Friday, January 29, 2010

Crunch Time

This process has been entirely different from what I'm accustomed to, and so I'm having trouble figuring out when I'm supposed to be nervous. Which is kind of.....funny!

Normal show schedule (for me thus far) is: rehearse for 3 weeks in a room, one rehearsal with orchestra (sitzprobe), and between 2-4 rehearsals onstage, (one or two with costumes and one or two with orchestra), and then opening. By the time you reach the sitzprobe you are usually at 5-7 days before the opening and you start to think to yourself, "okay self; sleep lots, take your vitamins, and FOCUS because you're coming into the home stretch."

In this process, we had a total of about 4 or 5 stage rehearsals where we were working on running the various parts of the opera with the set, and simultaneously having a total of 4 sitzprobes. Then we had a piano dress rehearsal, and then 6 rehearsals on the stage with the orchestra (which we will finish up tonight), followed by a pre-dress rehearsal with everything, and a dress rehearsal. So when am I supposed to start getting nervous? Now I suppose, although since I have already sung my entire role on the stage with the orchestra a bunch of times, I feel pretty relaxed. What a concept!

Of course, we never have schedules like this in the States for two reasons: One; the cost of having so many sessions with the orchestra becomes prohibitive when you don't have state sponsored funding. Even huge companies like the Met and Chicago don't have so many chances to work with the orchestra and on the stage. The second reason for the regional companies is that they aren't at home in the theaters in which they perform, they just rent them, so they must pay for every time they use the stage, and that also becomes impossibly expensive. The only other time I've witnessed so many stage rehearsals and orchestra rehearsals was when I was singing in Italy. I did many a production at City Opera where I had exactly ZERO stage rehearsals and ZERO orchestra rehearsals before the performance. Of course, that was also the case here at the Staatsoper when I sang Barbiere earlier this season, but that production is performed so often by the company that it was more like a train that I was just hopping on and adding my luggage to for a few stops. For me, I always prefer to have LOTS of rehearsal because then I feel like when I get to the performances I can delve deeply into the characterizations and musical choices because I'm confident with all the logistics happening around me.

And this show, by the way, is really fabulous. The singing, the staging, the orchestra, the sets, the costumes - everything is coming together for something really sparkling and moving and fascinating and funny and crazy and strong. I really wish all of you readers could see it, but the good news is that a documentary is being made about the creation of this production, and later this summer we will record a CD which will be distributed by Harmonia Mundi. So even though you may not be able to get to Berlin, I promise to share as much with you as I can. Pictures coming soon as well!! Now I'm off to my final of six stage orchestra rehearsals, and I'm not even nervous. Outstanding!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Lacroix! Lacroix! Lacroix!

I found this video on youtube - a little sneak peak at the costume designing process with a master, and a chance for me to drool over the dresses the girls get to wear....

Friday, January 22, 2010


I was thinking it was time to write a new blog post, and was considering all the things I could write about when I had a funny life situation happen that took precedence.

Today during the stage rehearsal, I was standing offstage waiting for my entrance chatting with the baritone (as I have been known to do) and he was telling me about how he had to leave tomorrow because he was jumping in for Figaro in Barber of Seville in a town in Germany that I didn't know. This practice, called einspringen, is common here in Germany, where they don't generally have covers or understudies. But there is so much opera going on, and so many singers, that when someone becomes ill, the company makes calls to find a replacement, flies them in, shows them the staging in one day, and then BAM they're on! I wrote one blog post when I was in Berlin last time about how the Figaro was ill and they found another one who performed with only a day's notice, and I was very impressed with how well he seemed to know what he was doing. As soon as the baritone today told me about his jumping in, I said "Oh, I am dying to get a call to jump in! I just think it would be really exciting and a big challenge, but I would feel such a big sense of accomplishment after!" The other reason is that with all the stress of learning the blocking in 5 minutes, I think it would be hard to worry too much about my voice, which is always an appealing prospect.

