Sunday, November 14, 2010

We're moving!

So, after much procrastinating, I'm finally moving and expanding my blog to a new address with more bells and whistles. From now on, you will find me at For those of you who are "followers" you can feel free to sign up for the RSS feed on my new blog (in the bottom right corner) which is, as far as I can tell, what happens when you become a follower. I'm very sorry to make you change the address if you have me in your bookmarks, but hopefully this address will be even easier to remember. I'll miss you blogger, but I think it's time to move on!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Jumping in feet first

You were probably wondering where the heck I'd been. Well, I was just waiting for something exciting to happen - and tonight it did. I found out, funnily enough- via facebook, that our Figaro wasn't' going to be able to perform tonight, so I knew we'd be having someone jump in to the role tonight. I got an email from the Staatsoper office today, informing me as much, and I spent all of 2 minutes introducing myself to the lovely young italian baritone called in for the job, only minutes before the performance started. And that was it. As I walked back to my dressing room, I thought to myself - well, next time I see him we will be singing a duet. In front of people. For the first time in our lives. At the Berlin Staastoper. That's Show Business!

Jumping in boggles my mind. First of all because we just don't do it in the U.S. I remember some years back when I was performing in the second cast of Nozze di Figaro at City Opera. We had several weeks of rehearsal with our entire cast, and although we didn't have the chance to do it on the stage with the orchestra before our first performance, we were very well prepared with the staging and with knowing each other. And even in that situation we were all freaking out. I remember the energy level during that first performance of the second cast as being extraordinarily high because we were all so nervous. But that was nothing compared to what it must be like to have only a few hours of rehearsal the day before the performance, and basically meet your colleagues on stage for the first time while you are singing with them.

In tonight's performance, the director of the show was backstage the entire night pointing and gesturing at the new guy when he might have been lost, and cheering him on as well. We also have a prompter, although I noticed that it was hard to hear her the few times that someone got lost, and various colleagues were whispering lost recit that may have been confusingly absent because of some cut. We rehearsed some of the second act trio in the dressing room before we started that act, and there was a part we were singing that the poor Figaro had never done before. He was literally learning the music during the intermission, and I thought to myself HOW ARE YOU NOT FREAKING OUT RIGHT NOW? But he really was calm and collected, which is your only option when you are in a jump-in situation. Otherwise, you will totally and completely lose your mind. I mean, everybody fears those moments when you are onstage, and for some reason you momentarily forget where you are supposed to be. When you jump-in, you know for certain that you will have many moments like that, and you just have to pray that a kind colleague will push you in the right direction.

And I personally am like a sheep dog, feeling the need to herd lost things in all situations. So it was definitely harder for me to concentrate tonight on my own singing and acting because I was always worrying about whether I needed to help the Figaro. I would imagine that Europeans who are more accustomed to the jump-in don't find it to be such a big deal, and go about their parts normally, with maybe a heightened awareness of what's going on around them. I, on the other hand, can't bear to see someone looking lost and take it on as my personal responsibility to make sure they know what's going on. It's probably annoying actually to these calm Europeans who are seasoned "einspringers" to have this bossy american trying to be "helpful." But I can't stop myself. I need to get myself some sheep or something.

All things considered, I would say the performance went remarkably well, and my hat is off to the gentleman who managed to keep his wits about him with only a few hours of rehearsal. As for me, I have only one more performance here in Berlin before I get to go home - TO MY OWN APARTMENT for the first time in awhile. I hope I still remember where I live.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

just for fun

I had some new headshots taken recently by a lovely photographer named Christian Coulson.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


What is it about a show that makes an audience react? What about when you perform the same show for two different audiences, and one goes crazy, while the other claps politely but far from enthusiastically?

This has been the case with the first two performances of Barbiere at the Staatsoper, now located in the Schiller Theater. I did the exact same production last season, with many of the same cast members, and the audience went crazy every night. They clapped, cheered, laughed audibly at all the jokes, and applauded so much at the end, that we bowed and bowed for what seemed like an eternity. However, during these two performances in the Schiller Theater, the response seemed quite tepid in comparison. For my part, I sang better this year than last year - I was more relaxed and had more rehearsal, and I actually think the acoustic in the Schiller Theater feels a little better than in the Staatsoper (which is one of the things they are fixing in the Staatsoper while it's closed). The other cast members were all excellent and in great form, and both performances went extremely well. There was even an extremely positive review in the paper, which is totally unheard of for a repertoire production. And yet, the audience was VERY quiet.

