Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Goodbye to my Dad

I suppose I will start out with a polite apology, asking for pardon for what will likely be a most personal entry. I really promised myself at the start of my ‘website adventure’ that I would strictly adhere to things pertaining to my career and to the stage, but I’m afraid in this business, the two too often co-mingle, and so late this night, I’m here with my most personal thoughts, and here lies a big part of me that wants the world to have a glimpse into my past few weeks. Glimpse away:

Last Thursday, in the early hours of the quiet morning, my Father passed away. I suppose it’s quite audacious of me to attempt to write about him, for how do you sum up a life? A death? A moment? I think the geniuses I represent on stage (Mozart, Handel, etc.) have come the closest to capturing something so delicate, so I know my attempt here will be most feeble, but it will be honest, as I would like to try and express a tiny bit of the great influence my Father had on my life and how grateful I am for his loving guidance.

I grew up going to Mass on Sunday mornings watching my Dad conduct his prized choir. The Vienna Boys Choir had nothing on my Dad’s group. They sang Byrd, Thompson, Bach, Handel and Palestrina like no other chorus possibly could. As a 10-year-old girl, I wasn’t yet old enough to join in the festivities, but I sat on the sidelines waiting MOST anxiously to be old enough to take part, breathing with all his cues as if they were meant just for me. And when I finally stepped in, able to take direction directly from him, having him look at me while he cued the altos, well, I thought I was the greatest singer to ever live, knowing that he needed me to “help keep them in tune” (or so he led me to believe!). I was on top of the world.

He came to every choral concert I had in high school and nearly every one in college. His approval was the only applause I looked for or ever needed. He attended the “Seven Last Words of Christ” concert I gave as a sophomore in High School at a local church, and the entire way home our conversation nearly exploded with spiritual fervor. He taught me in every single moment that we were together through treasured conversations about faith, about doubt, about life, about music, about fear, about joy, and about staying young at heart.

The last 2 weeks were spent at his bedside, as he was hooked to a machine that took each breath for him. Such a far cry from the man I remember building our house, hiking Byer’s Peak, working at his drawing board, or reading over my term papers. Because there was a breathing tube planted in his throat, those precious, cherished conversations were no longer possible. The million questions I still have for him will have to remain unanswered, and ‘faith’ will have to be my companion, as I trust that all I really needed to inquire of him was already asked and answered. After a lifetime of connection and conversation and experience, our time was limited to hand signals, blinking of eyes, and my simple, unqualified attempt to help him die. But I must take solace in the fact that we did live so many moments so fully together. However, had he passed away 100 years from now, it would have been tragically too soon.

Infinite thoughts rip through my mind in these days, more than seem possible to process, but I think my attempt to write tonight, is simply to have ‘the world’ know that a truly great man walked this earth, touched my life, and left me much richer than would seem practical. I can say unequivocally that I would not be the person that I am without his loving, and unending guidance in my life – in every possible way.

I could talk about the numerous musical experiences we shared: in the choir loft with him at the helm, on his first trip to Europe to listen to me sing in Notre Dame, in Hamburg to hear me sing with Domingo, sitting around the TV watching Don Giovanni from the MET, my high school choir performing Bach’s “Crucifixus” to his astonishment – but none of these moments capture all that he was. I have to talk also of the letters he would send me when I was so far away from home giving me comfort as nothing else could, of the stolen moments on our front door step watching the spring storms roll in while he assured me tornados could never actually hit our house, of watching the most spectacular electrical storms in the night skies of Colorado while he spoke of the vastness of the Universe and God’s design for all of us, of how he could reduce his 7 children to piles of giggles with the mere mention of “The Big Mouth Frog”, and of how he never missed an opportunity to look deeply in my eyes and tell me how proud he was of me – not only as a singer, but as a person. How persistent he was that I knew the difference between the two.

In a million years I could have never asked for a better compliment.

I’ve never watched anyone die before. My Dad certainly wouldn’t have been my first choice to learn the ropes with, but this was the plan – and ultimately, completely out of my control. How truly powerless we are in the face of death. And yet, through it all, my Father was teaching me. Teaching me how to surrender and how to let go with dignity. In one moment I held his hands as he looked at me to say he couldn’t breathe, and all I could tell him was, “Imagine you’re breathing in that fresh mountain air, Dad.” And his breathing would slow down and he would catch it – for that moment. And then I’d pray with him, and he would mouth the familiar, soothing words along with me, "Hail Mary, full of grace..."

I was his voice for those few, precious moments.

His last day will most certainly serve as fodder for great reflection for the rest of my life. We took him off the ventilator around noon (he had told us he was ready), and the following 3 hours were spent deciphering and following his orders: “get me a new room (out of the ICU), sit me up, put me in a chair at a table, with a glass of white wine and let me drink.” We actually accomplished it all, including the most genuine of toasts, 'Here's to your life, Dad!" The drinking of the wine took all the energy that he had, but the smile that came across his face was truly priceless. He was now ready.

We’re not sure when he actually took his last breath, as his final moments were so serene and peaceful. I watched this man, my beloved father, orchestrate the laying down of his life during his last day, and with his dying breaths, he was teaching us all how to let go. He could never have done that if he hadn’t lived his life with such integrity, joy, service and faith. But his welcome reward for a very hard life of struggle and uncertainty was the most beautiful of deaths.

My sadness is profound and so very deep, but an unbridled joy is waging a great battle against it, trying hard to smother the pain. That’s because in a million years I never could have asked for a better father. I marvel at the man I knew my whole life, and surely will never know the extent to which he influenced and shaped me. The joy and faith he passed on to me will always be the defining goal that I strive to attain. My sadness feels endless, but I believe my infinite gratitude and joy of sharing in his life will win out over time.

Ironically, through his final hour, his death will always serve as the most brilliant example of how to LIVE.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Unsolicited Talking Heads

(The magnificent Royal Palace in Madrid)

I apologize ahead of time for what may be an incoherent rambling (and in all probability, highly politicized) edition of my journal; perhaps no more disjointed than usual, but certainly if you tend towards seasickness, grab a life jacket and hold on! You have been warned.

I feel as if my head is swimming with so many ideas, thoughts, conflicts and wonderings, that I will simply start the process of free association and let’s see where we end up.

Today I did two interviews for local Spanish magazines. I was excited, for as I may have mentioned previously, I’ve fallen in love with Spain, and to contribute to the music scene here has been a joy. However, I got a bit worried when the first thing out of the journalist’s mouth was, “Why do you have such a horrible photo in the program here? It’s (and I’m quoting here) “a HORROR”. (Only you must imagine that with the Spanish accent it takes on an even MORE degrading and appalling tone, mind you, as if I have somehow offended every god in the black and white photo universe! I mean REALLY, how COULD I?) Politely defending myself and the gazillions of dollars I spent on that “horror”, we quickly moved on to the business at hand. However, it does bring up in my mind how open we singers are to a constant barrage of criticism, unsolicited opinion, and constant comparison. I’m not complaining, because I do believe it’s part of the job description we accept when going into this business; but I do believe it is a real challenge to keep a healthy perspective day in and day out, as every comment and censure hurled in our direction we must sort and sift through to see if there is a grain of truth buried in it, and then simply discard the rest as if we hadn’t heard the assault, when in fact, we have heard it loud and clear. Ah, I love a good challenge!

