Wednesday, April 29, 2009

War Wounds

Often when I play pants roles, I end up with mild injuries. Usually they are bruises on my knees from all the kneeling that inevitably occurs, and sometimes I pull muscles in my neck and back from running around like a teenager. In this production of Lucrezia Borgia, I have incurred some injuries which are completely mysterious to me. I have these two bruises on the back of my thigh, and I have absolutely no idea how they got there. I know they occured during my two dress rehearsals, but I don't know how I got them. I spent the next couple of rehearsals watching the other Orsini to see if any of her positions looked "bruisey" but they didn't. But these are serious bruises, so you'd think I'd remember getting them. However, I have absolutely no idea where they came from - my best guess is either from sitting backwards in a chair and swinging myself around too furiously or from leaning too vigorously against either a spiral staircase or a bed frame. But I still can't pinpoint the actual moment, so I may incur yet another beauty during one of the remaining performances. I think something might be seriously wrong with me that I can bruise like this and not notice.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

opening - some thoughts

Last night was my first performance here in Warsaw of Orsini in Lucrezia Borgia - and my first performance ever of this role. It was sort of a strange night. While it was the first performance for me and the soprano, everyone else in the cast was singing their second performance, and second performances always have a different energy than firsts, so this was funny to begin with. The other weird thing was that because of the schedule, my dress rehearsal had been 4 days before and with the other tenor, so I hadn't rehearsed with this tenor in a week, and never with the full set (which made a big difference acoustically in our duet). So, there were factors to be dealt with. And in fact, I dealt with them fine for the most part in the first two acts and everything for me went pretty well.

But then, after the beginning of the second Act, I don't come on again until the beginning of the third act, and with the long intermissions they take here, there was about an hour between when I left and came on again - maybe an hour and a half even. So by the time I got back onstage for the last act, which was my biggest part in the opera, I felt kind of weird. Tired, but nervous, and kind of out of it somehow. I remember standing backstage and feeling really strange and thinking to myself, "I hope I don't have swine flu or something." The duet was fine but it kind of exhausted me, so when I got onstage for the last scene I didn't really feel centered. It's interesting - I really think that roles where you stay onstage for most of the opera are far easier than roles where you have to go away for a long time and come back - I tend to have such a great deal of energy on the stage that when I have to wait a long time in between scenes, it's difficult for me to keep it up. Especially in this situation where I have the first aria of the show, and then the bulk of the rest of my role comes at the end of the opera.

So anyway, when we got to the final scene, I think I was fighting against this lull in energy I was feeling, so I was doing way more physically than I should have, or than I needed to and actually wasting my good energy. By the time we got to my aria, my breathing was quite high and I just didn't feel like I could get centered on anything - on my voice, on my interpretation - it just felt like I was kind of flailing around and circling around the right feeling but not landing on it. Of course, there was plenty of muscle memory, and no one in the audience would have known anything was wrong unless they had seen me sing the aria before, and then maybe they would have heard me do it better. But I still felt annoyed that I couldn't get centered enough to make it what I wanted to. I find that in those situations usually not that many people can tell the difference between your good nights and your bad nights, but it's not as fun to sing and perform when you don't feel in absolute control because then you can't play as much.

It's always a learning process, this job. I know for the next performances that I can't expend so much physical energy in the scene right before my aria, and that I really have to stay focused in the lead up to the aria so I can do everything I want with it. This is probably something I needed to do a performance of the role to learn because my energy is often so different with an audience, and I'm glad I figured it out. When I came out and bowed I got a lot more applause and cheering than I was expecting based on a) how I thought I did and b) the fact that I didn't know a soul in the theater - but I couldn't help but wanting to tell them all to come back because I know it will be better next time. But I guess that's the beauty of live theater - you never know what you're gonna get.

Sunday, April 26, 2009


I have never participated in a production where there was booing during the curtain call - in fact, I've never even been in the theater to witness booing - until tonight. Tonight was the premiere of Lucrezia Borgia here in Warsaw (I was in the audience as I'm singing the "second premiere" as they call it here) and the show, in my estimate went extremely well. The audience seemed responsive at the end of the first and second acts, and the singers all sang very well. It was my first time seeing the production in it's complete form, and I thought it was very effective and beautiful. All of the singers and the conductor came onto the stage to receive hearty ovations from the public, but when the director entered, there was an eruption of boos coming from all parts of the theater. I was a more than a little shocked to experience this - I mean, it was loud and it was serious - especially after everything seemed to work so well.

