Tag Archives: youtube

Baroque Concert for the New Year

With some quick organizing, enthusiastic musicians, and good colleagues, the unlikely is not impossible! The early music concert that almost happened a year and a half ago has been re-imagined and resurrected, and it’s taking place this Friday, January 9, in Berkeley, CA..

I almost didn’t bring up the idea with Eugene, but I did on a whim because I remembered how excited we were about the music and the chance to perform together. Ask and you shall receive — what a way to start the year!

Chabot Chamber Society presents a Baroque Concert for the New Year:

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The two cantata’s, Bach’s Weichet nur, betrübte Schatten (Wedding Cantata, BWV 202) and Montéclair’s Le Dépit Généreux, were pieces I’d originally learned in 2013, and I’m so pleased to be singing them in less than a week.

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A Cinderella Comeback

This past weekend I had the thrill of singing La Fée with soprano Laura Mitchell as my Cendrillon. We both did our undergraduate degrees in San Diego, and it was such a pleasure to be reunited and to sing together.

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Reunited with soprano Laura Mitchell. NYC, 2014.

Having the opportunity to learn the rest of the role and revisit La Fée’s coloratura-filled aria and eyebrow-raising Act 3 scene was immensely rewarding and validating. After getting through the initial bumps in the note-learning and muscle-coordinating processes, I found that the less I stressed about the hard parts, the more easily and cleanly they came. A year and a half ago the vocal demands of La Fée had left me feeling a bit beat-up, but this year I came away from the performance feeling confident and quite happy. Continue reading

Confessions of a Classical Singer: Les Misérables

Brace yourself – it’s confession time.

Years and years before I even cared at all about opera, I loved musical theater.

And long before I ever dreamed about about singing La Fée, Norina, Sophie (both Strauss’ and Massenet’s), Marie, or Susanna, I fantasized about singing Cosette and Eponine. I listened to the Les Misérables Complete Symphonic Recording non-stop (I had the CD set, but you can find it on YouTube as well). I knew all the words and all the numbers, and I even knew the slightly operatic recitatives (perhaps a hint of the direction I would being moving in?) and found them weirdly fascinating.

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Iconic Playbill and Les Misérables image. Broadway, 2014.

It wasn’t just Les Misérables I dreamed of being in. There was also The Phantom of the Opera (oh yes, I’m one of those opera singers who loves The Phantom of the Opera), Miss Saigon, and Into the Woods, to name a few. But it became apparent early on that I didn’t have that musical theater edge to my sound – no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t figure out how to belt, and my friends got the pop solos in choir while I got the “classical” ones. I battled years of severe belt- and riff- envy, but eventually I got seriously excited about classical singing.  Continue reading

The Fairy Godmother, a Dream Role

About 3 years ago, a fellow soprano-friend and I were in San Francisco and chatting about repertoire and roles when she suggested I look into the fairy godmother in Massenet’s take on the Cinderella story, Cendrillon. Massenet, I knew, but Cendrillon?

Back then, a YouTube search resulted in only about five Cendrillon clips that weren’t French dubs of the Disney movie, one of which was this recording of Esther Heideman singing La Fée’s aria “Ah! douce enfant.”

One listen, and I was in love.

Over the next few years I learned the aria even though it was on the obscure side and, therefore, not a great audition choice — I wanted to learn it just to learn it and to sing it, even if it was just for myself. I even had the opportunity to learn and perform La Fée’s second big scene, in Act 3, when she works a bit of magic to bring Cendrillon and the Prince together after their first encounter at the ball. Annalise Belnap sang Cendrillon, Kristin Roney sang the Prince, and during rehearsals the three of us would melt into puddles over the way Massenet spun these soaring, pleading lines.

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La Fée with her Cendrillon, Annalise Belnap. ASU Lyric Opera Scenes, 2013.

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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!!!!!

 

Post-Bastienne

Last Sunday’s performance of Bastien und Bastienne went well! Baritone Boy sang in an earlier performance at the same venue, and so of course he stayed for the concert. Several of my friends from work also came out to cheer for me, and I loved having them there. My NYU family has been enthusiastic about my singing (they managed to find some YouTube videos of me), and their support has truly been humbling and encouraging.

