Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

I wanted to wish each and every one of you the most wonderful Christmas greeting (or Hanukkah, or Kwanza, or just 25 of December, if the shoe fits!) I hope this finds you all surrounded by people you love and celebrating the best of life.

I also have a present for you: I have made a contribution in your honor to an organization called "Heifer". (Easy with the "fat lady" jokes, please!)

Heifer's Mission to End Hunger
Heifer envisions
A world of communities living together in peace and equitably sharing the resources of a healthy planet.

Heifer’s mission is…
To work with communities to end hunger and poverty and to care for the earth.

Heifer's strategy is…
To “pass on the gift.” As people share their animals’ offspring with others – along with their knowledge, resources, and skills – an expanding network of hope, dignity, and self-reliance is created that reaches around the globe.

Heifer’s History
This simple idea of giving families a source of food rather than short-term relief caught on and has continued for over 60 years. Today, millions of families in 128 countries have been given the gifts of self-reliance and hope.

Your gift is the DREAM BASKET:

Heifer's Dream Basket is filled with shares of a sheep, heifer, goat, rabbits, and a flock of ducks and chicks. These animals give families milk for nutrition and a source of income. And with additional income there is money for school supplies, medicine and doctor expenses, and improved quality of living. The Heifer Dream Basket offers the hope a family needs for a sustainable future.

If you like it, and you can, please pass it on!

Merry Christmas!

(photo c/o

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Hasta luego! (Tour: Day 19)

As is only fitting, to conclude this nearly three-week sojourn, I end it as I began: sitting in an airport with an 8-hour delay! Of course, this time the difference is that I'm functioning on 2 hours of "sleep", having had to get up at 5:30 this morning to take the car to Madrid in order to promptly and patiently wait for the enormous travel delay I saw coming 3 days ago from all the US weather forecasts of winter "wonderlands". But I can't help but be struck by the difference in myself - not only the sleep deprivation, but the stark difference between eager anticipation and exhausted satisfaction.

Leaving Kansas City three weeks ago, I hadn't sung the program with the orchestra since April, and a lot of musical water had passed under my bridge (Monteverdi, Romeo, Idamante, Vivaldi, Elvira, Chausson, Beatrice...) - how would I feel coming back to this enormously demanding Handel project? The tour was off to a jet-lagged start, with that crucial 24-hour delay throwing me for a curve, but we blasted off and found our footing very quickly. Enormously important venues - some "home towns", some new ground - greeted us warmly and generously, and I have very treasured memories of each stop on this 7-city tour. A blasted bug gripped me for the last 2 shows, but with the wonderful help of the organizers, I weathered the viral storm, and left the amazing hall of Zaragoza knowing I had given my all.

So how does "The Fury" feel after 7 intensive concerts? Draining, to be sure. But I relished having my hypothesis of Handel's ability to probe the psychology of characters proven so correct. I found myself discovering new things in each and every piece throughout the tour - sometimes Medea reveled in her nastiness just for the sake of feeding her loss of power, sometimes she betrayed herself to be much more a victim; Ariodante more cruel one night in his scorn for Ginevra, the next more destitute in his confusion and loss; Dejanira, well, always mad!

It also reminded me that even in the course of the very exact program, singing the same notes, uttering the same words, delivering the same essential character - there is no accounting for the magic that can unpredictably take over and carry you (or the orchestra) through a musical kaleidescope into a different realm, and this is something you simply cannot script or plan for. Each piece took on a different life of it's own, causing different reactions in different people - and this is the ethereal thing I ADORE about what I do - the moments you cannot control, the emotions you must simply let fly and land as they will. It is alive!

Now, all that having been said, I'm thrilled last night was the last concert! I'm glad I have 3 weeks ahead of me to recoup, study and hibernate a bit (so you won't see me here quite as much, I'm afraid - it's DOWN TIME!) That's part of the essential pacing of something like this - building recovery time (mental as well as physical) into your schedule and taking full advantage of it. When I step back into the fray in January, I hit the ground sprinting, so I plan to take full advantage of each day.

But before signing off, a few souvenirs from the tour, and a very heartfelt thank you to everyone who came out in the bad weather to attend the concerts, who saved money to purchase tickets, who took a risk and bought DISCS (!), who waited so patiently in line to say hello, and who supported with your applause, your words and your enthusiasm. It was a pleasure to sing for you all!

From "Delphi" who apparently had a seat behind the stage in Salle Pleyel - a different vantage point I never see:

Also from "Delphi" who apparently moved around to the front for the second part:

Taken by my dear friend, Michael B after the Paris concert, as my other dear friend, Bill M, finally realized his dream of re-enacting his favorite scene from the movie, "Diva": strolling with a diva through the rainy streets of Paris in the wee hours of the morning, holding her umbrella, standing just a pace behind her. Apparently this is my diva-look:

After the final concert, we let down a bit. I'm holding the ties of two of the FABULOUS wind players - the ties which the entire section bought for €3 to color coordinate with my red "furious" corset, and who also stood up on stage to toss me 4 red carnations after the final bow last night, which was the sweetest thing in the world:

And finally, the entire group, Maestro Rousset, included. It was a real pleasure to make music with you all! Until we meet again in Kansas City, and New York, Hasta luego, amigos!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Highs and Lows (Tour: Days 16 & 17)

My husband took in his first circus while in NY last night - the Big Apple Circus, I think it's called? And as I caught up with him at the end of the concert in Biboa, I wrote, "Did you see one of those high-wire acts tonight? That was me!!!! I was on the tight rope!" Singing when ill is like walking on a thread-bare-wisp-of-a-wire high above a crowded room of people waiting to be entertained. As some of you may know, I'm a "tripper" with bad balance, so needless to say, it's a feeling I don't like.

Waking up the morning of a concert, knowing you are fighting some sort of bug or another, without a clue as to whether you'll be able to phonate or not is an experience I categorically prefer not to have! The high-wire act begins as you test out your voice - carefully, but with enough "hutzpah" to see if it's really there. When it doesn't respond, you don't have the option of throwing it down on the floor and stamping on it, as I could envision myself doing if I was a violinist. (Harder to do with that cello, but still possible. Ah, must be the reason I'm not a professional instrumentalist - too high an insurance premium for me!) But you also realize there is absolutely nothing you can possibly do, if the voice won't respond. So I find that this thinking keeps my stress levels relatively low. "I'll do all I can to make it through the concert, but if I can't, I simply can't," I think, and then I find I can go about my business.

