Category Archives: Art Song

Celebrating richness of culture and society through pop(ular) music before pop existed.

Successful Celebration of Strauss and Friendship

As the launch project of the newly formed Cantanti Project, our Strauss Celebration was a huge success! With Bill Lewis at the piano, we presented an afternoon of Strauss’s lieder and opera in Washington Heights. In the audience were Strauss experts and novices, musicians and non-musicians, conductors, artists, singers of all kinds, people who knew a little about classical music and some who know a whole lot. The feedback we received has been overwhelmingly positive. Along with compliments on the wonderful voices, the ensemble work, and the sensitivity and musicality of the piano-playing, we also received inquiries as to whether we would be performing this program again. I can’t help but glow at the idea that people would want to hear the music again and would want others to hear it too.

Musik ist eine heilege Kunst

– Composer, Der Rosenkavalier

Basking in the aftermath of adrenaline, satisfaction, and joy, I realized the most valuable outcome of this project was not the singing I got to do but the friendships I reaffirmed with each of the singers involved. I reconnected with friends, most of whom I hadn’t seen or sung with in years and one whom I met just this summer at Astoria Music Festival, and partnered with newer friends whom I’ve never worked with before. The weeks leading up to the performance, though stressful, were filled with rehearsing, discussing, sharing ideas — it was the kind of “busy” that makes you feel alive. It’s truly beautiful that music and music-making brings people together like this.

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A Strauss Celebration: 150 Years

The last two months of 2014 are turning out to be exciting and overwhelming. Things were supposed to wind down after Cendrillon, but after just a few weeks of quiet it picked back up with auditions, new repertoire, and the news that I was cast to sing Zerlina in Don Giovanni this December.

Another project just around the corner is one I am especially proud of, a concert celebrating Richard Strauss’s 150th birthday.

Cantanti - Strauss Celebration Flier with Headshots v2

Even if you don’t care much for birthdays, you’ve go to admit that 150 years is a big deal. This one was celebrated all over the world, most noticeably with performances of his works. Statistics from show how Strauss-mania kicked in for 2014:

  • In 2013: 364 performances of 85 productions, in 57 cities
  • In 2014: 625 performances of 153 productions, in 92 cities

The idea of putting on a Strauss concert had been on my mind all year, and after summer came and went I knew I was running out of time. It’s taken plenty of sweat and a bit of stress (but thankfully, no blood), and everything has come together beautifully.

I’m thrilled and honored to be making this music with eight fabulous women, the majority of whom are old friends and a handful of whom are new ones. Our concert is this Saturday at 3 PM in Washington Heights, NYC. We’ll be performing at the same church I had my recital at earlier this year, Holyrood Church. If you’re in the neighborhood, please come by to hear some Strauss!




Astoria 2014: Singing

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.


Despina rocking the apron look. Astoria, 2014.

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.

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Shall We Gather: an Evening of Songs and Arias

I’ve made a poster, which means this recital is really happening!

Shall We Gather: An Evening of Songs and Arias
May 18th, 2014
Sunday, 7 PM
Holyrood Church
179th & Fort Washington
New York City, NY
Shall We Gather - Recital Poster 2

Photo by Still in Motion Photography. School of Music*, ASU, 2013.

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Singing with orchestra

Some stuff you sing with piano. Other stuff you sing with piano in hopes of singing it with orchestra someday. Singing with orchestra is like graduation, a gold star, and a winning lotto ticket rolled into one because it is so cool. There’s a moment of stillness as everyone prepares for the beat. You can feel the energy as everyone comes together for this one piece of music. Singing with all this behind you is quite amazing, like surfing on a wave of glorious sound.

"And Open to All" concert with MusicaNova Orchestra. Phoenix, 2013. Photo courtesy of MusicaNova Orchestra.

“And Open to All” concert with MusicaNova Orchestra, conducted by Maestro Warren Cohen. Phoenix, 2013. Photo courtesy of MusicaNova Orchestra.

While I’ve been lucky enough to have a few opportunities to sing with orchestra, some smaller and some larger, I’m still getting used to it. This past week was a particularly intense learning period as I was singing in two separate concerts with two different orchestras: “And Open to All” with MusicaNova Orchestra and “Shakespeare in the Desert” with Arizona Pro Arte.   The actual concerts were fun and thrilling, but I’ll admit I was nervous during the rehearsals. 

