Monday, May 25, 2009

Things change, Jo

This weekend, my best friend Georgia, who I have spoken of often in this blog, got married.

The title of my post refers to a line from Mark Adamo's opera "Little Women" which I've sung 4 times. I don't have any sisters, so when I sang Jo, I always thought about Georgia and how close I am to her to try to understand the character better. Jo is really upset at first that Meg, her closest sister, decides to get married. But she learns though the course of the opera that even though things change, sometimes change can be beautiful and special and wonderful. I have been learning that lesson in many situations in my own life, and I often quietly remind myself, "Things change, Jo". I'm so happy for Georgia and her new husband Micah, and I wanted to share with you all the speech I gave at the reception to honor this very special moment in their - and also in my - life. Here's the speech:

I have to admit I was dubious about Micah at the beginning. Here was my best friend – as close as a sister – who was always careful and measured about all her important decisions – announcing to me a few days after meeting Micah that she was going to marry him. I remember saying to her “Micah? That guy you met 5 minutes ago?” when she called me on her last day in New Orleans and told me they were going to be married. It turned out not to be the official proposal of course, just a declaration of their commitment to each other before they left the job they met on, but it still really freaked me out. I always imagined that of the two of us, the one to impulsively announce they were going to marry somebody they just met would definitely be me, not Georgia. But she said to me, “knowing me, and knowing how careful I am, don’t you think I must be pretty sure about this to make a decision like this?”

And so it was almost reluctantly that I met Micah for the first time. “This is all too fast, “ I grumbled to myself, “this can’t be the real thing.” Except that during the first five minutes of meeting Micah, and of seeing him and Georgia together, I knew she was right. She really had found her soul mate – the person put on this earth meant to “complete” her, if that’s not too much of a cliché. It was so obvious, just from that first meeting, that Micah was not only the person who could get along with, understand, and support Georgia like nobody else, but that the love the two of them felt for each other was incredibly special and deep – the kind of love that inspires the phrase “when you know, you know.” I remember noticing the way he was always checking to make sure that she was okay, and the way she listened to everything he said with intensity and affection. The way they supported each other without competing for attention, and the way they each gave the other the space needed to exist exactly as they were. Neither wanted the other to change. And that’s probably the closest definition I can come up with for true love, and for why people should marry each other; because they accept and love each other for their true authentic selves.

I’m sure part of the reason I was initially reluctant to believe that this connection between them was as deep as she said it was had to do with the fact that I worried that if she found a person who so understood and supported her, my role as best friend would somehow become obsolete. But what I have come to realize in knowing Georgia and Micah as a couple is that finding someone who so admires and supports you the way Micah does Georgia and Georgia does Micah, doesn’t take you away from your other relationships or change your need for other people. It just makes you more secure in who you are, and allows you to find an even deeper truth to how you love others. So if anything, meeting Micah has deepened Georgia’s ability to love, trust, and support and be supported, because his love for her gives her the confidence to believe more completely in herself. I think connections like theirs are rare and beautiful, and I’m so grateful that my dearest friend has found the person who is so clearly just exactly right.

Friday, May 15, 2009

more travel

I’m on a train on my way from Brussels to Stuttgart, where I will spend a couple of days on my way back to Warsaw just visiting some friends. The last couple of days haven’t been as crazy as the La Scala day, but I thought I would report on them nonetheless.

After my Scala audition I got on yet another train to Venice for an audition the following day at Teatro La Fenice. The trip was uneventful, and I stayed at the same hotel I had stayed at the year before, when I took the trip all the way to Venice, only to wake up the morning of the audition with a severe cold forcing me to cancel the audition. I tried not to focus too much on the fact that this audition was actually costing me double, so I’d better sing well.

When I arrived to the theater I discovered that there were 5 singers auditioning and one of them was an American I had worked with at City Opera. It’s always so funny to be in such a far flung place and see someone you know. The other funny thing about the audition was that all five of the singers sat in the theater and listened to each other audition, which I haven’t experienced before. But I was glad we had that opportunity because La Fenice is stunningly beautiful and it was nice to be inside there for an entire hour or so while everybody sang. I understand it was rebuilt because it burned down, although I don’t know the details about when. But it is exquisitely beautiful and seemed tiny to this American used to giant cavernous theaters. The colors were also really unusual, with a beautiful fresco on the ceiling and lots of turquoise sky colored paint on the boxes and walls.

The audition went well enough, although they asked me to start with my aria from Lucrezia Borgia, and it felt funny singing it suddenly without the staging and my buddies onstage singing the choruses. Afterwards I had lunch with my fellow American singer and had yet another chance encounter with another American friend.

