Friday, August 20, 2010


Yeah, I've been away from the blog, and from singing in general this week. I pulled out Kindertotenlieder today, which is my next project (in the beginning of October in Austria) and looked at it for about 4.3 minutes before putting it away again. I did download an amazing recording of Christa Ludwig singing them - man, that lady had breath control for days and days. Not only are my body and mind not ready to learn music again just yet, but every time I read the poems I get horribly depressed. I will really have to learn the music without thinking about the text, and then at the very end, internalize what the text means. I want to have those poems (about the death of the poets child, for those of you who don't know them) in my soul for as short a time as possible. I don't even like to see sad movies - what can I say?

In the meantime, I was pleased (and a little shocked) to discover a review from L'Olimpiade that appeared in the New York Times. Here's the link. I haven't even had the courage to read the German language reviews yet, but you can't really avoid the New York Times even if you try.

And here are some images from the production:

I'll be back soon, I promise. Until then, pass the wine and keep me away from german lieder.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Olympic wrap up

It really is appropriate that the opera I finished singing last night is called the Olympics, because not only was akin to an athletic event, with it's length, sheer volume of italian words, and technical requirements, but also because it came at the end of a very long stint of working without a break, overlapping job upon job, and running from country to country. I feel like I just ran a very long marathon, and I am daggone tired. Right at this very moment, I am in the Munich airport waiting for my flight back to New York, which, on Friday the 13th is delayed a couple of hours because we had to get a new plane. Fabulous.

I was actually really surprised how incredibly difficult L'Olimpiade ended up being. I mean, I guess I shouldn't be that surprised, since after the second or so coaching I had on it back in St Louis, I started crying. It just seemed like such an enormous volume of material, of which there was no recording, and no libretto with translation available. I would get through one extraordinarily long recitative with the conductor who was kind enough to go through it with me, (especially kind, since he was forced to sight read the figured bass in the recits and the full orchestral score for the arias), and turn the page to find another even longer one, followed by a 12 page aria. It just seemed endless when I was learning it, and unlike many pieces that seem shorter once you know them, this piece still seemed endless when I was performing it. I never once relaxed - I went through every scene compulsively as many times as possible in my dressing room before every rehearsal and performance. I sang through each aria before I went onstage to perform it. I recited all the recits in my head on every day off. It was a mountain. And if I zoned out for a second on stage (which is not difficult in a 5 hour opera), I would snap out of it, panic, and then reconnect to the material as quickly as possible. I didn't drop any of the recit lines in any of the performances, but almost certainly forgot to double some consonants some nights, or rolled an r where it shouldn't have been.

The added stressor of this whole endeavor was the fact that Sony was making this live recording. This was apparently the recording summer for me - first the studio one of Agrippina, then the live one of this opera. The thing is, you're already nervous about a performance, wanting it to be as excellent as it can be. But if you know you have a tiny microphone taped to your head, and that lots of people who aren't in the theater that night are also going to hear what's coming out of your mouth, it's difficult not to become hyper aware of what you're doing. In the end however, I just performed as I normally would, with dramatic gasping and panting where it was required, and didn't try to sing cleanly because of the recording. I have absolutely no idea what the end product will be, because like the studio recording, I haven't done this before and don't know what I'm doing. All I could do was be myself on stage, and do what I normally do. The rest is up to the sound engineers.

Well, my plane is boarding, so I don't even have time to proof read this entry. Just know, I'm coming home from these Olympic games, and I'm so relieved. I don't even care if I won a medal - I'm just glad I competed.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The anatomy of anxiety

I've been thinking a lot about fear in the last few days, and why we get afraid of things. Mostly because with the dress rehearsal and the premiere of L'Olimpiade approaching here in Innsbruck, I knew I was gonna be getting nervous, and I was dreading it. I have started to dread not performing in general, but the opening performances of operas because I get the most uncomfortably nervous for those performances. And because I know I will have those kind of nerves, I start to get nervous about the fact that I'm going to be nervous, because I know that performing is more difficult and a lot less fun when I'm all jumpy and wacky with nerves. I'm at the point now where even when I'm nervous, I have ways of counteracting my anxiety when I'm on stage, and it doesn't have much of an outward affect on my performance, mostly just on how much I'm able to enjoy myself in the moment.