My business included visiting a wonderful doctor (Graçias, Dottoressa Susanna!), loading up on liquids, vitamins, resting, and coordinating with the Maestro the alternative game plans. They were wonderful, preparing other selections, should I have needed to pull out an aria or two -and all were ready for anything to happen. The gorgeous presenters were the first ones to say, "No worries - you are not a machine, what is most important is your health", which worked wonders on my stress levels as well.

**A little note to any budding impresarios out there - this method of support will go MILES and MILES to win over the loyalty of your artists!!!

So after a methodical warm-up, the cords were responding MUCH better than they did in the morning, and I gained a bit of hope. There were many factors on my mind - this is not "Cenerentola", which is a role I have sung numerous times and I can pace my way through that very cautiously as I did in Barcelona a year ago while quite sick. There is not a single place to hide in a concert like this, and so I knew I would have to go for it, or cancel. I did not want to miss the chance to sing in Bilbao, and knowing that the program was well in my body and that I had the support of the orchestra to help me along, I decided to just go for it. Surprisingly, the voice felt stronger as I went along (again, I declare adrenalin to be the most amazing wonder drug on the planet!!!) and while it was perhaps not my greatest concert ever, I gave everything I had. I will also say that the AMAZING hall helped tremendously, making me feel secure that the voice was going, even if it felt weak.

There are SO many elements that make up a concert experience for a performer (the colleagues, the administration/presenters, the hall, the audience, the day, the food, the bed - a million factors, really) but when sick, these factors are amplified exponentially. The fact that I sang in Bilbao is a testament to everyone who helped make it happen! MUCHAS GRAÇIAS!!!

One more concert to go, here in Zaragoza ("Home of the Jota"!!) and then I get a few weeks free from performing, so I suppose the bug was nearly perfect in its timing, if it HAD to invade.

(Sadly, my mind was on other things and I missed the enormous opportunity to photograph the hall - not to mention missing the Guggenheim, but the weather was so bad and rainy, I probably wouldn't have had any luck if I had been able to get out of bed!!!) But I have a few gems of some of the musicians from Les Talens Lyriques from Valladolid. ENJOY:


At the keyboard



Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Going viral (Tour: Day 14 & 15)

A million "Graçias's" to the wonderful, wonderful public in Valladolid - and an apology: as it was kindly pointed out to me, it was NOT my debut in that beautiful city as I announced from the stage, instead, it was the city of my one-off concert of "Giulio Cesare" a number of years ago with Mark Minkowski! How could I forget that? (Well, I suppose I forgot because it was a very last minute replacement, and I think it was too hectic to think too much on the name of the city!) But I can say with all honesty, it was wonderful to be back!

It was a small, but mighty crowd, and I was so happy to be a part of a concert series that is in the process of building up - from the enthusiasm in the hall, I think you are all off to a wonderful start! Starting a concert series must be an arduous task, and one that involves much risk, so my hat is off to the people with vision and fortitude to make it happen! I hope to be back often!

That's the good news.

The very bad news is that I woke up the next morning chilly, achy and NOT feeling well. I am going to assume this is the same bug that I was fighting off at the start of this tour, but one which I thought I had kicked to the door. Well, it came back, the damn thing! Happily, I'm in great hands here in Bilbao - the wonderful theater supplied a doctor, and I was accompanied to get the prognosis that, indeed, this is some sort of viral thing. No matter how much you rest, or try preventative measures, sometimes it just gets the better of you.

What to do tonight? I will try and sing ... I would hate to lose the chance to sing in this wonderful hall for the first time (I'm certain I've never stepped foot in Bilbao before!), and want to try everything I can to sing. But it will undoubtedly be unpredictable. Sometimes I wish my voice was a cello - outside of myself that wasn't easily put off-form by a little bug, but this is not the case. I'm drowning in hot tea, medication, and lots of crossing of my fingers - now all that is left is to do my best!

(And yes, if I could play any other instrument (other than piano, which I would have a hard time giving up!) it would be the cello. Then Yo Yo Ma and I could play duets together.....!)

Monday, December 15, 2008

The snow in Spain....? (Tour: Days 12 & 13)


It's not a bad sight to wake up to: beautiful, fat snowflakes covering the Spanish countryside in a blanket of white. I'll take it.

I have been quite busy with travel and concerts, etc - so not a lot of time to write (preparations for my Valladolid debut imminent!), but I must say that I was truly overwhelmed in London on Saturday night. Another wonderful crowd, with the warmest of receptions, so many of you waiting so long to say hello afterwards - thank you all.

A few tiny things to share with you, as well. If you're interested in reading a little essay I wrote for The Guardian newspaper in London, you can read it here. They asked me to write about madness in opera, which I played around with a bit, trying to highlight some of the ideas behind my recording and concerts. I enjoy writing, so it was a nice project to take part in.

In more urgent news, if you live in the States, you can flip on your local PBS station TONIGHT (!) to watch the 2007 Richard Tucker Gala Broadcast. (Check for your local listings HERE.) Looks like most times are roughly 8:30 pm for the 90 minute special. It was quite a beautiful concert to take part in, but if you'll remember, it was quite a rush for me, having just flown in from Geneva overnight to sing at the last minute to sing with no rehearsal. An added element of nerves for me, is that they asked me to HOST the broadcast, so I flew to NY while in Kansas City this fall, taped the speaking parts, and had a blast introducing all the singers, as well as sharing some of the backstage chaos. The Gala, once an annual staple on TV has sadly been off the air for the past 6 years, so I'm very happy to have it back!

Thank you so much for all the hints about my favorite dish EVER - I will see if I can give it a shot for Christmas dinner!


