Best Arts Blogger in America?

When I lived in an apartment on East 65th street for a brief time, I had a very grumpy next door neighbor who hated when I praticed, even if it was only to warm up for a half hour in the middle of the day. She used to pound on my door and yell "If I wanted to hear a concert, I'd go to Carnegie Hall!!" As much as her unsympathetic attitude annoyed me when I was just trying to get ready for an audition, she was actually one of the first people that came to my mind when I finally did sing at Carnegie Hall, and I recall those exchanges with great fondness now as a result. I think one of the reasons I can now enjoy it so much is that I know that it's a quintesentially New York story; It's not so unusual for crotchety old ladies to complain about noise, but there are certainly more loud opera singers per capita in New York City than anywhere else. Not to mention the fact that Carnegie Hall was evoked in a fight over a noise complaint - where else can you imagine that happening?

Which brings me to the reason for this blog post: Carnegie Hall's Spring for Music Festival is holding a competition for bloggers, looking for the "Best Blogger in North America." They pose a series of blog challenges, link to the blog posts on their website, and have the public plus a panel of judges pick the best entries. They then select one winner, who will earn the $2500 prize, as well as tickets to the Festival, which presents orchestras from around North America, innovative programming, and affordable tickets. Sounds like a win for everybody, no? Their first question piqued my interest, so I decided to throw my hat into the competition.

They ask: New York has long been considered the cultural capital of America. Is it still? If not, where?

As someone who has called New York home since 1997, and who travels all over the world for my job, I have to answer that I believe New York can absolutely call itself the cultural capital of America. Why? Because of its residents. New York has the highest poplution by far of artists concentrated into one small area; musicians, actors, visual artists and dancers from all over have long made the pilgrimage to New York City as an arts mecca, and the city has continued to develop around its population. Because of the concentration of artists, and therefore artistic endeavors, people who are interested in culture are also drawn to New York and all it has to offer, and the cultural landscape continues to develop around the population. There is no other city that is able to maintain the sheer number of museums, galleries, theater companies, dance companies, orchestras, and opera companies both large and small that New York boasts, which in turn continues to lure more and more artists, hungry for opportunities and a chance to develop their skills. The reason my noise senstivive former neighbor was able to needle me when she knocked on my door is that like every musician in New York, making it to Carengie Hall is exactly why we all migrated here. And who knows - perhaps her little insult, combined with just how competitive New York City can be with its high concentration of talented artists, is what made me practice just a little harder and put me another step closer to that dream.

The wide variety of artistic programming available in New York City is one of the things that keeps me in the City year after year, despite the expenses and challenges of living here. One thing I've noticed during the experiences I've had working in Europe is that European artists sometimes have an advantage over American artists because they have so much more exposure to classic arts as part of their general cultural landscape for their entire lives. Operas are on tv far more often than they are over here, orchestral concerts are happening constantly, museums are on nearly every corner in large cities, and even children seem to be exposed to at least the existence of arts and culture from an early age. We don't generally have these advantages as Americans - unless we live in New York City. A lot of my European friends who have visited America said that they felt the most at home in NYC (although to be fair, they also loved cities like Boston and San Francisco, certainly) because of the cultural offerings, and because of how those cultural offerings affected the general population of the place, and vice versa. We New Yorkers make this city great, and The City makes us who we are.

All of the above doesn't mean that we don't face challenges in keeping our cultural landscape vibrant. In the March 12th issue of The New Yorker, music critic Alex Ross wrote an article entitled "Dimenuendo - a downturn for opera in New York City." He sums up his attitude about the state of opera in New York City, after the recent struggles of New York City Opera (which I wrote about in this post), in this final sentence:

This has been the most dispiriting opera season since I began reviewing music in New York, twenty years ago. Although the economic crisis has taken its toll, the problem is less a lack of money than a lack of intellectual vitality. Both the Met and City Opera are committing the supreme operatic sin: they are thinking small.

As someone who spent the first part of my career cutting my teeth at New York City Opera in the majesty of Lincoln Center, I was greatly dispirited myself to see the company struggle so terribly in recent seasons. Their tale should be a cautionary one to arts institutions in New York City - just becuase we are in this cultural capital, we can never become complacent. We must remain vigilant in our efforts to remain vibrant, forward thinking, and to use the resources this great City provides us to the best of our abilities. As the cultural capital, we not only have the ability to showcase the most current and exiticing talent in every artistic discipline, but we have the responsibility to show the country and the world what's possible.

* The voting has begun. Here is a link to the page where you can vote - blogs are listed on the right, and mine is listed as Trying to Remain Operational, near the bottom, should you wish to vote for me, oh dedicated readers (hint hint)* 

That's not my job!

It seems like a lot of my blog entries lately are directed towards younger singers, or at least people trying to make their way in this career. I'm not sure why I'm so drawn to speaking to that demographic - I guess I just figure when you spend a certain amount of time making enough mistakes, you hope there is somebody out there - besides yourself, of course, who can learn and benefit from all those little trips and stumbles. 

I've been thinking this week about how we define our job as opera singers. There is the obvious; become as good as you can at singing opera (and all that goes along with it - acting, languages, etc), show up to rehearsal on time, be a good colleague, and work hard. There is also the less obvious, but becoming more and more important aspect in today's market; self promotion, being in good shape, looking good, and all that. But one thing that I think people neglect to realize is that it is also their job to keep in touch with people within the industry. There seem to be two schools of thought on this subject. One is the people who are incredible schmoozers (and I mean that in the best way), who are excellent at keeping in touch with and keeping tabs on every single person they've met, people who send out email updates on what they're up to and where they're singing to a huge list of recepients, and who write thank you notes at every possible turn. (If you're one of those people, you can probably stop reading now.) Then there are those of us (I generally fall into this second category) who are so afraid of coming off as phony, insincere, or as pests, that we basically never correspond with anyone except our families and a few close friends. And a thought dawned on me this week - perhaps there is some happy medium to this situation - what if we considered it part of OUR JOB to keep in touch with people, but instead of just feeling pressure to connect with every single person that could ever potentially help us in some way - what if we just kept in touch with people we have come into contact with that we geniunely liked and connected with, and had something interesting to say to?

The reason this came up for me this week was that a few weeks ago I ran into the amazing Marilyn Horne at a Music Academy of the West alumni reception. Marilyn Horne is absolutely one of the people I most admire most in the world, and it's not just because she was such an incomparable artist. It's also because she really is a great lady who spends the bulk of her time now that she has retired from singing helping other people. I'll never forget a concert at Music Academy one summer (which is the summer program in Santa Barbara where she heads the vocal program), when she was still singing, and gave a recital for the Santa Barbara public. The 20 voice students from the program were seated on the stage behind her while she sang her recital. When it came time for her to sing an encore, she turned her back to the paying public, and dedicated and sang the entire song to the 20 of us. The gesture made me weep to the point that my boyfriend at the time had to nudge me and tell me to quit being such a baby. And that moment perfectly describes what she is like as a person, and how she is so generous with sharing her gifts. 

But I digress. The point is, I ran into her at this function, and she mentioned that she hadn't heard from me in a long time and would love to know how I was doing. I not only attended the Music Academy, but Marilyn acutally attended my Master's recital at Juilliard, and asked me to participate in her "On Wings of Song" Foundation which I did for years. We used to comminicate somewhat regularly, but as time went on, I began to feel like I was probably just bugging her if I emailed her - not becuase of anything she said, mind you, just because that's how I am. After seeing her the other night, I promised to email her soon and get back in touch. I went home, weeks passed, and I did nothing. Why? Because a) I didn't want to bother her, and b) I didn't want to seem like I wanted something from her. But hang on - she asked me to email her, it's not like as soon as she saw me she went zipping in the other direction.  And I genuinely adore her - I don't have any expectations for her. Then I started to think about other people in the business who I genuinely had relationships with, but who I had lapsed in keeping in contact with. People who yes, possibly could have recommended me for something here or there, but who I wouldn't be keeping in touch with for that reason, but because I really liked them. 

There are a lot of fields for which keeping a large updated rolodex is very important for your business. But many people don't tend to consider singing one of those businesses. We imagine it's important for our agents, and certainly for our publicists (I'm using the royal "Our" since I obviously don't have a publicist), but the art of singing itself is pretty complicated, so many of imagine that as long as we're good at that, we should leave the rest to the professionals. But not even staying in touch with the people you've met who you really have a connection with is actually, sorry to say, slacking off. Not only do you kind of owe it to people who've helped you along the way to keep them aprised of your accomplishments, but you owe it to yourself to maintain relationships with people who not only care about you, but who are in the same business as you and who can help you - if not with jobs or recommendations, then with advice, support, and perhaps words of encouragement. It is not your job to kiss people's asses, but it is your job to remain connected to the people who have been integral to your development in some way, or who have shown an interest in you as an artist and as a person. Ask yourself this question - do I have something interesting to tell this person? If you do, I think it's okay to email them - as long as it's not just some kind of blatant self promotion (I personally think that sort of thing can backfire). 