Berlin. What can I possibly say about this? When I heard the news that the Berlin Opera was canceling a production of “Idomeneo” because there had been terrorist’s threats against the theater should it go on, my first reaction was “GOOD! That director is a sham and a disgrace to the art form, and his shows shouldn’t ever make it in front of the paying public”. (The controversial part was Idomeneo, the King, coming on shore at the end of the piece with the severed heads of, now let me get this straight: Neptune, Jesus Christ, Buddha, and the starring protagonist in this uproar, Muhammad. Hmm. I’m preparing Idomeneo right now, and in scouring the score can’t seem to find a single reference to this particular stage action. BUT, then again, I don’t know the production in question and cannot justly condemn it strictly on hearsay and the absurdity of such a ‘concept’. How this crap gets in front of the public, I cannot comprehend. I say, if the director himself had actually written a play about such characters, then FINE, BEAUTIFUL, and MORE POWER TO YOU, but it simply and unquestionably is NOT “Idomeneo”. But I’m not the boss.

However, after a petite pause, I became sincerely startled at my gut reaction. If a threat from an outside group can stop the voice of an artist, inducing comprehensive censuring by the theater meant to uphold and promote ‘art’, even art so highly offensive, where will the censuring stop? To whom will we have to answer? What in the world has happened to our civilization that we so easily will crumble against what we believe to be fundamental? How will we ever find our way out of this jumbled mess? The world needs now, more than ever, people of courage to stand up and say, ‘this is not acceptable’, and it won’t come from political leaders or media egomaniacs: it must come from ordinary people, from artists not afraid to shed light on our collective failings, from the public who will strive to tolerate different ideas put in front of them to gain a shred of understanding, and from people of all different persuasions to simply let the others BE.

(A bright spot, with the charming Maestro Jesus Lopez Cobos)

Oh, I know I’m not alone in the confusion and the bewilderment of our times. I know I’m not the only one looking into the sky with such uncertainty, (bordering on despair) about the tenuous state of our civilization. I stand in union with people that are fed up by every misfired, misguided, and misled action of those people that are ‘leading us’. But now, it has hit quite close to home, and perhaps there will be a time when I have to either stand up for what I believe in, or fall into line with the rest of the people who are living in fear.

Would I go on if the theater I was performing in were threatened? Would I stand up for something controversial, simply in the name of artistic freedom of expression, not to mention freedom of speech? These are questions I need to ask myself. Did they do the right thing in Germany? I don’t think so. But in the context of the world today, what would anyone else have done? What would I have done?

I know! I would have stood out in front of the theater and sang the Composer’s aria from “Ariadne”!!! How’s that for a segue? Why yes, I just happened to debut in that role this week. I confess that I am no longer a Strauss Virgin. There is no turning back. I’m addicted. I love it. I find it staggeringly beautiful and deeply moving, and firmly believe that more people need to behave like this man: innocently, passionately, afraid of nothing.

Well, perhaps I’m a BIT caught up in the drama of it all, but truth be told, I don’t know very many people with his courage and conviction and openness to life. It’s incredibly refreshing, and it is a TRUE pleasure to sing. I certainly wouldn’t have predicted I’d feel quite THIS enthusiastic about him (despite other singer’s warnings!), but here I am – completely taken. The opening went quite well, and while it’s still a bit scary to swim over Strauss’s orchestral writing without the dependable, familiar Rossinian patterns I’m accustomed to, (and without a life jacket), it was an unabashed joy.

A gift really is laid at the feet of any singer who gets to sing the anthem of the Composer at the end of the prologue, to sing that “music is the holiest of arts, one which encompasses all that words cannot express, and all that humans can be”. If I can add my voice to his music today, in the midst of all this chaos and turmoil, I will gladly take those inappropriate comments here and there, and march out onto stage to sing at the top of my lungs, hoping that some sort of understanding can be born out of it.

In the meantime, as I see it, life is beautiful, and I continue to enjoy Madrid. We’ve taken in a real bullfight (and will go again this weekend…I walked into that ring, saw the strapping Torero’s and immediately understood Carmen. No question.) The food continues to delight, the people continue to shine and aside from a few purse-snatchings for the cast, we are having a grand time together. The beautiful colleagues and staff here make this theater one of my very favorites to work in. I’m keeping busy on other things as well, working away at Octavian, Idamante and Sesto (when do I get to be in a skirt again?), trying to juggle the schedule for the coming years, anticipating what will be the best and most interesting choices to make. I’m handling the heartbreak of missing out on a role that I would kill to do in a particular theater, which for one reason or another won’t be in the cards for me – again, we have to walk the tightrope of heartbreak very carefully in this business! And on top of all that, I’m getting to catch up on reading and museum hopping – things that have sadly had to be on the back burner the past few months. All in all, it’s a rejuvenating period full of joy and chaos.

Welcome to life, I suppose.

Wait! Better get my life jacket!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The heat of Strauss in Madrid

I’m making it! I can see the light at the end of the tunnel growing a touch brighter with each passing Germanic measure! I’m actually becoming nearly convinced that I may just get through this first German role! Never mind the sensation that German is spilling out of my head at an ungainly rate; never mind that I’m barely staying afloat; never mind that my retention rate seems to be that of a 5 year old the day after striking Halloween Gold! I AM managing to get the German to come out in a reasonably intelligible, coherent manner; I AM staying (just) at the surface of the water, even if I’m treading like crazy underneath; and finally things are sticking in my head a bit longer than in 10-minute stretches while we run a scene. Hallelujah, someone call the press corps!! Wait, don’t’ call just yet! Opening is still 2 1/2 weeks away!

(The world famous Bull Ring in Madrid)

(All I ever need to see, in order to understand Carmen!)

What am I jabbering on about? The Composer. Der Komponist: that lively, manic-depressive, heart-on-his-sleeve character in Strauss’s MASTERPIECE, Ariadne auf Naxos. First, let’s do set aside any pretense that I will be writing the following journal entry in the manner of a holier-than-thou Operatic Diva: the untouchable, the infallible, the one who walks on water. Anyone who knows me, knows that this behavior is just not my cup of tea. Anyone who is looking for his or her “Diva Worship Fix” can start looking elsewhere for the moment. (If I do my job well enough, there just might be enough interest generated simply on the merits of the performance alone!) Do stay tuned!

