into the next room to make SURE Berta isn't lurking? Wouldn't that help suggest the "danger" she is surrounded by in that claustrophobic house? That's something a director most likely would never point out, but if your imagination is activated, you might think about certain details like that - details that help make the scene become multi-dimensional. If you can truly place yourself into this character's room, your imagination can begin to feed you an infinite number of plausible things to play.

We had a lovely opening for our Barber here in LA. (Thank you to James Taylor and the LA TIMES for giving me such a lovely profile to announce the opening of the production!)

(Photo © Lawrence K. Ho for the LA Times)

Yes, I've now done a number of "Barbers", but I think it is my willingness to engage my imagination that keeps it feeling fresh and alive to me. This show carries it's own set of challenges, because the emphasis lies with the visual aspect of "Seville", incorporating lots of (wonderful!) dancers filling the space and lots of comedic bits that could sit simply on the surface of the show. I found that I had to dig in and rely on my imagination to help me fill in some of the blanks of this production, and in the end, it begins to feel very much alive to me, because of that. Sometimes I wish the directors could help me find those details that I crave, but in the end, if I've had to struggle to find them myself, ultimately I suppose they will be more authentic.

**Singers - I encourage you all to really engage your imagination whenever possible! Ask LOADS of questions about the articulation the composer gave you (why a staccato? why a diminuendo here and not a measure later?) If you can supply the subtext to all those various elements, you will be miles ahead in the game!

And while I don't want to brag, I have to say that being in LA in December does NOT hurt the ol' psyche at all! The sun is shining, the ocean steady and strong, and my inner child is partaking of the big playground of life here! Yesterday found me roller-skating on the boardwalk, playing beach volleyball with some of my fellow castmates, and finishing with a killer California-style yoga class, where I'm astonished that I can walk at all today!!! (They do NOT mess around with yoga here in sunny CA!) Thanksgiving found me doing cartwheels on the sand - and my inner 12-year old has never been happier! (And for anyone who may be tempted to tell me to be careful on those roller-skates, I promise I'm well padded!)

As a final salute to the importance of perspective, I attended a thrilling concert last weekend of the LA PHIL, with the electric Gustavo Dudamel at the helm, performing all California-related works from the last 15 years, including a premiere by John Adams. Meeting Mr. Adams afterwards, he asked me what I was doing in LA, and I simply said, "Ah, Barber over at the Pavillion." "Barber?" he responded, "Which one - Vanessa?"

See? It's all a matter of context and perspective, folks. If we can get that, world peace can't be THAT far behind, can it?

PS -- in case anyone has 5 hours to kill tonight (!) Jim Svejda of KUSC 91.5 in LA (the renowned host of the nationally syndicated Record Shelf) will be doing a 5 (!) hour show on yours-truly, including clips from a number of my recordings, interviews, etc. It can be streamed live on their web site. I had a ball speaking with him, as he is an incredible fount of knowledge, but it should give a very interesting insight into the variety of recordings I've been so lucky to participate in!!!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Breathing... something I often need to remind myself to participate in when things have gotten a bit hectic. If I can manage the breathing part, the rest will likely follow. Last SATURDAY I was in Minneapolis for my husband's "triumphant" conducting of "Casanova's Homecoming" by Dominick Argento (what a brilliant score and LIBRETTO!!). SUNDAY found me flying to San Francisco to rehearse a few hours for my recital on MONDAY night to a wonderful crowd of my west coast "family". 6:00 AM TUESDAY morning a car arrived to whisk me away to the airport to fly to Los Angeles to begin my rehearsals for my LA Opera debut in Barbiere ... after getting lost on the freeway system several times, I had my 2 1/2 hour costume fitting, (3 costumes x 5 layers each = 15 hemlines to stand tall and motionless for whilst they take exact measurements!), followed by 6 hours of staging rehearsals. WEDNESDAY brought another 6 hours of staging and I whisked myself away (not getting lost this time, thank god!) to LAX for the red-eye flight to New York City. Arriving at 7:30 AM on THURSDAY, I had more fittings for gowns, a brief nap (which wasn't productive at all, since I couldn't stop the ol' mind from spinning off it's axis with the list of things I needed to accomplish in the next 10 hours!), and before I knew it I was standing at a podium thanking the world for the wonderful "Opera News Award." (Much more on that later) No after parties for me, for I had to get home to finish lining up things so that our apartment would be ready for it's first renter, not to mention being sure I was awake and packed for the car that was coming at 5:15 AM FRIDAY morning to whisk me back to JFK to catch the plane that would whip me to LAX and into my 6 hours of piano dress rehearsals for the day.

SATURDAY I stayed in bed until 4:00 PM.

So we've crossed off the "Break a leg" mantra for me, and now any of those jokes about divas staying in bed all day eating bon bons? They're off limits, too!!!

Sadly, a full-fledged weekend doesn't seem to exist in my world, so it's back to the theater for orchestra stagings today, BUT I kept breathing, took all my vitamins, and look - I'm still standing!!! And breathing.....

Thursday, November 5, 2009


My senior year at Bishop Miege High School in suburban Kansas City, I was certain - and I mean CERTAIN! - that I would be a high school choral director, and so I searched for schools that had great music education degrees. After sorting through loads of brochures, I settled on The Wichita State University, known for it's wonderful teacher programs, and as it so happened, an outstanding opera department. I didn't know about the latter until well into my theory classes: upon my arrival there seemed to be a very serious, elite "opera clique" of amazing performers that seemed much larger than life, and actually, untouchable to me. The program was run by the omnipresent, towering Dr. George Gibson - who to this impressionable freshmen seemed not just larger than life, but all-powerful and imposing on the highest level.

