Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Barber gets a shave

Before I came to Milwaukee to sing Barber of Seville, I wanted to get the genuine barber experience, so I went to a fantastic place in downtown St. Paul called Heimie's.  Here's what happened.

For those of you (like myself) who had never had a professional shave before, I highly recommend it.  It was indeed smooth as a baby's bottom, and lasted for several days.  

I shot this using my digital camera, and the memory card ran out of space before he put the straight blade on me- Sorry!  I tried to use the magic of video (and Apple editing software) to tell the story anyway.  Enjoy!


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Here's what I don't recommend...

...staging Largo for 2 1/2 hours in the afternoon (PS- this is in no way a 'park and bark' or 'can belto' production of Barber), insisting on singing out for most of it, and then do a whole sing-through of the opera in the evening.

The good news is, I can sing the whole role in not-the-most-ideal circumstances (with 12 performances of this bad boy, that's a good feeling).  The bad news is, I feel like a truck hit me today.  The cords feel fine, but I could use a good hard slap in the face.  I'm sure there are one or two volunteers out there.  

More later.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

I am the king of lather and foam

Well folks, it's been awhile hasn't it?  I have had the last two weeks off and, being in the throes of domesticity, have honestly had no desire to blog whatsoever.  I had a fantastic time at home.  My daughter had her 2nd birthday party, we got to spend time with great friends and family, and we went on a trip to Boulder, CO for a dear friend's wedding .

(sidebar: I'm trying to figure out if I can write this trip off, since I sang an excerpt from 'Cosi fan tutte' during the ceremony.  Is that legit?  Oh, also...we almost didn't make it to Boulder because we were following the timeline set for us by former stage manager and current assistant to the Artistic Director of the Guthrie, Katie Koch.  The timeline was brilliant- the only problem was it was for a flight that left an hour later than ours in fact did.  I told Koch that little tidbit en route to downtown Minneapolis and man, you've never seen three luggage toting people move so fast.  As I was frantically checking us in via my Blackberry, we realized that the Twins game had just let out and our brilliant plan of taking mass transit to the Airport was now going to be a complete, well, train wreck.  We sprinted to the nearest taxi, and luckily got a cabbie who, when seeing that the highway was a parking lot, took us to the airport via the River Road [all the while hocking loogies into a clear plastic cup].  We got through security and to the gate right as they were boarding.  It was brilliant, skin-of-the-teeth episode.  I only include it here because it seemed very Figaro-esque, and, oh yeah, I promised Koch I would mention her in the blog.  Moral of the story: never trust an off-duty stage manager). 

Back to task.  I drove in to Milwaukee yesterday morning.  It was a 5 hour trip and I had about 20 minutes to check in to my hotel, change my clothes, warm up, and run to rehearsal.  I was either so jacked up on caffeine from the drive or so nervous to actually be rehearsing Barber of Seville that I was shaking during the first half of Largo.  The beautiful thing about this place, though, is that you're working with friends.  After I realized that I was just singing with Pasquale and Jamie, I relaxed and started enjoying it, and actually had a pretty great rehearsal.  If I can sing it after driving in the car for 5 hours, I should be able to do this thing.  Right?

I probably sound paranoid, and you're going to hear (read) a lot of this.  Figaro has always been sort of a pinnacle role for me- that unattainable goal, impossible dream, unreachable star, whatever you want to call it.  As a young singer with lots of technical issues but good stage savvy, I ended up singing a lot of basso buffo roles- Don Alfonso, Don Pasquale, and Bartolo in the Barber of Seville.  In fact, I sang Bartolo here at the Skylight.  10 YEARS AGO.  Now I'm a decade older, singing a role 30 years younger.  Call me the Benjamin Button of opera.  Anyway, the point is that I always knew I was a baritone at heart, and that if I worked hard enough I would figure out all the technical crap that was hanging me up.  In my mind, Figaro was the measuring stick role for me.  If I could sing that, well, then I had truly learned something about singing.  

Here I am.  

Have I learned anything about singing?  Well. I'll find out, won't I?

12 performances of a fiendishly difficult role.  A company that has national attention right now.  Controversy.  Contracts pulled and reinstated.  To quote my friend Artsy Schmartsy, I had 'better not suck.'  Indeed.  I couldn't be working on this piece at a more supportive place or with a more supportive team.  Yeah, I'm freaked out, but excited.  Sing through tonight.  

Here's a quote about Beaumarchais (and by proxy Figaro) from his friend Gudin:
Thus it was, that in every circumstance throughout his life he was entirely absorbed in the thing at hand, without worrying about what had gone before or what would follow, so sure he was of his faculties and his presence of mind.  He never needed to rehearse.  his mind was never diminished in any way, and his principles were so sound that they never failed him.
 Here's hoping a little of that rubs off on me.


