Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Pursuit of Happiness

I haven't been blogging this week because my brain has been so full of italian recitative, I haven't had the space to create even a single coherent sentence. However, we had a run through of the opera yesterday, and I actually remembered everything, so I feel confident in allowing a few sentences to seep out of my brain this evening.

I had an interesting epiphany in the last couple of weeks that I have been wanting to share with all of you. It's not exactly earth-shattering - it's certainly been written about by many before me. However when something comes to you out of personal experience, it can be far more profound than reading about it in a book, or being told about it by someone else.

I try to keep my blog relatively positive and upbeat, because I try to keep my life in a "glass half full" kind of position. But a couple of years ago I was suffering from a little depression. First of all, I had no singing jobs lined up, and was worried that I would have to change careers not by choice but because of financial necessity. I felt like every performance I did had to knock it out of the park because I needed everyone to love me and hire me back, and this caused me a certain amount of anxiety about performing. Plus I was overly focused on my career and wasn't spending any time on my romantic life, which left me kind of lonely. I really thought that if I could just get a bunch of good jobs and find a boyfriend I would be happy all the time and all my life's problems would be solved.

Well, it's two years later, I have a lot of great jobs, I'm really busy with work, and I have a fantastic boyfriend. And I'm definitely in a happier place than I was at that point two years ago. BUT. I still have terrible days where I get really depressed. I still have anxiety about a lot of stuff - now instead of the things I was anxious about two years ago, I've found other things to be anxious about. I have days where I want to quit the business not out of necessity but because it makes me crazy. I have a great boyfriend but I have to be away from him a lot because I have all this work. And sometimes I miss him so much it physically hurts.

What I've realized from all this is that circumstances alone aren't what create a person's happiness. It's so easy for people - especially creative people with a passion for making their art - to feel that if they could just find success (whether that means steady income, regular jobs, fame, acknowledgement) in their field, they would be happy. But we also know that there are hugely successful people who commit suicide, and people living in poverty or desolation who manage to find their own bliss.

I think happiness is not created by circumstance, but it's something you choose to create within yourself, and which allows you to enjoy your circumstances, whatever they may be. This is an especially important lesson for artists to learn, because often what is defined as success can be rather elusive. You may not be getting paid to sing, or paint, or dance, or act. But that doesn't mean you can't be happy that you have that passion inside of you and the drive to continue growing as an artist. I still think that one of the most fulfilling artistic experiences I've had was singing in my high school choir. Nobody from the Berlin Staatsoper cares that I sang soprano II and wore a burgundy and black dress, and blended with other teenagers, but I still remember how much I enjoyed it, and what a profound impact it had on me as a person and as an artist.

I'm very grateful for the circumstances that have become my current reality. But I'm even more grateful for the realization that even if they should change, I can still enjoy the ride.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

First Recording DONE!

I finished my last day of recording on Friday afternoon and flew back to Innsbruck (via Munich) on Friday evening. I went right back into staging rehearsals here on Saturday, and today have a much needed day off. I needed a couple of days to gather my thoughts about the recording process before writing a post on it anyway. And now I'm sitting in my favorite little internet bar/cafe, drinking a big beer and gathering my thoughts about everything that happened in the past week.

As you may have gleaned from my last blog post, which I wrote on day 2 of the process (which was a total of 2 full days and 2 half days) I was feeling a little stressed at the beginning of the week. The day I arrived we recorded just some recits, which, while they require concentration, don't require a lot of intense singing. The second day, we started by recording all of the ensemble pieces, which have me singing in my very high passaggio. We repeated all of them many many times, and my voice got tired. Then, at the end of that morning session, we recorded my first solo singing moment, which was a quartet that has a long coloratura phrase at the end for me. As I mentioned, I couldn't get it to come out right, no matter how many times we repeated it. My voice was too tired, I hadn't slept well the night before, and I was feeling under pressure (we re-recorded that particular section on the last day successfully when I was more rested). Somehow, however, I managed to gather my strength and resources and record my first aria after the lunch break. The main reason I was able to do this was because I figured out that you can sing very lightly when making a recording of an aria like that one, and I think I managed to do it some justice.