As is the case with most singers still in school, almost all of my singing has been with piano. I love the process of collaborating and performing with a pianist. It’s intimate and immediate. It’s possible to respond to each other musically on the turn of a dime because it’s just the two of you. With an orchestra, it’s you, the conductor, and x number of musicians.

With x more variables in the equation, the dynamics of collaboration feel different even though the principle — to sing beautifully and with intention — is the same. I know I should focus on my legato, I know I should keep a sense of forward motion in the line and just sing how I’ve been practicing … but I’m trying to watch the conductor’s hands out of the corner of my eye, and I’m wondering, Am I with the orchestra? and Can you hear me with all this noise going on?  (I’m pretty sure that second thought is what was going through my head in the picture further down.)

Which brings me to another issue: As a lighter soprano, orchestras pose an additional challenge because singing over x instruments is more difficult than singing over one piano. I’ve been working hard to accept my lighter voice, but nothing makes me wish for a bigger voice more quickly than having to sing over an orchestra and wondering if I can be heard.

Allerseelen with MusicaNova Orchestra, "Open to All" concert. Phoenix, 2013.

Photo courtesy of MusicaNova Orchestra

Still, I felt the music carry me away during the performance. The rise and fall of the harmonies, which were so familiar from running through the pieces with a pianist, took on new colors and textures. To give your ears a chance to experience the difference: here is a version of Allerseelen performed by Irmgard Seefried with orchestra and conducted by Charles Munch, and here is the version with piano which I’ve posted before. Both are beautiful. Singing this song with orchestra was incredible, but that’s not to say I don’t love it with piano as well.

Pianos are capable of so many articulations and effects, but one thing they can’t do is crescendo on a single sustained note. A pianist can increase the volume by playing more piano keys at the same time (creating a more dense chord) or by re-hitting a key with more force, but there’s no way for a piano’s sound to swell the way an orchestra can.

PS. One of my teachers who attended the MusicaNova concert said he heard me despite the thick orchestration of the Strauss –success!

Happy Earth Day

And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.  Kahlil Gibran

Ireland, 2010.

Sometimes I wake up groggy on Mondays… but not today! Coincidentally, it is Earth Day. A friend shared a great article by Bill McKibben about our earth, our environment, global climate change, and what we can do, which you can read here. McKibben founded the grassroots climate campaign (350 refers to 350 parts per million, the amount of carbon dioxide that scientists say is safe for the atmosphere to hold — we are nearing 400 parts per million).

McKibben points out that the environmental concerns of the last century are different from the ones we face now. Air and water are cleaner, and more people probably recycle now (I’m certainly a product of reduce, reuse, and recycle). Unfortunately, invisible pollution has gone up, and the next challenge is how to address what is less easy to see. McKibben directs us to look inside ourselves to find the drive to make this world a place where we can continue to live and make beautiful things happen.

That’s where our passion, spirit, creativity, and love come in. We’re being forced, at high speed, to redesign our world; to imagine, and then build, a better future. It’s a test of whether humanity’s big brains were really a good adaptation. But, even more than that, it’s a test of whether we, collectively, have a big enough heart. – Bill McKibben

I’m not a scientist, but I have passion, spirit, creativity, and love. We can make a difference and be part of this epic adventure. Use whatever skills you can to reach whatever audience you can. There’s enough art song about nature to program a recital about the beauty and mystery of the world! Start with Debussy’s Green and end with Wolf’s Kennst du das Land? Just an idea.. and not a bad one!

Lush and warm

San Diego flora

Lush and warm. Words that could be used to describe a tropical island, but in this case I’m talking about the music of Richard Strauss. If his music had a smell, I think it would be jasmine. If it had color, fuchsia, navy blue, and yellow. Anyone with synaesthesia  reading, please chime in and let me know how close I am.

I can’t remember the title or even composer of the first German song I worked on as an undergrad, but the first lieder I can recall clearly are Schlagende Herzen, Die Stern, and Ich schwebe – all Strauss. I went on a brief Wolf kick a few years ago, but I’m back on Strauss now.

