Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Music! Music! Music!

Yesterday was our sitzprobe of "La Donna del Lago" here in Geneva. It's my favorite of rehearsals - after all the weeks of focusing on the staging and the costumes and the lighting, we get to go back, with our scores in hand, and simply SING the music, now knowing the physical and internal journey the character will be taking on the stage. It's heaven for me. I sing along with my score, double checking that I'm singing the accents, flavoring the lines with the correct articulation, feeling my breath moving through the phrases without any other physical demands, and, especially in the case of a new role, singing it with orchestra for the very first time.

It's as if the lights are finally turned on. It's true for every piece that I've ever taken on - it becomes infinitely easier to sing with orchestra than it ever does with piano. There is something about having the vibrational support of the strings, the cushion of the breath from the woodwinds, and that wonderful, solid foundation of the celli and double basses underneath you - somehow you feel as if you are allowed to take flight.

I'm fascinated by the character of Elena (especially in this production!) and found that her path to the grand finale makes the aria come to life for me in a very special way. I'm mesmerized by the music and think we have assembled a really wonderful cast - this is a true team effort, with everyone shining in their very own ways. Chorus is actively involved and the initial sounds from the orchestra sound very promising.

However, it is a long week. Yesterday afternoon we sang the entire opera, then a 2 hour break, and we had another 3 hour rehearsal in the evening on stage working through the first act. Now arrives the time to stay healthy and rested, because it really is a marathon of a week!

The excitement is definitely building!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Running Through

Last night we had our first complete run-through of "La Donna del Lago" here in Geneva.

Again, I love the serendipity of debuting this stunning role in a city famous for it's gorgeous lake! By all accounts, everyone was happy with the first attempt at getting from A to Zed last night, but it was a real indication for me of how tough the night will be from a performance standpoint.

In this particular staging, Elena is on stage the entire time (save for the beginning of Rodrigo's aria near the end of the 1st act.) Aside from that brief exception, I'm on. It means that getting to the finale of the piece, which just happens to be the big aria, "Tanti affetti", comes after nearly 3 hours of intense concentration, constant physical tension, a fair bit of singing, and a single, brief drink of water. Last night was the real litmus test to see if I can make it, and coming at the end of a long week of rehearsals, I was relieved to still be standing at the end!

Seeing as that it's a new production, I can't give away too much, but I'll be very curious to see how it will be received. Christof, the stage director, has been very convincing in his vision of this piece, and I've always said I'm willing to try anything as long as I can understand the "why" of the character's choices. In this case, Elena is a bit of a recluse without too many social skills and escapes into a world of fantasy and flight, all the meanwhile having to live within the reality of her war-torn village. I found the journey last night terribly fascinating, but it's a huge challenge to pull off: if I lack any clarity as a performer, I fear it won't work at all.

It's also a character that is quite far from me (personally, I tend to thrive in most social situations!), and the awkwardness that I'm being asked to play presents the problem of not disappearing entirely as a personality, as well as finding the internal strength to sing out her emotional phrases. I'm loving the challenge and hope that I'm able to create a convincing, tender character who surprisingly blossoms into her own, making "Tanti affetti" a necessary expression of her journey - not just a fireworks display (although I do anticipate that there will be a few vocal sparks during the night!!!).

I shared with a dear friend of mine a bit of dismay in being "simply dressed" - which, of course totally fits with the character, and seems perfectly right, but you know, as an opera singer playing a girl, we always want the pretty dress. His supportive reply was this absolutely priceless and BRILLIANT clip from a TV special with Beverly Sills and Carol Burnett. It's a must for a beautiful Sunday laugh:

And as is always the case with youtube, once you start it's nearly impossible to stop, so there is also this, which brings back beautiful memories for me of "Resurrection" at HGO a few years back:

Seriously. Does it GET any better than this?

The laughs were most welcome after a long, exhausting week, but I'm officially ecstatic about the opening coming up soon. I must say, I feel that this role is a real gift to me at this moment; I am relishing each musical phrase, and it seems the exact right moment to be adding her to my repertoire. I get to spend a decent amount of time with her in the next few years and it's a RELIEF to say that really love her!