As I found my footing, I found that people would come from around the country to study voice with him and that he was quite a revered opera director. To me, he was the kind of presence that required you to divert your gaze while walking in the hallways, because he was THAT powerful! Somehow I got enticed into being in the chorus of Die Fledermaus that he was directing, and he was fierce in his directing, exacting in his expectations, and tolerated nothing less than the best. (His motto, which he exemplifies in every area of his life, was Dedictation, Discipline and Determination: the 3 D's!)

Well the rest is now history, but there is no getting around how influential he was on my formation as a singer, and I've told him repeatedly that when I stand on stage, there is a part of him that is standing there with me - and most happily, he continues to be an important part of my life. But the kicker is that I am just one of MANY whose lives he has touched!

Last week, while working here at the MET, I was talking with a good friend of mine, and fellow Wichita State Alum, (as well as Santa Fe apprentice!) Brian Frutiger, who is involved here in The House of the Dead. He said, "You know, Joyce - right now there are 5 WSU alums working here at the MET."

Five WSU Alumni? Five WSU SHOCKERS?

That might not be a big deal if we were talking about Juilliard or Eastmen, perhaps, but Wichita State???? 4 of us are singers, and 1 plays oboe in the orchestra.

We thought that was rather amazing. And so we organized a photo shoot!

Please meet:

Brian Frutiger (Tenor), Alan Held (Bass-Baritone), Susan Spector (Oboe), Samuel Ramey (Bass), myself, and Susan's daughter who, by virtue of her WSU sweatshirt, immediately became our mascot!

My thought about writing about this, is that once I set my mind on being an opera singer, there was a temptation to believe "But I have to attend one of the BIG music schools!", and it was hard not to sometimes feel inferior, because I didn't have a "big name school" as affirmation that I was "good". Instead, I realized, looking at the 5 of us, each of us takes a very different route and path to get to where we are. I attended school with a number of HUGELY talented people, but they each walked a different route to live their lives. I think the urge for younger singers to think there is ONE way, ONE key to a career is just simply misguided. Get yourself in the mind set of the "3 D's", and get about taking your very own journey, and then ENJOY THE RIDE.

My ride brought me to the MET Opera Shop on Tuesday, and it was wonderful. The fabulous Opera Shop Staff really rolled out the red carpet for me, welcomed me with open arms, and a wonderful crowd came out to meet me and have me sign their newly acquired discs. THANK YOU to each one of you for purchasing the discs! (As everyone knows, every single disc makes a difference in this industry right now!) I'll always be a bit mystified that this girl from Kansas is on this particular journey, but I never stay in that frame of mind too long. But an enormous source of my joy is knowing all the people along the way who have helped me on the way, and reveling in the journey of my colleagues as well.

Go Shockers!!!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Climb every mountain - or at least one of them!

Yesterday the NY Marathon took the Big Apple by storm. The women's race saw a heroic figure and favored winner fight a horrible leg injury and still cross the finish line, the men's race saw a great upset with the USA taking the win for the first time in ages, and I got to cheer on my very dear friend in his 6th race (despite the fact that while fighting the crowds to get to the finish line I didn't actually SEE him cross the end - but I was there in spirit!) What I did witness took me by surprise. I finally fought for a spot in the park, slightly elevated, at the 26 mile marker; from where I stood, I saw runner after runner pass the point where they knew they would make it - 400 meters to go? That was do-able.

While the athletes I cheered on were complete strangers, in a matter of minutes I began to identify with them, marvel at them, and finally admire every single one of them for their endurance and strength. It struck me that they were all participating in the same event, running those same steps, accomplishing the very same task, and yet every single one of them had a different story which brought them to that 26th mile. They each were climbing an enormous mountain of their own: some running to beat their personal record, others running to simply cross the finish line for the first time, some running for a cause, others running for a single person as a memorial, some running for "Italy", others for "France", and I stood by in complete and total amazement at the physical, mental and emotional journey they all were making.

Some 40,000 runners made the journey yesterday, and I thank each one of them for the inspiration they provided to me, and hopefully to others as well. How I LOVED taking part in a day where excellence and tenacity were on such vivid display, as well as watching people from every nation on earth (or so it seemed) were united in perfect harmony - all striving for the same thing, completely regardless of race, creed, sex, you-name-it, and they all were crossing the same hurdles and triumphing equally, and supporting each other with each step they took. Oh wow - it IS possible.

And of course, as usual, there was the perfect example of harmony and peace right in front of my eyes:

Yeah, it's all pretty simple, in the end.

And while I am not at all convinced that I could run a mile, much less 26.2 of them, I did hike my own personal mountain in recording my latest Rossini Disc (sorry - here comes another plug!) and I will be SIGNING the discs Tuesday at the Met Opera Shop. Please come on out and wear out my arm!!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Meet Gabriel, the sweetest, scene-stealing Donkey you'll ever meet.

This is Gabriel, the adorable, mild-mannered Donkey that graces the stage of the Metropolitan Opera for our production of The Barber of Seville. He's only one element that makes this run so fun and refreshing and wonderful. We are actually rehearsing this week to add in 2 new cast members, which means those of us that have been performing these past weeks have to bring in the new colleagues and get them settled in and familiar to the production, as well as adapt our performances to incorporate the new colors and interpretations of the new guys. I'll be honest - it's a BIT hard to come back to the rehearsal room and focus on the details again since we've already opened, but happily this group of singers (and friends, really), is so great, we've been having a wonderful time - with more laughter than should probably be allowed!

It makes me step back (once again!) and just revel in the reality of how much I love what I do. We're singing, we're playing, and we're laughing (along with working, of course!), but it's an environment of joy and celebration, and that makes all the difference in the world! We have had wonderful audiences who seem so HAPPY to come to the theater and LAUGH and let loose a bit, and so for us up on the stage, the enjoyment is all the greater.