My only explanation is that the production was made for the Staatsoper, and so somehow doesn't seem to have quite the same effect in the new theater. It's strange - the Staatsoper has more seats than the Schiller, but somehow the audience feels closer. I think it's because it is one of those typically European opera houses, where the theater goes up and to the sides instead of back, so everyone feels closer to you than in more modern theaters that have just one balcony in the back of the theater. I noticed it because in this production, we spend a lot of time singing arias and duets right from the front of the stage, actually standing on the prompter box (which I almost slipped and fell off of last night during the finale - typical Jenny move) and I remember feeling extremely close to the audience during those moments in the Staatsoper, and not so much now. I know one should never rely on an audience reaction for one's feelings of self worth after a performance, and I don't really. But I would be lying if I didn't admit to the fact that if I feel like I nailed Una Voce Poco Fa (which I really think I did, last night especially) and after I finish I mostly hear crickets........crickets........ - it can be a little disheartening.

But it certainly doesn't bother me nearly as much as it used to. Mostly because I have sung Rosina so many times, that I know now when I sing it well. And if I sing it well, and have fun while doing it, I can't really hope for much more. It's mostly a curiousity - what exactly makes audiences go wild? What's the secret equation that stirs them to a frenzy? Besides if you're Oprah and you're giving away cars or trips to Australia.

Speaking of Oprah, I'm on my way to Chicago as I write this from yet another airport. I have almost two weeks between performances, so I'm taking the opportunity to visit my BF. In fact, I think they're boarding my plane. Auf Wiedersehn, Berlin. Until the next one.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

why we sing

Even though we've only been rehearsing for 6 days (and that's pretty much it - Monday is the final rehearsal and Tuesday is the opening) I've had time to speak to my colleagues this week and get to know them a little better. What I've discovered is that the South African tenor was an accountant until he was 30 years old, and switched to singing, and the Italian baritone singing Bartolo was a surgeon who performed liver transplants until he decided to pursue his passion for singing. I was comparing in my mind the decisions of those two, versus my incredibly talented boyfriend, who, while he has an absolutely fantastic voice and exceptional stage presence, and was singing a lot of great places, decided (before I met him) that singing was not the career he wanted to pursue and chose to go into the corporate world instead, where he could explore his passion for technology. It has really got me thinking this week about how there are some people who might never achieve critical success as musicians or artists, but who keep trying for their whole lives, while there are some people who do succeed, and could continue to do so, but decide that the career and life of an artist is just not for them. What makes some people give up perfectly good jobs as surgeons to become opera singers, and what makes other people give up perfectly good jobs as opera singers to go to work in the "real world"?

For me, the question of why I remain an artist is constantly developing. When I was younger, I think I developed into a performer first, because I loved being the center of attention, and because I discovered something I was good at naturally (singing). If I look back on my years in childhood and adolescence of singing lessons and performing in musicals and operas, I have to say that a big driving force for me was that a) I wanted to be a "star" and b) I liked doing something that I was good at. I think I also liked the challenges of performing in operas because it really does use all the parts of your brain and your body, and there is always a huge margin for error and therefore a never ending outlet for improvement. It wasn't until much later that I discovered the artistic pleasures of music and drama and began to explore the challenges of being a true musician and not just a performer. For opera singers who come to singing because they are natural performers, the trajectory of their artistic selves seems to be different than for opera singers who come to singing from having been instrumentalists first. But the thing about opera that seems to be endlessly appealing is that one has the opportunity to explore both sides of oneself. The musical part of the brain can almost be equated with both the mathematical side of the brain (in the learning and executing of pitches and rhythms) and of course also the creative side of the brain (with the interpreting and phrasing of the music). Plus there is the very creative art of physicalizing a character and finding dramatic intentions. And then the more technical element of communicating in another language and properly producing and pronouncing that language and translating what you're saying in your brain as you say it. And of course, the endlessly fascinating challenge of vocal technique and production. The possibilities for creativity and challenge are endless, and thus we can see exactly why someone would be drawn to a career in singing.

