Friday, April 30, 2010

Talking interspersed with some singing

Yesterday, I was on the phone with my best friend Georgia at about 5:30 in the afternoon, and we had been chatting for awhile about what we had been up to that day before I casually mentioned, "You, know, I should probably think about warming up soon because I have to leave for an orchestra rehearsal in like 40 minutes." She laughed and said something about how relaxed I had been on this gig about singing, and how I had been focused on a lot of other stuff - like eating and making videos. And it's true - I have been having a very entertaining time here in Portland, and haven't been feeling a lot of stress. I don't want to say this out loud for fear of superstitiously jinxing myself, but I will anyway; All the problems I had been having with Rosina in the past seem to be finished. I haven't had one cack or blip in rehearsal that has caused me to worry, plus I've come to a place of acceptance with myself that acknowledges that even if every note isn't as perfect as I want it to be, I can still accept the contents of the whole with much more peace and serenity than before. And I know for a fact that this attitude serves me well, because when I am relaxed and not all uptight about every note, I sing MUCH better. So, I guess it's safe to say that Portland agrees with me.

On Wednesday, I had a day off from rehearsal, but I managed to sneak in a coaching of The Golden Ticket, which seems to be coming along. It's one of those scores that sounds very accessible to the person listening to it, but it has a lot of tricky rhythmic sections, where the time signature goes from 5/8 to 12/8 and then suddenly is in like 245/872 or something. But I feel confident that I will be ready for the first rehearsal on May 17th. After my coaching, I participated as a panelist in the OperaNow! podcast, which streamed live, so I was inordinately nervous for the first 15 minutes we were podcasting. I have heard myself in certain live interviews, and I always think I either sound super hyper, or like I'm stoned because I'm trying too hard not to sound hyper. But I listened to the podcast, since it has now been posted on the OperaNow! website (it's the most recent - #105) and on itunes, and I wasn't too horrified by myself. And I was very impressed with Oliver and Michael, the hosts. They manage to be both hilarious and informative, and I think their take on opera does a lot to demystify it, and get rid of the typical stuffiness. In the last 30 minutes of the podcast, we talked a lot about regional American opera, (as the result of discussing this article in the Orange County register about the demise of Opera Pacific), a topic I think we should all be considering for the future of the art form in this country. If you listen to the podcast, please leave reviews for them on itunes, because it helps them to get the word out, and what they're doing is unique and important - we need MORE stuff like this to keep opera alive and kicking.

And now, for some rehearsal photos that I took during one of our last rehearsals before we went to the stage. Except the photo of me, which is courtesy of my darling Count Almaviva, Nick Phan. The photos, from top to bottom are; Chris Mattaliano, (the director) Steven Condy and Arthur Woodley (Bartolo and Basilio), Daniel Belcher and Nick Phan (Figaro and Almaviva), Nick, Danny, me, Danny.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Eating our way through Portland

As I might have mentioned before, most opera singers I know are slightly obsessed with food. I don't mean that as a euphemism suggesting that we're all overweight (as many people erroneously assume), but we do seem to have a healthy relationship with the appreciation of great food. And Portland is a fantastic town in which to find yourself if you happen to be a foodie, because not only do they have a lot of really great restaurants, but they have several food traditions which have developed, and which seem to be unique to Portland. The first tradition, which my colleagues and I have become slightly obsessed with is "Happy Hour", where almost every single fabulous restaurant has a deeply discounted menu (ranging from Burgers to Foie Gras) which they serve every evening for a few hours. My colleagues have been joking that I treat my Happy Hour guidebook like the bible, scouring it at every opportunity I get in order to find a fantastic new place to try.

So, Nick Phan, Danny Belcher and I were pleased as punch when the PR department at the opera suggested that we meet up with a prominent Portland food blogger named Brett Burmeister at the famous Portland Food Carts for a lovely lunch. Brett has a website; devoted completely to this unique Portland phenomenon of small, portable trailers that serve fresh, fast, well made foods from around the world. I'm not sure how this began, but it has become a very important and interesting facet of Portland's food landscape, and one in which we were happy to partake. And I couldn't help it, I had to video Danny, Nick, and I gorging ourselves on Portland's finest offerings. Huge Thanks go out to the Portland Opera for suggesting and sponsoring this fabulous outing for us, to my friends Nick and Danny for always being patient AND funny in all my videos, and to Brett for showing us the ropes. Go Portland!!!

And on a completely unrelated note, I'm happy to announce that tomorrow evening, at 8:30 PM Eastern Standard Time, I will be a guest on the OperaNow! Podcast, which will stream live via the OperaNow! website (see link above) at that hour (7:30 Central and 5:30 Pacific), and will be available via itunes and on the OperaNow! website the following day. If you've never listened to the podcast, Michael Rice, Oliver Camacho, and various guests (tomorrow night will be myself and Matthew Garrett) discuss the news of the week in the world of opera. Michael has sent me the stories we'll be discussing, and I'm already excited to talk about what's happening this week in the wild and cuh-razy world of Opera. So check it out!

Saturday, April 24, 2010


It happens to me at least once during every Barber of Seville production. By the second week or so, we get to staging the second Act, when Rosina and the Count start all their canoodling. It usually begins in the lesson scene, followed by even more hanky panky in the quintet, trio, and finale. By the time we get to these rehearsals, I've usually gotten to know my leading man a little bit, (if we didn't already know each other) and we've probably already staged a moment or two where we have to be kissing or at least hugging, so we've gotten comfortable with each other. Add to that the fact that I am a total goof-off (a "just one of the guys" tomboy) who likes to make jokes, and by the time we reach the end of my second act aria, both the tenor and I have finished with all of our significant singing, and are relaxed. Plus, the director usually has to spend a good long time with Bartolo and Figaro doing the shaving scene, and the Count and I are usually over at the Harpsichord, with the direction that we're supposed to be flirting with one another, so we inevitably start chatting.

And without fail, we totally get busted by the director for being disruptive in rehearsal, like two school kids who get caught goofing off in class. Either we get caught up in a conversation (at Opera Pacific, the tenor Brian and I were really into talking about food production in America and self sustaining farming, and Scott the director was always having to clap his hands and mutter, "stay with me people"), or more likely, I get the tenor into trouble because I try to make him laugh. Tonight at rehearsal, the director very gently made the universal symbol for two people who are yapping - his two hands in the air, talking to each other - and gave us a smile that said, "kindly focus on the task at hand, you two." I whispered to Nick, "BUSTED! This happens to me every Barber. I'm sorry! It's totally my fault."

I can't help it. I'm a goofball. My excuse is that I need to bond with the tenor so we can have good chemistry for the opera, but the truth is that I'm super chatty AND I really like to horse around. I am very rarely disruptive enough so that the director gives me the stink eye, but somehow with Barber, I always seem to get really goofy by the time we get to the second act. I think it's because Barber is such a comedy, and everybody gets used to being funny, so the jokes just start taking on a life of their own. I really think I would be happy as some kind of slapstick comedian doing Three Stooges skits all day, every day.