Last Sunday I sang a joint recital with Eric Owens for the George London Foundation. A number of years ago I was the recipient of an award from the London Foundation, and it was an enormous help for me - not only financially, but also a huge vote of confidence, and I'm sure it helped a few reluctant people in the business start to take me a bit more seriously. Eric was also a lucky recipient and a fellow Houston Opera Studio Member. We hadn't shared a stage since "Jackie O" back in 1997, and it was brilliant to hear his sonorous voice again.

This is just a short update, as so many things are going on here in NY this trip! If you're in the Big Apple, please feel free to stop by the Met Opera Shop on Tuesday, Nov 3, for my first CD Signing at the Met for the COLBRAN DISC (in the top 10 on the Billboard chart this week!), and come help New York City Opera kick off its all-important 2009-10 season with our big gala on November 5, "American Voices" with a great line-up of American Singers helping kick off the festivities.

I think that's more hyper-links than I've ever used in a single post before, but just trying to keep everyone informed!

I've also received a few bits of really exciting news this past week - can't post anything yet, but I believe there will be some happy fans out there....will post as soon as I can! Oh, and for the FINAL kicker - THIS absolutely knocked me over when a friend from college sent it to me! You have to actually scroll through Halle Berry and Charlize Theron, etc. to get to me (I'm #14), but I thought it was pretty wild!! It will be one for the scrapbook - if I only had time to keep one!

So it's a scattered, random-type posting, but it's a big accomplishment during the World Series Week!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Rest, Relaxtion, Restoration ... ah, Alaskaaaaaah

Thank you

I had the extreme pleasure of singing on board the US AMSTERDAM recently on a 7-day cruise of Alaska for the Metropolitan Opera Guild. The brilliant Jake Heggie was my collaborative pianist, the dashing Michael Snider the organizer, and a number of enthusiastic opera lovers our audience and travel companions! The week could not have been more memorable, more relaxing, more breathtaking, or more restorative. I was ready for a great week, but wasn't quite ready for the astonishment that was Alaska. The sights, the sounds (mostly of silence!), the fish, the friendship, the music making. It did this soul such good!

Perhaps my greatest memory was standing next to Jake as we were whale watching (which turned into whale astonishment over and over!), as he scoured the quiet, still waters waiting for that puff of mist to signal they were coming to the surface. You see, Jake is in the middle of writing his next opera, Moby Dick, which is set to open this spring in Dallas. As we set sail, he has just finished the piano vocal score of the piece and had workshopped it in San Francisco, giving him the opportunity to identify the parts of the opera that needed tweaking, and to know what was already working quite well. Upon our return, he would have to start the actual orchestration. So to stand on board next to him as he took in the SILENCE, the expanse, and the MAJESTY of these creatures as they would come to the surface was an experience I'll never forget. I could see the sounds beginning to formulate in his ear, and I just knew then and there that he would write a masterpiece.

We spoke one day of how nimble and agile these creatures were for their enormous size. "They're just HUGE", I said. And then Jake would take a look around us, 360*, at the entire world encapsulating us, and he said, "Actually, they're not THAT big, all things considered." That was Alaska - giving us the chance to remember where we fit into the scheme of things, and what real life is actually about.

And then of course, we got to play together!!

As with all things "Cruise ship", one never knows exactly what to expect. For example, for our first concert, they didn't have an actual piano available. So they brought down and actual "SLAM GRAND" which was an approximation of an electric keyboard housed in the casing that was made to look, almost, like a grand piano. We couldn't stop laughing about it - thinking it probably was the only time in our careers we had faced something QUITE like that before. Yeah, the piano was completely hollow:

Truly, it was the trip of a lifetime, wish such great sights, smells, tastes, and just that perfect silence that came with the majesty that was Alaska. It made me realize how important silence is in my life. It makes the sound that follows all that more meaningful.

(More pictures are posted on my FLICKR page, if you're curious!)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Good times!

It feels WONDERFUL to be able to report that I believe a good time was had by ALL on Saturday night for the opening of "The Barber of Seville" here in NYC! I think the audience was happy to be given the chance to laugh out loud a bit, as laughter truly does tend to work magic, even on the most unsuspecting!

Yesterday was a huge day, as I had a big brainstorming session with my recording team of EMI/Virgin, and there are definitely exciting prospects lurking ahead! Knowing the Rossini disc has been well anticipated had everyone in a good mood, and ideas were flying about how to beat this apparent downward trend in music sales. I don't believe people are no longer interested in buying music, I think simply the means to purchase it has changed so drastically, and so quickly, that the folks on both sides of the aisle don't quite know how to proceed. One thing I'm beyond happy about is that this team around me believes 100% in the importance of QUALITY programming and producing. No one around that table was hinting at dumbing down, or watering down what it is that I do and love. Everyone believes in keeping the standard extremely high, no question. The caveat comes in how we market that, so they can afford to keep the level at such a premium.

But we also tossed around some very fun ideas - ideas that really excite me, so the future should prove to be interesting, to say the least!!!

I then hopped in a taxi with a REALLY belligerent NY Taxi Driver (how I love them!), and arrived 2 minutes late to a master class I was giving for the young artists at the Met. First thing I always say, "Be on TIME", so I'm not sure how much credibility I carried for the next 90 minutes, BUT I still think it was a good class. I'm always astonished at how much I feel I have learned in doing sessions like this - and I can only hope that it's a mutual gaining of knowledge, as I just love the exchange of ideas and seeing the occasional light bulb click on over the soprano's head! It's a scary proposition to work with such talented singers who are already receiving the best coaching in the world, but what never fails to impress me is how tireless and infinite the learning process is for an artist.