I'm thinking this list of things that are part of the job will continue to grow (and believe me - I'm teaching these things to myself as we go) - but for now, item number one is: Stay connected to people you like

And by the way, I finally did email Marilyn, and she wrote me back right away. And now that we're back in touch, I feel more free to ask her advice about things. And who on earth is a better expert for me - an american mezzo - to consult with than the greatest one of all time? I also wrote to a couple more people in the business who I really like and haven't spoken to in too long, to congratulate them on recent successes they've had. I wanted to communicate with them, and I actually had something to say. I didn't let my own considerations get in the way. It felt right. I'm very glad I took my own advice. 

How to be happy - a Valentine for you!

Valentine's day can be soooooooo annoying for those people who are single, and I certainly remember from my years of singledom how it could seem cloying and depressing if you thought too much about it. So I say, let's hijack the holiday and make it about being nice and loving to everyone, not just a significant other. And in that vein, I want to send all of you a Valentine because if you're still reading my blog even now, when I only post something once every 42 years, you deserve a little love from me. 

I started reading a book this week called The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. Basically, she's a writer with a perfectly lovely life who realized that like many people, she could be much happier with the life she has. So she made a list of the ways in which she could improve her general feelings of well being, and began implementing them month by month, and documenting the experiment in a memoir. And since she is a freelance writer, a lot of the things that were tripping up her happiness were things I could relate to as a freelance musician, and I'm finding the book very uplifting. I like reading about her journey torwards improving how she feels day to day, one item at a time. 

I think a lot of us can easily feel upset and frustrated by life, even when our lives are pretty great when you judge them just based on the facts. We're doing something we really like, we have interesting people to meet along he way, we often have supportive friends and family (it's difficult to even get into this career if you haven't had at least somebody supportive in your path), and we always get to learn new things and grow as artists, and therefore as human beings. But we get so mired down in the difficult parts of what we do; the loneliness, the rejection, the lack of job security - that we tend to focus on that and let the great parts just pass us by un-noticed. And for that reason, I've made a list of how to "be happier" as an opera singer. I think it could apply to a lot of people, because I've learned a lot these past years of participating in this very unusual life, and think I have come up with a few solutions to at least look at. Not that I always do every one of these things mind you - we need to be reminded about this stuff constantly to make it stick. The list is as much for me as it is for you. So here goes:

How to be a Happier Opera Singer


1. Remember it's about the journey, not the destination.

This one is hard, because we need to be ambitious to make this career happen, and with ambition comes the need to think about where and what we should be doing to forward our careers. Plus,  because it is such a small world, it's easy to compare what other people are doing and think we don't measure up. But if our ultimate goal in life is actually to be happy (as opposed to being successful), then we have to remind ourselves that a specific job is not the thing that is going to make us happy. Often we strive for something, and when we obtain it we realize it comes mired with all kinds of stress, frustration, and pressure. So actually, the fancy job singing at Blahblah company isn't a THING that is meant to make you happy. The feeling of acheivement you get when you are hired might make you happy - but have you ever noticed that you can get that same feeling or endorphin when you accomplish something that seems to your mind far less "successful" like finally noticing that you know a whole role from memory, or helping a friend solve a problem? Not to mention the fact that often, a goal you think you really wanted - you NEEDED to be happy, but which you didn't acheive, will lead to something else even more exciting - either a chance to grow or even another opportunity that would have been missed had you been given the first one. The thing that seems to make human beings happy is the ability to grow and learn things, and whether or not you are super succesful or just making your way, this particular career path gives us ample opportunities to experience that feeling of growth and new knowledge.

2. Be kind to everyone you meet. Not fakey fakey nice, but genuine and kind.

This one is VERY hard for some people (I won't mention any names, but Jenny Rivera finds this really hard). We are soooooooooo stressed and worried and subject to our own moods, and we often get used to having our needs met because let's face it, singers often get very special treatment. Of course, that is certainly not always the case, and we've all spent our hours paying our dues singing 7 AM school shows, and riding on stinky buses and whatnot. But being nice is not only good for your career, it really does make you happier. I'm not talking about fake nice, pretending to smile and act all googly eyed, and then turning around and saying how much you hate someone. I mean, finding ways to be kind and to like all the people that you come into contact with. In my experience, a great deal of second engagements result from the people involved in the company liking you, not just as a singer, but often, more importantly, as a person. And have you ever noticed that when you are in a good mood, and you walk down the street and make eye contact and smile warmly at strangers, you feel really good? The thing that's difficult is that there are a multitude of very large personalitied people in this business, and sometimes you feel like they are working for the specific purpose of making your life difficult. I'm NOT saying to be a pushover to these people, but from my experience observing people who are very successful at dealing with difficult personalities, they are rarely mean. They are usually calm and kind, and they usually manage to get what they need. This is really a challenge for me; first of all I kind of look mean if I'm spaced out and my face just goes into a scowl. Second, I can get very defensive and hyper when I feel like there is an obstacle to what I'm trying to do. Third, I'm overly sensitive and impulsive. But despite all of that, I really like being nice to people, because it makes them feel good, and that makes me feel good. And when I'm feeling bad about myself, finding people to be nice to, no matter how much I have to push myself to do it in that moment, always helps me feel better. That doesn't mean you will become friends with everyone, just treat them with kindness and fairness as best you can.

3. If you feel helpless, DO SOMETHING! 

One of the worst feelings we all have in this business is helplessness. And it comes often in this line of work because you can sing like a god, and still not get hired, you can have the best year of your career and still have no jobs the following year, or you can give of yourself a million percent and there are still people who won't like it. Sometimes I get really down in the dumps because I don't feel successful enough, validated enough, busy enough, famous enough - you get the idea. And I can't call up Jimmy John, the GD of Blahblah A House and say "Okay, it's time you hired me already. I mean - everybody is asking me when you are going to. My friends think I'm totally good enough, so seriously, just stop dilly dallying and give everyone what they want." There is nothing you can do to get someone to hire you - you can't even just try to sing better, because that may not work anyway. But that doesn't mean there is nothing you can do to feel proactive and productive about yourself as an artist. You can sit down and make a list of all the roles you could possibly sing. You could work on your website (ahem, Rivera - I think she's talking to you, who hasn't updated her calendar in 3 years), you could get a group of other singers together and brainstorm about ways to be better artists, or ways to publicize yourself, you could write emails to people you really like in the business but haven't corresponded with in awhile, you could read a self help book about proactivity, you could organize a group of singers for a peer masterclass, you could learn a new song cycle, you could try to read a book in italian, you could make a list of every single opera company and symphony in america, you could just take a walk and listen to a fast Handel aria on your headphones (that always jazzes me up, but that may just be me), or you could make a list of goals, or of music you want to learn, or of people you want to work with, or of companies you think you should sing for. Or you could just old fashioned practice singing. I promise you that after you do a few of these things, you will be out of your funk, at least for the time being. 

4. Don't read bad reviews.

Just don't read them. Get someone you trust to just send you the good ones. I don't see any reason on earth to read things that one particular person writes about you that they don't like. Someone else could easily like the same thing that the first person hated. Record yourself singing or have someone who's opinion you trust come to the performance, but don't bother to read bad reviews. I see absolutely no purpose, and I don't think they are constructive because often the person has no idea what they are talking about. Now, if you do this, you can't really "believe" the good reviews - you can't use them as some kind of "get out of jail free" card to pretend like you are perfect all the time. But most singers I know are so furiously hard on themselves, they know exactly what they did wrong the instant the sound leaves their lips. They don't need a journalist to tell them. 

5. When you feel competitive with, or jealous of someone else, be supportive of them instead.

I know this one sounds a little cuckoo, and like it will backfire, but I firmly believe that it works to make you a happier person. Being able to admire people only makes you a more effective artist, and trying to undermine them either in your head or when you talk to other people doesn't make you look very confident and isn't very attractive. Plus it kind of eats away at your soul. Let's say you are singing a role, and your gorgeous young cover sings a rehearsal, and you hear her and you think "SHIT! She's really good! And young! And gorgeous! And now looking at her website I see that she has Blahblah job that I really wanted! ARRRRGGGHHHH!!" You are human - your first instinct will be to hate her guts. But like they tell you to do when you are trying to meditate, if you have a thought, label it, and let it go. And when you next see her, tell her how gorgeously she sang, and tell other people nice things too. This doesn't work if you're being fake. Don't go around telling people you think somebody is fabulous when you don't - that's very transparent in my opinion. Just accept that jealousy is natural, it's human, label it, and move on. Your journey is not hers and you wish her well on hers while you take yours. If you think that is too hoo ha for you, just try it next time it happens, and tell me it didn't make you happier than sitting there wishing you had a voodoo doll to stick with pins. As competitive as this world seems, nobody "takes away" anybody else's opportunity. That's just not how it works, even though our minds tell us it is. 

