Sunday, May 30, 2010

Imagination and Gratitude - a tidbit for the aspiring young artists

These are two words that have been on my mind a lot, lately. I have been avoiding the topic of imagination a bit, mainly because I didn't have any supporting photos to accompany the topic, but I've been consumed with it in recent days, for I truly believe it can be one of the greatest and most necessary weapons for an artist.

While in Chicago I was lucky enough to do some coaching with a few of the talented young artists in the program there - we worked on Romeo and Octavian, two of my very favorite roles, without question. They both arrived in the studio, quite eager and excited to be working these pieces that they knew quite well, and as both sessions progressed, it was as if I was watching a video from my past play out in front of my eyes! I think they were a bit surprised to hear that I had struggled with that same particular phrase, or had to work through the tough passages time and time again before they were ready to be heard in public - it's as if the perception is now that I was born singing the way I sing today, which is just simply laughable! This career is a constant encounter with learning opportunities - artistically, professionally, personally - it never, ever ends! And trust me, we are ALL works in progress. (OK, maybe not Devia, but the rest of us? Definitely!)

In the course of both of these sessions, what I absolutely LOVED watching was the girls' faces light up with the knowledge of "You mean I can do that???" In a young artist program, so much of the emphasis and priority seems to be on getting it "right": the vowels, the consonants, the resonance, the breathing, the phrasing, the words - it's a never ending struggle with perfection. But then there comes that moment where the notes have been learned, the breathing has been worked out, the translation perfected, and you have to actually begin to make it YOUR OWN: to use all the correct tools of phonation and pronunciation to actually EXPRESS something. To express something that you have inside of you, via the score in front of you. This is where, in my thinking, you start to cross the bridge from "student" to "artist", and I'm convinced that imagination is a HUGE key to this transformation.

I start asking questions. I start making up stories. I start imagining others' reactions to me. I start PLAYING. (God help us if we take this TOO seriously - PLAY with it!!!) In the case of Romeo, why does he repeat so many times the same phrase, twisting the notes slightly differently? Why does he go from eighth notes to triplets? (Ah, I LOVE the triplets!) Why is there a fermata over one note and not another? This is where subtext HAS to come into play - otherwise, it's simple vocalizing, which means absolutely nothing. Maybe in the middle of one phrase, Romeo actually understands his culpability in a different way, and so he needs to repeat it with a deeper understanding and empathy; or, perhaps he refuses to see his guilt, so he repeats it to drown out the possibility that he MIGHT have played a hand in this war, because the reality is too painful. Maybe when he firsts says that he can take the place of the killed son he doesn't actually believe it - but as he continues to speak the words, he is actually transformed and begins to truly desire it; then a different kind of conviction comes into his singing.

For me, it's all about asking questions: why...? what if...? why not...? how...? And a different answer will mean a different kind of phrasing. I think the danger for young artists is that you wait to be told how to do things, which is, after all, being a very attentive, good "student" - I understand! But this is the time for you to start finding out who you are as an artist, why you wish to keep singing, why you NEED to sing, and to start taking ownership over your career and your music.

It's bloody difficult, however, because in those institutions, those wonderful, glorious places full of possibility and promise, it's so easy for it to seem as if the constant scrutiny you are under is there to simply do you in, rather than to build you up. You are picked apart, dissected, mangled, and everyone around you is pointing out what isn't working, what isn't right - in fact, everything that is WRONG with you! It can be the most heart wrenching of times,leaving you completely lost and missing the one thing you thought you loved more than anything, and yet it is precisely during those times that you will discover how important this is to you. You will find out if it is, in fact, something you want to fight for or not. And you know what? It's perfectly OK - hell, it's MORE than OK - if you decide it's not for you. What a gift to discover that sooner rather than later! But if you do decide you want this, then you have to find the determination to surpass the criticism and critique - and in fact, find the truth in what those people are saying - and steel yourself to grow.