The baritone and I finished our conversation, made our entrances, and then very soon after that, the rehearsal ended. I went to my dressing room, collected my things, and made my way to the tram for the trek home. While I was waiting for the strassenbahn to arrive, I pulled out my iphone to see if I had any new emails, and I was happy to find the little red 1 peeking back at me. When I opened the email, I discovered that it was from Xxxxx Oper (I shouldn't say the name since it's not public info yet), asking me if I was free to jump in for Rosina this very Sunday (like the day after tomorrow). I was so shocked and delighted. I almost wanted to look up at the sky and say, "HA! I am obviously the master and creator of my own destiny because all I have to say is I WANT, and the thing ARRIVES!!"

I immediately called the opera company, who had emailed me directly because my agents in the U.S. weren't even awake yet, to tell them YES I can jump in on Sunday! It's my day off!! Unfortunately, it turned out they also had a performance on Tuesday, and they needed someone who could sing both, and had already called the Staatsoper and been informed that I had a sitzprobe here on Tuesday that I couldn't miss, and had found someone else.

But it all happened so quickly!! During the time it took me to have a conversation about einspringen, an opera company was actually trying to find me to get me to jump in, but discovering that I wasn't available and finding someone else. All while I was casually standing backstage chatting with a colleague! If only I didn't have that sitzprobe on Tuesday, I could have been on a train tomorrow morning, on my way to a new city, to learn yet another staging of Barber of Seville! Oh well, hopefully I'll still have my chance one of these days to seriously stress myself out in new and different ways.

Monday, January 18, 2010

War wounds

Okay, what other opera singer out there on the internet will pull down her pants and take pictures of herself just to share the magnificent injuries she incurs while on the job? Who but me will show you the spoils of my clumsiness??? It's probably called over-sharing and something I should discuss with a therapist, but nonetheless, ladies and gentleman, I would like to introduce you to opera bruise number 2,347:

It's like I wrote the last blog post just so I could show you that I wasn't kidding. It was probably the day or so after I wrote that post about the fact that I can't stop myself from needing my own stunt-double, when I had this brilliant idea to jump up on the sofa arm as if I were a kangaroo. The director just suggested I jump up onto the regular part of the couch, but I thought it would be even more dramatic if I jumped up really high onto the arm of the sofa. We were trying the scene for the first time, and the entire rest of the cast was standing just offstage watching, which is why their horrified gasps were audible to me when I leapt up onto the arm of the sofa, miscalculated the distance, slipped a little, and went barreling head first downward with my feet splayed in the air. It all happened really quickly, and I stood up and brushed the incident off in order to continue the rehearsal. But then I started developing this immense shiner on my thigh, and realized that I really need to stop acting like a drunk person at Mardi Gras who misjudges distances and falls down a lot.

It's not just that I fall down a lot on the job. I actually fall down a lot in life as well. I think it's possible that my arms and legs grew a little too long or something, and they don't always know what to do with themselves. It's totally miraculous that I haven't ever broken any bones, but that could be because I avoid sports like skiing and skateboarding for precisely this reason.

In other news, we have already moved onto the stage, and the set looks fantastic. The stairs that lead to the platform in front of the pit concern me a bit considering my gift for falling down, but I'm being careful, I promise. Being on the stage with this much time before the premiere is SUCH a luxury, and I LOVE IT! We also have something like 6 stage orchestra rehearsals and 4 sitzprobes - that kind of rehearsal allowance makes all Americans drool with envy. Plus during all those sitzprobes I will probably be sitting, so I might even be able to avoid injury. Might.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Glutton for punishment part 2

In the fall of 2008 I wrote this post about how, for some inexplicable reason, I seem to ask directors to make my life more difficult by pleading with them to let me do strange stunts on stage. I wish I had some photos of the positions I've agreed to put myself in during this production of Agrippina, like this photo someone took of me during the Barbiere rehearsals in California where I begged the director to let me swing from the staircase like a crazy person:

And the funny thing is, instead of working with directors who say "you must" lie on the floor with your legs in the air while singing an aria, I actually find myself asking them. "what about this position? And then I could curl up in a ball and roll around. What do you think?" But I wasn't always like that.