6. Deal with fear.

Here's my problem; I get terrible stagefright for certain performances. Not all of them, just certain things make me excrutiatingly nervous. How do I usually deal with it? Pretend like it's not there until it comes up and makes me utterly miserable. And because I don't get it before every performance, I'm particularly good at ignoring it until I feel like throwing up, and by then it's too late. And fear really can take the joy out of performing - BIG TIME. I have had more conversations with myself about other career possibilities when I've been nervous before a performance than at any other time in my life. Fear, and this includes both stage fright and fear of failing which causes you not to take risks either in performance or in life, is something that needs to be addressed. I can't offer you the ultimate solution to this because it's different for everyone - therapy, hypnosis, accupuncture, meditation, exercise, breathing, body work, and personal coaching are just some things that have been succesful for people I know. But deal with it - it's a really mean little thing that can make you hate something that should be joyous. 

7. Don't compare yourself to anyone else.

This kind of ties everything together. The journey, the competitiveness, the fear, the bad behavoir. Our natural tendency as humans is to measure ourselves by those around us. Some are worse about this than others, but singers are natural candidates for this because we are constantly auditioning against others, being compared to other singers, being asked to sound like other singers, being made to feel inferior to other singers when we're not working as much as them, etc ad infinitum. And it really doesn't help that our field is small enough that we can compare ourselves very specifically to very specific people, and decide immediately that we don't measure up. The humongous problem with this is that we really are all unique individuals, and you can't turn into a pineapple if you're a banana. So you are setting yourself up for failure and unhappiness if you begin to play the compare game. I am sitting here writing this blog post, not singing an aria at the Grammy's - but I can't make myself into a Joyce DiDonato pineapple no matter how hard I try. I am a banana, and some people really like bananas AND pineapples, and some people only like one or the other, and there's not way to combine the two because then you get a Tangelo and those things are just creepy. Better to stick with what you've got and make as many banana cream pies and banana breads as you possibly can. And while you're at it, admire yourself some pineapple and learn from her recipes as much as you can, because she sure can sing Non piu mesta like nobody's business! 

I wish you a very HAPPY Valentines day!! 

New York City Opera in peril

There is a group on facebook of colleagues past and present from New York City Opera, where we discuss, sometimes quite heatedly, the current tragedy that is the possible collapse of a great American Institution; the New York City Opera. Even though I have no "dog in the fight," that is, I have not been hired by the current administration, nor am I part of the chorus or orchestra currently in union negotiations, I am terribly interested in the proceedings for many reasons. The first is that I am a member of AGMA, the union representing the singers and directors that is currently locked out of rehearsals. The second is just my general love and commitment to the company after all it has done for me and my career, as well as the carreers of many artists just like me. The third is that I strongly believe that having a second opera company in a cultural center like New York City, one that doesn't have the biggest budgets in the country and the biggest stars, but has a very high profile nonethelss, provides an incredibly valuable artistic contribution to a city, and as an example, to a nation, which is already suffering terribly from cultural antipathy and an almost unhealthy fixation with things like Kardashians and Snookis. 

The first reason listed above, the fact that I am a member of AGMA, is one of the things causing a bit of controversy among certain current and former members of the company. Many people may not be aware that both the singers of the chorus and the solo singers are represented by the same union. It makes sense, since we are all singers, and we therefore have many of the same needs in a union - adequate breaks, safety, scheduled days off, etc. But of course the tricky part is that under the current City Opera model, solo singers are freelancers, while chorus singers are employees, and so the union can effectively negotiate things like guaranteed weeks of work, health insurance, and unemployment benefits for only one group of its constituents. It actually only becomes tricky when there is a possible strike at a company like City Opera, which employs both freelancers and employee union members (many companies hire the chorus on a freelance basis) because the soloists are required to strike with the chorus because they are members of the union, even though the nature of the soloists jobs is not necessarily one of the items on the negotiating table. Soloists often feel they are unfairly thrown into the fight although they have no items of their own being fought for, while some chorus members feel that because the union represents us all, soloists are being selfish if they suggest that they do not belong on the same side of the picket line as the choristers (and in this case the orchestra, although they have their own separate union). It is a sticky situation, and one that can lead to disagreements and frustation among people who would normally never find themselves in opposition to one another. If there is a strike, the performances will likely have to be cancelled anyway, so I imagine it will be a moot point. It does, however, continue to ruffle some feathers and hurt some feelings on both sides. 

There have been some people suggesting that although the fate of City Opera is terrible, it is inevitable, and that the chorus and orchestra should realize that some work is better than no work, and that this reduced model is the only way City Opera can remain open. However, others suggest that the financial shortfall has been a result of gross mismanagement on the part of the current administration and the Board, and that the direction the current administration wishes to take New York City Opera does not reflect the way the company was intended to be run by its founders, and by the generations of impresarios that have lead the company since (as reflected by the letter of non support written by Julius Rudel, as well as the petitions signed by many former company lumanaries). 

I obviously have not been privy to the numbers that the Board and the administration have been looking at which have caused them first to vacate the newly renovated Lincoln Center, and then decide that the system of artist employees should be abolished, so I certainly cannot state with authority that there must have been another alternative. I am however of the opinion that if you want to be an Opera producer, trying to shrink a company and change the business model to something smaller is not necessarily the only way to "save" the company. New York City Opera, although possessing a much smaller budget than the Met, was still always thought of as a "Grand" opera company, partly because of its location at Lincoln Center and the size of the theater, but also partly because of the number and variety of productions each season, which would have been impossible without a full time chorus and orchestra. And why do we need another Grand Opera company, when the Met, right next door, does everything so well, and with so much money - and even provides access to less expensive ticket alternatives?

For me, the answer is because Grand Opera, when produced on a grand scale but not necessarily with a grand budget, provides a different and yet equally valuable artistic experience for both the artistic community and the audience. A sparser production may thrust a performer more easily and clearly into the spotlight, and a young cast which is thrown onto the stage for the first time without the benefit of an orchestral dress rehearsal has a spontaneous energy and enthusiasm which is hard to match in other situations. When a company becomes itinerent and employee-less, there are still certainly possibilities for great art to occur, but it is simply of another variety than the one we have grown accustomed to in these past 60 plus years, and why some people argue that the new way of running the company that is envisioned by the current administration should not be called New York City Opera. 

I wish I could imagine a solution to come up the the shortfall of cash missing from the budget that would allow City Opera to remain at Lincoln Center, and produce 13 productions, and pay the orchestra and chorus their hard earned salaries. If I won the lottery, that is definitely what I would do with the money. However, I also acknowledge the fact that whether we like it or not, Opera in this country is produced by people who have money to produce it, and they are in charge. If we don't like that model, our choices are to move to Europe (where there are still healthy government subidies of the arts), start our own artist run company where everyone donates their services, or find another line of work. That's not to say that artists who have been employed for years and years by a company and now find their compensation cut down by 90% shouldn't do everything in their power to insist that they don't lose their livliehoods. It just leaves us with that question that we continue to be unable to answer with complete authority - how do we create more of an interest in the arts, enough so that we can continue to afford to do it? The money is out there, but we have to continually, and creatively, find a way to funnel some more of it in our direction. We have to keep working to maintain the grandness, so that the final outcome for gathering an audience doesn't become hiring Kim Kardashian and Snooki as Susanna and the Countess. 

Feeling Afraid

My dear friend Nick Phan sent me this short clip of actor Edward Norton speaking about what it's like to start some new artistic project. I sang some Bach concerts with Nick this weekend, and shared with him how nervous I can sometimes get while singing Bach (Nick always amazes me with his grace under pressure in those situations). I find it inspiring to know artists of all calibers and fame levels struggle with fear and performance anxiety. Enjoy! And Happy Thanksgiving to all my American readers! 