Most of the session consisted of me asking questions, and feeding the singers possible sub-texts for what they are singing. Does Donna Elvira need to convince herself that she will REALLY tear off Giovanni's face when she sees him (hence the need for the wayward, yet driving ascending scales at the end of "Ah, chi me dice mai?", or is she utterly convinced and sure of herself? That absolutely affects the intention with which she sings those tricky phrases. Does regret enter into any of her thirst for revenge? Is perhaps the more legato, less angular phrasing of "Ah si ritrovo l'empio" a chance to show her more delicate side? (Does she have a delicate side?) I'm sure that once the vocal foundation for an aria is established (legato, breath support, phrasing, pure vowels, etc), questions become a singers best friend. And the license to chose different answers, and then experiment with different colors as a result, start to lead to comprehensive, deep portrayals.

How I love that moment when the singer starts to leave the rehearsal studio and starts to inhabit their character. Oh, it's GOOD!

And in keeping with the need for laughter, let's just enter the world of the panda for fun. I mean seriously, why NOT?!?!?

Have a wonderful day!

Panda Sneeze Attack - Watch more Funny Videos

Friday, October 2, 2009

In celebration...

...of Leontyne Price. Just because.

Yes. Oh yes yes yes.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Celebrating Rossini!!!

It is with great pleasure, great astonishment, and great excitement that I introduce to you my next disc:

Rossini Arias: Colbran, the Muse...

I'm enjoying what is being billed as my "Rossini Year", having started with Rosina in London this summer, bringing her back for the opening this Saturday back at the MET with a brilliant cast, this disc launches on Tuesday here in the States (soon elsewhere, as well!), and finishing the season with my first Elena's in Donna del Lago. There are lots of little black notes in my immediate future, and hopefully yours as well, as I would LOVE for you to take a listen to the disc, enjoy the genius that is Rossini - inspired by his admiration and love for Isabella - and help me celebrate this most special of composers!!!

And, in a short health update - for the record, I just finished the final dress rehearsal of Barbiere here at the MET, and I finished standing on both legs. That felt GREAT!!!!

Hoping everyone's opera-going season is off to as great a start as mine!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Oh those strings!

My only day of rehearsal with the LSO and Maestro Gergiev for my debut as Marguerite in Berlioz's masterpiece "Damnation de Faust" just came to an end. I wish the clock had not marched forward (even if my jet lag was begging differently!). Gergiev's complete mastery of this piece, in sublime combination with the orchestra's innate and uncanny way with Berlioz's near demented, yet utterly enthralling music was nearly too much for me. How those strings can find SUCH a clear unison, such a sizzling warmth in the most miniscule of piano's, I'll never know, but I most certainly did not want it to end!!! This is the sign of a brilliant orchestra to me: when the whole is absolutely integrated and seamless, and yet the moment a solo passage steps up, you know you're listening to the best in the world take the lead for that brief moment.

This past year alone I have worked with some of the greatest Maestri in the world, and Gergiev's intense, yet subtle influence confirms for me my strong desire for a great Maestro: someone who INSPIRES.

Thank you Maestro, thank you wonderful LSO, and thank you wonderful colleagues - what a JOY and a privilege to make music together!

PS - most sadly, I don't believe any radio broadcast is planned; this is one for the ticket holders - my apologies to those of you outside of the hall...

Thursday, September 17, 2009


It would appear to be official:

October 6th sees the arrival of MY NEXT DISC, which I'm IMMENSELY excited about, to say the very least.

Welcome to the world of Isabella Colbran and Gioachino Rossini, prima donna and celebrated composer: lovers, spouses, perhaps even revolutionaries. I delved into their world for a wonderful week in Rome and spent time with the wicked, the wonderful, the noble and the sorrowful ladies which he created for his muse: a prima donna of the highest rank who brought her immense range and fierce temperament to the stage.

The task was daunting, to put it mildly, but the joy of singing these roles with the amazing playing of the Academia di Santa Cecilia orchestra was off the charts for me. Oh, how I adore these ladies: Elena (Donna del Lago), Anna (Maometto II), Elisabetta, Semiramide, Desdemona (Otello), and ARMIDA!

I do hope that it will say something about Rossini which is often overlooked - his penchant for melody and capacity to highlight the profound strength and vulnerability of women. (And in case anyone is wondering where Rosina or Cenerentola are, "Una voce poco fa" will be available as an exclusive download for i-tunes! "Non più mesta" may just appear on the next one!!!)

Speaking of Cenerentola, as well, thanks to Chris for the notice about this:

Finally!! The Cenerentola Juan Diego and I recorded live in Barcelona in January of 2007 is coming out on DVD, it would appear, at the end of October! See? There! Your Christmas shopping list is filling up, already!

The excitement builds!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Anything is possible!!!

I seem to remember, vaguely, taking a vacation recently! Ah, yes - I was in Alaska on the high seas watching ASTONISHING feats and sights such as this that thrilled me to my core; and now that the season is back in full swing, and I have roughly a ga-zillion things on my plate, I needed to sit back and remember what I was doing 2 weeks ago, to find that beautiful stress-free place!

Thank you for indulging me!!! I feel much better!

It's great to be back at work, on both feet (!), settling into The Big Apple, learning a new role, plotting for the big CD launch (more soon, I promise - but if you live in the States, October 6 is THE DAY!!!), seeing old friends and colleagues and enjoying the hectic life in which I find myself. So hectic, my blogging has suffered, but I'll get back in the groove soon!

Off to London this weekend, then back here to NY/Seville!

(And yes, I really did see that whale catapult herself out of the water. Still stunned by it, in fact!)

Friday, September 11, 2009


It's difficult to be in New York City today. 8 years ago our world changed in the most catastrophic way possible. Time stood still. Shock set in. Horror engulfed us all. I don't know of anyone whose lives were not deeply, eternally affected by the morbid decision of a few men.