Trust me, even if you "make it big", you will find yourself in the middle of a production where the director or conductor leaves you out to dry - they offer no inspiration, no insight, and in fact even pull down the entire experience, and you will have no one to rely on to help build it back up - you will have to find something inside yourself to nourish the artistry and integrity of the production. Imagination will help you in those times - finding an inner story that can guide you through the most static, vapid of stagings, and find a way through the space to be true to the music and the emotional, spiritual content of the character. But no one will ever teach you to do that - you will have to discover that within yourself.

What a cool goal to aim for, eh? Here's why I LOVE what we do: we are forced to find solutions like this all the time. I (perhaps naively, I know) believe that we are obligated to continually search within ourselves for the strength to face obstacles and theatrical roadblocks, so that we can serve the music. That, more often than not, brings tremendous opportunity for growth and understanding. Even when our cords don't cooperate in phonating anymore, I'm quite sure we will have all acquired some pretty amazing coping skills along the way - and at the end of my days, I'll take that!!!

Which brings me to gratitude. Ah, this is SUCH a powerful weapon and resource for us! When the times are difficult, even when we are faced with the most demoralizing situations, we still have the music, and for that our gratitude should be endless. Mozart always wins in the end. Rossini will always be left standing, no matter what we do to him, or others try to do to him. They will always win out - art, nature? they're pretty amazing in that respect! So if you can foster that sense of gratitude all the time, it will serve you well and buffer some of those harsh criticisms, and keep you focused on WHY you are studying, and WHY you are trying, and WHY you need to keep working. Yeah, it's definitely a powerful weapon!

And speaking of gratitude - I feel that the timing is right to speak a LITTLE BIT about my amazing ankle!!! I had my surgery 2 months ago today, and my BRILLIANT Doctor, Dr. Boone Brackett, did an unbelievable job on my amazing ligaments - I am just indescribably happy!

I thank you all for your patience and understanding in my request to allow me to recover in relative seclusion - it indeed has been greatly appreciated! I am thrilled that I didn't have to cancel any performances of Cherubino or Elena, even if I had to do them in unconventional manners. Everyone's patience and support has been indescribably wonderful. All the reports from my Physio sessions have been extremely positive. I'm still walking with a light brace - and will continue for another month or two, but I'm very active now (riding my bike all over Paris and loving it!), hoping to start yoga again here in the next few weeks (I've really missed that!), and doing all my strengthening exercises, doing everything I can to leave this little issue behind me! Of course, there is no promise of never having another accident again, but at least I know that I am doing everything I possibly can to keep that from happening!

Taking the cast off after the final show in Geneva was the BEST feeling in the world!!!

It was very good to me, and I'm very grateful for the security it brought, but I was THRILLED to say goodbye to it! Wouldn't it be LOVELY to finish out the year with no more walking aides? Ah, that sounds like paradise to me! Comfortable, secure shoes? Yes! Crutches and casts? No!

You young artists have my total admiration and respect - I've been there, and know FULL WELL how challenging it can be. But try to foster your imagination and some gratitude - I imagine it will help make the ride slightly less bumpy and a lot more rewarding!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Every once in awhile... have a day where you need something like this:

Yes. That'll do!

P.S. In case anyone is wondering, there is a lake.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Lightening up!

I just love my readers. You all are wonderful! I received the most interesting comments to my last post regarding my recent production here in Geneva. The comments were thought provoking, passionate, well-thought out, varied, insightful, and intensely personal - all the things that opera tends to stir up in people, and one of the reasons I LOVE being a part of such a crazy world. One person wouldn't be caught dead at a production like this, and the next finds it one of the most moving, memorable nights ever in the theater.

The only thing I ask of an audience member is to try to come with some semblance of an open mind. I ask that of myself, as well, because it's very easy to assume I know everything about an opera or particular character, or that, at first glance, a production may seem unreasonable or far-fetched. However, if I can remain open (mind you, I'm not speaking about being without opinion or easily brain washed), but simply OPEN - then I just might stumble upon something truly wonderful. Same for the audience.

