One of the many aspects of the Vocal Apprentice program I adored this year was the plethora of performance opportunities we took part in. While Così fan tutte was the culmination of our efforts and our growth as performers, the other singing we did was just as important in our self-discovery and learning.
Through a series of Apprentice concerts held at various venues around town, we had the opportunity to share our repertoire with others and put into practice ideas from masterclasses, lessons, and coachings. I mentioned last time that the amount of talent in Astoria was astounding, and I can, without hesitation, include the abilities of the Apprentices in this statement as well. Over the course of the Festival I got to hear beautiful singing from my peers, and they introduced me to new repertoire as well as different interpretations of music I was already familiar with. It’s no wonder we had a group of regular attendees at our concerts!
Many of the pieces I used for these concerts I had performed fairly recently at my recital, and I was surprised at how differently some of them felt just a month later. I am very, very thankful for the coaches and teachers who guided me through these developments: Gustavo Castro and Karen Esquivel, Paul Floyd, Allan Glassman, Marie Plette, Mark Robson, and Richard Zeller.
OPERA ARIAS AND DUETS at Peace Lutheran Church
Our first Sunday Noon concert took place at Peace Lutheran Church and consisted of opera arias and duets. Rebecca Sacks and I had the honor of kicking things off with “Presentation of the Rose,” the scene where Octavian and Sophie meet for the first time and fall in love. I have really enjoyed learning this piece as an aria, but singing it with an Octavian is so much more nuanced and satisfying. In addition to this the iconic duet from Der Rosenkavalier, Strauss was also represented by Composer’s Aria from Ariadne, performed by Christine Duncan. Several other Festival concerts highlighted Strauss’ works to celebrate the 150th anniversary of his birth, so it was nice that the first Apprentice concert followed suit.
Quite by coincidence, Rebecca and I then went on to sing arias from the same opera, Massenet’s Werther, in the second half of the program: Charlotte’s aria “Va! Laisse couler mes larmes” for her and for me, Sophie’s (both my characters were named Sophie – another coincidence!) “Du gai soleil.” I fell in love with this aria about 5 years ago when a very talented friend sang it at BASOTI, and I’m still not tired of it. There is such an innocence and excitement in the recit, and a sense of joy in the aria. My favorite moment is towards the end at “que Dieu permet d’être heureux,” when Sophie’s exuberance becomes a moment of grounded simplicity. I remember singing that line, seeing the sunlight streaming in through the stained glass, and feeling like everything was just right. And since I was singing two pieces that both mentioned flowers, I finally had a chance to wear this dress:
Here are a few of us after the concert, from left to right — Alicia Baker (“Der Hölle Rache,” Flower duet from Lakmé, “Sull’aria”), Julia Rham (“Seguidilla”), and Hope McCaffery (“La ci darem la mano” and “O wär’ ich schon mit dir vereint” from Beethoven’s only opera, Fidelio):
ART SONG AND CHAMBER MUSIC at First Presbyterian Church
Our second Sunday Noon concert at First Presbyterian was built around art song and chamber music. Some selections were collaborations with Instrumental Apprentices and other Festival performers: Schubert’s “Auf dem Strom” sung by Stacey Trenteseaux with Eric Grunkemeyer on horn, Rebecca sang “Parto, parto” from La clemenza di Tito with a flutist whose name I unfortunately did not catch, and Julia gave a beautiful performance of Chabrier’s “L’invitation au voyage” with Raquel Vargas-Ramírez on bassoon.
I sang “Green,” one of my favorite Debussy songs, and here I am with two other ladies who performed art songs — Alicia sang a hilarious contemporary French song called “Je t’aime” and Hope sang the classic “Er ist gekommen in Sturm und Regen” by Clara Schumann. Don’t our outfits look like we coordinated them on purpose?
“Green” isn’t the flashiest of pieces, but I love it for its descriptive poetry and blues-y harmonies. The duples in the vocal line against the triplets in the piano create a tension that makes perfect sense in light of the text, and that rhythmic drive contrasts beautifully with the sections where the tempo becomes languid and stretchy.