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Emulsion de Camembert (Tour: Day 11)

Let me be clear - I'm not an expert on french wine and fine dining. I appreciate it, without reservation, but I couldn't tell you that a dish was successful "because of the perfect hint of cumin added to complete the delicate ph balance...", or whatever...I just know something explosively divine when I taste it. Such a delight occurred last night in the most airy, delicate way.

I was honored to be invited to the French Ambassador to London's beautiful home, along with the orchestra, Les Talens Lyriques, in a beautiful evening of chamber music in his perfectly sized salon (giving me the feeling of having travelled on a lovely time machine to late 17th Century France).

"Sound check at the French Ambassador's"...

The guests were afficionados and great supporters of the orchestra and the arts in general - not bad company to start with. An intimate concert was a welcome "intermission" during this crazy tour, and I relished the chance to sing and listen to intimate, peaceful music.,
And then we were invited to dinner:

Dinner is served...

I don't quite know how to describe the beautiful 4-course serving of heaven - it truly was something indescribable.

I will simply list the 3rd course as it was described on the menu:

Emulsion de Camembert, chouchous de noix et quelques cubes de réglisse

If ANYONE can send me a recipe for this, I will bow down in eternal gratitude.

It was the lightest, airiest concoction, which gave the full blast of the Camembert flavor, but then simply DISAPPEARED in your mouth into the ether. Truly, it was a remarkable thing. (Followed by a VERY close second with the dessert that consisted of:

Une mousse de vanille et caviar de violette dans un consommé à la clémentine

I didn't care about etiquette as I turned to my right and addressed His Excellency, the Ambassador, "This is RIDICULOUS!!!" Because it was. One should never eat again after a meal like that.

But as if the beautiful music and exquisite fare were not enough, I was able to hear from the Ambassador's mouth how uplifting and galvanizing the US Election was for France, and indeed, for the world. We talked politics and the world outlook, and I again pinched myself that I should be so fortunate to engage in such an encounter. He was utterly charming and to speak with such a distinguished politician not only about world affairs, but also about breath support and Bach - well, it instills a great deal of hope in me!

Oh, I can't resist - here is the rest of the menu - and again, any recipes are WELCOME!!!

1st course: Terrine de foie gras de canard, pâte tendre de pomme verte et huile d'argan en poudre
*perfectly accompanied by Château Guiraud 2004

2nd course: Poitrine de chapon rôtie et fondant de châtaignes, compotée de topinambour au parfum de noisette
*served with Château Pontet Canet 2001

The miracle chef: Gilles Quillot

I should be more than fortified to sing at the Barbican this evening!!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Have you ever had a REALLY GREAT hour? (Tour: Day 10)

The pain au chocolat and fresh eggs (yes, in that order!) for breakfast this morning more than made up for the "hamburger" last night. Wow, do the French know how to do breakfast! Another farewell to yet another hotel room, and it was off to catch the Eurostar and check another city off my whirlwind tour. Smooth ON TIME travel brought me into St. Pancras station with 30 minutes to meet my next hotel and be whisked off to a live on-air interview with Sean Rafferty on his BBC live program, "In Tune".

I've done his program a few times before, and I marvel at his ease with facts and names and witty retorts - he really is a genius at not only the intricacies of many genres of music, but at the art of the interview, which is not an easy thing to finesse!

I arrived at the BBC lobby, and noticed a woman sitting across the way with a cello case, and I thought, "Hmm. She must be a guest on the show as well," as they prefer to have live performances when possible. (Usually I partake as well, but sadly not this time, having just arrived on the train!) Well, I was partly right. The cello was for a performance on the program - but it didn't belong to her.

It belonged to Yo Yo Ma.

As in YO YO MA!!!

I won't lie: my knees went a little weak. And my voice might have risen an octave or so in excitement.

Just hanging out with Yo Yo Ma ...

I hardly know what to say, explaining what it is like to sit in a room with such a masterful, generous musician and human being, and witness their music making. He was consumed with joy, and I marveled at his every phrase as he made that little cello SING so gloriously.

I'm still pinching myself that I met him, spoke with him, listened to him ... he personifies every thing I believe music making should be about. And witnessing it first hand was a true gift to me.

If you'd like to listen to the interview, it's available for the next week, only, on the BBC "In Tune" website.

I can say without a doubt, it was one of the coolest hours I've ever spent in my life!

Me and yeah -- that's totally Yo Yo Ma...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Snow and really bad, expensive burgers (Tour: Days 8 &9)

It snowed in Paris!

I took it as a good omen: waking up to snow flurries in Paris isn't something that happens every day of the week, for their winters tend more towards grey skies (which generally aren't gonna clear up), and drizzle. Much as I love Paris, I never have warmed to their winters - for if it's going to precipitate in the unending winter months, I would prefer the white stuff, thank you very much! Call me midwestern!

But there it was: SNOW! It was beautiful, and put me in a great frame of mind to arrive at the Salle Pleyel concert hall for the first time, ready to make the very most of it.


The warm up had a great feel to it, as immediately the orchestra felt at ease in the beautiful accoustic, as did I - I was worried that perhaps I had been terribly spoiled in Amsterdam, but this newly refurbished concert hall cooperated beautifully in relaxing us, knowing that the full palette of dynamics would be ours for the taking.

Now, I'm experienced, and I should know better - but sure enough, in the hallway as the orchestra was tuning up, I say to Christophe, "You know, it's kind of stupid of me to start the concert directly with such an exposed aria, much as I love it!" And we had a little laugh. Well, what did I do? Open my mouth and bobble the very first note like an idiot! But it passed quite quickly, and maybe those friendly acoustics helped mask the "hiccup" a bit (surely not for the live radio, however!), but I was once again reminded about being careful about what you put your attention on!!!! I laughed internally, grabbed my concentration as quickly as I could, and hopefully by the second phrase no one was dwelling on the first!

The concert proceeded really well - immediately I felt the immense warmth of the public (merçi BEAUCOUP, Pareeee!), and both the orchestra and I continue to grow into the program, which feels wonderful. Again, the public here in Paris makes me feel unbelievably fortunate, for there were so many kind words, (and gifts - thank you so much!) and overwhelming good will.

