I have been so moved to continue my blogging in a larger, more frequent, and broader topical sense, that I would like to bring an end to this blog here, and invite you, if you've liked what you've read thus far, to visit my new blog by clicking on this link.
Thanks so very much for your interest!
So, after seeing two great operas in Berlin, I continued my journey through Germany and made my way to Dortmund, about 45 minutes outside of Duesseldorf, and a marvelous city in its own right. I saw 'Die Fledermaus' at the Oper Dortmund, which, by the way, is a wonderfully modern theater, perhaps on the same architectural plane as the Deutsche Oper Berlin, because of its streamlined look. The upper balconies, as well as the area which would normally be the 'cheap seats' in any other theater (the ones at the highest point and the furthest from the stage) all amazingly offered unadulterated and impeccable views of the stage, and I would wager, possibly the farthest back, top most seats might have even been the best- considering that the sound would be best there- and you could actually SEE the singers (and they didn't look like ants!)--go figure!
Anyway, besides a beautiful and marvelously designed theater space, Oper Dortmund also boasts a thoughtful production team, and quite expert singers. This particular production was "Die Fledermaus" by Johnann Strauss, and served as a reminder to myself as well as the other members of the audience that Regietheater in Germany is a live and well and that we certainly weren't stateside. The production itself was modernized to be taking place in our current era in an apartment of an upper middle-class couple in Vienna. Nothing was remarkable about that scenario, nor was it remarkable that the prince's palace was depicted to be some sort of gentleman's club where the 'ballet dancers' were depicted as scantily clad temptresses and it almost seemed to be what one would imagine the inside of the Playboy mansion might be like during a party. Anyway, even those aspects of the production were rendered childlike in their innocent nature when one considers how the show began.
I, like many of my singer colleagues, feel that gratuitous nakedness in any art form ( performance art, opera singing, movies, broadway) detracts from the original intention of the creators of that particular piece (of music, of art, of film) unless that particular piece of art was created with those specific instances of nakedness to be included for a strategic affect or plot point of the piece. However, we are all familiar with nakedness for the sake of 'shock value' when viewed in the context of 'spicing up an old production of (insert name of any well-liked performance piece here) in order to make people come to the theater/gallery and to make sure that tell their friends to attend too.
Well, now you want to know how the production began. It began, quite simply, with the re-enactment of what happened in the past between Falke and Eisenstein, which spurred Falke to conjure up the entire 'Fledermaus' gag to make Eisenstein look like a fool. In the first moments before the conductor comes out to the pit, the curtain is raised and we see a town square with a well, and a group of men (possibly middle aged) gathered around someone seated on the wall of the well, who is obviously drunk. This unknown person is stripped of his all his clothes by the other men surrounding him, and his face is covered with a black sack as the men leave him there, and run off together laughing. He comes to after a few moments alone, and after taking off the black sack, realizes that he is completely naked in the middle of the town square (and in front of the audience, who serve the role of townspeople, as assumed by the unnamed man's horrified reaction) and begins to look for any way out of this embarrassing situation- which leads him to run across the edge of the stage from left to right, and then right to left, and then, in his haste and anxiety, down the stairs of the stage at the front corner, and across and over the laps of the people seated in the front row of the audience, and finally up the stairs on the other side and off the stage into the wings.
Needless to say, I was not sure what to expect from the rest of the production when it began like that, but I did appreciate that this nakedness was serving the back story of the actual opera that the audience was viewing, and, it was giving a bit of equality to the nakedness that I have been witness to on the stages of Germany (a.k.a. at least it wasn't more topless wo
My second operatic experience in Germany was on New Year's Eve Day at the 3pm matinee performance of Rossini's Der Barbier von Sevilla at the Deutsche Oper Berlin. Located to the west of the center of the city on Bismarkstrasse, this theater was quite a contrast to the design of the Komische Oper. It was built as it currently stands in 1961 after being mostly destroyed in the second world war. The starkness and minimalistic design which pervades the architecture of the building was created so that it would "emphasize the importance of the performance in the Deutsche Oper Berlin – and not the social occasion", says the website of the Opera house itself.
