Thursday, December 22, 2005

Pat-downs and Pick-me-ups

I have a new pet peeve. Ok, maybe it’s not so new, but I reclaimed it today. Anyone who has traveled of late knows how crazy airports can be, and anyone who is breathing also knows that traveling in the vicinity of Christmas could be used as a sweeps episode on any of those so-called survivor shows! If you make it to your seat in one piece, you win a million dollars. Well, as I traipsed through the metal detector shoeless and beltless, (pretty soon maybe I’ll do it topless); I set off the dreaded beeper. You all know that beep. Well, imagine my surprise when the beep went off and within 2 seconds I had hands all over me. But that’s not what surprised me. It was 5 seconds into the mauling that I realized I had been given no "speech". You know the speech. It starts with "Sit down, please, ma’am". (They lose points right away with the ma’am talk!) Then the SPIEL comes. "Please stay seated until I have finished the explanation of how I am going to explain where my hands will go as I gently pat you down searching for the lonely coin, the forgotten hair pin, or (God-forbid) that nagging underwire." And then, sure enough, they talk you through the whole procedure TAKING TEN TIMES THE TIME IT WOULD TAKE IF THEY WOULD JUST SIMPLY GET TO WORK AND PAT YOU DOWN. Well, happily, that is precisely what happened to me today. I set off the BEEP, and a lovely Englishwoman (calling me "luv" and not "ma’am" which earned her bonus points right from the start!), simply, easily, just patted me down. Basta. Her hands went everywhere, rather coarsely and abruptly, and you know something? I wasn’t the least bit offended, mistreated or shocked. Instead it was a beautiful relief to just have her get down to work, do her job, and let me go on my way. It was heaven to have a glimpse of the good ol’ days where folks just did their job, interacted with each other without that insane fear of being sued or causing harassment, and saved loads of time! (Thank God I didn’t have to endure THE SPIEL, because it might have caused me to miss my plane!)

Am I digressing? My sincere apologies! I just miss the days where people weren’t afraid to just move forward without constantly looking over their shoulder, you know? I suppose this is a great reason I’m in theater and not the corporate world – I’m not at all sure I would survive all those spiels!

Happily, the Royal Opera House gives a proper holiday break to its entire staff, and so I have the luxury of actually going home for Christmas, which is a rarity in my calendar! We’ve done 2 performances so far, and come back on the 30th for a live televised performance on the BBC 4. I think we’re all a bit anxious about the idea of having nearly 9 days between shows and returning to walk straight into the living rooms of numerous Brits, however I think we’ll be fine. We rehearsed in such a comprehensive manner, so thoroughly and intensely, that I think we’ll snap right back into gear. Personally, I’m a bit more worried about eating too many Flaherty Christmas Cookies so that I don’t fit back into my corset, however, I think we’ll all manage.

I want to tell you that this experience has been truly magnificent for me. I genuinely adore working at this company; there is a sincere atmosphere of ‘good will’, for lack of a better description. Everyone you meet, from the security guards at the stage door, to the marvelous costume crew, to the makeup staff and everyone in between, they are all truly happy to be working there. And it shows in their work. I don’t know if the average opera-goer is aware of how much it takes to get a show up and running. I spoke a bit about this in talking about the Met, and the same holds true here. If you are surrounded by people doing excellent work, creating a very positive atmosphere, you are MUCH freer to concentrate on your job, which is to go out and sing a hell of a performance, hopefully! Here, you really are treated like royalty, and it makes walking into the wings such a joy.

This production has been hard work, I must say. The directors, Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser, are officially at the top of the list of my favorite directors. They are PASSIONATE about music and opera, they love singers, they appreciate the difficulties we are faced with, but at the same time they are incredibly exacting and demanding. They truly DIRECT the singers. This was their first time meeting “The Barber”, and they dissected the piece from scratch, which meant anytime any of us would do a ‘stock gesture’ or anticipate a dramatic beat, or play a moment for a laugh, they would pounce on it and say “but I don’t understand what you’re doing. That makes no sense with what is in the score.” They did not allow any extraneous looks, movements, gestures or thoughts. Talk about demanding work. Sadly, we opera singers are allowed to get away with hollow gestures all the time, and when those are taken away from you, you have to lean more into the text, delve into the colors of the score, and then, the finishing touch: you have to trust it. If you’re not a singer, imagine the sensation of walking a tight rope from the top of Rockefeller Center to the top of the Empire State Building. No net.

The kind of work we did in rehearsal was heaven to me – sometimes I think the rehearsal process is my favorite part of my job, (but then I get to the opening, and I change my mind). But I do truly love to rehearse when it’s challenging and inspiring. We spent a lot of time finding the ‘beats’ or the dramatic punch in every single line of recitative. We searched for meaning through every coloratura passage. And while Moshe (the talker of the two) was laying the dramatic foundation with us, Patrice (the quiet whisperer of the two) would come and murmur in my ear, “Joyce, if you would only take slightly smaller steps during this aria, you’ll seem younger and more delicate, more vulnerable…now you’re taking very strong, large steps, and we feel like Rosina has already won. But she hasn’t: she’s still caged and very vulnerable. She doesn’t yet know HOW she is going to accomplish her goal.” This is the kind of direction I live for! We found a lot of physical body movements for Rosina that (hopefully) conveyed her youth and feisty spirit (pigeon-toed feet, a very bouncy costume, direct gestures), as well as striving to find that balance between someone who knows who she is and what she wants (thinking forward to the Countess in Nozze), with the girl who is just discovering it all for the first time (the volatile, impulsive Rosina). I just found it a completely fascinating, albeit draining process.

One last example of how special these two are: while Moshe would be seated in the middle of the orchestra section watching with a VERY keen eye every nuance and detail, Patrice would be gliding around the hall sneaking into the ‘cheap seats’ in the house, looking for any moments that might be covered or hidden from that spot in the back rear balcony. They care so deeply that everyone who has paid hard earned money to get to the theater is given a complete, total, heartfelt performance. And I hope with all my heart that this is what they’re getting!

I could right pages more about the work we did this past month leading up to the opening, but I know you have parties to get to, presents to wrap, or hopefully a great glass of wine to cheer with, so before this turns into an epic novel, I want to wish each and every single one of you a truly blessed Holiday, and that your New Year gets off to a brilliant start. It has been an incredibly hectic, rewarding year of growth for me, and I certainly look forward to many more of the same.

And if I had to make a list for what I wanted for Christmas this year? I suppose it would be more experiences like this Barber, and pat-downs at the airport with NO SPIEL! I’d also take health and happiness for all of us.

Happy Holidays!

(Photos: With Moshe Leiser and Toby Spence during a rehearsal at the Royal Opera House; with Antonio Cavalco, the BRILLIANT costume designer for the show, who slipped me into a costume that to this day remains one of the VERY BEST I've EVER had the pleasure of wearing. He's a magician!)