What a difference an ocean makes

Lately, I've been contemplating the differences between working in Europe and working in the U.S., since I think I've now had adequate experience working at Opera companies in both places to make some observations. One of the big differences is that in Europe, there is no union representing the solo singers, and the unions that represent the choruses and orchestras function very differently than in the U.S. Some perfect examples of this occurred during the dress rehearsal here in Liege. I was standing back stage next to one of the guys who also works backstage, and he had his nice SLR camera out and was taking photos of the singers from backstage. He caught a great one of me jumping out the window, and showed me on his little camera screen after I left the stage. Then he gave me his card and said I could email him for copies of all the pictures free of charge. I remembered that when I was singing in New Orleans, I had recently gotten more interested in photography having purchased myself an SLR camera, and since I was singing Stephano in Romeo and Juliet, I had a lot of downtime offstage. So I brought my camera and was in the wings snapping photos during a dress rehearsal, until one of the stage managers told me I had to stop - I wasn't allowed to do that. I wasn't going to sell them or anything, but one of the unions (maybe AGMA, but I'm not sure) prevents anyone from taking pictures who isn't the company photographers - I suppose, to protect the singers from having their image taken without their permission. But I was personally very happy that this nice guy backstage was taking photos of me, and so I give one point here to the no union for singers category.

Then later on in the dress rehearsal in Liege, I had a bit of an accident on stage, and fell into this gap between the back of the rake and the platform behind it during a scene where another singer is staged to push me. I lost my balance and fell down into this gap, and didn't break anything, but managed to get a big bruise all up and down my leg from smashing into the back of the rake. When I left the stage, nobody had seemed to notice my fall, because nobody asked me about it (except the baritone who had watched it happen from the stage). I was fine - I didn't need any medical assistance, and if I had needed it, I certainly could have asked the stage manager, but I am used to any accident on stage being extremely well attended to and reported, from my experience with U.S. companies. For example, back to New Orleans; during one of the scenes on stage with Romeo (who was being sung by Paul Groves), he was supposed to shove me out of the way, and during one of the performances, I tripped and fell down onto my hip and hand pretty hard. As soon as I left the stage, stage management was all over me, wanting me to fill out an accident report, and there was an ice pack waiting for me in the dressing room. So I guess that's one point for the unions compelling the company to look out for the singers. 

There has been a lot of discussion about AGMA recently among the New York singer set, because of the negotiations between New York City Opera and AGMA. Because AGMA also represents the chorus of NYCO, and they are in a large dispute about the terms of their contract, solos singers have been informed by AGMA that if there is a strike, they will also be required to strike, or face legal action from the union for being considered scabs. While most singers are in full support of their fellow AGMA members, some take umbridge with the fact that the soloists are required to strike with the choristers, since even though we are part of the same union, said union is not able to provide the same job protection for soloists as it is for choristers because of the fact that soloists are freelance artists. There has been some argument amongst people about this issue, and it has lead to discussions about what exactly the unions do for soloists, who require different protections than people with full or part time employment. Having had a lot of experience in non union houses in Europe, as well has having worked for years at City Opera and other AGMA houses in the U.S., I think I can make a pretty fair assessment of what a union can and can't do for a soloist. 

Two things that stand out are safety (see above story) and rehearsal hours. There aren't really any restrictions on rehearsal hours in Europe, nor is there anyone around to enforce a rehearsal being over at 7 when the schedule said it was over at 7. In Italy, the rehearsal call was often 4 PM til 10 PM with no break scheduled in. Of course, we were always given a break, or a few, and rehearsals generally ended much earlier than 10PM, but I know some American colleagues who would have been horrified by the idea that they couldn't count on eating dinner until after 10 PM. In AGMA houses, you have no more than 6 hours of rehearsal a day, with scheduled breaks, and rehearsals begin and end promptly when they are scheduled. There is literally a stage manager with a stop watch, who will stop the director mid sentence if needed, in order to end the rehearsal on time. I personally love rehearsing, and prefer to just finish the scene we're doing instead of stopping in the middle, but I also find that the imposed rehearsal times forces directors to be more organized in what they are doing, and also forces a kind of economy and time management, which is what allows most U.S. companies to go from the first rehearsal to the opening in only 3 weeks, where in Europe it often takes as many as 6 weeks to arrive at the same point. In Europe there is generally more stage time and more orchestra time, which accounts for some of the extra time, but there is definitely more leeway during the staging process. Some argue that this produces a better artistic result, and it definitely does in some cases, but in some cases it results in a lot of wasted time. It totally depends on the director and the situation. 

One reason that I actually love the lack of unions in Europe is their ability to video rehearsals and performances both for distrubution, but also lately, for web consumption. Liege not only has many videos of the rehearsals from Nozze up online, but they will be live streaming an entire performance on October 29th, to anybody in the world who wants to watch it. To me, that is an absolutely wonderful way to share the art form and to keep it alive and kicking in difficult times, and I think it's a pity that both AGMA and the orchestral unions make this almost impossible for U.S. companies to consider doing. Speaking of the live stream, here is a link to the website where the transmission will take place, 8 PM Europe time, October 29th. There are also lots of fun videos from rehearsals, interviews, etc. I LOVE that Liege is sharing in this way - I think it is a great idea, and allows them to have an audience around the world! 

I'm not one of those singers (and there are some) who compain that AGMA does nothing for solo singers - I have seen first hand certain ways it can protect soloists. But I haven't had any particularly terrible experiences in Europe as a result of not having had a union either. I guess my opinion is that I am lucky to get to experience working on both sides of the ocean, and I wouldn't necessarily want to change either one to be more like the other, because they both have their positives and negatives. One day, when I run an opera company, maybe I can figure out a way to get the best of both worlds to come together. Until then, enjoy the live web stream, from whichever side of the pond you find yourself on October 29th! 

Cherubino forever

Oh blogosphere - can I just sing Cherubino for ever and ever, all over the place, and never have to do anything else? I'm telling you, if I had to pick just one role to sing for the rest of my life, it would definitely be this one. It has the perfect combination of being the highest impact with the littlest amount of effort, which means I feel no stress when performing it (which frankly, is really great), I adore playing this little trouble maker who is always dressing up like ladies and jumping out of windows, and most importantly, I could listen to the music to Le Nozze di Figaro every single day for the rest of my life and never, ever get tired of it. Mozart's music, and particularly the music in this opera, just does something transformative to me every time I hear it. Even if it's just in a little practice room with singers and a piano, I am absolutely transported every time I hear it. I'm positively giddy when we get to the sitzprobe and I get to hear it with the orchestra. I get goosebumps every single time I hear the overture. And I've been performing the role for 10 years! 

I'm in Liege, Belgium, by the way - as I mentioned in my previous post about traveling. I haven't actually sung Cherubino in several years, and being back in his trousers just reminds me every day of what I love about this opera. And especially after all this fiendishly difficult baroque music that I've been doing lately, Cherubino is like a fabulous vacation from stress, where I not only get to relax and have fun, but also get to hear my absolute favorite music every single day! Last night, I was called to a rehearsal where all I did was sat and listened to the finale of Act II for two hours (my favorite part of the opera, musically - it's a pity that Cherubino jumps out the window just before it begins so I only get to listen, not sing in it!). Normally I would probably be annoyed to sit there for so long and not rehearse, but not with this music. And I'm such a dork - I'm constantly telling everyone "Ooooh - I LOVE this part!!" and humming and swaying and mini conducting when I'm sitting there listening. I can't help it - Mozart really brings out my inner music nerd. 

And one thing I've been particularly enjoying about this production is that there are two italian singers in the roles of Figaro and the Countess, and I have been listening carefully to the way they deliver the text of this libretto that I know so well. As I get older, I have learned which things to pay attention to as teaching moments for myself, and one of those important things is to always listen carefully to the way the native speakers of any libretto deliver the text. I was listening to a lot of italians when I did Clemenza di Tito in Torino, but since it was my first time with the role, it didn't have the same impact as it does listening to this libretto that I know so well. Plus, this is the first time I've performed Nozze since I learned to actually speak italian myself, and although I always knew what all the words meant, speaking the language allows me to play with the text in new and exciting ways, and easier comprehension frees me up to play with other things more. 

Speaking of languages, this is my first time working in a francophone country, so I'm really giving it a go with french. It's funny that it has taken me this long to really improve my french, since I started studying french in the 9th grade. I took 4 years of it in high school, and was at least somewhat proficient, and then have had not one, but two french speaking boyfriends in the years since, and have studied privately a bit here and there. But I have honestly never had the occasion to really speak french for more than a few words here and there. (Lesson learned; if you're going to find a foreign boyfriend, make sure they don't speak any english!!!). And then, since I took all those lessons, I actually learned to speak italian, and that became my default other language. So when I first arrived here in Liege, I knew most of the words I wanted to say were in my head, but the passage from brain to mouth was slow and rocky, and peppered with about 25% italian words. I insisted to almost everyone, however, that they please speak to me only in French, because I knew that I would never get any better if I didn't force myself to speak, even if it meant sounding really stupid 95% of the time. It has definitely gotten a lot better in the two and a half weeks I've been here, although I still hate how tongue tied I get if I try to speak too quickly. I can understand everything everyone says to me, I just sort of sound like a french hillbilly when I respond. And in the meantime I still speak italian to the italian singers because I don't want to lose that while I'm switching to french, so my brain is basically on high alert at all times. 