Picking favorites of any kind (i.e. movies, books, actors, singers) is hard for me, but you could get me to say Strauss is currently my go-to guy for German art song. Yes, there are other really good composers out there, but they can’t get me to cry as often as Strauss does with the sheer beauty of their work. Seriously, I’ve teared up the last nine times I had to sing Morgen! and some of those times were just in a practice room. I have more Strauss in my lieder repertoire than any other composer, and it’s probably going to stay that way for a while (although my boyfriend probably wants to change that because Schumann is, without hesitation, his favorite).

Morgen! is a hit with everyone and anyone who possesses a heart and a soul. If you don’t enjoy it, you’re probably a robot. There’s a gorgeous version with violin, but this performance with Arleen Auger is probably my favorite.

Allerseelen is my latest Strauss, which is coming along very nicely and feels great to sing. (Sidebar: I actually learned the text first before working on the notes, and score-studied a few times before singing anything – and, wow, did things click into place quickly. I’m usually too impatient to work this way even though plenty of teachers have recommended learning in stages instead of all at once, but I was forced to this time because every moment in the practice room was spent on my recital rep. That left me with opportunities like waiting at the doctor’s office and the 30 minutes going to bed to make some kind of progress with Allerseelen. Here’s one of my score-studying resources, a performance by Kathleen Battle)

Strauss is so clever – the song is through-composed and each statement of  “wie einst im Mai” [like once in May], the unifying refrain at the end of each verse, is different. The contrast of different music combined with repeated text highlights the emotional complexity of the moment as someone remembers a loved one on All Soul’s’ Day, the day dedicated to the departed. The first “wie einst im Mai” is an ascending chromatic line in the upper register. The second is in the lower register, begins with a chromatic ascent that recalls the first statement, leaps up and then resolves by step. The third descends by step, simply and gently. Feel how the triplets introduced in verse three at “ein Tag im Jahr ist ja den Toten frei, komm an mein Herze” [one day of the year the dead are indeed free, come to my heart] launch into the climax at “dass ich dich wieder habe” [that I have you again]. As quickly as the outburst built over three measures, it dissipates in the same length of time. There is a brief instrumental interlude, and then “wie einst im Mai” is echoed one last time using a bittersweet ascending two-note gesture.

I’m very excited to be singing Allerseelen and the Act 1 Finale of Don Giovanni as Zerlina with MusicaNova Orchestra in the concert “And Open to All” on Thursday, April 25, 2013. Concert details and tickets are available here, and you can read Maestro Cohen’s post about Strauss’ lieder here.

New Repertoire, Spring 2012

Sometimes you feel super busy but not productive, and you wonder what you spent all your time doing (certainly wasn’t laundry… or learning a new language).  Making a list helps.  Here’s music I added to my repertoire during Spring semester.


  • Lakmé  in Act 1 of Lakmé(Délibes)
    • Opening sequence: Blanche Durga
    • Flower duet with Mallika: Viens, Mallika, les lianes en fleur … Dôme épais, le jasmin
    • Les fleurs me paraissent plus belle … Pourquoi
    • Duet with Gérald: D’où viens-tu? Que veux-tu?
  • Trois Mélodies (Messiaen)
    • Pourquoi
    • Un sourire
    • La fiancée perdue


  • Norina selections from Don Pasquale (Donizetti)
    • So anch’io la virtù magica
    • Tornami a dir
  • Role: Amore – Orfeo ed Euridice (Gluck) – Bärenreiter edition
    • T’assiste Amore … Gli sguardi trattieni
    • Orfeo, che fai?
    • Triomphi Amore
  • other Amore selections from Orfeo ed Euridice (Gluck) – Ricordi edition
    • Amore assisterà … Se il dolce suon
    • Ascolta, ascolta allor, Orfeo … Gli sguardi trattieni


  • My heart leaps up (Miss Wordsworth) – Albert Herring (Britten)
  • Sure on this shining night (Barber)
  • The harp that hangs on Tara’s walls (Pasatieri)
  • Role: Lucy – The Telephone (Menotti)


  • Durch Zärtlichkeit und Schmeicheln (Blondchen) – Entführung aus dem Serail (Mozart)
  • Ich wollt’ ein Sträußlein binden (R. Strauss)