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!!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Gratitude - Day 160

Gratitude - Day 160
I'm grateful for familiar things that always make me smile. This is a statue called "The Virtuoso" and is housed just across the street from the Houston Grand Opera Wortham Theater. I didn't have my wide-angle lens with me, so I couldn't capture the whole thing, but it's a fabulous, whimsical construction of a suspended, jolly cello player, complete with sound system spinning beautiful music 24 hours a day.

The blue sky was the perfect backdrop to capture a tiny bit of the 34 foot high structure, the same one that greeted me here 12 years ago as a young, naive, eager singer, and subsequently upon each return to this city it has always welcomed me back by putting a big smile on my face.

PS I'm also WAY grateful to see my friends here who all weathered Hurricane Ike bravely and safely.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Gratitude - Day 159

Gratitude - Day 159
I'm grateful for the comforts of home. No doubt about it, my time at home is severely limited, which poses an immense challenge at times to my spirit. However, one thing I keep trying to do is to focus on the positive and find a way to feel at home wherever I am - and then to TREASURE the time when I unlock MY door, sit on MY sofa and breathe in MY SPACE! It rejuvenates me, it relaxes me, and makes me appreciate every single moment that I get!

Gratitude - Day 158

Gratitude - Day 158
I'm grateful for radiant examples of love. Meet my aunt. She is a vital 87 years-young, like her older brother full of great genes, and she is the most loving, serene, generous-of-spirit person that I think I have ever known. She exudes a quiet strength that inspires, but only ever with the intent to love.

Last Friday she was in town to attend my Kansas City Symphony debut, and the night before she fell down an entire flight of stairs. She was rushed to the Emergency Room, held overnight, and at noon the next day was being operated on for her broken wrist. She made the doctors release her by 2:30 so she could make the concert. She's 87, fell down a full flight of stairs, ONLY broke a wrist, had surgery and less than 24 hours later was applauding me (with her one good hand).

With all that is happening in our world, to know that a person like this is alive and (thankfully) well, is no minor miracle.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Gratitude - Day 157

Gratitude - Day 157
I'm grateful for cautious anticipation. Anticipation can be a tricky thing - too much of it, and you're most always let down, not to mention the fact that then you're no longer living in the moment - everything exists in the future, and that's no fun, and certainly no way to live. But cautiously preparing for the coming moment? That's delightful! I think it assures appreciation of what is about to unfold: your senses are all on high alert, knowing that something fabulous is coming, not letting one detail pass you by! Ah, from the eyes of "babes", we can learn so much!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Gratitude - Day 156

Gratitude - Day 156
I'm grateful for my Uncle. He turns 90 today. You read that right - 90 years old. 9 decades. (And yeah, I'm praying I got a decent fraction of that amazing DNA!) He made the trip in from Denver to hear my concerts over the weekend, and we were able to help him celebrate this momentous occasion. (He still plays golf, believe it or not!) He's an inspiration to me in many ways - his wisdom, patience, and humility have served him very well in his years, and I count myself most fortunate to reap the many benefits of his example. Indeed, I am grateful to be able to spend precious time with him while home!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Gratitude - Day 155

Gratitude Day - 155

I'm grateful that it is October, and I'm home: able to see the beginning of the changing of the leaves, and listen to my niece and nephew's plans for their Halloween costumes! Fall is my favorite time of year (until the first winter snow arrives, then I change my mind...until the first signs of spring pop up, etc...) and I'm so happy I get a brief taste of it here in my hometown! Also, this guy just puts a smile on my face, what can I say?