I had a fantastic time singing with Grant Mech (Colas) and Nils Neubert (Bastien). Both gentlemen were very talented, and I’d say our group had excellent chemistry. Grant’s “Diggi, daggi” was a blast, and Nils and I had such fun during our duet. One of my favorite musical moments is the mini-figuette in the second half of the trio (at 40:44); ten regal, stately, grown-up, glorious seconds that really pop out from the rest of the opera.

What made it such a fun performance was that the three of us were doing more than just singing what was on the page. We were reflecting, thinking, feeling, emoting – all the things that turn a dry, correct performance into an entertaining one. Then there were a few times when I would be in the middle of doing just that, and suddenly a corner of my brain said, “Hold up, what words come next and when’s your entrance?” and my eyes would have to find my place on the page. For this concert performance we weren’t required to be off-book, a detail which, initially, is a relief since memorizing can be a pain/stressful. And while I knew my music well enough to not be buried in my score, I still found myself relying on the music a little more than I would have liked. If I have the opportunity to do something like this again, I think I’ll work to be at least 75% memorized even if it’s not a requirement.

Pei-wen Chen, our conductor and pianist, was fantastic to work with as well. She made several observations about phrasing, vowels, and articulation that I will be keeping in mind moving forward. Collaborating with her was a great experience. She was working with multiple casts, and I saw how she made suggestions based on each individual singers’ voice, personality, and preferences. I had added a small sprinkling of embellishments at cadence points that I hoped to get away with, and after my interest in Handel came up in conversation, Pei-wen then gave me a bunch more to spice things up while keeping it Mozartian and tasteful. The extra notes probably weren’t obvious as extra notes to those without a score, but having those little flourishes throughout was like finding secret bonuses in a video game.

This Bastienne was a great experience, and it has me fired up to do more Mozart. Pei-wen pointed out similarities between Bastienne and Susanna… so maybe there’s my answer to what Mozart role I should look at next!

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With Pei-wen Chen, conductor and pianist, post-concert. NOLA, 2014.

Bastien und Bastienne

Tomorrow I’ll be singing my first full Mozart role! It may be a role from one-act opera that he wrote when he was a pre-teen, but it still counts!

Each of the little numbers Mozart has composed for this piece is a gem. I can just imagine a mini-Mozart sitting at a desk that dwarves him, his feet dangling from a too-high chair, scribbling away as these ideas come to him. Hear for yourself: a recording of the whole work is available here, with Dagmar Schellenberger as Bastienne, Ralph Eschrig as Bastien, and René Pape as Colas.

The story is simple: Bastien has left Bastienne for a fancier city girl, and Colas, the local pseudo-magician (I envision him as a slightly drunk Santa – I’m not the only one, am I?), helps bring the two lovers back together. The music seems simple, which is appropriate for these country folks, but there are nuances in the changing meter, shifting tempi, and the layers of emotions revealed phrase by phrase. As I was going through the text and writing in the translation, I was surprised at how infrequently Mozart allowed Bastienne, a heartbroken shepherdess, to descend into melodramatic moping and sighing. My sense is that Bastienne is fairly young, and as a country girl, not too sophisticated. However, Mozart writes music for her that is graceful, charming, and clever. Given how upset she must be (a teenager who has just been dumped by her boyfriend), she doesn’t spend too much time wallowing in minor keys. I find this pretty impressive.

Getting this music in my voice has been a bit of an experiment. By the time I knew the notes well enough that taking into my lesson made sense, my teacher was heading out of town for a month-plus of traveling and performing. Bastienne’s music isn’t flashy and virtuosic, but it has definitely challenged me in other ways. Many of the phrases dip into the lower end of my voice, and I sing quite a few notes below the staff. This is a pretty big deal for me because for a long time I considered anything below a B4 to be problematic in tone, resonance, and volume.

I’ve been working on my middle voice, and I actually added a predominantly middle-voice aria, “Piangerò, la sorte mia,” to my rep last year and felt really good about it. Since moving to NYC, I’ve been learning how to relax into my middle voice instead of trying to control it in my search for resonance. As a result, I think that part of my voice is getting stronger and fuller. Along with that, my teacher and Baritone Boy say that my overall sound is getting warmer… things are opening up, and I’ve started looking at music I previously thought to be unlikely/improbable. But I digress! Back to Bastienne: the performance is tomorrow. I’ve never sung in the space before, so I have no sense of how big or live or unfriendly it is. I will remind myself to focus on the sensations of breath flowing rather than fixating on whether it sounds good.

I’m excited for tomorrow, and I wonder what Mozart I’ll tackle next!

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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!