Anyway, back to the details. The performance was sung in Italian with German super titles, and the overall quality of the performance was easily on par with the Metropolitan Opera's fare in recent years. Both of these important theaters' productions are characterized by modern approaches to set design (not in an avant-garde fashion, but just evocative of the time period in which the action occurs, but with less lavish eye for detail) and their costumes are equally well created (appropriate, tasteful and interesting but never gaudy). The singers were as follows: Yosep Kang as Graf Almaviva, Tiziano Bracci as Bartolo, Jana Kurucova as Rosina, Markus Brueck as Figaro, Ante Jerkunica as Basilio, James J. Kee (as fellow American who is there on a Fellowship from the Opera Foundation in NYC) as Fiorello, Hulkar Sabirova as Berta, Krzystof Szumansi as Ein Offizier, and Antje Brameyer as Ein Notar. The conductor was Enrique Mazzola and the director was Katharina Thalbach.
The charming colloquialness that the production intended to portray by setting the action of the plot on a street by the beach in Italy was just wonderful and really was well received by the audience. It provided a different idea of the character of Rosina as well, since her back story was portrayed as being the captor of the Doctor, but in this case he is a traveling performer and Rosina's singing is his main attraction. It all works splendidly within the framework of Rossini's masterpiece, and it brings a real sense of spontaneity and verve to the characters of Rosina and Dr. Bartolo that I have not experienced before in the traditional plot setting.
Overall it was a production that I very much enjoyed with fine singing, wonderful plot interpretation, beautiful costumes, scenery and lighting, and an irreplaceable accuracy of execution which brought it all together wonderfully.
I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to travel to Germany this January and while I was there I also was able to see many Operas. As you may know, Germany has a rich history of Operatic performing, as well as composing, and I found it quite exhilarating to be in the same cities as so many great musicians had been, and seeing the same orchestras which perhaps at one point had been the collaborators (historically speaking) with some of the most notable Opera composers during the past three centuries.
In the spirit of brevity, I will describe my journey through Germany in terms of my Operatic experiences, so that you will be able to reap the largest rewards from my time there. And, hopefully, even though you were not there with me, it will be as though you were- and that way these wonderful performances will be able to reach you as an audience, and hopefully you will be spurred to make your own trip to Germany sometime soon, or at least to your local Opera theaters, where ever those may be.
The first opera I experienced was a production of Verdi's Rigoletto performed at the Komische Oper Berlin, which is a lovely Rococo-style theater located on Behrenstrasse, in the same neighborhood as the Russian Embassy, the British Embassy, and Cafe Einstein, among other notable landmarks in the Berlin landscape. I viewed this performance on Monday, the 28th of December from the top right hand corner of the balcony (but, it should be mentioned that since this theater is such a small theater- reminiscent of a jewelry box-being in the topmost balcony in no way hindered my ability to see or hear the action on stage). The performance was sung in German with German and English subtitles which were cleverly situated, I might add, on the back of the seat in front of you (similar to the Met, but these are actually on the seat back itself).
The singers were as follows: Christopher Robertson as Rigoletto, Julia Novikova as Gilda, Tilmann Roennebeck as Sparafucile/Monterone, David Williams as Graf von Ceprano, Christiane Oertel as Die Graefin von Ceprano/Maddalena/Giovanna, Hector Sandoval as Der Herzog von Mantua, Guenter Papendell as Marullo, and Christoph Spaeth as Borsa. The production was entirely modern and the costumes were seemingly from the 1950's and 60's, as there were suits with vests and then later monkey suits with monkey masks and clown suits with clown masks for the male chorus members, and seemingly run-of-the-mill working-class garb for the principals. It is important to note that the set was very minimal, a raked stage, and three monochromatic white walls (which were then color-changed with lighting) and therefore, costumes played a huge role in this production. Not only did they serve to project the intended characterization of each performer, but they also had to ignite the viewer's interest since the rest of the stage was so empty (minus a few set pieces when absolutely needed- a closet for Gilda to pop out of in the first Act, a descending staircase to indicate the jail, and a box for Gilda to creep out of when she dies). Rigoletto's costumes were certainly the most drastic in terms of contrast between his life at court (as the audience is supposed to view it through the eyes of the costume designer) and his life at home with Gilda. His first outfit is an impossibly humongous paper mache head (akin to a real-life bobble head figurine) with a grimacing smile on the front side and a crying frown on the back side, accompanied by a silver and white dress with a hoop skirt large enough to cover half the stage (since, when the chorus first enters, they actually climb out from under this very dress).
In regards to the singing, I am hard pressed to remember exactly what I thought since it was about two months ago, however, I do remember that I really liked Hector Sandoval as the Duke, and I also liked Christopher Robertson as Rigoletto.