I don't want to paint myself as one of those people who doesn't take rehearsal seriously - that's definitely not the case. As I've written about in previous blog entries, I adore rehearsing, and find it totally stimulating and fun. Just sometimes, I find it a little too much fun. And while the director might shush us a little bit, he or she is usually not terribly annoyed, because they know that if a spirit of fun permeates rehearsals, it will make its way into the comedy, infusing it with that extra element of joy that brings all the jokes to life. So when Chris told us to quit yapping today, he did it with a smile that said, "I love you two, just shut up your mouths for a little second, would ya?"

So we did. But we learned a valuable lesson. The next time we feel the need to yap during rehearsal, we'll be smart enough to stand near Danny, the Figaro, so we can blame him.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Open mouth, insert foot

In the last couple of days, I've been having fun with my colleagues discussing the very worst thing anybody has ever said to us after a performance. Things like, "Wow! That sure sounded DIFFICULT!" or "It was great - but why didn't you hold the notes longer?" But I really feel like I have the best story about this, which I will share with you all now.

I was performing the title role in La Cenerentola (Cinderella) - a role I've done many times. Cenerentola is a really demanding role for the mezzo, and ends with a huge tour de force aria with enough high notes, low notes, and coloratura to fill a large truck. It is probably the most demanding role I sing, and after a performance, I'm usually pretty exhausted. I was at the after party of the opening for one of the many Cenerentolas I've sung, greeting the public and the donors from the company. I was flanked by my mom, who had flown in for the performance, and I was feeling pretty happy with how everything had gone. People were coming up to me one by one to congratulate me, to say brava, to wish me well. I was shaking hands and smiling at everyone, so when a wealthy looking blonde lady approached me, I turned to her, smiling, expecting a similar exchange to the ones I'd been having so far with various audience members.

So imagine my surprise when she approached me and loudly exclaimed, "What size SHOE do you WEAR???" (I should take a moment here to explain that in the opera version of Cenerentola, Cinderella leaves one of her bracelets behind, not a glass slipper, which is how the Prince eventually finds her. But in some productions, the words are changed so that she can leave behind a glass slipper instead, like the fairy tale people are used to. This was a glass slipper production). "Excuse me?" I asked the woman. "What size SHOE do you WEAR???" she asked again "Because those glass slippers looked ENORMOUS!!!! "Startled, I replied, "Um... nine?" "WOW!" she exclaimed, "I would have guessed at least ELEVEN!! Those shoes looked gigantic!!!"

My mom, standing behind me, felt the need to intercede, pointing out, "Well, she is 5'9" - her feet are actually pretty normal for her height." But the lady wasn't getting the hint. "Well. They looked Hewwwwww-MONGOUS. Good job though, honey!" and with that she was off.

Wow. I felt like I had been run over by a tractor. I had just finished the most difficult role in my repertoire, and I certainly didn't expect everyone to praise me, but I also didn't expect them to comment on my (apparently) outrageously oversized feet. Before her arrival I was wondering if all my high notes were even and brilliant. After she walked away, I was wondering whether I should consider having some of my toes removed.

Of course, I laugh about it now. In fact, I'm always really pleased to have that story to pull out when exchanging "war stories" with colleagues. But seriously? How big are your FEET? Wow. I almost wouldn't believe it if it hadn't happened to me. But you know what they say about girls with big feet...... big high notes. Thanks a lot lady - first you criticize my shoe size, then you force me to make horrible jokes. A curse upon your feet; May the shoe stores always be out of your size.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The power of music (and possibly rain)

Well, today was a rather weird day. Everyone is blaming the weather here in Portland, which went from gorgeous over the last week to cold, windy and rainy today.

I woke up feeling exhausted and as if the hotel bed was suddenly nothing more than a piece of plywood covered with a scratchy sheet. When Danny drove me to rehearsal, we were exiting the bridge that takes us across the river, when a driver in an SUV started pulling onto the bridge on the wrong side of the rode, and heading straight towards us, IN OUR LANE! Luckily Danny laid on the horn and the SUV swerved into the correct lane just in time, avoiding a head on collision. That was enough to wake me up. But apparently not enough to improve my motor skills, because soon after arriving at rehearsal, I managed to knock my reusable plastic water bottle (that the lovely, environmentally conscious, Portland Opera was so kind to provide for all of us) onto the floor, shattering it in a million pieces and drenching the newly swept floor with water and mezzo spit. Later, I was acting the hell out of a scene with Bartolo, when I threw my embroidery prop onto the chaise and snapped it into not two, but three pieces, causing yet another headache for the same stage manager who was forced to clean up my earlier water spill. Not to mention the fact that I forgot a lot of my blocking during today's rehearsal, which almost never happens to me. Some people were blaming it on the change in weather - I was almost hoping that somebody had slipped a roofie into my drink last night and I was still stoned today or something. At least that would explain my forgetting the blocking- the klutzy part isn't such a huge surprise for someone who can fall while walking UP stairs.

But all that aside, I did manage to have one coherent thought in the last day or so regarding how music affects people. All these wacky videos I've been making have been a lot of fun, but they've also been surprisingly educational. I would put all the scenes in an order, and cut and paste a few moments from here or there in a way that I thought would be humorous. Then I would watch the whole thing and giggle a bit at everyone's antics. Then I would overlay the Barbiere overture onto the movie, and suddenly everything everyone was saying would become totally hilarious. As a person would finish a joke, the strings and winds would crescendo as the laughter in the room would explode, and the music would serve as punctuation, increasing the effectiveness of the moment. Now, I'm talking about a dinky little homemade film I made in an hour, but it got me thinking about why Opera is such an appealing art form. Yes, watching a play can be hilarious or heart wrenching, but if you add music (good music - let's not get carried away) the emotional moment can take on an even deeper meaning. I was watching a tv commercial for the Humane Society this morning, and they were showing video stills of shelter dogs that needed homes. Heart-breaking enough on its own, sure - but with an added soundtrack of Barber's Adagio for Strings, I was about ready to cry my mascara off. None of this is news to me, of course, but it was interesting for me to discover it from a new perspective - that of "film-maker" (HA!).

Well, I guess I'd better tuck myself into bed now, to avoid any other accidents or incidents (I didn't even mention the red-light-running incident that just occurred in the car I rode home in), and hope tomorrow is a more coherent day. Or at least a day in which I don't break anything. That'd be an improvement.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Barber in 10 (take 2)

Hee hee! I was so happy with how my last video of people summarizing the plot of Barber in less than ten seconds turned out, I had to make another one with the rest of the cast. Just fyi - I never said "summarize Barber from your character's perspective" but that's what nearly everyone (myself included) ended up doing. Some for comic effect, or course, although I just talked about how and why everybody loves me. Typical only child. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Working hard or hardly working?