Sunday, December 4, 2005

I lost my asterisk

I no longer get an asterisk! When you debut at the Metropolitan Opera House, your name appears on the infamous poster outside the entrance in the Lincoln Center Plaza, and on the ONE and ONLY occasion that is the evening of your debut, you are given a delicate, beautiful, perfectly proportioned asterisk, signaling that you will appear on the stage of the Met for the very first time that evening. My asterisk was for November 2, 2005. It was my one and only shot to have that little star by my name. And I loved it! I had set the goal for myself to find a way to truly enjoy the event, knowing that if I could manage that for myself, the audience might just come along for the ride; and in fact, I think they did. I truly had the time of my life, and will certainly not forget it for quite some time.

Perhaps the best part of the evening was being able to share it with so many beloved people – in some ways it felt as if it was a night more for ‘them’ than for me. As I’ve mentioned before, it takes an enormous amount of support and encouragement along the way for someone to be given the chance to have that asterisk by their name, and during the entire evening of chasing Barbarina and various chorus girls, I felt as if each one of those many people in my life were on the stage with me. Throughout the run I had numerous people make the long trip to share in the experience with me, from my parents, to 2 of my sisters, to my little brother, old school friends (Mark and Robi, hello!), to my college accompanists, several people in the ‘business’ who really took risks with me and gave me incredible opportunities, previous sponsors (now dear friends), so very many special, wonderful people. And even though it felt like a 3 weeklong wedding, it was glorious. I felt very warmly welcomed by the discerning NY Audience, and can guarantee that I will never forget my Asterisk Evening at the Met!

But, it wasn’t all Cherubino for me during NY. 5 days before I was to leave for my first day of rehearsal, back at the end of October, I received a call from my agent, asking if I could get on a plane immediately, learn the staging of the Met’s Cenerentola in a day, and stand by for what was to be it’s opening performance of the season the following evening. I was in the Apple store trying to get my files transferred from my old PC to the new Mac (which I’m still not completely comfortable with!), thinking, “but if I leave KC now, will my computer be ready? can I still get the oil changed in my car? how will I possibly pack for the next 8 months in such a short time? what about my niece’s baptism? how can I get my prescriptions lined up in time? and where is my score of Cenerentola…oh, never mind, I don’t think I need it.” I don’t know that I’ve ever had a more hectic 24 hours. It wasn’t the prospect of jumping into the show that unnerved me (I actually was quite confident I could get through it and enjoy it a lot), but it was the prospect of not having the final 5 days at home to organize my life for the next YEAR. You see, I’m essentially on the road, more or less, roughly until the start of 2007! So that threw me into a bit more of a panic than all those notes Rossini wrote.

However, I just managed to pull it off, and I had a magnificent rehearsal the next day, where all the covers were called in to rehearse with me. I can’t thank them enough – it was probably the last thing they wanted to do on their day off, but they were incredibly supportive and the most generous of colleagues. I had a lovely surprise when I walked into “the office” for that crazy day: I saw on the podium Scott Bergeson, who was my conductor in the Merola performance of Cenerentola back in 1997. It was really phenomenal to walk into a nerve-wracking situation and feel the genuine support of such generous colleagues such as Scott. And you know something? It was an incredibly easy rehearsal, as if we had just sung together last week! I don’t think people that sit in the audience have any idea of the incredible talent that fills the halls and the underground rehearsal spaces there at the Met. There is an unbelievable abundance of people behind the scenes that make that place produce the magic on a nightly basis. My esteem for them is off the charts. In the end, the scheduled singer went on, I had a big dinner with dear friends, enjoyed a Cosmopolitan, (or maybe it was two), and tried to come down off the incredible rush of the previous few days.

But that’s not ALL! In the midst of Nozze rehearsals, I was asked to jump into the new production of Romeo and Juliette, which was a highly anticipated event slated for Natalie Dessay and Ramon Vargas. It’s a role I’ve never sung (and have since retired, in all likelihood!) and I had to think very hard about the energy it would require. Here I was, not yet with that coveted asterisk in my back pocket, and being asked to learn a completely new role for the Met? I definitely didn’t want to risk sacrificing my Cherubino to learn another role, but I was surrounded by incredibly patient and supportive people, and with a few sleepless nights, and a couple of incredibly long days, I did indeed get through, and managed, again, to really enjoy it.

So that was my New York Experience. I left that amazing city bursting with emotions, feeling wholly exhausted, spent by the energy that is New York City, and completely charged at the same time: after all, I had worked hard for that little, perfect, memorable asterisk!

(Photos: Losing my asterisk outside the MET; with my beautiful sister, Amy, my dear friend, Jana, and another of beautiful sisters, Emily, all helping me celebrate surviving the Lion's Den behind us; and with the love of my life, Leo, atop Rockefeller Center, enjoying the glory that is the Big Apple)

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Countdown to "The Debut"

It’s nearly impossible for me to imagine functioning in this career without my well-worn laptop by my side. I know times are different from the olden days when penmanship was a value to be treasured and handwritten letters seemed to deliver the very person to your doorstep; however, I must admit this little guy keeps me on top of things. Being able to catch up on my work while flying from home to “the office” saves the day for me! So, while I enjoy the city lights of Chicago underneath me, let’s catch up.

I’m flying back to NY from a less than 48 hour trip home to catch my Goddaughter’s baptism, as well as to change my luggage out from the somewhat lean fall items to the bulky winter items (the former being the much more pleasing event of the two!), as well as trying to concentrate on the rather packed week ahead.

Tomorrow morning we perform the final dress rehearsal of Nozze di Figaro. I can’t begin to describe how excited I am. I would not be telling the complete truth if I didn’t also admit my nerves are on “high alert”, (is that orange or red?), but in a very good way. I’m stepping into the shoes of a character that is revered and adored by all who love opera. That is a beautiful thing. But it also happens to bring with it, in this case, roughly 4,000 different ideas of how Cherubino should be played, which feels like a very tall order. However, I decided a long time ago that I would never step onto a stage and attempt to give the eager audience a bad imitation of a great singer who came before me. If I studied videos and poured through countless recordings to try and perfect an impersonation of Frederica von Stade, to me the quintessential Cherubino, I would never succeed. And I wouldn’t do her legacy any justice whatsoever.

So how do I approach stepping into the shoes of this, in my opinion, perfect character? I go back to the text. I try not to take one thing for granted that comes out of his mouth. I try to make his impulsive and desperate actions as spontaneous as possible, and to simply bring my voice to his words.

I have to say that rehearsing at the MET has been a dream for me. On Tuesday we went onto the stage for the first time, and the chills that went up and down my spine didn’t stop for nearly the entire rehearsal. Adding the orchestra (which is remarkable in every single way) to the mix on Thursday only upped the energy and the excitement I was feeling. I mean really, this is the dream of every American opera singer: to get that one chance to stand on that fabled stage and give it everything you’ve got. That having been said, however, while the environment is definitely thrilling, the thing I keep coming back to is what a masterpiece this opera is, and how privileged I am to breathe life into Mozart’s phrases and da Ponte’s words. That is the real joy for me. I am having the most wonderful time scrambling in and out of chairs, chasing everything in a skirt and jumping out windows, and I hope the magic will pour across the footlights tomorrow for the dress rehearsal, as well as for the entire run!