It's also wonderful to be debuting this role in such a wonderful, familiar house. I've done 4 big role debuts here in Geneva (Elisabetta, Sesto, Ariodante, and now Elena), over the span of 6 years, and each time it has been a wonderfully safe place to take risks and explore a new repertoire for me. For someone who lives nearly her entire life on the road, it's nice to find those places and people that make you feel at home!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A lady on a lake

Greetings from relatively ash-free Geneva where Spring is definitely making its welcome presence known.


We seem to be one of the few European cities escaping some of DFGHVZYPYJKIWSKJAIA's fury for the moment. (Is that the correct spelling of the Icelandic volcano? It must be close!) What a nightmare this has turned out to be for so many travelers and fellow artists and family members! Mother Nature truly marches to her own rhythm, and I suppose in the end, there is no point in trying to argue with her. (How tempting to break into a Copland/Dickinson tribute at this moment! "Nature, the gentlest mother" - HA!) Hard not to get too down with all the natural disasters that seem to be sweeping the globe these days, and my heart flies out to all those suffering from the horrors of the earthquakes and this latest hardship. Sometimes it's a bit puzzling to reconcile all that suffering with what I do, but I've learned over the years (and with many thanks to all your comments and observations) that music, is in fact, vitally, profoundly necessary and relevant to the human spirit. So I'll keep singing whilst I's the small contributions that add up over time, right?

Changing the subject: I'm loving the fact that I'm debuting my next role living 2 blocks from a huge lake!

The Lady of the Lake

The serendipity of it makes me smile. I'm always cautious about trying to predict how a new role will actually materialize by opening night, and doubly cautious to predict how a new production will be received - I can't really spend too much energy in prediction-ville, because one simply never knows. My job is to delve into something with all the conviction, examination and preparation I can and let the audience draw its own conclusions.

But I would like to say that I'm beyond excited about adding this new belcanto role to my repertoire. I fall more in love with her with each day, and find the score coming to life in a way that I didn't expect (and we don't even have the orchestra, yet!) Even I, who adore and celebrate Rossini, sometimes fall into the "yes, but it's not Verdi" trap. Shame on me! This score is full of imagination, surprising colors, heartfelt emotion and true theatrical tension. Even though it preceeded them, it feels like another world entirely from Barbiere or Cenerentola, which impresses me even more, knowing these scores all came from one young mind.

The past

It's a slightly tricky opera to put onto the stage - ok, perhaps I'm being generous! Not that I MIND being the objective of so many people's desire, but it does pose a few problems for an audience that may be looking to find some modern application to their lives. (Not that opera always needs to serve that purpose, mind you. In fact, I think it is the escapism that often appeals to people and grabs their hearts!) But I understand the quest for comprehensive story telling and am happy to join in the adventure.

Our director, Christof Loy, just may be on to something here. I can't quite see the whole picture yet, but I can tell you that I'm terrifically challenged by the story he is asking me to help tell. (As I was telling a friend about this, his reaction was, "What! Isn't the music challenging enough?!?!) He has delved deeply into Rossini's compelling music and into the psychology of these characters, bringing us along for the ride, and has found something I'm finding to be quite compelling.

Il cuore

He is one of these directors that doesn't let me get away with my first instinct. DAMN! I feel like I have a very instinctual stage presence - or at least, I'm not afraid to show the director something strong on the first attempt at a scene. I find that most directors seem more than happy to be given something, so they say, "fine" before asking themselves if that was indeed the best choice. Instead, Christof (like a few other of my favorite directors) sees something more, and asks much more of me as an actress. It's not always the easy solution, and can easily be a source of frustration for me, ("why aren't I getting it??") but in the end, I think I end up with something much more complex and intriguing. I'm starting to find that with this role, which could easily fall into a "victim" persona, and again, I'm grateful for the challenge to find something special in this girl.