It's not an easy prospect, which is why it is, in my most humble of opinions, the highest of the arts - but we must keep searching and trying! But seriously, thank you for letting me express some ideas, and for your wonderful responses! I have truly enjoyed this production of "La Donna del Lago" and learned a tremendous amount from it, and I appreciate being given the chance to try something new and inventive. This keeps me alive as an artist.

But I want to lighten it up a bit now - even if I'm a bit behind in the timing. But some of you may have seen the cover of Gramophone for the month of May? (It should still be in your book stores for the time being.) I was lucky enough to be the cover girl, and had an absolute ball during the photo shoot. This is an element of the career that is a total blast for me - getting made up, being fussed over (which normally drives me crazy!) and playing in front of the camera for hours at a time.

It's definitely not a skill that is taught in the conservatories, but rather something that you try to acquire (usually awkwardly, or at least that was my case!) over the years. It is another universe from singing on the stage, but with the right group around you, it can actually be a lot of fun.

In this case, they wanted it to be clear that I was an opera singer, so they asked me to be in costume. At first thought this sent major warning signals off for me, because with all the talk of wanting to make opera feel more "modern", I thought the idea of me in some stuffy old 18th century get-up with a big powdered wig would look ridiculous. Instead, we came up with the idea of using the beautiful costume from "THE" Barber in London:

I couldn't have been happier, because it is, truly, my favorite costume of all time. It's slightly period, with that fabulous lace-up corset, but bold and brash with it's vivid colors, not to mention infinitely "girlie" with the numerous pink touches. I'll never forget that the brilliant costume designer, Agostino Cavalca, spent so much time in the early weeks of our rehearsals to see how I moved and how he might create a costume that was most organic to me as a performer singing Rosina. He succeeded brilliantly, and has spoiled me for all other productions.

For example, the fluffy pink "over-coat" that fits over the base green dress is meant to mimic the petals of a rose - driving home the "Rosina" element over and over. It was such a joy to wear, and OH did it feel great to be STANDING in the costume once again!

One can never, ever underestimate how important a costume is to a performer. It is an enormous element to the character development of a role, and one that cannot be overstated. I have worn beautiful costumes and horrid costumes, and I have worn ones which enhanced immeasurably my sense of character on the stage and ones which have obliterated my sense of self-esteem, directly affecting my performance in a negative way. It is not an easy job, but it is SUCH a vital part of what we do. I have learned to be less passive in regards to the development of a costume, and cannot fault the ladies who have come before me, fighting, sometimes famously, for their say in what they wear. There is a fine line, and balance - as always - is key, but I have learned that it is a far too important part of what I do to let it go for naught.

I will MISS this costume!!

And then we just had some fun - our wonderful photographer was rushing to catch a flight, so we just let loose and had a bit of fun. I won't lie - this is definitely one of the fun perks of my job!

Thanks to the tireless Magda Krance for the fun, behind-the-scenes shots, including capturing my husband unawares!!

On another note, and speaking of fun "perks" - I get to meet some of the most astonishing, spectacular, talented, generous and most wonderful people in the world, doing what I do. One of them happens to be the (and yeah, I'm dropping names here!) the international best seller, and unabashed Handel Junkie, Donna Leon. If you never travel in airports or visit bookstores, you might not have seen her name - but if you have, surely you'll recognize her as one of the best selling mystery writers of our day.

She has a delightful series going on with Detective Brunetti, set in her hometown of Venice, and the wicked and wacky circle of the inner world of crime and deceit is deliciously portrayed - not to mention tantalizing descriptions of the local cuisine in nearly every chapter! Well, my proudest claim to fame is that her latest book, "A Question of Belief", happens to be dedicated!! I was flabbergasted when she sent me the first manuscript with the inscription, "For Joyce DiDonato", and even more astonished to receive a copy in hard print!! It's a delightful read, and I, naturally, encourage you to go out and purchase one for everyone on your Christmas shopping list!