I want to take a moment here to describe the recording process for those of you who might wonder what happens during a studio recording (I certainly had no idea prior to this experience). In this case, we tended to have a system that went something like this: With the recits, we would rehearse them once with all the continuo players, then record them once and go into the booth immediately afterwards and listen, with the conductor, the producer, and the diction coach giving us notes while we listened. Then we would go back out into the studio and do them as many times as it took to get everything onto the recording in a manner that pleased the Maestro, the producer, the singers, and the players. Arias were much the same; we would perform them once straight through and then go listen, taking down notes. Then we would often do the dacapo arias in sections, A, B, A - repeating the sections as necessary, and repeating small sections as necessary. In a typical session with one of the arias, the notes from the producer (who was listening very carefully in the booth) would be something like this; "Jennifer: in measure 42, the last two sixteenth notes are a little flat, and in measure 43, you are not quite with the oboes. Also, in measure 35, I can't understand the word "sdegno" and you need to make a clearer double D in the word "freddo." Let's take that section again" So you would repeat that section, and try to make sure you managed all the corrections. 5 minute sections of recitative typically took an hour or so to record and arias took between an hour and an hour and a half. It is exhausting not just vocally, but also mentally to be so focused on tiny details, but it's also incredibly rewarding to be able to sing each phrase exactly how you dream you could sing it on your best day.

So, after the second day, things became considerably easier for me. I recorded two arias and some recit on day 3, and more recit plus my big vengeance aria on day 4. By then I had figured out how to work the microphone, how much I needed to sing, and what things sounded good and what things didn't. Plus I started to feel much less stressed about the corrections when I realized that everyone was getting essentially the same types of corrections, and these are just the natural tendencies of the human voice. In real life, I don't often have people telling me that I'm singing flat or sharp, but I had to accept that when you are a mere six inches from a very sensitive microphone, you have to be extraordinarily vigilant about intonation, so I was. When we finally reached my final aria (which is the one from the clip I posted on the blog from youtube from the production), and which is Nerone's only chance to sing full out, balls the the walls, I actually started to have some fun. I was still trying to be hyper conscious about in tune sixteenth notes, but I was actually enjoying rocking out with this amazing orchestra and experiencing a real symbiosis with the players. There is a fantastic oboe obbligato during that aria, and the amazing oboist was standing right next to me on the next mike, and I felt like we were really synching up in a way that's impossible in the middle of a staged performance. I just let go and let it rip. Finally, I found myself smiling between takes.

Like many experiences, the first time is probably the most difficult, but also the most memorable. Your learning curve is steep, but so is your sense of accomplishment when you start to figure things out. And while the final result won't be available for quite awhile, I'm sitting here, drinking my beer, and celebrating a milestone in my life and my career. Cheers!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Right now, it's Day 2 of my very first recording project. I'm at the Teldex studios in Berlin recording Nerone in Handel's Agrippina for Harmonia Mundi. I arrived from Innsbruck yesterday, got off the plane, ate a pizza, and went straight into the studio for my first session. As I was boarding the plane from Munich (no direct flights from Innsbruck to Berlin apparently) I thought to myself, " Whose life is this? I'm working on one exciting project in Europe, and jetting off to Berlin to make a RECORDING? When exactly did this become my reality?" But no time to wonder, because there was work to be done.

Can I tell you something? Recording is stressful!! I mean, of course, you have the opportunity to stop and do everything over, which is comforting. But the reason you have that option is because what you're doing has to be perfect. Every single note in tune, beautiful, full of color and expression, perfect diction. Certainly, this is what we strive for in every performance, but no one expects actual perfection in a live performance (well, except maybe some really mean reviewers). But in recordings, you have the opportunity to do everything perfectly at least once, so you'd better do it.

I almost had a nervous breakdown after the morning session because there was this phrase that I just couldn't do well enough. Every time I tried it something went wrong - I ran out of breath, or went slightly out of tune, or made some diction mistake, or went out of tempo. And the more times I did it wrong, the more stressed I got, and the worse the phrase sounded. And that was the end of the morning session, and when we returned, I would record my first aria. I knew I had to keep it together so I could do the aria justice.

And then during the afternoon session, I suddenly figured out how it all worked. I realized that when you're standing mere inches from a microphone, the type of sound you are required to produce is quite different from when you are on a stage. First of all, you can sing as softly as you want to. Secondly, you don't need to expel or compress nearly as much air because you don't have any need to project past the footlights. Third, if you sing too forcefully, the flaws in your voice will be over -exposed. Now - this is probably pretty specific to baroque music - obviously if you're singing Verdi or Wagner on recording, you use a different technique. Also, I'm making this recording with Rene Jacobs, whose recordings are so successful precisely because of his incredibly exacting standards. But in baroque music, the voice is utterly exposed, and requires a certain type of finesse in recording. I was just singing with my normal voice, as if I was trying to project in a theater, and I couldn't finesse each phrase nearly as delicately as one must in a recording. When I realized what I needed to do, it didn't get easier, but at least it started to make sense. We got my first aria recorded, and I didn't get fired, so I guess it wasn't too bad.