Today I had a few hours to wander around the lake and soak up some of the welcome sunshine, and enjoyed having the bevy of swans preen and pose and prance for me and my lonely camera! With all the things going on over the past 2 months my camera has gotten rusty and lonely. I was so happy to reacquaint myself with her, and we had a fabulous time taking in some of the spring sites. The light was fabulous, and the fresh air was a gift.

Water Dancing

Happily, I can report that my ankle is doing wonderfully well. I have a great Physio here who says that things look better than normal and that the healing is going wonderfully. I ditched my crutches a few days ago, and being able to walk (with the help of my trusty walking cast) feels AMAZING. It's like freedom has returned! I've been rehearsing slowly and easily, but it really feels good and seems as if my cast won't be too much of a distraction for the performances. (Yep, I'll be in a cast for the shows. I suppose after the wheelchair and now the cast, when I'm 85 and using a walker as Rosina, it will just complete the circle!)

I appreciate greatly everyone's support and respect for not posing too many questions ... somehow it seems to keep the pressure at a distance! In the meantime, I'll share my favorite photo of the day:

Light as a Feather

Back to the lake, now...

Monday, April 5, 2010

Thought for a day

"If you stare at it long enough
the mountain becomes unclimable.

Tally it up. How much time have you spent
waiting for the soup to cool?

Icicles hang from January gutters
only as long as they can.

Fingers pause above piano keys for the chord
that will not form.

Slam them down
I say.
Make music of what you can."

~Charles Rafferty from "Against Hestitation"

That makes me smile.

Thursday, April 1, 2010


So, let's chat, shall we? I suppose it's time for an update. But before I come clean, I have an enormous favor to ask: if you make it to the end of this posting, please heed my request at the end. That is all I ask! (Oh, and this will be a long post - so perhaps pour yourself a glass of wine?)

So here goes:

On Monday I went in for ankle surgery - technically I believe it was called a "Bromson Procedure". Apparently yours truly sings while under sedation, but more on that in a moment...

During the final orchestra rehearsal here in Chicago, an exuberant Cherubino went dashing off the stage into the dark shadows of the garden in the 4th act of "Le Nozze di Figaro" and he found half of the small exit step and missed half of the step. At full speed, my ol' trusty right ankle fell into that now familiar form and turned over on itself. Violently. The pain was, well, let's just say the orchestra was subjected to a string of vile expletives, and my first thought was "Great, I broke my leg again. This is RIDICULOUS!" My second thought, and mantra, went like this:

"Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Etc."


Honestly, it was a normal stage accident that could happen to anyone - it's just that it happened to me. Again.

Well, examination by a fabulous Doctor Boone Bracket brought forth the good news that my fibula was in perfect, stellar condition, having healed beautifully and staying completely intact. Brava, Fibula Mia! The bad news is that I tore my ligaments. Tore them right good, I did. Beautiful.

Well all the pieces of the puzzle have now come together: do read on, if you care to indulge in the elaborate history of a weak ligament. I swear to you what I'm about to share is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but - there were witnesses.

(Break in the action: the lovely Nicole Cabelle who sang a gorgeous Countess)

Back in 1999, I was singing my first ever Rosina for the Kentucky Opera, and I was walking to the theater on the way to my final matinee. Well, there is a big river that runs through downtown Louisville which can mean some big ol' winds often blow through town. On this Sunday afternoon a HUGE gust of wind decided to tag me "it" and blew me nearly off my feet for a full city block - the only thing that stopped me from flying face-first into a bus stop ahead was my falling over on myself. Yours truly sprained both of her ankles - yes, BOTH, at the same time - but the lucky right one took the brunt of the fall. Yep - it's a great image.

I'll never forget it: I was lying there, tears streaming down my face, unable to get up, and this man appeared laughing - he said, "Are you ok? My wife and I were watching you and we were just laughing at you flailing down the street, and then we realized you were really hurt." Ha. Ha. Well, he put me in his car and drove me to the theater, and I performed the show on crutches. How LITTLE did I know this would become and most unfortunate, annoying, theme throughout my career.

