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I watched Hillary Clinton’s concession speech tonight. And you know, I was deeply moved. Seeing her on that stage acknowledging the 18 MILLION people who supported her throughout this primary season…was it simply the spectacle, the scope, the drama of it all that evoked my emotional response (I won’t lie, I’m a sucker for that stuff)? No, there was more to it than that. Throughout her speech, I kept thinking to myself, “What an extraordinary time this is: the woman and the black man; the galvanized youth; the renewed excitement for politics and public service.” For the first time in a while, I feel (should I say it?), well, uh, proud to be American! It appears that “Americanism” could once again be equated with that which is progressive, diplomatic, ethical, international, instead of isolationist, xenophobic, anti-intellectual.

I will admit, I’d been kind of subscribing to the famous Samuel Johnson quote equating patriotism with the “refuge of scoundrels”; interestingly though, a 2003 New York Times article cites 18th century Scottish lawyer and Johnson biographer, James Boswell, as writing that he [Johnson] ”did not mean a real and generous love of our country, but that pretended patriotism which so many . . . have made a cloak for self-interest.”

So maybe it’s okay to say that I like my country after all. Maybe I don’t need to go all Fitzgeraldian, smoking at some Parisian cafe trying to repress the memories of my “former life.” Maybe I can travel to Berlin this summer and not make false claims of Canadian citizenship, and I can sing the national anthem and mean it again; maybe we will finally see a black man in the white house come January.

Beyond this, however, I felt as I watched Senator Clinton tonight, a more general sense of renewed optimism and resourcefulness. A sense of in-the-now living, an immense gratitude that as a woman living in America I was able to pursue a professional, independent life, not to mention one in the arts. Maybe this is narcissistic to say, but I can’t help feeling it is my duty to sing – for the sake of art and feminism and patriotism and globalism and humanism and……..enough🙂.

Had a great conversation with my teacher the other day regarding how she is trying to warn, I mean prepare, her students for a classical singing career. The topic spurred me to consider this truly extraordinary (was that redundant? I just learned that saying something is “so unique” is grammatically incorrect due to its redundancy-can’t believe I, the Grammar Queen, never knew that!!) cast with whom I’ve been working the last five weeks. Despite the odds, all eight of us are actually doing this–we are making livings as professional singers. So what are the commonalities? Why is probability favoring us?  These are some of the characteristics I’ve observed:

  • My colleagues work hard-they come prepared, they are always trying to do better, they practice often, they have strong techniques.
  • They practice humility.
  • They are very proficient musicians.
  • They are fantastic on stage.
  • They have excellent linguistic skill.
  • They are driven.
  • They are fun human beings and terrific colleagues.

Maybe this seems a bit, I don’t know, “Pollyanna” to you? And of course, in the interest of realism, yes, there are exceptions to the above. Though, thinking back on this last season, I can say without a shred of dishonesty that the above criteria absolutely applied to the majority of the people with whom I worked. And so, at the risk of seeming preachy, I guess I’m using this as a “word to the wise” to any students out there who might be reading this (not that anybody reads this, but well…) and are dreaming of a career in singing. It is not enough to be talented–simply to possess a stimme, although one does have to have the raw materials, without a doubt. The singers I work with are artists. Really and truly. They are not interested in vocalizing on stage. They’re interested in honest, connected, and dare I say, transcendent communication, either through story-telling or through poetry. This is why we do what we do. If you aren’t passionate about these things, if you aren’t willing to work, hell, if you aren’t willing to play, in order to achieve the highest level of art-making, then this career might not be the best fit for you.

Despite the occasional residual cough, I am, for all intents and purposes (not to be confused with “all intensIVE purposes” which my sister insists on saying…), back to good health, and just in time for dress week of our show. For better or for worse, I am reminded, when sick, just how much my sense of identity is attached to my voice. I feel terribly un-whole when I can’t sing.

But happy days are here again, voice is cooperating, no longer feeling un-whole, and I’m really excited to open our show. We had our first kind of mock audience tonight and they laughed! Hooray! I’ve come to learn, though it never gets easier, that when doing comedy there is always a period of about a week after you’ve finished blocking but before you’re in dress week, when all the jokes have lost their novelty, no one’s laughing and suddenly gripping everyone in the show is the terror that oh-my-god-our-show-is-not-funny. Nevertheless, like always, we get an audience and the fear begins to melt away, confidence is regained and our collective comedic ego is restored. This has indeed been the case for UCR, and I’m happy to report that we have a show. A very funny one.

Haven’t written the last couple of days for a variety of reasons:

1. Have been crazy busy since getting back from New York. Rehearsals have been going full-throttle.

2. Sang poorly at the Belvedere’s and couldn’t figure out why.

3. Saw someone I haven’t seen in a long time in New York the day of said bad-singing-Belvedere-day, and I needed some time to digest.