By the way - I received a comment on a post that the YAP tracker facebook page had put a link to my blog, so I want to say hi to any young artist type singers who might be checking in - I basically write this blog for you guys - and so my mom and dad can admire their daughter's lofty prose. I really want to recommend to all you YAPpers, if you haven't already seen it, please check out Susanne Mentzer's blog posts on the Huffington Post. She's a great lady and a really wonderful writer, in addition to being one of the best American mezzos that has ever graced the stage. Here's a link to the most recent post. Trust me - worth a read. 

Oh also - I'm now officially on itunes! Like as in, if you type my name into itunes, tracks of my singing actually appear!! It's because they have now released the Agrippina recording to itunes, so there I am, in all my 99 cents per track glory! Pretty neat-o, huh? Okay, see y'all later - I mean, a bientot! 


The Traveler (what to bring)

Okay, so I am averaging only one post per job. That is not very prodigious. However, having arrived in Liege, Belgium, into my umpteenth sight-unseen apartment, I realized that I want to help others who may be traveling in Europe for work or auditions, with a list of helpful things to pack in your suitcase. I've been gone so much in the last couple of years, that some people my boyfriend has met several times in New York were teasing him that I am a figment of his imagination, since they've never met me. I'm hoping that all this time on the road will profit anybody else who follows the same path and ends up spending a lot of time abroad. Here is a list of things that I think are helpful to pack for an American living in Europe for any period of time.

1. Pack enough underwear and socks for a couple of weeks at least. I usually pack 3 weeks worth. Sometimes I have a washing machine in my apartment, but about half the time I don't. Which means figuring out a foreign laundromat (see my video of my attempts at laundromatting in Innsbruck). It's not a big deal, but I like to put it off as long as possible, and underpants are small and you can fit a lot in your suitcase.

2. A suction-cup showerhead holder. I actually forgot mine this trip and I'm annoyed at myself. Often, when there is a bathtub, there will be a showerhead, but it won't be attached to anything - you are just supposed to hold it over your head when you shower. This annoys the crap out of me and I still haven't figured out a way to do it without soaking the entire bathroom in errant water-spray. So, I bought on for under 10 bucks this shower head holder that suctions to the tile of the shower wall wherever you want it, and allows you to stand under the water and use both hands to wash your hair. Revolutionary!

3. Coffee paraphenalia: If you drink coffee in the morning, maybe you'll want to go out to a cafe each morning (in Italy it's pretty easy and cheap) or maybe the apartment you're staying in will have some type of coffee maker, but don't count on it. I like to drink cappucino in the morning, so I have a tiny portable stovetop espresso maker and this amazing milk frother that I bought in Berlin, that heats the milk on the stovetop and then uses a pump to make it foamy. I use it even at home instead of the steam wand on my espresso machine. Or, if you prefer American coffee, you can bring a little french press. You won't find American style drip coffee in most European countries, although weirdly, my apartment here in Liege has a Mr. Coffee. But you really never know what will be provided for you, and it's better to be prepared. I know people who travel with a little bit of coffee and some powdered milk so that first morning they can wake up without having to trek to the store first thing when they arrive.

4. Cooking paraphenalia: If you're like me, and you like to cook for yourself, you have to realize that while most rental kitchens have some stuff, there is always a shortage of certain things. If I'm feeling zealous, I'll prepare myself a little cooking package to put in my suitcase with a small wooden cutting board ( I have NEVER found a cutting board in a single European apartment - I don't know why - I've been using the top of a margarine container this time in Liege), a good knife (not in your carry-on, please!!), a corkscrew with a bottle opener (another thing often missing and so frustrating when you're staring at a bottle of wine after a long day), and any tools that you use a lot in the kitchen that aren't too big. Just don't forget to pack them and take them home at the end of the trip.

5. A hobby: This sounds like kind of a weird one, but let me explain. Usually, you will only be rehearsing 6 hours a day, sometimes less. Sometimes everyone in the cast will socialize constantly and you will have a blast every night. However, more often than not, people go home and do their own thing, and you have hours to fill, without your friends to hang out with, without a tv in your language, and in a city you don't know. Some people certainly like exploring and being tourists, but often this is tiring, and not as fun all by yourself. I have my computer stocked with movies and tv series to watch and unwind at night after rehearsal, I bring my fancy SLR camera and go out in the hood and take interesting photos, and this time I actually brought a little portable sewing machine, and when I find a fabric store or a used clothing store, I plan to go to town. This differs for different people, but most singers I know go a little crazy and get terribly lonely when they don't have something to occupy themselves, which can be more of a challenge when you're not at home with all your stuff. Thus my statement; bring a hobby.

6. Vitamins and Medicines: If you're a singer, then you're also practically a medical doctor. You know exactly what's wrong with you from the first second your throat feels a tickle, and you know what works to treat it. But the medicines in different countries vary vastly, and if you know when you have a cold, sudafed with mucinex works, bring it! I also use emergen-C vitamin powder in my grapefruit juice every morning, and have an array of prescription drugs that I know cure me when I can't sing. Oh - and melatonin is not over the counter in Germany, and I use that natural supplement to help with jet lag for the first few nights. Once I forgot it on a trip to Germany and had to take something else, which didn't work at all. Now I never forget it, and I take it at night for three nights, and I'm fine. I hate Ambien - it gives me insane nightmares and makes me groggy, but some people swear by it. 

7. Ear plugs, eye mask; like mine is now, your apartment might be on a busy boulevard where drunk people are yelling at all hours of the night. You need your beauty rest to be able to sing - don't forget your earplugs, and your eye mask in case there aren't good curtains. 

8. An extra unlocked mobile phone; If you are in a place for more than a few weeks, it often makes sense to buy a sim card (usually only 5 euro) with a local number and some minutes (purchased in 5 euro increments ) so that the theater can send you messages about rehearsals, and you can call or text other cast members without incruing heavy fees from your American carrier. It's a different system in Europe, and you can have a number in every country for pretty cheap. Of course, keeping track of those tiny sim cards after you leave the country is a challenge, and my Berlin friends are always a litle annoyed that every time I come back to Berlin I have to buy a new one and they have to reprogram their phone with my new number. Sometimes I'll find an old one and see that I have 12 new messages because people were still trying to call the old one. But I'm disorganized like that. I'm sure you all will be much more careful! 

9. Excercize: I like to bring a travel yoga mat and some yoga videos on my computer, plus my running shoes. Gyms aren't exactly prevelant in Europe - they exist, but you have to look - so I like to do my own thing in my room. When I'm not too busy eating chocolate croissants, that is. 

Of course, there are a million other things that people like to bring when they travel, and none of this is exactly revelatory, but I do kind of wish I would have had a list like this the first couple of times I went abroad to work, just to remind me of some things to throw in my suitcase to make the whole experience more like home. 

Bon Voyage! 


Is this thing on?

Oh dio mio. First my excuse was that I was on vacation from singing and that's why I wasn't blogging. Now my excuse is that I'm too darn hot. That's not exactly a proper excuse, but seriously, if you've ever been in Italy in the end of August, you just might understand. 

I arrived in Jesi about a week and a half ago to begin rehearsals for another production of L'Olimpiade - the same opera I sang and recorded in Innsbruck, but in a completely different production. I have to say it was pretty awesome to get hired to sing L'Olimpiade again, because as you might remember from my blogs about it last summer, learning it was a pain in the butt, and I had no idea if I would ever have the opportunity to sing it again. But here I am! 

So, I was really excited to come to Italy. If you've read my blog from the beginning, you know that the reason I started blogging was because I was working in Italy for the first time and wanted to record what was going on. And though I was baffled by some things, I was basically in love with Italy and couldn't get enough of it. But here's the thing; I was never here in August. And apparently, it's even hotter than it normally is, and for many more days. There hasn't been a day where the high temperature didn't reach into the nineties. And even for me, who generally shuns air conditioning with even the hottest temperatures, it has been absolutely overwhelmingly horrifying. And there is not an air conditoner in sight. And my aparment is on the top floor of a very old building with very poor ventilation. I feel like a baked potato.  