I am not sure if everyone who reads my blog would be interested in this, but if you are game to see me sing live and in person, there are newly posted concert announcements for the Philadelphia and New York City areas for the next four weeks. If you are interested in coming please either contact me via the contact form here on the website, or contact the opera companies via their websites which I posted on the 'Performance Schedule' section of the website. I hope to see you all there if you are available! Thanks so much for supporting my artistry- I know they will be great collaborative efforts and my colleagues are superb- so you are in for a treat!
Hello All! Just wanted to wish everyone a wonderful Holiday season and a successful and joyous New Year's celebration, and take some time to update you on what is keeping me busy these days since I've not posted anything in a few weeks.
I've done some more Young Artist Program auditions- and actually the first weekend of this month I had four auditions back-to-back for really wonderful programs. I was lucky just to be able to sing for, and meet some of these wonderful Artistic Administrators who are behind the YAPs (Young Artist Programs) nowadays- they are such nice people! They certainly help to make the audition process enjoyable during somewhat questionable weather (I had one audition that was in the middle of a snowstorm!).
I just completed my final audition on Friday in NYC, so I'm looking forward to having a little bit more time during the holidays to try and learn new repertoire that I did not get a chance to work on as much as I would have liked during the hectic audition season this fall.
What's in the works, you ask? Well, that is for me to know, and you to find out--when it gets performed! :) Now is the time to really hone these roles and try to get a more accurate picture of how to show their characters through the music the composers provided, as well as what I know about their time period, their situation in the story, and things like that. It's funny, more often than not, as an Opera Singer, you're also working as a detective. You're unearthing all those things that the composer put in the music that tells you his opinion about the character, and the things the librettist slipped in which show you what kind of a person the character was, and then making a conglomeration of these facts that you've found, coupled with your own knowledge about life circumstances, to bring about the finished product- or, more aptly put, the character that you can play. It's an interesting process; I know that I learn something more about myself every time that I learn something more about the character that I'm portraying.
Anyway, enough of my soapbox about characterization, I'm probably just at the point now where that would have gotten boring to you readers anyway.....lol!
WIshing everyone a Happy Holiday Season and a Very Happy, Healthy, and Successful New Year!!
I reserve entries to this blog having to do with my opinions on other peoples singing performances to a minimum, and I include them only when I really feel that they were examples of superb artistry and a deep love for opera and or classical singing. That being said, I feel that I would be doing you, the readers and audience members, a huge disservice if I were to neglect to tell you about my experience at The Metropolitan Opera earlier this evening.
The performance of Janacek's 'House of the Dead' was critically acclaimed in the papers in the past week, and since I am a fan of every Janacek work that I have thus far heard, I decided that I needed to go. I was not disappointed; my experience at the opera this evening was not merely a display of beautiful vocalism. Janacek's adaptation of Dostoevsky's novel (of the same name--which was loosely based on his own experiences as a political prisoner) could be described with all the words you'd associate with a blockbuster hit at movie box offices. Spellbinding, thrilling, exhilarating, nothing-like-you've-ever-seen, gripping, heart-stopping, chilling. These words only begin to skim the surface of all that lurks beneath the waters of Janacek's icy depths.
The orchestral accompaniment began with a quasi-overture, as it wasn't really long enough to merit the title, but served as a purely instrumental introduction to the themes of the plot, and the common threads which Janacek would later revisit in the soliloquies of the three main soloists. It was interesting in a tonal sound scape perspective because since the cast was 95% male, the sonorities produced by the orchestra were not able to be wielded as typically done. There were actually many times where the voices were singing in the higher part of their tessitura to create a haunting and empty sort of color to their sound and with the ostinato chugging along beneath to keep the audible "visual", if you will, of the constancy and stagnation of prison life, it was masterfully handled. His harmonies were also delicious, in that, they were quasi grating. But only in a way that became apparent after a few repeats of the figure. However, he then simply dissolves those grating harmonies into something quite beautiful, in an almost fragile-sounding way. Perhaps he was evoking the transiency of the beauty of life, or the double-edged quality to every circumstance.
The most striking and poignant part of this work though, was definitely the psychological aspect that was explored through the libretto (which was transliterated from Janacek himself from Dostoevsky's original Russian--and was not a literal translation) and was communicated in a series of vignettes which Janacek strung together to create a cohesive whole with a common theme. It's hard for me as an audience member to know where to begin to explain this, as it was all so wonderful, and there were so many layers of meaning to appreciate and consider. Basically the story hinges on prisioners in a jail in Siberia, and focuses on three prisoners' stories, and as the stories are told, in a sometimes roundabout and minimalistic way, the audience member gets a sense of the general experience of the prisoners and of their humanity (even in spite of their horrible crimes). This piece becomes more about the human needs of the prisoners rather than what they did to deserve punishment of this degree.