In the meantime, between chasing skirts, I’ll be jumping into the rehearsal process mid-way for the new production of Romeo and Juliette. It will make the next 2 weeks a bit chaotic to say the least, but if I can manage to stay rested and healthy, I think it will be a wonderful experience. I imagine during the coming weeks I will have many moments of wanting to pinch myself, but on the other hand, this is what I do, and for me, it always comes down to the fact that I’m there for the audience – the people with the season subscriptions that have been going to the MET for decades, as well as the students who are there analyzing every sound and consonant that comes out of ‘the pros’ mouths, as well as the one standing room ticket holder who grew up listening to broadcasts his whole life and finally got a ticket to THE MET to see and hear it in person for the first time, as well as those who have heard Figaro a thousand times, and the young aspiring musician who is experiencing Mozart’s magic for the first time. They all have their own story and will have their very individual opinions of the show that night – I love that!

On a technical note, I’m astounded at the machinery that is the Metropolitan Opera. You cannot begin to imagine all that is involved in putting on so many shows a week, countless productions a year. I marvel at the costume department that is constantly altering costumes for any number of singers, (there must be 6 name tags in my Cherubino vest!), building new pieces for the new productions, catering to the singer’s every need, as they truly want each and every singer to look and feel their best. The technical crew maneuvers around backstage with such mastery, moving enormous set pieces in and out in a way that appears effortless, always taking great pride in their expertise and their immaculate backstage. The music staff: I cannot begin to say enough on their behalf. This is a group of such consummate musicians who bring incredible proficiency to the rehearsal room, such dedication, and with very little reward. With all of these people, if they’ve done their job right, you will never notice their work, which I imagine could be a challenge to their morale. However, I notice, and I know that the dedication and knowledge of all the workers at this theater is an enormous reason it is called THE MET.

So after a week of long rehearsals, of tiring photo shoots, of beautiful baptisms, of learning a new role, and of jumping out that window at least 10 times, I’m ready for the opening, and I’ll be working hard to give the Met audience my best Cherubino. Enjoy!

(Photos: With my neice and goddaughter, Yalei, at her beautiful baptism; thrown into another world of costumes and makeup, as Cherubino with the "Antonio" of Patrick Carfizzi backstage at the Metroplitan Opera)

Sunday, September 25, 2005

"The Deepest Desire"

Today is a big, wonderful day for me. Today is the day my debut recital disc arrives in France. It's strange to have such a big occasion happen while I'm removed from it completely. We recorded this disc 8 months ago in a tiny, freezing chapel in the middle of Paris, and now I sit in a still hot and humid Kansas City while they stock the shelves across the world with my recording! (Another reminder that there will always be elements of this career that are out of one‘s control!) I suppose I will have to wait until they release it here in the States (hopefully very soon!)

However, I definitely wanted to share the excitement here with you, and let you know what an enormous thrill this was for me to participate in. Working with David, my pianist, and Fran, the wonderful flautist, (both very dear people to me), made this project even more special, and I hope that if you happen across it, you will feel the energy we put into creating this collection of American Songs. Just to whet your appetite, I thought I would share the liner notes I wrote for the CD booklet, and tell you that it is a true joy to share this experience:

“It's probably best that I never met Leonard Bernstein in person, because surely I would have fallen madly in love with him. I never saw him conduct live, but his magnetism resonates viscerally in me whether through his recordings, his old NBC broadcasts, or through his pen. He redefined the word “charisma”. In the way he embraced his gifts and nurtured his passion for music, sharing it with anyone he could, for me, he brought to life the word “desire”. He, with both his heralded bravado and quiet humanity, sparked the passion for my first recording, “The Deepest Desire”.

In choosing the program for a debut recital disc, perhaps an artist should be overwhelmed by the enormity of the task: how in the world do I begin to sort through the wealth of masterpieces at my fingertips, daring to stamp a select few with my voice? Surprisingly, for me the choice was clear, for the spark was already burning. I was heartbroken when I first poured through the autobiography of Leonard Bernstein and discovered that he was tormented over his lack of recognition as a serious composer, instead always heralded merely as a genius conductor. I felt myself drawn to see what, according to public opinion, he was lacking as a writer. Instead, I found these songs crafted with the utmost of care — seeping with a haunted desire for something unreachable: a lost love, a forgotten youth, the irrepressible desire for freedom; they simply grabbed me and would not let go.

But physical desires are only a part of what drives us.

For the rest, I wanted to explore the other desires we encounter on our immense search for a place of equilibrium, for belonging or for understanding. Enter Aaron Copland and Emily Dickinson. My first explosive experience singing Copland‘s music was the mezzo solo in his work, “In the beginning”, a piece ablaze with the colors and force of Genesis’s Creation. I discovered then what kind of power his music could hold. It was much later that I found Dickinson‘s words, and although the two of them never met and seem a most uncanny pair, their partnership gives us a song cycle that penetrates the questions of nature, death, life, and eternity, taking us through this journey twice during the course of their twelve radiant jewels. I find in Dickinson‘s poetry, captured perfectly by the sometimes stark, sometimes assaulting music of Copland, a true vulnerability and bravery in her desire to search for answers. I am grateful she dared to be so human and so audacious.

It's precisely this kind of humanity that drew me to my final selection, “The Deepest Desire”. I have the most vivid memories of seeing the film, “Dead Man Walking”, based on Sister Helen Prejean’s best-selling novel, and being haunted by its impact on me. The actual opportunity to see Sister Helen in person changed my life. We first met each other when I was given the gift of performing the role of “Sister Helen” in Jake Heggie’s opera, “Dead Man Walking”, and instead of finding a pious, institutional woman, I found a lady with a smile that could light up Manhattan, a handshake that could greet both a President and a convict, and a most wicked sense of humor. Through her words, she gives us the liberty to desire what is true and profound in this life: love, justice, and compassion. By asking questions such as, “is there life before death?”, Sister Helen focuses us on the fact that the journey is now. How do we desire to live it out? Her passion is contagious, her love infectious, and her desire for true justice so very just. And for Jake, my wonderful friend and inspiration, his encouragement of Sr. Helen to put her thoughts onto paper to inspire us all, combined with his unending, sensitive musicianship, has given me the focal point for this first solo recording. My gratitude is profound."

I am thrilled to present this recording of all American Music, as I believe so strongly in the contribution of American voices, both in music as well as in poetry. It is my desire that giving my voice to their words and phrases does justice to their vision. I hope you will enjoy the journey."

(Photos: With David Zobel at the Places des Voges; the freezing, atmospheric little chapel in Paris where we made the recording in the dead of January!)

Thursday, September 8, 2005

Heavenly Handel and Olive Oil

It's finished! We've just wrapped up a week-long recording of Handel's "Floridante" here in Tuscania (situated just outside of Viterbo, which is near Rome, and is famous for its hot springs, having been the 'hot spot' for numerous Popes and dignitaries along the way). The recording wrapped up at about 7:30 pm, with just 30 minutes to spare, and I'm exhausted! The recording process really is quite arduous, and doing it in a very remote place, in an isolated church that hasn't been used for over 20 years, full of wood worms leaving trails of sawdust on the old tile floor, well, it poses all kinds of challenges, to say the least!