After the concert, Paul Floyd, one of our coaches, said I should learn all the Debussy songs and then record them. This was such an enormous compliment that my brain didn’t even process it, and I had to ask Paul why and what he meant. His encouragement is both humbling and flattering, even more so given his experience and level of musicianship — he hears everything and always asks the singer to reconnect with the meaning and intention behind the words. I can’t wait to flip through my Debussy anthology and pick out the next bunch of songs to work on.
ENGLISH REPERTOIRE at the Maritime Museum
For our concert at the Maritime Museum, we performed repertoire in English from musicals, operettas, art songs, and opera. I was quite nervous about singing Silver Aria from The Ballad of Baby Doe because I was still making adjustments to phrases, vowels, and the high C after coaching the aria at the Festival. The nerves were still there while I introduced myself and set the scene — Baby Doe sings this aria at her wedding reception to prevent a fight from breaking out between rival political factions — but once I launched into the opening “Please, gentlemen, please!” I imagined the audience in front of me, still chatting and distracted from intermission, was the wild crowd at the wedding reception in need of taming.
I know several people who don’t like this aria because “nothing really happens” and “it doesn’t go anywhere.” I can see why – the music is floaty and dreamy, and Baby Doe doesn’t undergo a transformation or narrate an exciting or dramatic story. It’s atmospheric rather than active, and I believe it was written this way to subtly display Baby Doe’s people-handling and -charming skills. She doesn’t have to physically restrain people or engage in argument; she uses her words to persuade and does it so skillfully that the audience in the theater, like the audience at the wedding reception, doesn’t even realize it until the aria is over.
As with the first concert, another Apprentice performed an aria from the same opera as me. This time it was Shaun Stubblefield with Tabor’s “Warm is the autumn light,” a beautiful piece that I don’t hear baritones sing as often as I’d like. For that matter, let’s see this opera performed more often as well!
Here we are, the five roommates, in a very happy post-concert picture — Stacey gave a moving performance of “And This Is My Beloved” from Kismet, Julia was a huge hit with “And I Can Cook Too” from Bernstein’s On the Town, Alicia was hilarious in “Glitter and Be Gay” (another Bernstein song!), and Hope was completely charming in “Mr. Snow” from Carousel.
BAROQUE AND SACRED MUSIC at Grace Episcopal Church
We performed an evening concert of Baroque and sacred music at the beautiful Grace Episcopal Church, which was heavenly to sing in. It is an intimate space with beautiful wooden pews and red cushions, and light streaming in from tall windows.
I brushed off “Piangerò” for this concert, which is another aria I love to perform. Handel kept it melodically and harmonically straightforward, which leaves all the room in the world for the singer to interpret and find different meanings in the similar phrases. After working through the aria with Marie Plette and incorporating ideas from the Richard Zeller masterclass, it was feeling better than ever. The large leaps up to G# and A, which had always plagued me, were easier to find, and I was able to take the B section coloratura a few clicks faster too.
There were three other Handel selections that evening: Alicia sang “Tornami a vagheggiar” (and added some insane ornaments), Hope did a fantastic job with “O had I Jubal’s lyre” (really impressive breath control though long phrases) and Cale Olson sang an aria I had not heard before, “When thou took’st upon thee” from Utrecht Te Deum and Jubilate. Another piece I was not familiar with was the Fauré “Ave maria” duet that Stacey and Phoebe Gildea performed.
In addition to these concerts, we also sang at several other events. I got a practice run at “In uomini” in a concert at Lum’s Auto Center, which was a generous supporter of the Festival, learned Rossini’s “Cat Duet” and performed it with Julia for a children’s radio show, and was a soloist in Montéclair’s Ariane et Bacchus for a concert programmed around the story of Ariadne (highlights of that concert were Angela Niederloh‘s performance of the cantata Arianna a Naxos by Haydn and Deac Guidi’s heartfelt performance of “Ariadne” from the The Frogs by Sondheim).
It wasn’t easy to juggle all this repertoire with our Così responsibilities, but I was thrilled that our faculty stretched us in this way and believed in our multi-tasking abilities. Participating in the Festival was so much more than just preparing and performing a role, and I’m entirely appreciative of all the singing we incorporated into a short two and a half weeks.