Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Day One: at the Teatr

I woke up early this morning for my 10 AM rehearsal at the theater. I decided that since I had no idea where the theater was located, I had better take a taxi, and thought the hotel taxis would be the safest bet. Everyone had told me that it was basically a straight shot from the hotel to the theater, so I was confused about why the taxi driver seemed to be going on a bunch of different side streets. I discovered later that ride shouldn't have cost me more than 10 Zloti, and since he charged me 35, I figured out that I got the "scenic route" reserved for tourists who can't argue in Polish. Nice.

When I arrived at the theater I discovered that there were about 56 different entrances, so I picked the first one called door number 1. Sounded promising. I walked up to the desk and tried speaking to them in english and explaining that I was a singer and had rehearsal. They just stared at me blankly until I said "I'm a singer. Aaaaaahhhh!." Yes, I sang a note. But it worked, they got somebody to come get me and someone from the company who speaks english met me and walked me to the rehearsal room. It was incredibly complicated - we had to take an elevator to the 5th floor, walk through a maze of random corridors which finally led us to a staircase, which led us to the rehearsal room. We rehearsed some music, and the sweet stage manager explained that I needed to go for costumes. I cannot pronounce his name which is something like Alzcnfh.

He brought me to another floor through a bunch more dark hallways to the costume shop, told them who I was, and bid me adieu. They began measuring me, and when they were finished, they explained to me via hand motions (there was no one who spoke any english) that they needed to know my height. They wrote down the number 168, which lead me to realize they wanted to know my height in meters. It's probably something I should know, but being from the only country that shuns the metric system, I had no idea. I wrote down on the same paper 5'9" which they just looked at blankly and pointed to the 168. I was saying "Yeah, we don't have that in America - we use feet and inches.." but they did NOT understand me. Eventually, somebody just motioned for me to get up near a wall, and they measured me from head to foot. It turns out I'm 173 (is that centimeters? I don't even know what the unit of measurement actually is) and the head lady led me to another room where they measured my head, and then another room where they measured my foot. After the measuring was done, the shoe man cheerfully said "Jinkooya" which means thank you, and that was my cue that I was dismissed.

Except I had absolutely no idea where I was in the theater, how to get out, or how to get back to rehearsal. I decided to try retracing my steps, and I was sort of just wandering around the hallways looking lost. I passed a woman at some point who could see I was lost, so she said (I assume) something in polish like what are you looking for? I knew my rehearsal was on the 6th floor, so I said 6, held up 6 fingers and pointed upwards saying "I need to get up one floor." She looked at me quizzically, and I kid you not, she sort of did that thing where you kind of push the air forward with two hands when you want to communicate "you're crazy!" and she walked away from me. I thought - hmm - maybe there is no 6th floor and I'm just confused, but eventually by trial and error, I found my way back up there.

On the way however, I decided to try to find a restroom (why am I so often lost in theaters looking for a bathroom?) and found two little bathrooms I had passed before. They were both little rooms with separate little rooms with toilets in them. One was occupied, so I delicately opened the door to the other one, and lucky I did it delicately because there was a man peeing at a urinal in the one I opened. I'm telling you, the door was slightly ajar and there were no words on the door, so unless I'm missing something, it's not really my fault I walked in on him. But I jumped out quickly and ran the other way. I suddenly didn't need to pee at all.

The rehearsals went well, the other singers (mostly all polish) are all great and really well prepared and exited about making music and talking about characters. OH - and I found out that in this production, my character and the tenor are lovers, which is exciting for me since I'm playing a man! I've been a woman in love with men and a man in love with women, but I've never been a man in love with another man! It totally makes sense with the libretto and with the original Hugo play, and it gives me a whole set of new things to think about. Am I the alpha male in this relationship or is he? I think it will be awesome if we're both really butch but we have a big kiss or something. It will be shocking to opera audiences maybe, but hey, in our duet we're singing about how we're united til death, and how we're two flowers on the same stem (direct translation), so it really shouldn't be too shocking that we're like, so totally into each other. Actually I'm totally into him, but he's kind of obsessed with his mother, and his father is also his grandfather. Yeah, solve that riddle. And if you do, can you also tell me which is the men's room and which is the women's room in the Teatr Wielki?