Enough preambles. This role has scared me to death, in operatic terms mind you – not literally. This is my first stab at a German leading role, discounting my professional debut in Houston as the SLAVE in Salome – the ‘if you blink, you missed it’ role. I’ve found that one’s first outing in such categories (i.e., your first Rossini role, your first French role, etc) holds the possibility to dictate how you will feel about future such roles throughout your career. My first Cenerentola was a rather big success, and ever since, I’ve looked forward to singing it with bated breath each time. I didn’t want to come into my first, of what I hope will be many, Strauss roles and not soar with it, in true Straussian fashion. But German is QUITE a different animal than Italian or French, and I must admit, has not held much interest to me before. I’ve much preferred to stay immersed in the comfortable, familiar surroundings of Italian and French, all the while thinking I’d leave the German to “them”.

No more! It’s sink or swim time. And I’m loving the challenge! I turned around to the veteran cast yesterday after a musical rehearsal, and just said, “This is a really brilliant score”, and they looked at me, in all sincerity, as if to say, “where the hell have you been?” It’s not that I didn’t know it was brilliant – I know it’s a masterpiece. But knowing it and discovering it for yourself is quite a different story. I’m still naïve enough to delight in the opening of a new score, pouring through it, and allowing the portal to open, slowly and majestically before my eyes. All summer, as I was sweating the impending calamity, all my colleagues were saying, “You’ll be fine, you’ll LOVE it, you’re perfect for the role!” And while I appreciated the support more than I can say, it’s still not the same as digging in and finding the center in your own way and on your own terms. This is the only way I can learn a role anymore. Perhaps it’s more time consuming, but I don’t want someone to spoon-feed it to me. I don’t want to be a slave to a recording to learn the in’s and out’s of a character. I don’t want to rely on anyone else’s interpretation. I need to find it through my own work.

Happily, I can report that the “Strauss Click”, for lack of a better term, happened this week. During the entire first week of our staging, I would do a scene, stumble, fall, collapse, and grind the entire process to a halt while trying to get through the phrase, “Ich habe mich über einen frechen Lakaien erzürnt, da ist sie mir aufgeblitzt.” (This is a phrase, by the way, that needs to trip off the tongue with Crosby-Hope-like panache!) Even for a German, I do believe, it can be tricky. Use your imagination!Speaking of family, I haven’t only been singing this summer (as the photos on this site suggest!)

However, I’ve been working my “heilige” tail off, and it’s finally starting to pay dividends, because now my mind can get out of the panic mode of “WHAT WORD COMES NEXT?”, and start concentrating on lovely, meaningful things such as the character, listening, the scene in general, and the beautiful, naïve, innocent, raw, sincere and earnest sentiments that this young man professes at every given opportunity. He is a joy to discover, as is this piece of music; and in case you’re wondering, my appetite is most definitely whetted for that other masterpiece on the horizon – Herr Octavian!

I’m enclosing a beautiful photo I took on the trek back from Santa Fe to Kansas City, going through the panhandle of Texas and Oklahoma, through historic cities, like Dodge City, and seeing the most vast skies imaginable. Sadly, western Kansas gets a bad rap, but I think that’s because people are too busy seeing what’s not there (there are no mountains, no ocean, this is obvious.) But if they would stop to actually look and see what majestically unfolds in front of them, it truly is a natural wonder, for as far as you can see, the world munificently opens to you a sky and land bigger and more enveloping than your imagination can envision. It is something to behold.

I’m enjoying these memories as well while I’m reading the novel by Truman Capote, “In Cold Blood”. It’s both horrifically chilling and terribly captivating. One element being how Capote, this arrogant animal of the high fashion and erudite literary world of New York, views and describes this other universe of small town gossip and molasses like pacing: as different from his world as could possibly be. It’s a wonderful read, and a welcome distraction from ich’s and sie’s!

Here is to Musik, eine heilige kunst!

Saturday, August 19, 2006

My real life Prince Charming

It’s that time of the summer when the workers at the Santa Fe Opera are looking a little weary: we’ve all survived the famed PRESS WEEK, which finds countless international critics, as well as every major player on the domestic operatic team in attendance, waiting with bated breath to see what this season has in store for them. As much as I’d like to say I don’t pay any attention to that rigmarole, as I’m warming up for THE show where said attendees are waiting to pass judgment, I do feel an extra surge of “holy crap” pulse through my body. There is no getting around the fact that every thing you will do will be scrutinized up and down – not by an eager “Joe Public” type, but by THEM. The industry insiders that only seem to be out to get us all!!

OK, so I’m exaggerating, but if one isn’t careful, this is the mentality that can pervade your mind as you’re preparing to do your job. You just KNOW they’re going to hate you and say, “How in the world did SHE ever get hired for this role?” I really try to avoid this mind set, but it’s not easy, let me tell you. How do I approach such a daunting performance? I sincerely try to go back to the fundamental reason of why I do this: that it really shouldn’t be about ME, I want it to be about the public, and the fact that they’ve come to be carried away for a few hours. However, the reality is that ‘those insiders’ are the ones who have to keep hiring me in order for me to be in front of the public, so I want desperately that they ‘like’ me, but in the end, it’s just not about ‘them’ – it has to be about ‘you’. And that is what carries me through a show like that.

The other thing I count on is my rehearsal process; anytime I’m nervous for any particular reason, I can mentally go back and ‘see’ that I’ve rehearsed well, fully, and hopefully thoroughly, and that knowledge is what carries me through. I’ve had to rely on that a number of times, and if I’ve done my work in the rehearsal, it has yet to let me down.

Now we’re only 2 shows away from closing, and the cast is starting to look around and think, “we have to say goodbye in one week”. That is never easy, and it is one of the elements that make this life difficult: you create a sense of family in a very intimate and deep way, and then BAM! Everyone goes away to write the next chapter of their life, which may not include you. Luckily, experience is teaching me that this separation is never too final, because the opera world is small, and we always find a way to cross paths again, picking right back up where we left off. For this, I’m very thankful.

(My Cendrillon Family)

Speaking of family, I haven’t only been singing this summer (as the photos on this site suggest!) Given the proximity of Santa Fe to Las Vegas, Leonardo (who I have sometimes referred to as my ‘real Prince Charming’) and I eloped last week! I don’t normally like to talk about my personal life in great detail on this forum, because it’s not intended for that purpose, but I truly can’t help sharing the news. This is the closest thing I can find to shouting it from the rooftops! We were married on a Gondola at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas (the closest thing to uniting his background with mine), and it was the most magical day of my life.

