Monthly Archives: April 2014

Chronicles of Despina: the Journey Begins

Less than two months to go before I head to Oregon for the Astoria Music Festival this summer! Which means less than two months to learn the role of Despina in Così fan tutte!

Little did I know after singing Bastienne this past February that Despina would be my next Mozart role! Since this opportunity is a bit of a milestone for me — first full-length Mozart role, staged and with orchestra — I thought I would chronicle my progress and the process of getting to know this character and this opera.

Of course, I was absolutely thrilled when I got the news about Despina — I jumped up and down and hugged Baritone Boy (who didn’t know at the time I would be hijacking his Così Bärenreiter) — but by the next morning, the enormity of what I’d gotten myself into was settling in:

Just a week prior I had committed myself to singing Susanna in selections from Le nozze di Figaro. This concert is scheduled for mid-May, with Cornerstone Chorale’s Mozart Requiem literally the next day and the Musical Merit Auditions three weeks later. A week and half after that, Vocal Apprentices for the Festival are to arrive in Astoria.

A partial role, a requiem, a competition, and my first full-length Mozart role — what have I gotten myself into?!

If I’ve gotten myself into trouble, I suppose this is the best kind of trouble: too much wonderful music to sing.

Within 48 hours of getting the email from Astoria about the casting, I raided the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts and started highlighting the Bärenreiter I’d gotten Baritone Boy as a Christmas gift (no time to order one — I’ll make this up to him!):

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Stocking up on Mozart and Cosi study materials. NYC, 2014.

I have a lot of work to do, but saying no never crossed my mind. Astoria is too enriching of a festival to pass by, and Despina is too amazing of a role to turn down. I just have to find a way to manage my time and get it all done (and done well).

One of the biggest contributors to the anxiety is that this is the most significant amount of music and recitative I have had to prepare. I don’t actually know how long it will take me, so the big question constantly being asked inside my head is “Can you really do this in less than two months?” With all the other music I’m learning and polishing, while working full-time, taking care of Dante, and trying to fit in yoga and quality time with Baritone Boy, I’m slightly nervous.

I definitely had mild panic attacks every two hours for the first two days. A week later, the panic attacks occur less frequently and — more significantly — I have also memorized the recit and translation for Despina’s first two scenes and have a working knowledge of both arias!

I had such a beautiful and eye-opening experience in Astoria last year, and it is an honored to have the opportunity to participate again. I’m looking forward to the fabulous masterclasses, concerts, and workshops (check out all the events and artists they have lined up!!), not to mention the breath-taking scenery and the new friends I’ll make. I need every minute of the next 49 days to prepare my music, but I also can’t wait for the Festival to get underway…

Stay tuned for more Chronicles of Despina!

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Stop and smell the heather

Dante and I went on a long walk, trekking all the way up to Fort Tryon Park and The Cloisters on a beautiful day. I love New York City’s parks. They are little pockets of peace and color, reminding us that there’s more to life that squeezing onto a crowded subway car or waiting in line for morning coffee. Stop and smell the heather, the roses, the lilacs and lilies! Spring has arrived.

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Heather garden at Fort Tryon Park. NYC, 2014.

Aside

Diving into two more Mozart roles in the upcoming months: Susanna with New York Lyric and Despina with Astoria Music Festival! It is going to be a very busy spring and a very rewarding summer. There will be plenty for me to post about… so thank you for coming along on this journey with me! Continue reading

iPad Mini: my new best friend

In addition to La Sonnambula at The Met and dinner at French restaurant Le Relais de Venise, my birthday also included a very special gift: my first iPad mini.

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Dante observes the iPad mini carefully. NYC, 2014.

I’ve avoided the iPad bandwagon for years and even considered purchasing a Microsoft Surface Pro for a while. Yet here I am. A convert. Deliriously happy and in love with my mini.