I think that's a question a lot of you might be asking me based on watching my last few videos. After I posted the video of our 10 second Barber summary on facebook, I got a comment from the wife of my Figaro, Danny (who herself is a director) that said "I think you guys need to rehearse more." and another comment from a fellow singer friend that said, "That was the worst Barber synopsis ever. You should have titled it "Hanging out in Portland and Drinking Beer." Even though they were both totally kidding around with me, they were of course, both somewhat right.

But in spite of what you might be lead to believe based on my new obsession with making videos, we have been rehearsing here in Portland as well. And after watching a work-through of part of the first act yesterday, I was struck by the realization that I don't think I will ever tire of doing this opera, because the possibilities for finding new elements are endless. I worked with Chris Mattaliano, the director, during my days at Juilliard as an acting coach, but I've never really been in a show he directed, except in the chorus when I was like 2 years old at Music Academy (and too young to appreciate it). As I was watching what everybody was doing yesterday, I was amazed at the fact that while he has been encouraging this very experienced cast to focus more on the text and the relationships between the characters rather than the traditional schticky jokes we've all become accustomed to, there is still so much humor to be found in this piece. But the humor is found in different pockets of the text that I haven't seen used before in quite that way. I have never before seen Basilio's "La Calunnia" performed while he and Bartolo are sitting down to a very polite tea service, but it's totally hilarious. I'm used to seeing Basilio careening around the stage with an umbrella or something, but watching him just sit there and deliver the text of the aria while politely stirring his tea cup was making me giggle uncontrollably. And the same is true for my aria "Una voce poco fa" - I have always written the letter during the musical interlude at the end of the first section, but in this version, Chris suggested a new and unique way for me to compose the letter that incorporates all my fioratura and ornaments into its creation. It's like a whole new aria for me - no small feat for an aria I've sung literally hundreds of times.

So yes, we are certainly enjoying all Portland has to offer, and I am really thrilled that I have some partners in crime to goof off and drink beer with, but it's not like we haven't done anything productive. Although the Figaro, who happens to have the day off today, called me in the morning to sarcastically wish me "a pleasant day of rehearsals" while he has a lovely time driving himself to the waterfalls. I replied "F$#@ you, and may you have a pleasant day yourself" and hung up on him. But it's okay, I can always take revenge on him by choosing an exorbitantly fast tempo for our duet since I'm the first one to sing. Watch yourself Figs. That's all I'm saying.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Barber in 10 seconds or less

A film by Jenny Rivera

My life (the reality series)

If I made a reality series about my own life, it might look something like this:

I really have to say gracias to my two co-stars who are being really good sports about becoming characters in "Jenny the opera singer, a reality show". Daniel Belcher doesn't have a website that I can link to, but Nicholas Phan does - and a blog. Thanks guys.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Video Blogging, here I come

This is my first attempt at a video blog, which I thought would be a fun change of pace. My buddy Danny Belcher sang the National Anthem at the Portland Blazer's NBA game tonight in front of like 20,000 people, and I thought it would be a good event to record for posterity. Here ya go:

Obviously I'm still pretty new at using the camera, and editing, but hopefully I will improve.

Special thanks to Chris Mattaliano at Portland Opera for bringing us to the game, and to my new buddies RJ and Curt from La Shaque de la Radio (that's Radio Shack if you're not fluent in French) for helping me figure out which camera I wanted to buy for this new endeavor. Peace OUT!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

13 is my lucky number

Well people, it's the 13th, and I've somehow managed to blog every single day for a month. My 30 day commitment is up. But because of all your incredibly supportive comments about my blogging, I'm not going to give up entirely on frequent blogging even though I no longer have a self imposed requirement. Here's what. I'm going to commit to blogging at least every other day (more when I feel compelled) while I'm here in Portland. Then we'll see what happens after that. It's good for my creative juices to force myself to write even when I'm not feeling inspired. I came up with some subjects I wouldn't have normally discussed, and I liked the outcome. So no quitting just yet.

Let's talk about today now. First of all, I'm ridiculously proud of myself for accomplishing something that any six year old does with ease; riding a bike. As I mentioned in my post yesterday, Portland Opera generously provides its artists with a bike for the time that we're here, and Portland is a very friendly city to bicyclists. Now, I'm not exactly skilled at bike riding - or at any sporty endeavor if truth be told. But I want to prepare for my time in Berlin, where if you don't have a bike, you're just kind of a weirdo. So I walked the mile and a half to the bike shop and picked up my free bike, where I had to ask the guy really stupid questions like "why do you need to shift gears again?" But he kindly humored me, and luckily provided me with a helmet. He seemed a little concerned with my lack of skills, and said, "Now you be careful - I don't want to be responsible for ruining the opera!" to which I dryly replied, "Oh, don't worry! I have an understudy!"

But I managed to cycle all the way back to the hotel without incident. But you know what I discovered? Biking is difficult. Also; I'm out of shape. Also; I am not up to speed on any traffic laws. Also; now my legs are sore. And I only biked like 2 miles.

As for rehearsal today, we staged my aria, which was not terribly difficult. Chris (Mattaliano - director and GD of the company) had some new ideas for me which I enjoyed, and I, in typical Jenny fashion, suggested that I sing part of my aria lying on my stomach on a downward rake. And it's a part where I'm supposed to sing a high G and some very quick and light coloratura. This was absolutely not by any means a suggestion of the director. I totally and completely brought this on myself. I don't know why I feel the need to torture myself on stage, but I do. Perhaps I should invest in a therapist.

But I rode a bike! Yay me!!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Barber bliss

So, can I just say; Portland Opera is the sweetest gig EVAH! The pay is excellent, plus they give you housing and a per diem. The General Director has GREAT taste in singers (and can afford to pay them) so he gets GREAT artists to come here. The sing through today was a joy because every single person was simply outstanding! This hotel that the opera houses us in has free breakfast every day, and on weekday evenings, serves free microbrews (score!!!) or wine, plus appetizers and/or entire meals between 5 -7 PM. And then there's the fact that here in Portland, "Happy Hour" is big, which means many of the local restaurants and bars have a deal where with the purchase of one drink, you get a whole menu of food that only costs 2, 3 or 4 bucks per item during certain hours. Oh, and have I mentioned that we're right on the river, and the opera gives us each a free bike for our time here? Also, Portland Opera has it's own super nice office and rehearsal space. Seriously. SWEETEST GIG EVAHHHHH!

The first day of rehearsals is generally used for a musical rehearsal with the conductor, and today was no exception. That first rehearsal, or "first day of school" as one of my colleagues dubbed it today, can actually be rather nerve-wracking. You are sitting or standing before all of your colleagues, the conductor and director, the staff of the opera company, and often the company's young artists, and singing through your role. Usually you just arrived on an airplane the day before and have "airplane throat" and a bit of jet-lag. And you'd better believe that everybody is quietly assessing everybody else and forming their opinions. Plus with Barber, each principal's first major entrance is with an aria (usually stacked with a high note or six), so even if you've sung the role a bunch, you're still pretty glad if you remembered to wear deodorant that day. I got all nervous when the pianist started playing the introduction to "Una voce poco fa" today, and I had to tell myself to CALM DOWN - IT'S JUST THE SING THROUGH! But once I got over that initial fight with my nervous system, I started to relax and have fun.