Well, as I've thought on it, I'm quite convinced that my injury was much more severe back then than I realized, and I most certainly needed surgery. But I had no insurance, thought "it's just a sprain", and had work to do - so I went on about my business, no physical therapy, no surgery, just waiting to be able to walk on it.

That injury, I'm certain, has been at the root of my subsequent "trips" ever since. There is of course the infamous London one ("NOW AVAILABLE ON DVD", she said in her TV infomercial voice), there was the sprain during the San Francisco Barber, in Paris during rehearsals, my little non-injury trip in NY for my Rose Theater Recital, etc. Ah yes - there have been numerous ones. But I easily dismissed it as being clumsy, or "accidents happen", etc, and in fact, I'm convinced I have been working with a most compromised ankle. Chronic, if you will.

So: surgery. I was obligated to have it thanks to this latest tear, but it probably should have happened years ago. The Doctor tells me that while the recovery will be long, it should bring me back to a strong, healthy, NORMAL ankle. "A what?", I asked. "What's a normal ankle????" AH! A NORMAL ANKLE!! Doesn't that just sound like heaven?

(The hilarious Keith Jameson as Basilio, who kept me laughing through it all)

So, considering the time it takes to have surgery, and plan recovery, etc, and considering how much I hate the idea of canceling, I had to weigh my options. My best scenario was to not cancel anything, which meant either postponing the surgery until my break in August (not wise, and quite risky), or squeeze it in after the run of Figaro in Chicago and hope for the best. This is what I have opted to do.

Shall I explain further? Naturally! (Maybe it's time for a second glass of wine?)

In speaking with the Doctor, he felt that he could construct a splint that could fit inside my costume boot so that I could try to perform Cherubino. I sat out the final dress in order to rest up (first one I've ever missed!) and the decision was to try the opening, see how I felt, and if I felt ok, to continue the run. If I felt that I was going to do any kind of further damage, I would withdraw and have the surgery right away. Enter the amazing costume staff of the Lyric Opera who stayed hours to find the right pair of boots for me that would house a big brace and still be stable. They are my heroes.

Well, I can't tell you how difficult the opening show was on that Sunday. In all honesty, it was harder than the London show when I actually broke my leg, for then I had no time to process anything, I just simply kept going forward. And then when the wheelchair entered the game, there was no question about being in pain - it was more a logistical struggle. But coming back onto the stage where I had just suffered the recent injury in such an active role? For some reason I was completely wracked with nerves. I sang one of the worst performances in my life (apologies to those who heard it!) - I mean, it was serviceable, and I don't think anyone needed to ask for their money back, but it was not a "signature" performance, to be sure. It was all the wrong kind of adrenalin: my pulse was racing, my voice was shaking, my breath was not at all under me, and all I could thing of was "don't step wrong!" Considering this was Cherubino, that was a tall task.

But once the first scene was over, I started feeling my legs under me, and I started settling a bit. But boy, was I happy to see that curtain come down! The relief was enormous. And I was also thrilled to see that my ankle hadn't swollen, I didn't feel any additional pain, and it seemed that this was something I could pull off. I saw the Doctor the next day, and we agreed that we could move forward with the run without incurring any damage. His scrawny, fabulous brace worked miracles!

As the run went on, slowly I felt better and better, and by the end I was forgetting that I had a brace on - well, nearly forgetting, and I felt totally back into Cherubino's shoes. Oh, that felt great.

But the surgery was looming, which meant a lot of questions would soon be answered. Happily, upon examination, the Doctor found that my ligaments were salvageable! (If they had not been, he would have had to have used a tendon to take the place of the ligaments...good times!) But he found a lot of scarring from the past injury(s), and the fresh tear. He assures me that my ankle is now tight, taut, and probably will be quite sore for sometime. BUT IT WILL BE STRONG! YES!!!