When I first arrived, I had my usual bout of anxiousness about being in a new situation, and was upsest to discover that the usb stick that I was supposed to use for all my internet purposes only worked intermittently. I almost had an anxiety attack when I thought I wouldn't be able to use skype to call my family for an entire month. I've said this before and I'll say it again; there's no way I could do this job without the aid of the internet. I NEED to stay connected to those people that ground me in life or I feel like I'm going to float away. And those first couple of days in Jesi when I thought that there wasn't going to be a way for me to keep in contact with them that wasn't prohibitively expensive, I wondered whether I was going to have to turn around and go back home. I know that sounds drastic, but remember that I have been safely ensconsed in my apartment in New York all summer with no stress except for my cat loudly meowing at 6 in the morning. And then suddenly I find myself in a foreign country with no reliable connection to the outside world. 

But luckily I made it past those first couple of days, found a couple of internet cafes, and found the best programs to use with this fickle usb stick that seemed to work more of the time than not (google chat seems to work better than skype, which won't work at all). And I discovered just how different this L'Olimpiade would be from the last one. 

I assumed that it would be many of the same singers from Innsbruck, since the conductor and the orchestra will be the same, but it was just little old me and a whole cast of new singers. There are some illustrious names in the group, including tenor Raul Giminez, who has sung in all the major houses in the world, and soprano Lyuba Petrova, who you may remember as the Queen of the Night from the Kenneth Branaugh Magic Flute Movie. But the production is very different than I imagined, because the format is different than anything I have ever experienced. 

I assumed we would be performing in the theater named after Pergolesi himself, but instead we will be performing in a church just down the street, which has been converted into a little theater. But instead of performing on that stage, a platform has been set up in the shape of a cross the covers the entire floor of the theater, and there are seats for the public in the four corners of the cross. The orchestra will be on the stage behind the platform, and the singers will face any direction they want, since there are audience members on all sides. It is a type of theater in the round, with the public very close and seeing things from different vantage points. There is virurually no set other than the platform, and there are 6 supers who play various roles, from moving various pieces of furniture to playing servants to dancing. It is actuallly going to be really interesting from the audience perspective because instead of watching everything from afar, it will almost be as if they are inside what is happening, which is extremely rare for an opera production.

And even with all the turmoil and anxiety I was feeling in the first couple of days, I had to admit that I was in Italy, and there were some things that were balancing the heat and isolation - namely; the food. I don't know why the food that you buy here tastes so much better than it does at even the fanciest farmers market in the U.S., but there is just a huge difference. The peaches are bursting with flavor, the egg yolks are almost red, and the sausage never turns a dull grey when you cook it. The ricotta tastes like it came directly from the udder of a cow and the arugula is so spicy it's like eating black pepper. There is just no place I have been where food is taken so incredibly seriously. I will never get tired of eating here, that's for sure. 

More soon, assuming I haven't melted......

I'm still alive

Um, hi. It's been a few....months(!!) since I've written anything here. MONTHS!! What has gotten into me? I'm the world's most delinquent blogger!!! You know how someone calls you, and for various reasons you put off calling them back, but the longer you wait, the harder it is to call? Well....

But I've gotten enough emails and comments from people asking me if I'm still alive, that I felt I needed to write down a few words, just to reassure anybody who may not have given up on me. I haven't written anything for several reasons. First, I haven't been working, and since this blog is all my opera stories, I didn't have a lot to share. I have been off since March, and don't go back to work until August. There's nothing wrong with me, it just worked out that my schedule was really empty for the summer, and I didn't mind one bit, so I didn't hustle to try to fill it. I know that some singers go non-stop for their entire career, but two years of barely being home was enough for me to need a large break, so that's what I've been taking. It's been fabulous, and I've been entertaining myself by learning to sew and cooking and hanging out in NYC, which I haven't done in a relaxed manner in some time. And I guess I could have posted pictures of the food I cooked or the purses I've sewn, but I had a feeling that might not be particularly interesting. Even my facebook friends were starting to get annoyed by my "look what I made today!!!" status updates. 

And you know what, YES, having a boyfriend makes me need to blog less often. Even reading that makes me cringe a little bit (I'm not one of those girls who gets a boyfriend and suddenly stops calling all her girlfriends, I swear!!!). But it's not because I'm running around swooning in love, and therefore too mooney-eyed to bother to write a few words. It's just because I started blogging because I was on the road a lot, and I was lonely, and I wanted to have a platform from which to share all the experiences I was having with other human people. The blog was a regular thing in my life that gave me comfort, and all the readers gave me support. And with an actual partner in my life, I don't feel so lonely all the time, and I share all my experiences with him, so the blog kind of fell by the wayside as a result.

But the fact is that I love writing, and I love that people have written to me and told me that the honesty of the blog helped them in some way. I have tried to cut through all the crap and just write an honest account of what it's like to have this particular life. And it really does make me feel all warm and fuzzy when fans, young singing students, and just regular folks email me and tell me they are enjoying reading what I'm writing. So, no, I'm not quitting the blog. I was just taking a rather large hiatus. 

During the hiatus, the Pergolesi CD finally officially "dropped" (that's right, one CD and I'm already a master at the lingo). You can buy it on Amazon here. I wish we still had actual CD stores in the U.S. so I could go wander around the store and casually pick up the CD like "oh, what's this? This looks interesting..." but alas, those stores are a thing of the past here. I did have a friend tell me he had seen it and listened to it in a store in Paris, so at least it's sitting on a shelf somewhere! 

In other CD news, the Harmonia Mundi Brochure which announces the release of the Agrippina CD also just came out, and they posted a couple clips of arias there. If you click the listen link you will hear one of the soprano arias followed by one of my arias all in one track. In fact it decided to play right now on my computer as I type this. And I can stand to listen to it, which, for me, is great news (I can be a little, let's say critical, of my own singing, as you might have noticed from my previous blog posts). And the orchestra sounds frigging awesome - they are REALLY something else!! 

That's about all for now. I leave for Italy in August to go sing another production of the very same Pergolesi from the recording at the Pergolesi Festival in Jesi, Italy - Pergolesi's birthplace. It's not going to suck to go to Italy in late summer/early fall and be right near the Adriatic Sea. I promise I'll go back to reporting then. I hope you are all having a happy, healthy summer!!

Okay.... don't get mad

But I might have sung the Messiah last night, and it might have been broadcast on the radio, and I might not have told you about it because, well, I wasn't 100% confident that I wanted anybody to hear it. It's not that I'm not confident about my singing in general, it's just that the Messiah is REALLY low, and I always think of myself as an impostor when I'm bellowing out notes below the staff. I've only sung the Messiah once before, and even that time was kind of an experiment to prove to myself (and my friend Will, who was encouraging me to sing it and standing next to me singing the tenor solos) that SEE - it's too low - I suck at this. It wasn't so bad that time, as it turned out, which is why when the Music of the Baroque Orchestra called me last week and asked me to jump in, I thought - okay, I can do this. I just wasn't sure I could handle the pressure of knowing people I knew were listening on the radio. But, as it turned out, it went fine. So..... sorry. And anyway, you didn't want to spend your friday night listening to the entire Messiah on the radio, did you? No, I didn't think so.

In other news, the Pergolesi opera that was recorded last summer in Innsbruck is being released on Amazon at the end of this month, and you can pre-order one now!!! My agent received an advanced copy in the mail the day I left for Chicago, and thanks to technology, was able to send me the tracks with my arias on them via email, and so I have already had the chance to listen to them. Now, my normal Jenny way would be to tell you all the things I think are wrong with my singing, and give you the whole "It's a live recording, so please excuse the blah blah blah." But I'm not going to do that. Did the sound engineers always use what I thought were my best takes (choosing between 3 performances)? No, not how I remember it. However, there were many moments when I did not want to rip the headphones out of my ears and pound my eardrums until they bled, which, when listening to a recording of oneself, is a good sign. And I have to say that the orchestra sounds fabulous, and I'm quite sure the other singers do as well, although I haven't had the opportunity to listen to their tracks yet. But having just sung concert versions of this opera with them, I know you will all be amazed by their singing and musicality. I was also very interested to listen to one of my arias in particular where I happened to be constantly in motion and climbing all over the set while singing. Could I tell I was climbing stairs? Yes. Will you be able to tell? I have no idea. 

One thing is for sure however - the first aria in L'Olimpiade is pretty much exactly an octave higher than the first aria in the Messiah. And that's just the life of having a voice type that means middle - you sing in the middle, which pretty much means everything from low F to high C, and everything in between. 

Here's the link to the Amazon page. Mostly, I am excited for you to hear this wonderful opera, which I bet none of you has ever heard since it doesn't currently exist on recording. Enjoy!!! 

