Saturday, September 27, 2008

Debates and Dancing

First of all, I want to say thank you for all the supportive comments that everybody left after my last post. I'm glad that people are reading and enjoying this blog and want me to keep writing, and I was touched that people took the time to tell me so. Thank you!

The last couple of nights here in NYC have been varied and interesting and I feel compelled to report about them. Last night for the presidential debate, I was invited to a debate watching party hosted by a gay pro-Obama group called "Obama Pride" held at a swanky bar in Grammercy Park. The listing in Time Out New York read "don't miss the chance to hiss at John McCain in good company", so how could I refuse? The bar was one of those fancy places with dark hardwood floors, modern glamorous furniture and huge pink chandeliers, and was PACKED to the gills with hot gay guys in tight jeans ready to yell and scream at the huge tv screens set up all around. People were even given these small nerf balls to throw at the screen for when Mc-oldy said something particularly hideous. I hadn't ever watched a debate in such a public setting, and it felt more like a sporting event than a political one, which was really fun. I groaned with all the gays when McCain repeated his same old talking points, and especially after about the 12th time he accused Obama of "not understanding" something, and together we all cheered at the few zingers Obama managed to get in. But the best part about it was the feeling of lightness and humor that I was able to take away from the setting and the company, which prevented my head from exploding in frustration as it might have if I would have been watching the debate alone. I just want Barack to say "shut your effing mouth you lying old geezer!" just once. Please?

Tonight I had the opportunity to do something completely different. I was invited by a friend who had an extra ticket to something called the "Fall for Dance Festival" which brings together different dance companies from around the world to perform one piece each at NY City Center. My friend Marina, who invited me, is a dance expert, and so in going to dance concerts with her I am getting educated about the history of dance and getting entertained in one evening. There were two modern ballets in tonight's program that really affected me - the first was a dance choreographed by Twyla Tharp called Sweet Fields set to traditional shaker hymns, and the last piece was a piece called Esplanade which is apparently a famous dance by the Paul Taylor Dance Company. I'm not well versed enough in dance to write about it intelligently, but those two dances in particular elicited a bunch of emotions in me and were both beautiful and stunningly athletic with little bits of humor. I felt something and that felt good.

Now I've gotta go watch Tina Fey impersonate Sarah Palin. Tina Fey should totally be the vice president. Who's with me?

Monday, September 22, 2008


I've been a little blog-blocked lately, hence the lack of entries. As you might have gleaned from one of my recent posts, some of my attempts at humor made some of the people at Opera de Colombia feel bad, and when I found that out, I felt horrible. The reason I started writing my blog was actually to make people laugh and smile, so discovering that the opposite occurred gave me a very bad case of writer's block. But I really don't want to give up on the blog because it brings me a lot of satisfaction to be able to share my adventures and mishaps with others, so I am actually forcing myself to write this entry in order to overcome this newfound trepidation. (And if you plan to go back through my blog and reread the entries on Colombia to see what I'm talking about, don't bother, because I deleted anything that I thought in hindsight might have been offensive to anybody, out of respect for all the people there).

I learned something important from this experience; Be careful not to shit where you eat (excuse my french). Even though I by no means meant to say anything negative about the opera company, my attempts at humor and sarcasm were read by some as criticisms and humor at the expense of others. In my experience, every single opera rehearsal situation presents challenges and unusual situations, and I like to report on and comment on those unusual and sometimes funny happenings. But I realized that if you a) don't know me and my sense of humor well and b) don't know the complete context of the situation I'm in, what I'm saying can come across in an entirely different way from how I intend it. I always think everyone is going to know that I'm nice and have good intentions, but time and time again I realize that what I feel inside my head and the way people perceive me are actually often completely different. This used to happen to me a lot in life - I would sit in rehearsal totally focused on what was going on, but people would think I was scowling or looking mad, when I was just concentrating. Then they would say to themselves (they would later report to me when we became friends) that they thought I must be either really unhappy or a real bitch, neither of which was the case. "But that's just my face!!" I would cry. (In Cincinnati a couple of summers ago they all teased me about it and called it "The Rivera Face". Somebody even took a picture of it when I wasn't paying attention.)