One of my first big jobs was singing Lazuli in L'Etoile at New York City Opera. It was my first starring role with that company, I was only a year or so out of school, and I was really nervous about the whole endeavor. The assistant stage director was a young guy named Tim O'Leary who has since become a good friend of mine, but whom I had only just met when the rehearsals began. (If you recognize his name it's because he is now the General Director of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis). Tim and I are now great friends, but we laugh really hard when reminiscing about our first time working together. One of us only has to say the words "WHILE I'M SINGING" and we both start hysterically laughing because it reminds us of some of the difficulties we had during that production.

In that production of L'Etoile, my character's first aria was to be sung lying down on my stomach, propped up on my elbows. During the first day of staging, when Tim showed me what position I was supposed to take, I immediately screeched, "you want me to lie like that WHILE I'M SINGING????" This was the first aria of the first big role with the first big company I was singing, and I was supposed to sing it while lying on my belly??? I was petrified that the position would interfere with my singing, and Tim, ever the diplomat calmed me down and told me not to worry, we would find the position that worked for me. We ended up compromising and I started the aria lying on my side and rose soon after it began and sang while kneeling. There were several other incidents during that production, including one where I was informed by Tim that I had to wear this really weird uncomfortable pair of shoes before this one scene where I had to kneel a lot, and they got in my way. Again, concerned that having to alter my position would really mess with my singing, I almost cried, "I can't possibly wear those ASSHOLE shoes during that really high floaty part!! It will be a disaster!!!" this time choosing to focus my rage on the shoes and not on my kindly friend Tim. I was obviously extremely uptight about that entire situation, and just worried that something - anything - could compromise what I wanted to be my absolute best.

The funny thing was that I ended up getting incredibly sick for the premiere and had to take a ton of medicine just to get my voice to work, but it still went just great and I ended up getting a fantastic review in the New York Times. It was probably the stress and pressure I was putting on myself that caused me to get sick, and with a nasty upper respiratory infection, I wasn't paying any attention to what position I was singing from, I was just praying for my voice to come out.

And then somewhere along the way, I realized that being in weird positions - especially reclining positions - actually relaxes me in a way, and allows me to sing better. Of course, some really difficult passages require good posture for good support, but for most things, lying down is totally awesome - as is crawling, bending over sideways, sitting, kneeling, and generally bending in ways that make you look more like an actor and less like a stand and shout opera singer. And when I realized this, I found that crawling around the set like a jungle gym was really fun, and the sportiness of it all unlocked my body and allowed me even more freedom in my singing. So I started actually asking directors to put me in all the weird positions they wanted to, and they have been mostly happy to comply.

Of course, I can't resist getting a little sympathy from them as I point out all the weird positions they've put me in, and showing them the bruises on my knees while whining about the crick in my neck. But I love it all - the weirder the better - I just don't necessarily need them to know that I'm not actually a martyr wiling to suffer for my art at all costs.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

From the outside looking in

Today I had a friend over in my apartment who is not a singer, and as we were standing in the kitchen, he spied my bag o' drugs. No, it's not as bad (or as exciting) as it sounds, but every singer I know travels overseas with their very own "medicine cabinet" of things that they have with them just in case something goes horribly wrong. All of the cold remedies that you know work for your particularly insufferable sinuses, the antibiotics that cure the cold that turns into an infection, the sleeping pills for when you have to change time zones, the prednisone in case of severe laryngitis, etc, etc. Everybody has their own security blanket of drugs that is more there so that you know, in a pinch, you won't be completely defenseless against all that evil bacteria lurking around and just waiting to ruin your opening night with a throat infection. The truth is I haven't taken any of those medicines in quite awhile (in fact, upon closer inspection I realized that some of them are actually past their expiration dates) but when I saw the horrified expression on my friend's face when he discovered that I carried around a bag full of more drugs than would be required to knock a horse unconscious, I realized what we singers must look like to the outside world. If another singer had seen that bag of orange bottles lined up on my counter, they would just grunt, "huh, you like levaquin? I prefer zithromax." but to a normal person, it seems, well.... crazy.

When I was in Leipsig over Christmas I met a couple who consisted of a soprano and a journalist, and was talking to them about their relationship. The journalist said that when he first met his girlfriend, she was the only singer he knew, and it wasn't until he started meeting other singers that he realized that his wasn't, in fact crazy. He was recalling one particular night when he was out with a group of singers, and when the last one arrived she insisted the whole group move to another table that was less "drafty." That's when the journalist had the "aha moment" of - " they're all like this. Huh."