And then there was the shift. Once the breath slowly returned to us all, hands started to be held. Heads leaned on shoulders. Tears were wiped away, only to return too quickly. And then, out of the vast and indescribable stillness: voices were raised. Music seemed to be the one balm which could offer a modicum of comfort. That breath, which was stolen from us so violently, found its path again through singing. Unity happened.

It's not only the memory of the terror that saddens (and still shocks) me - but instead, there seems to be a deeper sadness hovering over today: the inconceivable, unforgivable loss of that unity. The sadness seems to mix with shame and anger as I watch the division deepen in this country and around the world. How did we dare to allow that to happen?

As I was in Alaska - beautiful, astonishing, miraculous Alaska - it dawned on me how very, very small we are. And yet, we are also immense as well when we unite. Funny, that.

I must be naive, because in my mind it is crystal clear and so utterly simple. Isn't it?

My thoughts are with the world today, especially those who lost their precious loved ones to the hands of hatred and ignorance. (And that includes all those lives lost in the continued , seemingly endless aftermath of 9/11...)

Friday, August 21, 2009

I'm bad - I know: no updates about Aix (Magical, and "more cheese, please"!!!), or Salzburg ("Hey Mozart, I finally made it!!!), or "the leg" (I'm WALKING!) - but I'll get caught up at some point.

But I'm also good: I've had 2 whole entire weeks at home, with my husband. AT THE SAME TIME!!! That means both he and I, in our home, AT ONCE! That almost never happens. I think the current term is "taking a staycation", and I'll tell you - it's the only place I want to be during my free time! It was heavenly: I baked, I rejuvenated, I put weight on my right foot, I eased back into yoga, I gazed out my windows, I rehabbed, I saw my family, laughed with my nieces and nephews, I breathed. It was so very, very good. It made getting back on the plane all too difficult, mostly because it happened all too soon. Happily, there is Haydn and Handel waiting for me - with the most wonderful of musicians: The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightment.

But there is also other work to be done. I've been pouring over the edits for MY NEXT DISC!!!! I may have written about this before, that editing truly is a grueling, exasperating process: upon first listen, all I can hear is all the terrible things that I hate and don't do well. Not one single note sounds good to me. Then I have to take a deep breath, talk myself down off the ledge and remind myself that no one is perfect. Then I have to detach myself from the incredible emotion I feel for this music and be extremely business like and give my comments about balance, selections, etc. You see, in the beginning of my recording life, I was learning simply how to stand in front of a microphone and not croak - that's a daunting challenge in itself. But as I've learned over the years to relax a bit, I find more ways to give choices of color and mood - so that in the end we can take "the ice cold one" vs. the "mildly angry one", etc. For me, this luxury doesn't happen on stage, where you get only one shot to express. In the studio, you can experiment and take different kinds of risks - while some pay off, and others don't - it is a luxury. So the editing process for me is now about choosing the colors and tone that I want to set for each character or aria, and knowing that the choices will be permanent, it's a bit stressful, to say the least.

However, the great news is that I feel that this is the disc I wanted to make: it says the things I wanted to say about this single composer; it stretched me in the most incredibly rewarding ways; it taught me a great deal about singing, as well as about emoting; and above all, every single note (and there were a lot of them!) was an unabashed thrill to sing. I think there are a few unexpected things to discover on this disc - and while it may raise a few eyebrows, I've never really been one to back away from taking a risk. We'll see how it turns out!

(Dealing with crutches and wheel chairs didn't leave me much room for my camera and various lenses, so I'm a bit short on the photo department. However, I did get very lucky with this shot of a crazy lightening storm last week in NY, and this last photo was one of my favorite from my time in Rome.)

Friday, July 31, 2009

29 tumors? They haven't got a chance against a song.

In case any one out there is in need of an enormous dose of inspiration (which includes me, because I am officially OVER this cast on my leg!), please, please, PLEASE give yourself a gift and take a few, short minutes to read this astonishing article about Zheng Cao, an against-all-odds mezzo soprano.

I am a believer.

"Early on, I said that these cancer cells have no chance in my body because every cell is already filled up with music."

Please feel free to donate to the walk taking place in San Francisco on Sunday, and then just sit with her accomplishment for a bit - makes anything seem possible, doesn't it....?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Lessons learned

I don't know that I've ever felt quite as much relief for a show closing as I did with the finish of this most memorable and unbelievably special "Barbiere" in London last week. I truly have never experienced anything quite like it, and now that I've had some time to reflect on all that happened, the exhaustion has indeed set in!! I've taken this past week to rest up, regroup and rest! (Did I mention that I've been resting?) I had no idea how many different muscles (upper back/shoulders) would be involved in singing from a wheelchair, as I was left feeling as if I had run a marathon after each show. But sore muscles aside, it was one helluva ride!!!

Let me be clear: without question it is a ride I hope never, ever to repeat - hence my game plan to dive full-force into physical therapy and resume my yoga regime enthusiastically as soon as I possibly can. (Although I have found that there are a number of yoga postures I can actually accomplish with a bit of imagination!) But having said that, it is an experience I wouldn't trade for anything in the world: it has only confirmed in my heart and soul how important the experience of theater can be (both for performer and audience member) and how necessary it is in our lives.

From a personal standpoint, if you had told me one month ago that I would have this particular challenge ahead, I would never have thought that I could do it. And yet, when the challenge confronted me, in a split-second (that damned split-second!), there was no question for me whether to continue or not. Perhaps it's the Midwesterner in me that simply knew I had a job to do, so I said to myself "shut up and just do whatever you have to do to get the job done, already!" To me, that wasn't heroic - it was simply me doing the job I was hired to do. But you throw into the mix the support of so many people - the amazing staff of the Royal Opera House who treated me to the very best of care, the astonishing cast who didn't blink a single eye in rearranging the show to accommodate a Rosina on Wheels, the brazilliant fans who supported me with such gusto and VERVE welcoming me with open arms for each performance, my tireless friends who helped to keep my morale so very high, and not at all the least, my heroic husband who kept me laughing non-stop through this all, literally carrying me through this - and all of a sudden I could do things I never thought possible.