4. Got sick and therefore, got answer to said Belvedere debacle.

Today was the annual OTSL Memorial Day picnic, something I so would have wanted to attend; but, alas, I am lying here in my bed, helplessly witnessing this stealthy little snake of a virus slither from my sinuses to my bronchi. While I am greatly relieved to be over the head cold portion of my illness, it comes at the expense of my poor lungs and my voice, which are, as always, rendered completely useless for about four days.

I have a room run of Cosa tomorrow afternoon. I’m fine with “walking” it, but I don’t even have enough voice to mark. Would they bring in a cover for a situation like this? Eek, I don’t want to stress out some poor, already over-taxed young artist over some silly rehearsal that I can’t sing. Or maybe it would be a good opportunity? I don’t know, if they called me in to do something like that, I’d be freaking out. But that’s just me🙂.

So, after the whole whirlwind which was getting myself to New York last minute to do the Belvedere’s, I didn’t advance to the Vienna round. And I’m not surprised, given the way I sang. That day was cursed. First of all, I was taking what was supposed to be a direct flight from St. Louis to Philadelphia (was easier than flying into New York for a variety of reasons), but midway through the flight, the quivery voice of our flight attendant announced that we would be making an emergency landing in Columbus, OH due to a medical emergency on board. Well, that was a first for me. Turns out there was a very young little boy who was having some kind of asthma attack. And what can you do? You can’t bitch, you can’t raise your fists at the airlines, you just have to deal.

Unfortunately, that put me in Philadelphia an hour and a half later than I had expected to arrive, which meant I went to bed too late, which meant I didn’t get enough sleep, which meant I was tired for the audition in addition to compromising my already fragile immune system. On top of this, when I arrived at the Met, my pianist was no where to be found. The auditions were moved to a different location, but security didn’t know that, which sent me on a wild goose chase through the less-than-easily-navigable Metropolitan Opera House. I did eventually locate him, but my focus was pretty much gone, as was my breath, and my audition suffered as a result. I’d like to think that I’m enough of a veteran of the audition circuit that things like this do not have to mean life or death, and I do think that sometimes they aren’t, but for some reason on that day, I just couldn’t get it together. I started with Zartlichkeit: top notes were surprisingly fine, but low notes? Where were you? It was so weird! Was it allergies? Fatigue? I don’t remember an audition where this happened to me–usually it’s my high notes, or middle voice that get foggy, but my low register almost never suffers! ‘Twas bizarre. So then, they asked me for Lulu, which ordinarily, I would have been thrilled to sing, but given my vocal issue, I was sent into crisis management mode. Just. get. through. it. Kiera. Case in point, it wasn’t my best day, by any means, and I guess the Belvedere people happened to agree, as I got my nice little rejection email telling me that I was not “qualified” to go to the Vienna round. Ah, translations can be so unforgiving.

In the end, I guess I’m a little relieved. As I said in past postings, I’m tired, and the thought of having to get into Berlin, only to hop on a train down to Vienna two days later to deal with all the, forgive me, BS that comes with singing competitions, was exhausting in itself. Maybe I self sabotaged without even knowing it? Hmmm…

Of course (and without getting too personal), I must be frank with myself and with you that I was also distracted for other reasons: I was seeing for the first time in three years (since we broke up) my ex-boyfriend. It was an entirely serendipitous meeting–he was flying from Indianapolis to London with a 24-hour stopover in New York, which just happened to be Tuesday, the 20th. What are the odds? Despite the fact that I really felt like I was focused on the audition on the days and hours leading up to it, how could my mind not have been wandering to this other (much more stressful) rendez-vous?

What can I say? Sometimes life happens, and it’s messy and it’s disappointing, and, then you get sick.

Last night I decided I was just going to double check the Belvedere site to make sure that I had all my ducks in a row, when I stumbled upon a piece of information in the FAQ that was at once calming and annoying.

What do I have to prepare for the qualification round?
In the qualifying round you are asked to sing one or two arias of your own choice. These arias can be taken
from the arias you have selected as obligatory arias or chosen arias.

Unless I’m reading this incorrectly, it seems to me that any notion of having to bring FIVE arias to the prelim round was in fact wrong. Which means, all this time I had spent on cramming said Handel aria could have been spent on polishing the two arias (which will not include said Handel aria) that I now plan on singing for the preliminary round. Ugh. Sometimes I really aggravate myself. [palm of hand repeatedly bouncing off forehead]

Of course, in the end this is good news. I no longer have to be preoccupied with wondering whether or not I actually knew this aria; plus if I do move on to the next round, I will have had a head start on my preparation.