But the difficulties with having such a career are almost equally compelling. First of all, there's the difficulty of doing all the things I mentioned above, all at once, and then adding the pressure of trying to do all of those things in front of thousands of people. That right there is enough to make some people run screaming in the opposite direction. Add to that the fact that you have two people basically in charge of what you are doing while you are doing all those things - the director and the conductor - and more times than not, one or even both of those people seems to be conspiring to make that job infinitely more difficult, and yet they may have the power to make you feel like a turd on a log if you don't execute everything exactly as they imagine it. Then there is the unsteady and insecure nature of trying to make your living out of a job that has no stability, and doesn't allow you any job security other than a year or two in advance - and that's if you're lucky. Then there is the not so tiny element of always having to be on the road - often in very foreign places - all time time, just in order to pursue the job at all. Never having any kind of normal schedule. Missing major holidays and functions, weddings and funerals, and having absolutely no choice in the matter. Oh - and how about having to face terrible, harsh, toe-curling criticism, both publicly and privately, even when you have worked as hard as you possibly can and given every last ounce of your soul to a project. Have I mentioned the being away from your loved ones all the time? God, that's probably the suckiest part of it for me.

And yet people choose to pursue it anyway. There are people who would give every last one of their toenails to have just one of the opportunities that I've been given, and there are singers with whom I've worked in those situations who are dying to have a normal life again, and dream every day of finding a new way to make their livelihood. I honestly fluctuate - there are days when I am so fulfilled by this work that I am unbelievably happy, and other days when I sit down and start brain-storming about my other career options. But I have a very unique position - I have had the opportunity to pursue this career at a very high level, and have accomplished most things that people hope for - singing in some major places, working with famous directors and conductors, even making recordings. So now that I've had those experiences, I'm in a different position to judge whether this is something I choose to pursue, as opposed to people who only dream about those experiences. Then again, having had those experiences, I see exactly how wonderful and how terrible living the life of an artist can be. This makes the decision to keep choosing this life both terribly easy and terribly difficult, depending on which day you ask me. When all you have are dreams, everything seems possible, and when all you have are experiences, everything seems both possible and impossible at the same time.

There are no definitive answers. Only gratitude and thoughtful contemplation. Thank you for allowing me to indulge myself in both.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Ja wohl!

I kept meaning to write a blog post about all that's been happening, and then more stuff would happen!

It already feels like years ago that I finally performed the Kindertotenlieder, but it was only 4 days ago!! The performance went fine, although I felt that my nervousness about the newness of the pieces caused me to sing them less well in the performance than in the dress rehearsal earlier the same day. I'm not sure what I was nervous about exactly - I had the music in front of me, there weren't really any "trouble spots" and the performance was for a very small but very appreciative audience. Sitting here right now imagining it, I really don't understand why I had to be nervous enough to have it affect anything about my performance, because I wasn't particularly worried about any elements. But unfortunately, that's the human brain for you. You just can't control performance anxiety. It's very annoying, however. But nothing went wrong or anything, and I actually got a very lovely email from a "fan" who attended the concert. I really like that people who see me perform can send me emails - it's the same way I feel about all of you commenting on the blog. It's fantastic that the internet has allowed performers and the public to be able to communicate so easily and freely.

After the concert was over, it was back to Berlin to begin rehearsal for this Barber. We jumped right in on Monday, and being back at the Staatsoper was like being back at the first day of school, a comforting feeling that I haven't really experienced since I've been out of the yearly City Opera loop. Except that The Staatsoper has moved for the next three years to a new location while they renovate the historical building on Unter den Linden Boulevard. The rehearsals and performances are now taking place in the Schiller Theater, which was built in the 50's, and which is in West Berlin, only a few blocks from the Deutsche Oper. It's not as big a building or Theater as the Staastoper, so people are all crammed in, and everyone is still learning where everything is. I wandered around for 20 minutes on the first day with the conductor, looking for a room where we could work on one of the cadenzas, and we finally settled on a dressing room off to the side of the stage because it was all we could find. But having several of the same cast members, plus the same director and conductor really makes me feel at home.

I was worried I wouldn't remember the staging from last year, but strangely, my feet just seem to move me where I'm supposed to go 9 times out of 10. Which is lucky, because since there are some new cast members who have never done this production before, those of us "veterans" (which is a hilarious way to reference me since I did two performances with about 6 hours of rehearsal) just kind of try to remember where we're supposed to be while the director shows the other people the moves. Funnily enough, the 6 or so days of rehearsal we have seem like plenty to me after how stressed I was last year with trying to learn it so quickly. And, after discussing Rossini style with the conductor, we decided that I'm not going to put a fermata on the penultimate note at the end of Una Voce Poco Fa, but rather do the ending come scritto - as written - as it would have been done in Rossini's time. I'm always complaining about the fact that everybody sustains that high note, so it's totally expected and traditional, and it just gives me HIVES to even think about it. It's probably mostly a mental block I've developed against it, because I have no problems singing high B's and even higher in other situations, but for some reason, in that context, it stresses me out. So when the conductor said he didn't even want me to hold it, I almost jumped in his arms with happiness. Without that stressful note, there really isn't anything about Rosina that I find particularly scary. So I can actually just have fun with a role I know extremely well, and not sit there before and worry about one note, and then spend the rest of the opera thinking about how well I sang it.