(My exceptional cast who truly helped carry me through each show)

Perhaps I shouldn't admit this, but it's the simple truth: aside from the pain and inconvenience, I had a real ball with this. The first night that I entered into the stage on wheels, I had NO idea of what to expect, of how to play it, or how it would turn out - the truth is, none of us did. That very first night every single, solitary thing was improvised by the entire cast. (I think that was only possible because #1 - we had rehearsed this show impeccably exploring all the individual intentions and interactions profoundly, #2 - this is a cast who knows this show inside and out, and #3 - every single member of the cast is a stage animal with real theatrical instincts, so we could actually continue to tell the story of these characters, even while completely making things up on the spot.) After the throw of my first dart at the start of "Una voce poco fa", I felt immediately that the audience was going to be with me, and that somehow, this was going to work.

From that moment on, I grew in confidence and made the decision that there was no point in trying to hide the fact that Rosina was on wheels - I simply had to run with it, so to speak. And within the very first phrases of that famous aria, I felt IMMEDIATELY how trapped Rosina actually is. It had never been quite so literal before, but I used that and felt it and played it, and in the end, I fell in love with this particular version! (But let me be clear - I never EVER need to repeat it!!) The overwhelming sense of independence I felt in wheeling myself around, the deep sense of frustration of being trapped and unable to join in the games on stage, and the immense sense of freedom I had as I pulled myself onto the stage in the final moments of the opera, all contributed to making this girl come very much alive to me, and I hope to always carry her around with me.

From a very technical standpoint, once the run carried on, I began to observe how I was singing differently. Yes, I had to pay attention to my support in a different way since I was seated for the entire show, but I realized that because I could rely less on my physical body to "act" for me, I had to resort more and more to simply the voice. Back in my AVA days in Philadelphia, we had a brilliant monster of a Maestro who tormented us with unmatchable expectations and demands. (He worked with Serafin in the "good ol' days" of bel canto with Callas, etc. HA! As if there is an "etc" with Callas! Did I really write "Callas, etc"?!?!) BUT, he would spend literally HOURS on a single page of recitative until we got all the myriad colors to literally burst off the page. "ACT WITH YOUR VOICE NOT WITH YOUR HANDS!!!" It was exhausting, demoralizing work, ("Can't I do ONE phrase right? WHAT MORE DOES HE WANT FROM ME? BLOOD!?!?!?"), and yet in the end, to this day, I can hear his voice in my head as I prepare those recits, and I drew on that voice while in my chair to concentrate even further my "vocal acting" to bring this character to life.

That freedom of acting with the voice is of paramount importance to me and one of the million reasons of why I love what I do. But I also have to say, in the interest of full disclosure, I REVELED in the opportunity to find ways to "act" with my trusty chair and with my enforced confinement. "How to give adolescent attitude with one push of the wheel?" "How to show astonishment with only the pivot of a wheel?" "Normally I should fall to the floor at this point in utter shock, so how I can I accomplish that in this chair?" I loved solving those problems and found that indeed I had a full range of possibilities to play with - and that kind of challenge is something that really gets my blood pumping!

(With my dear friends, Bill & Kevin, who happily took the cast out for a day of sightseeing!)

So in an odd way I will miss my "Rosina on Wheels" and return to "Rosina in Heels" soon enough (although they will likely be modified heels to start with!). But the lessons I've learned from this experience will hopefully fuel all of my performances, and the utter kindness of people has put a permanent smile on my face. How FABULOUS to be a part of a "good news story" in these particular days of news of the other sort.

For now, I've been soaking up the lovely weather here in Aix-en-Provence (even if I'm a bit sick that I can't get out and go hiking or swimming or do a major photo excursion here, but perhaps it's just as well I'm simply resting up.). I'm ready to revisit this amazing journey of "Furore" once again here in the place where Dajanira was born for me 5 years ago - how lovely to return to this spot and bring her journey with me full circle. And then what I expect to be an amazing road trip through Austria (my first!) to debut in Salzburg, which is beyond a dream come true for me. Whether I'll be seated or standing on my one good leg, I don't yet know - I need to see how I feel on the day, try some various positions in rehearsal and play it a bit by ear (something I've gotten quite good at!) But I can tell you it is far easier to sing sitting down than to sing on only one leg - I haven't found way to locate the support I need in that way just yet - most especially for this challenging concert. I'm still not allowed to put any weight on my delicate right fibula, but I'll get there!!

Finally, I want to simply thank each and every one of you for your support - whether in applause, in writing, with flowers or cards - it has touched me deeply. It doesn't escape me how fortunate I am to have had such an active flood of support - goodness knows there are countless people that face difficulties and don't have this kind of outpouring - so I consider myself beyond blessed. Your words have meant so very much to me, and in the end, it is quite true that you are the reason I sing. Thank you.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Research and Inspiration

So one of the great things about enforced rest, is it gives you a chance to catch up on all important things like surfing you-tube. I mean, "doing research" on you-tube. Happily, performances on wheelchairs are documented a fair amount, but obviously not a single one comes close to the perfection of Delores DeLago (I wonder if she is the orginal Donna del Lago??):

A big thank you to Neil Gillespie for capturing a bit of the event on Tuesday night from the sidelines. Neil is not only one of the members of the stellar ROH Chorus, but is also a wonderful photographer and the mind and lens behind the Naked Calendar for Charity, featuring workers and stars of the Royal Opera and Ballet! I'm honored to be included in his list of subject (and relieved to have my clothes on!)