Vacation (just kidding)

It's funny - I had started writing a blog post earlier this week called "Vacation" about what it was like to know you had a long vacation coming up after a very busy time of work. But then I got a call, and I was asked if I could go fill in for a Messiah in Chicago next week. So, vacation no more. But I have no problem with that. It's funny how there really is no such thing as vacation for the self employed. It's like owning your own store - if you aren't working, you're thinking about working, and are always ready to go to work at a moment's notice. Of course, some people who own stores complain about the weight of always having that responsibility, whereas most singers are usually pretty happy to be asked to sing. I thought I was relieved to be on vacation. After my concert last week, I went out with my boyfriend immediately and celebrated my newly found lack of responsibilities. Do not pass go, do not change out of gown, go directly to bar:

Excuse my fillings - I've gotta get those replaced with white ones one of these days (Various dentists have been bugging me about it for some time - "With your mouth open and singing all those high notes, you can't be flashing silver!!")

But duty calls (thankfully) so I'm off to Chicago next week to sing all those lovely low solos in the Messiah with the Music of the Baroque Orchestra conducted by Jane Glover. And THEN I'll be on vacation. Probably. Unless something comes up. Whatevs. I'm open. 



I've spent the last two weeks in California - Berkeley mostly - on a gig. I knew about 90% of the cast before I arrived, and having grown up in Northern California, I even knew the area pretty well. The only thing a little different was that it wasn't actually my gig. I went with my boyfriend Michael, who was singing Collatinus in the Rape of Lucretia with the Castleton Festival, featured at Cal Performances, UC Berkeley. Michael pretty much stopped singing before I even met him, but he had this one contract that he had agreed to do awhile ago, so he decided to go ahead and do it. 

For me, it really did feel like I was going on a gig - I packed up my stuff, took a taxi to the airport, arrived at a hotel, and the first night there had dinner with a couple of singers that I knew well from previous gigs. Except I had none of the stress of actually singing. And the funny thing was that even though Michael hasn't done a singing gig in awhile, and even though he WAS singing, he was probably less stressed than I was. I kept comparing what it was like when he visited me in Berlin for two weeks (and what a basket case I was) compared to how normal and non bothered he seemed by being the one having to remember words and music and staging. Even on the two performance days (because there were only two shows, which was a pity because it was a great production) he seemed like his normal self - not nervous or jittery or anxiety ridden like I become. 

I made a joke at one point that he should probably be the one who keeps singing and I should try to get a job in technology, not the other way around - because he was obviously not all full of nerves and anxiety the way I can be. I also visited with a friend, Nick Phan, who was singing with the San Francisco Symphony while I was in Berkeley. I came with him to his dress rehearsal, which happened to be the morning of his first concert. After his rehearsal, we had a leisurely lunch, where he too seemed relatively unphased by the fact that he was about to stand in front of a lot of people and sing later that night. And the fantastic tenor in Michael's opera was busy taking his wife to see Alcatraz during the day before one of his performances. I couldn't help but wonder why I couldn't just be more cavalier like all these guys? 

One reason I get nervous is that I obviously put way too much pressure on myself. Okay, I know I do that, and I try to get better about reminding myself that nobody but me cares whether I sing every note perfectly or not. But also, I seem to have developed a real nervousness about being nervous. I never used to get nervous before performances. Then I started getting really nervous. Then I sort of talked myself out of being nervous WHILE I sang, but I still got terribly nervous before. And now, I kid you not - I have anxiety about the anxiety I'm going to feel before I perform. How can I be so crazy???

Performance anxiety is normal, of course. Even people who are able to go about their days casually and visit prison museums and have lunch dates sometimes feel nervous. But the brain is fascinating, and it can certainly hold us hostage to our fears. Which sucks because performing can actually be quite fun - wouldn't it be more enjoyable to actually look forward to it instead of dreading it? 

I don't know the answer to this one, honestly. I think that there are definitely a lot of people who hate that feeling of performance anxiety, and as a result, find something else to do for a living. And I do hate being nervous, but there are a lot of things I love about being a singer. So I am constantly searching for a way to become calmer, more like the guys I mentioned above. I'm sure the answer lies in re-programming my brain somehow. I'm just not sure quite how yet. 

Oh - and in case you were wondering - the opera went very well, Michael sang beautifully (even got a good review) and I was very proud to just be an audience member and a supportive partner. It turns out gigs can be very relaxing  - especially when you're only job is to applaud at the end. 

Back to the beginning

It seems like I've basically stopped blogging altogether. I'll talk about the reasons for that later on in this post. For now, I have to write a little bit about being back in Torino, the place where my blog was born. I started writing this thing in the first place because I was coming to sing in Italy - Europe, for that matter - for the first time, and I knew I wanted to record my successes and failures. Now almost three years have passed and I'm back in the city where it all began,  I can't help but think about all that has changed since then. Hence: blog post.

I'm in Torino to sing a concert version of L'Olimpiade, the opera by Pergolesi that I sang this past summer in Innsbruck. The entire cast has been reassembled, and we first met in Vienna a couple of days ago for one rehearsal, followed by a concert at the Theater an der Wien. Then, while most of the rest of the cast went home for a couple of days before coming to Torino to perform the second and final concert, I came directly here. I have spent the last couple of days eating my weight in carbohydrates, and discovering that thankfully, I still seem to remember how to speak italian, despite my little sojourn into trying to learn to speak german. 

A couple of funny things happened in Vienna that I wanted to blog about. First of all, I was at the mercy of a lot of jet lag and schedule craziness, because I left Berlin for New York only 10 days before returning to Vienna, so I had some sort of reverse jet lag coming back. I left on Monday night, arrived Tuesday afternoon, rehearsed wednesday, and sang the concert on Thursday. My voice was surprisingly okay despite all that running around, although my body was so confused by the time changes that I only managed to sleep for about one hour the night before the concert. I get particularly nervous for concert performances because I feel very naked without the staging. But in spite of these obstacles the concert went fine, with a few things that I wished I could have done better. 

One interesting thing that happened is that when I arrived at the theater for the first rehearsal, I was having trouble finding the stage door until a few seemingly random people standing outside somehow knew what I was looking for and pointed me towards the correct door. When I went in and they followed me, I realized that the reason they knew to tell me where to go was that they had been waiting for me (as well as the other singers) with photos of us that they wanted to have autographed. This is a tradition that seems to only occur in the german speaking countries, where there are more avid "fans" than in other places. I was so utterly shocked by these people a) knowing who I was and b) having photos of me (that had been printed from the internet on glossy card stock), and c) wanting my autograph, that I almost couldn't speak. But even more shocking (and flattering) was that after the concert, there was a gentleman waiting for me who had about 20 photographs of me from the Barber of Seville at the Staatsoper that I didn't even know existed! He handed me the stack to start signing, and I had to stop and look at all the photos because I didn't even know they took photos of me doing that show and had never seen them! I asked him where he got them, and he explained to me how to find them on the Staatsoper website, which I did as soon as I got home. I found this one, which I thought was pretty funny:

And then the next day flew here, to Torino, to have a couple of free days before performing the second of the two concerts. 

I love Italy, I really do. I mean, there is so much to love (you can read pretty much any of my posts from the two months I was here in 2008 and they all sound like love letters), and in addition I get to see how I've changed and grown from when I was here three years earlier. Of course, re-reading some of my posts, I still have a lot of the same fears and anxieties about singing that plagued me back then, and some of the anxieties have probably intensified a little bit (I have this unusually big fear of forgetting words which seems to have increased over the past couple of years even though I've never ever forgotten the words in a performance - go figure!). 

But something has really changed for the better, and it is actually illustrated by the fact that I haven't been blogging much lately. See, I started the blog in order to share my experiences because, to put it bluntly, I was really lonely. I was thrilled to be able to travel all over the place and sing, but it was a very lonely existence at that point in some ways. I have always been someone who needed to feel like I was sharing things in order to gain the most from experiencing them - from my spaghetti bolognese to my feelings on performance anxiety and constant travel. And something that has changed enormously in my life is that instead of spreading out that sharing among friends, family, and blog readers, I now have one person that gets it all - the good, the bad, the ugly, and the extra bolognese. Not to say that those other people I mentioned aren't just as important to me (including you, dear readers!!) but I don't have the same feelings and emotions floating around in my head all the time, because I'm lucky enough to find someone who listens to all of them, every day, several times a day. And that type of sharing has made me feel fulfilled in a way that I think I was searching for during the whole time I was blogging regularly. 

It doesn't mean I'm going to stop blogging - it just means that I might need a period of adjustment where I recalibrate a bit and figure out what kinds of things are now important for me to share, and with whom, and how much. I just need to get my thoughts back in order now that they are flowing out of me at such a rapid rate to one person, and see what that means in terms of getting them on paper (or computer screen to be precise). 