Not even the fact that I am now a common criminal in Germany could damper my spirits about not having to sing that high note. You think I'm kidding? Oh no - I left rehearsal last night, very tired from a long day, and as I ran up the stairs to the S-Bahn to go home, I was pretty sure I had one more ticket in my wallet, although I didn't even have time to pull it out and validate it before I slipped onto the train and the doors closed. The trains in Berlin, for those of you who've never been here, are basically on an honor system, with people coming around to check your tickets only once in awhile. In fact, in the four months I spent in Berlin last year, I only saw the people checking tickets one time. But wouldn't you know it, last night was the second time I had the pleasure of seeing them, and it turns out I didn't have any more tickets in my wallet. So they pulled me off the train, asked to see my passport, and fined me 40 Euro. I felt like such an ass - I mean, WHO doesn't buy tickets for the public transportation and just tries to get away with it??? Me, apparently. I bought a weekly pass first thing this morning.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Wien and beyond

I arrived Wednesday evening in Vienna, and was excited to see this amazing historical city for the first time. I was only slightly dismayed to discover that my hotel, which is right in the center of Vienna on a street called Schubertring, was wedged between a TGI Fridays and a McDonald's. Sigh. But that didn't deter me from finding an excellent Schnitzel and a very large Austrian Beer at a very non American, non fast food chain before falling into bed, still jet-lagged and exhausted.

I didn't have rehearsal until 5 PM the next day and had to check out of the hotel at 11, so I used the time to visit a few places in Vienna that had the most significance to me personally; Mozart's house, the Staatsoper, an most importantly, the famous chocolate and pastry shop Demel. No actually, I guess Mozart is the one figure who I would actually say is more important to me than chocolate. And that is saying A LOT. I was very excited to get to see the actual apartment where he composed Le Nozze di Figaro, and I'm sure I wasn't the first one to try to surreptitiously touch things like the walls in the hopes that my fingers would come into contact with something his fingers had touched. The movie Amadeus has made it impossible for me to picture anyone other than Tom Hulce whenever I try to picture Mozart and what he must have been like, so as I wandered the rooms, I kept seeing a white wigged Tom/Wolfgang running around and getting into trouble. I also kept trying to have a "profound experience" but I kind of felt more like I was looking at a potential sublet or something because they don't really have furniture in there since they don't know what was there or what each room would have actually had in it. But I did get teary in the section of the museum where they were talking about his death and playing the Requiem. He was exactly my age when the world lost the greatest composer of all time, and he managed to write every single one of my most favorite musical moments in those 35 years, whereas I haven't even managed to get married or spit out a kid yet. It's mind boggling to comprehend what he accomplished in the space of my lifetime thus far.

I also had my first rehearsal with the conductor on the Kindertotenlieder yesterday, and it did feel good to make music again, despite my protestations that I wasn't ready to get back in the saddle. It's especially nice to work with a conductor I know and who knows my voice, and to finally turn these pieces into music. What I mean by that is that I really am happier when I'm collaborating on something than when I'm trying to do it all by myself. I certainly have my own ideas, but being shaped and coaxed by a good conductor makes me feel so much more like I'm creating something, even without the orchestra present.

Then I was driven to St Pölten (the town an hour outside of Vienna where the concert will take place) last night after the rehearsal, and had my first rehearsal with the orchestra today. It all seemed to go well, and other than the challenge of getting used to singing something so low in a big hall as opposed to in the little rooms I've been practicing in, the pieces felt good. Now I just have the dress rehearsal and the concert, both tomorrow, and then Sunday I fly back to Berlin for rehearsals of Barbiere, which begin Monday.

