Saturday, January 31, 2009

Lows and Highs

Right around the time of performances is often when I experience the biggest emotional roller coaster that comes with being a performer. There is the excitement, nerves and energy of the lead up to the opening, followed by ecstasy if I'm happy with the way it went or horrible depression if it didn't go well. Then, after the show opens, suddenly I have a ton of free time on my hands because I only work for 3 hours or so once every few days. The free time can either be really fun or really shocking, depending on the situation. If the gig is full of people I've loved hanging out with and we continue to spend tons of time playing around, the free time is super fun, followed by the depression of having the gig be over and having to leave all these wonderful new friends and go somewhere else. Or, if everyone's significant others, parents, family, and friends descend into town for the performances and we all go our separate ways, I get bored and lonely after all the playing around we did in rehearsals, and start to feel low. But then maybe one day my agent calls to tell me about a great gig I've landed in the future. Yipee!!!! High high high!! Then I find out about another gig I really really really wanted that went to someone else. Low low low. Then I read a great review of the performance. High, but tinged with the knowledge that if I believe the good ones I have to believe the bad ones. Then I read a mean comment posted by a random person on a blog saying awful things about me and my singing. Loooooooooow low low. Then the gig is finally over and I get to go home and sleep in my own bed and see all my friends in New York. Hiiiiiigh!!! Then I wake up the next day and really miss the new friends I made on the gig and realize that I have no idea when I'll see any of them again. Looooow. Then I get out of bed, repack my suitcases and get in line for another ride on the roller coaster. After all, what's the point of life if you can't experience it from different altitudes.

Friday, January 30, 2009

mundane to extraordinary

I'm sitting here doing my laundry and getting ready for tonight's third performance of Cenerentola, and thinking about day of performance rituals. Some singers are really specific about what they need to do on a day of a performance - exercise at a certain hour, eat at a certain hour, nap at a certain hour etc. I used to be impossible to be around on performance days (just ask my parents about those fun years) because I would be so nervous and anxious that I just felt miserable. I also used to be really specific about what I ate and when I ate it, when I could eat anything at all because a nervous stomach is not a hungry stomach. Things have changed considerably since those days, and I've actually made a specific effort NOT to have specific things I do, so that if I ever have to do things differently because of circumstances beyond my control, I won't freak out.

Today, for example, I woke up and ate some breakfast and checked my email. Then I went and bought a cheap pair of sunglasses and a beach towel for my dad, who is visiting. Then I took my dad to South Beach so he could swim a little in the ocean. I was a little specific about needing to sit in the shade and not going in the ocean myself because I didn't want to get too hot or tired before singing. Then I took my dad to a bookstore I really like with a cafe, and we had lunch. And now I'm doing my laundry. It's hard to imagine that in only a few hours, I will be onstage singing for thousands of people and assuming an entirely different persona for 3 hours.

My dad told me something interesting today. He said that when I was a kid, my first voice teacher Thelma, who was a retired opera singer herself, gave me the advice that I should never develop any specific performance day routines, nor should I ever have any good luck charms or rituals. She said it's just too dangerous - that having specificity is like having a crutch, and if you have it taken away, you have big trouble. I have no recollection of her telling me this (I was only 9 when I started studying with her) but it's funny that all these years later I am in fact taking her advice. The more normal and relaxed I feel, the better I sing, and the easier it is to communicate something while onstage. So if doing my laundry a few hours before I'm onstage makes me a better Cenerentola, bring on the Tide. But only sometimes!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Writing your own review

So, I just deleted the original post I wrote about my opening performance of Cenerentola in Miami. (I want everyone who commented on that particular post to know I appreciate their thoughts, and I saved them all in a file on my computer). In the post, I talk about the fact that while the performance went incredibly well, there was one note that wasn't as perfect as I wanted it to be. Not only have I realized in the last day or so how much I was overreacting about that one note, but a friend and fellow singer and blogger reminded me that writing your own bad review and publishing it on the internet is not exactly conducive to furthering one's career, nor is it fair to one's public who may have loved your performance and doesn't want or need to know about your picky little perfectionist problems with it. Writing my blog is cathartic and a way for me to work out how I'm feeling about things, but it's not my job to tell other people how I sang in a performance - it's only my job to sing the performance.