This is my first recording, so I'm just learning the ropes. But for most of the artists in this cast, this is one of many recordings they have made. Last night at dinner, some of the other singers were talking about how much the recording industry has changed since they made their first recordings 10, 15, and 20 years ago. One colleague was recalling a time when the record companies arranged for a uniformed chauffeur to pick each singer up in a Rolls Royce and bring them to the studio, where champagne and caviar would be served during the breaks. Other colleagues recalled getting paid 3 or 4 times what recordings pay now, and this was in an economy 15 years earlier. But even though we may have the vast earnings and the luxuries of the 80's behind us, another colleague pointed out that 15 years ago, all of us singers wouldn't be sitting down to a meal together like we were at that very moment. Apparently, there was so much money in those days, it caused a hierarchy among artists that seems to be far less intrusive in today's operatic circles. And we all agreed that we'd prefer to have wonderful colleagues with whom we could connect, communicate, and break bread, rather than all the champagne, caviar, and Rolls Royces in the world.

Monday, July 19, 2010

How to make mundane things more fun

Yesterday, when I was writing that long post, I was actually procrastinating the fact that I had to go find a laundromat and do my laundry. I don't mind doing my laundry, but I hated the idea of walking into a laundromat in a foreign country and not being sure how stuff worked. Kilograms? Celsius? Euro?? I just hate that moment when you walk in, look around, have no idea how anything works, and don't have the words to ask.

So Michael (that's the ol' boyfriend - I guess I should just start calling him by name now, as he will now probably become a fixture in my posts, the way Will and Georgia have - you know them by now, right?) suggested that I take some footage of me feeling lost in the laundromat, and send it to him, and he would make it into a little film. And you know what? It worked! I had more fun knowing that I was going to be able to share the experience with you guys, and it made the whole thing seem less intimidating. He's a much cleverer video editor than I am, and I was delighted this morning to wake up and have this little gem waiting for me on youtube. Ah...the glamourous life we opera singers lead; lugging our suitcases full of dirty clothes to an unknown and unfamiliar place and trying to figure out which machine is the washer and which one is the dryer. Enjoy!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Roller Coaster

First, let it be said that I have always really enjoyed roller coasters. I was never one to shy away from the scariest, most upside -down, curvy, crazy roller coaster ride because I've always gotten a huge charge out of the speediest moving, fastest dropping, wildest swinging rides. I would wait til the end of the day when the lines were short so I could repeat the scariest ride 5 times in a row. Although, I'm realizing that I haven't been to a park where they have roller coasters in probably 5 years, and I wonder if, as I get older, I would still want to line up just for the thrill of being thrown around by a big moving piece of metal.

I say this because yesterday, I was telling my boyfriend how excited I was by the rehearsal I had just finished, and how happy I was with how the week had gone, and he joked that I was practically bipolar - one day threatening to quit singing, the next day talking about how much I loved it. He was totally kidding, but I can see how someone who was talking to me on a regular basis would have the feeling that they were on a roller coaster ride, and they didn't know when the next dive-down or soar-up would be coming.

This week in rehearsals ended up being really fulfilling for me. For the last several days, we've been staging what is probably the central part of my role in this opera - the climactic lead up to the finale of the second act, which ends with a big crazy aria for me. I go through scene after scene with people coming on and off the stage getting mad at me, while I remain on stage trying to figure out what is happening. Then by the end of the act, I have figured out that I have caused all kinds of hell to break loose, and I have a "freak-out aria" (technical term). So for the last several days this week, I've been called to every rehearsal, and have been really concentrated and working very hard. Yesterday, we concluded with the staging of my freak-out aria, which involves me walking the opposite direction on the turn table covering the whole stage while it makes one full revolution during the course of my aria, as I'm getting lost in the maze that the set becomes when it's moving past me in a kind of slow motion haze. It's really cool looking (or at least feeling, since I can't actually see it from the outside) and I was so happy to have put in so much good hard work this week. Plus I finally started to feel like I had a better understanding of how to play this character after staging these scenes, and that all the gallons of recitative were finally starting to solidify into my brain. I was on a high after that.

