Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Writing in Pictures

My office
"My Office"

"My Down time"

Passing the time
"My Entertainment"

Dolce Vita
"My Belief"

Friday, February 6, 2009

Ethereal Magic


What is it about him? What makes Sir Colin Davis such a masterful conductor, and in particular a master of illuminating the "frissance" of the music of Hector Berlioz? I watch him, and he hardly does anything ... and yet, what arrives is shimmering, electric, divine magic. In fact, he's doing everything.

It is obvious he has a deep reverence for the composer - he must feel as if Hector is an old friend of his. He plays with the music, always asking for the FREEDOM with in the line, a certain flexibility that takes the music off of the page and swirls it to life. He sings the vocal line with the perfect, simple touch of rubato simply following the natural rhythm of the language, and saying, "See? How can you write that? You can't notate that - you just have to HEAR it." He constantly pleads the orchestra to listen to the language we are singing, so that they can match the rise and fall of the consonants and of our breaths. He begs the bass section to "breathe with their hands" when they play the pizzicati, for that is the only way they can possibly all play together.

Painting the music

But I think the thing that perhaps sets him so far apart, as I'm finding it does with all the great conductors I've had the pleasure of working with, is that it is absolutely, 100% about the music. There is no ego present. He serves the music and INSPIRES every single performer under his baton to fall in love with the music and present it with the utmost respect and attention to the written details. I think this is the secret to a great conductor - one who can inspire those around him to fall in love with the piece and sing or play it with everything they have.

I saw it the night before as Christian Thielemann brought his unique reading of "Der Rosenkavalier" to the very same theater. I heard the piece in a completely new light, and marveled for the more than 4 1/2 hours at how he could sculpt this piece of music out of thin air into a ravishing evening of laughter, tears and profound emotions. And once again I was struck at the life force that music possesses: here is a vast, empty space containing only an open stage with a thousand or so seats, and within the span of let's say 29 hours, two of the world's greatest conductors brought to life two completely different masterpieces, filling the space with rapturous, vibrant musical life. And then, the second the applause died down it returned to it's hallowed-out empty space again as we filed out onto the Champs-Élysées. And yet something had changed in all of us that had participated in the musical event - something remains in us as we allow ourselves to experience the moment. This is the magic of music for me.

Definition of Expression

(The other magic comes from my colleagues - how I love to watch a fellow singer carve out a full-blooded character and hold nothing back!! This is Jean-Philippe Lafont who sang the role of Somarone in Beatrice et Bénédict. I loved watching him rehearse as he found his pacing and expressive gestures - he is a photographers dream!!!)

If you're interested in hearing our little attempt at musical magic on Saturday, Feb 7 (and my little stab at French dialogue - mamma mia!), as Mei kindly indicated, it will be broadcast LIVE on RADIO FRANCE MUSIQUE at 8:00 pm Paris time (that's 2:00 pm in New York City)

Monday, February 2, 2009


*I wanted to follow up on two of the pictures I posted below, so please excuse the repetition of the photos:

For me, one of the most touching moments of the Marilyn Horne gala took place before any ticket holders were let in through the doors. I was called for an 11:15 rehearsal (the first of the day!), and because I had some time to kill, I stayed in the hall as the handful of other singers rehearsed their respective pieces. As much as folks may love the atmosphere of a packed hall, I don't know that I will ever feel anything quite as intimately touching or moving as hearing Thomas Quasthoff rehearse his simple tribute to "Jackie", 'Wie bist du, meine Königin" ("How blissful you are, my Queen"). There wasn't a SOUND in the hall, other than Martin Katz's nimble strokes of the piano keyboard, and the most hushed tone you can imagine wafting from the stage as Thomas sculpted his voice around the perfect text. I couldn't stop my tears, for it was one of the most perfect things I'd ever heard. And after regrouping myself, I immediately thought, "Oh no - what a tragedy that the hall is empty! No one heard it!!", and then I realized - that's not the way it works. Music is created in the split of a second, with a fleeting melody sent out on the breath - and then it dissipates like the ether until if, and when the next phrase arrives. But it can never, ever be recreated. If that isn't the perfect example of how to live in the moment, I don't know what is. I had not met Thomas before, but my life is now officially richer for having heard him, and laughed with him!

There really aren't words for this. Truly. There aren't. But, of course, I'll try.

My first opera experience (for real) was watching a live simulcast from the MET (I'm going to guess circa 1989-90?) of Don Giovanni with Maestro James Levine conducting. It was the first time (but not the last!) that his music making overwhelmed me and showed me the raw power of music.

Fast forward a few years (circa 2002-3?) and I'm finally granted a stage audition at the Met. (This is as opposed to the rehearsal hall audition which everyone knows rarely leads to any actual contracts, but was a necessary step to getting an actual stage audition - in fact, I did 2 of those primer auditions.) Rumor had it that Maestro Levine "might" show up. Trying not to cave in to the shaky knees and sweaty palms as I stared out at the empty 4,000 seat house, I bravely jumped off the ledge with no parachute and launched into "Non più mesta". Halfway through I saw a dark figure meander into the hall, pace back and forth at random and the only thought running through my mind was, "oh my lord, I think that's Maestro Levine - he's bored, he hates me, my singing is making him agitated!!!!" But I kept going. They then asked for "Deh per questo" from Mozart's "Clemenza di Tito", to which I immediately began to question, now that Levine was IN THE ROOM, whether my modest ornaments were appropriate or not. Despite the wretched inner dialogue, I kept going, kept singing, and don't think I altered my ornaments so much.