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Year of Figaro resumes tomorrow

I'll be on the road all morning tomorrow to make it to my first Barber of Seville rehearsal at Skylight.  I'm going back and forth between being super excited and completely terrified.  This role is hard.  I sang through the whole thing every day this week in preparation, and I think I'm in OK shape.  We'll find out tomorrow.  Stay tuned.  Lots to talk about.  


Saturday, August 8, 2009

I heart travel days

I'm currently at the Atlanta airport en route home from Charlottesville. We had a good final performance last night. There were a few crazy tempos (I think 'deh vieni' is still going- that's how slow it was), but what are you going to do? Have I mentioned that we had a week off in between performances?

I am planning to do a post-mortem on this one at some point, but for now I'll just say how gratifying it is to work with wonderful people. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that it may in fact be the best part of the job. I hope the Camelot cast has a great final weekend, hope the apprentices can hang on for 2 more days (along with Ashley, Shelby and Adam), hope Magda has a great Carmen, hope that Greg and Maddie have an amazing time at the beach, hope that Maurizio and Liz have a safe drive to Miami, and hope Ash-Lo doesn't get arrested for the all the fun she's going to have in the city. It was a pleasure working with all of you.

OK, back to travel days. First of all, I should be writing this in mid-air because AirTran now offers inflight wi-fi. How cool is that? Not anticipating that little perk, my computer's battery is dead, so I have to thumb-type on my phone.

I started my travel day by driving with Ash-Lo to Reagan Nat'l in DC. It was a fitting end to the summer,as she picked me up when I first flew into town. We had a great chat and some greasy b-fast from the BK Lounge. It was beautiful.

On the first leg of my flight, I sat next to the crankiest old lady in the world. First she got angry at me for having such a big backpack. She said, "what are you going to do with all that crap?"
I said, "I'm going to put it under the seat in front of me."
"Well, you're certainly optimistic. Why do you bring all that crap? People are too lazy to just take it to the waiting room."
...Silence from me. I really have no idea what that last comment is supposed to mean.
"I presume you are going to take your hat off. I AM a lady!"
I swear I am not making this up. Of course the proper response is "well you're not acting like one," but did I sink to her level? No. I took the high road. Why? Well, life is too short to get into fights with old ladies.

And, more importantly, there was also inflight XM radio featuring 'Hair Nation.'. Nothing was going to spoil that for me.

Nearly home. I hope I get another crazy person to sit by on this flight.


Friday, August 7, 2009


Well, it's the final performance of Figaro at Ashlawn Opera tonight. I'm writing this on my phone, waiting to go to the 5:00 recit brush-up rehearsal (have I mentioned that there has been a week in between each performance?).

I look forward to tonight, ut not as much as I look forward to going home, seeing my girls, and sleeping in my own bed. This has been a long time on the road, and even though I got to go home for a week (did I mention that there has een a week in between each performance?), I feel like I've been away forever.

With that in mind, it's time to get my game face on and put this one to bed. It's nice to think that this isn't the end of the road for the year of Figaro.


Thursday, August 6, 2009

A Year of Figaro remains intact

As most of you know by now, the news came in yesterday afternoon about Eric Dillner resigning as General Director at Skylight.  Former managing directors Joan Lounsbury and Colin Cabot will take over leadership of the company, with Bill Theisen returning as stage director and artistic consultant.  My first inclination was to run to my computer and vomit out six weeks' worth of bloggy goodness, but instead I opened up a bottle of wine, enjoyed the company of some of my Ashlawn cast, and caught up with good friends on the phone.  There were to many disparate thoughts and emotions swimming around in my head to write down.  As it is, this blog entry might be a bit nebulous.  

My year of Figaro is back on! 

Skylight is still going to have a lot of challenges ahead, figuring out a business model that will lead them into the future.  But I think that they have a team of people that can absolutely meet that challenge.  Colin, Joan, and Bill have the good will of the community, the context of the history of the company, and the smarts to pull this off.  This is how to do a 50th Anniversary season.

I know this doesn't automatically fix all of SOT's problems, but what a victory for the company, the artists, the community!  I saw a picture on Tuesdays Blog of a bunch of SOT folk raising a glass in Catalano Square (ground zero for a lot of the protest/forum activity) and my heart went out to my friends.  How I wished I could have been there to celebrate.  The love and the care they have shown are extraordinary.  