But my not feeling mad didn't change how they perceived my expression, and the opinions they initially formed about me based on this unconscious behavior. I have gotten to the point now where I'm so much more aware of how the things I say and do are being perceived, and yet somehow it never occurred to me to think about this in regard to my blog. So I fell into the perception/reality discrepancy again, and it left me feeling deflated, like - "when am I gonna learn??"

But, after thinking about it a lot, I have decided to keep writing my blog. I got worried for a minute that I should stop because I might accidentally write something at some point that would cause someone not to hire me, or not to like me, or not to want to work with me. But then I decided that if I know I have good intentions, and I pay a little more attention to the tone of what I write, I should still be able to make people laugh and share my thoughts and feelings as I have so enjoyed thus far. I believe in the end that good intentions win out over incorrect perceptions, and I'm almost always able to win people over once they actually know me. This should be true with the blog too - the more I write, the more people will know me, and hopefully the more they will understand me and maybe even like me. And if not, well, that's life, and I just have to accept that too. But in the meantime, I'm leaving for Southern California in a week to sing another Barber of Seville, and if living 5 minutes from the beach in 78 degree weather doesn't make you hate me, maybe I can find something really nasty to say about Californians and offend even myself (since I am one.) Here's hoping :)!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Shopping! Yippee!

First, a disclaimer; If you are not a woman or a gay man interested in fashion, you probably should skip this blog entry.

Okay, so the shopping in Bogota is tooooooo good, and Georgia and I are verrrrrrry bad. We're not bad, we're just both shop-aholic enablers, and neither of us can pass up a good deal. There is this neighborhood here in Bogota called the Zona Rosa, which has a lot of really nice restaurants, several great shopping malls, and a plethora of interesting designer boutiques. And those nice designer shops and boutiques have high quality merchandise at much cheaper prices than we would find in the U.S. There are several things that are particularly specialized here in Colombia, and the thing that has Georgia and I reeling is all the leather boots and handbags. Every other store has an amazing selection of leather shoes and boots and interesting and different purses and bags. And since almost every woman I know is a sucker for a good pair of shoes or a beautiful bag, you can imagine that the two of us are like kids in a candy store.

The first problem is that if one of us were here alone, we would maybe find someone to go shopping with once or twice, but we probably wouldn't be taking taxis to this area of the city alone. But since we are together, and we seem to share this weakness for "acquisition therapy" we somehow find ourselves going together to this very fun neighborhood on each of our days off. We'll tell ourselves that we just want to have lunch at our favorite asian restaurant over there and maybe do a little window shopping, but inevitably, something too good to pass up will appear before our eyes and one or both of us will NEED NEED NEED that thing.

The second problem is that neither of us could really be labeled as the "sensible one" when it comes to shopping. I certainly have friends who are very frugal with their income, and who scoff at those who love to buy clothes. Both Georgia and I are the opposite of that. I mean, neither of us is going to squander our rent on buying a pair of Louis Vuitton sunglasses or anything, but we both REALLY love fashion and REALLY love to shop. It's a problem. We freely admit it. And yet we seek no help.

The third problem is that both of us are addicted to finding bargains. We like to buy things, but we ESPECIALLY like to buy things that are somehow on sale or discounted or just plain inexpensive. And that's a problem here in Bogota because almost everything is less expensive than what we would pay in the States, and it kind of makes everything therefore completely irresistible. I mean, if you find a gorgeous pair of really well made leather boots, and they cost HALF of what you would pay at home, you would HAVE to buy them, right? I mean, they are this beautiful dark brown shade of leather, and they go up OVER THE KNEE! And they are NOT EXPENSIVE! How could a human mortal resist these? You would have to be superwoman to try them on and walk away empty handed (or should I say empty-footed). And ladies and gentlemen, I am NOT superwoman, and I succumbed to their power. But actually, wearing them kind of makes me feel like a super-hero, so it all balances out in the end. Right? RIGHT???