I'm staying quite quiet today, which I need - gives me some time to process the brilliant play we took in last night, "Waiting for Godot". It was a masterful performance from Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellan, and certainly helped me see that I don't have it that bad, all things considered! As I say, "It's ALL good!!!" Anyone near London should definitely try to get tickets!!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

"Let 'er roll"

Well, without a doubt, last night was one of the most memorable, exciting nights in my life. I suppose that makes two in a row for me.

I arrived at the theater around 4:30 and was introduced to my new co-star: a beautiful, sleek "Moonlite Breezy Wheelchair". (Their motto is apparently "Innovate: build for the future". Well, innovation was certainly the name of the game last night. (Hey, I wonder if they need a spokesperson!! CALL ME!) The game plan when I arrived, was to have a member of the directing team push me through the show (thanks for volunteering, Tom!) But the moment I sat in the chair, I felt oddly at home and found that I was actually rather dexterous on the four wheels - and as a result, HUGELY relieved, because the idea of Rosina being DEPENDENT on someone to push her around was something I couldn't wrap my head around.

I got 30 minutes on stage to feel my way around, try a few things out, observe the safety barrier the BRILLIANT ROH team installed at the front of the stage - presuming they preferred their lead singer not to also injure her spine!!! - and to devise a general game plan with the directing team of how to play the big moments, and how to adjust to the impossible. For example, under "normal" circumstances, when Rosina believes she has been betrayed, a storm wells up in her and she completely trashes the set. Well, at this point, it's not only a matter of dramatic choice, but it's a technical necessity for various bits of action that must happen, so we had to find a solution. Last night, Rosina called in Berta (the maid) and in a show of feminine unity, I "conducted" Berta through the trashing of the set! Innovation at work.

I can't begin to describe how sorry I am for my "cast mates" to put them in the position of having to improvise on the spot like that, but I can only send out an enormous THANK YOU to each of them, for their support, for their sheer brilliance, and for their willingness to enter into the theatricality of it all. For me, I can only say that I had a ball. Is that insane? The odd thing about this, is that in a big way, being "trapped" in this wheelchair was a quite literal way of demonstrating Rosina's frustration and HUGE desire to break free. I certainly felt it more last night than I ever have before, and think I found ways to still convey the character and to "act" the part.

As was my intention last night, I hope to continue to perform, but whether it's vertical and on my feet or seated and on wheels remains to be seen - day by day is the current order of business. Again, I certainly don't want to compromise the integrity of the show in any way, but I did feel that last night we still told the story and made beautiful music. As long as that continues, I'm game!!!

I'll probably spend the rest of my life thanking people for their help through this - from the AMAZING fans and supporters, to all my friends and family, to the ridiculously brilliant Opera House Staff, to my manager who has gone WAY above and beyond the call of duty, but most of all to my (sigh) astoundingly wonderful husband. He's got a million things going on himself in these days, and yet he is still treating me with the most delicate of satin gloves, supporting me beyond measure and continuing to make me laugh. Ah, see? It's all good!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Rolling right along...

As a friend reminded me, one of the great all-time stage acts involved Bette Midler and a wheelchair. So, I figure, let's give it a shot as well, tonight. Of course, 3 hard weeks of intense staging rehearsals go right down the drain (sorry Mosh & Posh!) BUT it means we get to improvise in character, think quickly on our feet (or wheels as it were), and still aim to tell the story, only this time it has a twist (or fracture) that Beaumarchais most likely didn't intend, but is nonetheless entirely plausible. I've been to Seville and have seen those cobblestone streets!!

Monday, July 6, 2009


Just a quick word to send an ENORMOUS "thank you" to everyone for the beautiful words and sentiments of encouragement! I have been truly overwhelmed by the outpouring of good will, to say the very least, and I can only say that it means so much to me.

Thank you.
Mille Grazie.
Merçi mille fois.
Muchas gracias.

The good news is that the permanent cast is on and it's COLORFUL. (stay tuned for pics)

The other good news is that upon further exam, it IS just a spiral fracture to my right fibula (I think I mistakenly identified the bone as my fibia earlier, but it is, in fact, my fibula), and there is NO apparent damage to any ligaments or to the all-important joint between the tibia and talus. So, without putting much weight on it for the next 6 weeks, it should provide a clean repair.

Tomorrow night will find me in a wheelchair for the show, giving it everything I have, and my hope is that the healing will cooperate and let me get upright and a bit mobile in time for the big live broadcast on July 15. But at this point, it is one day at a time, one show at a time, and trying to find a balance between "the show must go on" and "long term mobility!!!" I promise I will not do anything consciously to put my ankle health in danger, but at the same time, I want to do all I can to REALLY play this part with this astonishing cast (of singers), with these astonishing musicians, and for this unbelievable public! I would hate it if I ruined anyone's outing to the theater.

Thank you for your incredible support and outpouring, and let's see what happens!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

And the show went on!!!

Well, so much to tell about tonight's performance. I don't know that I have ever experienced an evening quite like this one before - but I'm certain that I have invoked a new policy regarding well-wishers!!

From here on out, I declare that no one (please!) ever ever ever wish me again, in the American fashion (despite it being Independence Day), to:


I understand the good intention, but from here on out, wish me "in the mouth of the wolf" instead, ok? That's far less likely to actually happen - although with my luck, you never know!

Tonight was an evening for the memory, to be sure, and it had little to do with my falling down and breaking my fibia. Yes - I broke my fibia. Fabulous. But it had a lot more to do with amazing colleagues helping me through every little step, astonishing music making at every single level, hair raising improvising by myself and my ridiculously brilliant cast, and a lot of patience on the part of the public.

"Hey, London - Thank you!!!"