Speaking of Barbiere, I saw via her blog that Joyce DiDonato has launched a new website, and when I looked at it, I nearly pooped my pants when I noticed on her schedule that she will be singing Rosina at the Deutsche Oper TWO DAYS after I sing it at the Staatsoper. Also, because of renovations to the Staatsoper, we will be performing in the Schiller Theater, which is only a few blocks away from the Deutsche Oper. So two days and a couple of blocks are all that separate THE Rosina of our time I'm not even freaked out because I think someone will compare us or something - it's just, why did I have to be simultaneously performing the same role with Joyce - why couldn't it have been someone who's name I didn't recognize, like it was last year when the Staats and the Deutsche had dueling Barbieres? I know it's ridiculous to compare one artist to another, but it's very hard not to be intimidated by someone who has so obviously mastered a certain role when you still feel like parts of that same role give you hives. Luckily I'm skipping town the day after my second performance, so I won't be in town to hear the applause for her Una Voce, that will almost certainly resonate not only two blocks down to the Schiller Theater, but all the way over to East Berlin, where my apartment is. Instead of crying into my currywurst, I will be safely ensconced in Chicago and out of the fray. You think I'm kidding, but I saw her sing Rosina at the Met and she got even more applause at the end than Juan Diego. More than JUAN DIEGO. For his signature role in The Barber of Seville.

Yeah, I'm totally out of there.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Wherefore art thou?

Oh Blog readers, have you given up on me? They say that if you want to keep your readership up, you have to be regular about writing, and I obviously haven't been. I took the summer (and when I say summer, I mean my summer vacation, which basically took place in the last month and a half) off, and now that I'm back in the saddle, I wonder if you all will come back and read again. Well, writing is cathartic enough that even if nobody is reading, I'll do it when I feel it anyway.

So, I'm back in Europe again. How did that happen? It truly seems like just yesterday I was packing up my suitcases in Innsbruck giddily, ready as ever to get back to the U.S. And I did have a month and a half off, but somehow it flew by so fast that I wasn't ready to reload and get back to work. But life goes on whether we're ready or not, and here I am, back to work.

On my flight here, I had a six and half hour silent, passive aggressive fight with the guy sitting next to me on the plane. I have a kindle now, which is really handy for traveling since it weighs next to nothing, and I can have unlimited english language books at my disposal, which is very comforting when you're in a foreign country. Anyway, you know how they make you turn off all electronic devices for take-off and landing? Well, I find that really annoying when I'm just trying to read my book, so I did a little research and discovered that the kindle is totally non-interfering with any airplane activity when you switch off the wireless signal, so it's totally safe to keep on, even during non-electronic moments on a flight. I've only had a flight attendant tell me to turn it off once, and when I explained to her that it was not really "electronic" and didn't have an on/off switch - just a sleep mode - she let me keep it on. Otherwise no one has ever said boo. Until my flight here yesterday.

The German dude sitting next to me, who was already pissing me off with his "hogging the armrests" antics, decided he was the electronics police. He leaned over to me as we were taxiing and said "Aren't we supposed to turn off all electronic devices for take-off and landing?" I looked at him sideways and asked "why?" and he glared down at my kindle and replied, "You should turn that off. Now." So I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt - maybe he's one of those nervous fliers and is afraid my kindle will cause the plane to crash, so I tried explaining how it works to him: "No - you see, once you turn off the wireless function - which I already did - it no longer emits any signals that can interfere with the plane - I've checked it out before." He looked at me suspiciously and and shook his head, muttering "you should turn it off." And then he looked around, apparently trying to find a flight attendant to tell on me. Never mind that they had passed by me a hundred times already and not said a peep. He continued to glare at me and my kindle all during take-off, and, as far as I could tell, spread out as much as possible so I had to keep my arms tucked into my sides as if I was wearing a straightjacket. My only revenge was, upon seeing he had ordered a special vegetarian meal, ordering the chicken. I really wanted the pasta, but I wanted his big glasses wearing, mayor of the airplane self to have to smell my meaty dinner. Ah, traveling.

I don't actually start any jobs until Thursday, when my first rehearsal for the Kindertotenlieder is scheduled, but I wanted to come to Europe a few days before that to recover from jet-lag. I fly to Vienna tomorrow and the concert is on Saturday, then back to Berlin Sunday, and rehearsals for Barber begin Monday. If I'm not feeling ready, I'd better get over it quick. Like; today.

Being back in Berlin is very comforting, however, as far as traveling to foreign countries goes. I know where I am, how to get places, and yet there's always so much more to discover. I already know how the public transportation works and where to validate my ticket and what direction to go. I even know what brand of German cereal I like. It's small comforts like these which keep me relatively sane, and eternally grateful.

Now I need to go practice. Tap tap this thing on?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


A year ago I wrote a post about my best friend Georgia getting married. Well, my other best friend Will recently made the same lovely leap, and his was documented by the New York Times (and recently blogged by Perez Hilton). If you're a regular reader of my blog, you will remember my references to Will (I also wrote this blog post about Kim, his husband). Well, now they're famous. Hope they remember me when.... :)