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Dear Colombian readers,

It has been brought to my attention that many more people than I realized are reading this blog, including a lot of people here in Colombia. I am surprised and flattered that anyone besides my mom and dad would be interested in reading my ramblings, but I was also made aware of the fact that some people have found some of the things I have said about Colombia to be offensive. I was so upset to hear this because in fact, I adore the people I have met here in Bogota, and find Colombians to be such kind, polite, wonderful people. I was horrified to hear I may have hurt someone's feelings. So I want to take this opportunity to apologize to anyone who thought I was being in any way disrespectful or insensitive, and to explain a little about why I write this blog. I think if you know a little more about my personality, you will see that my humor and even sarcasm is completely out of love for what I do and for the people I meet.

I first had the idea to write this blog when I was singing not in Colombia, but in Columbus, Ohio, U.S.A. Columbus is a really cute college town with lots of nice things about it, but the hotel/apartment where the singers were staying was slightly outside of the main part of town off a highway and was totally overwhelmed by this gigantic billboard hanging over it. The billboard was an advertisement for a radio station and it featured a close-up photo of a woman's chest. I can't explain to you how big this poster of this woman's breasts was - it was the biggest billboard I had ever seen. She was wearing a thin white t-shirt, and the only thing the billboard said was "Pray for Rain". As the production coordinator dropped me off at the hotel, he said to me, "some people say when it rains, her shirt becomes transparent, but I've never seen it." When I got out of the car, I realized my hotel room was directly facing this gigantic picture of this woman's breasts, and it was the first thing I was going to see every morning and the last thing I was going to see every night. It reminded me of everything that can be wrong with my country - using sex to sell things, treating women like objects, general lack of class and sophistication, etc etc, but it also really made me laugh. I mean, THIS was my glamorous opera singer's life? Waking up every morning and staring at this woman's boobs? I thought - if only everyone who says to me "oh, how exciting and glamourous your life must be!" could see a photo of me standing underneath this sign, and see all the other hilarious and ridiculous things that happen behind the scenes everywhere I go, they would probably laugh their heads off.

Soon after that experience, I went to work in Italy for the first time, and I knew that with my difficulty with the language and unfamiliarity with the culture, plenty of funny things would happen to me. And while Italy is absolutely one of my favorite places in the world, I found it amusing that the grocery store was closed every wednesday for no reason, and that it was impossible for me to mail a letter or do my laundry because every other day is a national holiday in Italy. I laughed about these funny italian idiosyncrasies, but it didn't make me love the country any less - in fact, if possible I think it made me love it more. I started writing about my experiences, and people started reading them, and telling me that I was making them laugh and brightening their days, so I kept at it.

Which brings me to my feelings about Colombia. I have been laughing at the small challenges and unusual situations that have presented themselves during this production, but all of them are things that could happen in any company in any country. The thing that stands out to me the most about Bogota has to be the people - the fact that everyone is so polite, kind, supportive, and seems to be so full of energy and happiness. I have sung here twice now and would return in a heartbeat if I was asked because I enjoy myself so much while I'm here. In fact, having the opportunity to spend time in Bogota is one of the things that actually IS glamourous about being an opera singer, and one of the reasons I think I'm so lucky to get to do what I do. But I also like to find humor in any situation I can, and to make people laugh, so that's what I've been trying to do with my writing.

The main point of this posting is that I really admire and respect the people here, and I want to make that clear. Please feel free to hate my writing style, to think I am NOT funny, and to tell me I have terrible grammar and spelling, but please also know that I respect you all too much to ever intentionally insult you. I am in fact honored to be singing here, to have this life, and to get to experience everything I do. It's a pleasure to know you all, and I hope you will keep reading.

Monday, September 8, 2008

nerves vs sickness

Now we've done three performances of La Boheme - Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Thursday, the opening, I was just feeling the beginning of being sick, but nothing really, but I was a little nervous because it was the opening performance. Saturday, I was much more relaxed, but feeling sicker, and yesterday I was the sickest. However, the performances on Saturday and Sunday went MUCH better for me than the opening, even though I really didn't feel well physically. Which leads me to an important conclusion; For me, nerves hinder my performance more than any defects like illness going on with my body or voice. This is big! On the opening performance, my whole energy was just up high - I was breathing high, I was running out of breath, I wasn't in the moment at all, and my singing suffered. The second performance, I commanded myself to calm down and slow down. To take longer for any intake of air, to move more slowly around the stage, to take away any extraneous movements that might get me breathing harder, and I forced myself to take a good low breath before the high note at the end of Quando m'en vo, and boom! It came out clear and easy and free. This was an important lesson on just how much I allow nerves to affect my performance. And I say "I allow" because I believe that if I force myself to slow my highly impulsive and fast personality down, I think I can perhaps get a handle on some of the performance problems I've been complaining about recently. It may all be a matter of focus.

