Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Finding Your Inner Ps

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice...goes the old saying.

Honestly, singing at Carnegie Hall wasn't even on my radar of immediate desires. I just look forward to whatever opportunity great or small comes my way -- that's sort of how I've always been in life and in this career. But, this past Fall as one of many auditions my manager set up for me, I sang for a couple of organizations that produce concerts at Carnegie Hall. Thankfully, I was hired to sing on one of them!

The concert was a few weeks ago now and the excitement and buzz around making my Carnegie Hall debut has subsided. But one of the biggest things we as artists take away from an experience like that is forever imprinted on me -- I now know what it feels like to sing on that stage. I was the Soprano Soloist for Haydn's Lord Nelson Mass sung with an enormous chorus of over 200 singers from around the world, a huge orchestra, a great conductor and 3 talented singers as the other soloists. This is a piece that really features the soprano and has some great solo moments to shine. It was incredible!

While I completely agree with the old saying, I think I might add to it: persistence, patience and passion.

This is not a traditional career. You don't work Monday through Friday 9am to 5pm, do your tasks and earn the paycheck to feel a sense of accomplishment. This is a career that is based on talent, luck, circumstances and people's opinions. This is a career where in one instance everyone is feeding your ego and telling you how fantastic you are and then a negative review comes out tearing your performance to pieces and is then immortalized on the internet. This is a career where you have to constantly keep improving not only your voice, but your physical appearance in order to succeed. These things can really wear on you after all the years of undergraduate, graduate, post college training and years working professionally.

When have you really "made it"?  This is why I say: persistence.

And what about patience? What if you are doing everything right, but everytime a new email pops up on your cellphone it's not a new gig or a new opportunity? So much of our careers is out of our control. Yes, patience is a virtue, but it is not a passive quality that you either possess or lack. I work every day on "big picture patience".

Despite all the ups and downs of this career and the spectrum of emotions that accompany this process, all in all I have been so fortunate to have had some great opportunities come my way. This must be my passion: performing, the musical and artistic journey, the challenge. Whether I like it or not, this passion must be what propels me to keep moving forward to achieve my goals.

This must be what makes me practice, practice, practice. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Fall in New York Kitty

Who doesn't love Fall? The weather is great, the clothes are stylish and pumpkins are everywhere -- especially in everything I want to buy to eat and drink at Trader Joe's. In the past six opera seasons since finishing my years in the Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago, I've spent the Fall with contracts in Grand Rapids, New Orleans, Louisville, Chicago, Dallas and last year again in Chicago.

This Fall I've been back at the Metropolitan Opera here in NYC. I was involved in a production that kept me quite busy (waaaaaaay more on that in my next post) all of September and October. I'm "off-contract" from the Met all of November which gave me the opportunity for a trip to New Orleans to visit family. This weekend I fly to Alabama for a concert with the Montgomery Symphony Orchestra. I'm back at the Met for the entire month of December and into January for another production. Busy. Working. Singing. Life is good.

Add in some teaching, auditions and the like and right there, folks, is a typical opera singer's schedule for five months. 

Yesterday was such a busy day for me -- I'm actually relived that I have no plans outside the house on this rainy and chilly day. Yesterday was so crazy that I feel the need to document it to offset days like today where I'm home trying to stay productive. Incidentally, we cooked up a storm today-- roasted broccoli, carrots and brussels sprouts, made a little homemade meat sauce over polenta. I've still got big plans to go to the gym, too.

We also baked a pie. Did I not mention "IT'S FALL???" 


Gracie (our new cat) wakes me up pawing at my face. I smell coffee that Chef Paul brewed in the kitchen (think small NYC apartment -- he's on the other side of the wall) so I tell myself that getting out of bed is the first step towards making it to my 12:40pm audition. Coffee, breakfast, shower, vocalize, set hair in hot rollers, decide on audition attire (purple power dress), pet Gracie, get music together...wear comfy boots and pack heels for the audition.

Take train to midtown...running a little late, but make it to audition on time. Person who is scheduled before me is already singing so I change shoes, fluff hair and hope for the best. Sing aria of my choice and the panel chooses their selection. We chat a bit about my background. Audition went well and my mood is on cloud nine. Forgot to grab money to pay my accompanist so I put the comfy shoes back on and run to the ATM. Need to break a larger bill so I treat myself to an iced coffee.

Next on the agenda I walk 10 blocks over to Lincoln Center. It was a beautiful day to be running around town. I had two stops to make at the Met: first the payroll department and then the music library to pick up a score for my next production. Across the street (dangerous and conveniently located) is Bed Bath and Beyond where I had only one 20% off coupon with me and therefore only one thing on my list: a travel-sized garment steamer to take with me this weekend so I can steam my two gowns for the concert.

Went back home on the train and Chef Paul made me a late lunch (he was off yesterday), I had a 4pm appointment for a radio interview with a Montgomery radio station to promote our upcoming concert followed by a phone chat with the conductor to talk through the four songs and my movement of the symphony.

