Saturday, May 31, 2008

e strano

Well, I'm home. I don't really have my wits about me to write my final "here are all my thoughts about and summations of Italy" posting right now because it's almost 11PM new york time, which would make it 5 AM Italy time and I've been traveling all day, and speaking strange mishmashes of english, italian, and french. My brain is fried and all I can say is I already miss Italy. More tomorrow.

Friday, May 30, 2008

I came, I saw, I didn't sing

I woke up this morning and just knew I couldn't do the audition. As I mentioned yesterday, the cold started going into my nose, and when I woke up it was just out of control. I couldn't even hardly talk, so I definitely couldn't sing. It really isn't my favorite way to end this journey, and I'm definitely disappointed I didn't get to do the auditions because one thing is sure; I love it here and I want to come back as soon as possible. But too many good things came out of this experience for me to wallow in self-pity over this failure of a week. Instead, I choose to keep in the front of my brain all the things I'm taking away from this trip, and how I really feel like it changed me in so many ways for the better. I'm planning on writing my last entry tomorrow night while I wait at the airport (if there's a wireless connections, which now I'm realizing, in the Torino airport won't be likely) or maybe when I get home if I'm not too exhausted. I still haven't decided whether I should keep blogging on a regular basis or save the blogging for then I go to exotic locales. We'll see.

I will leave you today with one funny story from a few days ago that I forgot to report, but which bears repeating. The other day Vincenzo made lunch for me and this other friend of his, a violinist with the Teatro Regio orchestra. I was explaining to them both why I had decided to start eating vegetarian at the beginning of this year, and I was trying to explain that one of the reasons is all the additives and preservatives that go into the processing of American food. As usual, I was sort of out of my element in terms of vocabulary, so I was just making words I knew in english into Italian ones, which works about 50% of the time. I finally came to the end of my explanation with "e ci sono tanti preservativi nel cibo americano" which I thought was a pretty good guess at how to say that there are tons of preservatives in american food - except Vincenzo and Monica burst out laughing. Well, preservativi does not mean preservatives - it means condoms. That's right folks, all those condoms in amercan food turned me right into a vegetarian. It was a classic linguistic mishap, and one that I will not mistake again. By the way - preservatives is translated as conservante, just in case you are ever plan to have a discussion about food production with an italian.

Thursday, May 29, 2008


I arrived in Venice today and the first thing I had to do was strip off half my clothes. For the past three weeks it has been cold and rainy in Torino, (I blame the weather among other things for this lovely cold) and I arrived in my Torino clothes - sweater, trench coat, and scarf. But when I exited the train, I was hit with the sun and 80 degree weather and my system was shocked by this sudden change of season. I tore off my winter gear happily, although carrying everything and all my clothes was a challenge.

When I came out of the train station, one of the first people I saw was somebody I knew. This dancer from City Opera named Billy was boarding one of the tourist boats with some people, and I would have had to go screaming after him like an american tourist to talk to him, so I didn't get his attention. But when I run into him in New York, it will be funny to say, "so, what were you doing in Venice on May 29th?" and freak him out.

Venice is like disneyland. First of all, it feels totally unreal to be riding in this boat along the "streets" of this floating city. I kept thinking I was on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. The second reason it's like disneyland is that everyone here - every single person it seems like - is a tourist. I didn't realize how lucky I was to be in Torino for my Italian immersion until I arrived in Venice today, and noticed that all the people in the service industry here automatically speak english to everyone.

But I digress - so I exited the train station, spotted somebody I knew, and then had to figure out how to get to the hotel. This was no easy feat. Below I have cut and pasted the exact directions on how to get to the train station to the hotel from the hotel's website:

Get to the Venice train station of Santa Lucia, continue with vaporetto Actv line 1 or 2 (stops in front of the station) towards Saint Mark and get off after about half an hour at Vallaresso stop. Continue on foot along Calle Vallaresso, turn left, cross the bridge and continue on Calle Larga XXII Marzo. Turn right on the second street, Calle delle Veste, and go straight to Campo San Fantin where the famous La Fenice Theater stands. Turn right on Calle del Fruttarol: You will have arrived, Hotel Becher is at number 1857.

Okay, seriously? And it's not like you can just hop in a taxi to get there - you actually have to use the waterways. I mean, I have been in Italy for 2 months, I speak Italian, and I totally got lost, as I knew I would when I read those directions. Imagine some poor person who didn't know how to get around Italy? I got onto the vaporetto, which is like a water bus, just fine (although the line to buy tickets was excruciatingly long, and I tried really hard to avoid it by speaking Italian to people and showing I'm not just "another tourist", but no dice.) and the ride on the vaporetto was very cool although surreal. Then I arrived at San Marco stop, which said nowhere Calle Vallaresso, but it was the last stop so I got off. I found Calle Vallaresso, but the next street in the directions was nowhere to be found. I finally found a police officer and asked where La Fenice, the opera theater was, and they directed me. Still, once I got there, I had to go down a few wrong streets before I found the right one. But it ended up being worth it because my adorable little room has a balcony directly overlooking the canal, and gondolas are constantly floating by, sometimes with singing gondoliers. That's pretty fun.