Yesterday before the performance, I almost had a real problem. I was feeling so congested and awful, but I forgot to pack sudafed in my suitcase like I usually do just in case (if I had packed it I surely wouldn't have gotten sick). Luckily Georgia planned better than I did and brought my favorite non-drowsy non-drying sudafed, and she brought some to the theater for me to take pre-performance. I took it from her about an hour before the performance and was very distracted while I was trying to get those aqua colored horse pills out of their silver wrapper. I kept talking to people and getting distracted and not being able to free them from their cage. I finally turned over the package and started picking at the back of the silver foil. That's when I noticed what was printed on the foil; "Nyquil cold and sinus". They were identical looking to the sudafed I always take when I'm stuffed up - except they were nighty night pills that would have put me right to sleep had I taken them. I mean, Nyquil really knocks me out when I take it - and I was seconds away from popping those suckers in my mouth and swallowing them. "THESE ARE NYQUIL!!!" I accusingly shrieked at Georgia. "Oops." Luckily, the director went to the drug store and picked me up some Pax Dia, which is the Colombian equivalent of sudafed and it seemed to do the trick. But can you imagine trying to sing a performance while you were stoned on Nyquil? I would have been hallucinating high b's instead of singing them. Yikes.

One more amusing thing about the performances. On the opening night, they gave us all a copy of the program for the show, which looks quite lovely and professional. Georgia and I were in our dressing room flipping through the pages of bios when we came upon the side by side pages that contained our pictures and bios. Now, Georgia and I are absolutely best friends, and we are very connected to each other. We somehow managed to wriggle our way into coming to do this job together, and some people tease us that we should walk around holding hands because we're so close. Also, we've both seen each other's headshots dozens of times, and both helped the other one to pick from the proofs the shots that were chosen for programs. Only somehow we'd never noticed the similarities between our shots until we were literally back to back in the program. This is just too much. We're both wearing strapless dresses, facing slightly away from the camera, but looking into the camera with almost the identical pouty sexy look. We both have our shoulders back and our chests out and have smoky eye make-up. How we never noticed this before it beyond me, but seeing it in the program like this made us both burst out laughing. The two of us together are just too much, and we freely admit it.

Friday, September 5, 2008

fire extinguisher

In the final act of La Boheme, Mimi dies, and as she sings her last words, it's as if a beautiful flame is extinguished forever. This is a wonderful metaphor, but it's one that I don't personally recommend coming to actual life on the stage.

In this particular staging of La Boheme, in the middle of Musetta's big prayer for Mimi, she notices that the candle is about to go out, and asks Marcello to put a screen around it to prevent it from extinguishing. The prop they chose to have him shield the flame with is an open book, with it's paper pages mere millimeters from the open flame. The candle is real, and the first time they put an open book near it, both Georgia and I thought, "hmmm - that seems dangerous" but she was too busy dying and I was too busy being dramatic and singing my prayer to think more about it. Until last night's premiere.

Just after Marcello says "coraggio" to Rodolfo and he collapes onto the bed with those big chords and wails "MIMI!", I looked over my shoulder and noticed that the book was on fire. I was torn - the curtain was going to come down in about a minute - should I let it flame and hope the set doesn't catch on fire so as not to disturb the dramatic climax of the opera? But then it was REALLY flaming, so I made a quick move and at least moved it away from the flame of the candle. Unfortunately it didn't go out on it's own and started to look like the beginnings of an action movie (it was on a wooden chair right next to a wooden set). I removed myself from my embrace of Marcello, and picked the book up from the bottom and tried to shut it on itself to extinguish the flame. It didn't quite work so I had to bang it down one more time until the flame finally went out. I went back to my crying embrace with Marcello. Curtain. Georgia sat up immediately from her deadly coma and yelled "WHAT'S BURNING???"