But I am happy to talk about how I felt during the performance. I was relaxed and centered, and even able to enjoy myself and try new things. My voice did what I wanted it to do, which allowed me to act with abandon and communicate in the fullest way possible. Are there things I would like to do differently and even better? Always. Can I be content with how far I feel I've come both vocally and dramatically with this repertoire, and about the fact that I seem to have completely overcome my issues with nerves? Absolutely.

I just hope the woman who does my makeup for tomorrow's show isn't mad that my nose is a little sunburned from spending all day today at the beach. Yes, I swam in the ocean. Yes, you can hate me for it if you need to. But just remember that I return to the 18 degree weather and dirty snow banks in just over a week, and knowing that is punishment enough.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Caste System, part two

I wrote a post about the first cast / second cast business back when I was in Italy, and I was singing second cast, which meant in that situation sitting on my butt and not rehearsing at all and then getting up and performing. Here in Miami, the only role double cast is Cenerentola, and even though I am technically singing the opening, there isn't really a first cast / second cast situation - we are just both singing 4 performances each, and we have been splitting the rehearsals evenly. Frankly, I guess I'm more used to either being first cast, where I never end up watching or having anything to do with the other cast, or being the full-on underdog second cast, where I have to do my best in difficult circumstances, and if I do succeed, everyone can say "wow - she managed!!" At first, I thought that this sharing of the role would be no issue for me, but I find that I'm actually more comfortable in the underdog position because then there is far less pressure, and if you're fantastic, people are pleasantly surprised. If you're in any way associated with the first cast, there is no space for error - you'd better be freaking amazing or risk disappointing everyone. No wonder famous singers act crazy from time to time - I imagine the pressure on them would be pretty overwhelming.

I've been thinking a lot lately about comparisons between singers. I've had a bunch of conversations with friends recently about that very subject and it has caused me to think seriously about my own feelings on the matter. I tend to think of myself as a relatively centered person who doesn't get too caught up in professional jealousies (I count as very good friends several mezzos who I could consider my "competition" if I chose to look at it that way), but like everyone, I certainly have my days of utter insecurity where I wonder why so-and-so has a certain job I would have liked, and days when I get horribly jealous of someone else's career. I've had some very interesting conversations with other singers lately where they wonder if people of the same voice type can really be friends, and whether singers can have successful romantic relationships with other singers without being jealous when one's career is going better than the other. My initial reaction is always to pooh-pooh such talk as small minded and insecure, but as soon as I do that, I'll have a day where I'll be crying because I find out somebody has better jobs than me and I'll find myself wailing "WHY GOD - WHYYYYYYYYYYY NOT MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE????"

When I manage to pull myself together from the pity party, I realize something very important: Comparisons kill art. As singers, we are subject to constant comparisons - we enter competitions where we are ranked and and awarded prizes for the "best", we audition for schools and then jobs, where the "best" is awarded the position. There is the famous 'arc of a singer's career' joke: "1. Who is Jenny Rivera, 2. Get me Jenny Rivera 3. Get me somebody like Jenny Rivera. 4. Get me a young Jenny Rivera 5. Who is Jenny Rivera?" Comparisons are inevitable by the people who cast and hire us, but among artists themselves, they are terribly dangerous. Because what makes a great artist is their uniqueness - and thank god, every artist is unique, and there is no real way to compare two singers because it is always like comparing apples and oranges. We aren't stockbrokers, with a dollar sign to show for our success - we have only each individual performance and whether it was able to affect somebody and create something special and...UNIQUE. And spending time comparing ourselves to other artists only ruins the "in the moment" qualities necessary for creating the best performance we are capable of.