Floridante is a really interesting work. It is one of the shorter of Handel's operas, but I'm afraid it wouldn't be considered his finest by too many people; however, it is full of these little jewels that come out of nowhere and carry you away for that fleeting moment or two. My character, Elmira, for example, has this short miniature arietta, with a longer accompanied recitative in the middle, and for lack of a better description, it is pure heaven. When Handel spins out one of his plaintive, lost, lamenting melodies, I want to sing nothing else for the rest of my life. He can capture time in a bottle and suspend your very breath with the simplest of passages. The text of this piece couldn't be more simple:

"Notte cara, deh reportami'l mio ben."

"Dear night, bring back my beloved."

And the melody simply descends, unfolding so melodically with such pathos and pain, reaching out over more than an octave as if one can't possibly let it end -- can't afford to endure the loss of hope. The day we recorded this particular masterpiece was just as the devastation from the hurricane Katrina was finally breaking into the news. The images of the wreckage and desolation were inundating all the news and internet channels, and amid all the loss and anarchy of the situation, I didn't know where or how I would find the ability to corral my energy to think of making an "authentic baroque recording" of a, perhaps, somewhat slightly inferior Handel opera. I find myself asking, "What does this really matter?" Instead, as ALWAYS happens, the power and potency of music overwhelms me, and immediately, in this damp, musty, moldy, noisy old church in this provincial, sleepy, creaky, little Italian town, with the opening chords of this piece, I felt as if Handel had been a witness to this devastation in the deep South of the United States first hand and had composed this piece in the very early hours of the morning on that very day, and brought it to us strictly to mourn the loss we were seeing before our very eyes. "Bring back our loved ones." With this short little piece, music captures the mourning of a nation, (and also, in my eyes, elevates this opera to a much higher level!) It is the absolute power and mystique of music that grabs you in that place you can't find on an x-ray, that absolute truth that words alone never seem to be able to identify. It is music. And it gives us the permission to weep, to laugh, to lament, and to simply be.

It also reminds me that humans have been suffering for centuries. That devastation happens. And that all throughout history, we have been struggling for relief, for understanding, for expression, for insight. There are a handful of people along the way who have thankfully preserved their insights for us, and this "Notte, cara" by Handel is definitely one of the masterpieces. I'm so privileged to have sung it. I hope when it arrives next spring, New Orleans and the surrounding areas will be well on the road to recovery.

For a bit of the lighter side of things, I have to say that singing with a baroque band is really such a joy. Now, I'm not one to give too much credence to stereotypes. However, there does seem to be a bit of a difference between baroque players and those in standard orchestras. For one thing, there is no union, no great contract fees for them, no health benefits, and they work many more hours. As a result, it is generally said to be true that they love this music very deeply, otherwise, they would simply get a better paying job. What I sense from this band, as well as William Christie's and the others I have worked with, is that each individual player cares a lot about the level of music making. It's a much smaller group of people, and through poker games at night and improvised volleyball matches on the 10 minute breaks throughout the day, you really get to know the members of the orchestra, and therefore there is a real camaraderie that develops. For me, this is priceless. You sense there is a real level of respect and collaboration between the singers and the band, which really excites me: I can tell if I really charge my vocal line, they will definitely react and counter with a great sense of drama and passion. I love that interplay and sense of improvisation! That is what this music is all about.

One of the downsides about this project is that we are housed and fed along the way as part of the deal. Being housed isn't a downside, and being fed in Italy sounds like a great thing, I know. HOWEVER, you must understand: being fed in Italy consists of pasta at EVERY meal. I'm not joking. I've been here for nearly 3 weeks and I never IMAGINED there were so many ways to prepare pasta. I don't think the cucina has once repeated a pasta, (except perhaps we had pesto twice, but that was with a different kind of noodle!) That's 3 weeks of meals, twice a day: 42 meals. 42 different kinds of pasta!! I know I shouldn't complain, but really, it seems nearly criminal to indulge in such reckless dietary abundance! I almost feel like looking over my shoulder at every meal to see if the Carb Police are staking us out! Then there is the problem of the olive oil. Definitely. There's a big problem with the olive oil. You see, here in this part of Italy, they use their own oil. By that I mean, the olive trees outside the window actually produce olives from which this oil is then pressed, and arrives at the table. Talk about fresh. You see, this olive oil is actually, honestly, truly GREEN. I've never seen oil this color before; even in the fancy stores in the States we get a watered down version. GREEN! Delectable, mouth-watering, "I can't believe my eyes" GREEN. And so of course, it is necessary to sample it at every meal. Naturally. On a piece of bread. With a bit of salt. 3 weeks of meals, twice a day: 42 (plus the occasional extra) slices of white bread with GREEN olive oil and salt.

Forget my complaints. I'm in heaven and I'm never leaving!!

The kind (persistent and demanding) folks at Deutche Gramophone tell me they are shooting for a 2006 spring release of our disc. It should be a very special one. However, if my fast arias seem a little bit more weighty than normal, don't blame me: I was sleepy from the pasta.

(Photos: The view from my window to the centuries old monestary of Tuscania - such a picturesque vision; the expert oboist from Il Complesso Baroco rehearses into the evening hours; the glamorous aspect of recording in an atmospheric little Italian church as the rains come in -- it meant suspending recording, as well as praying the equipment would survive!)

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Gelato, Rossini, and Rollercoasters

What a whirlwind this summer has been. My head is still spinning with the range of emotions and experiences I have had, which may account for my lack of writing for this journal. I don't intend to make a habit of being so absent! In short, this summer has been a tiny capsule of what life as a singer can be: a fast and furious ride on a roller coaster which relishes in whipping you around unseen curves, transporting you into the heavens and then mercilessly plunging you into those scream-inducing drops. At the time you may think your stomach will never make it through the final turn, but when it finally lets you rest, you step off, smile and say, "That was amazing, can we go again?"

I've realized during this summer that one of the big challenges for singers is that our environment is constantly changing. Our "office" changes every 6 weeks or so, our co-workers and bosses are never the same combination, and certainly our "home" is a series of apartments that we pray will be clean, mildly convenient, and if there is a wine opener on hand, that's strictly a bonus! We are not allowed the luxury of putting down roots, of settling in, and if we do, that's the precise moment it's time to pack up and move on. That is the very reason we have to work so hard at keeping the roots within us very strong and centered, because there will be a lot of things that come along and try to knock you off your center.

This summer I have had several challenges thrown at me, which I must say, has made the successes I've been given all the more sweeter. When you have a sick parent in this business, you're not granted the luxury of being by their side. You're left to the comfort of email updates and lots of praying that the stay in the hospital will be shorter this time. When you have the birth of a new niece (or in my case, the homecoming of a beautiful, strong-willed, joyful little angel from China!), you're left to the magic of digital pictures emailed to you in the middle of the night to try and decipher all there is to know about this new family member. When you receive professional news about another singer being awarded a job you think you're perfect for, without much more explanation other than "well, you see, they are on the 'star-track'," you have to digest that, put on your game face, and go out and perform as though your heart wasn't just broken! When you are collaborating with people who have a very different vision of your craft than you do, you have to find the way to accompish their vision while not compromising yours. When you encounter egos that seem to wipe out everything in their path, you have to find a way to still be professional, keep your dignity, and hold your ground. When your partner is miles and miles away, and that is the one and only shoulder you need to cry on, you have to put on your game face, dig down very deep, and re-learn WHY it is that we tolerate this lifestyle. Why is it important that I continue to live with such distance from the people I love, the people who need me, and the people that I need, to go out and sing "Una Voce poco fa" one more time?

