Monday, November 24, 2008

Sex sells

Here in Tampa, we have a very short rehearsal period before the performances. They scheduled a photo shoot for the second day we were here, and since we didn't have the costumes yet, the PR guy had the very clever idea to copy a former Vanity Fair cover of Cindy Crawford shaving K.D. Lang who was reclining in an old time Barber's chair. The photographer made some magic with what I'm sure amounts to a lot of air-brushing, and came up with these shots of me and the tenor. I am soooooo not a sexy vixen in real life, so this photo shoot was a big stretch for me, but he finally got some good expressions at the end of the shoot when I just gave up and stopped trying. I laughed at myself when I saw these photos, but hey, if they convince somebody to come to the opera, great. They'll be mighty surprised when they get there however if they think some blonde in a short skirt is gonna be lathering people up, but hopefully I can win them over with my sexy..... coloratura singing.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Same Opera, New People

Just like last year, I am singing two Barber of Sevilles right in a row. However, last year, by strange coincidence, three of the singers remained the same between the two productions (it really was a coincidence - the companies were not related and none of us had the same agents or anything) so even though the director and the conductor changed, we definitely had developed our ways of doing things and it kept some sense of continuity for me. This time however (in Tampa, Florida), no one is the same, and in fact it seems like it might be the opposite in many ways.

First of all, with a new conductor comes all new tempos. I am marveling at Maestro Anton Coppola, who I'm told is 91 years old, and is sharp as a tack. He doesn't miss a thing - in fact, today he corrected my pronunciation on one word of the recit that I had apparently managed to mispronounce for the 5 previous productions and nobody noticed. But he's taking very different tempos than when I sang the opera two and a half weeks ago, so I have to get used to those. Plus, he is encouraging many of the schticky moments that were carefully removed from the last production, which is fun, but also a challenge when you have your mind wrapped around not doing them. But I'll admit, it's not that hard for me to put them back in - what can I say, I'm a hammy kind of girl. We only have about 19 days to stage the whole opera and perform it twice, so we're putting it on it's feet very quickly. I find myself just doing the staging I did last time, which comes in mighty handy when there isn't really time to put in details.

On another note, I just saw an author I like, Malcolm Gladwell (Blink, The Tipping Point) being interviewed on CNN about a new book he wrote called Outliers. The book is about people who achieve great success in all different fields and what they have in common. He said that the one thing they all seem to have in common is that none of them got really good at what they were doing until they had been doing it for between 10 and 11 years. Even Mozart, he claims, didn't start composing his true masterpieces until he was 22 and he had been composing since he was 11. Well, this past summer was the 10 year anniversary of my first professional singing job (shut up - I was VERY young and still in school), so according to this author, I am totally about to hit my masterpiece prime and pump out the good stuff. And actually, it's true that I sort of did start to finally feel like I know what I'm doing more often than not in the last year, so maybe he's right, and I'm just about to fully hit my stride. Or, maybe I should start counting from when I started taking singing lessons, and I should have been at my peak when I was 20 years old. Either way, I should definitely be good at something by now.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


I've had some interesting encounters with reviews in the last couple of weeks.

First, there were the Barber of Seville reviews, which, quite frankly, could have been written by my own mother. There were only three that I know of, but they were all so complimentary, I was feeling like a million bucks.

Then, I got to Washington D.C., and performed Maria Padilla. I felt really good about the single performance, and got some great feedback from various people. I found a couple of reviews online that were very positive and I was feeling really good, just waiting for the review from the Washington Post to come out. I was particularly interested in that review because the reviewer used to review for the New York Times, and gave me the worst review I've ever received for an opera about 6 years ago, saying something like "her high notes escaped as something of a shriek." However, I knew I sang well Sunday, and I really had myself convinced that there wasn't anything she could slam me for this time. I was wrong.

She said I had a "nice sound" but that I seemed "challenged by the amount of music I had to sing." Except I didn't have a lot of music to sing. I only had an aria and a duet and a few lines here and there. I wasn't tired. I could have sung my whole role 6 or 7 times and then sung Rosina twice. So what did she mean? I will never know. Why do I care? Because I want to be liked and accepted and praised to feed my singerly ego. Especially by those who have dissed me in the past. So shoot me.

However, I wasn't so crushed that I was afraid to finally update the reviews page of my website. As I've spoken about before on this blog, I went through a real crisis of confidence for a couple years there, and I couldn't even bear to read a review unless somebody pre-screened it for me and promised there weren't any criticisms. I seem to be over that, so I was finally ready to do the unthinkable and google myself. This is particularly dangerous in the internet age because not only are there all the reviews in newspapers, but these days there are countless blogs where people can talk about how much they think you suck. But I ended up being rewarded for my "courage" because I discovered that one of my very favorite bloggers, opera chic, had actually written about me in one of her posts from last year. She said I "rawked" which made all that googling totally worth it.