This was very much on my mind today as I did one of four (!) interviews - as the question was posed" "Do you worry about the future of opera?" And I didn't hesitate in my answer. I do not. I know times are hard. I know fear permeates nearly every decision most people are making in these days. I know everyone is on pins and needles waiting for answers to these huge questions floating around the globe - but I think about the energy and the feelings that I have felt on this short tour so far, and I've seen and witnessed first hand the appetite for beauty, for art, for feeling, and for connection. These are things that I think have drawn people for CENTURIES to this art form (and others as well), and will CONTINUE to attract us all in generations to come. I think of the atrocities of humanity that "music" has vanquished, and I just can't imagine that our global "hiccup" will do us in! After all, we have history on our side...

I suppose this doesn't mean there won't be very trying growing pains, adjustments, closings or disasters. There may be. But I do know that we are an imaginative, resourceful and determined people who believe in the power and need for art - so I'm positive we will find our way.

And to put my money where my mouth is, I went out and about for a few hours today on a date with the Eiffel Tower, which, to my surprise, is BLUE! In honor of Sarkozy serving as President of the European Union they have turned the most recognizable structure into a celebration of this appointment:

Eiffel Tower 1

I personally LOVE it and had a ball shooting picture after picture. (As always, you can see more shots on my FLICKR photo page) and after my fingers became frozen from shooting, I hurried home to warm up, called room service and ordered the most expensive, but by far, THE WORST hamburger I have ever had. (I'm sure it tasted worse knowing how much I was paying for it!). I know Paris knows food: fois gras, salmon, haricots verts? All sublime. But come on, mes amis - learn to grill a burger!!! (Or at the very least, cut the price by 80%!)

Eiffel Tower 7

Congratulations to the Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Martti Ahtisaari, who also offers words of comfort with the following quote: "Every conflict can be solved." That is most reassuring.

Next up: London!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Things that rock (Tour: Day 7)

The high speed Thalys train from Amsterdam to Paris - THAT HAS WIFI.

Not only was the trip quiet, peaceful and uneventful (aside from arriving 30 minutes late - but this is now, officially the theme of the tour, so I welcome it!), but everything about the trip was pleasant and relaxed. Ah - to travel by train!

I arrived in Paris in time to partake in 2 interviews, take in the new colors on the Eiffel Tower (fabulous - hopefully pictures to follow) and settle in for a quiet, recuperative evening in a lovely, oh-so-French hotel.

Next up: Salle Pleyel!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Concertgebouw (Tour: Days 5 & 6)

The Concertgebouw!

Nearly 7 years ago to the day, more or less, I sat in this very concert hall, entering its fabled doors for the very first time to take my seat way up in the balcony (the cheapest seats available), and was swept away by the grandness that is Jessye Norman. She flitted and floated and glided down the long carpeted stairs that lead to the center stage (does any concert hall in the world have as grand an entrance?), with her layers of chiffon wafting about her, and proceeded to fill the gorgeous, sublime, serene concert hall with her overwhelming tones and personality. It is a night I will never forget.

It was just over 2 months after the attacks of September 11, 2001. I was knee deep into the role of Sesto for the first time, finding unanticipated and much-needed solace in Handel's tortured youth, and learning volumes about myself as a person. It wasn't one of the easiest periods I've ever passed through, but happily I endured, grew immensely, and started a love affair with this composer. How fitting that my second time through these pristine doors should be in a recital dedicated to his works. (I did perform a recital a few years ago in the "Kleine Zaal", the intimate recital hall next door, which I treasured as an experience, but this is a different animal!)

I'm happy to say that after a rough day yesterday of fighting off a serious throat ailment, I enjoyed the recital tonight tremendously. I have a feeling that I've been fighting this bug off all week - compounded by, or set-off by the terrible travel problems. But my course of homeopathy and REST seems to have done the trick, and tonight's recital found me feeling much better - I find that the breath is the first thing to go when you're under the weather, and tonight I felt it was back, which naturally is a wonderful thing!

The audience overwhelmed me with their generosity, staying with me through the escalating program in rapt attention, and it meant so much to me. This is a program that grows slowly throughout the evening, asking a lot of the public (at least this is my impression - the public may certainly differ!) and an audience's concentration means so much to me - it allows me, or perhaps it invites me, to dig deeper and keep going. That was in abundance tonight, and I give a big "dank u well" to the wonderful Dutch crowd (and Swiss, and Italian...!) I can safely say that this, too, is a night I will not soon forget.

Surrounded by the sublime

The orchestra really shone tonight, as well, and having the chance for this program to grow over the course of 9 concerts (in 5 countries!) is a gift!

Knowing that this throat "bug" is most likely a strong one, I'm going to grab my rest while I can! Travel day tomorrow to Gay Pareeee, a few interviews, hopefully a nice meal, and then I get to visit Salle Pleyel for the first time - this is fun!

P.S. One reason I'm excited about our President Elect - this quote from a talk show today:

"Thinking about the diversity of our culture and inviting jazz musicians and classical musicians and poetry readings in the White House so that once again we appreciate this incredible tapestry that's America. Historically, what has always brought us through hard times is that national character, that sense of optimism, that willingness to look forward, that sense that better days are ahead. I think that our art and our culture, our science--you know, that's the essence of what makes America special, and we want to project that as much as possible in the White House."

Wow, that feels good!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Room service (Tour: Day 4)

I woke up this morning at 8:00 a.m. to my piercing alarm with that sensation that I had never actually fallen asleep, and that surely I must have set the alarm incorrectly: it simply COULDN'T be morning already, could it? Through the groggy, foggy mist of denial, I double and triple checked my phone and to my dismay, found that it was, in fact, correct. Then I lethargically cycled through 4 rounds of my snooze button, which of course meant my luggage didn't get packed tidily at ALL, but I just didn't care! Sleep was the only thing on my mind.

Dashed out of the hotel, flew to the airport, paid for overweight luggage (what's a diva to do?), and sprinted to the gate ... to wait, promptly, for 2 hours for the delayed aircraft to take its salivating passengers to their destination. But I made it! Amsterdam: it's great to be back!!