I was sorry to have potentially altered the moment, but was relieved to have saved us all from dying in a fire. I had to do that metaphorically a couple of operas ago in Elmer Gantry, and those fake flames were scary enough.

Other than the fire, the performance went well. I was a little sick and so not as thrilled with the way I sang, but I didn't embarrass myself, and Georgia really was fantastic. Now if we can only prevent any natural disasters from distracting us from the next few performances, we ought to be golden.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Opening tonight

So, tonight is the premiere of Boheme here in Bogota. The final dress rehearsal went quite well, but still with some room for improvement for the opening tonight. Unfortunately for me, I woke up feeling a little bit under the weather this morning. Just a tiny sore throat and a slightly groggy and sick body. But, I have done performances when I was MUCH sicker than I am now, so I can't say I'm terribly worried. Adrenaline does amazing things to shove your body through whatever it has to. And I sort of only have myself to blame because I haven't really been eating enough good food or getting enough sleep, and I haven't been taking my daily dose of emergen-c that usually keeps me healthy. But, as usual, the show will go on. Sometimes I actually sing better when I'm a little sick because my body has to really concentrate on making everything work and I can't go on automatic pilot.

Here are some photos of Georgia and I getting made up before the dress rehearsal. The make-up and hair process is slightly different than what we're used to, and while the end result looks great, the middle look was cracking us up. The eyelashes they put on Georgia were so gigantic that they looked like sleeping caterpillars up close (mine kept falling off, so we ended up just taking them off and using my real lashes). Also her hair looks pretty scary in this interim state, but I swear it looked very sweet and Mimi-ish when they finished.

We also thought it was fun that we were having our make-up and hair done side by side like this, and our Colombian make-up artists thought it was funny that we kept taking pictures of ourselves in the mirror. I also love that the make-up artists have their combs sticking out of their heads at the exact same angle in this shot.

We'll do our best tonight and let you know know it goes!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Before the show

The last week has been interesting. The rehearsal schedule was unusual, and we never really knew what was happening exactly. Tonight is the final dress rehearsal and Thursday is the opening, and I suppose we'll be ready, but last night was not the best indicator. Last night we had a dress rehearsal and it was really our first time on the sets as they will be (we think). There were some big surprises - like the fact that the bohemian's apartment is actually on a platform that limits the amount of stage space we thought we had into about half of how we rehearsed it, and there is a giant post in the middle of the set which you can end up standing behind half the time if you're not careful. It's always normal to feel confused your first time on the set, and this rehearsal was no exception. My biggest faux pas last night was that when I was supposed to throw a snowball at Marcello, I missed him and threw it into the pit. I thought it was going to be a ball of rice that would fall apart when I threw it, but instead it was more like a tennis ball covered in coconut shavings, so it sailed right past Marcello into the pit, missed the conductor by inches, bounced off his stand, bounced off the first violists stand, and landed at the conductor's feet. In the States, if something is thrown into the pit, the rehearsal stops and the orchestra may decide to leave and go home because the chances of the flying object damaging one of their instruments is too great to risk such lack of cautionary measures taken by the production team. We didn't stop the rehearsal, but I was horrified.

The other thing about last night that was really funny was the fact that Georgia and I share a relatively small dressing room, and we each have a dresser and a make-up person to ourselves, so often times there are six of us in this dressing room which is the size of a large bathroom. As usual, the Colombians are incredibly nice and kind, so we love having them around, but at times the feeling in the dressing room can get so claustrophobic that I have to go outside and stand in the hallway. This was one of those times (you can't see Georgia - she's sitting behind one of the ladies, but she's in there too).

The costumes are really beautiful. My first act dress is this incredible shade of green and I adore it. Here's a photo of me in the costume wearing my own jacket because I was a little cold. I promise to put some better shots of the dress in later blog entries.

Georgia has this really cool costume in the third act with this very sassy fur collar. She loves it, but it's really HOT. Here's a photo of her overcome with heat stroke and general colombian exhaustion.

We're going to do our best and have as much fun as we can tonight and with the rest of the shows. It won't always be easy with strange platforms and heavy snowballs, but we'll do what we can.