This production definitely had a lot of elements added to it that could be considered shocking to some people; it was updated to 1930's fascist Italy, two male characters are played as gay and have a duet which takes place on a bed and involves kissing (even though one of the characters is played by a woman), there is a scene where all the men gather around Lucrezia and simulate urinating on her to punish her for having killed members of their families, and a few other moments that weren't directly in the libretto. But when I watched it tonight as an audience member, I felt that all the dramatic and shocking elements really worked with the libretto, and that it made for a very captivating evening of theater. So I was pretty shocked when the booing started.

After the performance, someone told me that an audience member explained to them that the booing was completely a reaction to the homosexual kissing - that was apparently the only thing that was offensive enough to make people boo. Really? Even when one the people doing the kissing was obviously a woman? Even when the libretto makes it pretty clear that the two guys had something going on? Even in 2009??? But apparently, it was too much for this audience. On the one hand, it's too bad this had to happen because it kind of marred an otherwise very successful premiere, but at the same time, I have to admit that I find it exciting when an audience is passionate enough about the opera to react in a way that is so extreme, even when I don't agree with their opinion.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


Jinky is short for Jinkooya which means thank you. I remember hearing my friend Georgia use the word Jinky when she came back from Poland the first time and thinking that it was a word she made up, but in fact, it's real. When I heard someone use it for the first time I thought, "wait - that's Georgia's pretend word!!"

I haven't been very good at keeping up with my "two new polish words a day" rule. The first week, the tenor and I promised that as a team we would learn two polish words a day and practice them on each other, but he left for all of last week to go sing a concert elsewhere and without the buddy system, I completely gave up. Plus, I ended up spending so much time speaking italian last week that I kept trying to speak italian to the polish people and wondering why they didn't understand me. It's funny how your brain works that way - it thinks: foreign country, foreign language, and for a split second you forget you can't communicate in this country in this language. I will have these moments where I will be about to walk up to a counter of some kind with the idea in my head that I'm going to be able to ask for something, only to realize at the last moment that the sentence I was just absentmindedly constructing in my head was in italian, and polish people don't speak italian. But almost everyone under 35 in poland seems to speak english, so I'm usually okay.

This weekend we had 4 days free and I wondered what the hell I was gonna do with that many free days. Luckily, the day before all the days off I struck up a conversation with one of the assistant directors who happens to be italian, and discovered that he would also be here all weekend with not much to do. So he and I ended up spending about 8 hours a day together walking around warsaw (even though ALL THE STORES were closed from saturday at 4PM until this morning!!! ARUGH!!!!) and chatting in about 70% italian and 30% english. It's really easy to spend a lot of time with someone who is about as good as you are in their language in your language because both of you get to practice the other language, but when you get tired of thinking too hard you can just switch to your own language. Plus it comes in really handy sometimes to be able to communicate in more than one language - usually if we speak english other people in poland can understand us so it's better to speak italian, but one night we had dinner in this sort of touristy restaurant where for some reason there were tons of italian tourists, so we switched to english so we could talk about private stuff and not be understood. Every time I speak italian however, I am reminded of far I need to go before I can really just blab away and understand absolutely everything, and it makes me long for the day when I will again get paid to spend months at a time in Italy.

Having a lot of time off, whether it be between rehearsals, performances, or entire gigs, makes me remember how much I really love the part of this job that is rehearsing. I really enjoy rehearsing so much! It makes me so happy to make music and drama and work and change things in a pressure-less environment, and to be around other people and laugh and make jokes and make music. It sounds so cheesy but I really do enjoy both the creative parts and the collaborative parts so much, that when I have too many days off I miss rehearsing terribly. Luckily today we got back at it, the full cast has now arrived, and we're off and running. And all I will tell you about this production for now is that there is some public urination that happens, and I am involved in it. I don't want to give away any director secrets, so if you want to know more you'll just have to come to warsaw and check it out (don't worry, I'll give you the full details after the show opens. Maybe I'll even get a photo!!) JINKY!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Warsaw continues

Yes, I've been really bad about writing blog entries. But here's a run down of the last week or so.