I forgot how much I adore this city. It boasts such a unique flavor and brings back a lot of memories for me - some good, some difficult, but now, in the enlightened light of hindsight, all treasured. It was here that I first met Sesto (Handel's young lad, not Mozart's), and officially started my love affair with all-things Handelian. How right it feels for this to be the next stop in my tour.

Due to my late arrival, there really wasn't time to tackle anything too productive, plus the drippy, grey, chilly air outside doesn't invite. So it's catching up with my flu-ridden husband on Skype, reviewing the concert tape from Madrid, and a welcome date with room service: piping hot cheese soup and a perfect little salad. Perfection.

A tiny side note to my Amigos in Spain - if you have a chance to take in the Katya Kabanova at the Teatro Real, DO IT. It's a truly stunning, special, and devastating production by Robert Carson. A real lesson in the power of simplicity - which to my thinking allowed the immense emotion and torrential music to rise to the top.

Hoping to get my camera out the meantime, room service has arrived! Dank u well!

(Photo taken in 2003 - before I got my "fancy" camera!)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Olè! (Tour: Day 3)

Last night we officially opened the "Furore Tour" in Madrid, and I had a wonderful time. There is something quite wonderful about revisiting a project (or role) that you invested a tremendous amount of time and energy in, put away for a spell, and brought back out. Somehow it's like putting on a familiar, somewhat worn in pair of gloves. Meeting back with the orchestra members, seeing the music with fresh eyes, and having the opportunity to share it with a warm public are all parts of the excitement and pleasure of a concert tour like this.

As I've noted here, I didn't have the most opportune start to my tour. But the show does go on, and frankly, I was thrilled to get through the program as I did, knowing it could have been a lot more difficult! Did I feel 100%? Well, no. But seldom does a singer have a night where every thing works in perfect harmony. But I did give it my all, and enjoyed the interaction with the orchestra and the warm, Madrid public tremendously.

So many people waited to meet me afterwards, to sign their CD's and share some very generous sentiments - and I hope they all know how much that means. I think sometimes people take it for granted that we singers get tired of hearing compliments or receiving gracious "thank you's". (Do YOU get tired of hearing compliments?!?! I didn't think so!) But while I can only speak for myself, I venture to say this couldn't be further from the truth for most performers, especially on a night where we might feel a bit below par, say, for example, from horrible jet lag!! But I never underestimate the fact that someone has saved a lot of money to attend a concert or purchase a disc, or has waited in a cold (!) hallway for 30-45 minutes just to say hello. That's precisely why I do what I do.

Tonight I get to take in Katia Kabanova here in Madrid, and then it's on to Amsterdam. My debut in the Concertgebouw. (MY DEBUT IN THE CONCERTGEBOUW!!! I love being able to say that!!!)

(PS: I'm sorry I don't have a photo to post here, but yesterday was a bit crazy and my focus was 100% on the concert. But now that we're up and running, I'll probably be a bit more inclined to snap a few photos along the way...)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

SNAP! (Tour: Day 2)

You simply could not script these kinds of things.

So after an impromptu stop in New York City without my luggage, (with beautiful weather, thank you very much!) I climbed back onto Continental Airlines, and everything looked to be in great shape - that great weather, flights on-time, no frantic passengers or workers! I was home free.

The passengers get settled, the door is closed, we are ready for take-off .... wait a minute. The pilot is speaking. "What is he saying?" "No. Seriously. What is he talking about???"

"Ladies and Gentlemen, we are all ready to go here on flight 144 to Madrid, but there is just one little hitch that we have to take care of before we can pull away from the gate: the baggage handlers down below in the cargo area have seen a Snapping Turtle which must have escaped during the previous flight on this aircraft, which came in from Florida. They've got to try and catch him before we take off here, and apparently he's proving to be a stubborn little thing. We've called animal control."

An hour later, they apparently got him to safety, and we were on our way.


I walked off the plane today at 12:00, sat for over an hour in Madrid lunchtime traffic, freshened up in 20 minutes and was off to an interview and a full day of rehearsals. I'm exhausted, but the games have officially begun!


A snapping turtle on the loose.


Monday, December 1, 2008

Finding the Fury (Tour: Day 1)

Admittedly, I've missed the Thanksgiving Feast in the United States the past few years. Even so, I should have known better. Really - I DID know better: you never, EVER travel on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Ever. It's the busiest travel day in the universe. Everyone knows this. I knew this. I'm a good American. I grew up in the Midwest. I knew better.

And yet, somehow, in booking my ticket to Madrid to start the FURORE tour, Sunday the 30th seemed an innocuous date to me. Harmless. Perfect timing, really - I get an extra day at home with my husband and family. One more day of sleeping in my very own, actual bed! Another chance for a homecooked meal, cooked in my own home! I'll arrive in Madrid a full day early to catch my breath, set up shop and get ready to roll! Book it!

I was meant to fly out at 1:30 p.m. from Kansas City, arriving in Newark, NJ at 5:25 p.m. PLENTY of time to catch my 8:30 p.m. flight to Madrid. Olè! 11:00 a.m. I get a trip alert on my computer: flight delayed. We'd leave about an hour late, still leaving PLENTY of time to catch that 8:30 p.m. plane to Madrid. Olè. A half hour later ... they've moved it again back another hour ... etc. And so the games began.

I arrived like a good passenger, checking in on-time. No one had good news or answers, for the weather was not cooperating on the East Coast. (Did Mother Nature not get the memo that I needed to fly to Madrid to sing all my Handel???) The wait began, and it was not pretty. While I think Kansas City International Aiport is the best airport in the world for taking off and landing (you have to walk a total of about 30 feet for baggage claim and/or gates - it's a brilliant design!), it is, and I say this as a proud Kansas Citian, the WORST airport to twiddle your thumbs in. No shopping, no dining options, and no foot traffic, so even the great past time of people watching is kept to a minimum. Having lost my appetite early on, after 4 hours of waiting, I broke down and forced a stale bagel into my empty stomach. The Thanksgiving banquet of roasted turkey, mashed potatoes and apple pie seemed like eons past.