It’s no secret that an iPad are great for playing Candy Crush and watching videos/movies, but in a very short amount of time I’ve learned that it can be a singer’s best friend:

  • Music. Music and Apple products have been inseparable since the iPod, so throw your favorite recordings and playlists on there and listen away! There are also radio-like apps and websites that stream music. I recently discovered Opera Music Broadcast, which streams music 24/7. Their name says opera, but they also include art song, oratorio, choral pieces, motets, and more — a very respectable range spanning many time periods and styles.
  • PDFs. Load PDFs of your favorite scores and score study anywhere. I even know musicians who have foregone sheets of music all together and pianists who play directly from tablets. A tip: check out IMSLP for free access to the world’s public domain music. Download and enjoy to your heart’s content. 
  • Combine the two above points and you can listen to a recording and follow along in the score without having to juggle multiple items. This is one of my favorite things to do, and the iPad mini makes it all that much easier. The screen is smaller than most scores, but this has not been a problem for me. The regular iPad is slightly larger, though, for those who would like more screen-space. 
  • Piano apps. Learning new rep and need to pick out your notes or hear the harmony underneath you? Want to do some warm-ups? There are plenty of piano apps to pick from.
  • Research. The convenient size, wi-fi/data plan capabilities, and variety of apps in the App Store make the iPad mini a fabulous research tool. I can read just about anything and everything, from history books to biographies to reviews, to industry news. I am currently reading The Letters of Mozart and His Family, translated by Emily Anderson, which I downloaded for free from a public library. Research also includes watching video clips and movies. For this, YouTube is an absolute treasure trove. I love the interviews, the concert clips, the amateur and the professional productions, and especially the full-length operas in HD.

If anyone has other tips or tricks for getting the most out of the iPad’s capabilities, or apps that I should try out, please leave a comment and let me know!

Before I moved to NYC, I naively imagined how productive I could be while riding the subway – learning music, writing in IPA/translations, reading, blogging. Then I experienced the subway system first-hand and had my naiveté remedied by the watch-out-or-get-trampled reality of taking public transportation. Lugging around a score was not only cumbersome (those hardcover Bärenreiters are like 12 lbs!), but 85% of the time I couldn’t even use it once I got in the subway car. Holding the score open, following along, and flipping pages is impossible when there isn’t an open seat, you’re crammed in between three stranger, or holding on for dear life as you stop-and-started your way down the track.

But now I have a versatile, lightweight piece of technology that doesn’t smack other riders in the face, that I can easily hold with one hand and flip pages with a flick of a finger. I spend approximately two hours traveling each day, and now those two hours are infinitely more productive and enjoyable.

For a girl who’s short on time, this slightly expensive splurge investment is already paying off!

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Multi-tasking with the iPad mini – listening and following along in the score. NYC, 2014.

 

Stay inspired: What will you leave behind?

Not long after I moved to NYC, I came across this thought-provoking question in downtown Manhattan:

An excellent question. Street art, NYC, 2013.

An excellent question. Street art, NYC, 2013.

 

This bit of street art seemed to be calling me out… The “you” in red. With extra swirls on the “y.” Underlined. It implied that others were leaving something (something good and beautiful, I assumed) and that I had a responsibility to do the same.

I freely admit that I get caught up on the practicing, the learning of repertoire, the scanning of YAPTracker announcements, the wondering of how I stack up against other sopranos (really, there are too many of us). In particular, this year feels more high-stakes since I’m in a new city, with a new teacher, singing new arias with a changing voice. I come down hard on myself if a practice session doesn’t go well because THIS IS THE YEAR THAT WILL MAKE OR BREAK ME.

And when I reach that point, I (or Baritone Boy) have to tell myself that this is obviously not a true statement.

Whether you’re a singer or pursuing excellence in another field, it is easy to feel only the pressure and momentarily forget the joy and the purpose behind all the toiling and struggling. Perhaps it’s cultural – we want to be better, have more, do more, win more, make more. We have a hard time just accepting and being happy. And for singers, this can be even more heightened as we go through daily (practicing), weekly (voice lessons), and annual (audition season!) routines that require a critical approach and, more often than not, focus on what we don’t do right rather than what we do well.

As I’m working on my audition arias and gearing up for the next round of auditions, I have to remind myself that, yes, I do have something unique to contribute to the world. We will not all have the same kinds of success – we won’t all sing at the Met or record for Deutsche Grammaphon – but we can continue to nurture the spark inside and share the joy we experience when working our craft. We all have something to leave behind in the lives we touch, the people meet along the way, the art we make.

And on those days when you do feel down about the slow progress you’ve made, the lack of results, the challenges that line up one after another, revisit a comforting little ritual — for me it’s drinking boba tea and watching a period drama with Baritone Boy and Dante for company — or an inspirational quote that helps re-energize you. And when that’s not enough, I know I have a fabulous circle of supporters who do see my skills when I don’t, people who will quote the inspirational quote when I can’t. I’m so thankful for the family, friends, teachers, colleagues, and mentors who have been there for me with a kind word, a hug, and their belief in me and what I’m capable of.