I spent the afternoon exploring, getting lost again, finding myself, and taking photos. The only annoying thing is that while I had been feeling much better all day, about two hours ago I started sneezing a lot, and now my nose is completely stuffed up. I seriously still don't know if I'm even going to do this audition tomorrow, because my health keeps fluctuating even more than the weather. I guess I'll figure it out when I wake up. And no matter what, I'm glad I got the opportunity to at least see Venice.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Still sick

Yup, the title says it all. Yesterday I sent my agent three different emails that said," I'm sick, I don't think I can do the audition", "Yeah, I'm still sick", and "Wait I feel better, don't cancel it yet" and he received all three before he woke up. So we chatted on the phone and he did a little shuffling and was able to schedule and audition in Genova today, which is only an hour and forty minutes from Torino, and reschedule the Venice audition for Friday. I really thought I would be able to do an audition today, but I woke up and my voice was very low, so I tried singing and discovered I really couldn't. I mean, I can sing, I don't have laryngitis or anything, but I can't sing well enough to make a good first impression, and other than that lady from Tulsa who makes you come in and sing all your arias for her once a year, I usually don't reaudition for people, so if I can't do well, I'd better not do it. I'm planning on going to Venice tomorrow and staying the night regardless of how I feel, and hopefully I'll be up for singing for them on Friday. But if not, I'll try not to be too disappointed. And at least I'll get to see Venice.

Yesterday I didn't leave the house, and my most exciting adventure was with the shower in Vincenzo's apartment. I vaguely recalled when I had visited Vincenzo before and washed my hands in the bathroom, that I had noted that his shower-head seemed to be resting on the edge of the bathtub and that there was no shower curtain, but my mind didn't process it fully until I had to use it yesterday. He has a full sized bath tub, but he has never mounted the shower head up high or put in a shower curtain, so when he and his brother shower, they just hold the shower-head above them to rinse off and basta. This is not a concept that is really feasible for me. First of all, I am an american glutton, and am quite used to standing under the hot water for some minutes just to wake up and relax. But this isn't possible when you have to hold the hot water above your head with one arm. Also, I don't know where exactly he puts the shower-head when he's shampooing, but I had the bright idea to try to hold it between my knees so I could use both my hands to lather. Sometimes I would try to sort of squat down and put the shower-head in my lap, but that also proved to be a difficult position. Also, remember, there is no shower curtain, so every time I tried to find a creative place to hold the shower-head, I would squirt the entire bathroom with water. I finally settled on putting it on the floor of the tub, and shivering while I washed or lathered, and picking it up again to rinse. The thing that baffles me is that he has lived here for 4 years and has been taking these short, water conserving showers all that time. And I've been in there after he has showered - there is no water on the floor! This shower experience, combined with the hole in the floor toilets that I have encountered at many restaurants and cafes, causes me to note that The Italian bathroom experience in general appears to be slightly different than from american one.

But shower disasters aside, Vincenzo is a fantastic cook, and has taken on the challenge of teaching me as many dishes as possible before I leave, while also feeding my hungry stomach. Yesterday he cooked lunch and dinner, both of which were delicious. Lunch was pasta with broccoli, the only other ingredients were oil, garlic, sardines, and sweet paprika (that his grandmother makes). For dinner he made two kinds of rice - risotto with mushrooms and riso nero (which is this black rice that isn't quite a rice or a risotto) with olives, rosemary, and a creamy sauce with shrimps and saffron. He could definitely be a chef if he didn't want to work in an opera theater! After dinner I watched the most bizarre Italian sketch comedy show on TV with Vincenzo and his adorable brother Marco, and then I went to sleep in Vincenzo's comfy bed, while he slept in this tiny bed in his brother's room. These southern Italian boys are taking such good care of me, I want to take them home in my suitcase.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


So, I am not taking my second already paid for transportation this week. First, I purposefully missed my flight back to the US so I could stay here and do two auditions. Then, yesterday, as I was planning for my big trip to Venice (hooray - I got to see Venice after all) my throat started hurting, but I tried to ignore it for most of the day, thinking it was fatigue. But by the end of the day it became clear that in fact I had an actual sore throat, and that hopping a 5 hour train to Venice and having an audition the following day was perhaps not in the cards. And this morning when I woke up with that feeling of fire in your throat where you can't swallow, I knew I had to cancel the trip and the audition. Of course, it's not even 6 in the morning in New York, so my agent doesn't know yet, but he'll get my sad sick little messages when he wakes up. My first thought was of course "thank god this cold waited until after my performances to attack me" but now, as I'm sitting in bed trying to recover, I am certainly feeling disappointed. I don't know if I'll recover in time to do the other audition I was supposed to do - I hope so - and if I don't, I just wasted money and time staying here only to lie in bed and feel sorry for myself.

There is always a let down after any show is over. This one is probably going to be particularly strong because the build up was so long, the experience both stressful and exciting, and the friends I made became particularly dear to me. I became so close with the Swiss soprano named Rachel that we both shed a few tears when we had to say goodbye (it's also hard working in europe and meeting european friends because unlike American singers who all pop through new york from time to time, you really have no idea when you'll see these people again). And now, instead of my excitement about seeing new places and maybe getting new jobs, I'm lying in a bed (my friend Vincenzo's bed - he has insisted that I take his room while he bunks with his brother - this is true southern hospitality- southern italy that is), and hoping I can coax this little fever sore throat thing out of me quickly. It doesn't help that it is rainy and cloudy here for about the 16th day in a row (it has been abnormally horrible weather for this latter part of May here) and that I could be in my own bed right now if I only knew I was going to be too sick to sing auditions and had gone home.

