Friday, August 29, 2008

short break = fast food

We've been having this strange rehearsal schedule where we rehearse from 2 or 3 til 6 on the stage, and then come back at 7 to rehearse with the orchestra. The only place for us to eat with only an hour is the food court in the mall across the street from the theater complex. Every day, we try to find something that doesn't give us stomach aches from this food court, and every day either Georgia's or my stomach starts to hurt an hour after we eat the stuff. This is us trying mexican-colombian food the other day. You can tell by our expressions how scared we are to eat it.

Monday, August 25, 2008

make it work

So, I've been having some problems with the internet since I arrived. For some reason, the wireless signal is too weak when I sit at the desk in this apartment, but when I go just a few steps out into the hallway, it's at full force. Since I can't very well sit out in the hallway and call my parents on skype, I've compromised by moving a large armchair right by the door to the hallway and getting a medium signal from there. I've never experienced anything quite like this, with the signal strength changing drastically with only a few feet difference, but good luck trying to explain this to anybody at the Residencias Tequendama, and even better luck trying to get them to fix it. Plus, the internet works perfectly fine in Georgia's room everywhere, so it's apparently a problem that only afflicts room 2410. It was a lot of work to get this big chair over by the door, and I didn't want the maid ( who comes in and cleans my room every day despite my do not disturb sign) to move the chair back, so I left her this sign on the chair. The spanish may be funky, but when I came back tonight she hadn't moved it back!

She may however have been dismayed by the fact that I put the big bunch of wildflowers from yesterday in the trash can and filled it with water.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Crazy that I'm in Colombia

Bogota is such an unusual place. There is huge a dichotomy between the feeling of danger that is constantly a part of things here and the kindness of the ordinary people. I'm not sure I have ever met nicer, more friendly, funny, welcoming people as I have here in Bogota. So I wonder why this country has such a history of violence? Why are things so bad here that there are armed guards everywhere, that there are drug sniffing dogs at the entrance to the theater, and that our bags had to be x-rayed both before we got on the plane AND when we landed? Maybe the unluckiness of having a good climate for growing cocaine plants has lead the people to be incredibly nice in order to offset the damage that the drug industry has done to their country. I really don't know, but I know that I am always amazed when I get to rehearsal at how wonderfully kind everyone is.

First of all, I want to say that everything about going to a job with your best friend is fantastic, beginning with not having to travel alone. The only negative thing about us being in Bogota together is that two blondes in Colombia are even more of a spectacle than one for all the brown haired Colombian people, and people full on stare at us when we go anywhere. But I digress. I am so used to traveling everywhere alone, and it was such a luxury just to have someone to watch my bags while I went to the bathroom. But also, having someone to talk to on the 5 hour flight, and having someone to arrive in Bogota with, because it can be a little daunting. As soon as you get to Bogota, there are soldiers and guards literally EVERYWHERE. At the airport, in the streets, in front of our hotel, at the entrance to every major building, etc. Instead of making you feel safer, you always wonder "why do these guys need to be here? What must have happened in this town that it requires this kind of supervision?" Here is the entrance to the apartment/hotel where we are staying.

We arrived at the Residencias Tequendama, where we have both stayed before on previous singing jobs in Bogota, to discover that nothing had changed. No one speaks any english, and while everyone is incredibly kind, no one understands what you need even if you think they do, and when you finally are able to communicate what you want, implementing it takes an extraordinarily long time. We were exhausted, but we spent almost an hour at the front desk while they tried to find us rooms on the same floor. Then, when we got to the rooms, they were the wrong size (we are supposed to have one bedrooms and these were studios), so they told us it would be another couple of hours until the new rooms were ready. All either of us wanted to do was go to sleep (having awoken in NY at 4 AM) but we went and had lunch instead. When we came back, they told us it would be another half hour, so we waited in the old rooms and both fell asleep. Another hour later we went downstairs and after another 10 minutes or so, they led us to our new rooms. Except they were in the middle of cleaning mine, so I had to wait in Georgia's for another 15 minutes. Finally we got into out rooms, but we didn't unpack because we discovered that there was no hot water. Then we went off to our first musical rehearsal.