More delays, false starts and unanswered questions, we finally got on board and off the run-way at 8:30 p.m. Arrival in Newark was 12:15 a.m. Yes, 7 hours late. And yes, way past the takeoff of my Madrid flight. I was told I needed to go to Customer Service to obtain vouchers, etc, and taking one look at the line, which surely would have run over 2 hours in wait time, I abandoned everything, hopped in a cab and high-tailed it to the Upper West Side to meet my husband, who had departed KC 3 hours after me and arrived safely in NY 3 hours earlier. (Different airline/airport for him, lucky guy!) So that was the silver lining - a chance meeting in NYC with my husband, who I had said goodbye to 12 hours earlier!

What this means is that I start this crazy tour a whole day off, which may not sound like much, but it's everything for a singer - it means one less day to adjust to the jet lag, a missed press luncheon (organized with blood, sweat and tears by the magnificent Teatro Real staff!), a bit of extra stress which never helps, and I have to march off the plane and walk right into 6 hours of rehearsal, no chance to rest up and gather my forces - which would have happened had I actually had the precious, glorious, coveted 24 hours I was meant to have.

BUT there is no sense in crying over spilt milk, as we say! I will choose to see all the positives - it will surely give me an extra boost of adrenalin, and it will put me in the mood of heightened emotion and yes, with an extra dash of FURY thrown in for good measure!!!

My only worry is that I am still recovering from a stubborn cold that I picked up at the end of my time in Houston, and I know it would be better to have a full day's rest going into this exciting tour. But again, I'm loading up on my vitamins, eating bowls of steaming soup, and truth be told, I don't mind facing a big challenge every now and then. I'm thrilled to be getting back full-steam into this music, revisiting these characters that I found such a passion for, and bringing it to some of my very favorite cities in the world.

I'll do my best to chronicle my tour here - with hopes that at least the travel end of things will shape up a bit better, but most importantly that we'll present concerts that touch people, perhaps make them think or feel, and at the very least, give them the opportunity to revel in all those little black notes Handel scribbled down nearly 250 years ago. (You see, that NEVER ceases to astonish me: those notes have been "dead" on the paper ever since he blotted them out by candlelight, and yet each time a singer exhales through them, they come to life again for all those who listen! I LOVE being connected in that way - not only to Handel himself, but to all the singers who have sung these challenging phrases over the years - and certainly with all those that will continue to sing them!)

Seems as though my flight is actually ready to board - if it gets off the ground, then I'm officially on my way! See you on the road!

Thursday, November 27, 2008


I know it is not a Holiday shared around the world, but today is "Thanksgiving" in the US, and while on the surface it seems an opportunity to eat grotesque amounts of delicious, delectable, perhaps debilitating food - it does carry a much deeper meaning, once you've waded through all those buckets of gravy. I like the idea of having a day where you surround yourself with family, friends, or ideally both, break down the walls, and let your gratitude shine without reservation.

I've missed out on the past few Thanksgivings here as my dance card took me to Europe, which means now that I'm back Stateside and actually IN my hometown, I can once again break bread (and corn and turkey and cranberry and stuffing and pie!) with my family. This is a thing NOT to be taken for granted. Of course since it has been several years, the two empty chairs at the table where my parents used to sit will feel devastatingly empty, but with this being a day of "thanks", I get to remember how fortunate I was to enter into their family and be called their daughter.

Now the table rattles with the laughter of nieces and nephews, brothers and sisters, in-laws, and abundant memories, and that is a beautiful thing. Even in a moment where there seems to exist an unending plethora of bad news for the world, I'm choosing to drown in beauty and laughter and music and love. I search out these things, working (hard!) to fill my mind with thoughts that make me smile, even as the worries of the world seem to belligerently continue knocking on the door.

Whoever you are, wherever you live, whatever you do, I thank you for reading and supporting me and wish you only the most wonderful things for your life and family!!! I plan on enjoying this last little feast before I storm back to work with a fury - do take your time and relish the moment, as well!! CHEERS!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

"What are the best things about life?" "Just having one."

It was only brown rice with shrimp and broccoli in a peanut sauce, but there truly is nothing like getting to cook in your own kitchen, with your own knives and bowls (if you can remember where you've stored them the last time they came out of the dishwasher) for your husband in your very own apartment, together with him for the first time in said apartment since January. (That's 11 months, in case you don't feel like doing the math.) It's paradise. It will be over too quickly, I know, but just as I was starting to bemoan that fact, I caught this video, and was quickly brought back into line with tears of admiration and humility. On one hand, it's heart-wrenching to be sure. But on the other? Inspiring beyond words.

Please meet Brenden - an old soul who will undoubtedly inspire for years to come:

Friday, November 21, 2008

Quiet time and my "gratitude year"

I've been enjoying some down time - it's been heavenly, truth be told - but I know that the engine is revving back up, so I've been sure to treasure the quiet time, hoping it will serve me well as my schedule takes off again. So much to catch up on, and since my time is a bit limited, it will be easier, perhaps through (a lot of) photos!!!

I had a ball during Beatrice and Benedict in Houston. Is it my favorite role ever? Well, no - but it was fun and fresh and a joy to play with a really wonderful cast.

Norman Reinhardt was a dashing and charming "Benedict", awfully fun to spar with on stage, and actually went along with dressing up for Halloween with me!

Ailish Tynan was a beautiful "Hero", and in addition to her stunning voice kept me laughing nearly the whole time!

I caught up with good friends, met some new ones, enjoyed feeling so "at home", and ate some fabulous meals. It's always hard to say goodbye to a wonderful experience, but knowing I'll be back is always comforting.

I'm currently in Madison, WI, for my husband's official American Debut, as he conducts "Madame Butterfly". It has been a total joy to watch the final week of rehearsals and to just be a wife! The production is STUNNING, and I predict will be a huge success. I was allowed to photograph some of the rehearsals which was a blast (and incredibly informative!), and if you like, you can see the photos here. If you're anywhere near the neighborhood, check it out - it will be a very special show.

Butterfly and Sorrow

Finally, it dawned on me that as of November 11, I have finished my unofficial "Year of Gratitude". My goal was to take a photograph every day of something I was grateful for. I managed, in truth, only 169 days, but considering my schedule, etc, I'll take it! It was a wonderful exercise, and even on the days I couldn't grab a photo, my awareness of the beauty around me grew by leaps and bounds. It was a kind of training in what I choose to see and focus on, and I anticipate that experience to stay with me every day.

