Tag Archives: sopranos

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!!!!!

 

In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit. – Albert Schweitzer

I’m the first person in my family to pursue a singing career, which is liberating and lonely at the same time. There’s no pressure to follow in someone’s super-successful footsteps, and I had the luxury of exploring my interests to pinpoint what I’d like to devote my life to. However, this exploration was a bumpy one, and in the midst of the various mini-crises and breakdowns there were times I wished someone with classical-singing street smarts could walk me through the process and warn me of both obvious and camouflaged pitfalls. My parents voiced similar concerns, knowing the connections and knowledge they had acquired through their careers would be of little help if I went in my own direction.

I’m old enough now to appreciate how they’ve let me go off on my own into unknown territory. If you’re a parent, an older sibling, or just someone’s good friend, you know the protective feeling of wanting your loved one to be safe, secure, and successful. What exactly went through my parents’ heads when they saw me struggling through various jobs? And when I started to take voice lessons again? And when I announced I was going to apply to graduate school for voice? Well, I’m not sure. But they gave me pep talks after rough competitions and congratulated me after each little hurdle.

In 12 days I will be leaving this city behind to mingle with singers who have not taken a four-year hiatus from studying music. I’m trading a steady paycheck for negative income (ah, student loans). I’m a soprano (there are too many of us!) and not even a rare Wagnerian soprano (enjoy the slow build or fast forward to 4:27). A lot of ladies are singing the same rep, which means I have to do it better best. I’m committing the next two years of my life to a tough field. As a professional tenor friend put it: there is no runner-up, you either book the job or you don’t. This isn’t an industry where second-tier performers can land a mid-level position. Which is why you better be best.

In the midst of all the late-starts and questionable odds, my parents have been remarkably cool about my decision to pursue a singing career. They might not know much about the business, but they’re with my each step of the way.

I’ve experienced a wave of love and support at a level that was completely unexpected. Three weeks ago I began a fundraising campaign to jump start this wild summer of music. My hope is to raise enough funds to cover the cost of the BASOTI program – a lofty, dreamy goal. After all, in such a big world who would be interested in my little campaign? Answer: family, relatives, co-workers, friends, and even high school friends I haven’t seen in almost 10 years.

In a time when opera houses are closing down and states are cutting funding for the arts, I have proof that music and passion and dreams are worthwhile. Through words, smiles, and actions, my supporters have urged me forward. I feel so lucky and so loved to experience such generosity and kindness.

Honor is such an old-fashioned concept, but in an age where we want things “in writing” and the only non-refundable purchases are cars and digital music, it is the right term to use here. I am honored that my friends and family believe in me despite the riskiness of pursuing music. They did not demand a demonstration of my skills or a legally-binding document before betting on me. I have never been more aware of or more appreciative of the good company I keep. A singer can go pretty far on pure determination, but we last longer and go further when we have others backing us up.

Thank you. I have no flowery phrases or elaborate metaphors. Just thank you, thank you, thank you.

Humbled, honored, and with a heart full of love,

Joyce

No shame in strategizing

Learning roles.  This means preparing all music for a character in a given opera even if you haven’t been cast yet.  This is how we pad our sparse resumes when actual stage-time is limited.  Am I speaking just for myself or are there brave souls out there who will admit to this strategy?  There’s no shame, just ruthless practicality.  No one can argue against the marketability of having a role ready to go:

– “Would you like to hire me?  I already know how to do this job.  I’ve spent hours studying, memorizing, and practicing.  And I won’t charge you extra for showing up perfectly qualified and super prepared.”

– “Sure.” (no arguments here)

HR experts and self-help/motivational speakers push us to dress for the job we want, not the job we have.  An opera singer puts on the Viking helmet of her dreams in the privacy of a practice room, and improves her odds by already knowing the notes and the characters.

It’s standard for applications, teachers, and other singers to ask what roles you have prepared.  Thinking fast, I say I’m working on what’s-her-name … because the straightforward answer is: I got nothin’.

The majority of my recent singing centered around local competitions and graduate school auditions.  These situations call for range in languages, time periods, and style.  It’s 15 minutes to show how much bang someone can get for their buck/endorsement/praise.  This versatility has its place in the real-world (I’m guessing here since my experience as a paid singer consists of two – count ’em, two! – contracts), but learning a role speaks of commitment.  It’s like getting your bachelor’s compared to taking some classes at the local community college; no one hates having credits in basketball and basket-weaving, but most of the praise seems to come around graduation time.

Working full-time, and going to school full-time (but not for music) left me very little time to prepare roles.  Thank the singing gods I’ll be an opera performance major in three months.  My existence will revolve around opera.  I’ll have the incredible luxury of spending 8+ hours a day on music rather than 8+ hours thinking about music.  I have a lot of catching up to do.  Many singers younger than me either have more experience or more impressive looking resumes.

I am singing a little of Pamina and Giulietta over the summer in San Francisco. I like a Giulietta with the guts to circumvent her family’s wishes and the maturity to balance out her emo youthfulness.  Does Pamina have the same fire?  She seems gentler and less terrifying to tackle, whereas Giulietta sounds like she could kick you in the face.  But Mozart is a trickster.  He strings notes together in straightforward progressions.  He says it’s okay to let down your guard and it’s absolutely possible to learn this piece in 30 minutes.  His lines float, but you realize you have to work to make it sound so effortless.

Pamina is a good place to start since the voice doesn’t have to fight the orchestration.  But the type of movement and control in Giulietta’s part is what I specialize in as a coloratura.  These two ladies will need to battle it out over the summer.

Plotting and scheming,

Joyce

Born again

My name is Joyce, and this summer marks my transition into life as a full-time soprano.  The classical music scene is a tough one.  There aren’t many tattoos, piercings, gun-fights, or gangs, but it’s cut-throat, under-funded, and over-saturated with sopranos.

Sopranos.  They’re everywhere.  I trip over them.  I even live with one (but she’s wonderful).  And I have voluntarily signed up to compete with them for the rest of my days.  Voluntarily may not be the right word – let’s say my own sense of preservation forced me to re-evaluate my life on a grey cloudy morning while running on a treadmill.  It was not a pretty day, and my mood was just as uninviting and uninspired.  The thought of repeating the same routine was breathtakingly depressing, so how would I go through the same motions the rest of my life?

Something had to give.  That something turned out to be my job because I was laid off later that month.  The universe truly works in mysterious ways.

That was the turning-point, the moment when I stopped digging myself deeper into a pit of emptiness and accepted singing as my passion.   2.5 years later, I am getting ready to move to San Francisco for a summer opera program and then to Arizona for my master’s in opera performance.  It will be a busy transition, but it’s only the start.

Cheers,

Joyce