I knew my friend James, who directed me in Barbiere in Tampa (and who I talk about in a previous post) was going to be in Italy with his family at some point, but I didn’t have any idea exactly when. But I posted something on facebook about how I was going to Venice, he noticed and wrote to me saying “I’m arriving in Venice Tuesday – will you still be there?” We emailed a bunch, and he was flying in and meeting his parents who were there for a vacation, and I had to leave and catch a train back to Torino where I was leaving early the next morning to go to Brussels. During the day we were emailing each other back and forth – his flight was delayed, my audition wasn’t over yet, etc (thank god for mobile phones that have email!!) and I kept saying “I don’t think it will work out for us to see each other unless somehow you’re near the train station when I’m leaving”. Venice is really difficult and slow to get around in because you have to take boats everywhere, and I don’t know any of the parts except the part where I get on and off the train and the part where the theater is located. But lo and behold, I emailed him when I was getting onto the Vaporetto (the water taxi that takes you do the different parts of the city) and he said, “we’re at the train station waiting for you!” So when the Vaporetto pulled into the station, there he was with his parents, waving at me. It turned out their hotel was only a short walk from the train station – che fortuna! Here was another case of seeing people you know completely out of context in a strange environment. I took a slightly later train and sat and had a pizza and sparkling water with him and his lovely parents (who I had met when they came to see the Barber in Tampa) and was off again on the train. How amazingly small the world is that here were three people that I hadn’t seen since December in Tampa, Florida, and now I was having a pizza with them looking out at the canals of Venice. Amazing.

I made it back to Torino, and then next morning it was off to Brussels bright and early. I was looking forward to seeing this new city that has several of my favorite things in it (chocolate, frites, beer, waffles – I could live on those things alone I think) and I was also happy to note that one of my colleagues from Warsaw was working there and so I would actually have someone to have a meal or two with instead of the usual days of solitude when I go to a city and do an audition (Venice was an exception!). However, as luck had it, he happened to be released from rehearsals for the exact same two days that I was in town, so he went back home to Italy for a little R&R, leaving me to explore Brussels all on my own.

I didn’t waste any time getting myself some frites and delicious Belgian beer, and did as much exploring as I could without wanting to over-tire myself before the audition. The audition the next day went well, and I met someone else I knew – or at least knew of – a colleague of my best friend Georgia’s whom she had worked with in Warsaw and who is Polish. I had plenty to chat about with him and I practiced all my polish swear words to keep myself distracted before the audition. After the audition I had moules and frites and more beer (I managed to splash something greasy all over my silk blouse) and off to bed to rest up for another day of travel. And now I’m on the thalys train to Germany to wrap my mind around yet another language.

Speaking of languages, I got to see exactly what shape my French was in during this little sojourn in Belgium, and while it’s not bad, I’m getting tired of always messing up words I KNOW by saying them in Italian with a French accent. I have studied far more French than Italian, and at one point could communicate relatively well in French. However, since Italian has taken over that second language spot in my brain, I have trouble thinking in French and what comes out when I try to speak is a jumble of words in several languages. My brain and my mouth don’t feel in synch, and a second later I can remember exactly how to say all of the words I have just jumbled, but by then I’ve already managed to disagree with the concierge in the hotel when he tells me I need to use my key in the elevator (I thought he was asking me if I needed an extra key), causing him to look at me strangely and switch to English. Ah, the dreaded switch to English. That’s when you know you really suck. If I’m feeling particularly prodigious, I will INSIST, “Non monsieur, s’il vous plait, en francais!” but usually I’m so deflated by the switch that I just say, “Yeah, okay, got it. Use key in elevator. Will do.”

On a final note, today is my Dad’s birthday. Always being on the road, I miss being with my family on a lot of holidays, and I really appreciate the fact that they never ever expect anything from me other than living my dreams. They encouraged me to go to college on the other coast, to come to europe to do auditions, to be wherever my dreams might take me. Pretty amazing, isn’t it? I definitely lucked out in the parental department, and for that I'm very grateful. Happy Birthday, Dad!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Getting to La Scala

Today was to be my audition at La Scala.

I had scheduled the day rather tightly - I was planning on waking up promptly at 8 AM, in order to make it onto a 9:25 AM train, to arrive in Milan at 11:20, to rehearse with the pianist at noon for a 1PM audition. But I figured with all the running around maybe I wouldn't have a chance to get too nervous about singing an audition at LA SCALA and that might be a good thing.

I woke up on time, and took maybe a few minutes more to get ready than I had anticipated, but the thing I hadn't planned on was the traffic in Torino. They close the main street for some reason, and there were a couple of accidents slowing things down, and I didn't arrive at the train station until about 9:24. I ran like a crazy person for the train (in my heels) and just as I arrived at the track, I saw the train pulling away. No biggie, I thought, this is Torino to Milano - a very popular route - there will be another train in about 20 minutes. So I went to the biglietteria and was informed that the next train for Milan left at 11:18 and arrived at 12:40 in Milan. At first I didn't believe the guy behind the counter, and when he turned his computer around to show me the schedule I almost started crying. My audition was supposed to be at 1:00 in Milan - was I really going to have to cancel the whole thing because I arrived at the train station one minute late? I decided better late than never, changed my ticket, had my friend Vincenzo call the theater and explain what was going on, and that I would just have to make a run for it when I got there. The problem was that a) now I wouldn't get to rehearse with the pianist and b) now I probably wouldn't have time or a place to warm up.