Then I woke up this morning, the day off, and realized that by tomorrow, every single member of the cast will have a spouse/child/friend/lover/family member in town visiting them for the rest of the time here, whereas I am too far away from any of my people to coax them to come over here. Upon realizing this, I started to feel sorry for myself. I've been really spoiled for the last several gigs I've been on, in that I've been surrounded by a lot of very social people and I spent a lot of time having fun dinners and going out with all of them. I got the best of both worlds - to be enjoying my work, and to avoid the pitfalls of loneliness that often come with travel by spending time with a bunch of people I really liked. I guess I was due for one of these gigs that we all dread where you spend most of your free time by yourself. Cue roller coaster dip.

Actually, you may have noticed that I've been blogging more than usual since I've been to Austria. It's because when I first arrived here I felt really unsteady, like I didn't quite have my footing. I realized that I needed to do some stuff that grounds me and makes me feel like "myself." That might sound like a weird thing to say, but when you're in a country you've never been to before, trying to communicate in a language at which your skills could be described as shoddy at best, doing a difficult opera you've never done before, with not a soul you've ever met before, you just don't feel like yourself. We tend to define ourselves most easily by our environment, the people around us, and our work. When all of that is new and different, things start to feel a little wonky. So I started blogging more, getting more regular exercise, and studying my music every morning over coffee or tea. And it really helped. Actually I feel better every time I write a blog entry. So thank you for reading this, because you're actually helping me center myself by caring enough to spend 5 minutes with my rambling thoughts.

My response to my boyfriend teasing me about my bipolar behavior was to say that being an artist is like being on a roller coaster. Some people can't stand all the highs and lows, and prefer a life of mediums, so they get off the ride. Other people get addicted to the thrill of the unknown, and can't ride it enough. I think I fall somewhere in the middle - I like to enjoy the exciting parts of the ride, but could do without the parts that make you feel like you want to puke. So I do my best to keep the roller coaster from turning into a never-ending Tilt-a-Whirl by controlling the things I can control, and grounding myself when the ride gets too crazy for me to handle.

And if things get too slow around here, I can always climb onto the turntable and ask them to turn it onto the fastest setting. I just hope the spinning during my aria doesn't make me puke in the middle of a trill. No - I'm sure it will be fine - all those years of riding roller coasters will finally serve a practical purpose.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Boys will be boys (and girls will too)

This is going to be a long one, so get ready.

I’ve been meaning for some time to write a post about something that some people might call a “specialization” of mine; playing dudes. I would say that the bulk of my repertoire involves me singing trouser roles – certainly over half the roles I sing have me in pants. And this summer not only am I singing the self-involved and probably slightly homosexual character Licida in Pergolesi’s L’Olimpiade here in Innsbruck, I’m also revisiting everyone’s favorite crazy guy Nerone (in Agrippina) next week, when I go to Berlin to record that role for Harmonia Mundi. (Sony will also record the performances of L’Olimpiade – details forthcoming)

I try to not be a braggart, but one thing that I’m pretty sure I’m good at is physicalizing a teenage boy. People ask me a lot why I’m good at looking clumsy and gangly and having quick, impetuous energy, and the easy answer is because that’s actually how I am in real life. When I play graceful women on stage, I actually have to work at it, whereas, when I play googly-eyed boys, I can almost just be myself. I don’t know why, because I don’t have brothers and I wasn’t exactly a tomboy (I was more into tap dancing than soccer practice as a kid), but there’s something about my personal energy that lends itself really well to playing an uncomfortable, impulsive teenaged boy. Plus I’m 5’9” tall in bare feet (176 cm, thank you), my arms and torso are just a little too long, and I have big eyes and a relatively square jaw. Add some darkened eyebrows and a short wig, and gay men everywhere start wanting to spend extra time chatting me up.

There’s also a vocal quality that I think lends itself to masculine roles. I think of people who have a more “silvery” sound as being able to sound more masculine while people with a more “gold” sound tend to sound more feminine. Mezzos who sing Carmen a lot tend to have that more gold sound, whereas my voice has more silver in it. It’s maybe a narrower, slimmer sound, but still with darkness, which is what makes me a mezzo. Does that make sense? It probably sounds like gibberish, it’s just what I’ve assessed from listening to a lot of singers and deciding for myself which ones sound exactly right for which roles.