I'm proud to be able to say that you would be supporting an author who is single-handedly, one of the biggest and most generous supporters of the arts I have ever met. Granted - she limits her benevolence to All Things Handel, but you can imagine that this is just fine with me! She's a true renegade!

2 more shows here in Geneva, which I'm very much looking forward to, and then it's off to Paris to start rehearsals for another new production of this masterpiece. But if you had to miss out on this performance, or can't make it to Paris, happily there will be a radio broadcast on JUNE 12 at 20:00 (European Time) on Radio Swiss Romande, Espace 2. I'm very proud of the work we've done here in Geneva and hope it will transmit as such over the radio!!!

In the meantime, can someone PLEASE do something about all this rain? Merçi, mille fois!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Breaking it down

We have officially opened here in Geneva, with an emotional opening night audience to say the least. I don't think there was any doubt that the performance was received quite rapturously, but, as seems to be predictably common, the production was met with a torrent of - displeasure - shall we say. I hesitate to say too much, because it seems a bit taboo for an artist to speak out on such things, and I do believe to a certain extent that the audience should be presented with an interpretation, and left to decide how they feel about it all on their own. However, I have been in the audience when I felt completely lost and would have greatly appreciated a bit of insight as to what was going on up on the stage, so I've opted to give people the chance to get some basic information before attending, for better or for worse!

So, let me first break down our production here in Geneva just a bit, and then let's have a discussion about the bigger picture. However - this is a spoiler alert!! If you don't wish to have the details on our production, please do stop reading, and scroll to after the photos for my thoughts. If you would like some insider scoop, keep reading. (and reading!)

The first thing to address, is that our director, Christof Loy, has changed the ending and as a result has taken a few liberties with the score. Elena does not end up with Malcom, but instead with the King. Right, wrong, misguided or brilliant, it is how our show ends.

(**All photos are © of Monika Rittershaus and may not be reprinted without permission)

Elena dreams of love at the start of her journey. She is a kind of worker, set-up girl in a local lodge, which is the central meeting point for the town's provincial choir rehearsals, meetings, receptions, etc, and houses a small stage where they can put on local shows. She is very much a wall flower, frightfully shy, fragile, and while she wants to be a part of things, she instead lives inside her dreams and fantasies where she feels safe. She sneaks onto the "stage" when no one is around, finding a story within herself that gives her a sense of being alive. Her reticence is even more pronounced as the war between the clans heats up, and her impending nuptials to the warrior, Rodrigo, becomes something she can no longer escape - she finds the freedom she longs for in her dreams:

Elena's fantasy world becomes a kind of reality as the stranger that has "happened" into her world (or did she create him?) begins to cross the line between real and imagined. She imagines setting up a home with him, but obviously, he cannot stay in this world for long...

...but for a fleeting moment, she finds contentment in her ideal fantasy:

But Elena's world of fantasy comes crashing down as her idyllic "imagined stranger", Umberto, learns of her impending nuptials to Rodrigo and confronts her. The tragic conflict of duty vs. love is now unavoidable for her:

After the enormous opening duet between Umberto and Elena finishes, in this production, Elena remains on stage and is confronted with her "subconscious", Malcom. Christof sees the role of Malcom, played wonderfully in our show by Mariselle Martinez, as Elena's alter-ego, her guardian angel, or protector. Each time her situation turns quite dark, Malcom arrives to help her through. In this first scene, Malcom tries to get Elena to look at herself and face her situation with courage. Malcom asks Elena to be true to who she really is, to stop running away from reality:

Elena is now faced with the harsh reality of her imposed wedding to Rodrigo (the wonderful Gregory Kunde), and has not found a way to speak out against it. She is trying to honor her duty to her father and her clan by marrying a man she does not love. Her pain is immense as she says, "I have lost any hope of peace." However, war breaks out before the ceremony is complete, and she has been given a second chance to find her way:

As the act comes to a blazing close (such fabulous music!) with war songs and talk of "fighting to the death", it becomes too much for Elena, and she collapses with dreams only of her true love, the stranger who appeared earlier, and voilà, he appears at the table, as normal as ever, which sets up the start to the second act:

As the curtain rises on Act 2, normally the stage is left to Umberto (the King himself) to sing of his love for Elena. But in Christof Loy's version, it is Elena who conjures him up to sing of love and peace. She sets the stage, in her mind, to be the complete opposite of the war and bloodshed that haunts her reality, and for a brief moment tastes tranquility and love. What could be a more ideal picturesque setting, than to flood the stage with romantic Sylphs who surround her for protection:

But Elena is growing up and realizes she cannot escape into her dreams forever. The reality of what she is a part of is crashing down on her, and she is slowly realizing she must take responsibility. As the Sylphs flee her mind, she is left face to face with herself and the situation she has gotten herself into with the stranger:

As Umberto confesses his love for her and demands that she respond, she simply begs him to accept her friendship instead. In this version, she truly loves him, but knows that it is not right, so she continues to fight it. (In "Rossini's version, it is, in fact, Malcom that she loves, and to whom she remains faithful until the end.) But this struggle sets up a monumental trio between Elena and the two tenors. (My ears are still buzzing from the storm of high "C's" all around me!!):

But chaos has ensued. With Rodrigo's arrival on the scene and his discovery of Umberto to be a true threat, in vintage manly fashion, war breaks out. Elena, in turn, breaks down, and finally realizes that one can never, ever escape the reality around them. One must face it directly and in accepting it, there is a kind of peace that can then be built upon. She has been at war within herself for too long (again, the conflict of being true to herself and following her heart, verses the understandable desire to be dutiful to her father), and it is only when she gives over to herself that she can find peace - and in turn, bring peace to those around her:

With this new found peace, Malcom arrives back on the scene and finds that his job with Elena is complete. She has relinquished her suffering and her pain to her other self and says goodbye to it. Malcom takes it on for her and, as was predicted in the beginning, dies for her, in the sense of letting the past fall away behind you:

Once Elena has found a way to her new found inner peace, the world changes and her dreams become a reality, in veritable fairy tail fashion. The stranger is, in fact, the King, he reconciles with her father and asks for her hand in marriage, which she gladly accepts. When Elena sings the line in her famous aria, "Tanti Affetti", she sings of finally having found "la bella pace" - the beautiful peace - she has been longing for from the opening aria, and for me, this is the heart and soul of the opera. (I am always quite emotional when I sing that line!) After her immense journey, starting out as nearly mute, she finally has found a voice to sing in front of the entire town:

The final word of Elena's famous rondo, which serves as the finale to the entire opera is "felicità" ("happiness"). Indeed, she is overcome with joy and the vocal fireworks that paint this elation serve as an incredible expression of unrepressed abandon. It is truly one of the great moments a singer could ever be given on the stage, and in this particular telling of the story, carries enormous weight, for the distance this character has come is enormous:

So, perhaps that was a futile attempt to make an argument for our little humble production. I have no idea if it will help or not, but it's a little synopsis to perhaps fill in some of the blanks. But I would like to share a few thoughts about the different aspects of this crazy world of opera that this experience brings up.

Conceptual opera:

Ugh. It has such a bad connotation, and yet some of the "concept" operas I've taken part in have been the most rewarding (Hercules in Aix, Barbiere in Paris, Cendrillon in Santa Fe). Likewise, I've had unbelievable experiences with what some will call "stale, old, out-dated" productions that are supposedly the bane of opera today (Rosenkavalier in SF, Nozze in Chicago and Paris, Cenerentola in Milan). I'm a huge believer that any opera that tells the story well, with committed singing actors, a director who respects the art form and the music, and a conductor in the pit that can marry the stage to the orchestra pit can be immensely moving.