I was pacing around the Torino train station waiting for the next train to leave when I thought about the fact that Italians are really nice and supportive of opera singers. I went back to the nice man who had changed my ticket, and asked as sweetly as I could if there was maybe a small room I could warm up in because you see, I'm an opera singer, and I have an audition today at LA SCALA and now, because I missed the train, I wouldn't have time to warm up!! And he said he couldn't help me, but I should try the passenger help desk around the corner.

So I made my way to that office thinking, well, this is probably kind of a long shot, but it's worth a try. I told the story to the nice lady behind the counter, emphasizing LA SCALA and MUST WARM UP THE VOICE, and surprisingly, she took pity on me. She took me around the corner to the eurostar lounge (like the business class lounge at the airport) but it was all open to the rest of the offices and I explained, "but it will be very loud" and grinned at her sheepishly. She explained the situation to the eurostar lounge hostess, who suggested I use the bathroom because there are a couple of sets of doors between the inside and the outside. So I gratefully made my way into the stall with the toilet, shut the door, pulled out my little casio keyboard, and sang full out for about 10 minutes until I felt a little more like a singer again. I thanked the eurostar lady profusely and made my way to my train.

I got into Milan Central train station at about 12:45 and hopped in a taxi hoping for the best. I arrived at the artists entrance just about 1:10, and eventually found my way to the floor with the offices. They put me in a (beautifully appointed) dressing room for about 5 minutes - just enough time to use the bathroom and sing a few scales, and then ushered me to the stage. OF LA SCALA. I waited for the guy who was singing to finish La Calunia, and then it was my turn. A few more steps and there I was, on the stage of LA SCALA, looking at that famous facade of beautiful red and gold boxes and seats. I handed the pianist my binder of music and he took it while looking at me quizically like "who the hell are you? I rehearsed with all the singers, I thought.." but I just opened it to Parto Parto and apologized for missing the rehearsal. "Okay," he told me in italian, " but stand close to the piano so I can hear you since we didn't rehearse" (it was a little upright on stage right). So I sang Parto Parto, and it went remarkably well. Then they asked for Una voce poco fa, which also went quite well. I had absolutely no opportunity to get nervous or to psych myself out about the fact that I was singing on the stage of LA SCALA, and so I was completely relaxed and actually enjoying myself, taking time with the parts I liked and playing with dynamics and phrasing. It was actually the most relaxed I've been in an audition in awhile.

I have no idea what will come of the audition, but for now, I'm really content with how it went and the fact that I at least once in my life sang on the stage of La Scala. When I analyze why I wasn't more careful about planning and taking an earlier train and leaving plenty of extra time to get to the station, I have to guess that I was trying to be as normal and easy going as possible about the whole endeavor so as not to freak myself out about a big audition, and it kind of worked. I was too busy dealing with the details of travel to get all worked up and nervous, and I was actually able to just sing and enjoy myself. Would I recommend this strategy? Not exactly, because I could have totally missed the audition, and had they asked for something I didn't know as well as Parto or Una Voce, it might have been difficult without a rehearsal with the pianist. Plus it's just irresponsible to miss trains and arrive places late. But in general, I think it might actually be a good rule to live by - just normalize your life around your opera commitments, and they will be easier and more fun and less of A BIG DEAL. BUT don't expect the officials in every train station in every country to let you warm up in their lounge bathrooms - it takes italians to understand the importance of an opera singer on a mission.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

(not so) triumphant return to Italy

For the past month in Warsaw - nay - for the past year in the world at large, I have done little other than to sing the praises of everything Italian. Obviously a lot of my blog entries from last year were love letters to my new favorite place, and since then I have found it difficult to meet a new italian person without attacking them with love for their country. I think sometimes they want to say, "um, yeah, I know you like it. It's really nice there. CAN WE TALK ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE PLEASE?" And the thing I seem to talk about almost more than anything else is the food - the quality of the ingredients, the care in preparation, etc etc ad naseum. So you can imagine my horror and everyone else's hysterical laughter at the cruel irony when my first night back in italy I spent the entire night puking my guts out from some weird food poisoning.

I arrived on Sunday ready to eat (if I had mentioned to my italian colleagues in Warsaw one more time how much I was looking forward to eating gelato, they might have politely punched me in the face) and went almost immediately to a restaurant that I frequented a lot when I was here before and that I loved. There was one particular dish of calamari and shrimps cooked in this white wine that I had been dreaming about for the entire year. I gorged myself to capacity, then added two scoops of Gelato from Grom to my already full stomach, before coming back to my friend's house to get some much needed sleep.