So for many reasons, it has been a truly magical summer. I’ve run myself a bit into the ground, which worries me just a bit. The idea at the start of the summer was to find vast amounts of rest and relaxation, time to recuperate. Well, with a role as demanding as this one (not to mention rewarding, I might add), numerous visitors (most welcome, to be sure), lots of recreational activities (not one of which I would trade in), countless social commitments (always a priority here in Santa Fe), and general amounts of responsibility, it adds up to a MOST hectic few months, leaving me at the finish line a bit run down. I’m still searching for that seemingly unattainable goal of perfect BALANCE. The idea that Spain is next on my travel itinerary gives me hope, knowing that the Spanish truly seem to know how to relax and take things at a slightly slower pace! I will be ready for them!

However, I wouldn’t change a thing, for it has been a summer of growth and experience and adventure! We’ve met truly WONDERFUL people, seen extraordinary sights, experienced the best in theater and dance, and, well, we got MARRIED! What else could I possibly ask for? While I might complain about being a bit run-down, I certainly won’t, for one millisecond, say that I am anything less than blessed!

Here’s to a wonderful close to the summer!

Magic which doesn't end at midnight

Well, we did it. The cast and crew and production team that the Santa Fe Opera assembled to pull together this rare gem of a piece, Cendrillon, figured out how it should go, and on Saturday night we breathed life into this magical fairy tale for a vigorous and incredibly enthusiastic audience. If I describe it as magical, I hope it won’t appear too naïve, but that is how I think we all felt when the non-existent curtain came down a few minutes before the stroke of midnight: magical.

(A backstage view of the Palace gates)

I’ve had a bit of experience presenting works that the audience has no familiarity with (Dead Man Walking, Little Women, Resurrection), but this is the first time singing a story that every audience member has known since childhood, but with such a different ‘spin’. Hearing the mostly adult audience gasp and applaud simultaneously at the humor and setting restored my belief that music can be magical and carry people away if only for a few moments. I will never forget that feeling.

Of course, it must be said, that it wasn’t strictly the opera that did this: in my estimation, Laurent Pelly, our esteemed stage director and costume designer, brought such imagination, humility, pathos, heart and soul to the table that it was infectious. I think the local review said something along the lines of “…the apprentice artists flocked to Pelly’s ideas like bees to a honey jar…” which is the perfect description of how we all felt. He knows how to give an artist an entrance which immediately signals to the audience who this character is and what they are feeling; he knows how to actually ENTERTAIN a modern day audience (and considering it’s a jaded old fairy tale, that’s not an easy task) whilst never pandering to them; he knows how to trust the music, so that in the most tender and simple moments of the piece, he is content to simply lets it BE; he knows how to USE the music so that the stage movement flows ever so fluidly with the colors and textures coming from the orchestra. To my thinking, he is our generation’s “Ponnelle”, and I say that not to draw comparison, but to illustrate that in a day of many questionable operatic directors, we have among us a man who isn’t afraid to jump feet first into the art form that has singing as it’s fundamental base, that requires the use of the music and the intention the composer gave to us, and finds a way to combine it all with a sensibility that modern day audiences can grasp and ENJOY.

(With the brilliant Laurent Pelly, taking in the GLORY of a true Santa Fe miraculous sunset)

THIS is why I do what I do.

But wait! I’m omitting a huge factor here! There is this extraordinary cast on top of it all! It’s such an amazing thing to stand on this stage with 2 (dare I say it) true veterans of this craft, Richard Stillwell and Judith Forst, bringing such rare artistry and professionalism with them; with a just-arrived-on-the-scene star, Eglise Gutierrez, spinning gossamer vocal lines with real attitude; and a second year apprentice artist, Jennifer Holloway, who stepped in at the last minute and, I’m pretty sure, just had her big break last Saturday night, playing any girl’s perfect idea of Prince Charming! It is a true kaleidoscope of experience and talent, and it’s breathtaking to see each person find their way to the opening night downbeat in such different ways! It affirms to me that real artists walk their own path and define their own ‘voice’. It is thrilling to witness, and as always, a huge learning experience for me. I felt such a sense of pride to hold this cast’s hand at the end of the show, as each single person put their heart and soul into bringing this piece to life, and I’m certain the audience could feel that. It’s not always the case in our field, so when it happens, I want to scream from the rooftops that IT IS POSSIBLE!!

(The girl with the golden opportunity, Jennifer Holloway, who made the most dashing Prince Charming!)

I don’t want to miss mentioning the outstanding chorus, either. This is a huge show, and many apprentices are stepping up to sing small ‘cameo’ parts, or larger elements, such as the fairies that do tremendous work in this show, all with tremendous aplomb and professionalism. I have a particular sense of pride for this, considering that I was standing in their very shoes 11 years ago. It seems as though only 2 seconds have passed, just a mere blink of the eyes, but reality tells something a bit more vast! My ‘big part’ as an apprentice was singing one of the bridesmaids in Nozze di Figaro, and it was my moment to shine! I will never forget it, and as I’ve written before, I learned so many priceless lessons during those 3 months of non-stop toil, and it warms my heart so much to see the latest group not only rising to the level expected of them, but surpassing it. I’m so proud of them all!

Well, that just leaves me. I am still having a hard time realizing that we’ve opened, and I’ve officially debuted this role. It’s a role that I feel was handed to me on a silver platter, simply because I just love it, and the opera so much. It’s my first ‘big French role’, and I have the chance to engage a lyricism that isn’t perhaps as apparent in my every day repertoire, and I love every second of it. It’s very telling to me, because I cannot relax in this role at all; it is new and it is enormous, so it requires that my concentration and energy be employed at 100% in every moment. Having performed roles like “Rosina” and “Cenerentola” so many times, I walk out on stage and I have the liberty of playing with them, because I know them so well, know my pacing of it backwards and forwards, and there is a sense of flirting with them all the time. Cendrillon may become that for me some day (after numerous more performances), but for now, I’m working my tail off. But, again – a lesson to be learned: it shows me that every moment on stage requires everything I have, at all times, and in all ways, and I embrace that challenge with everything I have! Tonight is our second show and it will be most interesting to see how it has grown over these 4 days. I’m a person that LOVES to rehearse, so I was very sad to see that process here come to close, but now we enter a new phase, and the experimentation, risk taking, and playing takes on a whole new meaning! It’s actually just beginning!

(Last but never least, with the legendary Richard Stilwell. He was the perfect Father in this show.)

So here is to all of the Cendrillon “virgins” having learned the show, pulling together probably the most beautiful spectacle I’ve ever been a part of, and to the Santa Fe Audiences getting a brilliant escape from reality for a few hours!! It just doesn’t get much better than that!


Sunday, June 18, 2006

Santa Fe to the Rescue

For nearly 4 years I have been waiting to get back to this city, and after one of the most hectic periods of my life, I’m more than happy to say that I’m finally here! Santa Fe has a remarkable power to relax you nearly immediately, and I have been so grateful to be the much-needed beneficiary of such a gift! Santa Fe? I’m all yours!