I could certainly go on and on (and on and on!) about the wonders of the psychological complexities of this work, but it would only really make sense to do that if you were familiar with the storyline. However, I don't feel adequately equipped to tell the story to you, as it wouldn't really work for me to relate a quickly boiled down version and then for me to tell you the psychological implications, because the very way in which the story is presented has everything to do with how its perceived, and nothing with what actually happens IN the story. It's a very ingenious and complex architecture that Janacek constructs here. He was certainly a master, as are most poets, of saying what he meant but using words that mean nothing even close to his actual underlying message.
So, as I am in danger of starving your brains with commentary about something which cannot be fully explained in a written medium (of a critical nature, at least), I would like to urge you to please PLEASE see this work for yourself. And if you are not in New York City, please at least read up about it online or get a recording. It's absolutely something to which everyone can relate, and something of which everyone should experience a part.
And for goodness sake--if you're not familiar with Janacek and you love haunting and thought-provoking storytelling- you owe it to yourself to check out his work!!
I've decided to make a career change. And by that I don't mean, changing my focus away from my singing studies. On the contrary, I'm actually talking about voluntarily devoting all of my time to the pursuit of my artistic preparations. This may seem like a strange time to do such a thing, as the country is in the throes of an economic downturn, however, I'm of the opinion that there is no time like the present, and so I have decided to make that leap of faith even in this most trying of times. In order to better prepare for this period of low income but high yields (in the department of learning roles and honing my craft, that is) I've decided to apply for several grants which hopefully will help to fund my decision and allow me to pay for necessary singing expenses (audition fees, coaching fees, transportation costs, new scores, reprints of headshots, etc...) while still devoting the large part of my time to the study of singing. (So, for those of you readers who are grant writers- email me if you feel like lending some charitable advice!)
This might be a shock to people who are not musicians or did not grow up knowing someone who was living and working as a musician, but it does take much more time to really develop your ability in order to make a living from it than most people think. So, with this new found knowledge, the determination to learn as much as I can in this year's time, and my recent acceptance to Center City Opera Theater as an Apprentice Artist, my decision to take this year and make it count has actually been pretty aptly timed. I am hoping that those of you who read my blog and follow along on my singing exploits in this wonderful field will be tickled and equally excited for me. Just think--you will soon be able to read about what it will be like for me to devote my entire life (starting now) to singing. I have heard the popular quote "Fate is a fickle master" and I have decided that I am going to meet whatever Fate has to throw my way with a smile and some good ol' fashioned gumption, and then just let the rest go.
So far I've only gotten one difficult hurdle to overcome which has been cropping up in the past weeks in relation to this decision--an full schedule! You know, whoever said that when you work for yourself you work longer and harder was definitely right! I guess it's easier to divorce yourself from you work if you don't like what you do, or if you work for a large company where you might not see the direct result of your efforts, but I can certainly affirm that when you are working for yourself toward a goal that is important to you, boy, you certainly do move your butt to get to that goal! But, I guess, if that's the only problem that I've come across thus far, then I can't really complain, can I? :)
This past week I was fortunate enough to have auditioned for several top-notch Young Artist Programs that are holding auditions in New York City. These auditions, of course, got me to thinking about the entire audition process and what goes into it as an auditionee. First, there is finding the right 'audition outfit', then getting the perfectly comfortable but not too conservative 'audition shoe', deciding on matching jewelry and makeup, and last, but certainly not least, the final once-over of the pieces that will either make or break your experience in the audition. For me, it's always exciting to be able to sing for a new group of people (i.e. the judges at the auditions) and hopefully whether or not they choose me to participate in their season, they will still have enjoyed themselves a bit while listening to me for those 5-10 minutes that my audition lasts. Because, let's face it, isn't that what singing is all about? It's funny, most people view the auditions as a nasty, albeit necessary, step on the way to getting to the 'real audiences' upon whom they as a singer can make an impression through their beautiful music and artistry. However, last time I checked, those people who are sitting in the audition room are just as worthy of enjoying a singer's artistry and witnessing a moving performance, regardless of whether or not they also have the power to choose or not choose that singer for further career development. So, I definitely think it's important for all singers who are going into these auditions in the upcoming months to really be aware that the judges are your first audience, and therefore, don't count them out if you really are trying to break into this business to connect with the audience and make meaningful music.