But I'm also a huge believer in innovation and exploration - opera can be the catalyst for many things: provocation, revelation, transcendence, laughter, self-reflection, discovery. I don't dare assume that we have found all the possibilities that exist in the operas in our repertoire. It is one of the reasons they are masterpieces and that we keep coming back to them - they can be looked at from many different angles and we can find new elements that speak to us. Surely, what I find in Nozze now is not what I saw in it in 1998!

So as artists, we need the chance to explore and discover additional layers in these works. Sometimes we will succeed, but often we will not. We are human, we are not machines. And what speaks to one person, will often not touch the adjacent listener.

So let me speak a bit about this production. Christof used as his inspiration the shattering, disturbing, and ultimately uplifting movie "Breaking the Waves". In it he found a very fragile girl living in an oppressive, closed-minded society, who found a way to her happiness with unconditional love being her only ruling force.

Her fragility is evident, but it is her strength which endures in the memory. I believe Christof wanted to find a way to make a perhaps outdated libretto speak to a modern day audience. Yes, this is the now politically correct dilemma facing directors and producers today, but I wonder if we are making it more difficult than it needs to be. I trust the music and I trust the emotional impact of these stories. I believe in them. But that doesn't mean a different look at something can't also bring an interesting psychological journey for the characters and the audience:

What do we do, in our every day lives, to avoid the reality around us? How do we escape? How do we alter our perception of things (for the better or for the worse) in order to cope? How do we handle feeling like an outsider? Where do we go when war, either physical or mental, seems to encompass everything around us?

These are, in my opinion, absolutely relevant questions to be posing - which is, after all, one of the functions of art, is it not? Let's hold a mirror up to ourselves and find some truth lurking around in the dark corners in there! It's not exactly that we as a species have learned from all of our past mistakes! But having worked with Christof these past weeks, I believe his pure intention was to find some of these answers.

Now, from a technical standpoint - I believe it was Chris who asked me on my last posting - how much "say" do we as artists have in regards to the production. I would say, in the vast majority of cases, we have 0% say. Nil. None. Nada. When we arrive for the first day of rehearsal for a new production, the set has already been built, and that set is based on the concept of the director. Costumes have been designed. Usually, the general architecture of the piece has been laid out, for there is no time to decide how many functional exits the stage will need, and what period it will be set in, and how we will look. We are essentially puppets on the first day of rehearsal.

Ideally, what happens at this point, is a collaboration begins, and the director works to convince his/her singers of his/her vision. I MUST gain some understanding about the "why" of the character. If they cannot convince me of that, I cannot function on the stage. I simply cannot do it. Without the understanding of what the character is living psychologically, how in the world do I choose my vocal color, my physical stance, the pace of my movements? But if I want the show to work, I have to meet the director half-way under the constraints of what has already been laid out, and I have to find a way to find a voice within the concept.

I can say that with very few exceptions, I have been able to find a way to make the director's vision work for me. Actually, I'm trying to think of an exception...I'm sure there is one, but in the end, I have been able to reconcile most everything. (There was that one director who wanted Rosina to try to kill herself with Figaro's razor - yeah, that didn't go down too well!) We have no responsibility for how a production looks, for the period it is set in, or for the overall aesthetic impact. We MIGHT (and I emphasize MIGHT) get a say in tweaking our costume or wig. A bit. But that's iffy. Yes, times have changed. (And personally, as much as I have my own artistic ideals, I do still like my job and prefer not to be fired!)

I have found my journey here as Elena to be very rewarding and fascinating. It's an exhausting night for me, because I never leave the stage, except for one costume change, but I find that by the time "Tanti affetti" rolls around, the journey has been very truthful and real for her, and I think the impact for the finale is all the more powerful. You see a girl with no voice at the start, no sense of identity, come into her own in the most thrilling way. And I think the emotional impact is real.