The rehearsals so far have been a lot of fun. The music rehearsal after no sleep and flying all day was a challenge, but the staging rehearsal yesterday was great. We managed to stage the first two acts in one day, including my big act (II) with the chorus. Georgia and I are already having a blast because all of the guys in the cast are totally hilarious in different ways, and are making us laugh a lot. I knew two of them from when I sang Cenerentola here, and Georgia had sung with all four of the Bohemians before. There is also a fantastic childrens chorus which is almost entirely made up of girls from a private bilingual high school, so they all gather around me after we exit stage and start excitedly talking to me in english, which is impeccable. They are trying to teach me spanish, but I'm not very good so far.

I'm glad to be back here and experience the place in all its grit and glory.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Welcome to Colombia

This is just a quick post to say that I have arrived safely in Bogota and all is well. I have plenty of stories from the travel and arrival yesterday, but not enough time to post them just yet. Last night we (my friend Georgia and I) flew all day, arrived, ate, rehearsed, and then I fell into bed exhausted immediately. Now we're off to more rehearsal, but hopefully tonight I should have time to tell the whole story. More soon....

Sunday, August 17, 2008

And the gold medal in procrastination goes to......

This score has been sitting on my piano taunting me since July 1st. I was determined to learn the whole thing this summer (even though I don't have to perform it until November) simply because I had the time. But it sat there and sat there, always saying "oh, you have soooooo much time! You don't need to learn me now! Go play with your friends!" And now here we are, August 17th, I leave for Bogota in 4 days, and then I just go from job to job until I arrive at the one belonging to this score in November. I mean, of course I'll learn it (actually, knowing me, I'll be convinced I'm under-prepared until the first rehearsal when I discover that I am WAY over-prepared) but now I'll have to learn it while on the road. I felt that score staring at me scornfully today so I yanked it down and highlighted the sucker. That's something, right?

Friday, August 15, 2008

Pedagogy 101 - I figured it out and it only took me a decade!

I have a confession to make: Sometimes when it comes to singing, I have absolutely NO idea what I'm doing. I realized this week that I have been studying with my voice teacher for 10 years now. I began with her while I was a student, and even though I haven't taken weekly lessons since I finished school (I'm out of town all the time) I still feel like I learn quite a bit from her every time I see her, even after all these years. Now that I'm actually a voice teacher myself, I find myself listening to what she tells me in a completely different way. I've never been a big "practicer" or thinker about vocal production, but now that I'm teaching, I kinda have to know what the hell I'm doing so that I may impart some of that wisdom to the poor impressionable youths in my charge. And guess what - it's sort of about time that I'm finally figuring out the mystery of what's happening in there.

In my lesson today, I was working on those treacherous high B naturals in both Musetta (I leave to start rehearsals next week) and Rosina (which I will sing directly following Musetta and again in December). She was noticing what was going on technically when the notes were not their best (my larynx was riding up, I wasn't getting a good breath, my shoulders were collapsing, and I was trying to do the work with my jaw instead of with my breath) and we were trying all sorts of ways to get my body to remember to do all the right things to produce the best sounds every time, not just sometimes. We then got into a discussion about something she talks about a lot, which is hearing the phrase in your mind before you actually sing it. It's not like this was the first time she has told me to do this, but today I was feeling a little argumentative, so I whined, "but how can you hear the whole phrase when you only have a nano second to breathe???" Her idea is that you have to integrate the thought of every phrase into the breath before you sing, so your body will be mentally AND physically prepared for everything it has to do to make the phrase have all the depth, height, and body it is capable of having vocally WHILE also possessing the meaning and intention of the words. Phew!! That's a lot. But isn't it true that when you hear a singer who is effective in every element of their singing, their voice is produced in a way that sounds like the optimum sounds they are meant to make, AND you are able to feel the emotion of what they are communicating from the inside of their every vowel? Their vowels have emotion inside their very cores. I'm not a philosopher, but that's deep, dude.

When I got home, I thought about what she had said, and I actually kind of got it. Then I saw that she had sent me an email, which further clarified her thoughts on the matter:

"The other thing is to put the emotion into the vowel line and not into a physical contraction of the rib cage or shoulder area, or jaw, for that matter. When that happens it inhibits your ability to stay open physically and keep your larynx relaxed and easily down. Keep your neck relaxed so that the emotion can go down with your breath and be released with the vowels. I think we have worked with your having your hand around the back of your neck and breathing into that. I think hearing ahead really helps with all of this because it gives you those "nanno seconds" to execute well and with some poise. The breath itself has a "Life force energy' and if it is bathed in thought and that lower feeling of emotion and support things should really work. It's just a different way of feeling emotion--the thought is inspiring the emtion. Thought, breath, speech."