I fly today to Philadelphia; will take train to New York tomorrow morning; audition is at 11:30am at List Hall at the Met; then meeting a few friends for lunch and dinner; then back to Philly; then fly back to St. Louis Wednesday morning; rehearsal in St. Louis Wednesday afternoon. I hope that the audition goes alright. My St. Louis allergies landed with a bang yesterday-used an entire box of tissues in a matter of hours-and of course, my voice is feeling it a bit. I’m going to take it easy today, and try to load up on water in order to compensate for the vocal dehydration I’m now experiencing as a result of Zyrtec overdosage.

Fingers crossed that all goes well.

I want to believe that this woman whose work I admire so much was just entirely loaded when she did this. What’s with the weird arm gestures, Bette?

Una cosa AWESOME!

So, I’m laughing out loud at the title of this post. It is, in fact, a new Facebook group started by none other than the fabulous David Kravitz, who is playing Lisargo, the Mayor, who is also my character, Ghita’s, brother, and is also sort of the fiance to Lilla, who is the sister of my fiance, Tita, and who is actually in love with Lubino, not Lisargo. Little does Lilla know, however, that she is also the object of Corrado’s affections (not to be confused with Corrado Rovaris, who is conducting this performance), as well as the Prince, otherwise known as the Infante, son of Queen Isabella, lover of hunting and solver of all peasantry problems. Head exploding yet???

So, yes, this is the plot, convoluted as it might be, of my current project, Una Cosa Rara, by Martin y Soler, libretto by, King of 18th Century Convolution himself, Lorenzo da Ponte.

Let’s not mince words here: the piece is flawed. It would not be unfair to say that it is wanting of some dramaturgical and musical sophistication. Nonetheless, it is by no means a BAD piece. Convoluted or not, da Ponte’s plot is wonderfully comical and full of heart and (as is so often the case with his work) strangely relevant. It is a true ensemble piece (more on that in a minute) with two couples at its core, a la Ricky and Lucy and Fred and Ethel, and it pulses with a certain youthful sass, energy, verve. And lest we forget Mr. Soler’s contributions, there are some lovely arias and ensemble scenes, a highlight of which is a first act canon between the three female characters.

It’s not hard to imagine that Cosa Rara could be a total sleeper–the music can feel, uh, a little remedial at time, the jokes a bit tedious, UNLESS of course, you have an all–star team working on it. And I really feel like Opera Theatre of St. Louis has assembled just such a group. If you haven’t heard of Maestro Corrado Rovaris yet, I hope you will look him up and follow him–the man is fabulous. And he really understands this style. The death of a piece like Soler’s is its symmetry: 2 bar phrase, 2 bar phrase, 4 bar phrase, 4 bar phrase, ABA form, couplet rhyme schemes–if you’re vomiting in your mouth a little, I understand…But Maestro Rovaris is really helping us to shape the piece in a way that is interesting, and dare I say, quite beautiful at times?! Plus, he is a gem of a colleague–absolutely wonderful to work with. On to director Chas Rader-Schieber. I think I mentioned in a previous post that I had first seen Chas’s work this past fall via Curtis Opera Theatre’s production of Nozze. I was blown away by that production. It was so creative, so beautiful to look at, but also FUNNY (I guffawed my way through much of the opera) and balanced with heart. I can already feel the benefits of Chas infusing his genius into our project. I think he has found real depth to these characters, while at the same time understanding that the piece is meant to be light, airy, a comic confection, of sorts? Finally, the cast: Keith Phares, Maureen McKay, Alek Shrader, Mary Wilson, Paul Appleby, Matt Burns, David Kravitz, and yours truly, LL…not only are all of my colleagues extraordinary talents (and I swear, I do not write in hyperbole at this moment…uh, was that just hyperbole???), but they’re a blast to work with. I was speaking with a friend of mine in New York today, and I said to him, “It just feels too easy…I love my castmates, love the conductor, love the director, rehearsing is a pleasure, I love Opera Theatre (that’s what Opera Theatre of St. Louis calls themselves)…something has to go wrong, right?” Call me superstitious, but it does seem a bit too good to be true. But I’m not complaining…

To change the subject abruptly, I will tell you that I decided yesterday that I am going to take the plunge and do the Belvedere auditions. I bought my plane ticket, got an Alcina score (I’m learning Ama, sospira-Morgana’s other aria besides Tornami a vagheggiar) and well, I’m cramming it. I know in a previous post that I discussed how this has gotten me into trouble before, but my logic is that this is just to get me through the first round of auditions, and if I can do that, I will have a whole month and a half to get the Alcina sufficiently settled in my voice. Also, even though this is irrelevant at this point, I think the chances of them asking to hear the Handel in my audition next week are slim, at best. But again, can NEVER count on that!

I’ll leave you with the an excerpt of one of Ghita and Tita’s “love duets”. (Our production: much funnier, much more interesting to look at.)