It's true. We all have to be so weird about certain things, and to the outsiders looking in, it must seem just ridiculous sometimes. I'm too cold. I'm too hot. It's too loud in here. Someone is smoking. I can't eat anything on this menu or it'll give me reflux. Did that woman just sneeze? It's too late too eat. It's too early to eat. Where's my scarf? Can we move away from the door? I can't talk any more - I'm just going to write down what I want to tell you on this piece of paper. No, I can't go out, I have a performance in three weeks. No, I can't drink that wine, I have to sing in rehearsal tomorrow. Wow, my throat feels really thick today. Does anyone have any mucinex? Yes, I need that 9 hours of sleep and then I also need to take a nap.

Should I continue?

But then some nights, you go to dinner with your colleagues at a noisy restaurant and the only table they have is right by the door, which keeps opening for the 16 handtrucks full of water bottles that are being delivered to the kitchen that very night. You keep saying you don't want any more wine, but every time your head is turned somebody refills your glass, and you're too busy laughing hysterically and talking loudly over the din of the room to notice. Then suddenly it's 1:30 AM, you're in a cab on your way back to your apartment, and you think to yourself; Huh - I really hope I'm not still drunk at my 10 AM rehearsal tomorrow morning.

That was my night last night, and I guess tomorrow I'd better go back to being a crazy singer, but for one night, I was sorta....normal. And it felt nice.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

And onto the next decade

Last year I wrote a wrap-up of the year in blogging and singing, and this year it seems fitting to write a decade wrap-up since my entire career has basically been encapsulated in the decade to which we are now bidding auf wiedersehn.

2001 was the first year I actually started making my living as a singer, and thanks be to god, it has kept me afloat all the years since then. I started out knowing exactly what I wanted from my life and from my career, and through a series of twists and turns, I ended up taking an entirely different path than I would have imagined, and am just now reaching the point I always pictured in those early days. While I have always managed to make my living from singing and haven't had any other serious jobs in the last decade, 2010 will be the first year that I am really really really busy. All those years singing at City Opera (8 seasons and over 80 performances) and having a few months off here, a few months off there, meant I got to be at home for more months than I was away usually. It never really occurred to me to be grateful for all the time spent in my own bed until I realized I was facing a year where I could potentially spend less than 45 days in that soft cushy perfectly proportioned dreamland. And I'm not complaining about being away - on the contrary - I'm thrilled to finally be one of those singers who is "always on the road." But I will miss all the little luxuries that go along with having a somewhat normal life.

I will miss all those years where one best friend was my roommate and the other one lived just four blocks away, and we had the luxury of arguing over which restaurant we would all be going to together that night, knowing that next week there would be yet another night just like this one. I will miss noticing every time a new restaurant or store opens in my neighborhood the day the sign goes up that says, "coming soon," and deciding whether it will be my new favorite place (macaroni and cheese specialist) or an object of my scorn and fury (yet another bank or pharmacy). I will miss being able to take a voice lesson with my teacher or learn a role with my coach whenever the fancy strikes me. I will miss being a regular at the corner diner and being able to visit my parents at a moment's notice. I will miss impromptu dinner parties in the building next door and big birthday parties for me with all my friends around me.

But I'm ready. I'm ready to change the way I live, and to stay in touch on skype, and to never put my suitcases back in the closets. I'm ready to constantly be putting my lip gloss and hair gel in a clear plastic bag, and even to give up my stupid blanket and cross my legs for the last hour of my flights. I'm ready to be constantly reminded of how far I have to go before I become really comfortable in any one of these languages that I continue to study, and to have a lot of trouble finding peanut butter in the grocery store. I'm ready for way too many holidays on which all the stores are closed, and not understanding the street signs. I'm ready for new conductors, new directors, new colleagues, and new roles. I'm ready to sing into microphones for posterity and to have my feelings hurt by reviews in languages I don't completely understand. I totally accept that this year - this decade - my life is going to change.

Bring in on 10's. It's time.