So what to make of a torrent of booing for the production team? I'll be very direct. It's quite simply the worst feeling in the world to be on stage and be on the receiving end of such violence. Yes, even if it feels as if the boo's are being directed to a select group on the stage, by the time opening night has come around, usually we are like a family, and when a member of that family is being singled out, it's nearly impossible to separate yourself from them. We feel it deeply. I completely respect the audience's right to have opinions and express them - but I believe you fall into one of two camps, and I decidedly fall into the "I hate booing" camp.

To be honest, if the audience really wanted to have an effective impact, they would simply fall silent. This is by far a more potent and effective way to express their feelings, without what feels like some sort of physical attack. Besides, does booing REALLY carry any weight anymore? To be honest, it's passè and outdated - it's as if the premiere isn't a success without some boo's! No - silence is a much more effective (and to my thoughts, civilized) reaction.

I just wanted to go on the record with my opinion. Again, everyone has the right to express their thoughts - but truly, there are more effective ways to accomplish it. I do hope, however, that in the end, artists are still given the chance to explore and grow. There will always be "misses" (Mozart even had them!), but we all know that in the theater, when we get a "hit" and that elusive transcendence overwhelms us, it is SO good!

Gracious, is anybody still reading this post?!?! I suppose this comes out of wanting the audience to have a rich experience in the theater, and this is my small attempt to help facilitate that a bit. Not that everyone needs it, because I have definitely heard from many people that they find this show profoundly moving. See - it's so funny how art impacts different people!

Personally, I have found my experience here tremendously rewarding, and look forward to spending a lot of time with this lovely Lady of the Lake (or the lodge!) in the future.


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Opening Night!

One thing I love about this job, strangely enough, is that my life is cut into tiny compartments: a 2 month period in Chicago for Nozze, a 2-week recording session coming up in September (which I'm beyond excited about!), and for some time my debut as Elena in La Donna del Lago has been in the works. Finally it is here. I get to see the culmination of months of work and years of anticipation come to fruition tonight. (No pressure there!) Actually, there isn't any pressure, essentially, because it's pure joy for me to sing this piece and discover a completely different side to the composer I thought I knew so well!

Those "compartmental periods" keep me constantly appreciating the moment I am living. I have learned with a bit of experience that time flies without mercy or pity, and if I blink, I've slept through a world of riches. I know that 11 performances of Cherubino will be over before I know it, and so I had better soak up each moment. I know that I get ONE shot at making a solo recital recording, and I had better hit it out of the park giving my all in each phrase. I know that I get one chance to debut this beautiful role of Elena, and I don't want to sleep through it, or psyche myself out to where I am not free to take her journey.

I've said this now numerous times, that the stage teaches me so much - to be alive in the moment, to enjoy the lesson at hand, and to live it as fully and freely as possible. That is my intention for tonight, and I hope the audience will come along for the ride with all of us. I've enjoyed the rehearsal process tremendously with this outstanding cast and team (a conductor and director working side by side in tandem from day one? Stop the presses!!!), and know that we will give it our all tonight!!

It's not a "typical" interpretation of the opera, (you've been warned) but I do think it's quite a deep, beautiful look into the life of a young girl in an oppressive, overwhelming, war-torn, provincial town who seeks to find a way to reconcile her dreams and thirst for freedom and love under the constraints of her duty and obligations. She escapes quite wildly into her dreams, and yet that persistent reality keeps forcing her to look at the real world and find a way to enter into it. Malcom becomes sort of a "guardian angel" type figure who appears at her darkest moments, and becomes a guide to Elena, helping her find a way to be true to herself. As I said, perhaps not "typical", but it's done with a lot of heart, providing the perfect platform for "Tanti affetti" to be a truly emotional outpouring of joy and gratitude. At least, that's the idea...!