So before the next round starts up (the FURORE tour, the NY concerts, etc, etc) I will finish up my Gratitude Journal with one of the first items I chronicled: my husband. I'm just grateful beyond words for him.



Wednesday, November 5, 2008

In a moment...

Just over 40 years ago, Martin Luther King proclaimed: "...I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal'. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character..."

Last night the American public fulfilled King's bold dream, and President-Elect Barack Hussein Obama picked up the torch and humbly declared: "If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer."

Regardless of your political leanings, regardless of how you may have voted, there is no denying that in the blink of an eye last night, The United States of America redeemed its promise of being a land where anything is possible, where anyone can realize their dream, and where centuries of wrongs were overcome.

What a beautiful moment.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Red pins and blue needles... what I'm on today. It's an astonishing thing to wake up and know that one of the most historic days in your lifetime is about to unfold. Red or blue results aside, the fact that Barack Obama went to the polls today to vote for himself to be the President of the United States of America is one of the most beautiful realizations of the "American Dream" that I've ever witnessed.

It's an old image, but a perfect capture of what I hope can happen today - regardless of who takes the White House (although I PASSIONATELY support my candidate), the only possibility in going forward is to be united:

Those wise Irishmen...

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Rehearsing in Dresses

Rehearsing in Dresses
On Monday evening we had our final dress rehearsal for Houston Grand Opera's "Beatrice and Benedict." It was great fun! FINALLY we had a small audience to play to, and what a difference it makes to a piece like this - it begs for an audience to participate in the frolicking and merry-making, etc. Since day one there has been a wonderful atmosphere with this particular team: a wonderful cast full of energy and humor, a great directing team with wonderful insight and a deft hand at timing the comedy, fabulous musical values under the baton of an energetic and positive maestro and now a receptive audience that arrives ready to lighten their mood and get carried away for a few hours! Woo HOO!

I ADORE the rehearsal process (provided it's stimulating, challenging and productive...) for it's a place of exploration and discovery, as well as often building friendships and a family atmosphere, so it can be a tiny bit melancholic to bring that process to a close. But then the audience arrives, and the work we have done takes on a life of its own, energy infuses the stage, and we're off! I decided a number of years ago to always aim to ENJOY myself on the stage, for this life, this process, this career is so demanding, draining and tough, that if the pay-off of the performance isn't there, it simply isn't worth it to me. So to finally have the audience jump into the equation is a thrilling moment, and we all enjoyed the final rehearsal immensely. I have a feeling the opening night audience is going to enjoy themselves a lot.

If you're interested in hearing a bit more about our take on B&B, Norman Reinhardt, the dashing Benedict, and I had a little video conversation for the HGO website about our roles: if you have a MAC you can see it here, and if you have a PC, you can view it here.

So I took the opportunity to capture the above photo of Ailish Tynan, who sings the role of Hero, relaxing in her costume between acts. Yes, there are some big dresses in this show! But little did I know that my dresser and my dear friend, Larissa, was capturing my capturing of Ailish on her cell-phone! I suppose no-one is safe!!!!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Gratitude - Day 168: Talking with the animals

Today was a lovely day off between rehearsals, and I took advantage of a wonderful zoo here in Houston, grabbed my zoom lens and went to town. This free day boasted gorgeous weather, animals posing shamelessly for me, and one peaceful moment after the next. Considering I've been feeling a bit under the weather, it was the perfect prescription!

*If you'd like to see more photos, you can stroll through them on my Flickr page at your leisure!

Gratitude - Day 168



Gratitude - Day 167

So, I'm playing around with a new format for the blog here - trying to find a way to get a better display for some of my will most likely be a work in progress for a bit, but for now:

Gratitude - Day 167
I'm grateful for the wonderful mind and talent of Michael Yeargan - the wizard of set design! I have stood on a number of his beautiful sets before, but have never had the pleasure of meeting him, until this particular production of Beatrice and Benedict here in Houston. He radiates joy, enthusiasm and imagination, and that is perfectly translated into his gorgeous designs - the kinds that make you want to jump into the middle of it and BE a part of the show. It's such a wonderful bonus to see someone who ENJOYS their work so very much!

We had a wonderful sitzprobe this evening: our Maestro elicits a wonderful tapestry of colors from the orchestra (I KNEW that hearing the gossamer orchestration would bump up my enthusiasm level!), and he brings a special energy and delicacy to the piece, which also adds perfectly to the mix! One week to opening!!!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Gratitude - Day 166

Gratitude - Day 166
I'm grateful for Bill Hardy, who passed away last week. I met Bill 4 years ago, and only knew him for about 5 weeks. But my life is richer for having known him, and for that I'm grateful beyond words.

Bill was a fixture in the Houston Theater family for decades, and the Houston Grand Opera lucked out big time by scoring him to portray the "silent" role of Ambrogio, the servant, in our production of "The Barber of Seville". The image that refuses to leave its cemented place in my memory is of "Ambrogio" dangling from the chandelier he was cleaning as it rose high up over the stage at the end of Act 1: feet swimming, and eyebrows raising to infinity in surprise and childish delight. I'm not even bitter that I sang my socks off all night, and without a doubt, in the end, it was HIS SHOW! He stole it right out from under all the opera singers with his perfect timing and wicked smile!

But the lasting memory is of a man who was unapologetically larger than life, a devastating flirt, bursting at the seams with life and humor, and absolutely lighting up the world around him. He was an intoxicating presence.

Yesterday I attended his memorial service on the stage of the Alley Theater, and it was, like him, full of humor, heart, tears and laughter. As I looked at the theater packed with his family, friends, admirers and colleagues, I realized with new clarity how one person's love of life can radiate and illuminate the hearts of so many others. Bill, you were a treasure...