And my colleagues are not only all really good singers and really funny comedians, but very supportive and fun to be around. And my experience dictates that when every person is this good, they also tend to be really nice to each other, and the working environment becomes a really positive one. And with great colleagues, and a fabulous director and conductor, both of whom I've worked with before, I have kind of scored the trifecta of a good gig experience this time.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: There are regional opera houses in this country that are putting out operas in which the artistic quality could rival any "A" house. But these companies are often largely ignored by the greater population of the operatic industry because they aren't the Met, Chicago, San Fran, Houston, Seattle, L.A. or D.C. Well people, I'm here to tell you; First rate opera is happening all around you. It's time to wake up and smell the talent. Awwww, yeah.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Deja vu, Portland style

Of course, we often go back to work in places where we have previously worked, and if it's someplace we liked, we get to arrive and feel a pleasant sense of nostalgia as we ride from the airport through town once again. But with Portland I have all kinds of memories, and they are all flooding back. When I worked here last time it was X number of years ago (I don't even want to calculate when it actually was because then I will feel like a grandmother) and I sang Cherubino. Later that same season, my best friend Georgia sang Rosina here. Now that Portland is back to doing Barber again, I'm here (and coincidentally, Georgia was also back here for the first time since that Rosina/Cherubino year, earlier this season for a production of Phillip Glass's Orphee), staying in the same Marriot Residence Inn, in what appears to be the same room.

But also, after I sang in Portland last time, my parents moved here and lived here for two years before relocating to New York, so not only do I have memories of when I sang here, but also of the countless trips I took here to come visit them during their time living just outside the city. It's really a wonderful town, and the only thing one could possibly complain about here is the weather - but even fog and rain can be rather nice and cozy for a month.

I was delighted to discover that on the leg of my flight that went from Minneapolis to Portland, I was joined by my cast mate and friend Daniel Belcher, who is singing Figaro. Danny and I have worked together a lot, including several previous productions of Barber, and a couple productions of Little Women where we played opposite each other. I love him because he's a wonderful, kind, supportive guy, but he also enjoys sarcasm and giving me a hard time. In fact, when he saw how many suitcases I was pulling off the baggage claim carousel, he couldn't help but cry, "Oh my GOD Rivera, how much stuff do you NEED??" and even though I was quick to retort, "But it's for 4 months!!" he too quickly remembered, "Well, I seem to remember that when we went to Japan for TWO WEEKS, you had about the same amount of stuff." And he would be right about that.

See, when we went to Japan (with New York City Opera, to sing Little Women) I wasn't as good at packing light yet, and not only did I bring way more than I needed, but I also bought literally 7 kimonos, among other stuff, to bring back with me to the states. And since we were on tour and going from city to city, it was up to each of us to schlep all our stuff on and off of buses and trains and planes constantly. And since I had WAY more than I could carry, it was left up to my friends, like dear old Danny, to constantly be helping me. So I guess I shouldn't be surprised that once we loaded into the van to take us to the hotel, he called his wife and 5 year old daughter to tell them he had arrived, and after talking to his daughter for a minute, he told her, "Remember Jenny? Well, it took Daddy and Jenny awhile to get to the van because Jenny brought about 14 bags with her." I had to explain to him that 5 year olds don't understand sarcasm. But knowing his sense of humor and how smart his daughter is, she was probably totally chuckling at my expense on the other end of the line.

Well, I think at this point I'm rambling like a crazy person because I'm super tired and delirious from the long day of traveling, and I would really love to fall asleep right now. But it's only 8:30 PM here, so I have to force myself to stay awake awhile longer.

Oh - and Danny might have been right about the over packing. Upon unpacking my suitcases, I've noticed that I seem to have brought 11 pairs of shoes.

Saturday, April 10, 2010


Here goes nothing.

I'm packing for a gig tonight - that's not unusual. But what is unusual is the fact that if everything goes according to plan (that means if all the contracts that are still pending because of scheduling conflicts work themselves out, which they should) I will only be in my apartment for between 4 - 6 weeks during the next twelve months. For sure, I won't be back here for four months starting tomorrow, so that's what I'm trying to pack for this evening. Not to mention I will sublet my apartment while I'm away, so I have to get the apartment ready for it's new inhabitants, while making sure I have everything I need for the next couple of seasons and countries.

Here's my method for long term packing - i.e.; living out of a suitcase for a year. First of all, most of the clothes I've purchased over the last couple of years have been in neutral colors. So most of the stuff I bring in my suitcases can be worn in any season, and layered and worn together. Speaking of layering, most of my pants are jeans (ah the pleasures of not working in an office) and they are all tapered and ankle length so I can wear them tucked into boots in the winter and fall, and with sandals and flats in the spring and summer. I have two big suitcases, each of which I make sure comes in under 50 pounds so I won't get any overage charges (although the fact that most airlines are charging for checked baggage makes me want to scream). I have one of those little scales that you attach to the handle of your suitcase and lift it up to see how heavy it is, and I travel everywhere with that ingenious little device. Then I pack a carry-on suitcase full of all the heavy stuff - all my shoes and scores and electronic items - and since they don't generally weigh those, I can keep my checked bags, full mostly of clothes, under the limit that way. I put my computer, my iphone and ipod, my kindle, and my wallet and passport in my extra large handbag (I never buy a new handbag unless it's large enough to fit a score and / or laptop), and I'm on my way. For this particularly long trip away, I'm having my mom send a box of more summery stuff to me in St Louis that I can then bring with me to Europe, since I don't come home between any of it.

Then I have to make sure my apartment is clean and ready for guests, and that all the stuff I don't want them to use is put away. I have to clean out the fridge and freezer of pretty much everything, and make sure a few of my friends and neighbors have my keys in case of emergency. I have to either get my mail forwarded to my parents house, or give my friend Will who lives in my building my mail key so he can keep it and sort it. I have to make sure the doormen and the landlords know who my subletters are and when they're coming, and leave the subletters a long note about living in my place (example - this remote controls the channels, while this one controls the volume).

Worst of all, I have to say goodbye to my friends and family, just when they got used to having me around. I have to say, "okay - see you in four months - if you're around for those two weeks I'll be in town." I have to say goodbye to my freshly painted apartment and my houseplants and my funky piano. I have to say goodbye to my doorman who always comments on the weather, and goodbye to my favorite neighborhood pizza place that has the whole wheat crust I like.

But I'm excited. There is not a single town I'm slated to go to that I'm not really eager to spend time in. I get to sing and work and learn and play and goof off and laugh and probably cry a little bit too. I will take pictures, and write, and learn music, and meet new people and see lots of old friends. And I'll be something that I've learned never to take for granted; busy. Life is good. I'm ready.

Friday, April 9, 2010


I'm turning in a early blog entry today because the guy is once again working on my bathroom, and until he finishes plastering and painting I can't take a shower. And I can't learn music before I've showered. I don't know why, I just need to be clean.