Sometimes I feel so confused when a job is over. Did that go well? I think it did, but maybe I could have done such and such better. Did the conductor love me or hate me? Will anything come of this? Will the theater rehire me? Will I ever have an opportunity to see these dear friends again and/or work with them? Ah the profound let-down. Plus, I have been avoiding thinking about this, but I am going to get back to New York just in time for my best friend to move away. Things change, Jo (reference to Little Women for anyone who is confused) and they keep changing, and I in my Jo-ness keep hoping that the things I like will stay just as they are, but they never do.

On a lighter note, I am staying this week with Vincenzo, and this morning, before he left, he was pulling stuff out of cabinets and cupboards to make sure I had food to eat (until he returns and cooks me something for lunch). He pulled out the following things that his brother had brought in his suitcase from Southern Italy to their apartment: A huge loaf of crusty bread, a jar of home-made jam, three different types of cheeses, at least a dozen eggs, a crate of fresh cherries, and the artichokes that he used yesterday in a risotto. Oh god - how am I gonna eat anything when I leave this place!!!!!!!!!!!!

Friday, May 23, 2008


Hi everybody. I have been sorely lapsing in my blogging "duties" this last week or so. I think it's because my parents have been here, and with the three of us stuffed into my little one bedroom apartment, I haven't been feeling the silence and solitude that seems to inspire me to blog. Well, today I shipped them off to Milan (I told them not to bring their umbrellas and now it's pouring rain - I hope it's not storming like this 80 miles east!!!) and am feeling inspired to write a line or two about this momentous performance week.

Actually the week has been momentous for many reasons. First of all, my parents being here in Italy with me is of course very special and exciting and also challenging. While my parents are totally self sufficient and capable people, for some reason I feel the need to baby them while they're here, and worry all over them that they are "doing okay" and understanding everything. I don't know why I feel the need to do this - they certainly don't ask me to - but somehow I feel responsible if they have even a moment's confusion about a sign or a menu item, and feel the need to translate and manage, as is my way. Of course, they couldn't be more accommodating, proud, and supportive, and thank god they were here for my performances because if they weren't I would have drudged back to my apartment all alone and felt sorry for myself that I was experiencing this momentous occasion solo.

What's been really interesting to me is to see my burgeoning italian skills tested to the limit as I try to translate everything everyone is saying to mom and dad. It's one thing to put bits and pieces of words together in your mind and understand the gist, but to try to put those bits and pieces into english sentences is a skill I still need a lot of work on. We went to this museum that was a former palazzo and fortress, and my dad wanted to know what all the small holes on the outside of the castle were for, so I asked the docent on duty. She started explaining in rapid fire italian about the 15th century Madama of the palace, some stuff about protection, the moat, gun holes, lookout, and lots of words I wasn't familiar with, and I'm pretty sure she didn't take a breath during any of those sentences. I was basically translating words I knew and trying to string them together into some semblances of english sentences. My parents seemed impressed, although I wouldn't give them a test on the history of Torino any time soon based on that encounter. Also last night, the lovely Vincenzo invited my parents and I over to his apartment to help prepare and serve an italian meal for us and some other members of the cast. It was funny, Vincenzo was the only Italian present (the others were swiss, spanish, and south american) but the common language was Italian, so that's what we spoke. Sometimes I would try to clue my parents in on what was going on, like when people were laughing hysterically at something, but a lot of the time I couldn't possibly be myself and contribute to the conversation and be a translator. Again, lucky for me I have such easy going parents, and they managed to never look bored despite the language barrier.

And the other momentous occasion this week was my Italian/European debut! It's been both totally normal and completely surreal, so I haven't even known what exactly to write about it. Performing by now is just something I do no matter what country I'm in, so once I get onstage, it's like any other performance. It only feels different when I'm backstage joking with the supers in Italian, or when another cast member whispers something in italian to me while we're onstage. But it's pretty exciting to discover that music is truly it's own language, and that even when I'm having trouble communicating with Italian people with spoken words, I can communicate to them perfectly in this language that I've been studying since I was 9. I don't fancy myself a particularly highbrow musician in general, but I do feel all gooey inside about this particular opera and role, and I have been really enjoying myself during the performances, something that is not always possible for me. I have one more to go, tomorrow night, and both my american agent and my new french agents, who have never seen me perform in an opera, will be in attendance. My goal is to not let any of that have any affect on my enjoyment of and commitment to my performance.

In other news, it appears that I may actually stay in Italy for an extra week and do a couple of auditions. That ought to give me plenty of time to keep blogging.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

I know, I've been really bad about posting since my show opened and my parents arrived. But to make up for it, I'm going to post several production shots here. This production is really beautiful, and I hope you can get a sense of it from these photos. I know, that blond wig is not very good, but the director had this particular film actor in mind named Helmut Berger from the 20's and he was this tall thin blond thing, so that's what happened there. It takes quite a while for photos to download onto this site (especially with the connection I have here) so this will at least give you a taste. Also, I am noticing as I'm downloading how upset I look in all the photos, but I do spend the opera in love with a horrible woman who is in love with my best friend who I then try to kill, so I guess it's not exactly a picnic. I just figured out that if you click on each photo it becomes gigantic and you can see the details of my nose hairs or whatever. Woo-hoo!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

One Debut down

It went very well and the audience cheered! Some weird things happened like my gun fell apart on stage while I was pointing it at people and some recits got mucked up, but all in all, everything went well, and I had a great time. Hoooooooray!

