Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Wow. I can't believe Agrippina is over. It was one of those big milestones around which I had sort of been planning a lot of my life, and now it's just....finished.

I was looking forward to the production for a long time for a lot of reasons. First of all, I felt like it was a big step forward in my career to be singing in a new production at the Staatsoper conducted by Rene Jacobs. Second, I happen to really love the opera and the role, and was looking forward to doing it again. Third, I felt like it would be a chance for me to gain exposure with a lot of people in Europe that might not have heard of me yet, and hopefully lead to more chances to work over here. I have no idea if the first and the third of these items came to pass - it's too soon to tell I suppose. But for the second item, I absolutely had a wonderful time with this particular production, and not only was it a pleasure to sing Nerone again, but this might have been the very best production I've ever had the pleasure of taking part in. It was one of those magical situations where every single piece seemed to work on it's own, and also to fit together as a whole. The musical and dramatic elements came together so perfectly, and not only were all the singers incredibly fabulous at their roles, they were all really special and wonderful people to work with and get to know. The production was breathtaking and innovative, and was complemented beautifully by the careful and dedicated preparation of the music. And I'm not just blah blah blahing you with all my superlative adjectives - the reviews were almost all screamingly positive, all the performances were sold out, and the audiences gave standing ovations after every show.

Which are all the reasons why I'm so sad it's all over.

But whoa did I learn and grow A LOT from this experience.

There were a lot of elements that influenced me and taught me things, but there were three main people that I took big lessons from on this production; the conductor, the director, and the star soprano. I guess one could learn things from the people holding these positions in almost any production, but I learned specific things from these three people that I will take away with me and have forever.

From Rene Jacobs, I learned that there is absolutely no substitute for utterly detailed musical preparation, and that constant vigilance regarding the integrity of the music can create rather astonishing results. So often, musical details are lost, one by one, when we singers stand up and start walking around while singing. And in order to retain the careful preparation that occurs during the initial musical rehearsals, somebody has to be hyper-vigilant about the details at every rehearsal. This extreme attention to detail pays off in spades when it comes time for the performance and everybody is a little nervous, or distracted, or has an umbrella that won't open or something. Because no matter what happens to you onstage, the integrity of the rhythm, the phrasing, the dynamics, the coloring - it's all completely ingrained in your body, and impossible to avoid. And this intense attention to detail creates a captivating performance, even during a four hour opera filled with dacapo arias and 10 minute long passages of recitative. I also learned things from the Maestro about baroque style, ornamentation, various historical facts about Handel, and lots of interesting pieces of information about Agrippina specifically. But the thing that I will always treasure and attempt to emulate in my own artistic life is his total devotion to musical greatness through to the smallest detail of every turn of phrase. I want to aspire to that level every time I make music, and will be inspired to do so because of my work with him.

The second person I learned lessons from was the director, Vincent Boussard. I think one of the things that identifies a good leader is someone who can empower other people to find what they have inside of them and let it out. This is exactly what Vincent manages to do, and I think it's why he is able to get such good performances out of his singers - he has a way of making you find what is already inside of yourself, and wanting to push your abilities to the limits of what you're capable of and beyond. Somehow, he was able to help me find a balance between extreme physical use of my body combined with a more intimate, delicate expression of emotion. It takes a very skilled director to help an actor find this balance, and having discovered it in this role, I will continue to strive for it in every character I portray.

Finally, I learned a lot from the wonderful soprano playing my mother, Alexandrina Pendatchanska. You may remember that just before I left for Berlin, I posted a clip of her that I came across on youtube here on my blog, not knowing her at all and just being impressed by the clip. Well, now that I know her, i can say that my being impressed with her goes far beyond the clips on youtube of her singing. She really is the consummate artist, with a voice that seems to have absolutely no limits whatsoever either technically or musically. But the thing I learned the most from her about is how to be a wonderful human being AND a great artist. Alexandrina is the anti-diva; she works incredibly hard and takes her work very seriously, but she is always also looking outside of herself in order to be a supportive colleague. She is a wonderful mother and wife, she constantly invites people over to her place and cooks for them, she has a super awesome pair of leather pants that look smoking hot on her, and she's a PUBLISHED AUTHOR of a novel in her native Bulgarian!!! I admire her for her ability to be a first class artist who is still a first class person as well, and for showing me that kindness and generosity seem to be the key to "having it all" - she is living proof. Talent certainly can't be created, it has to just be in there - but the rest - the ability to care for the world around you in spite of all the talent you might have - is something that you have to learn, and I learned how important it is from watching her.

Well, that was a particularly verbose post that I hope doesn't sound too pretentious or fancy schmancy. I could have probably said this all in one sentence; Agrippina at the Berlin Staatsoper; Worth all the hard work and bruises because it was one of the best experiences I've ever had.

photo of cast taken by Marcos Fink: Left to right; Daniel Schmutzard, Anna Prohaska, Dominique Visse, Neal Davies, Bejun Mehta, Jennifer Rivera, Alexandrina Pendatchanska. Taken on the stage of the Berlin Staatsoper.


Anonymous said...

Would that we could all learn these life lessons from all our experiences. I think that your writing is getting better and better too.

Katypracht said...

I'm so happy you've had that wonderful experience, Jenny, and I look forward to seeing the way all of these new relationships and characters have made you grow. :) Safe travels, and congratulations on another fantastic accomplishment!


Becca Anne said...

Thank you so much for this blog. I love reading what you write, because you have the rare gift of telling the truth with honesty and wit. As a very young singer, it means so much to me to be able to follow your successful career. And congratulations on Agrippina!

Enrique said...

It's glad to me, an opera fan, saw a blog from a singer, telling her expieriences, fears, achivements and thougts. I travel from Madrid to Berlin only to attend at Statsoper to saw Agrippina, and after 4 hours of this magnific music I was sad that it was finished. Your Nerone was fantastic, also I like very much the exultant voice of Alexandrina Penddatchanska, Anna Prohashka and Bejun Mehta. Of course, Rene Jacobs is a musical genius. In 2003I saw this same opera and Belshazzar in Brussels and was terrific. It's not an easy compliment, but Jacobs has the talent of coose almost perfect casts. Best regards. Enrique