After a decade of work with her, I am still having "aha" moments, and I had one today. And it wasn't just that singing is freaking hard.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The olympics of singing

Watching the olympics, especially the gymnasts, brings to mind certain comparisons between what those athletes do and what we do as opera singers. I gasped, with the rest of america, when one of the female american gymnasts fell off the balance beam, and then fell on her butt during her floor routine. Watching her fall off the beam, you know immediately that she has performed this routine literally thousands of times without single mistake, and that in this moment - THE moment of her (albeit young) life so far, the nerves were just too much for her and she made a misstep that surprised even her. Then, in the next exercise, she is so shaken from the previous mistake, that she falls yet again. I could soooooo relate to that, and it made me think about nerves, mistakes, and my own career as an opera singer.

For a couple of years I became crippled by stage fright. I'm not entirely sure what started this bout with performance nerves, except that somehow, repeatedly performing before the scrutinizing and critical public of New York City started to wear me down, and I got all into my head about it. I started worrying that I would get a bad review, and the worry would turn into a kind of panic that a couple times actually shut down my ability to sing. The first time I remember it happening was during my first aria of Barber of Seville at City Opera, and it was almost like an out of body experience because I was so nervous. I felt like I wasn't even singing with my actual vocal cords, but instead going through the movements in some sort of dream sequence. I didn't sing particularly well that night. The following year, during a performance of a new opera, Lysistrata, I got so nervous for the opening night that as I approached a particularly climactic high note (one that had never given me any problems in rehearsals), my throat closed up, and I started the note, but sound just stopped coming out a second later and there was nothing I could do. In both situations, the nervousness and worry changed my ability to execute my pieces to the best of my ability, which was both frightening and frustrating. Thank god I wasn't on national television with my whole country's expectations on my shoulders. I don't know how the girls who keep from cracking under pressure do it.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately because I'm learning Musetta, which is a soprano role with plenty of high B's in it. Now, I can sing high B's, sometimes more easily than other times, but they are in there somewhere. However, if I start to think about it too much, to second guess myself, and worry about how it's going to come out, it's not usually very pretty. But if I'm relaxed, not thinking too much of it, and just singing, they come out perfectly fine. So the ultimate question for all of us who have to perform difficult tasks while under pressure is how the hell to relax enough to make everything go like it did in rehearsal? The answer is different for everybody, and I'm still trying to find the best one for me. I've noticed that often, when I'm exhausted, I sing fantastically because the fatigue balances the anxiety to make me relatively even. But I don't really want to deprive myself of sleep before every performance. I'm still looking for that magic ticket. Maybe one day I'll become so Zen that I won't feel nervous at all - only a profound sense of peace and harmony as I go to sing those high B's. I'll let you know if that ever happens.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Lucky Day

08/08/08 is thought by some to be the luckiest day of the century (I learned this on NPR yesterday when I listened to it literally all day while I was painting my bedroom a shade of orange). I guess 8 is a particularly lucky number in Chinese culture, and they take it pretty seriously. Normally in China there are about 20,000 couples getting married on this particular friday in August, but today there are something like 80,000 scheduled to wed. I'm not particularly superstitious, but was still kind of pleased with my total when I stopped by the health food store to pick up milk and cereal. Check it out below - look at the number after total and the date. Maybe I'm pregnant with octuplets or I'm going to eat octopus later. Or maybe milk and cereal shouldn't cost nearly nine dollars.

I've never been to the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station

Yes, yes, I'm a little behind on accomplishing 30 items on or off my list, but I'm getting there slowly.