Mom and Dad day 1

I had a great time yesterday beginning to show my mom and dad around, and really getting to use my skills in italian not just as a speaker but as a translator. Luckily my mom and dad were pretty wiped out from jet-lag and didn't want to run around like maniacs seeing all of Italy in one day because I had to try to reserve some energy for my opening tonight. But I did take them a few places and we had a great dinner at the restaurant across from my hotel where they actually know me and treat me like family now. My parents haven't been in Europe for 20 years, but they're so used to coming to see me sing places, somehow it doesn't seem that weird. Now I just have to get myself in a good mental space for tonight's first performance and go out there and make Mom, Dad, and Mozart proud. I'll let you know how it goes!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Another opening another show

Actually, last night was the final dress rehearsal, but since there was an audience, it might as well have been the first performance. It went very well, and I really can't complain about anything. I love this opera and this role so much, that I decided yesterday to enjoy myself as much as possible, and miraculously, I was able to do that. I was very nervous the night before and the morning of, but by the time I got to the theater, I was just happy to be there. I mean, it definitely took a lot of concentration to get through our very first run though of the opera, so I didn't have that feeling of freedom I sometimes enjoy in performing when I know the piece so thoroughly I can actually relax, but I still managed to be in the moment and in the character and feel good about it all.

My parents arrived safely yesterday, and troopers that they are, arrived after an all night flight, showered, and came to the theater to watch the whole rehearsal. This morning however, they are totally unconscious and I'm sure waking them up will be difficult. But I think having them here helped me feel less nervous, because instead of feeling like "this is a big deal european debut" the fact that they arrived and came to the show made me feel like I could have been in Columbus or Milwaukee.

I still have the three actual performances to do, but hopefully I will be able to enjoy each one a little more, and the audience will share my joy in this piece and this role.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


Today my computer officially started directing me to google Italia instead of american google for some reason. I have google as my home page when I log into safari, my internet browser, and today, miraculously, I got "cerca con google" and "mi sento fortunato" instead of "google search" and "I'm feeling lucky." I don't know why my computer decided that today I would be totally immersed in italian, but it felt natural with the way today unfolded, so I went with it.

As I was walking around the streets today doing my errands, I was remembering how confused and nervous I felt in my first days here. And only 30 days later, I feel totally comfortable going in places I've never been and talking to people I don't know in Italian. I went to a different grocery store than I normally go to (my regular store was closed because it's.....wednesday. I have no idea.) and wasn't afraid to go up to the deli counter and ask the woman for a slice of pancetta and explain what it was for so she would know how thick to cut it. I understood at the counter when I was paying that I had to ask for a bag and that he wanted me to give him a one euro coin so he could give me a 5 euro note for change. I knew that prezzemolo was parsley and succo di pompelmo was grapefruit juice. Sometimes I just get so proud of myself for learning anything at all - and then I have a conversation with my swiss friend who speaks four languages fluently and it puts my ego right back in check. But then I had a leisurely lunch and spent the afternoon shopping with the other mezzo in my cast, who speaks no english, and was again amazed that only a month ago I could barely put a phrase together in italian, and now I can actually spend all afternoon with a person who only speaks italian and we can talk about stage fright, mean conductors, ex-boyfriends, and opera careers, and can actually get to know each other. I feel both tremendously excited about everything I've learned, and more determined than ever to attain fluency in this language. It's going to take A LOT more studying of verb forms (today my italian friend laughed at me because I actually stopped walking and said "wait - I want to use a gerund right now"). But I'm so happy that I have spent this time here. Mi sento fortunato.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Run-Through? What's that?

Today at the theater was just more ridiculousness, but by now, I'm used to it and I don't even get upset by it anymore. Today was supposed to be the "make-up" rehearsal for that one they took away from us last week, but it was only a two and a half hour rehearsal, so there was no way we could actually run the show (something we've NEVER done). And instead of starting at the first scene, they decided to start with the overture, and to work on it musically for 20 minutes (I counted - he stopped and worked on it 4 times) while we waited anxiously in the wings. Then the decision was made to skip over all the recitatives and just do the numbers with orchestra, which is very difficult dramatically, because you don't get a chance to do all the things that led up to whatever it is you are supposed to be singing about. Then as time went by, it became obvious that we wouldn't even finish all the musical numbers, so the conductor started skipping around - except nobody knew what he was going to do next, so they weren't in place backstage and ready to start. So he would start the number anyway, without the singers, and somebody would eventually rush onstage and start singing in the middle of the scene. But I did get to sing both of my arias in full, which was more than some people got to do. So, we will never have run through the opera, nor will we ever have even done certain scenes before our dress rehearsal thursday, for which there will be an audience. Good luck to us!