(As Rosina & Ambrogio, HGO 2004)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Gratitude - Day 165

Gratitude - Day 165
I'm grateful for this stunning creature who posed for me for about 30 minutes in a tiny flower bed during the Houston Bayou Arts Festival. I'm also grateful for my zoom lens that allowed me to find such detail, such as that curved antennae!!!! It was the perfect way to spend a sunny Sunday afternoon.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Gratitude - Day 164

Gratitude - Day 164
I'm pretty sure that this actually doesn't need any description or explanation whatsoever of why this makes me exude gratitude. This was taken in my dear friend Mark's office ... and well ... to make the "Diva Corner"?

Like I said - no need to explain why this is just one of the most surreal images ever!

You call this work?

I'll admit it - this role of Beatrice has been WAY down on my radar screen, and I was finding it quite difficult to find the motivation to dive into this. To be quite honest, if you compare it with Octavian, Alcina, Ariodante, Romèo, Elvira - well, those roles spoke SO loudly to me, like black holes they pulled me into their vortex and didn't let go!!! Beatrice? Not quite so much ... I welcomed the opportunity to procrastinate and avoid learning what seemed to be a rather glorified operetta, with seemingly little to offer artistically.

Well, shows you what I know! I arrived in Houston ready to hate the piece and the process. ("Where's the DRAMA?!?!?!" I asked, having been so spoiled with those iconic, heart-wrenching roles of the first paragraph! "Where's the DEPTH?!?!?") Well, ok - there really isn't any drama, it's true. And the depth is there, but it's definitely not the deep end of the pool. BUT, it's sunshine! It's a spring breeze! It's panna cotta! And it's been a joy to jump into - thanks to a fabulous atmosphere, cast and team!

Painting the music
Our conductor, Michael Hofstetter will be making his US debut with this piece, and he's a real discovery for me. He has a beautiful sense of the French style and has a wonderful sense of humor, freshness and enthusiasm that I just appreciate more and more. The longer I am doing this career, the more I gravitate to those people who unapologetically love what they do!

The Maestro
The production's effervescent quality fits the music perfectly, and our cast is just a complete and total joy. It hardly feels as if we're working, as the atmosphere is so light and easy. I had no idea how much I needed a production like this, for it costs me nothing (in terms of vocal power, stage energy, relentless concentration) - and instead, I feel as if I get to dress up and just go PLAY for a few hours, tripping along without a care in the world. It's as if the "Opera Career Doctor" knew the exact, perfect prescription I needed!!

I'm not listening
The other beautiful thing about this experience, is the dialogue in this piece. It is taken expressly from the Shakespeare, which means that I don't mind TOO terribly much singing this piece in English - for it brings it back to its theatrical origins. (Although, I can't lie: I do miss the ease of the French as Berlioz perhaps intended, however I'll make up for that in February!) But we sit around a table for hours at a time working on ONE PAGE of dialogue - and I've found it exhilarating! As a singer I never get to make choices about beats and inflection - the composer has made all the choices for me, as he has chosen the dynamics, the stress, the articulation, etc. This is a new world for me having this kind of freedom! But it's a bit unnerving at first to feel so COMPLETELY insecure in how to utter a line without the net of music underneath me. It's alarming how naked that feels! Thankfully, we have a real pro among us, the wonderful Charles Krohn, who is putting us all to shame with his ease of delivery and expertise.

"Thou sayest what?"
Hopefully we'll catch up a bit by the opening night! But it's funny how you can be so sure about one thing, and in a matter of moments, be proven completely wrong. Happily, I can say I was terribly wrong and am enjoying this Shakespeare/Berlioz cocktail of sun, smiles and sass!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Gratitude - Day 163

Gratitude - Day 163
I'm grateful for volunteers and beautiful people! Meet Bonnie Sue. Bonnie Sue has been a volunteer for the the Houston Grand Opera for countless years, giving of her time in endless capacities. We all know the singers get the bows at the end of the performance, the technicians are appreciated when the set change goes smoothly and without incident, the PR departments get kudos when the big posters help sell tickets, etc. But all too often, the volunteers are the unsung heroes. They work quietly behind the scenes, asking for nothing other than the chance to be around this world they love and cherish. Yesterday Bonnie Sue celebrated a big birthday, surrounded by former studio members (like me!) that she nurtured and supported over the years, by the general manager, by all the staff and movers and shakers of the Houston Grand Opera - I hope it she felt how much she is loved!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Perfect time for free stuff!

Considering the state of the worldwide economy, what better time to concentrate on free things! I nearly forgot that BBC's Radio 3 was going to broadcast the recital that David Zobel and I gave to open the 2008-09 season for the Wigmore Hall just over a month ago. Happily, I have been reminded, and you can listen to it FOR FREE (we love that!) for the coming week. I think it is available through next Monday - but don't quote me on that - just catch it while you can, should you feel so moved!

Keep in mind, this is a live recital - mistakes abound, etc, but it's a fun program of varied Vivaldi arias, intimate Chausson, flamboyant Turina, atmospheric Copland and good ol' Gershwin! I hope you'll enjoy it...again, should you feel so moved!!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Gratitude - Day 162

Gratitude - Day 162

I'm grateful for behind-the-scenes access. I don't mean to brag, but it is true that one of the big perks of being a singer is being able to wander into other exciting rehearsals, to watch the birth of a new production, and simply to sit back and bathe in glorious music.

I finished the staging of Beatrice's aria about an hour early yesterday, which allowed me to pop into the sitzprobe for Cav/Pag. (I missed the Cav, but heard a good portion of the Pag.) Onstage was the world-class Houston Grand Opera Chorus, and they sounded like a million bucks in this music, and it just hit me how fortunate I was to sit back, and enjoy this nearly private concert of music that I'll never ever get the chance to sing - it's another world, this "verismo" universe, and I enjoy so much getting a peak into their huge voices and blood-and-guts stories!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Gratitude - Day 161

Gratitude - Day 161
I'm grateful for a wonderful evening of catching up with dear friends, and revisiting a true "joint" - any trip to Houston is not possibly complete without an immediate trip to "Ninfa's" (the original one on Navigation Road is the only way to go!). Their pickled carrots, guacamole, chalupas, and award winning (in my book!) margarita's on the rocks with salt set the bar incredibly high for tex-mex food! Ah yes, I'm back!!