Monday, March 30, 2009


I woke up yesterday morning and I almost tried to change my ticket to come later. I have been battling with this cold/ sinus infection for a couple of weeks now, and I thought it was gone, and then suddenly it came back. And I thought I was getting better, but I woke up Sunday morning and was so congested that I thought I couldn't possibly get on an airplane. But after taking enough sudafed and afrin to fill a medicine chest, I was feeling like I could manage. I also started a course of antibiotics, which makes you feel awful and sleepy, but is a necessary evil sometimes. And so I was off.

When I got to JFK I was so excited - people always ask me "Are you excited about your trip?" and I never am, until I arrive at the airport. Then the possibilities of all the adventures I'm about to have suddenly seem very real and I get a surge of adrenaline. The flight was probably about 90 % Polish people, and they were a lively bunch. Everybody was moving around, chatting with their neighbors, roaming the aisles. Everybody broke out into applause when we landed even though it wasn't a particularly turbulent flight or anything - must be a Polish tradition that I don't know about.

When I exited the plane, I just couldn't quite believe I was in Warsaw. I mean, yesterday I was having soup at the Metro Diner and now I'm in Poland. I guess I'm used to traveling and it doesn't phase me to come to a foreign city and figure stuff out, but I often get struck with amazement that it's actually happening and that this is my life. Then some babushka practically knocks me over trying to get her luggage off the conveyer belt and I'm jolted back into reality.

As I rode in the taxi to the hotel, I was thinking about how when I was in Italy, I always felt a little pressure and nerves about communicating in italian, although I loved doing it. But being in Poland, I simply know that I cannot communicate and I don't even try. It's liberating and disappointing all at once. I would certainly prefer to be able to communicate, although knowing I can't even say hello keeps me from having to make decisions about whether or not to engage in conversations with people. You should have seen me in the grocery store trying to explain to the woman that I wanted still water, not sparkling. I saw that the word "gazowana" was on a lot of the bottles so I was saying "nyet gazowana" although I think that might be Russian and not Polish. It worked though, my water is bubble free. I was unsuccessful in trying to locate a pre-paid sim card, but maybe tomorrow near the theater I'll have more luck. Now all I have to do is find the theater for my 10 AM (that'll be 4 AM for me) rehearsal tomorrow, and hopefully sleep a lot between now and then.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Alice in wonderland

Today was my dress rehearsal for tomorrow's concert with ASO in Avery Fisher Hall. I have performed once before in Avery Fisher, but I didn't really get the lay of the land during that concert for some reason, and today I got really lost. I knew how to get from the stage door to the stage itself, but I arrived rather early and wanted to go sit in the house and watch some of the rehearsal. The orchestra was completely filling up the entire stage, so I asked the stage manager if there was a way I could get to the house from backstage, and she told me that if I went up one flight of stairs, I would be able to enter a box and then could come down to the orchestra level through the lobby.

I figured that part out okay, and was sitting in the audience enjoying the rehearsal when I realized I had drunk a ton of water today and that I really had to find the bathroom. I tried going out in the lobby to use the restroom out there, but the doors to the outside lobby where the bathrooms are were locked, so if I went out there I wouldn't be able to get back in. I figured I could find some restrooms backstage, so I went back up to the level in the lobby to go through the box into the backstage, and I I swear to you, the door was no longer there. That's when I started to feel like Alice in Wonderland - I was standing in the box staring at the wall where there should have been a door, and I was totally dumbfounded. I went back outside the box to see if it was somewhere else, but there was no connection to the backstage. I went into the lobby on that level and saw that there were some restrooms I could access but they were locked too. I was seriously scratching my head.