When I returned to the theater to watch the first cast do their rehearsal (a full run though of the entire opera without stopping) I arrived a little early and saw the cast onstage with the director and the conductor in some kind of discussion. Apparently, somebody decided that in fact, we cannot do the entire opera without any cuts, and we would have to cut some of the recitatives. Today. 2 days before the opening. When we have no more rehearsals without an audience. Lucky for me I happened to show up to this rehearsal, because I guess if I hadn't someone would have told me right before I went out onstage "by the way, this recit has a cut in it now, so after such and such part, sing this line instead. Go!" I mean - insanity!!! And there's no reason to make cuts at this point because only something drastic would make a difference in the timing of the show! And was anybody gonna even tell the poor second cast anything??? I really am laughing at it all at this point - I feel no stress, only amusement at this circus. As long as nobody falls off the trapeze!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Cooking lessons

Here's a photo of the illustrious Vincenzo, who has probably made more appearances in this blog than most people. Today he decided he would teach me how to cook authentic italian food, and I really hope I can make everything taste as good as it did today when I get back to the states. He made this amazing tomato sauce and the only ingredients were onions, canned tomatoes, salt, basil, and a secret ingredient: a red bell pepper which he cut in half and cooked in the sauce for the flavor and then removed and discarded at the end. Kate told me that she had learned that americans tend to get carried away and put way too much stuff in our sauces, and this was so delicious and yet so simple that I have to agree with her. The sauce was the base for Penne alla Norma, which is pasta smothered in the tomato sauce with sauteed eggplant and fresh mozzarella and basil on top. But the main dish of today was polpette di uovo, which means basically egg patties. It consists of eggs, milk, 3 day old bread crumbs, parsley, parmigiano and salt, and the patties are sauteed in olive oil on the skillet. They are heavenly bites of golden goodness, and can be served alone as an antipasto or with the tomato sauce over them as more of a main dish. The thing I love most about Italian cooking is that the cooking, the eating, and the time together are all part of the same experience- there is no need to put the water on to boil so the pasta will be finished cooking at the same time as the sauce, like I always try to make happen. Just cook, eat, talk, and be, and everything will taste better. Here are the polpette glistening in the pan and getting ready to be devoured by me.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Another Sunday

Today was a lovely and simple day and I spent most of it as more of an observer than a participant. I find that existing in another language takes a tremendous amount of energy and concentration, and some days I just don't have the resources. My brain has to be willing to operate at it's highest capacity 100% of the time because otherwise I simply cannot follow what is going on. If I tune out for just a few seconds, I just can't put together enough pieces of the puzzle to make sense of what someone is saying. Today, exhausted emotionally by all the stress I've been feeling over the last couple of days, it was almost like the italians were speaking martian to me and I was frequently staring at them blankly and nodding my head. And instead of concentrating on what they were saying, I found myself observing their gestures, voice cadences and interaction with each other and once again comparing everything to the american ways of being.

I made plans to have lunch with Vincenzo and when he showed up he had two girls with him who he had just run into on the street and who were friends, and we all set out together and had lunch. Later, when I was scheduled to meet another singer in my cast, Paula, Vincenzo came with me, and while we were walking around, we also ran into Carmella, a soprano from the first cast, and the four of us ended up spending all afternoon and evening together. The thing I found so different about it (and the thing I loved) was how easily people joined in on the plans and how flexible it all was. No one had anywhere to be at any specific time, nor any specific agenda, and the day unfolded with groups of friends and people who didn't even know each other just talking and passing the time. No one ever said "would you like to come with us to such and such?" people just ran into each other on the street, and drifted around together until they ended up somewhere. And while walking there was always talking, and the slow walking pace would often come to a halt because when italians get really into describing something or concentrating, they just can't keep walking. Maybe this is one of the beautiful things about commerce being basically non existent on Sundays - people actually spend time together doing nothing but being with one another (and eating of course) and no one ever looks at their watch.

Today I drank my first Bicerin - a Torinese drink which consists of chocolate, coffee, and cream - at the cafe where it was invented. I savored the drink, my new italian friends, the now familiar sound of the language, and finally accepted the sweet, slow timeless feeling of an Italian Sunday.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

whistle a happy tune

I was the only member of the second cast who attended today's rehearsals. I'm certain the other members of my cast were staging a silent protest against the fact that one of the rehearsals today was supposed to belong to us and was unceremoniously snatched away yesterday for no apparent reason. And I wanted to protest too, but even though the situation burns me, I really love the music in this opera so much, I actually want to listen to it every day that I'm not singing it. I never get tired of it, and I love it more every time I hear it. I cannot believe Mozart died at 35 years old and that he wrote this opera in something like 18 days. It really is a miracle.

Speaking of miracles, I'm going to need one on tuesday morning. We found out today that we get a costume rehearsal with orchestra tuesday morning, but it begins at 10:30 AM, which means my make-up call is 9AM. The afternoon rehearsal which was up for grabs is going to (big shocker) the first cast so they can have yet another run-through.

It's time for me to get over it. People have much rougher lives than to spend a couple of months in Italy with their biggest complaint being limited rehearsal time. If Mozart wrote the thing in 18 days, I can certainly find it in me to perform it with 5 rehearsals.