*Photos courtesy of the Grand Théâtre de Geneva

Sunday, May 2, 2010


I find that one of the most difficult things to manage in this career is the feeling of isolation that can easily creep into your psyche as you've been on the road for a little bit too long (or, as a matter of fact, even on that very first night you unpack your things into yet another sterile, rented apartment that houses one opened package of old spaghetti, a half-empty/full box of dry cereal, and usually 1/4 bottle of olive oil that you don't dare use, because you can't be SURE that it's safe.) I stumbled over this quite a bit when I was first starting out in this career, and it was quite confusing: I was doing what I loved to do, and yet I felt quite miserable being completely on my own, away from the familiar and the secure.

It was especially true in the beginning years of European travel, because I didn't know very many people in the business over on this side of the pond, and the foreign cities were overwhelming, as I spoke little of their language, didn't always comprehend the cultural differences, and didn't know that we had to price our own produce at the market! (It's the small things, you see!) It was one of the most important "skills" I had to learn: not just how to be on my own, but how to ideally thrive in a solitary, foreign, often lonely environment.

For me, one of the biggest culprits was CNN International. It is usually the only English channel on the TV, and so on it went, and I would be bombarded with catastrophe after catastrophe, convinced that the sky, truly, was falling beyond all hope and that we are a doomed, doomed species. The word "demoralizing" barely scratches the surface for what this flood of information can do to a person.

I've certainly gotten MUCH better at handling the ups and downs of this career, but have set out with great determination to find the positive side of things, and to try not to indulge the bitter, dark side of humanity that is plastered everywhere for us to witness: terrorist attacks, genocide, greed, car bombs in Times Square, human trafficking, outrageous political machinations, inane bigotry, hateful and destructive religious extremism. The list is endless. And it so easily can give rise to a feeling of hopelessness and despair - which quite frankly equals death. Personally, I'm not interested in dying - metaphorically or literally - until it truly is my time.

So I choose to fight it in the very small ways that I can, and I have yet to find a better summation of how to confront such despair than by words that were uttered by the great Martin Luther King, Jr:

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."

Last night I attended my very first Metropolitan Opera HD transmission here in Geneva. It was Rossini's treacherous "Armida", and everyone that was starring in the show I can happily call a friend of mine, which was a total hoot for me. I was SO thrilled to see them all giving such full-on performances and bringing joy to so many people.

(With my two wonderful co-stars, tenors Luciano Botelho and Gregory Kunde)

But when Larry Brownlee fell to his knees in the famous tenor-trio, his eyes burning with passion and tumult as he recognizes he must choose between love and duty, I was flooded with everything that is magnificent and miraculous about the human spirit. Here is a person who has overcome so many obstacles in his life to soar to the very top of the operatic world, and he has done it with utmost elegance, class and humility. He is on that stage to serve people, and to serve his talent. It is humbling to me, and inspiring beyond words. I watched someone yesterday who has crossed so many barriers to bring light into the world through his beautiful voice and generous spirit.

We need more of this beauty. We need more of this light.

How lucky we all are - because I assume each of you reading this embraces music as a provider of access to something extraordinary - to have something that brings beauty and serenity and comprehension and insight and joy and tears and has the power to open sometimes the most stubborn of closed doors within ourselves. I'm humbled to work in a business with so many wonderful colleagues that bring such beauty and generosity to the world.

But there are an infinite number of sources for beauty and joy - and I just love finding them. For example, please enjoy this little Sunday escape:

PS - John Osborne gets a HUGE thank you from me for the fabulous "shout-out" during the 4-tenor interview in the intermission yesterday! Dude, you are awesome!!!

PPS - Final dress is on Monday, and after a very beautiful pre-dress, I think everyone is really looking forward to our opening on Wednesday. This one is a keeper!!

PPPS - In proof-reading this little post (which doesn't always help, because I know I'm not the Queen of Grammar - too many "!!!!"s!) But the title says "Wisdom". I don't mean to imply it is "my" wisdom - it refers to MLK's quote. Which is, indeed, wise. (See what I mean about the grammar?!?!)