So lately, in order to come up with ideas for blog posts, I've been googling the word "opera" and just seeing what comes up. But last night, I decided to change it up and google myself. I have to be in the right state of mind for an evening of self-googling, because you never know what you're going to find, and you will almost certainly find somebody saying something negative about you. So, armed with the knowledge that at least the opera news reviewer liked me, and slightly inebriated from half a bottle of Rosé (which is very helpful when googling oneself) I typed in "Jennifer Rivera opera," closed my eyes and hit search. Here is a list of things I found which surprised, and in some cases shocked me:

1. There were about a jillion links to Opera Chic's articles about me, or other blogs who had linked to her articles about me. Seriously, everybody in the whole biz and beyond must be reading her blog. Goooooooooo team OC!

2. I found a recording of part of one of my arias from the very first time I sang Cherubino on the Cincinnati Opera website! Here's the link if you want to hear younger me singing non so piu in 2002. I didn't even know a recording of that performance existed, much less that it was somewhere on the internet. But it's nice that my very first experience with my favorite role got recorded for posterity. Now if I could only get a copy.

3. I found a funny blog review of a concert I did in Washington DC that said I didn't have "star quality," although I decided not to take it too seriously when I noticed that in the same review they talked about the Lucrezia Borgia that Kate sang in DC at the same time, but instead of Kate Aldrich, they called her Kate Royale. If they were going to say I didn't have star quality, I wish they would have called me Jennifer Smith. Oh well.

4. I discovered that there were way more links to my blog entries than to my website. I don't know what that means exactly but I guess it makes sense since people look at my blog daily and not my website. Although it made me wonder why I spent so much time designing my website when everybody was looking at my free blogger page.

5. This was a doozy - so, I found this blog / website that had all these photos of women from swimsuit issues of magazines and playboy and stuff, and then if you scrolled down a few inches, you saw the photo of me from the Barber of Seville I did in Tampa where I was shaving the tenor and trying to look sexy with the caption "Jennifer Rivera's close shave." OH. MY. GOD. This brings up so many questions: How did they even find that photo? Why oh WHY with all the naked pictures of people on the internet would they put a photo of a mezzo in a black dress among all these semi porno shots??? I have no more words, just an apology to my parents if I have shamed the family with my errant ways. Ugh.

By the way, I realize that sitting around googling oneself seems like an exercise in self-involvement, and well, it kinda is. But how else am I going to know what's out there? And knowledge is power. Or in the case of #5, knowledge is shame. Either way, what the hell? Might as well just embrace it all. And hey, the guy just finished, and my bathroom ceiling no longer has a hole!!!! Time to get clean and get cracking.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The good, the bad, and the ugly

One piece of advice I like to give to people is the following; if you ever want to feel truly horrible about the way you look, just go into a large establishment with harsh fluorescent lighting that has mirrors everywhere. The images of yourself reflected back to you will be so unflattering you will probably want to stop off at a plastic surgeons office on your way home. The worst offender is Century 21, the discount department store in lower Manhattan. I swear that place has the most horrible lighting on earth, combined with mirrors so fattening that they should probably be placed in a fun-house. It's enough to make you want to run screaming towards the end of the island and take a running leap off of one of the piers into the Hudson river.

The same advice could be given about what I'm doing as I write this: if you ever want to feel truly horrible about yourself as a singer and a musician, just record your very first coaching of a 20th century opera and play it back to yourself later that day. What will help with the horror is if the music is very high and quite rhythmic. Then not only can you be disgusted by your horrible musical skills, but you can also have the pleasure of listening to yourself sound like a badger being skinned alive. Truly dreadful.

I exaggerate for comedic effect, obviously. But seriously, one's first coaching on a modern piece is hardly every pretty. Unless you are one of those extraordinarily gifted singers who has perfect pitch and maybe played a musical instrument very seriously for years before you became a singer (like a friend of mine who learns all of his music by memory just by looking at the score, without making a peep - I hate him.) the first slog-through tends to be pretty gruesome. And today was no exception, especially because during a lot of my role in The Golden Ticket I'm basically screaming at my father, so the music is above the staff and quite syncopated.

Usually for me, I just need one or two goes at it with a pianist and then it all begins to make sense in my head and improves drastically. I don't have the best skills as an immediate sight reader, but I have really good ears, so once my ears can make sense of what's going on and send the messages to my brain, I can sing pretty much anything. Even if it's completely atonal, I can find the pitches using ear and muscle memory (I've had coaches ask me, "HOW are you finding that PITCH??" and I have to reply, "Honestly, I have no idea.").

But today was kind of a nightmare. First of all, my coach had never seen the score before. Some coaches will allow you to give them the score ahead of time so they can get a sense of it, but I work with one of the best coaches in NYC, and she doesn't have time to be spending hours looking at a new score, so usually we kind of learn things together. It actually helps me because then we can figure out how it's supposed to sound at the same time, and with a little repetition, I can get it into my ear and make it into actual music, as opposed to the initial warbling. But let me tell you, no one must ever hear the recordings of my initial coachings. Not only does my ipod with a mike take all the warm overtones out of my voice, but the shrieking of high A's B's, and C's when you don't really know what the next note you're supposed to sing is can be deafening.

But luckily, to lift my spirits, I did get a bit of good news. My friend Will had received his copy of Opera News in the mail, and lo and behold there was a GREAT review of the Agrippina from Berlin in there - and it was even in the magazine itself, not hidden away in the online version! Since it's not available online yet, I'm gonna go ahead and reprint what the reviewer said about me because it kind of made my day:

"In this production, Agrippina was far from the sole attraction: Pendatchanska's two female costars, Jennifer Rivera (Nerone) and Anna Prohaska (Poppea) shared fully in the evening's glory.

Rivera, an American mezzo who has appeared often at NYCO, was equally bold, singing with precision and unrestrained passion. The scenes with Agrippina were rife with oedipal over-tones. In all, her characterization of the young emperor-to-be was the evening's most varied performance, remarkable not least for the skill with which she navigated the terrifyingly fast runs of the Act III aria "Come nube che fugge dal vento."

Whoopee!!! I totally owe opera news a Beer.

And now, back to the shrieking. Talk about terrifying.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


Tonight, stumped about what to write my blog about, I googled "Opera" in google news, just to see what would come up. On the first page, I found this article, in something called the L magazine, about a new Broadway show called "Lend me a tenor":

I disagree with quite a bit of Charles Isherwood's pan of Lend Me a Tenor, a revival of which opened on Broadway this weekend. But he does make one incontestable assertion: of Justin Bartha, the Hangover alum who stars in the show, he writes: "his attempts at singing are dubious at best. (The ending really should have been tweaked to avoid exposing his deficiencies in this regard.)"
That's true! Not that the audience has any clue.

Bartha's character secretly aspires to be a great opera singer and, one night, when a star tenor cannot be woken up, he gets his big chance, wowing audiences with his Otello, a part he just happens to know by heart.