Friday, May 9, 2008

The second cast caste system

You know what, this morning, when I reread what I posted last night, I thought I sounded like a whiny baby and I just don't want to put that energy out in the universe, so I deleted the whole thing and am starting over. Just to summarize what I was complaining about, I discovered yesterday that not only does the first cast get the bulk of rehearsals, but they actually get treated differently when onstage rehearsing. I experienced this first hand yesterday as the victim of what felt like a kind of hazing by someone in an important position during my rehearsal, only to discover that at the first cast rehearsal everyone was treated with respect and admiration and not chastised for making the same mistakes I was making. And while I stood my ground and took it like a professional during the rehearsal, I went home and cried during the lunch break. But I recovered, accepted the fact that Italy was the birthplace of fascism and the mafia, and decided everything that didn't kill me was in fact going to make me stronger. But I couldn't help but be really pissed when they took away what was supposed to be a rehearsal for us in costume and wigs today and gave it to the first cast.

That all being said, I've been informed by the Italians in my cast that this is actually very normal treatment of the second cast in Italy, and I definitely shouldn't take any of it personally. And the best revenge against those who test you is to pass their test with flying colors by doing a fantastic performance, and that's exactly what I plan to do. The bass in the cast actually gave me some good advice which I'm going to take - he said "BASTA! Enough crying and stressing and freaking out! You are here, you are supposed to be here, and you might as well enjoy yourself!!" He's right and that's what I'm gonna do.

The best part of yesterday was describing the whole fiasco in italian to my friend Vincenzo. First of all, it seemed hilarious when I was trying to tell the story of what happened in Italian, I got to feel good about the fact that I was in fact able to communicate this complicated situation in Italian (although I was using a lot of hand gestures) and finally, while I was telling the story we were walking to gelato. Ah, sweet relief in the form of a cone of chocolate magic in the company of a good friend.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The grass is always greener

I will admit, that with most things Italian, I've been essentially in love. I keep talking about how wonderful it is to have the opportunity to sing here, and how fantastic it is to make music in a country that really sincerely appreciates art for the sake of art and not just for the sake of spectacle. And those things remain true. However. Today I discovered one thing I prefer about working in the states, and it is good old American exuberance. In the states, when somebody likes or appreciates your performance, they are not afraid to go out of their way to tell you. True, often they tell you that you were wonderful and then turn around and tell the next person that you sucked, but I'm talking about people who are sincere and who are willing to give you positive feedback, if you merit it. Here, it often feels like something of a vacuum. The director might give you a good job, the conductor might give you a brava, but that's where it ends. Maybe I'm just a baby, but I like it when if somebody thinks you were fantastic they scream it from the rooftops - that's what I do with colleagues about whom I feel particularly enthusiastic. But it's not just that they don't really say much, it's also that when I, in all my American splendor, choose to say something wildly complimentary to another colleague, they seem almost confused and at a loss as to how to respond.

All that said, I have to be happy about the way today's rehearsal went. Considering all the things that were unrehearsed and unknown, it went remarkably well, and I think I sang as well as I could have. I did my brand new ornaments and they worked, and I found a lot of details in the character even though I didn't feel like I'd lived in his shoes as much as I would have liked to. I also managed to mostly stay with the conductor despite some bizarre positions where I couldn't really see him and things being all different with the orchestra. All in all, even if nobody is patting me on the back, I am patting myself and realizing that being satisfied with yourself is all anyone really has anyway. Maybe working here I will not only get fatter, but also tougher. Not the best description if I were a cut of steak, but for an opera singer, maybe both things will help me.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Wake up and smell the orchestra

Tomorrow morning (at the horrible hour of 10 AM) my cast will finally be onstage with the orchestra. It should be interesting because we are running the second act, and none of us have even seen what the staging is for the final scene. We'll make something up I guess. After today's rehearsal, I have had a total of 9 hours of staging rehearsal, which let me tell you, isn't much. I think about other operas I've been in before when you had a couple of weeks of staging rehearsals in the room so that when you get onstage, and especially when you work with the orchestra, you are absolutely prepared. Of course, in the states, you usually only have maybe 3 or 4 rehearsals with the orchestra total. Here, There are 8 three hour sessions and a dress rehearsal for each cast - that's pretty amazing actually. The only problem for me is that I have really come to rely on the luxury of having solidified the staging with adequate room rehearsals, so having my first run through of an act be on the stage with the orchestra is very daunting. I'm sure it will be fine - people have managed to do performances on no rehearsal at all - but I have to admit I'm nervous. Also, the conductor has asked everyone to write ornaments for their arias, which is unusual in Mozart, but not unheard of, so everyone has obliged and written variations for their pieces. I discovered yesterday however that the ornaments I had written on my own are exactly the same ornaments that the girl in the first cast wrote. It's not that shocking since with the simplicity of this particular aria, certain things just seem natural. However, when I heard her sing the aria yesterday, I realized I was going to have to change mine, because since she goes first, everybody will think I copied her, which is not cool in the opera circles. Luckily, the tenor in my cast is a former violinist and an excellent musician, so he helped me think of some new ornaments this morning in between rehearsals. So add to the things I will be doing for the first time tomorrow a whole new set of ornaments for one of my arias, and you have a day that will definitely cause me some anxiety. But I'm in Italy, so I'm going to try to be as relaxed as possible, and think only about the lunch I'm going to have after the rehearsal is over. I am so going to deserve a gelato.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