That was a lot of intro to begin talking about what happens in my brain and my body when I’m playing a guy. There are different types of male roles – there are the more heroic, or regal roles, the more stoic ones, and then the younger more gangly ones. Sesto in Clemenza did Tito or either of the trouser roles that can be sung by mezzos in Giulio Cesare are good examples of more regal, serious, upright pants roles, while Cherubino, Stephano, and even Nero, and this character that I’m singing now, Licida, are younger and more impetuous. Therefore, they have a different energy, and a faster speed of motion. I let my gangly arms do what they want to do when I’m not trying to control them, and I take large, quick steps, as if I’m not sure what direction I might need to move next. I lead with my pelvis (obviously – what are teenage boys thinking about ALL THE TIME?) and I spend a lot of time getting down on the ground and splaying all my limbs akimbo. Inside my head I keep a crackling energy – like the popping of popcorn, and the feeling of utter impulsiveness – the kind that keeps your thoughts swirling in a million directions at once. I’m quick to pout and slouch, but also need to keep a sexual energy alive in my being at all times. When I want to get somewhere I often run or even dive if the desired thing is on the floor. I think the main thing is that I am VERY physical and constantly in motion, if not with my body, then with my mind.

The character I’m playing now, Licida, is really interesting. He’s completely self involved. Here’s a 10 second plot summary of the Metastasio libretto which was set to music by many composers; Licida is in love with Aristea, so he gets his best friend Megacle (who owes him, since Licida saved his life before) to compete in the Olympic games under his name (apparently Licida is not so good with the sports) so that Licida himself can claim the prize – the king’s daughter Aristea. Well, Megacle and Aristea are secretly in love, but Megacle, out of duty, does the deed anyway and sacrifices his own love for Licida’s desires. Meanwhile, Licida’s old girlfriend, Argene, comes looking for him, and when she discovers that he has moved on, threatens to expose this switcheroo plot to the King. Stuff happens, Licida thinks Megacle kills himself and is devastated (which is a typical operatic misunderstanding), the King finds out about Licida’s deception and exiles him, Licida freaks out and tries to kill the King, so then Licida is condemned to death. But in the end we discover that Licida is actually the King’s son, switched at birth, and the woman he was supposedly in love with is his twin sister! The King begs the people to forgive Licida for his crimes so he won’t have to kill his son, they agree, and the two original couples reunite. Licida also has some homosexual undertones, and it seems that the person he is actually in love with is his best friend Megacle (3 out of 4 arias are either sung to him or about him). He’s so self centered that he doesn’t even pick up on the fact that he’s about to have his best friend help him steal his own girlfriend, and he’s a total jerk to his old girlfriend Argene when she re-appears (think Don Giovanni and Elvira). Yet he does at least have a character arch, and by the end of the Opera he has realized the errors of his selfish ways, and has become a better man as a result. Good thing he turns out to be the King’s son so he doesn’t have to meet his maker.

One thing that’s kind of challenging in this opera is wondering how exactly to play the gay thing – should it be obvious or just suggested? Also, the other trouser role is played by a woman – a soprano – so relating to another woman playing a man is different than relating to a woman being a woman. I thought about this last year, when I was singing Orsini in Lucrezia Borgia, and the production had me as the tenor’s homosexual lover (we had a bed scene and everything). The challenge in that was relating to the man as another man and not as a woman. Now I have to relate to another woman as a man, and keep my masculine energy. That’s a brain teaser for you!

One of the beautiful things about gender confusion in opera is that it provides a sexual ambiguity which creates an interesting element of playfulness and non-reality. But you also sort of suspend your disbelief and start to see that woman as a young man the more she’s on stage (and assuming she’s doing her job well). It’s a lovely element of theater that we really only see a lot in this art form, and I love that I get to play in this particular sandbox.

Now if I could just figure out how to bench press more than 8 pounds, I’d really have the market cornered.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


At rehearsals today, one of the other singers asked me a question I often get asked by European singers; “Are you fixed somewhere, or are you freelance?” It’s a question Americans never ask each other because we don’t have the opportunity to have “fixed” or “fest” contracts. There are no opera companies in the U.S. that can afford to have a roster of singers for whom working at the theater is their permanent job. Of course, we have the Met, which has a roster of “plan artists” who are usually singing secondary roles, and we have our young artist programs, which allow young singers to live in one place for a couple of years while they “cook.” But otherwise, we are either destined to be nomadic drifters, or we move to Europe.