Why the need for such help from the city of “Holy Faith”? Well, the final month of my journey abroad was quite busy (as my last entry alluded to), and add to that 2 rather hectic weeks at home, well, the phrase, “Calgon take me away” never felt more appropriate. Here’s the recap:

After finishing up the run of Clemenzas in Geneva (minus the stomach virus, thank you very much!), I flew immediately to the amazing city of Barcelona for 2 exciting concerts of “Nabucco” with the timeless Nello Santi conducting, the scene chewing Maria Guleghina and supreme master of Italian legato, Leo Nucci singing. I’ve never witnessed, literally, 25 minutes of applause from such a ravenous audience before, but I can see how that would become rather addictive as an artist. It is one element of what separates some of the European Houses from American ones – these Spanish opera lovers could NOT get enough, and it was thrilling to sing for them. Not only that, but I fell in love with the city of Barcelona and cannot wait to return.

(A snapshot of the lively and colorful street scene in Barcelona)

The tough part was cramming 3 days of recording my Spanish disc in between the 2 concerts. The recording process is such a demanding and exhausting one that it seems to suck every bit of energy I have. It’s not simply a matter of vocal resources, although without question, there is no time to work out vocal problems in a recording studio, but more a matter of keeping your mental focus and making each “take” full of the kind of palpitating energy you have in front of a live audience. This, to me, is the most challenging aspect. Luckily, I loved every single song I sang, and found it a complete joy to do. It made me realize I’ve learned a lot about the recording process: primarily that shooting for perfection is NOT the objective, but rather to find the soul of the piece immediately, infusing it with all the interpretive ‘smarts’ I can. As a result, I enjoyed every single moment of the (exhausting) process, and HOPE the end result will be a truly enjoyable, engaging disc!

(Julius Drake and I celebrate the miracle completion of our Spanish disc, PASIÓN!)

And then? Another of those whirlwind trips home. There is NEVER enough time to catch up, wind down, re-group, you-name-it! It quickly becomes a matter of priorities and a marathon race against the clock. Throw in a fabulous wedding, a few reunions, a hometown recital, a barbeque or two, finishing off my 2005 taxes (YEA!) and watching my beautiful niece go through outfit after outfit of dress-up, not to mention shopping and packing for a 3 month summer gig, and you have a hectic, beautiful, slightly insane trip home.

However wonderful the last month has been, it did wear me down a tremendous amount, and the prospect of jumping into a big new role (my first significant French role, at that) was a bit daunting – but then: Santa Fe to the rescue! You arrive here, and the pace and energy of this place seems to pull you deeply into it, and you begin breathing a bit more slowly, knowing that you’re about to settle into a great, relaxing rhythm. It helps, as well, that this is my 4th summer here, and so it feels a bit as if I’m coming home.

(The glorious landscape outside of Colorado Springs: Pikes Peak, the magnificent!)

After the 14-hour drive from Kansas City, arriving here at midnight under the light of a full moon (no kidding), the cast and musical staff of Cendrillon jumped into rehearsals at 10:00 am, all eager to discover this amazing piece that none of us have ever performed before. It’s very rare that you’ll start an opera where every participating member is new to the work, but it lends an extraordinary level of excitement knowing that we’re all about to discover something for the first time. (As opposed to say “Barbiere”, where everyone knows how it goes!) It means a bit of fumbling and negotiating, but the process feels very fresh and inspiring. I can’t wait to bring this piece to the Santa Fe public, as it will be a discovery for most of the people, I imagine, and I think they’ll be bowled over by a great cast performing a magical, inventive opera full of comedy, passion, love, and heartbreak, with perhaps a dash of fairy dust. Can you tell I’m more than excited? It is an immense privilege to sing this seldom-heard piece, and I hope that people will find it as moving as I do!

Now it’s a matter of getting to the gym as often as I can to manage the drastic change in altitude. The 3rd act aria of Cendrillon is staged so that I’m running frantically around the stage, non-stop in an attempt to describe the terrifying journey from the Prince’s ball back to my deserted house in the middle of the night. It’s a challenging aria standing still at sea-level: when asked to run around the stage at nearly 8,000 feet higher, well, it necessitates some serious cardiovascular work. (…with the added benefit, I hope, of enabling me to enjoy several helpings of authentic guacamole throughout the summer, without worry of still fitting into the ball gown!)

(In rehearsal on the stage of the Santa Fe Opera, with Jennifer Holloway)

I think those people lucky enough to make the journey to Santa Fe this summer will be in for a real treat. They are pulling out all the stops for their 50th Anniversary season, and it is an incredible thrill for me to be a part of it. I owe a great deal to this opera company. I did an apprenticeship here in 1995, and it was, without a doubt, the start of things taking off for me. Not only did I learn a tremendous amount here, but also I made numerous contacts that continue to play an important part in my development as an artist. Returning here, I’m reminded of what an immense operation this is and how committed they are to continuing the art form in a vital, magical way.

Here’s to an enchanting, captivating summer, with wonderful guacamole, hikes, singing and friendship!

(Photo: A notorious Santa Fe Sunset)

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Digesting Sesto

Before I jump into my latest entry here, let me warn you that the following may not be very pretty, folks! If you aren’t used to being around singers much, you’ll probably be shocked to learn how freely (and sometimes joyfully) we talk about certain bodily functions considered taboo to the rest of society; it’s not at all unusual for us to have a very civilized and dignified conversation about the color of our mucus (yellow = good, green = bad), or to what degree the acid reflux affected so and so, or how a certain food played havoc on one’s digestive system. You see, our instrument doesn’t just involve two little pieces of gristle, which vibrate to produce sound on any given note – au contraire, my friends. To produce a listenable tone requires quite nearly everything in a singer’s body: back muscles, lungs, diaphragm, firmly planted legs, balance, not to mention a sense of relaxation over all the tension producing mechanics that occur, just to highlight a few things. The bulk of the ‘work’ feels as if it’s happening in the torso, or the core of your body, for you pilates fans out there.

Now, imagine if you will, your entire digestive tract (housed in aforementioned torso) being in a state of complete and utter state of distress, and with each breath you take in, a slight sense of panic fills you. This, dear friends, is how I debuted the role of Sesto here in Geneva 4 nights ago. I can completely and indisputably state for the record that I never, ever wish to sing in this state again, nor could I ever wish it on a single one of my colleagues. It was horrible.

Now, why do I bring this up? I’ll admit, it’s not a very pretty topic to bring up, and I’m sure it would be easier reading to only say what a huge success it was, etc. However, I walked away from that performance with two enormous pieces of knowledge – two things that I have always felt were incredibly vital to a career, but this was the first time I truly had to put it into practice; and my purpose for writing about it, is that in case there are any younger singers out there who want to know what it takes to have a career, these are two of the finest pearls of wisdom I can offer:

*Consistently rehearse in a completely committed and full manner.
*Be certain your technique is working for you.