dessert compartment

I had another amazing dinner tonight at this little Trattoria - it looked like a hole in the wall - somebody's living room that had been made into a restaurant with only a few tables, but everything tasted so amazing. It's so strange - it's almost like the food I've eaten up to this point in my life hasn't even really been food, but merely some kind of practice substance to stretch my stomach out so I would have room for this - the real food. At the end, I was totally full, but when the waitress said chocolate profiteroles were the dessert special, I had to open up the dessert compartment (the special compartment I used to mention when I was a kid and wouldn't eat all my dinner but would always have room for dessert because I believed I had a special compartment that would only hold sweet things). The profiteroles were outrageous - the creme inside was somehow both fresh and light but still rich, the pastry was flaky and just the perfect weight, and the chocolate on the outside was out of control. It wasn't just melted dark chocolate like you would get in the U.S - it was this mousse-ish concoction that had obviously been made with the most wonderful high quality chocolate and creme. It was mind blowing and I'm still full. I think my dessert compartment has expanded, and that's what's making all my pants too tight. I'm really worried now that my costume isn't going to fit. I wonder if that happens to costumers a lot with foreigners coming to Italy - maybe they have contingency plans. I hope so, because I'm going to need an elastic waist band in my pants.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Laundry and Nudity

Two things that are really different here in Italy. Let's start with the laundry because it's been such an ongoing saga, I'm sure you're all dying to hear the outcome.

I woke up early this morning because several of us had made a plan to go back and eat lunch at a restaurant we really like, and today is THE day that I was not working and the people in the hotel were available to let me into the laundry room. I marched downstairs with my overflowing bags of laundry ready to finally make a go of it, but when I got down to the reception area, the woman informed me "oh, I'm sorry signorina, it's occupied." IT'S occupied? I followed her into the "laundry room" to discover ONE MACHINE for the entire hotel - not just the guests, mind you, but also for the staff to wash the sheets, towels, etc. There were piles of laundry all around waiting to go in there. The receptionist assured me that when I returned from my lunch I could start putting my laundry in there.

Lunch was good, but I was like "come on people, we can't dawdle, I have a very limited laundry window" and I came back to the hotel ready to begin. "Oh, I'm sorry signorina - it's occupied!" again from the receptionist. I mean, I made an appointment to do my laundry and somebody still got their stuff in there before me! We walked into the laundry room again to see how much time was left on the machine. 54 minutes. For a washing machine. "How long to these machines take to wash?" I asked, alarmed. "Oh, only one or two hours" she replied casually. ONE OR TWO HOURS for one wash cycle? How the HELL do they get anything done around here AT ALL? I needed to get the laundry in there because I had also scheduled to have a massage today, and I had to get something washed before I left for that.

We discussed and negotiated, and decided that I would put my laundry in as soon as the machine was ready, and get it when I came back from the massage (at which point I would hang each sock, underwear, and pant up on a drying rack because they do not have dryers here). Then tomorrow I would put another load in before I went to rehearsal, and they would take it out and put it on a drying rack for me. After the endless wash cycle finished what was already in there, I actually did manage to get one load done (despite the fact that I accidentally bought fabric softener instead of laundry detergent - how could I tell the difference??) and my entire wardrobe is hanging here on a drying rack, staring at me and saying "why is your country such an energy waster? Look how easy it is not to use a dryer!"

Now on to the nudity. As I mentioned earlier, I had a massage today with a masseuse that is a friend of my friend Vincenzo. He was this gentle older gay man, so I wasn't freaked out or anything, but when I came into the room, he had me undress and he didn't leave and he didn't put a blanket on me or anything. But I was laying face down on the table, so it didn't really feel that weird. Then after he finished with my back, he had me turn over so he could massage me from the other side - normal for a massage - except there was no "okay, now I'll lift the sheet in front of me so you can turn over and then replace it to cover your nudity" there was just "turn over" so I was lying there, boobs to the wind for the rest of the massage. Then when it was over, he said "okay, finito" and just stayed in the room changing the bedding on the massage table and taking a phone call while I put my clothes back on. I know americans are prudish, and other countries are MUCH more relaxed about nudity, and I was trying to be all cool and euro about the whole thing, but the american in me was like "where's my sheet????" I had a massage in Colombia while I was there and they were equally unembarrassed by my nudity - in fact I think they even massaged my "pectorals" there - thank god this guy didn't do that. I might learn to speak italian on this trip, but I don't think I'm going to get over my american modesty. But at least I won't have to go around nude, since I finally managed to get my clothes clean.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Lazy Sunday

Italians will crowd around and watch absolutely anything. I think this is partly because so often when they are free to walk the streets, there are no stores open, so they are hungry for something - anything - that will entertain them. I have been out walking around on enough holidays and sundays now, to note how someone could literally be tapping their foot next to a boom box, and a huge crowd would gather and watch. You know those guys that dress like statues and just stand there? Huge crowds. And the kind of crowds that completely block the street so you can't even pass unless you go right in the middle of the "entertainment". It's actually a new yorkers worst nightmare, because not only do we want to continually be moving, but we DO NOT stop and watch anything. Not even just new yorkers - the Washington Post did an experiment where they had Joshua Bell play in a subway station in D.C for an hour, and only like 3 people even bothered to stop and listen. Here, I could play the violin and I would probably have more people watching me than attended my new york recital debut.