I'll tell you why. Yesterday I performed a recital at the Rossini Opera Theater. It was a short recital, but quite compact in its intensity, I have to say. I only sang 3 pieces (Haydn, Handel and Rossini), and rather quickly, they seemed to win over the crowd, I'm happy to say. (I'm happy to say that, because I will never take it for granted anyone will ever applaud something I do -- I feel I need to earn that with each phrase that I sing.) The full house gave me quite an ovation, which lifted me up more than I can say. To sing Rossini for a group of people who are passionate about it (the same can be said for the performances of Barbiere which are going on at the same time here), I feel as if every nuance I do, every musical gesture, every expression is deeply and sincerely appreciated. This makes the hours of intense rehearsal and concentration really feel as if they have paid off. But to answer the question above, it was talking to the people afterwards that truly made me feel grateful that I have the opportunity to perform for them. I had people say they had travelled from Paris to hear me, others that took in all my performances in Milan and now here in Pesaro as well. And then there was the wonderful English gentleman who must have waited an entire hour to tell me he had heard me in a competition in London back in 1997, and although I hadn't made it to the finals, he pegged me then to do great things. It seems as though he took great satisfaction in seeing his words come to fruition. (I was also happy to tell him that the judges in that competition did NOT, in fact, peg me for great things, saying that in their expert opinion, I "had nothing to offer as an artist". That's my favorite quote EVER!)

My point of all of this, is that when I can see that people have been lifted up by a performance, for whatever reason, THIS is the reward that makes the distance and the difficulty worth it. I may sound like a corny girl from Kansas (wait a minute...I suppose I AM a corny girl from Kansas!), BUT, I think there is so much squallor and anger and fear and trepidation and worry in this world, that if I can carve out a tiny corner of beauty amongst the ugliness, and if a few people can step into that corner and experience what ALL humanity is capable of for a few precious minutes, well, I'll take the distance and the difficulty and the isolation, and I'll carry on happily for as long as I can. I truly do not mean to sound grandiose about this, instead, I want only to demonstrate that perhaps from stage we seem effortless and glamorous and privileged beyond belief, on the occasional occasion I can feel those things, but it is also a lot of sacrifice and work to sing that opening line "Una voce poco fa...". I truly feel privileged that I get such an opportunity.

Crash. (That is me getting off my soapbox.) Now, a few fun memories and thrills of this time in Pesaro:

*Singing with such an extraordinary cast. Someone told me the radio announcers during our live broadcast said something along the lines of (don't sue me if I'm misquoting!): "this is most assuredly the best Barbiere cast in recent history, possibly even surpassing the great Abbado recording!". Well, I'm the first one to recognize that surely everyone will have their own opinion about a statement like that, but I'm happy to relish in it for a moment or two! Sincerely, it is an extraordinary cast, and I am truly honored to stand alongside each and every one of them.
*Gelato. Pistacchio, banana, mela verde, fragola. Is there anything better?
*All the propietors here in Pesaro. As part of the festival, they really welcome the singers in such a warm and sincere way. The wonderful Spanish lady at Cartuccio Leo... what a fabulous Insalata di mare... The shy and wonderfully friendly host at Bar Rossini... Lorenzo at Bristolino!... the food is ENTIRELY too delicious... The Napoletani Pizza family of Donna pizza in the world...And the lovely husband and wife team who run the Boa Bar where I read email every day, always with my Diet Coke ready for me! I feel very much a part of the family here, which means the world to me.
*The public here...they adore Rossini, and they have welcomed me with the most open of arms. I am more grateful than I can say.
*Fans. Not the clapping kind, but the air-blowing kind. I'd be melted were it not for both the motorized kind, and the hand held kind, usually made out of folded paper notes.
*My family and friends who have kept my spirit up this summer. I love you all very deeply.

Well, there is one VERY good reason for me to write here more often, and that is so that the entries can be a bit shorter! If you've made it this far, my hat is off to you. Thank you for reading me, for tolerating my tirades a bit, and I'll see you next time!

(Photos: With Juan Diego Florez, rehearsing with Luca Ronconi his new production of Barbiere di Siviglia for Pesaro; with David Zobel, my brilliant pianist, after our recital;

Saturday, July 2, 2005

The golden hue of silence

Dialogue. I love a great dialogue! And perhaps one thing that the general theater-going audience may not realize, is that there is a very real and palpable dialogue which occurs between the performers and the audience when I am on stage. Almost from the very first bars of music, and I can feel an energy between ‘you’ in the house and ‘us’ on the stage. For example, I’m currently performing in ‘La Cenerentola’ here at La Scala, and the dialogue feels as colorful and animated as you would expect from any proud, gesturing Italian. As the curtain rises on this production, and you hear the first chords of the overture (led masterfully by the incomparable Maestro Campanella), here is what happens: I am ‘pre-set’ in the house, invisible to the audience, and I’m making certain my stool is arranged properly, that the coffee grinder in just the right spot, that the bowl I hand over to the bass later on in the scene is set just so, I visit my ‘Tisbe’ stage left to wish her a great show, and then over to stage right to wish my long-time ‘Clorinda’ the very same, (which usually elicits a rash of jokes and laughter between us, as I call her the ‘Carol Burnett’ of the opera stage!), I high-five Roberto, the ASM (and major cheerleader), and then the final lip rolls to make sure the voice is moving fluidly as I hum along with the second violins… and then the applause for the overture erupts: the audience has spoken! Let the discourse begin! After the first chords of the overture, this is the second burst of adrenaline I eagerly await to let me know there is an audience here and that they’re ready to be carried away for a few hours. As soon as the curtain rises on our little house, there is an immediate energy which I can feel that you send across the orchestra and footlights and into our little scene on the stage. The show has begun.

For my opening night, the energy that was sent to us on the stage lit us up. It was infectious. The energy charged with dazzling electricity. It was the kind of dialogue that makes you sit on the edge of your chair and savor every word the other person shares with you. And so the evening went! I think as performers, often the best sound can be thunderous applause, which happily was in ample supply for the opening; but sometimes the sweetest sound is that of rapt silence which occasionally accompanies the softest passages, those most magical, suspended moments -- these silences are the parts of the dialogue that tell us that you’re truly listening, and it causes us to focus our tone even more, to infuse each phrase with even more intensity and to send it to you in with a laser beam-like intention. This is my favorite kind of dialogue with you, the audience: It takes a huge 3,000 seat theater, full of busy technicians backstage, scurrying ushers in the lobby, and singers still warming up in their dressing rooms -- and transforms it all into a tiny, intimate, magical space where we all tell a story.

I just love it.