It got me thinking about how different the lives of American singers would be if they had the opportunity to stay in one place and still have careers as opera singers. The way our system works now, if you want to settle down and be at home more, you can either get a teaching position at a University, or switch completely to a different career. There is simply no way to have a career as an opera singer unless you are willing to be on the road for between 6 to 12 months per year. I honestly don’t think most young singers who are getting their degrees in vocal performance realize this. I mean, maybe they realize it intellectually, but there is no way to internalize what it really means until you have experienced it.

And as I’ve observed before, European singers honestly just seem so much more relaxed than American singers when it comes to their careers. Whenever I do a gig in Europe, most of the singers I work with are really busy, have plenty of gigs, and are coming from one gig to another, or fitting a few extra gigs into the schedules of their fixed houses. Whereas when I do a gig with mostly American singers, everybody is always complaining about the fact that they have no work. Seriously. Everybody. When the General or Artistic Director of the company walks in, the temperature and mood of the room changes and everybody perks up a little bit. They have to – they need to get hired back so they will be able to feed themselves and their families, but also for their emotional well-being. But in Europe, nobody even looks up when the GD walks in – they just continue on with their business, knowing that there’s plenty of work to go around.

So, okay, you move to Europe. I used to think this was what I would eventually do. At different points in my life I have been planning on moving to Paris, Rome, Berlin, Vienna – you name a big capital with an opera language, and I’ve thought about moving there. I love Europe – I really do – so many things about the sensibilities and cultural affectations of European countries make me feel right at home. And who knows what my future will hold – I can’t predict where I will end up. But I just can’t wrap my mind around giving up my apartment in New York and picking up and actually living over here. Who knows, maybe I’m feeling overly patriotic because I just took an unexpected trip to the U.S. over Fourth of July Weekend. Maybe I just have a different perspective these days. Maybe my brain just isn't capable of learning how to speak German. I mean, the word order is insane, people! Frankly, word order is probably reason enough to scare me into staying in the comfort of my own living room. For now, anyway.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Planning ahead

There are so many things I love about Europe. Really. I love that you can see buildings that were built thousands of years ago. I love that you can actually live the history and culture of the place. I love trying to figure out another language. I even love that they don’t use air conditioning and let their laundry air dry. Love love love.


I hate that stuff isn’t open on Sundays. It really is one of the things that drives me absolutely crazy every time I’m here, and no matter what I do, I cannot get used to it. I know, I know, I’m an American consumer, used to over the over-saturated convenience of wanting what I want NOW. It’s an unhealthy, capitalistic notion full of entitlement. But I still seriously need shit on Sundays.

Like this morning. I woke up in the middle of the night, and really needed some advil. There are certain pains that only advil can cure me of, and this was one of them. I searched around in my stuff, and I had a bottle, but there were only two left. Enough to let me go back to sleep in the moment, but to cause me to roll my eyes before I drifted back to sleep, knowing that it was Sunday, and I was going to have to go on some kind of major expedition when I woke up in order to find a pharmacy that is actually open.

After I woke up, I set out into the streets hoping that Austria would be different from Germany and Italy, and I would magically find that they sold advil at the Grocery Store, which would magically be open on Sundays. No on both counts. I walked through the “Old Town” where all the tourists congregate thinking that some brilliant person would keep their pharmacy open on Sundays for all the stupid Americans who needed to buy asprin and didn’t plan ahead. The only place I found open besides the restaurants was a tourist postcard shop, and I conjured up my best smile and my best German to ask the nice lady if she knew of any pharmacies open on Sundays? She scowled at me and asked in a mean Austrian accent how should she know these things, I would have to ask in the tourist office, dummy. She didn’t say dummy out loud, but she said it with her eyes.

So after more walking and suffering, I found the tourist office, with a line 15 people deep. I saddled myself up to the side of a counter and tried to get a woman’s attention who was shuffling papers. I mean, I didn’t want to buy the special tour card all these people were waiting for, I just needed some freaking advil! “Entschuldigung?” I said, loudly enough for her to hear. She ignored me. “Entschuldigung?” I said even louder. Still ignored me. So I just yelled it in a voice that was obviously too loud, so that she had to look up. I asked her in my same German about open pharmacies, and she answered me in a voice that was way too soft for me to hear (especially after how loud I had to talk to get her to pay attention to me) and pointed to the left. “It’s open today?” I asked again, just to be sure (still in German). She said something else soft, pointed, and looked away from me to show she was done with me.