My body was not up to the task of singing particularly brilliantly on my opening night; however, it knew exactly what to do because I had engrained into my muscles and into my ‘psyche’ the role. As a result, the manner in which I rehearsed carried me through those 2 ½ hours. Had I not prepared as thoroughly as I did, I’m certain I would have been MUCH more nervous about my physical state, and would not have arrived at the end in one piece. I also knew that vocally I had worked out the problem areas, and I had a confidence that I knew even if I wasn’t 100%, my voice would respond strictly out of muscle memory. It certainly wasn’t any kind of miracle or magical force that carried me through – it was simple fundamentals, and I’m so relieved to know that I could lean on those basic, essential tools.

I wish I could take credit for that philosophy, but I definitely owe my having learned it to several folks:

George Gibson, my first Opera Instructor and true mentor. He preached many things, but one of the fundamentals was always the discipline of preparation. (That, as well as the old adage, “Less is more, Sweetie!”)

Judy Christin, whom I first had the privilege to watch work when I was an apprentice in Santa Fe. She was rehearsing the role of _____ (now it escapes me), but it was a comic part with a lot of dialogue and dancing and singing, and to this day remains one of the funniest performances I’ve ever seen on a stage!! I was in the chorus, and we were constantly called to rehearsal, so we were ‘forced’ to stay on the sidelines while many of the principals rehearsed their scenes. It was such a gift to watch her work. Before we got onto the actual stage, we worked in a rehearsal space where things like steps and walls weren’t available to us, and I will never forget that each time Judy did her scene where she was to walk down a few steps in her long gown, she would hold up her rehearsal skirt and mime walking down the steps – every single solitary time she did that. Spot on. She never did it halfway. It was such a tiny thing, but she rehearsed every single element of her role in that manner, and as a result, when she stepped on for opening night, she had already accounted for any and all interference, and without fail she would steal the show from the actual “leads” each and every single night. I will never forget her example, and while I certainly don’t replicate it as well as she did (I’m usually too busy cracking jokes in rehearsal!), her lesson stays firmly with me.

Steve Smith, my trusted teacher. One of the first things he said to me in our lesson was “my goal is to get you OUT of my studio”. (If only all teachers thought in this way!) And the only way to do that was to have a solid technique that would serve you well under any condition. I continue to work on the fundamentals of technique all the time (like watching a basketball player practice his free throws, I practice my nee-nay-nah-noh-noo’s religiously.) But it really does give me a sense of freedom when I arrive on the stage.

So, all this having been said, and delicate stomachs aside, I thoroughly enjoyed having the privilege of singing Mozart’s music on opening night. I could be quite misled, but it certainly seems to me that Mozart had a special place in his heart for Sesto, as I don’t think he wrote a single extraneous note for him. And the second act aria, “Deh per questo” is a pure masterpiece. Period. We also have a fantastic cast assembled here, (Anna Caterina Antonacci is FIERCE singing her first Vitellia), and the production of Yannis Kokkos is beautiful to be a part of: simple, elegant, and enables the focus to stay on the singers and the intimate nature of this piece. It’s a joy.

(Photo: With the brilliant and genuinely beautiful Yannis Kokos)

Meanwhile, I have a PILE of music stacked up on my piano, with very little energy between shows to work as intensely as I need to on it, as our shows are every other day here. But, it’s all glorious: a stack of brilliant Spanish music for a recording that is 3 weeks away, Cendrillon – which I’m falling in love with each passing day, recital music for Kansas City, and that behemoth of roles clutching at my brain, Octavian. It’s just over a year away and I know that I’ll need every second I can get on it! (Not to mention preparing my one and only Fenena for quick concerts in 2 weeks!)

So my head is swimming with notes and languages, but I’m MORE than happy to say that at least it’s no longer my stomach!

Sunday, March 26, 2006

From Madness to Mozart

For those of you keeping track, I am now, officially, at the halfway point of my 4-month long excursion overseas! So far, my Martha Stewart-inspired packing job is serving me well, apart from a newly torn pair of jeans (thanks to a day of staging Dejanira’s mad scene), and I think I may just make it to the end! However, after having spent 2 (TWO!) months in various hotels, getting into an actual apartment here in Geneva felt like winning the lottery! Each time I start a new job, it usually means a new apartment, and there is always a sense of dread as to whether or not it will be clean, stocked, manageable, and perhaps, hopefully, as a bonus: comfortable. I would say I luck out about 60% of the time; the rest of the time I try to simply grin and bear it. However, this time I’ve lucked out – a piano, BBC, lots of light, and (best of all) REAL VIRGIN OLIVE OIL direct from the owner’s B&B in Tuscany! The very first thing I did was to rip open a loaf of crusty bread and tear into that green aromatic heaven!! Just what a tired body and soul needs to get recharged!

I’ve arrived here to begin my very first attempt at the role of Sesto in La Clemenza di Tito. Back in 1995 I first learned the aria “Parto, Parto” for my apprenticeship in Santa Fe. It was an incredibly difficult undertaking at the time, and I know that I was simply trying to stay afloat with it for quite a while. It’s been in my head for over 10 years, (as well as his second aria) and I have been ANXIOUSLY awaiting the chance to actually turn those tiny nuggets of music into a real flesh and blood character. Finally, I’m getting that chance, and it just feels incredible. Is there one single excessive note in this score?

I have been very relieved to see that the production could be truly stunning and incredibly moving, as the director has such a deep and loving approach to these characters and to telling the story simply, yet compellingly, always in accord with the music that Mozart gave us; and the conductor seems to be a superior musician eager to use the music to theatrical effect. (Yannis, the director, began as a set and costume designer, and found himself drawn more and more to opera; his approach to making contemporary audiences engage completely with these ‘old stories’, is to keep a modern look at them, but always in conjunction with the music – I think his approach is completely on the money.) It feels wonderful to walk into a staging and have my ideas of the character be very much on the same page as every other person in the room. It’s not always the case, and I find that it makes me feel much more free to risk and attempt a lot of different options for the character, which I think is essential to fleshing out the details of the dialogue and the character’s sub-text.

(Photo: rehearsing with Anna Caterina Antonacci as Vitelia)

It is a huge help when you’re putting a character on its feet for the first time to have the support of everyone in the rehearsal room; the image of a newborn calf or colt taking it’s first steps is the most perfect illustration for what I feel like in the first days of staging for a new role: I’m incredibly self-conscious of trying things out, of taking emotions too far – or not far enough, of missing lines, or of simply over singing in the excitement. It feels like you’re falling down, over and over! But I do think one of the lessons I’m learning about the rehearsal process (which I love), is that the sooner you can start to risk things, the sooner you’ll find something very real and multi-layered. I simply adore the challenge.

