Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Parting thoughts, secret looks, and invitations!

(On the famed Ponnelle set of "Barbiere" during intermission - photo graciously taken by an enthusiastic stage hand whose name I unfortunately missed: Grazie mille, amico mio!)

Well, what a whirlwind this past week was! What an experience Milano was! What a life, eh? I can't write too much, because technically I'm on vacation (aaaaaaaaah) but part of my vacation plan was to catch up on over-due things, and writing this blog is one of them, so I don't feel as if I'm breaking any spa rules, here! Besides, Milan was so special, I'm quite happy to share.

But let me get the invitation out of the way first: if you feel like participating in a vote that is not of a political nature, feel free to join the classical crowd at Gramophone to vote for "Artist of the Year." I'm more than excited to share that I am among the nominees, and sharing the votes with the likes of Placido Domingo, Tony Pappano, Lang Lang, etc is rather AMAZING and thrilling! I won't ask you to vote for me (but you are, naturally, more than welcome to!) but it's a lovely tradition that Gramophone has to keep such a prestigious award in the hands of the people who really count: YOU, THE FANS! So take a look, register, and vote for your favorite artist!!

Parting thoughts consist of the remarkable run I had in Milan. Sadly, our other Rosina fell ill, and I'm sure you all join me in wishing her a most quick and complete recovery. But it meant that they asked me to fill in for the performances she was meant to sing: as a result, I performed 8 Rosina's in 15 days, 2 times singing 2 performances back to back. Happily, Rosina agrees with me, but that was a long haul - especially considering that I made a mad dash to Rome between 2 shows to record Rossini's Stabat Mater with Tony Pappano ("secret looks" coming up!)

But the Milanese opera lovers were out in full force, and I can't thank them enough for the wonderful reception they allotted me, and the astonishing casts I was lucky enough to perform with. But here's the thing: I realized during my last show with Juan Diego on the 23rd, that we don't have anymore Barber's scheduled together. Now, no need to panic - anything can happen in this business, but we both happen to be quite full for the coming few years, and we don't have too many more Barber's on the schedule. For all practicality, it is possible that the 23rd of July was our last performance of this opera together! I realized that going into the intermission and felt very emotional as the curtain rose for the 2nd act, for it has not escaped me that we have been a part of a very special team for the past few years, and Barbiere has certainly been at the top of that list. The musical excellence I think we found together was quite remarkable, and if this WAS the last one, I will miss it very much! Yes, we have other shows scheduled together, but Barber has been something special...

The next night I shared the stage with Lawrence Brownlee and we were overcome with similar emotions: we both come from America, having worked our way up the ladder of conservatories, local competitions, young artist programs, etc - and yet, here we were, bringing the house down in Milan at the famed La Scala. We had both had a VERY long week leading up to our final show, and during the final number, we just held so tightly onto each other, soaking up the moment, soaking up the emotion, and reveling in the beauty of it all.

During this remarkable run I've had the immense privilege of being in the very front row (surely a very coveted position!) listening to these two very different, but equally astonishing artists sing the demanding "Cessa di piu resistere" and each night has been a true joy as I could soak up their supreme excellence and commitment to the art form. I will treasure the memories of singing with such wonderful casts here in Milan for a long time to come. And if it's the last time I grace the stage in Barber with these outstanding colleagues, the richness of the experience will certainly last me a life time!

Now - the secret looks!!!

So, 8 shows in a row is quite a lot, and as the last show approached, I will not lie that my excitement for getting to my vacation destination was growing rapidly! So as can happen during performances of a Rossini comedy - especially the last one of the season - the antics can start to really pick up! I'm not good at pulling on-stage jokes on my castmates - there are others who are true genius's in that department! But I DID happen to bring my camera discreetly with me into "my room" during the final show! I spend a LOT of time during the first act in this particular production waiting in Rosina's room, as there is no way to exit off stage - once I appear on the balcony, I'm stuck! So I thought it might be fun for you to see some of what I see while listening to the Figaro/Count duet, Basilio's aria, etc.

You've seen me sing from the balcony, but most of you have probably never seen the interior of Rosina's room. Simple, and yet perfectly detailed, here is were I quietly hum along to the Fig/Count duet, making sure the voice is "there" for the aria:

P.S. I have to hide my water bottles under the lace drape over the dressing table!

The hidden guitarist who accompanies the Count during the opening canzonetta, is discreetly placed over on stage left, and his eyes never left the tenor singing that night, so that his accompaniment could match the phrasing perfectly:

One of the true treasures of this 40 year old Ponnelle production (born the same year as your's truly!) is that all the turns of the round stage are done BY HAND! That's right - no hydrolics involved, only real Italian man (and woman!) power! They pivot the stage during the Fig/Conte duet, as I'm waiting by the balcony, so I get to see first hand the chorus of muscle working hard in tandem to turn this IMMENSE stage, and I think it's amazing to know that so many people behind the scenes are making the magic happen! This isn't a great photo, as it was VERY dark backstage, and obviously I couldn't use a flash - but trust me, the proud stagehands were smiling and mugging for the camera perfectly:

I just love the sepia look of this set. The intricacies of it's construction, again, built over 40 years ago, still amaze and dazzle the public. He truly created a functioning, magical Seville! I enjoyed getting the chance to catch these sets without the wandering priests, nuns and singers and was able to see the design in it's purest form:

Again, there was no good lighting to be found backstage (the nerve!!!) but I squeezed out a photo of the beloved Ambrogio and Berta who add an IMMENSE amount of character and realism to the wacky world of Dr. Bartolo's house:

I really enjoyed having the chance to capture some of the inner workings of a production this epic - and I feel truly honored to have joined the legacy of amazing singers who have breathed life into this story on this perfect set!