Except. At 3 in the morning I awoke not feeling so good. I want to spare you the details, but suffice it to say that a) I ended up bringing my pillow into the bathroom and just resting when I wasn't throwing up because I was too sick to go all the way back to my room until about 8 in the morning, and b) I have never, ever thrown up so much in my life. I spent the entire next day in a strange delirium with a fever of about 100 degrees, and could only seem to drink red gatorade because everything else made me feel sick again - even plain water. By the following day my fever had subsided, but it took several more days for my stomach to feel normal again, and even now, almost a week later, I'm still feeling a little weird. I don't know if it's because of this little incident, but I've been grumpy with the former love of my life country this time around, muttering to myself when the stores aren't open, or wondering why I can't buy shampoo anywhere in this town on a frigging sunday. We need to make up, Italy and I, because I can't have this experience ruining my pure and eternal love for all things italian. It's just wrong to mess with something that beautiful and pure.

Being in Italy again has also been making me wonder why I haven't been blogging more regularly recently. I've had the occasion to talk about blogging with a few people here who have encouraged my writing, and I was explaining how being so "myself" in a public forum scares me sometimes. There are days when I'm confident and proud of who I am, and when I want to share how I feel and what I think with the world at large, and then there are days when I feel like an ignorant dumb-dumb, and I want to try to do everything possible to prevent anybody from knowing about it. I fluctuate between wanting to blog every day about my most intimate feelings, and wanting to never blog again, close my facebook account, and delete the letters g,o,o,g,l and e from my computer altogether. But in the end, the thing I value most about the internet is probably the fact that it connects me to people - both friends and family that I need to have as my support system when I'm always on the road, and also a whole world of strangers who do and say and feel the same way that I do about a lot of things, and who want to feel that mysterious human connection of knowing that you're both always and never alone. I guess in the end the idea that life is too short to fill it with doubt and regret wins out, and I drag myself back to the keyboard to analyze yet another element of my delicate psyche. Or to talk about puking. Both things resonate.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Warsaw wrap-up

above: just one of the guys

I’m sitting in the Warsaw airport nearly two hours before my short flight to Torino is set to depart, so I have plenty of time to write a wrap up of my experiences in Warsaw.

First, a few thoughts from the performance side of things. The performances both went well, although, as often happens, the second performance was better for me than the first. Not only did I have the hindsight of knowing how I felt in the first performance, I also had the extreme advantage of being able to watch a dvd of the first performance, and this gave me great insight into things I wanted to do differently. I feel like opera performances rarely get put onto video (except maybe an archival video where you can’t see anything) and so I don’t get to watch what I’m doing physically that often. Watching this video was a real eye-opener for me about some things I was doing unconsciously with my body that I really needed to correct. I was making all kinds of extraneous movements that were not adding anything to the drama, and to my eye just looked weird. In the first aria, when I was standing still, I noticed that I was rocking back and forth on my feet a lot (I think I do it to try to feel my grounding and to eliminate tension – but it’s totally and completely unconscious) and it was very distracting. During the duet and the second aria, I was unconsciously swinging my arms way too much– also distracting. During the second performance I was able to focus on tranquility of the body, and I think it made a huge difference. This lesson goes right along with the one I learned during Cenerentola about how unconscious body habits (like lifting my shoulders) can have negative effects on both vocal production and dramatic effectiveness. I wish I could have a dvd of every performance to try to correct any weird body things I might be doing – but since I probably won’t, I will just have to be vigilant about my body in a way I haven’t up til now. I think it will be a great tool in fact, for when I’m feeling nervous or not centered – to focus on relaxing the body and staying still and tranquil. If 2008 was a year where I learned a lot about my voice, 2009 is proving to be a year where I learn a lot about how my body and movements affect my singing.

Now for some general thoughts about the experience of working in Warsaw: In a nutshell, I had a great time! I liked the people I was working with so very much – I am sad to leave them and to say goodbye. At first I thought it was going to be bizarre to come back to Warsaw in June for just one performance, but I’m so glad now that I didn’t actually have to say goodbye, and could just say see you later to everyone. I don’t know if most opera singers are incredibly nice, or if I’ve just been really lucky, but it seems like so many of the gigs I’ve had in recent memory have been extremely enjoyable because of the people I’ve had the opportunity to meet. There aren’t too many professions that allow you to constantly meet new and interesting people with whom you have a great deal in common, and this is something I really treasure about this job. And the people on this gig were particularly nice and supportive which made the time fly by.

And now I’m on my way to Italy, where I will rest a bit before having a bunch of auditions in various countries and cities. I’m salivating already at the thought of my first gelato.