I would like to first apologize for those of you who have been waiting for a new post only to be disappointed continually until this point- I certainly have reasons why I've not contributed to this blog in a while, but none of them are worth explaining here. What's most important is to get you all up to speed with what has been happening lately.
I recorded a Demo CD of four songs on October 3rd, and I am quite pleased with how it turned out--which for me is a surprise, and you fellow musicians can empathize, because I usually never get the recording as close to the real thing as I want it- but this particular session went extremely smoothly. I'm convinced that it's because I collaborated with such wonderful people that is what made it all a piece of cake! I recorded the following pieces: "Sul fil d'un soffio etesio", "Durch Zaertlichkeit und Schmeicheln" , "Les oiseaux dans la charmille", and "Be Kind and Courteous". We did the recording at Shetler Studios in New York City here. Naoko Aita was my accompanist and Thomas Deneuville, a Composer friend of mine, was the recording engineer.
Not only did I audio record these pieces, but I also videotaped them, so for those of you who'd like to see me singing something recent, I'll try to get those up on the website as soon as possible.
In other news, I am working on learning the complete roles of Olympia from Offenbach's Les contes d'Hoffmann, Papagena from Mozart's Die Zauberfloete (The Magic Flute), Tytania from Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Oscar from Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera. Thus far I've tackled Papagena and Olympia, but I've only made a dent in those other roles, however, I will be devoting the next few weeks to auditions for Young Artist Programs, so I hope to come back to learning these roles in the middle of December.
In terms of the CD review that I promised I'd try to post each month on here, I have several things on the "back burner", and no, I don't mean CD Burner (har har), but I haven't gotten to actually listen to them yet. I did, however, get to attend a recital on Sunday afternoon of this past weekend, and I certainly would love to share my experiences there with you.
The performance was part of the 'On Wings of Song' recital series that is sponsored here in NYC by the Marilyn Horne Foundation, and it showcased the talents of Stephen Blier at the piano, and Paul Appleby, a tenor who is finishing up his second year of the Juilliard Opera Center and his first year of the Metropolitan Opera's Lindemann Young Artists Development Program. He presented a very interested choice of repertoire- he began with Grieg's Six Songs, Op. 48, which are texts in German and set to very haunting melodies. What impressed me about these to open a recital, was that they are so introspective, I wasn't really sure if Appleby was able to be open with the audience immediately in that way, but sure enough, he surprised me quite a bit. His diction was clear, his delivery of the songs themselves was superb, and the most stunning facet was his connection to the poem's meanings which was evidenced by his seemingly effortless transition between each song's mood. His second set of the program was a group of songs by Albert Roussel, a composer very much influenced by Debussy and Ravel. The poetry of these was much more evocative of imagery than the more storytelling poems of the Grieg set, nevertheless Appleby was able to really indulge in the hazy colors of the music in order to bring the words more immediacy to the audience. His third set was really a wonderful surprise. He sang four songs by the Argentian composer Carlos Lopez Buchardo, and they were just gorgeously performed in every aspect. It is funny, he sang the spanish words so clearly and with such warmth, that the declamatory aspect of the songs' structure really shone, and helped to draw the listener in without his/her even noticing. I almost checked his biography to see if he had Spanish heritage- it definitely seemed to me like these songs resonated with him in some very meaningful way. Then the second half of the concert consisted of pieces in English- a set of Britten songs, and two Traditional Irish ballads. The Britten were good, but mainly stood out because the songs were those which you haven't heard often sung (the titles escape my mind now, but I will post them this evening). They were very simple harmonically and compositionally, and his clear tone color was able to really bring the words to the forefront. I didn't have to strain my ears once to understood a word he sang. Of course, you could tell that the Traditional Irish songs were close to his heart- he sang them with an authentic Irish brogue, and they were both quite entertaining. I could literally feel the people on either side of me relaxing during these lively tunes. As an encore he performed the aria, "City Lights" from William Bolcom's American opera A View from the Bridge, and then as a surprise treat he performed a Bruce Springsteen song, "Fire" which was actually a Pointer Sisters' song originally. All I can say to Mr. Appleby is ."What a entirely lovely recital! I enjoyed every minute!"
But truly everyone, he is a great performer because not only does he have a beautiful voice but equally important is that he has the ability to capture the audience and make the music mean something to you. It was definitely worth going- if he's in your area, make sure not to miss out!
Now meanwhile, based on what I liked about Mr. Appleby's performance last Saturday, I'm going to go practice! So, until next posting, and, as always, thanks for reading!