One last preview:

In Rome to record Rossini's Stabat Mater with an astonishing line-up of singers and the incomparable Tony Pappano at the helm, we shared 2 days of intense, inspired music making. I think this piece is a true jewel, packing a most powerful emotional punch, and to sing it with the Orchestra and Chorus of Santa Cecilia (following up our collaboration on the Colbran disc!), with these outstanding solists, and with Tony - well, it was pure heaven. I had no business squeezing this in between shows at La Scala (it involved escaping after a show and driving to Rome with the world's SLOWEST driver, arriving in Rome at 6:15 AM, ready to record at 10:30 AM!), but it was the only possibility, and one I did NOT want to miss. Funnily enough, the music gave me all the energy I needed, and the week proved to be exhilarating beyond words! I can't wait for the disc to arrive, but in the meantime you can catch a sneak preview of the process here, courtesy of BBC World.

Well, if you've made it this far, you deserve a medal! And that's it for me until I arrive in Salzburg - how nervous and excited I am to add Adalgisa to my repertoire, with such an exciting cast! Lots of work left to do, which includes RELAXING and BREATHING!

Thank you all for your support and try to stay cool in the coming weeks!!!


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Heating things up

It's July 20, and I have 4 more days of the Italian Heat! I can make it, right? They will be busy days, but I can do 4 days! That's way easier than 5, and miles away from 6 days! The beautiful part, is that after I make it through these 4 days, I'm officially on a mini-vacation, and there is an Austrian Spa that has my name in neon lights flashing through the Alps! I can NEARLY smell the evergreens and feel the alpine breezes and the hot stones working their magic on my shoulders! Am I there yet?

(With the effervescent Franco Vassallo as Figaro)

Nope - I get two more lovely evenings at La Scala to perform in this glorious, historic production of Jean-Pierre Ponnelle's, relishing the opportunity to join in the enormous legacy of leading ladies who have donned Rosina's skirt for nearly two centuries here in Milan. (For curious minds, the first was Carolina Pellegrini on September 16, 1820!) I love being a part of such a legacy: not only being one of the many who have sung a role, but for example, tonight is the 171st performance of Barbiere at La Scala - imagine 171 performances, 171 audiences, 171 "Una voce poco fa's" - and that's only in one theater. I love to be a part of something that has traveled the world, been performed by so many different people, sung for so many different audiences - each night is something entirely new, and yet the unifying aspect of it all - over the centuries and cultures - brings a sense of peace and an "all is right with the world" sensation.

(With Juan Diego Florez as the Count and Alessandro Corbelli as Bartolo - perfection in so many ways!)

If I can't yet have my hot stone massage, I'll CERTAINLY take that for the moment!

(The famed Teatro alla Scala after hours)

I would also love to share some wonderful news with you all! I will be the recipient of the Female "Singer of the Year" for the Echo Klassik Awards, taking place in Essen, Germany on October 17. It's a wonderful award, and I'm truly honored and humbled to be receiving it - especially considering that my "counterpart" is Jonas Kaufmann!) Congratulations to the mighty list of winners!!

(The statue that bears the name of my lovely husband!)

And finally, an enormous "Grazie mille" to all the lovely people who came out to my "incontro" yesterday at the Scala Bookshop. It was a lovely (warm!) afternoon, and I appreciate your show of support very much!

In the meantime - back to Seville!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Another immense loss.

Kansas City lost one of its greatest visionaries the same day that the world lost Sir Charles Mackerras. While perhaps the latter will receive more international coverage, the loss of Richard Harriman will be no less deeply felt. He brought the world of classical music to the middle of America and provided a varied, superlative, world-class program that saw the recital debut of Luciano Pavarotti, countless appearances by Marilyn Horne, the Vienna Philharmonic, Russian Ballet companies, Baroque Orchestras, Wynton Marsallis, among a multitude of others, and graciously gave me my hometown recital debut.

He was a quiet, unassuming man who championed countless performers and somehow knew who the stars would be before any of them knew themselves. He personified the "young at heart" approach to living, and I'm convinced that music provided him the catalyst for that youthful energy. He was an example of serving a community, fulfilling a vocation, and thinking WAY outside the box!

In him, we have the perfect example of what dedication and imagination can bring to the world: in bringing more than 850 events to one city over the years, a single human being with a vision and the fortitude to follow it through, well, he changed the lives of the people of my hometown. He brought us beauty and introspection and laid the world at our feet. No need for passports and airfare - he graciously brought it all to us.