We finished our week of what I felt were quite successful and fulfilling musical rehearsals, I had a day free, and then I had to travel out of town for an audition in another country. I'll write more about that at a later time if anything pans out from it. I came back tuesday evening to begin staging rehearsals on wednesday morning. Except that because of various scheduling issues with cast / staff, they had in fact already staged a great deal of the opera about two weeks before I arrived with many of the principals, so my job was to watch what had been done and then jump up and do it myself. It can be kind of challenging to jump into a staging rehearsal without first "walking and talking it" or without watching it several times, especially with a new role, but I was so eager to get on my feet and start running around like a boy, that I didn't mind. The very first thing we worked on was the duet between my character and the tenor, which is a gay love duet in this production, so I immediately had to practice making loving gestures that were masculine. It's not easy because we're kind of spooning at one point, and my tendency is to get all girly, but I have to work at keeping myself butch. The director gave me some good advice, which was to be more solid when I grab a body part instead of all "caressy" and it helped. Then, in the next two days, we did all of the parts of the opera that I'm in, so now I know what all my staging looks like. I also got a look at the drawings of the sets, which look incredibly cool, and was excited to come across this advertisement on the side of a building when I was walking back from a lunch with some colleagues:

I am really enjoying Warsaw as a City quite a lot. It's not so big, so I can really walk the whole thing (at least the main parts) it is very clean and easy to navigate (except crossing the street which I haven't exactly figured out the rules for yet). The young people are very stylish and well dressed, and I like watching them walk down the street from sidewalk cafes, where I've been able to sit often since the weather has been ridiculously nice. The other night some polish colleagues took me to eat real polish food because I'd been really wanting to eat a good pierogi, and when they asked me if I had ever tried fat on bread, I thought they were getting confused with language. But as it turns out, "fat" that you spread on bread is a real thing, and it's delicious. I guess it's some kind of rendered animal fat, but before you gag, listen to me when I tell you it tastes like the best butter you ever ate. I have no idea what's in it exactly or how it is created, but it tastes like, well, if you took bacon and melted in down into a creamy spread. This is what it looks like (it's on the left - the other spread is a kind of yogurty chive thing - also delicious)

Because of the easter weekend, we now have 4 DAYS completely free. Normally I would be happy with the free time, but since pretty much everyone is leaving to go home, the thought of having no human contact for that long is daunting. I'm okay spending a day or two on my own, but by about day 3 I start to feel like a crazy person. In fact, I was just reading this article in the New Yorker about how prisoners in solitary confinement almost always go completely crazy, so I'm not the only one who doesn't get into the whole being alone thing. But I will survive and try to explore the parts of Warsaw I haven't seen, and maybe even make a trip to Krakow, which is supposed to be an amazing city. Or maybe I'll just sit in my hotel room all weekend and watch movies and eat fat on bread. Both possibilities have their charms.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

and then

I haven't felt as compelled to blog here in Warsaw as I thought I would. First of all because nothing particularly hilarious has happened to me after the first day I was here. I don't know whether I am just more accustomed to being in a foreign country so I'm not making as many dumb mistakes as I have in previous trips, or whether it's something about Warsaw that doesn't seem as "foreign" as other places. One of my polish colleagues told me that Poles definitely like "american stuffs" so maybe it's easy for me to get around because of that. Also, I now have 6 words of Polish in my vocabulary, which isn't enough to even try to communicate past the most basic requirements, so I'm not suggesting that "there are too many condoms in the food" the way I did once in an error filled conversation in italian. Regardless, I'm enjoying myself, and enjoying this opera immensely. The singers are all excellent and we've had the luxury of having a week of purely musical rehearsals, which really gives you the opportunity to figure out what you're doing vocally before throwing in all that running around. I've been trying to avoid spending my entire fee just on eating out, but it gets difficult when you're in a hotel room with no kitchen for a month. Some of my tricks have included taking as much fruit as I can carry from the free breakfast in the hotel and eating it for lunch, and buying pre-made sandwiches from a place called coffee heaven that was highly recommended to me by my friend Georgia who has worked in Warsaw often. I've already had quite a bit of time to explore the main parts of the city, and the weather has actually been gorgeous and springy. I've learned that the signs for the bathrooms here are an upside down triangle for the men's room and a circle for the ladies room, so I haven't had any more accidental encounters with in-use urinals. I've only gotten lost in the theater about 3 or 4 times since the first day, but I've always been able to find my way back to wherever my rehearsal was, and I was even able to show one of the polish singers where the bathrooms were on the floor where we were rehearsing that she didn't know about! Maybe I'm actually getting used to this traveling to foreign countries and singing thing.