And I truly love playing this role of Cenerentola. I’m beginning to see, only now, the real value of singing a role over and over, as the great singers of the past were afforded the luxury to do. I think I sang a very decent Cinderella my first time out (8 years ago in a Stern Grove production with Merola, IN ENGLISH!) however, there is simply no comparison to how I feel in her shoes now, after perhaps 50 performances or more of the role. If you’re a young singer and intend on undertaking some of the big roles, begin NOW to devour the role: not just vocally (PLEASE, not just vocally!), but really go into the text, into the musical language of the character, and give it a lot of time to season in your mind and heart. I feel very different this time out at La Scala, compared to 4 years ago, and I know that’s strictly due to experience on the stage. I’m so grateful to have the chance to revisit these particular shoes!

That having been said, American singers, a word of warning: get used to singing without air conditioning when you sing in Europe. Just accept it now. I’m still a little unclear as to why, exactly, it seems to be an epidemic among European Singers (whom I respect tremendously, let me be very clear!), that they are unable to sing when there is a hint of a whirl of an air conditioning unit located, perhaps, somewhere in the near vicinity of the city in which they are performing! And did I mention that July in Milan is as close to Dante’s Inferno as I ever want to get? If you’re taking part in a summer program (Glimmerglass, Chautauqua, Seagull, etc) and you’re dying in the heat -- just smile and think of it as your training for your La Scala debut in the heat of an Italian Summer!

The bottom line is that I’m eternally grateful to the audience for being a part of such a wonderful dialogue. As I mentioned in an earlier post, it can sometimes prove a bit fatiguing to be up against the more unpleasant elements of this business, however, when I’m given the chance to truly engage and sing with all my heart, and when it is received so well on the other side of the footlights, well, it is just a tremendous gift to me.


(Now time for me to settle in for a bit of Wimbledon watching and cheering Lance on to hopefully, his 7th Victory!)

(Photos: Magical curtain call, that coveted poster, with the brilliant Roberto de Candia as Dandini - a truly wonderful performer and PERSON!)

Monday, June 13, 2005

Not in Kansas Anymore

Talk about your change of scenery! Last I wrote I was in the upper Midwest in Chamber Music Heaven -- now? I am in Milan, Italy and my temporary apartment is situated just above Via Montenapoleone, perhaps the most famous (and possibly dangerous) shopping street in the world: home to Gucci, Versace, D&G and all the rest! Honestly? It's not a place I would call very 'homey', but for the next 5 weeks, I'll have the challenge of making it just that! I've had quite a busy time since Minnesota, and in a way, it sums up what my life as an singer encompasses.

My time back in Kansas City flew by, as it always seems to do, with never enough hours in the day to accomplish all I need to do with those few, precious hours actually in my home. Lots of family to see, lots of friends to catch up on, music to prepare, and thanks to my air conditioning breaking down in my car, 4 different trips to the mechanic to achieve an actual CURE for the cooling system! I also continued the painting project in my loft, and I'm happy to say that the final brush was cleaned out just in time to pack for my 3 ½ months abroad in Europe this summer! (The scraping of the baseboards will have to wait until I get back in the fall!)

I kicked off my marathon tour here in Europe with a challenging concert in Halle, the birthplace of Handel, and the host to a very vivid and busy Handel Festival each year. To sing some of Handel's great masterpieces in the Festival was indeed an honor. Among a mixture of arias and duets, it was my debut performing 'Ariodante' arias, singing "Dopo notte" and "Scherza infida" in public for the first time, and it was just enough of a taste to really excite me for when I will be able to perform the entire role on stage. It is quite a masterpiece! I must say, however, that this was a tough job. It seemed to be about everything else, rather than simply making music, and that is a tough position to be in when your goal is to move the audience emotionally through this music. Instead, it seemed to be about a lot of other things. (Side note: in defense of singers who sometimes make demanding requests: While I fully admit there needs always to be rationality and balance at play, often those demands are requested to keep the musician's mind on doing their job -- making music. I find that in instances where I need to do the jobs of other people, I arrive at the concert or performance with a great deal of difficulty trying to focus simply on the music at hand -- and this can be a great source of frustration.) This was one such experience. However, as they say, "the show must go on", and indeed it did, and in the end I think we did make beautiful music -- I just want you to know it's not always an easy path to forge! However, if you are anywhere near Germany, keep an eye out for it on your National Television, as we were filmed for broadcast! As soon as I hear of a broadcast date, I'll let you know!

Then I repacked my 2 enormous suitcases and headed towards Milan, ready for the next adventure. And it is La Scala, which naturally means adventures are waiting to be had! It is a theater which functions as no other I have ever witnessed. As is typical of this house, the second cast begins rehearsing (the first cast is generally allowed to show up quite late into the process), and we work very intensely and cohesively. The talk immediately turns to 'when are your performances?', and of course, no one REALLY knows. La Scala has the rather exasperating practice of delaying the doling out of information to the artist, instead, choosing to hold their exact plan of action very close to the vest. Luckily, I discovered all of this on my first trip to this theater 4 years ago, and I find that I can take it a bit more in stride this time around; however, not being able to set your pacing in rehearsals for your opening creates an incredible challenge. For example, we, as the second cast, have no idea of how many orchestra rehearsals we will be given, if any, and if or when we might get stage rehearsal time; how in the world do you gauge yourself in the rehearsal room with only the piano, not knowing when your next run-thru of the piece will be? It just possibly could be 12 days from now in front of a packed house at perhaps the most famous opera house in the world! You just never know.

The good thing to take from this, is that I approach each rehearsal now very seriously, singing nearly everything, and mentally preparing myself for my opening, whenever it may be. This kind of training, to my mind, is invaluable, as I attribute the majority of the success or failure of a given performance to one's mental preparation. I also treasure the collaborative time with my cast -- we are given the chance to really create a cohesive ensemble which will have a lot of chemistry come the opening night. Personally, I am not a fan of the 'add water and stir' approach to opera, and so I highly value this quiet time the seconda compagnia gets to slowly create our own version of Cenerentola!

It is definitely a challenge to stay focused on the task at hand, and to keep from being pulled into the many machinations which are simply put, out of your control. It is a juggling act. While balancing on a very tight wire. Singing. That is why after a concert such as in Halle, and a first week of tough rehearsals, I will be thrilled to get in front of the audience again, and just make music.
Even if it is on a high wire.
While singing a lot of fast notes!
Let the games begin!

(photos: Relaxing at Lake Como; In front of the coveted La Scala Poster for Cenerentola)

Friday, May 20, 2005


Chamber music: is there anything more satisfying to perform? (Well, I suppose if I’m really honest I could ask the same question about singing Handel or Mozart, but I’m in Chamber Music Heaven right now, so I’ll bask in this moment for the time being!) Last night I had the immense pleasure of singing two completely different works for the first time, and it was an evening that will stay with me for a long time. I’m here to sing with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, and to make music with such esteemed players really is a joy. It’s the interplay that you can achieve with a chamber group that I just adore: in opera, we stand on the stage, towering (or so it seems) high above the orchestra, which dwells in the depths of the orchestra ‘pit’, and it can feel nearly impossible to achieve a sense of unity. Sadly, I find that often an atmosphere of “us vs. them” seems to emerge, which makes it hard to feel as though you’re working toward a higher cause. However, with a group of 25 players, a conductor and the singer — we all stand on the same level, play for the same purpose, (we can actually achieve eye contact with each other), so the sense of creating a piece together can bring a real excitement. When you have players as generous as in this group, the energy can be electric.