There is no doubt that Clemenza is a masterpiece, and that Sesto is one of the most tortured characters in opera. There is a big discussion as to whether he is weak or not, and I can’t wait to search for the answer. **I think the fact is that he may appear weak in certain situations in the opera, but I’m quite certain that if I approach him as weak, my characterization will fall apart completely. After the first week of rehearsal (and over 10 years of singing his arias), I don’t think he’s weak AT ALL: I think he’s blinded by passion, completely torn between loyalty to the friend and ruler that he loves, and the woman that he loves.** I can’t wait to find out what happens.

(Photo: the owners of the best pizza shop in Geneva, AND they stay open late -- a real rarity in this town!)

If you’ll forgive me, I would like to also say one final thing about Dejanira, and my Hercules experience. It was quite funny, in a way, to sing this role in London so quickly after my appearance there in January as Rosina, in a role and production about as COMPLETELY OPPOSITE as you could possibly find. For me, it wasn’t any kind of special feat to pull off two such different roles, as I love them both and tried to do my best with each of them, but to people who have only seen me in one capacity, i.e. the “perky Rosina”, I could tell there was a bit of confusion on their faces. I’m sorry if it’s confusing, but I have to tell you, it’s deliberate on my part, and I LOVE it. I think there is a very dangerous trend in Opera (as well as in showbusiness, for example), where people are entirely too quick to put people into a tiny little box, and say “this is what X does.” And then before we know it, it’s the gospel truth. I think it’s so wrong. I RELISH singing such varied roles and varied styles of music, and the more I do it, the more convinced I am that the modern pieces I’ve sung INFORM the Rossini that I do, which informs the Mozart I sing, which informs absolutely everything else I do. I feel it makes me a stronger musician, and feeds my artistic curiosity. I don’t know that I sing everything perfectly and totally in the ‘correct’ style, whatever that means, but I DO know it feeds my need to stretch and explore and pursue different experiences. (I just saw Capote last night with the extraordinary Phillip Seymour Hoffman. What a shattering, perfectly crafted portrayal from an actor who CAN absolutely inhabit such a wide variety of characters. What a model of an artist who risks, and categorically refuses to be put into a tiny, repressive box!)

When my management first took me on in 1998, one of the very first things Simon and I talked about was that Rossini would probably be my ticket into a number of theaters. But we were VERY aware of the fact that if we only pursued the Rossini roles, my career would be very limited and short lived. (And that’s not even taking into account my desire and love of performing varied roles and repertoire.) It was a very conscious career decision from the start, and one I’m thrilled to be living. One goal that I have, is that when people come to the theater and see a performance of mine, they will sit down in the seat, take out their opera glasses and say, “I wonder what this is going to be like.” I can absolutely guarantee you that some of the time I’ll hit the bull’s-eye, some of the time I’ll miss the mark by a mile, some of the time it will be to some people’s taste, and other times not – but I’ll always give it everything I have, and in the end, I’m sure every experience will inform my artistic growth. For the time being, I’m in this for the long haul, which means I want every outing on the stage to teach me something and enlighten my development as an artist.

That all sounds very grand and a bit put-on I’ll admit, but it really is how I feel. The bottom line is also that I LOVE inhabiting such a wide range of characters, situations and musical languages. Certainly Dejanira will long be remembered in my mind as a cornerstone of my career in so many ways, and I was very sad to close the show, to say goodbye to all the extraordinary musicians around me, to the beautiful music, and walk away. But here’s the beautiful thing: I’m walking into Mozart’s Clemenza – actually sounds like heaven to me!

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Madness in Brooklyn

Everyone should have the chance to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge one time in his or her life. Having stayed in Manhattan countless times, I’ve never viewed it from that perspective before, and it’s seems to be a completely different island when seen in near sub-zero temperature, wind blowing, with a crescent moon peaking over the skyline. It’s beautiful. Makes me believe all the more in the necessity of looking at things from different angles.

Happily, I’m getting the chance to take another look at a character that I simply love, as complicated as she may be. I had the incredible pleasure of performing Dajanira, the rather tortured wife of Hercules, in a masterpiece of the same name by Handel in Province and Paris just over a year ago. Putting the role away for that time and bringing it back out has taught me an enormous amount, and I find that I can dig even deeper into her journey. I think time may be one of the greatest interpretive tools we have at our disposal.

When I first opened the score to this piece, to say that I was a bit overwhelmed would be an understatement. Not only is it an enormous musical undertaking, but also more than that, it is a true challenge to make her a flesh and blood woman, skirting the risk of making her into a mere characture. Dajanira starts the opera in a state of depression, and essentially goes downhill from there. The beauty of having 6 weeks of rehearsal on a piece like this is that I really had the time to flesh out what is hopefully a genuine arc of emotional truth, so that when she ends up at the mad scene in the 3rd act, it’s true, and it is inevitable. I think the key is to keep finding the humanity in the music (which Handel delivers in spades every time), and believe in her journey every step of the way. The time between performances has given me even more chance to find her depth and to tell her story a bit more strongly with each performance.

This is what I hope, anyway! The other wonderful benefit of coming back to a production is reuniting with your colleagues! One of the most difficult adjustments I first had in this career was the experience leaving a close group of friends when the show came to an end. You see, in this business of intensive rehearsals, emotional performances, and exploration, you can form very close bonds with your colleagues; and yet at the end, you simply say goodbye and everyone goes back to their daily lives in the next city. At first I used to question whether these quick and concentrated friendships where actually genuine. Then, after a few years’ learning curve, I’ve learned that in fact they ARE real, they are genuine, but they are definitely unconventional. This cast came back together after a year’s break, and it’s as if no time has passed. For example, there is the brilliant and dashing bass baritone, Simon Kirkbride*, singing our Priest of Jupiter, who insists on calling me a ‘mezzo-buffo’; that aside, it’s still lovely to work with him again and a pure musical delight to hear his mad scene in the 4th act. (wink!)

Anyone who has had the chance to experience a Les Arts Florissants performance live will understand what I’m about to explain, but it truly is an incredible event to behold. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt an orchestra’s commitment to the drama as palpably as I do with this group. It feels as if every single player is living the drama with us onstage, and that makes all the difference in the world to those of us ‘living out’ the roles. The same must be said for the chorus, which inhabits a very difficult ‘role’ in this piece: each singer invests so much of themselves into their winding fugues and tricky harmonies making the chorus an absolutely vital and integral part of the drama.

Can you tell I’m a fan?

Honestly, this is one of those experiences where I can only pinch myself. It was always a dream of mine to be able to make music in one way or another in my life. And while in all honesty I never believed I would have a biography that reads as it does, to be given the chance to do a role such as this, by a composer I love more by the day, with a group and cast that make music with such commitment, excellence and integrity? It is one of the greatest privileges I can possibly imagine.