In one scene, Bartha and Anthony LaPaglia, as the titular tenor, collaborate on an aria, and it's never more obvious than here that Bartha can't sing, as his voice wobbles on uncertain notes. And yet at the end of the scene, the two received a wild ovation at a recent performance.

The audience seemed impressed that anyone could almost sing at all, especially in another language! But what the casting choice tells us is that Americans, even wealthy foreign tourists, have become so opera illiterate they can't even recognize when someone can't sing, to the point that characters in plays who are supposed to be opera singers needn't even be cast by anybody who can sing passably!

America: opera is pretty. You should listen to it every once in a while.

Oy. This is depressing. I haven't seen the show in question, but I've definitely seen things in plays and movies that were supposed to pass for opera singing that, well....weren't. And very few people seemed to be aware of the difference.

But how do you combat such a problem? And is it even something to be combatted? If people are listening to something and enjoying it, why spoil it for them by letting them know that what they're hearing actually sucks ass?

I think the reason to try to educate people is that when they realize what they are missing, they might be able to get to an entirely new level of understanding and passion about this art form, and with that knowledge, their appreciation of the art form can only be deepened. If they went crazy for somebody just because he sang passably and in a foreign language, imagine how moved they could be if they were aware of what went into opera singing, and were able to appreciate it in it's true form!

I guess the only chance we have with this is in education. Unless we educate young people in this country about what opera is and how it can make you feel, we can't really expect audiences to yearn for anything more than a movie star who can sort of sing on pitch.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Interview thyself

So, tonight I'm having a lovely dinner at home with yet another of my mezzo friends whose website I advertise stage right over there, Katherine Pracht, or Katy as she is known to me. Today was rather a bust of a day, since when I woke up this morning I discovered that my bathroom ceiling was leaking and had to call the super and several plumbers to come fix it. I was planning on spending the entire day studying music, but I got all self conscious when my bathroom was suddenly filled with dudes who were punching holes in my ceiling, and didn't feel like singing tritones a few feet away from them. I did my best to study, but when my dear friend Katy (who is making her debut at Avery Fisher Hall this week with the American Symphony Orchestra's performance of Scene's from Goethe's Faust) called to say that she was in the neighborhood, I screamed, "YES! Get over here and we can have a drink!!!" (since I couldn't very well leave the plumbers alone in here without me). We have basically been interviewing each other all night, and since she is a humble midwesterner, I knew she would balk at the the idea that I interview her for tonight's blog, so I asked her if she would interview me, and she agreed. So here goes - another mezzo on mezzo interview for you. Let's see what she wants to know!

Katherine Pracht: Where do you find the time to write, rehearse, perform, and travel, socialize - are you you burning the midnight oil?

Jennifer Rivera: That's a funny question because it makes it sound like I'm sooooooo busy, whereas sometimes I'm on the phone with Will or Georgia saying, "who are my friends again? I need somebody to entertain me because I'm bored." But I guess I'm one of those people that needs to always be "doing" something to feel satisfied, so I find things to fill my time when I'm not at rehearsal. But honestly, even if I'm on a gig, we only rehearse for maximum 6 hours a day - that leaves a lot of hours to fill! And then you're not even called every single day, and even if you have a couple of hours of music to study, that still leaves time for other stuff. I think it would be very different if I were married and had a couple of kids - that totally changes your time table. But as things are now, I usually feel like I have plenty of time for all the stuff I do that is not singing. I wish I had MORE responsibilities, usually. I need projects to be happy. Who knows what that says about me, but it's true.

KP: So when you feel like you're crossing things off your list, that invigorates you to do even more?

JR: I'm definitely more productive when I'm actually rehearsing - when I have free time I tend to not be able to organize it well, and suddenly it's 4PM and Oprah is on, and why the hell not, I'll just plop down and watch it. But when I'm working, that usually never happens.

KP: That's interesting - I tend to treat being on a gig more like a vacation and am more likely to watch Oprah at that point rather than when I'm between jobs. When you shut down completely what do you do?

JR: Well, here's the part of the interview where I admit that I watch television. I usually try to avoid telling anyone about that dirty little habit, but now that you can watch stuff like The Daily Show online, and you can download tv shows and movies off the internet (my favorites recently were Dexter and Mad Men) I have to admit that tv is a really easy way to totally turn your brain off after a day of concentrating. But I also can't watch too much or my productive self will get stir crazy, so one or two episodes on the internet is perfect for me. I have also been getting into photography lately, and taking pictures is a very different type of concentration that I have enjoyed. And obviously writing is cathartic for me. And also spending time with friends - that's a BIG thing that I NEED to do a lot of. And drinking. Wine. Lots of it.

KP: When you're ready to get back to work, what are your first steps to reinvigorate your career - do you update your website, write on your blog, learn new music, have a coaching, voice lesson, alexander lesson - what do you do?

JR: Wow, that's an interesting question.

KP: Thank you (laughs maniacally)

JR: Well, usually what happens for me is I go through a period of lethargy where I feel like a schlub, so when that's over, I get crazily productive - although it doesn't necessarily have to be career productive, I just have to be doing things that make me feel like I'm accomplishing something - anything. The first step is usually pestering my poor agents. Some weeks go by when I call them on the phone and say, "See? I waited until TUESDAY AFTERNOON to call you!!!" Do you know how long I have WAITED since Monday morning???" Also learning music is a good way to remind myself "Yes, you ARE a singer AND a musician!" But I have to say that writing on my blog has never seemed like a career enhancer - if anything, I worry that it's going to be bad for my career because I'm too stupidly honest.

KP: I find you spend a lot of your energy helping others, myself included. It's a rather sisterly way to approach people. You're an only child - do you think that contributes to your desire to help others?

JR: Wow. I'm really moved by that question. Well, I'm glad to know you think that about me. I think that my parents gave me an abundance of love and support as I was growing up, and that caused me to want to give that to other people. And I do think that I tend to "adopt" people as my siblings as a result of being an only child. But I think that the support I got from my mom and dad is what gave me the "strength of character" (if I can say that without sounding pompous) to be ABLE to want to look outside myself and feel like I have enough love to be able to give it away. That answer makes me sound like I'm patting myself on the back, but I mean to be patting my mom and dad. It should also be said that I choose my friends very carefully, so if I give love and support it's to a chosen few that I find really compelling and loving and giving themselves (you included KP). (Did you all barf yet?)

KP: You are a very positive and optimistic person, but also very pragmatic. Does one part of you win in a battle, and which part of you is stronger?

JR: God! These are SUCH interesting questions!!! I guess I have to say that my optimism probably wins out, and I don't always make the most pragmatic choices probably. I really believe that things happen for a reason, and work out the way they are supposed to, etc. If I didn't believe that, this would be a very hard career to pursue and understand. I feel like I'm getting more pragmatic as I'm getting older, and making more choices that weigh all the options (as opposed to just going on impulse as is my nature) but I hope that that optimism will stay in the forefront because being optimistic just seems like a kinder, easier way to exist.