I went back down and sat in the orchestra section again, but my bladder was really starting to be angry with me, so after fidgeting in my seat for a minute, I decided to try again. I went back up one flight and looked around for more doors, and when I couldn't find any, I decided to try going up one more flight just to see what happened. Well guess what? That's where the magic door was. I just didn't remember how many flights I had come down to enter the orchestra section. What a blonde! When I got through the magic door, I was backstage on the level above the stage where all the dressing rooms are. I figured there must be a public restroom somewhere on the floor so I walked to and fro several times but couldn't find any such thing. There was one dressing room that looked really fancy - like maybe the star or the conductor dressing room - and the door was wide open and I could see that there was a bathroom in there. I didn't want to go in there though, because I just imagined coming out of the bathroom with the sound of the toilet flushing behind me just as the conductor was trying to come in and have his quiet time during the break. I walked around a little more and couldn't find anything, and the situation was becoming more desperate. I checked the monitor to see that they were still rehearsing on stage, and I figured even if they finished I could make it in and out of there before anyone made it upstairs. 30 seconds later, I was quickly exiting and glancing from side to side to make sure no one had seen me.

I went down one flight to the stage level and found the orchestra administrator who is in charge of wrangling me. I made some silly joke to him about how I was getting lost in the building looking for the restrooms, and he said "Oh, no one has taken you to your dressing room yet?" "Nope," I replied. So he had me follow him. We walked up the stairs and down the hall, and he motioned around the corner. It was the dressing room where I had just used the bathroom in such a hurry and made sure no one saw me. I had been sneaking into my own dressing room. I'm pretty sure these sort of things only happen to me.

Monday, March 16, 2009

thwarted by a cold

I had such big plans for this week. In addition to the concert on Sunday with ASO of the Varese pieces, I really wanted to get a lot of work done on memorizing Lucrezia Borgia and getting the sucker into my voice. It lies low and heavy and is a great opportunity for me to liberally throw around my chest voice - something I rarely do in Mozart or even Rossini. The only problem is that the low heavy tessitura of the Donizetti lies in complete opposition to the high floaty tessitura of the Varese pieces, and I don't think it would be a good idea to practice all that heavy singing every day and then expect myself to float high b flats on Sunday afternoon (and at the rehearsals before). Add to this the fact that I woke up yesterday with a sore throat and am just waiting to see if this little illness turns into a full blown cold / upper respiratory infection or wanders away without making my life a living hell. So now I have to figure out how to learn this score just by looking at it.

Every singer has different methods of learning and memorizing music. I worked with someone recently who can just look at a score for several days without singing a note, and have it memorized before they even make a peep. I hate that person. I have no such photographic memory skills, although I am a pretty quick learner. Usually I teach myself the notes as fast as possible (the old fashioned way - by playing them on the piano and singing them lightly until my muscles/brain remember the order of the intervals). I like to get with a coach and sing it with them because I can memorize the music really quickly if I record my coachings and listen to them a few times. It's funny, I can't just listen to a recording of someone else singing my role and memorize it quickly, but something about listening to myself sing it gets it into my brain rather speedily. I'm sure there's some scientific brain study in the making about why that is - paging Oliver Sachs (he writes a lot about music and the brain). I was supposed to have a coaching on Lucrezia today to run through all of it and get it onto my ipod so I could listen to it a few times and not have to belt it out all week, but still get the whole thing in my memory. But I had to cancel the coaching because I didn't want to risk singing for an hour on a sore throat and getting laryngitis or something (which happened to me recently). So I just have to sit here and look at the score like my photographic memory friend and try to keep my brain from wandering and thinking about what I'm going to make for dinner later. Maybe I DO have a photographic memory, but it's just plagued with a lot of ADD. Yep, that's my excuse. Hmmm - what AM I gonna make for dinner? NO NO: Donizetti Donizetti DONIZETTI .....Spaghetti, linguini, rigatoni..? Ack. Never study when you're hungry.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Opera Campaign

This is a funny advertisement produced for Piedmont Opera's production of Marriage of Figaro. I have never sung with this company, but this youtube video was forwarded to me by a friend and I laughed out loud at it. And I just figured out how to embed youtube videos on my blog!! Hooray! Enjoy:

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Welcome to Warsaw

I was kind of waiting to talk about this on my blog until I had signed the contract, but I noticed today that I'm already on the Teatr Wielki website, so I'm thinking it's okay. I got a call last week asking if I was free to go to Warsaw to sing Orsini in Lucrezia Borgia in April and May, and I was, so I'm going. The mezzo who was supposed to sing Orsini had to cancel, and the conductor, Will Crutchfield, suggested me for a replacement. Of course, it means I have to leave very soon and I have never sung the role, but I am more than up for the challenge. And I LOVE the music of Lucrezia Borgia - especially the tenor/mezzo duet which I first heard a million years ago when I was a student at Music Academy of the West, and the tenor was fellow student Juan Diego Florez. I still hear his voice when I hear that duet. But I digress. I'm going to Warsaw in two and a half weeks!!

Besides being really excited about singing a fantastic pants role in a new theater with a conductor I really like and admire, the arrival of this job solved one of my problems: I really wanted to go to Europe to sing some auditions, but I wasn't 100% sure how I was going to finance such a trip with the wacky economy and paying my taxes and paying off my credit cards etc. But this gig gets me over to europe (only a few hours by train to Berlin), and I still have 17 days after the last performance before I have to come back to the States for my best friend's wedding. I'm thinking it was meant to be. :) Now I just have to learn the role, get it into my voice, do my taxes, find a subletter, perform those Crazy Varese pieces, learn a couple of new audition arias, figure out how to pack as light as possible for a 7 week trip, and maybe learn a few words of Polish. Before March 29th. Oh, and my piano is broken (two broken strings, and most of the keys are 1/2 step flat, and piano tuner said it's unsalvageable) so I'm learning all this music on my 32 key mini casio keyboard. Wish me luck!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

boys in dresses

Last night I had a lovely experience singing a program of all Mozart music with the Ridgefield Symphony in Connecticut. The newly appointed music director Jerry Steichen is a friend of mine from City Opera, and he asked me and a soprano to come perform with the orchestra, and I was free so I agreed. Knowing I would get to work with Jerry and sing Mozart (my faaaaavorite) was enough to lure me in.

The concert went very well, despite a few wardrobe malfunctions. The program for me consisted of three arias and three duets, and of the six pieces, I was playing a boy in four of them. I debated on whether to just wear pants, but I couldn't really find anything that felt fancy enough to wear with the soprano's formal gown, so I decided to just wear a dress. Of course, wearing a dress while you're singing Cherubino and Sesto is a little funky, especially for me, who has a very specific physicalization of those particular pants roles. However, flowing gown and all, I went for it with gusto during Non So Piu, and I was so boyish that one of my earrings went sailing out of my ear and off the stage. Some nice gentleman in the front row picked it up and handed it to me when I was finished singing, and I made a comment to Jerry during the applause that I guess maybe I shouldn't have dressed so girly for these pants parts - my girly clothes were revolting and literally leaping off my body. During the second half of the concert, just before I was about to go onstage and sing Parto Parto, my big showstoppah, the stage manager said, "can I see your dress?" I had gone to the bathroom in between my last aria and that moment, and had inadvertently tucked my dress up into my nylons so that my butt was completely exposed, and hadn't noticed. Were it not for that alert stage manager, it would have been REALLY obvious to the audience that I was a girl.

After the concert there was a reception held at the bank which was the main sponsor of that particular concert, and the people were incredibly nice and genuinely so happy to have us there singing for them. Sometimes as singers, we get so caught up in wanting to sing with only the BEST orchestras in the MOST IMPORTANT places, and we forget how special and rewarding it is to bring a certain type of music to a community that wouldn't otherwise have it. These lovely people were so grateful and thrilled that we had "graced them with our presence" and frankly, that was probably a more rewarding feeling than singing with the Vienna Philharmonic in some ways. It wasn't the same musical experience I would have had with the Vienna Philharmonic, but it was special and important and rewarding to me in its own way. The players were generous and musical, and they genuinely wanted to collaborate. The audience was enthusiastic and happy and warm. And they didn't even mind that I spent most of the concert acting like there was something between my legs while wearing a formal gown. Who could ask for more acceptance and appreciation than that, really?