I’m not one to do too much self-promotion (although since you’re reading this on my website, that may seem a bit ironic), BUT that aside, I will say that if you are at all inclined to indulge in Handel the least bit, and if this piece is unknown to you, I HIGHLY recommend that you go out on a limb and either get to Brooklyn very quickly, (or to the Barbican next month) OR find our newly released DVD to watch at your leisure. I don’t know that all opera works well on video, as sometimes you miss the larger scope of the production, but I have to say that genuinely I think this one works masterfully, (perhaps even slightly better than on the stage?), because it is intensely subtle and intimate. To my thinking it is one of Handel’s least known and yet greatest masterpieces.

So there! It’s your chance to not only see Hercules from a different perspective, but definitely to see and hear Handel from a different angle. I say don’t miss it.

(Photos: Getting into makeup for the mad scene; Les Arts Florissants on their homey tour bus after the performance -- BRAVI!)

Thursday, January 19, 2006

An excursion to "Venice" via Wigmore Hall

If anyone has Martha Stewart’s private email address, could you please send it immediately? I desperately need her expert advice on how to pack into 2 suitcases (limit 25 kilos per each, thank you very much) a wardrobe and supplies for 4 months abroad, traveling from New York in the dead of winter, straight through to Barcelona in the almost full glory of summer, and including gowns for 3 different types of concerts, scores for 4 different operas, and a stack of copied music for a full recording as well as a separate recital. Martha? Anyone? I would also love to throw in just one or two of the novels I’ve been dying to get into. But, each one of those? That’s another half a kilo! Ouch. Help.

Well, I have 3 full days to address that problem when I get home, which gives me the time now to reflect on what has been a truly amazing period in London. I wrote last time of how much I adored working with “Mosh & Posh”, as they are affectionately referred to, and what a beautiful environment the Royal Opera house maintains, making it a true joy to sing there, so I won’t drivel on about it anymore. The one thing that came to my mind as I was finishing the run there is how valuable it is, I’m discovering, to sing a role over and over. If you had asked me how well I knew the role of Rosina after my Paris debut 4 years ago, I would have said “incredibly well. Inside and out.” And it would have been right to a certain degree. But there really is no substituting living in the shoes of a character over and over, and presenting it in vastly different approaches. (Especially when the shoes are such a fabulous fuchsia!) I find that now I have a much larger kaleidoscope of colors to choose from as Rosina, and those are colors that I have found simply by singing her in so many performances.

I sometimes am asked if I get bored singing this opera. The honest truth is that I do not, but that’s for several different reasons: first, I sing a wide variety of repertoire, so to return to Rosina feels like popping open a bottle of very fine champagne. Do you ever get tired of a great glass of bubbly? Perhaps only if you had it every night of the week, but because I can go sing Elisabetta in Maria Stuarda, and then maybe Sesto in Clemenza, there is a sense of joy to return to the impetuous Rosina. I am happy to say I still welcome it. The other reason is that I feel I grow with her through each performance. I find new things, try different phrasing, play against different casts (which can change my interpretation drastically, by the way!) and it feels wonderful to stand in front of an audience completely confident in this character. I truly think that is one of the most valuable lessons we ‘younger’ singers can take from the ‘golden age’ ones: to value the importance of role repetition. Call me a convert.

The other momentous event for me in London was my Wigmore Hall recital on Monday. It was my 3rd time singing on that breathtaking stage. The first time was as part of the Inaugural Song Competition back in 1997. (Not to repeat the same story over and over, but this was the competition where the head judge told me, rather matter-of-factly, that (and I’m quoting here)

“We just felt you had nothing to offer as an artist.”

Yes. That one hurt. But it taught me a lot, as I’ve said before, and I will certainly never forget it – it fuels me to always be certain I HAVE something to say, and that I LET myself offer it freely. But, I’m digressing.

The second time was for an evening recital just over 2 years ago. I was a complete unknown here in London then, and the fact that they sold any tickets at all was a bit of a miracle. However, it ended up being one of those truly memorable evenings on the stage, and the sense of returning to that incredible venue feeling a bit vindicated from the now infamous comment, well I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel damn good!

And so this past Monday I found myself in that same, familiar groove of that gorgeous Steinway, under the hallowed blue and gold dome, and this time, it was a complete sell-out. Finally I was able to bring out a program I had been formulating in my head for some time, and it felt simply marvelous to finally ‘give birth’ to it. It was an all-Venetian program, and it very nearly made me feel that amazing, hazy light of Venice on my face as if I were standing on a bridge overlooking the Grand Canal! The beautiful thing, again, thanks to technology, as that my parents woke up early, and while in their pajamas sipping their morning coffee, were able to tune into the live internet broadcast, and I was able to sing for them directly from the Wigmore Dome to the Flaherty kitchen table. How incredible!

I was reminded again in a very passionate way of how much I love to sing a recital. It’s such a challenge to stand there completely alone and deliver a song simply as yourself – no costumes, no scenery, no colleagues to play off of, and no time to recover. There is nothing to rely on but yourself and the music. How glorious! And how very SCARY! In the first of the Reynaldo Hahn songs I sang (which are all strophic) I’m not at all sure that I sang any of the right words, but I kept going and still tried to deliver the ‘feeling’ of the piece as best I could. But when that happens, the panic that sets in as a performer is INDESCRIBABLE! It feels as if one second of time becomes an HOUR, and that you’ll never find your way out of the dark tunnel. But we have to continue to perform as if everything is exactly as it should be – and then we have to pick up and go on to the next song! It really is the most vulnerable feeling. But I managed to get back on track and to genuinely enjoy every Venetian moment of it.

One special note: I will never forget during the first encore (Cara Speme), seeing numerous people wiping tears from their eyes. I only caught it peripherally, but it was unmistakable, and I wish I could describe the feeling of what it is like as a singer to FEEL that you are touching the audience. I wrote a few, journals ago, about the ‘dialogue’ between the stage and the public that I rely upon so much as a singer – I need the feedback of the audience to let me know that I’m reaching you. And in this case, it moved me to tears and I thank everyone there for being so involved in the journey with me. I will never forget it.

So now I have to do the hard part, which is say goodbye to a period that has been very special and remarkable for me; goodbye to a fabulous city, to great friends, a wonderful public, and to wonderful memories. I have to pack all of those up as well and stow them safely away. Happily they don’t take up much room, or add too many kilos, but I’d never travel without each of them.

(Photos: The breathtaking "Wigmore Dome", which envelopes and caresses the sound from the Wigmore Stage giving it the most sublime acoustic; the equally famous Savoy Hotel, where a cold bottle of Champagne was popped at the end of the recital in celebration!)