So that's our interview for the evening. I have to say I think those were GREAT questions from my dear Katy (When I first sang Jo in Little Women, she was my sister Meg, and we have always had a sisterly relationship ever since). We are signing off for the evening, because we really need to go look at the hole in my bathroom ceiling one more time.

Katherine Pracht and Jennifer Rivera in Little Women with Lyric Opera Cleveland

Monday, April 5, 2010

Opera Now

Right now, as I am preparing my apartment for 4 months of absence, in addition to being entertained by the large naked man changing his clothes in front of his window directly across the street, I am also listening live to the Opera Now podcast. The boss and creator of the podcast, Michael Rice, worked at Caramoor with my best friend, which is how I first came to know about the show. It's just several funny, educated people sitting around talking about opera, and specifically the news from the world of opera for the week. The reason I like it is that while it's an educated discussion, it's not overly-intellectualized. So much of opera reporting, especially the way we view it in this country, is highly erudite and has a feeling of elitism. I like the idea that people can sit around and talk about opera in plain speech, make jokes about it when necessary, and can still make interesting commentary about what's going on today. Plus I support any person who finds a way to incorporate the word butthole into a discussion about opera.

But I'm freaking out a little as this week begins. I'm not entirely sure what I should be doing with myself knowing what I have coming up. First of all, because I'm singing my millionth Barber, I feel unsure about how much preparation I should be doing before I leave. As I have mentioned, I tend to be one of those people who always thinks I will be under-prepared, and then ends up being way over-prepared. I decided that I should have a coaching on Barber with my usual coach last week, just to check in on little things like the Italian double consonants and little bits of recit I didn't do in the last production. I was almost laughing at myself during the coaching because I didn't even need to refer to my score once. I think by now Rosina is officially in my blood. But I was also really enjoying singing the role yet again, because with a role so ingrained in my consciousness, I can find a ton of nuances with each new go at it. So I don't really need to be studying Rosina every day and night. But still, I feel weird not looking at the score incessantly knowing I'm about to start rehearsals. What can I say, I'm a freak.

Then there's the fact that I am also learning this world premiere for St Louis, The Golden Ticket. I won't be able to come back to New York after Portland because I go directly to St Louis to begin rehearsals, and since I haven't been in Portland in a long time, I'm not really sure what the coaching situation is there. So I have to hope there is a pianist who can work on the score with me, because with a modern opera I definitely need a few work-throughs with a pianist before I begin rehearsals to makes sure I am solidly aware of what's going on in the orchestra while I'm singing. So I'm trying to learn as much of it as I can this week and coach it a couple of times before going to Portland. And learning a new opera always stresses me out a little in the beginning. At first, I think to myself, "I will never, ever know how this goes." And then comes a turning point when I start to make sense of it all in my head, but until then, I feel like I can't even read music. That's the stage we're in right now.

Then there's the fact that I'm leaving for such a long time and I can't even imagine how I'm supposed to pack for 4 months. I just stand in my room, looking around at my closets and drawers, completely dumbfounded. In fact, that's what I was doing while listening to the podcast that I mentioned earlier. Just standing there, staring into my closets, and basically asking my clothes which ones wanted to see Oregon, St Louis, and Austria. I just want them to pick themselves so I'll have one less thing to worry about. If only.

Of course, these are all lovely problems to have. And even though I feel stressed, I quite like it. It's the good kind of stress. Oooh - the naked man in the window is back. Gotta love new york.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Weighing in

There was a post today in the New York Times Arts Beat culture blog about this kerfuffle going down in Italy where the soprano Daniella Dessi withdrew from a Traviata directed by Franco Zefirelli because he basically said " a woman of a certain age and plumpness is not credible in the character." Yikes.

I saw Daniella Dessi sing Norma in Bologna (in the same production from the youtube video of Kate from a few days back) and I have to say I thought she was totally a sexy lady! So I think the whole thing is bizarre, but it made me want to write a post about size and singing.

For me, my natural thinness is something I think I've actually had to overcome and find ways around. If you look around there are literally NO waify opera singers - I mean, the "thin like model" ones - although most singers are in shape and look healthy these days. But the really skinny girls who you want to yell "EAT" at when you see them wearing size 25 jeans are not prevalent on the operatic stage. Except for maybe a few really high, tiny coloraturas, I really can't think of any. And the ones that are on the thin side, still often have good-sized round rib cages. I can say from a personal point of view that my voice has definitely gotten richer, darker, and larger since I've gained 15 or so pounds in the last 10 years. And I feel really strongly that if I made a concerted effort to gain maybe 30 more pounds, I might be able to sound more like a Carmen. Not that to sound like a Carmen you have to be zaftig, but I think on my frame and with the voice I was born with, I would need a little more fat for it to beef up enough to sing that role. This may be a controversial thing to say, but I really believe that body size affects voice size.

And I've had some conversations with colleagues recently that lead me to believe I'm not the only one who thinks that. I have two different colleagues who made a concerted effort to gain weight when they felt that they had gotten too thin and were having trouble supporting their voices, and therefore weren't putting out enough sound. It's especially a problem if you're working in the States because we really value big voices here since so many of the theaters are so huge. In Europe it's much easier to get away with having a smaller voice and so maybe there are some waify singers over there that I haven't yet encountered.

I will say however, that I get SO annoyed that I want to go postal on people's asses when they meet me and say, "but how can you be an opera singer? You're not fat!!" I seriously want to hit them over the head with a sharp stick. But actually, that stereotype probably didn't come from nowhere, so I shouldn't be so impatient with those poor people. I don't really see myself Renee Zelweggering into Bridget Jones any time soon, so I'll have to be content with Cherubinos and Rosinas for now. But I certainly hope the opera world doesn't become as obsessed with weight as hollywood because I've seen some of those actresses in real life, and they seriously look STARVING. And opera singers need to at least be able to eat a big plate of spaghetti after singing. I mean, really.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

commenting on comments

Wow - thanks for all your nice comments yesterday after my little rant based on somebody's mean comment about me. You are all right, in that we must ignore things like that, not take them seriously, and not give them credence by writing entire blog posts about them. And by the way, I'm totally over it - I was only upset about it for like five minutes. But I have to say I'm glad I wrote the post for two reasons. First of all, it felt fabulous to get to respond to somebody saying something bad about me! I never really thought about it, but one of the reasons that it's difficult to get a bad review or criticism is that you just have to shut up and take it. Well, not me! I have a blog, and if somebody says something I don't like - guess what? I can scream and yell right back, and I tell you what, it's quite cathartic!

But the other reason I'm glad I wrote about it is that I think people in this business in general tend to do way too much categorizing of artists, and it's a dangerous habit. And when I say "people" I mean myself as well - I catch myself doing the "compare and judge" game, both with myself and with other singers all the time. I have blurted out to certain colleagues on more than one occasion, "Well, I don't know what you're worried about, you're having a WAY more important career than I am!" as if a career could be quantified, wrapped up in a little box and labeled, "important", WAY important" or "totally UNimportant, you freaking loser." It's ridiculous, and I should stop doing it - and I can thank my friend the "you're a nobody" commenter for reminding me of that.