So I updated my website, none too worse for the wear. I hope there will be a time in my future where I will read the best reviews and the worst reviews and feel absolutely the same level of apathy for both of them. In the meantime, I still get to feel elated about the good ones and get depressed by the bad ones. Or maybe I'll just hire a professional googler and never look at another one. Hmmm..... tempting.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Being mezzo

Tonight was my concert with Washington Concert Opera of the rarely performed Donizetti Opera Maria Padilla. I actually felt really good about the way I sang, and felt proud of my performance. But as happens frequently with mezzos, I was definitely playing second fiddle to the soprano. Never was this more clear than when I exited the stage and walked towards my dressing room. Leah, the fantastic soprano, was surrounded by admirers while I trudged alone to my dressing room. However one woman leaned away from the soprano sandwich to comment to me "Oh - you were good too, Jessica." I said thank you and continued to my dressing room. This is the second time this month someone has called me Jessica - because there is a Jessica Rivera, and people very frequently think I'm her, even though she's little, has dark hair, and is a soprano. Then, when we arrived at the party, I was seated at a table by myself with several older couples who weren't particularly chatty, and when Leah entered the room, the whole place burst into applause. I joined the clapping and then quietly continued eating my raviolis.

I can't complain too much, however, because Evelyn Lear introduced herself to me (she's a great soprano who was very famous in the 60's) and was very complimentary. She had such nice things to say about my singing and I could tell they were genuine and heartfelt, and I was deeply flattered by her compliments. The other person who introduced herself to me at the party was Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and I think I actually said , "wow - thank you for speaking to me." Very classy. Everyone at the party was quite nice and friendly and I started to feel like being me wasn't so bad. But then Evelyn Lear came back up to me and said, "Darling - you're so beautiful, really you are. But we have to do something about this hair. You have such a long face - you need more volume on the sides. Also, those earrings. Not crazy about them either." And the funny things is, I actually think she was right about both the hair and the earrings, so I didn't even mind. But I also had to laugh about the fact that this is my life. From meeting a justice on the supreme court to having a famous soprano give me hairstyling tips. I mean, you can't make this stuff up.

Friday, November 7, 2008

City Opera

I just discovered this article in the New York Times announcing that Gerard Mortier has pulled out of City Opera. This doesn't affect me directly as I've never sung for Mr. Mortier and had not been rehired by the company since the change of administration. But I did sing at City Opera for 8 seasons, and have made my career so far mostly with that company, so I want it to survive and to thrive. The economy is apparently making it impossible for the board to raise even the amount they had thought they could raise for Mr. Mortier's first season. I sincerely hope they find a way to reopen their doors and continue to survive because they have been such an important institution not only for the City of New York, but for the country, and for all the young singers who have gotten their starts on the stage at City Opera, including me.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


The election of our new President gives me great hopes for possibilities ahead. And yet my happiness is tainted with sadness about two other events that happened today.

The first is that it seems proposition 8 has been voted through in California, which means they are actually going to amend the constitution to prevent gays from marrying each other. It makes me wonder why when one door opens, another one closes. It's supposed to be the other way around, but in this situation, we as a country have made great strides in the equality of all people by electing a black president, and yet there are still people who are willing to remove rights from gay people. Why is it acceptable for people to discriminate against anyone? My only hope is that with this step forward in electing Barack Obama, we will continue to move forward in the equality of rights of all people.

The other thing that happened today that is deeply distressing is that Opera Pacific, where I was just performing Barber of Seville, has announced that they are canceling their season, and barring a miracle, possibly shutting their doors for good. You can find the articles in the L.A. Times here and the O.C. Register here. Opera Pacific is suffering badly because of the state of the economy, and has been struggling for many seasons, and they have now laid off all but two staff members, and put their facilities in Santa Ana up for sale to pay their debts. It is terribly frightening to see a company as prestigious as Opera Pacific shut it's doors, and it makes all of us artists worried for our future and for the future of the art form. The saddest part to me is that the cultural institutions in this country are forced to rely on donors to keep their doors open instead of being partially funded by the government as an important part of our society the way they are in Europe. Art should be like air - necessary and vital. Not expendable when we have a problem with cash flow. I can only hope that the next 8 years will be better for everyone, and that our cultural institutions will be able to bounce back.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Life goes on

I had my final Barbiere last night, and I'm already in Washington D.C., where I have rehearsal at 10:30 tomorrow morning (that's 7:30 A.M. California time - good luck!). I thought I saw snow on the ground when we landed but it was some weird lighting thing. Thank god, because going from the beach to the snow would have been really unsettling. I had a great time in the O.C. and was very pleased with how the Barbers went and with the nice people I got to work with and sing with. And now I get to spend a week in D.C. - and I get to be here for the election, which I actually think will be really exciting (or depressing, depending on what happens). But I have a feeling I might wake up tomorrow and think "where am I again? What city and what time zone and what opera?" Not that I'm complaining. As long as I have a job, an internet connection and a bed, I'm cool.