At last night's premiere of L'Olimpiade, I did a lot to counteract opening night jitters. During the overture I did all kinds of stretching and moving around to try to keep my body from feeling the tightening it feels when I get nervous. And when I got out on stage, I commanded my brain to slow down and take care with the words I was saying instead of running by them too quickly to experience anything. The opera begins for me with an extraordinarily long recitative where I sing for so many pages in italian that it's easy for me to feel overwhelmed. But I felt like I managed to keep my energy up while still being in the moment. When I got to my first aria, I had this dry mouth thing that happens only when you're nervous, but I was refusing to let myself get sucked into constantly swallowing and licking my lips, which actually just makes it worse. At one point my lips were totally sticking to my teeth, but I just said to my brain "this isn't going to affect your singing, actually" and it didn't. I kind of looked like one of those little dogs who have been snarling and just haven't put their teeth away yet, but at least I didn't have to interrupt a phrase just to lick my lips. As usual, I had calmed down considerably by my second entrance, and with the exception of a brain fart or two (which you really can't avoid in a five hour opera when you factor in nerves and excitement) the show went well and was very well received by the audience. I couldn't believe it when I made my entrance during the third act at 11:40 at night and the theater was still full of people! It was like a miracle!

Just two more performances until I am officially on VACATION! For me, a dream vacation means being in my own apartment and being able to drink as much wine as I want whenever I want without having to think about whether or not passing out in a drunken stupor is going to affect my ability to remember italian recitatives the next day. You know, maybe that was my problem all along - maybe passing out in a drunken stupor would have cemented the italian recitatives in my head much quicker - especially if I was drinking a Chianti or something. I'll have to remember that for next time. But beginning this friday, I can just get drunk for the fun of it.

*perhaps it is a slightly unfortunate juxtaposition for me to end a blog post entitled "the anatomy of anxiety" with a paragraph about passing out drunk. Please rest assured that I am neither crazy nor an alcoholic. I'm just tired of being so effing serious all the time in my blog! It's time to bring back the funny! Or at least the mildly amusing (if what you'd been reading before this was the Wall Street Journal).

Friday, August 6, 2010

It's my birthday, baby!

Yes it is. 35 years young today and still kicking.

What am I doing to celebrate this birthday? Why, I'm performing the final dress rehearsal (with a full audience, so basically a performance) of a 5 hour Pergolesi Opera to a bunch of people in Austria. What? That's not a normal way to celebrate your birthday?

Wow - I'm not gonna lie, the past week has been absolutely exhausting. The opera really is 5 hours long when you take the two breaks for intermission, and it feels like a marathon. And we've had rehearsals every day since Saturday - we had a piano dress rehearsal Saturday, two 3 hour stage orchestra rehearsals Monday, two more Tuesday, two more Wednesday, a pre-dress rehearsal yesterday (and the large air circulation unit near the stage blew up and sent dust flying onto the stage after only about 20 minutes into the first act, so we had to wait an hour before continuing with the rest) and tonight the final dress rehearsal. Of course singing Pergolesi for 5 hours isn't like singing Wagner for that long, but it's still exhausting emotionally and physically to keep your concentration and focus and energy going for that long. I'm really looking forward to the day off we have tomorrow before the premiere on Sunday.

Oh, also, as I previously mentioned, Sony is making a recording of the performances for release. So in addition to the microphones placed all around the stage and in the orchestra, we are each wearing body mikes that are taped to our faces. I kept seeing the little mikes on people's cheeks last night and thinking that the make-up department had painted little moles on their faces the way they sometimes do in period make-up. Plus, since the opera is so long, the macho microphone dudes have to come in during intermission and reach down our pants (or up our skirts) and fiddle with the mike packs. There really is no time for modesty in the theater - have I mentioned that since the mikes are always on, they can also hear us going to the bathroom? Yup. that must be real fun for them.

The singers in this group are really wonderful, both as singers and as people. I find that when I sing baroque opera, the singers I work with always seem to be so nice and generous and kind. I mean, singers in general are good people, but when I sing baroque music there is nary a diva in the bunch. I don't have a theory as to why that would be, but it's good news for me, as I seem to be singing more and more baroque music these days. And I have to say that even though this piece is extraordinarily long (since we are doing it without ANY cuts whatsoever) the music really is wonderful. Pergolesi wrote some incredible and varied music for this piece - especially for the castrati roles, which, in this case meant the two male leads AND the two female leads. Apparently in Rome in 1735 when the opera was premiered, women were not allowed on the stage, so not only were the two male leads sung by castrati, but their female love interests were as well. It is extraordinary for me to imagine male voices singing these four roles (which are all too high for a modern countertenor, so are all sung by women) and to imagine the female roles being interpreted by men. What an incredible journey this opera has come through, to now be performed and recorded 275 years later, albeit with different gendered voices portraying the leads. One of the things about music that is so overwhelming as both an artist and as a listener is to realize that you are not just observing history, you are giving it life.

So, all in all, not a bad way to spend my birthday.

And, in the spirit of being grateful for getting to live this life, I just want to say thank you to all of you for reading, and especially to those of you who take the time to comment. You are often leaving such supportive remarks, or even just sharing your opinions, and it means so much to me that you take the time to share some of yourselves with me. I'm not just saying that - I really do get so much out of being able to have this "conversation" with all of you, and I sincerely appreciate that you are willing to participate. I raise my (proverbial, because I can't get drunk before singing an opera) birthday glass to all of you!