I set out again into the old town in the direction she had pointed, and finally saw a sign that said Apotheka with a light on! Eureka! Nope, it was not open. So I continued to walk around until I passed a café that I had been told had internet, and since I had my computer with me, I decided to stop and have a coffee, hoping the caffeine would at least help a little in the meantime. I asked a couple of different waitresses if they knew of any open pharmacies, and finally one kindly leaned over my computer and typed something in German, which magically brought up a list of the pharmacies that were open on Sunday! And she even told me in great detail, in a mix of English and German, how to get there from where I was!!

It turned out to be like 5 minutes from my apartment in the opposite direction that I had started out in. Of course. And it wasn’t actually open open – there was just a little tiny window where the pharmacist could peek out and ask you what you needed.

Luckily, he knew what ibuprofen was (It’s called Nurofen, in case you’re ever in a German speaking country and need some), and for only 5 Euro 50, I was about to feel some sweet relief. He was weirded out that I took the above photo, but come on! How often am I going to come up to a pharmacy, where the drugs are doled out of a tiny window, above which you are looking at a reflection of the Alps? Only here, probably.

I probably won’t ever learn exactly how to be a native here. Or how to speak German very well. But who cares? I got my drugs. Ahhhhh.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Okay, now what?

As you can see from the video and photo I posted in the last couple of entries, I have arrived in Innsbruck, and am now firmly in Europe for the next month and 3 days. Now what?

Well, the rehearsal schedule has been blissfully light so far - I had a couple of hours the first day, a couple the second day, a day off, and only an hour and a half of music tomorrow. I say blissfully because with all the travel and jet lag, I found myself sagging in rehearsal after about an hour at a time. But at the same time I get really frustrated when the schedule is too light for two reasons; first, when I don't have an imposed schedule I start to feel at loose ends, and second, I wish there were a way to condense the rehearsal process so we had a shorter number of days, but less time off during the process. The European people all jet home on the long free weekends to see their families, leaving the poor little American alone to twiddle her thumbs and thank her lucky stars for the existence of the internet. I've been gung-ho about all this European travel over the last couple of years, but it's starting to catch up with me and make me wonder if in fact I'm cut out for this kind of lifestyle.

Of course, everyone has their doubts about living a life like this. Even the most successful, driven opera singers sit in the window of their hotel room or newly subletted short term apartment, and stare out into space, imagining a life where they could walk their dog every day and tend to their garden. Where they could actually subscribe to magazines and have standing lunch dates in their town with their friends. A life where they could kiss their partner goodnight every night, in the same time zone, and in person, and where they never had to think about getting lost. Then something happens; they take an unexpected trip to the supermarket on the corner near their hotel, and discover a tiny street they didn't know was there with an amazing, unmarked restaurant that has the best tomato sauce they have ever tasted. Then they go to rehearsal and discover a new ornament perfectly suited to their voice, or a new direction in which to take their character which makes perfect sense, or a new place to get a laugh. And then they get a paycheck for what feels like playing around and sightseeing for a month. And then their agent calls, and tells them, "Great news! Blankety blank wants to hire you for such and such role that you've been dying to sing!" And they sigh, look out the window at that dream of the garden and the unchanged time zones and ask "Where do I sign?"

The grass is often greener from wherever you stand. If your dream has always been to have an opera career, and instead you are waiting tables, you can't imagine any factors that would cause you to not want to achieve that dream. Then you start achieving the dream, and the pangs of loneliness, anxiety, stress, and heartbreak build up, and you dream about having a normal life. Then, some people go ahead and make the change to living a normal life, and dream about all the excitement, challenges, and opportunities that not having an opera career causes them to miss. There is no ONE life that will make you happy - each choice has its pros and cons and ups and downs. You can certainly choose to have a more stable life, both emotionally and financially but you might miss the excitement, and you won't really know until you try. You also might NOT miss the emotional roller coaster, and find that you are more content to know where you'll be in two months, instead of wondering whether the apartment you will stay in will have a washing machine or a wifi connection. Or you might start to feel you'll wither away without the feeling of those hot lights on your face and your voice soaring out over the orchestra. Who can predict it?