So, I wasn't that surprised that a crowd was gathered outside my window this afternoon, but I did find what they were staring at to be a bit of an oddity. I was inside my apartment practicing (and maybe watching videos on youtube) when I heard what sounded like a Ricola commercial coming from right outside my window. My street has activity on it, but there's no big piazza where crowds gather, so I was really confused by the commotion. So I went out to my balcony and discovered 4 dudes playing these long horn things, and a 5th dude waving the Swiss flag around. There was, of course, a crowd gathered. I have no idea who these people were or why they decided to play a materhorn concert outside my window, but the Italians who happened to be passing by were delighted to have a reason to congregate and stare. The little concert lasted about 10 minutes, and the guys finished and packed up their horns, probably to proceed to the next corner. It was a really bizarre moment.

I also took a walk today down to the River Po and back because it was a beautiful, sunny day, and I couldn't do anything useful like shopping or laundry. I only had 20 minutes of rehearsal. Ah, the life.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Steep climb to the summit

I woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. I overslept and didn't have time to warm up, and today my cast actually had an all day marathon musical rehearsal with the conductor. I felt like I was singing like a cow all day (I'm sure it was not as bad as I thought, but you know how that is) and then after 5 hours of musical rehearsal, we had one of our precious but short sessions on the stage with the director.

This is how those stagings go (in which we have to get as much accomplished in one hour as the other cast has accomplished in three weeks): "Okay, you just killed a man, you don't know if you're going to stay and confess or run away, you stand here, cross to here, sing from here, and then throw this prop at this person. GO!" And then you have to remember all your words, find your motivation, sing the right notes and rhythms, do all the staging correctly (there's no time to go back), pronounce all the italian perfectly (you're in italy after all) and impress everyone with your musical and dramatic skills on the first try. It's daunting to say the least. But you know, it's definitely the kind of thing that forces you to grow as an artist, and I find the director incredibly interesting, and he inspires me to push myself beyond what I think I'm capable of. The first performance is going to be terrifying, but also truly thrilling. And it all happens.....exactly two weeks from today.

Friday, May 2, 2008

For Will

Tonight's post will be short and sweet since first of all I don't have a ton to report and second of all a certain someone (William H Ferguson) has complained numerous times about the excessive (he feels) length of my blog entries. Here are the things I am happy about today:

1. I got to rehearse on the actual stage today with the actual director and he seemed pleased with what I did
2. I walked up to an italian restaurant with an italian person with me, and instead of allowing him to make the reservation for dinner, I did it myself
3. The hotel doorman complimented me on how well I'm coming along in my italian skills
4. I had dinner with 6 Italian people and wasn't even afraid to talk with all of them listening to me

This is the view from my balcony of my tiny but bustling street. I still didn't do laundry today. It's turning into a desperate situation. And for my friends the Bullocks, who posted the comment that I should send my laundry to them because it would get done quicker - the only thing open less often than the banks and shops is the post office. I think you might even need permission from the Pope to go there. A domani.

Thursday, May 1, 2008


My first couple of weeks here in italy were like a love affair with this beautiful country. I was too dazzled and in the early stages of infatuation to see any of the flaws. Now that I've had some time to get to know Italy, I'm starting to see that maybe it's not as perfect as I thought. I still love the food, wine, architecture, and appreciation of culture, but I'm getting sick and tired of all the frigging holidays, and the fact that everything is closed so much of the time. My american self, my 24 hour Walmart self, is creeping out, and I'm starting to want to pound on the closed doors of the stores and scream "you could be making money right now! I, and the 7,000 other people aimlessly wandering the streets at this moment could be inside spending our hard earned money on YOUR crap!!!!!" But no one would hear me because they're all apparently at their houses in the country having a barbeque. On a thursday.

As you may have guessed, today, May 1st, is another holiday. It's like labor day or something. My swiss friend in the cast and I decided to take the train to Milan, which is only about an hour away (pictured here is the inside of the station), and meet my American friend Kate and have a meal and walk around. We thought, since Milan is a MAJOR city and this seems like maybe a somewhat minor holiday, that things would probably be open and we could at least do some shopping and eating. Well, the only people walking around Milan today were tourists, but what they were all doing walking around the streets is anybody's guess, since nothing was open. We had an overpriced and underwhelming lunch at a touristy restaurant (one of the few places open) and walked around trying to find something to look at. The only open stores seemed to be the ladies underwear stores and this one big bookstore/computer store/cafe. Do you know that I have been in Italy for nearly 3 weeks, and I have not bought one thing yet? I have eaten out at restaurants, and I also bought a copy of the New Yorker for 8 euros (seriously) and a pack of batteries for my mini keyboard, but no clothes, no leather handbags, no italian shoes, NOTHING. Something is very wrong with this picture.

On the positive side, it was a beautiful day (picture below is a statue in one of the piazzas here in Torino), I spent some time with people I like, and decided that out of the cities I've seen in Italy so far, I actually like the one I'm in the best. I'd better hunker down and get ready to work because my next day off isn't until.......Monday! That's right, 4 whole days of work in a row! Actually it's only 3 and a half because Sunday we only have 3 hours of rehearsal. And no, I didn't do my laundry today because it was a holiday and no one was in the hotel to open the door to the machines. But hey, nobody's perfect - not even the country that invented pizza.