The other electricity of the evening was propelled by the debut of Jake Heggie’s new orchestrated version of his “The Deepest Desire” song cycle. He originally wrote this piece for piano, flute and mezzo, and the St. Paul Orchestra commissioned a new orchestration of the piece (at conductor Patrick Summers suggestion). The result was simply out of this world. I’ve performed the cycle of number of times in recital and have actually recorded the piano version (for release later in the summer!), so I know the work well — but let me tell you, singing it with an orchestra is a completely different force! Jake has orchestrated it so colorfully and hauntingly and thrillingly (what an atmosphere the alto flute can create!), that the result seemed to hold the audience in a state of rapture. I wish I could describe perfectly the feeling of breathing life into a work for the first time. This is a piece that had never been heard before; we were charged with bringing it to life for the very first time — creating these words and phrases and music that had never been heard before, and it is such an exhilarating feeling when you know it is reaching and touching the audience in front of you. This is the very reason I do what I do.

I’m certain that this is destined to be a very significant new work for singers and orchestras to perform — it’s American, poignant, beautiful, memorable, and uplifting. Thank you to Patrick for championing it, to Jake for writing it, to James Kortz, the orchestra’s librarian, for commissioning this piece in honor of his wife, Catherine Shipman Kortz, and finally, to Sr. Helen Prejean for sharing her moving, inspiring words with Jake — the foundation of this entire piece.

The second piece, I was singing for the first time was Rossini’s cantata “Giovanna d’Arco”. Someone help me out here, as we were trying to surmise over dinner if this has been performed — in it’s orchestral version — in the United States before. We’re not sure at all, but we may have just given the North American Premiere of this monster!! Like Jake’s cycle, Rossini composed this work for piano and voice, and upon Teresa Berganza’s request, the Rossini Festival in Pesaro commissioned an orchestration of it back in 1989. It is a 16 minute ‘mini-opera’, and it is one of the most thrilling things I’ve ever sung. (But I can understand why it’s not sung too often — it is also one of the most difficult things I’ve ever undertaken!) I came off stage and was just shaking with adrenalin and energy, and very nearly ready to go back and sing through it all again!

But once again, I had the sense, since it is so rarely performed, that people were experiencing it for the first time, and truly discovering this piece along with myself and the orchestra. This is the sensation I aim to achieve each time I perform — especially if it’s the umpteenth performance of Rosina or Cenerentola or Cherubino: I’m certain that there will be at least one person in our audience that has never before experienced the delight of discovering the brilliance of these works, and I am the person who has been charged to introduce them to these masterpieces. I took my niece, Kelsey, to see Le Nozze di Figaro in Kansas City a few weeks ago. I purposefully didn’t tell her a word of the plot, and was curious to see if she would follow it, ‘get it’, or even enjoy it. I had forgotten how surprising it is to watch the Count discover Cherubino in the chair, to see how Figaro squirms his way (just barely) out of all his jams, and to feel the deep, deep pain the Countess encounters in scene after scene — we take it for granted far too often that we all know ‘how it goes’. This is what singing new works has taught me — I don’t ever want to take one note for granted.

The final thought about this great weekend (which isn’t over yet, we do concerts tonight and tomorrow), is what a JOY it is to make music with friends. Both Patrick and Jake are men who are in music because they believe deeply in the power of it’s language and because they believe deeply in the human spirit’s NEED for it. To be a part of a project with people like that is a rare, precious gift!

Truth be told, however, as much as I love these concerts, I’ll be very happy to get back home, because I have 10 more days free to finish painting my loft!! My time at home is so limited that I become a bit like Martha Stewart on steroids and aim to accomplish as many projects as possible, (in amongst seeing family and friends, studying, catching up on my Royals, and telling myself I should rest a bit)! So far, I’ve gone through 5 different colors of paint (finally settling on orange and red…), and WAY too much blue painter’s tape. It’s been heavenly! I am sure that after all the paint fumes I’ll be more than ready to get back to work and spend the summer with Rossini in Italy! Fra poco…

(Photos: With Patrick Summers, Jake Heggie, James Kotrz, and a private ketchup bottle joke; my painting 'masterpiece' - my art is the color of the wall, the actual hanging art work is by none other than Patrick Summers! )

Sunday, May 1, 2005


May 1, 2005

Well, my head is simply spinning in this moment — I’m on a plane, just having finished participating in the gala weekend celebrating Houston Grand Opera’s 50th Anniversary. It was a truly extraordinary event.

One of the reasons I love this profession is that at every turn, in every moment, something begs to be learned. This weekend was no exception. To be surrounded by such amazing talent, by such a varied and important history, and by the myriad of people who make a theater thrive — well, as I said, my head is simply spinning.

I trained with the Houston Grand Opera Studio for 2 seasons, from 1996-98. Without a doubt, my training there is a significant reason I am having a career today, as it was the training ground where I bridged the enormous gap between academia and the professional stage. My allegiance runs deep to that institution, to the many people who had a hand in my progress there. (Gayletha Nichols has my eternal admiration and gratitude!!) You see, I recognize that I am now a part of the history of that amazing training program, a major component of what makes HGO so great. When I was accepted (barely!) to participate in the studio, I was one of only EIGHT singers chosen from literally HUNDREDS of applicants from across the country. Immediately I knew the magnitude of that offer, and I knew that I had been handed a golden opportunity. Recognizing the responsibility of such a gift, I pounced on every single thing they had to offer in the way of stage experience (very limited my first season there — unless you count my 14 performances of Kate Pinkerton!), language training, voice training, etc. But I still say the most priceless part of that time was watching the great singers rehearse. THIS is where the craft is born: in the rehearsal room -- you watch a great singer dissect a role from start to finish and you can witness the process of how their starring turn is born on opening night. OR, conversely, you see the singer who walks through rehearsal investing very little of their mind and soul into the process, giving little to nothing to their colleagues, and you see how their ‘starring turn’ leaves you as cold as ice when the curtain comes down. Sometimes I wonder if the audience feels it as well — if they know sincerity from ‘gimmickry’…

But, I digress! I just wanted to show what an impact this program had on me as a person and as a developing artist. This is why being invited to participate as a featured singer on this weekend meant so much to me.

The gala weekend commenced with a brilliant, immense, breathtaking performance by the truly great Bryn Terfel as Falstaff. There was not ONE SINGLE FALSE SECOND in that performance of his. Every vocal nuance was tied unquestionably to each physical movement, which was linked indisputably to every varied emotion, which lead directly to one of the most complete performances I have ever seen. Can you tell I’m a big fan? I won’t even go into how great a guy he is, but suffice it to say anyone who shows up to a gala dress rehearsal wearing a t-shirt from Wrigley Field, has my full admiration!

It was a sublime performance and I’ve never heard the HGO orchestra sound better!