All we can do is live our lives one day at a time, and honor our own gut feelings about what is right for us. And be grateful for all the things we do have in this moment instead of longing for what we don't.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


As I sit here in my room, glancing out my window at the imposing Alps....... who SAYS stuff like that??? Well, apparently me. I went from American/British iconoclastic to Italian idyllic to Chicago urbania to being stared down by a famous mountain range in the period of 10 days. It's all almost too much for me to digest, and I'm living it! This is the view out my bedroom window here in Innsbruck, where I arrived today after flying Chicago to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Munich, and a two hour car ride into this Austrian paradise. And I arrived in my new apartment, opened up the windows, and nearly passed out.

After this whirlwind week, I am much too tired to string together too many coherent sentences. I just have to plug the OperaNow! podcast, on which I was an in house panelist this week. We discussed a lot of interesting subjects including baroque style and whether glottal coloratura (or ha ha coloratura as we often fondly call it) is better or worse than legato coloratura. I enjoy these passionate discussions - even if they're just about whether or not you're putting h's in your phrases. Now off to sleep - tomorrow, first day of staging!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Crossing the globe

Oddly enough, I’m sitting in the Milan airport on my way to Chicago. How did this happen? I just got to Europe on Monday!

Well, when I arrived in Mondovi, I discovered that 3 out of 7 of the singers were ill, and wouldn’t be coming to Mondovi at all, and would be arriving late in Innsbruck as well. In fact, the only two characters with whom I have any interactions during the first act would not arrive in Innsbruck until Thursday of next week. So on Wednesday, the director told me that I would not be called to rehearsals from Thursday afternoon until the following Thursday, and I was free to go somewhere else if I wanted to.

I know from experience that being stuck in a town where there isn’t a lot going on and where you’re not working can be really awful. And while Innsbruck is supposed to be beautiful, it’s also pretty quiet, and I’ll have 6 weeks there to explore every nook and cranny as it is. So I furiously started searching the internet to see what I might do with myself with this free week. I thought about visiting one of my many friends in Europe, or taking a trip to southern Italy, or visiting my lovely Berlin. But I knew where I really wanted to be this week was in Chicago. See, I may or may not have moonily mentioned in my last blog that there’s now a special someone…… So anyway, I found the cheapest ticket I could from Milan to Chicago, and then Chicago back to Munich (the nearest big airport to Innsbruck) in time for my first rehearsal, and I’m on my way.

I left Mondovi yesterday afternoon after a morning recit rehearsal with the director, and took a train to Torino. In Torino I managed to spend an hour and a half with my dear Italian “brother” Vincenzo (about whom I wrote this blog), and stuffed my face with some delicious gelato. I couldn’t believe I’d been in Italy for 4 days and hadn’t yet eaten gelato – what a sin! Then I boarded a train for Milan, where I spent the evening with another dear friend who I have also blogged about, Kate Aldrich, who is currently in rehearsals for her La Scala debut as Rosina. We ate at this amazing restaurant that her boyfriend had recommended, and I mean to tell you that my last meal in Italy was exactly what I had in mind.

We started with a plate of utterly amazing cured meats, cheeses, and bruschetta with the freshest tasting tomatoes (how do they DO that in Italy??) and this other crazy thing called Straciatella, which is a type of fresh cheese that is prepared in the same way the Mozerella burrata is – it’s very hard to describe, but it's kind what I imagine butter would taste like if it were made out of cheese. Plus there was something called lardo – which is what it sounds like – very thinly sliced pieces of fat that you put on bread. I was rolling my eyes back in my head and stamping my feet in ecstasy when I tasted it. We also had a perfect insalata mista – I love how the Italians just give you a few vegetables – arugula, radicchio, carrots and lettuce, and some really good olive oil and balsamic vinegar to put on top. Finally, we had tagliatelle with a sauce made out of tomato and wild boar. It was very rich and utterly delicious. I realize I don’t usually go into such detail when I describe my meals, but if I go back and look at the blog entries I wrote when I was singing in Italy, I did that often. What can I say? Italy makes me a foodie.

And now I’m on my way back to the States. I can only imagine the effect all this back and forth across time zones is going to have on my jet-lag. I’m hoping that somehow it will cancel itself out, and by the time I arrive in Innsbruck on Wednesday I will somehow be perfectly adjusted.

Wow. Woody Harrelson is standing right in front of me at the airport. Nobody is talking to him – I guess he’s less famous in Italy. He’s downing two bottles of water. Smart thinking Woody – hydrating is key for transcontinental flights. By this point, I should really know