Wednesday was my birthday and originally I was adamant that I wanted to do NOTHING to celebrate because I was afraid that whatever I did would just feel like a let down and loser-ish. Both my best friends were out of town, I don't have a boyfriend/husband, and the idea of spending the evening at dinner with my Mommy and Daddy made me feel like a ding-dong (no offense to my Mom and Dad, who are awesome to spend the evening with - but you get my drift). But my friend Jenna convinced me that she and I should do something on my list that was fun and celebratory - going to the Oyster Bar to eat oysters and drink cocktails - and that turned into 6 people going, so it seemed like a party was happening despite my best efforts to feel sorry for myself. And then, one of my two "besties" Will surprised me by renting a car and driving down from where he was singing in Vermont just for the night to attend my birthday party. That was when having low expectations paid off, because I was so excited to see him I was jumping around and shrieking in the oyster bar, which was very inappropriate, but allowed on ones birthday when a best friend arrives in surprise I think.

I found the Oyster Bar to be a strange dichotomous experience - it seems like this incredibly cool, old school place with these vaulted ceilings and fantastic little lights adorning the whole place, but then they have checked table cloths and paper napkins. The prices are very expensive for the seafood entrees, which were fine but not spectacular, and the service is just okay. But it was worth it for the oysters, which even though apparently were not in the best season, were fantastic.

Since there were six of us, we ordered six each of six types of Oysters (we let them pick for us because who can know whether to order the ones from Long Island or Maine) and we each tried one of each. Organized Will kept track of which ones we were eating, and we took a vote on the ones we liked best and ordered more of those. I loved all of them, especially with a little lemon, red vinegar, and horseradish splashed on top. I chose the "loosen it with a fork and suck the meat from the shell" method of ingesting because it seemed like the most oyster savvy style. The trying of different oysters and voting on the favorites with great friends was definitely the best part of the evening. That and the chocolate cake from Magnolia that Will sneaked into the restaurant earlier that day. Oh, and the Will showing up part - that was amazing.

In conclusion, my personal recommendation for the Oyster bar is either a) go for lunch and get a few oysters and a sandwich or soup or salad, or b) go for dinner and get all oysters and maybe some french fries in between oyster samplings. My personal recommendation for life is that you find a friend as good as Will who will drive hours just to attend your birthday party. I won't be a mastercard commercial and say cost:priceless, but you get the idea.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

pimples versus wrinkles

Your thirties are a weird time. I mean, they're a great time for a lot of reasons, and I was such a dummy in so many ways in my twenties, that many times I'm thrilled to have exited that decade. However, there are so many things about your thirties (okay, MY thirties) that make me feel confused about my place in the universe, as exemplified by the facial I had yesterday.

I was up visiting my parents for the weekend, as a sort of pre-birthday celebratory time (tomorrow is the big day) and they gave me a facial as a birthday present because, well, I like getting my pores exposed for the dirty little villains they are. I've had my share of facials, and of course, the aesthitician is always trying to sell you other services or products, so you never really know whether to trust what they're telling you MUST be done to your skin. Usually they complain that my skin is dehydrated (YES - I use moisturizer!!!) and they spend a good deal of time with extractions - you know, professionally picking out your pimples and blackheads. But for the first time the facialist suggested that I think about a chemical peel "to deal with some of the fine lines developing around your eyes and cheeks and forhead." GULP. I mean, I'm young enough to get pimples that make me feel like I'm still in 7th grade, but now, I'm old enough to ALSO have fine lines and wrinkles???? And the thing is, they don't offer chemical peels at this place, so she wasn't trying to sell me anything, she was just making a suggestion based on my "skin's needs."

So now I'm at the age where everything travels in both forward and reverse - where I look back on my youth with those angry pimples, and look forward to my old age with the beginnings of wear and tear showing up on my face. It's sort of exactly the same place I feel like I am in my singing career - too old to be thought of as the young new thing, but not old/experienced/famous enough to just have work lined up for 5 years in advance and to finally feel a tiny bit of job security. Stuck right in the middle of pimples and wrinkles, waiting for the pimples to fade for good so I can accept the wrinkles and all the knowledge and confidence they come with. Or I can just opt for some cheap Botox injections while I'm in Colombia, tell everyone in europe who doesn't know me that I'm 24, and try to extend my pimple time by another 10 years. Botox in Bogota probably only costs about $7, so I maybe that's an option I should consider. Naaaaaah. Bring on some of that age to my face - I've earned it, and besides, no amount of poison injected into my face can guarantee me a contract at La Scala.