I have to keep reminding myself of this - not just when I'm double cast with someone, or when I have a cover, or when I am a cover, but in each day of my life as both a singer and as a person. In life I'm often trying to fit myself into a comparison - am I prettier or uglier, skinnier or fatter, smarter or dumber, richer or poorer, more or less successful than person X? But those comparisons only remove me from living in the moment of just being me. Being the best artist and person both require living one moment at a time, and making that moment the most important. The game of comparison is just iceberg lettuce for the brain - requires chewing but has no nutritional value.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Cinderella, Miami style

Wow - sorry for how long it's been since I've written an entry. I've been in Miami to do a production of La Cenerentola with Florida Grand Opera since January 1st, and I'm just now getting around to writing a post about it. But I have a few excuses for my lack of posts!

First of all, FGO is one of the companies that require each artist to find his or her own housing arrangement, and since my friend Scott, who directed the production of Barber I did at Opera Pacific a few months back was also directing this production, we decided to save a few clams and get a two bedroom apartment together. It's actually really fun living with somebody while on the road, because usually I spend A LOT of alone time - more than I really would like to - and this way, when we get home from rehearsal at night, I actually have somebody to talk to about the fact that I didn't like the way I sang that scene today, or wasn't it funny when so-and-so made that joke today, etc. But this also means that I'm never really alone, and when I'm alone and pensive is when I tend to come up with ideas for what to write about on my blog. Add to that the fact that this cast is particularly social and friendly, and that I've been spending a lot of time with the other singers, and this job has been anything but solitary. Which is great for me - but bad for the blogging.

So let me fill you in. I arrived January 1st with no voice whatsoever. I sang a concert on New Year's Eve, but it made me completely lose my voice because I was already battling with laryngitis. I arrived to the first musical rehearsal and couldn't even really speak, so I sat and listened while the other Cenerentola (thank goodness there are two of us) sang the musical rehearsal. I both loved and hated not being able to sing for that first rehearsal. I loved just listening to this EXCELLENT cast (it really is one of the best groups I've had the pleasure of singing with in awhile) knowing that I would get to sing with them all eventually. But I also hated not being able to make the music myself and "show my stuff." Luckily after only a few days, my voice returned and I was able to start singing in the rehearsals.

The rehearsal process has been mostly fun, although a tiny bit stressful at times because only the Cenerentolas are double cast, so if we both want to rehearse, everybody else has to do everything twice. I'm one of those people who loves rehearsing -it's definitely one of my favorite parts of the job. I love making the music and exploring the drama with absolutely no pressure to be perfect (as in a performance) and repeating the scenes many times to find the endless dramatic and musical possibilities. With two Cinderellas, I find I don't quite make it to that point of comfortable exploration as often as I would like. But the positive is that I actually get to see what things look like from the outside, and I happen to be double cast with a brilliant and musical singer who I can learn things from by listening and watching. And since this is my sixth Cenerentola, I should probably be able to do the performances on no rehearsals and blindfolded.

Oh, and it would be really ridiculous if I didn't mention the fact that I'm in Florida in January and it's EIGHTY DEGREES AND SUNNY outside! There are three singers from Montreal in the cast, and we keep pulling out my iphone and opening the weather application, just to look at the fact that it's 16 degrees in Montreal, 26 in New York, and 78 here - all in the same time zone! I was swimming in the blue-green ocean with one of the singers, and we both looked at each other at the same time and said "Can you believe we're here for work?"

Besides being an amazing tenor, Frédéric Antoun (my Prince Ramiro) is a great photographer, and he took this photo of Scott and I standing on his balcony on our first day off. I wouldn't recommend looking at this photo if you are about to go outside and slip and fall on a patch of ice, or if you have your feet in a bucket of warm water because it's so frigging cold outside. This is right before we all headed down to the beach to soak up the sun for several hours. I'm sorry!!! I really am!! Don't hate me!!