Changed into "professional casual" clothes, I headed out on the train once again because I had a new voice student having her first lesson. I was only few stops away from my house when I received her last minute cancellation email. Frustrating, but understandable. Fortunately, I just crossed to the other side of the tracks and went right back home. If I hadn't already had such a busy day I might have kept going and made good use of the studio which I was still stuck paying for, but I was pretty happy to call it a night and watch Dancing with the Stars.

Needless to say I didn't need to go to the gym any free moment I had was spent petting Gracie!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

England: the land of the Queen and Clotted Cream

"Home, Sweet Home" was the phrase the other night when we finally settled back in our apartment in NYC after traveling all day from London. Chef Paul was contracted at Glyndebourne Opera for two productions and my schedule allowed me to be with him for the entire gig. This meant spending the longest amount of time to date (after 2 previous summers) in the small town of Lewes in East Sussex about an hour southeast of London. 

Time sure flies when you're having fun. Back in June before embarking on our journey across the pond, I was overwhelmed with the idea of spending 9 weeks in a foreign country. Even though I already knew so much about the town: the food, the environment, etc. there were still so many other uncertainties: would we find nice friends to spend time with? Would we be comfortable with our accommodations? The mere idea that I might have to spend such a long period of time sleeping in an uncomfortable bed was causing a tiny bit of dread to creep into what should have only been pure excitement. I think most people who travel for work would agree that sleeping in one's OWN bed is one of the most cherished things about coming home after a long trip.

Grateful beyond measure, we had an amazing experience this summer. We were super comfortable in the house we rented. It had a lovely dining area perfect for hosting proper meals with friends (more on that later!), a small, but modern and well equipped kitchen, a cozy living room for drinking coffee and watching reruns of Frasier in the morning (it's always fun to see what American TV they air in other countries), 3 bathrooms (a luxury for a couple who lives in 650 square feet with one bathroom!) and a comfortable bed, HALLELUJAH! It even had an extra bedroom which came in handy when we hosted our dear friend from NYC for a week.

New friends were made, friends who live in England were given an abundance of time to reconnect and acquaintances turned into dear friends over long conversations about our mutual affection for cats, food, games and scotch whisky.

*me with our neighbor friend (photo credit A Singer's Suitcase)

Most days were spent just living life as we would at home in NYC--carving time into each day for practicing for the next gig and going to the gym, grocery shopping and cooking, taking care of the house, etc. We took the short train ride to Brighton multiple times for movies, sushi and Mexican food: three of the only things you can't find in Lewes. We were blessed with good weather and took advantage of walking trails to/from Glyndebourne through the downs. England is also known for having multiple charity shops on the Main Street in every town so I got my daily fix of bargain hunting.

*Sheep in the shade while walking the Downs from Glyndebourne 

It's well known that we like to entertain and since the scotch tastes the same and is cheaper if you drink it at home, we started inviting our friends over for meals around our big dining table. After about the third or fourth meal, the "Lewes Supper Club" was formed. We would pick a genre of food, buy and prepare the meal and our friends would bring the spirits and we'd split the cost. Some of the meals included: proper English breakfast, German, Mexican, Italian (2x), BBQ, Indian, Asian and, my favorite, Thanksgiving! American holiday foods are so delicious, but we tend to only eat them during Thanksgiving and Christmas. It was fun sharing with our non-American friends the food and traditions that have become synonymous with Turkey Day!

*Happy Thanksgiving / Aug-tober Feast! (Not pictured: turkey)

Looking back on the summer now, we are just so grateful for all the special times spent during all of our travels, including trips to Chicago, Savannah and New Orleans before heading overseas. The mixture of work and vacation (workationing), being with friends who become your away-from-home family and spending time in so many diverse environments is a major perk to the downside of choosing a nontraditional career and spending so much time away from home. 

Cheers! Until next time, England. We sure do enjoy your loveliness....

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Feelin' Hot Hot Hot

Time sure flies when you're busy and having fun! I whole-heartedly agree because this year has been one adventure after another. We rang in the new year in NYC singing and living it up before I went to Santa Barbara for a month for The Elixir of Love. I came back to NYC briefly before going down south to sing in Mobile, Alabama for Gianni Schicchi and then a week in my hometown of New Orleans for the French Quarter Festival to sing the Soprano Solo in a concert featuring Haydn's Lord Nelson Mass at the Saint Louis Cathedral.

**With Dreux Montegut, my beloved teacher and friend and also the Conductor for the concert!

In April I was finally back to NYC for a few weeks, just in time to pack up again for "Part One: Chapters I, II and III" of our traveling for the summer.

Our first stop was a few weeks in Chicago visiting family, friends and furry pals. Chef Paul doesn't get any time off during the Metropolitan Opera season so as soon as his last assignment was finished, we hit the road! It's all about family and food, right? We made sure to eat some deep-dish Chicago pizza from Lou Malnati's, a Chicago-style hot dog from Big Sammy's and lots of home-cooked Filipino cuisine at the best restaurant in town, the original Iron Chef Stadium, my mother in law's kitchen.