The rehearsal for the Gala was one of those great moments that we as performers tend to be very ‘giddy’ about. When I wasn’t singing on stage, I glued myself to a seat in the auditorium, along with the terribly enthusiastic chorus folks (who were AMAZING last night, by the way — congratulations!) and was able to watch a great parade of singers working. Again? Priceless. What I saw was a vast variety of temperaments and approaches and personalities, and I realized, one of the reasons that what we do is so damn hard, is that the only thing we have to truly offer an audience is our unique, honest self. And it is entirely possible that they, the audience, will not like it. Not at ALL. We walk out onto the stage, shout to the world “here I am, and here is my voice”, and people will either love you, hate you, or, perhaps worst of all, simply be indifferent towards you. And it struck me that I believe a large part of the singer’s battle is truly finding comfort in presenting themselves without any kind of barrier or defense whatsoever — simply allowing the audience love them. Or hate them. Or take no notice of them at all. It might be the hardest thing of all to learn.

Now, in all honesty, one of the biggest thrills of the night was watching Sir Elton John perform. Yes, he was the featured guest of the evening, and let me tell you, it was electric! I was BACKSTAGE (Can I write that again? I WAS BACKSTAGE!) watching him improvise brilliantly on the keyboard to ‘Benny and the Jets’, ‘Rocketman’, and ‘Your Song’ (with arrangements by the super-talented Jim Lowe!! Bravo, Maestro!) I admit it, I was screaming as if I was 10 years old again at a Shawn Cassidy concert, and I’m not ashamed to admit it! It really was thrilling — and again, I learned a great lesson — excellence in any shape or form is inspiring.

I would hate to forget to mention the fact that I also made my debut as a “Bond Girl”. (Can I write that again? A BOND GIRL!) Sir Roger Moore was the elegant, suave, and charming master of ceremonies, and I was more then happy to be escorted out by him for the final bow. I just may have found my second career! I met the Duchess of York, who could not have been more gracious and beautiful, celebrated with old friends from the studio who are some of my biggest cheerleaders, the staff that makes that theater click (and goes entirely too unsung!), the great crew (who all cleaned up very nicely, each sporting a suit and tie for the big event!), my old coaches who are some of the best in the business, and generally soaked up every single moment of this great event.

And through all of the glamour and the glitz and the paparazzi and the gowns and the stars and the jewels and the confetti, can I share the one, solitary moment that was, for me, the moment that made time stand still amongst all the cacophony? It was watching the curtains slowly part to reveal a slender, beautiful figure on the stage in a single follow spot: she took her breath, opened her heart and with a voice full of pathos, splendor and experience, sang “Isn’t it rich…?” It was Frederica von Stade giving the audience her reading of “Send in the Clowns”. This is a woman, an artist, a humble human being who has given so generously to the world of her beauty, her joy, her raw emotion and her singular vulnerability time and time again. This is an artist who has made the world a much, much better place. This is a woman who stands in front of us, completely open and giving, sharing her very true self with us, willing to let us either love her or hate her, asking for nothing in return — and precisely because of this, the world loves her. She is a treasure, and sharing the stage with her is gift that I will hold very close to me, always.

That was my weekend! So now I’m flying on about 3 hours of sleep to Salt Lake City where I will work with the young artists of that company’s Studio Program. I love it when you see various circles in your life winding their way around you, opening and closing in diverse ways. It seems only yesterday that I was the scared apprentice asking a million questions to the ‘masters’ of these classes! But tomorrow, the questions will be pointed at me, and I will have a lot of fresh thoughts to share after this experience in Houston! Until the next time…

(Photo: from the window of my apartment on a spring evening)

Tuesday, April 26, 2005


April 26, 2005

Welcome to the official opening of my web site — my debut on the internet! I hope that you will find the site easy to navigate, and that it will be full of information that you find helpful and, above all, most interesting! My intention is that it will be a real glimpse into my work, showing all the different aspects of a life that is very unconventional, always demanding, and often incredibly rewarding. It may take a little while to work out the kinks and to have it fully functioning, however my goal is that it will be constantly changing, growing, and expanding.

So, “a Voice, a Vision, an Adventure”? What is this? Over a wonderful lunch in a quaint Paris cafĂ©, Chez Paul I believe, my dear friend (and sometime dresser), Larissa, gave me a lecture on the importance of having a logo. Me? A LOGO? “Yes”, she insisted — and while I still have a hard time wrapping my head around the concept of something so commercial, it did set my mind to spinning a bit: For a little while now I’ve been contemplating the importance of marketing and promotion in today’s climate of classical music and opera. Is it a necessary evil? Is it the only way to bring our ‘product’ to the public for whom it was written? Or is it a way to help people to know me a little better? I do not view myself as a product or as a puppet to someone else’s marketing scheme. I simply want people to be able to identify with who I am and fully enjoy what I can bring them. I recognize that the world functions on many different levels now, and so why not put to use some of the extraordinary tools at my disposal? Which is why I woke up at 4:30 am one morning with this phrase in my head: “a Voice, a Vision, an Adventure”. It’s exactly the declaration I was looking for!

Maybe “a voice” could appear to be a bit obvious, but I’m not referring only to my vocal chords vibrating! I want to incorporate my voice as a person into this site: What do I want to convey to an audience as a performer, as a woman, as a human being? Why do I believe singing is a vital part of our lives, of our existence? What of value do I hope to accomplish in this career? This is the voice I want to explore!

It’s funny, because I’m currently preparing Rossini’s amazing cantata “Giovanna d’Arco” for concerts with Patrick Summers and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra in May, and the concept of ‘a vision’ is taking on a completely different meaning. Happily I can report that I’m not suffering from any disturbing visions, however I do love the idea of seeing a clear picture of what I want to achieve with this web site, with my career, and, if you go along with me for a minute, for the arts in general. I’m a big idealist, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. As a result, I’m of the frame of mind that music and art and literature can absolutely change lives. I’ve seen it personally. I’ve lived it on many occasions. I challenge anyone to argue this with me! This is the vision I want to explore.

And precisely because I want to explore these ideas, this is why I call it ‘an adventure’! Every single time I open the score for a new opera, I feel like I’m setting out into unchartered territory and can’t wait to delve into this new world of unknowns! When I repeat a role I’ve done perhaps a dozen times, I continue to discover a freshness and a spontaneity in the story and I always seem to be taking a completely different journey, even if the itinerary is the same! Each time I walk from my dressing room into the wings, waiting for my first entrance onto the stage, the audience is a completely different mix of people, and I feel like I’m setting out for the greatest adventure possible — never knowing exactly what may happen over the next 3 hours! I am infinitely blessed to participate in a world where things are constantly in motion, continually changing, and persistently on the edge — if that isn’t a great adventure, I don’t know what is!

So, with my ‘logo’ in hand, my nerves a bit shaky about this new adventure onto the web, but however, my eyes set straight on the road ahead, I hope you’ll stay with me and enjoy the ride!

A final note is to thank my dear friend, (and full time cheerleader), Alexandra for all the incredible work she did to help get this crazy vision up and running! Her insight, expertise and unbridled enthusiasm is infectious and oh so inspiring — I can’t thank her enough.