Oh - and the reason for the re-design is that I've been obsessed lately with many design blogs, and I just needed my blog to look different before I could even bear to look at it again. I may be in a period of re-definition, just in general. Bear with me, and maybe I'll even have some kind of fantastic epiphany or something. I mean, I'm not promising anything, but I do think that eating gelato definitely turns me into a genius for the 30 seconds it takes me to inhale it, so, you know, anything's possible. 


I've always been fascinated by the energy and momentum leading up to the premiere in opera performances. There are some singers with whom I have worked, who seem like they are absolutely dreadful at the first musical rehearsal, prompting the question (inside my head) of how on earth this person is working. However, by the premiere, they pull out a fabulous performance and blow everybody away. (Not everyone of course - some people just always suck). I am one of those people that basically gives 110% from the first day of rehearsal, and I find that it sometimes this backfires, in that I have lost my momentum and concentration by the premiere, and the performance was better at one of the dress rehearsals or something. 

With Antigone, we had a rather odd schedule, because our conductor had to go away for a bit to conduct elsewhere, so we had a pre dress rehearsal, then 4 days off, then a dress rehearsal, then 2 days off, then the premiere. And for whatever reason, this schedule seemed to do wonderful things for everyone, because the premiere went extremely well. Everyone sang wonderfully, and had a huge amount of concentration and the premiere was actually better than the dress rehearsal - the best performance we'd had so far. I saw Rene Jacobs at the intermission and he said "it's going so well, it scares me a little!" but the second half continued in this way, and in the end, it could really only be considered a success. 

For me, personally, I was glad that I was able to pull out my best performance for the actual performance, because this is not always the case for me. I have weird issues with momentum and probably need to be better about not giving too much in the dress rehearsal even though there is almost always a full audience. It's about the singer learning to trust herself, knowing that she can pull out all the stops in the performance without having to demonstrate that beforehand. 

Thank you for all your comments about my cold - other than a few sniffles and some dry mouth, it had pretty much vanished by the premiere, and having sung the dress rehearsal sick probably added to my ability to have good momentum to do better in the premiere. 2 down, three to go, and then home at long last. 

What's the german word for sudafed?

Well, I said I wasn't writing because nothing "new" was happening, and then something "old" happened - I got sick.

There was a time where I used to get miserably sick for every single opening night, it seemed. I remember hacking my way through my first Cenerentola at Juiliard (and the following NYTimes headline: "Cinderella with a cold makes it to the ball") and lying in bed the night before the dress rehearsal for my first big City Opera role in L'Etoile and feeling my throat turn into sand-paper, with this sinking feeling in my stomach knowing I would be in for a world of trouble. 

However, I've never ever cancelled. No matter how laryngitical I was when I woke up the morning of a performance, I have always found a way to make my vocal cords come together, somehow, by drugs or prayer or just plain bull-headedness. Then as my career went on, I would get sick for performances occasionally, but not every single time. Then something happened - I started hardly ever getting sick. The last time I was sick - at all - was in November of 2009. I remember because I got sick before the opening of Romeo and Juliette in New Orleans, and I blamed the fact that I was in such a party city, and must have eaten too many beignets and drunk too many kamakazi cocktails. But then I started getting flu shots, and drinking a glass of grapefruit juice with 1000 mg of vitamin C dropped inside every day, and I managed to stave off all the bugs. Even when I was a crazy person, flying from the U.S. to Europe and back every ten minutes, and even when I visited Michael and he had a cold, I still somehow didn't get one. Until now.

Somehow this week, the mean little buggers got the better of me, and now I have that awful congestion that seems to be spreading into my ears and chest, and my dress rehearsal tomorrow night is looming, with my premiere on Sunday only a few days away. But the difference between my reaction now and 10 years ago is that I'm not freaking out. I know I've sung sick countless times, and that I've never had to cancel. And it is far from pleasant because you can't help but feel scared that your voice won't work. But somehow you push through it, and it doesn't have to be the end of the world. And I find that the less I freak out, the more likely I am to recover quickly. 

So, here I am, facing singing a premiere at the Berlin Staatsoper sick as a dog. But I'm just going to keep my chin up, and try to find some awesome german pseudophedrine. It probably won't rival the fantastic cold medicine I found in Bogota, Colombia, but who knows - maybe the german stuff will cure me immediately. A girl can dream. 

2010 wrap up

I guess I should just stop apologizing for the fact that I haven't been posting as much lately. By now, you know the drill. The thing is, I really feel like you guys know everything I'm doing, so I don't have anything to write unless something out of the ordinary occurs. And since I was in the exact same place at the exact same time last year, doing a new production with the same conductor and a few of the same people involved, I almost feel redundant telling you what's going on. Instead I want to reminisce a little about the past year. 

2010 was definitely the best year I've had professionally to date. The year started with my performances here in Berlin of Agrippina, which was not only a very successful production, but a very fulfilling artistic experience on every level. Also, that project led to my entering the recording studio for the very first time in my career and actually making a CD, which happened in the summer. Even though it won't be released until next year, this felt like a huge accomplishment and a real stepping stone in achieving something I had only dreamed about. 

After I finished up in Berlin and had some time off, I embarked on the longest period of gigs (without any breaks in between) - a total of over 4 months without ever returning to my apartment. First in Portland, where I got to remember how incredibly fun this job can be when you are surrounded by colleagues that you enjoy both on and off the stage. It also got me started with video blogging, a new and interesting hobby I picked up, which I hope to continue. Then I got to create a role for a world premiere; Veruca Salt in "The Golden Ticket" in St Louis, which was pretty much just as fun as you'd imagine being in the Willy Wonka opera would be. It also marked the period during which I met Michael, which as I've discussed on the blog, changed my life in a huge and wonderful way. The end of this long series of gigs was in Innsbruck, Austria, where I somehow managed to memorize a huge role in an opera that lasted 5 hours by Pergolesi called "L'Olimpiade". The opera was recorded for Sony (to be released I have no idea when) and was a huge challenge to me personally (such an enormous role with mountains of secco italian recitative to memorize, and four huge dacapo arias to sing) as well as a personal challenge, since I got to experience being away in Europe for a very long time just as I was starting a new relationship. 

Then the year ended with me back in Berlin, first performing some Rosinas, with a brief trip to Chicago for only my second foray into Bach, and then back here for yet another Christmas and New Years celebration very far from my loved ones, but luckily surrounded by some of the dear friends I've managed to make in Berlin after having spent so much time here. That's actually quite a lot to have happened in just one year, dontcha think?

Being in the same place for the second year in a row causes you to reflect on just how much has happened since what seems to have passed by in just a few minutes is suddenly an entire year. I can't believe how much has changed in my personal life since one year ago, and how much happier I am as a result of these changes. I also can't believe, honestly, how little has changed in my professional life. I thought that with all the things I was doing and accomplishing and succeeding at last year, I would be in a new position by the beginning of this year, and maybe more doors would be opening and things would be a little easier. Alas, it seems that the lot of a singer is to be constantly wondering, hoping, and slogging through the same set of difficulties, regardless of the level your career has reached. For those of you who are looking at careers in singing, I have to warn you that it doesn't really get easier as you go along in your career. Either you keeping making it to higher levels and therefore having more pressure placed upon you to live up to what you have accomplished so far, or you have trouble ascending to new levels, and fight the frustration of the invisible roadblocks that seem to be placed before you. 

But then - just look at some of the videos I made, especially when I was in Portland, and you'll see how lucky I am to get to not only work with such wonderful, funny, warm, intelligent people, but also to get to spend time with them, and know them, and have them warm your soul with their kindness and support (I mean you, Nick and Danny). Look at the beauriful videos from Agrippina that you can find on youtube and see how lucky I was to be involved in a piece of art that had such amazing vision and talent creating it and taking part in it, that it actually became somewhat transcendent. People were literally getting into fist fights at the box office over tickets - not for a Justin Bieber concert, mind you, but for a Handel opera! I got to scream and throw tantrums nightly onstage as Veruca Salt, and make people laugh and be transported to a dream world that we all have nostalgia for from our childhoods. And even though the Pergolesi opera was really a challenge, there were two arias in particular (one crazy vengeance aria where I was slowly moving in the opposite direction as the turntable that covered the whole stage in order to illuminate the madness I was experiencing as I walked through my own life, and an incredibly beautiful lullaby aria) both of which made me feel like I myself was being transported to another place and time, out of this world, and into an ethereal, special place that I think one can only experience in the moment of creating art that moves you to your full, extraordinary potential. 

So those are my thoughts about 2010. It was a very, very full year, and I'm actually sad to see it go. But I'm very excited by the new possibilities that 2011 holds for me. Life ain't bad.