The beautiful part of all of this (there usually is a beautiful part, if you look hard enough, I've found) is that the Doctor I was blessed with is a huge opera lover. Huge. In fact, the first day he met me, he simply turned to me, looking into my scared eyes, and said, "Ya'll have no idea how powerful it is what you do." (He's from Texas.) He was serious, and he continued: "I'm convinced you save far more lives with your warblin' than I ever could with my scalpel." I knew immediately that I was in good hands.

Although I do have to say that being wheeled into the surgery room, all white and antiseptic and sterile and cold, and me shivering in my paper thin gown, to the strains of "D'Amor al dolce impero" was about THE most surreal moment of my life! He was playing my Colbran CD! I'll tell you - I could NOT wrap my head around that one - memories of being in sunny Rome singing my heart out, and here, scared to death on this cold metal bed hoping for the best! It was BEYOND bizarre.

But before I knew it, I was out cold, and then being brought back to reality. The entire staff then assured me that, indeed, I do "sing purty." "Excuse me?", I asked? Well, apparently I sing while under sedation and under the knife. Will wonders never cease? The Doc told me that was a first in his operating room experience. Go figure.

So what is next? I'm told I can be weight bearing in about 2-3 weeks, so I will arrive in Geneva next week to start rehearsals slowly, but with gusto, and I will most likely be performing the shows in a walking cast. A sleek, sexy, fabulously trendy walking cast. OK - one of those big, bulky, horrid things, but it will hopefully do the job! The good news is that Elena surely can't be as active as Cherubino, right? And the staff and administration of the Opera there in Geneva have been HUGELY supportive and will try and do everything to make it work beautifully.

I honestly have no idea how it will all go, except that I will do my best to not have it be an issue in any way possible. As much as possible. That's part of my job. Which is where my request comes in: Without wanting to be ungrateful in any way, because truly, you folks who read this blog are such ardent supporters of mine and mean so very much to me - without you listening and applauding, I would look quite stupid on an empty stage! You're a huge reason I do what I do. But I do wish to ask you to resist the temptation to write to me personally, asking me how I am, or to inundate me with questions after a show of how my leg is, etc. (Positive comments, however, are always welcome on the blog!!! I love those!) I know you will be concerned, and I know that some of you will want to share that concern, and I appreciate that. But the way my mind works, I prefer to look ahead and stay very positive. I tend to believe that where you put your energy, results will follow. If I put all my energy on thinking about my broken ankle, I will feel the pain a bit more, I'll feel a bit weaker, and I'll expend the energy I should be using to heal to think about my "poor ankle". That may sound a bit crazy, but it is the way I try to work and live.

So if you agree to help me on this, let's try not to keep going over it and asking all the time "how is your ankle?" I prefer to get healthy and then have you be able to concentrate on my performance and the show rather than on whether I'll still be standing at the end! If you could help me with that, I'd be most appreciative.

I will give updates here so you can follow how the recovery is going, but in the meantime, you can spend your time ordering the London Barber, and watching it over and over, instead of worrying about me! ;-) (How I would LOVE to be remembered for something related to my singing at the end of my career rather than being a klutz!)

I do want to give one apology, as I did have to cancel one thing to fit in this surgery, and that was the 75th Anniversary Gala at AVA. I was looking forward with immense joy to return to my roots and sing for the supportive public there, but sadly, flying a day after surgery wasn't an option. I'm hugely grateful to AVA for their understanding, and hope that I can have a raincheck!

Oh, and before I go - a HUGE shout out to the amazing cast of "Nozze" here in Chicago. So many people that saw it said it was one of the very best they had ever seen, and I can't tell you what an honor it was to be a part of this cast. We had a ball, and I will miss the show terribly! Bravi, tutti!

Signing off, with my beautiful plaster cast elevated above my head!
CHEERS (and thanks for your understanding!)

Ah. PS. The reason I waited until now to write about all of this, was that I didn't want anyone's focus during "Nozze" to be on my leg - there has been enough of that. But with rumors being what they are, and me showing up in Geneva in a cast, I thought it best to put things on the record!