As I mentioned in my post a few days ago, I went to listen to some live jazz the other night, something I'm embarrassed to admit I don't do nearly enough. I was totally mesmerized by the playing of both groups I heard, and I had the occasion afterwards to speak to one of the musicians about what it is to be a professional jazz musician. It's apparently shockingly difficult to make your living strictly from playing jazz unless you are quite a famous soloist who is touring around the world (and especially europe, which as with classical music, seems to contain a larger audience for musicians in general). He told me that the 16 piece band which played the first set I saw, and boasted some seriously talented soloists, each earned $25 for playing for about 4 hours. "But WHY do they do it then???" I asked incredulously. "Because they love it I guess," was the reply. Wow - no wonder listening to that music moved me so much - 16 really talented people, playing music for the sheer enjoyment of what they do? That's something.

And that conversation put all of this business with judgements and categorization into perspective for me. In the jazz world, you can be a really talented saxophonist, blow your horn with all you've got all night long, and walk away with just 25 bucks and some free drinks to show for it. But if you love it, you find a way to do it, and that's enough. In opera, we have all these organizations that are hierarchical, and therefore we instantly tend to categorize ourselves based on that hierarchy. But maybe we just need to ask ourselves; If the most you could get to sing this opera tonight was $25 and a couple of free beers, would you do it? And if the answer is yes, then screw the categorization and just enjoy the privilege of getting to do what you love. And enjoy the hell out of those beers.

Friday, April 2, 2010

What makes a somebody?

A couple of days ago, when I did the interview with my friend Kate Aldrich, Opera Chic posted our interview on her blog as one of her daily items, and linked to my blog. Today I saw that there were 7 comments on her blog about that post, so I did something that was probably a bad idea, and went ahead and looked at the comments. It's always dangerous to look at blog comments because they are essentially anonymous and therefore could say absolutely anything. And I was right to want to avoid them because right there a few lines down were the following two comments : "Who ARE these two? followed by "Nobody. Not worth your bother."

OUCH! Nobody? Wow - it's amazing how one little word can be so incredibly hurtful. I mean, obviously Kate can't be a nobody - if you're singing Carmen at the Met and Rosina at La Scala and you're a nobody, then who the hell is somebody? So let's put that aside for a second and assume this commenter was talking about me. I mean, certainly compared to the major singers out there, I guess you could say I'm a nobody - in fact, I jokingly say it about myself all the time. I haven't sung at the Met or Scala, and who knows if I ever will? But I think that labeling an artist as a nobody is really a dangerous way to criticize them if you are an opera fan, which I'm assuming this person must be if they read Opera Chic.

I read an article recently that quoted Renee Flemming as saying that The Met is the top of the food chain for singers, which is probably quite appropriate. And if we're using the food chain analogy, then we have to acknowledge the fact that food chains can only exist when all the different levels exist - if you remove one of the levels, everything above it dies with it - they need each other to survive. The same is true for any artistic field, but let's take opera singers in particular. Without singers that weren't super famous, we wouldn't be able to have opera companies spread out everywhere - if the only opera companies which existed were the Met, Scala, Covent Garden, and Paris, then nobody anywhere else would be able to see opera, and the art form would have a difficult time sustaining itself. And famous singers only exist because they worked their way up there - they all spent time learning and growing by singing roles with smaller companies and becoming better artists.

Maybe he or she is suggesting I'm a nobody because they think I have no talent or nothing to offer as an artist, but even that is certainly a misnomer. Anyone who has a desire to share something artistic with the world has something to say, while their natural talent (and even more, their circumstances of being in the right place at the right time) might limit the context in which they are able to express themselves. But even someone who gives a recital with 12 audience members might be able to move someone to tears with what they are communicating. And in my book, that makes them somebody.

I know that every person who puts themselves in the public eye has to accept that they will receive criticisms of all different sorts. And thank god I'm not a hollywood actress who has to read about how someone thinks I'm too fat, or that my career is over, on the cover of a magazine in a grocery store. But I really believe that any opera fan who categorizes any singer as "nobody" should quickly reconsider what they might be doing to the art form by dismissing someone so cruelly. This kind of remark doesn't do anybody any good. Well, I don't know - did it make you feel better for a minute, faceless commenter? Because I think your minute might be up now. So I would like to suggest that you go do something productive, unless you want every member of this food chain to shrivel up and die. And I'm not saying this to you anonymously - I'm saying it as myself, Jennifer Rivera. Somebody.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Golden Ticket

Now, as I prepare to leave for Portland, I don't really have to spend too much time studying Barbiere. I will have a coaching on it, as I always do, just to make sure it's in tip top shape, and that I haven't gotten lazy about any of the italian double consonants, or forgotten a piece of recit here or there. But mostly what I'm doing is learning "The Golden Ticket" because I will go directly from Portland to St Louis, and I'm not sure there will be adequate time or available coaches to work with me in Portland. Some people learn new roles all on their own in front of their pianos, but my brain needs to hear the whole picture, and to take in what the orchestra is doing while I'm singing before I feel completely confident that I know it 100%. Plus, I tend to be something of an over-preparer who always thinks I'm not prepared enough. I have had more stress dreams about arriving to rehearsals unprepared, only to arrive and have someone comment on how well I seem to know my part. I am always amazed when there is someone who doesn't seem to know the score really well, because I would be utterly mortified if that were me. So it seems my ego keeps me on task, and forces me to learn my music. Oh well, whatever it takes.

I received a DVD recording of the workshop of "The Golden Ticket" that took place in New York last year, so I am fortunate enough to be able to hear the whole score before rehearsals start even though it's a World Premiere. I'm finding it really helpful to know what the oompa loompa music sounds like because I cannot get the "Oompa Loompa doompety doo" song from the movie out of my head. I also was really excited to find this video on youtube and to hear some of the orchestrations, because it's difficult to get a good sense about a score until you've heard the way it is orchestrated. I can tell that the piano reduction on the DVD doesn't do the score justice based on listening to this clip with orchestra:

And as for my role, I will be doing a lot of screaming and pouting, which frankly, won't be a big stretch for me.

I have a friend in town this weekend from Germany who is a huge jazz aficionado, so I'm going to be going to listen to a lot of music with her this weekend. It should be good for me, since I have all these "Golden Ticket" ear-worms in my head, and when I fall asleep at night, I hear "opening chocolate bars just for the wrappers" over and over (that's what my character makes the factory workers of her father's factory do so she can obtain her golden ticket). That part is really catchy. Hopefully a nice double bass solo will convince my brain to stop repeating that phrase.

Okay, I just reread everything I've wrote, and found it really formal in style. I think it's because I've consumed two glasses of wine already tonight, and I must have been trying to overcompensate by sounding intellectual. Give it up - just let yourself sound drunk. dsjoewfjoiwshogvh;owvgsho!!!!!!! There. Much more realistic. Cheers!