And at the end of the day, stay strong and stay inspired. And ask yourself what you’ll leave behind for others to enjoy.

The Met: La Sonnambula

La Sonnambula

Program for La Sonnambula at The Met Opera with the stage in the background. NYC, 2014.

First Bellini opera – check

First La Sonnambula – check

First Diana Damrau live – CHECK!!

Also, first time sitting in the balcony section at The Met – check! Baritone Boy and I usually get tickets in Family Circle, but La Sonnambula was a birthday gift from my parents (thank you, Mom and Dad!) so I splurged and picked seats a few rows closer.

Okay, I realize this post is titled “The Met: La Sonnambula” and not “I HEART DIANA DAMRAU FOREVER,” so I’ll try to reign in the adoration and awe just a bit. But before I do that, I have to get this off my chest:

WOW. Have you seen her? Gorgeous! Have you heard her? Breathtaking!

My first exposure to the magnificent Diana Damrau was via YouTube around 2009 or 2010. I watched videos of her “Caro nome” and “Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen” — and if you haven’t seen these, you must! Go back and click on the links! — and I was totally blown away. What a voice. What accuracy. What commitment to character. What an amazing performer. Clearly, I am a huge fan.

Alright, time to reign it in and get back to La Sonnambula.

(If you haven’t noticed, I don’t really “review” performances or recordings here. I have my opinions, but I refrain from posting negative comments because there’s no need to make enemies or frenemies when you’re one out of 9373428 bajillion sopranos trying to make it in this industry. Plus there are reviewers who will review and do a much better job of it.)

So here is my almost-two-cents about La Sonnambula:

  • Lots of beautiful singing. Lots of line and legato! Lots of beautiful floating phrases! Tons of high notes, and plenty of fast notes! Everything Diana Damrau sang was magnificent, and Javier Camarena got like 2 minutes of applause after one of his arias. Loved Elizabeth Bishop as Momma Teresa.
  • Fantastic acting all-around! We were in the balcony section, and I felt I could clearly see the changing dynamics between characters. Rachelle Durkin as Lisa had the challenge of being the antagonist, and her comedic ability helped to give her machinations a slightly less evil bent.
  • Interesting concept. It was an opera(rehearsal)-within-an-opera. The production was set in a rehearsal space as a contemporary 0pera company rehearses for La Sonnambula. Amina was the lead soprano getting her costumes fitted, Teresa was a loving stage mom, Lisa was the jealous stage managers, the chorus was literally the chorus (complete with chorus sign-in sheet and union mandated breaks). I love period costumes and sets, so a small part of me wanted a more “traditional” take — but I appreciated the cleverness of this production and the mind-bending parallels director Mary Zimmerman highlighted in the program notes, that dreaming sleepwalkers and performers exist in two worlds at once: the real world (which you and I inhabit) and the imaginary…
  • Alright, I just can’t help myself: Diana Damrau was AMAZING!!!! She was twirling, spinning, cartwheeling, and getting raised up on people’s shoulders, and she was singing gorgeously the entire time. This was more than just a little movement – she was full-on dancing.  The most beautiful moment for me was “Ah! non credea,” which was spell-binding. The section of the stage she was standing on moved forward and extended out over the orchestra pit, and Diana sang the entire cavatina from there. Then, something doesn’t go as planned during her on-stage costume change going into “Ah! non giunge.” There is literally silence as everyone watches and waits, and Diana clears her throat and calls out “Momento!” while three people finish getting her dress on. Not only does she sing, but she improvs too!
  • It felt personal. It was a Tuesday night, and I got the sense that the audience in attendance was there more “to see” and less “to be seen.” No one goes to a 2+ hour show on a schoolnight because they want to party — we were there because we love Bellini and Diana Damrau and just had to see this production even if it meant going to bed late and being tired at work the next day.
  • There was a joy, fun, and love in the air. It was Javier Camarena’s birthday that night. When the principles took their bows, a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday filled the house. Flowers were being thrown on stage, and of course some of them hit the principles in the face – perfect!

It was really something.

And I still can’t believe I saw Diana Damrau live!!!!!