4 hours in the emergency room (Hey, it could have been worse!), and a look of pure astonishment from the doctor who recoiled in a bit of horror as I said I stayed on my foot for nearly 3 hours performing. Ha, silly me - apparently this kind of injury requires absolutely no weight to be put on to it - so I'm crossing my fingers that not too much damage was done! However - the cast is on, the foot is elevated, the pain killers are kicking in, and all is great!!! I'm sure we'll figure out how to get through these next performances, after all, there is no RULE that says Rosina might not have been suffering from a broken ankle, right? It could happen!!

But before signing off, I have to send out an INCREDIBLE debt of gratitude to my wonderful cast mates (ha - CAST mates!), as well as to the amazing staff of the Royal Opera House who took amazing care of me, and then to simply salute one of the very finest operatic experiences I have ever been a part of. Yes, my ankle is killing me, but someone pinch me, because tonight was oddly sublime!!!

With the incomparable Alessandro Corbelli and Ferruccio Furlanetto, somehow making everything seem ok!

And with Señor Florez who sang an unbelievable "Cessa di piu resistere" all the while being sure to help keep me on my feet. Ah, and the thing that made my night was the flower decoration I found to put on the cast - somehow it helped me swallow the bitter pill of having to hobble my way through this production that I normally run through. Yes, it's the details that count!

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart and the bottom of my cracked fibia, to everyone for your support and understanding in this! Here's to a speedy and complete recovery!!!

Friday, July 3, 2009

"Another opening, another show..." or is it?

Yesterday the Royal Opera House put up the final general rehearsal of Il Barbiere di Siviglia. Tomorrow night is the opening.

It is a TERRIBLY foolish thing to rave about a show before the opening, and certainly what happens in the dress rehearsal is not necessarily an indicator of how the opening night will go, much less the run, so I must choose my words carefully. Perhaps I shall just talk about the rehearsal process? Yes, that seems prudent.

(Alessandro Corbelli rehearses the start of act 2)

I have enjoyed my 3 weeks of rehearsals here in London more than I can say. I don't know that it's possible to work at a much higher level than this - although anything, naturally, is possible. I've spoken here about how much I relish the rehearsal process, because for me it contains the possibility of real discovery and an undeniable period of growth as an artist. Sadly, that doesn't always happen, and I often walk home from the theater thinking we are somehow selling the opera short by not digging as deeply as we could, and by not holding ourselves to a higher standard.

Well in this particular, miraculous case, the standards are as high as they come. We have Maestro Tony Pappano in the orchestra pit bringing to life this masterpiece for the first time in his career. I've never sung an opera with him before (only concerts) and I am sure he is as animated as this every time he raises the baton, however, I do sense a particular spark in his eye as he realizes how absurdly fun it is to play this piece. He finds the musical jokes in the piece, revels in the vocal acrobats happening around him, and takes every single, solitary note of this score seriously. It doesn't get better than that.

(Moshe Leiser takes us through our dramatic paces)

We have a production team that is unsurpassed. They are the ones who beg us to serve both "gods of opera: the god of theater and the god of music", and to accomplish that they actually KNOW the music and USE the music and KNOW the play and USE the play. Not one false note is allowed from anyone, and as a result we are playing this for all it is worth. Minute degrees of detail are insisted upon ("Joyce, you're thinking too much about Bartolo in this moment so it's coming across too angry, and we need to see the corner of your mouth lift up so we know you're thinking about Lindoro here.") It doesn't get much better than that.

I could write for 10 pages about my costume, alone, and the amazing designs of Agostino Cavalca (above). He sat in the rehearsals (during the first run of the show a few seasons ago) to observe how I moved, and literally built a costume around my movements so that the costume illuminated a part of the character. Not to mention the brilliant fit and cut and COLORS, and the use of roses in practically every stitch (the petticoats resemble an actual rose when gathered up!)- it DEFINITELY doesn't get much better than that!

What am I missing? There is something else about this show.... Oh. Right. The cast.


(Alessandro Corbelli as Don Bartolo and Ferruccio Furlanetto as Don Basilio in a moment that surely will go down in the history of the Royal Opera House as one of the ALL TIME GREATEST MOMENTS on the opera stage.)

I have to say that from day one of my career, I have always felt incredibly privileged to be in the presence of greatness and to not just see the finished product of that greatness, but to actually see the PROCESS. I'm a firm believer that greatness is achieved in the process, in the journey - not just in the ovation. (My first example of that was in my first season in the Houston Grand Opera Studio - my first production was "Salome" with the astonishing Hildegard Behrens pouring her way through the score as if it was her first time. What an example to start with!)

(Pietro Spagnoli relaxes between staging rehearsals as Figaro)

I have had the immense pleasure of watching these four veteran players all work to shed previous accounts of these roles, to ask questions of the situations they had not asked before, and to forge a real "company" to give the impression that we are actually inside the Beaumarchais play, not inside "an opera". Rest assured, to say the singing is first rate is the understatement of the year, but the singing SERVES the drama and the drama REQUIRES the singing to happen. Ah, it's bliss, I tell you - sheer bliss!!!

My philosophy along the way has always been that, in essence, I don't want people to be aware that I'm singing. I want it to seem like the most organic, natural act that simply HAS to happen because the emotion dictates it. I don't want the singing to interfere with the drama, and I don't want the drama to interfere with the singing. I want it all to be seamless and absolutely united. I've often wondered if it REALLY was possible, and I can say that in my experience in these rehearsals, it absolutely IS possible. And God, when it works, it feels SO good. Yeah, it definitely doesn't get much better than that!

(Juan Diego Florez speaks with our director, Moshe Leiser, about the finer points of the drunken soldier)

So wish us luck for the opening that we can continue the journey and bring a splendid Barber to Londontown. (And for those of you in UK - watch your local listings on July 15, as we'll be beamed direct to parks and squares across the UK - the biggest one being at Trafalgar Square!)

Here's to a "dolce nodo" for all!