I sort of can't believe that it actually turned out this way.  When people backed out of their contracts, it was to show support for Bill and to send a message to the board.  Who ever would have expected it to actually work?  Of course we were all hoping it would, but I had resigned myself to the fact that my year of Figaro would be a half-year of Figaro, not knowing if I'd ever sing Figaro again, that the end of the world, art, and music were at hand (I'm paraphrasing my brilliant manager, who has been watching this story like a hawk and was thrilled when the news broke).  And then a true deus ex machina (in the form of Joan and Colin) happens, and the entire debacle is turned around and the season is restored.  I hope someone is writing an opera about this.  It couldn't be more perfect.  I want to play the part of Jamie Johns.  

I have only been on the periphery of this story.  I don't live in Milwaukee, and I wasn't there to see this unfold first hand.  SOT has always welcomed me as one of their own, however, and through the blessing and curse that is social media, I felt like I was there.  From my vantage point, there are some true heroes in this story (they should each get an aria in the opera version of this)-

Jamie Johns, who was the most vocal opponent at the beginning, helped get the word out on Facebook, and rallied SOT supporters to make their voices heard, only to get fired in the process.  

Jonathan West, Tony Clements, along with Tom Strini, who reported each new bizarre chapter of this twisted tale, gave us the facts behind the rumors, and provided sound, level-headed commentary on what was going on.

The Skylight staff, who soldiered on in what must have been one of the most uncomfortable working environments ever.

Colin Cabot, who dropped everything to save this company.

I want to say a sincere thank you to Eric Dillner.  I don't think that he is Darth Vader, and I believe he had good intentions for SOT.  This was a catastrophe, though, and he made the right decision by stepping down so that the company could try to heal and move forward.  I'm sure it was not an easy decision, as it wasn't an easy decision for any of us who stepped down, but it was the right one.  Thanks Eric.  

I hope arts organizations all over the country are following this story and being encouraged by it.  Yes, I think it is encouraging for arts organizations.  Hell, I think it is encouraging for democracy.  You can make your voice heard and you can make a difference.  I think it is a victory for Milwaukee, but also a victory for the arts.  Every arts group is trying to find their way through this mess of an economy.  I think the path through it is BEING AN ARTS ORGANIZATION- sticking to your guns, and not running your opera company like a for-profit corporation.  Yesterday was a victory for artistic vision and leadership.  

I hope that people never forget this chapter in Skylight's history.  When people cared so much for a little company that they couldn't watch it slip away and through songs, tears, heartbreak, anger, laughter, and hard work, they saved it.  

I can't wait to walk into 158 N Broadway for the first day of Barber rehearsal.  

The End (?)


Sunday, August 2, 2009

your FORMER blog of the month

As it is August now, AYOF is officially no longer the Opera America Bloggo The Month.  So, instead of the award-winning material you have become accustomed to, I'm going back to the mindless drivel I doled out heretofore.  

Last night we had our third performance of Figaro.  This schedule is INSANE.  Our last performance was a week ago.  There is absolutely no momentum to this run of performances.  I don't know if I could even call it a run of performances.  It's more like a stagger of performances. It is intensely difficult to come back after a week and try to get your show back.  Ok, not intensely difficult like neuroscience is intensely difficult, but still....

Anyway, it feels like there are big sections of show that are passing us by- it's feeling a bit like instant opera at this point.  However, I do have to say that some of the moment-to-moment interaction does feel really spontaneous and honest.  And last night was actually,, dammit.  I think we all have embraced this kooky situation for what it is and have just decided to go out there with our guns blazin'.  

For me personally, I had a ball.  I have sort of decided to let this show be a bit of a playground for me, vocally speaking.  I have decided not to be afraid to sound totally terrible for the sake of being more vocally honest (i.e. singing with integrity vis-a-vis the technique I continue to work on).  The result has been more vocal freedom, more interesting singing...and I haven't sounded totally terrible yet (arguable).  I'm speaking in singer-y voodoo again.  Sorry.  It is just very freeing to give yourself permission to fail every now and again.  It was probably one of the best-sung Figaros yet, and I felt like I could have sung another one at the end of the night.  That ain't bad, kids.  

I'm thinking of live blogging my last Figaro (and my last in the year of Figaro).  Is that weird?  It might be kind of lame, but hey, I'm no longer Bloggo the Month, so what do I care?

In the meantime, here's another clip from the Vermont Figaro that just went up on Youtube; note my shapely calves and the Ritter-esque (I wish!!!) quality of the opening.  

Fun times.

I know it's been quiet on the blog lately.  Sorry about that.  It took me awhile to get over the whole Skylight thing, and I do appreciate all the support I got from all of my readership.  Thanks!  I'll be back with more tales soon.