The world was not set on fire - but I did get a debut contract out of it to sing some performances of Cherubino in 2005. Another season later was my first Rosina. But at this point, I was quite sure the "Levine Boat" had sailed, for surely his repertoire interests did not cross paths with my future undertakings, and so while I was more than happy to be at the Met, I was privately a little sad that perhaps I would never have the chance to work with the Maestro.

Thankfully, they allow stow-away's on that boat apparently, because I was invited to perform a concert with him and his "band". Not only would we preform Mozart and Rossini, but he was to play the grand scena "Ch'io mi scordi di te".

I know that at the end of whatever career I end up having, this experience will always be at the top of my "I can die happy" list. The rehearsal process - so easy and relaxed, and yet so heightened with beautiful music making, Mozart's divine simplicity shining through - was ample enough for me. But to take the stage with this group of musicians at the top of their game is something I will never forget. Not to mention that the Maestro offered to throw in a little encore - that same "Non più mesta" that seemed to unnerve him before - and if that isn't the perfect example of things coming full circle, I'm not sure what is! It was a good day!

A week in the life...

I was talking with a dear friend the other day about our lives: we weaved through a knotted tapestry of topics needling through relationships, vocations, work-out regimes and how we perceive love. After drawing but a few conclusions, he asked me, "did you imagine your life turning out like this?" This is a friend who had walked through each step of the last complicated week with me, and we both looked back at the end of it thinking, "Whose life is this, anyway?" But his question triggered a startling realization for me: in no way shape or form was this the life I expected to be living today.

I never dared to dream so big. I never in a million years could have imagined how my life might take shape to include performing with my idols, making music with the very best artists in the world, or walking past 57th and 7th Ave and seeing my photo on two different posters announcing sold-out concerts all the while with the question "How do you get to Carnegie Hall" rolling around in my spinning head as I laugh to myself, "Well, I just took a taxi!".

The little girl in me wants to scream, "Hey, don't wake me up yet - I want to see how it turns out." But that's not something I can know just yet - for if I think of what I was dreaming of 15 years ago ("I want to be the cool high school music teacher"!), I seem to be in an alternate universe from that point in time! We were talking about how much determination this career takes, and how from the outside it may seem that I've been extremely career-driven and (ooo, dare I say it?) ambitious (which you simply have to be to a certain degree in this field), but I looked at him with shock and awe thinking, "but that's not me - I never set out to DO all this!" And that realization really made me think - how is it that I've arrived here if I didn't set out for this place?

Well, as I've always said, it's been a series of small, hopefully well-thought-out decisions and steps that I made according to what my gut and my heart were saying - but I'd be lying if I said I knew to where each of those decisions and steps would lead me. I've been simply doing the work, and trusting things to work out as they need to - and in fact, they always have. I look back and think of the panic-laden moments, the fear-based episodes, the huge attacks of self-doubt and realize that each one of them taught me exactly and precisely what I needed to learn for that moment in time. And they led me to the next step. Which led me here.

During the last week I performed a brand new Rossini Finale Aria for Marilyn Horne's 75th birthday gala along with Frederica von Stade, Susan Graham, Dolora Zajick, Karita Mattila, David Daniels, Dimitri Hvorostovsky, Thomas Quastoff, Thomas Hampson, and fellow WSU Shocker, Samuel Ramey, to name but a few, watched America swear in a new President, received the key to my hometown city of Prairie Village, Kansas surrounded by family and friends, performed our "Furore" concert for two sold out concerts in both Kansas City and at Carnegie Hall, hosted the HD broadcast of Stephanie Blythe's tour-de-force Orfeo, and capped it off with a (pinch me) concert on the stage of Carnegie Hall singing with the unrivaled Metropolitan Opera Orchestra with Maestro James Levine conducting (and playing) Mozart and Rossini.

At the end of all this, my head was spinning, and there were truly an infinite number of emotions soaring through my tired body. It takes a lot to make it through a week like that, and it takes a lot to ARRIVE at a week like that. This is what I was contemplating at a dinner after the final concert, as I was surrounded by my dear friends, and most importantly by my husband. Yes, the thrill of the events was undeniable - and the knowledge that a week like that doesn't come around very often in one's life is not lost on me - but in the end, all I desired was to be with my family and friends. In the end, these people who have lifted me up when I was down, helped me to celebrate the triumphs and absorb the failures, and who have stood by me in every moment they could - this is where I wanted to be. These beautiful people who accept that I cannot always be there for them physically to help them celebrate their moments, somehow embrace it, and help me get on with it.

It's nothing new, but it is the curse of the artist who needs their family and friends so desperately, but who seemingly is always apart from them. The thing I am most grateful for in all of this isn't the reviews, or the applause, or the billboards: it is to know that at the end of it all, I can return to what is most important. I hope they all know that.