I owe Mr. Harriman a tremendous amount, and he will be sorely missed. What a great thought, however, to imagine he and Sir Charles getting to chat it up together over a nice cup of tea. How much richer those two gentlemen left the world.

Thank you.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Sir Charles

I extend my condolences to the family of Sir Charles Mackerras (1925-2010) who passed away earlier today in London. The condolences also extend to the musical world where the loss will be surely felt for a long time to come. Happily, we have numerous musical memories to cherish and revisit in the legacy of recordings he created over his vast and varied career.

My only experience with him was a heavenly Don Giovanni at the Royal Opera a few years ago, and it was musical nirvana for me. I learned a great deal and felt deeply honored to be able to explore Mozart's Masterpiece with him. I was looking forward SO very much to performing Idomeneo with him this coming August, and his absence will be difficult to overcome, but it will be an honor to dedicate the performance to him.

May your rest in beautiful peace, Sir Charles. Thank you for all that gave to the world!

Friday, July 9, 2010


Cracking up

She is, isn't she? And I find the more time I spend with her, the more striking I find her features. The shading, the subtlety, the refinement - the simplicity of her composition and demeanor. I discovered she's actually wearing a veil - something I never noticed about her before, until I used a telephoto lens to study her. It's there - it's amazing.

Unknown hands

She really does take your breath away.

Speaking of striking, I should be warming up right about now for my "prima" here in Milan. As you most likely know, a "sciopera" has gripped the Teatro alla Scala for the evening and our performance has been canceled. (Note: You can have a refund of your tickets until July 17!!!) I think I understand to a large extent how disappointing it must be for the people who held tickets for tonight's show. My heart truly goes out to you. It's also extremely disappointing to myself - an artist - who gives up a lot of her life to perform for you - the public - to have a performance taken away. I don't profess to understand either side of the argument. It seems to me, as is almost always the case, both sides have valid points, and both sides could make some concessions - I just personally hate to see the public dragged into the fight, where art seems to be the main casualty. I suppose those involved feel it is their most powerful weapon, so I understand their desire to use it, but history seems to show that it seldom brings results, which makes me question the productivity of it all. But I'm not Italian, this isn't my country, nor my theater - I have no say in the matter, which feels quite strange - but I respect that this is the way things work. I only hope that both sides can find a way to work productively together, for art deserves so much more, and God only knows how desperately we need art in our lives these days!

Regardless, please know that I will do my best to give the fullest performance I can, should we ever be given the chance to perform! (On a side note, there have been a few changes here at the theater, one including a few additional performances for me: I'll now be singing on the 10th and 13th, as well as my regular scheduled shows...)

I have to say that it's funny working on this Ponnelle production! The production is older than I am, and all the greatest Rossini singers of the past 4 decades have participated in the epic staging, so I feel a real sense of entering an historic masterpiece, rich in legacy and tradition.

It's challenging, however, because opera has changed quite a lot in the past 40 years, and having participated in the creation of a number of new productions, often with a very modern twist to them, it is fascinating to return to a time where things were much simpler. It is quite hard for me to sing the Lesson Scene in a cut version (as I'm a fierce proponent for what a brilliant dramatic scene it creates in its entirety), and the idea of not singing the recitative with Bartolo where she swears revenge on "Lindoro" and asks Bartolo to marry her is near sacrilege to me! But this is the original Ponnelle version (except they've included the now mandatory tenor aria), and there is something beautiful about stepping into the simple clockwork and choreography he created so many years ago. This Rosina is a classic, and I'm glad I will have the chance (strikes permitting!) to add this kind of approach to my repertoire of "Vipera's"!!!

One benefit to the strike is that I had a free day today, which is the first grouping of 2 days in a row that have been free for me in MONTHS! I am not complaining about that in the least, and have relished sleeping in late, getting back to some yoga, catching up on the backload of emails, and simply catching my breath! Ah, I do believe I needed it!

Hope to be in great form tomorrow night - it's not every night one gets to debut an iconic role at an iconic theater. I better stop talking about it and thinking about it - that'll make me nervous!

Hope you all are finding a way to stay cool wherever you are!


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

I need Zen...

...and I need it now!!

So let's retreat, shall we, to a glorious Parisian afternoon spent amongst the bronzed, perfected creations of Rodin. Perfection of balance, harmony, movement, beauty - really, all the things that art should strive to be, no? Yes, let's spend some time here. Let's escape and breathe and marvel at what art CAN and SHOULD be!


Hanging around

Le Penseur

The Thinking Man's Legs


There. I feel better. Thank you!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Son qua!

Just to reassure ya'll that I have not fallen off the face of the earth: I'm simply trying to accomplish 2 things at once - get a new (to me, but to few others!) production of Barbiere on it's feet in a very short amount of time, with all the normal challenges that seem to plague this particular opera house, and trying not to suffocate in the heat here in Milano. The first task being FAR easier than the second!

Will catch up soon, but in the meantime, one of my very favorite photos from a second adventure inside the Louvre....