From there we attended a friend's wedding in Savannah, Georgia. Since neither of us had ever been there we decided to take an extra day just for ourselves and celebrate our 3rd wedding anniversary, Southern-style. We ate at Paula Dean's restaurant--The Lady and Sons (YUuuuuM) and at the historic Olde Pink House (WOW) and got cocktails in a "go cup" (this New Orleans girl felt right at home) while walking around in the hot sun. It was our Savannah-versary, Y'ALL!

The third part of our summer tour was to visit my family in New Orleans. We kicked off our visit attending what can only be described as THE best crawfish boil I've ever been to at my Godparents's house. Their son, Matt, boiled 75 pounds of crawfish along with corn on the cob, mushrooms, brussel sprouts, garlic, potatoes, onions and hot dogs...and that was just the outdoor food! When the first batch was ready we peeled, we ate, we drank, we sweat, we laughed and then we did it all again when the next batch was ready.

There is just so much food you can only really enjoy in New Orleans, so we made sure to have cafe au lait and beignets at Cafe du Monde, po boys and red beans and rice from Parran's (our favorite), a meal at Byblos's with the Italian cousins, brunch at The Court of Two Sisters and, of course, a snowball. We also had a special Chinese feast at Trey Yuen Cuisine cooked by Chef Frank Wong himself. He is a family friend and he cooked a special meal for us and our families after our wedding three years ago.

After a week (OY, 5 weeks) of one great meal after another, we squeezed ourselves back on the plane to come back to NYC for a couple weeks. This short trip home has been mostly just about re-grouping for Part Two of the summer: going to England! CP will be done with summer vacay in just a few days and goes back to work at the Glyndebourne Opera -- the same city where we spent last summer. Now that this is his third time working there this is a very familiar place for us. After Chicago, Savannah, New Orleans and New about a change of scenery!

Even when I'm off contract there's always music to learn, practicing, voice lessons to teach and work to be done. We did have one thing on our agenda for NYC: we signed up to be in the audience of ABC's The Chew. We are fans of the show and I really enjoy observing the behind the scenes of television.

As luck would have it, I randomly got chosen to sit at the VIP "tasting table" which made my experience unbelievably memorable! I got to meet Chef Mario Batali, Daphne Oz and Carla Hall (I squeezed her hand and told her how much I've enjoyed watching her since her seasons on Top Chef). I love getting to meet people who I admire so much! 

I wasn't planning to be so close to the action, but I'm so glad I was ready for my close-up!

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Can We Taco About This: Santa Barbara Part Two

I've been home in NYC for just under a week, but my mind is still thinking about my recent gig and the several weeks spent in Santa Barbara, California.  It was truly one of the most beautiful places I've ever visited because it had everything--mountains, ocean, palm trees and sunshine!  

On this particular afternoon in SB, it was one of the coldest days in recent years in NYC....I tried not to rub it in that I was wearing shorts!

In the previous post I spoke about the performance milestone involved in this experience and in this post I'd like to discuss an equally important topic:  FOOD!

I've blogged before about cooking "on the road" in hotels, sometimes with nothing but a microwave and a mini fridge.  Fortunately, in SB I had access to a full kitchen so I was able to prepare nearly all of my meals for myself.  I am, surprise surprise, extremely picky about what I eat before I sing.  Food affects the way I feel, so if I can eat more or less of certain things then I really enjoy eating pretty light all day and waiting until the day is over to let loose a little.  It helps me to feel energized and satisfied, but not too full, sleepy....let's just say bloated.  Plus, cooking for myself helps to make me feel more at home wherever I am.  I spend less money and it's healthier.  Win win win.  

Food-wise, there are two things I noticed during my weeks in California.  The seafood and the produce were spectacular!  It was just so fresh--never before have I ever bought lettuce that tasted so fresh and lasted so long in the refridgerator--nearly 2 weeks!

In the kitchen, I always had prepared quinoa ready to go and would mix it with anything from scrambled eggs, cooked broccoli, a laughing cow cheese wedge and veggie sausage in the morning to avocado, cooked spinach, chicken and oil and vinegar for lunch or dinner.  I always had baked sweet potatoes ready to go.  The skin peels right off and I could mash it up or dice it up and eat it quickly.  New to my cooking routine during this trip was tofu.  I am not a vegetarian, but I have always enjoyed tofu cooked in every way imaginable.  Turns out, no matter how I cook it I really enjoy it:  diced up in soups, sautéed in a pan or baked in the oven.  I like the texture and it pretty much takes on whatever flavor you add to it.  Once it was prepared, I enjoy eating it cold, as well.  

I did eat out a couple of times and only had a desire for Mexican food!  Why would I want to eat anything else??

Fish tacos!  Served with a side of Caesar salad....odd choice, but delicious.  I'm thinking...very California.  

Shrimp tacos!  Look closely:  there are two kinds of salsa.  One with tomatoes and one with Papaya. Ordinarily, Papaya is on a very short list of foods that I find gross.  But at this restaurant I couldn't stop eating it.  Amazing.  

Is there anything better than Mexican food?  For me, there sure is:  Singing for a living in a city known for great Mexican food!

Friday, March 11, 2016

Don't Worry Be Happy: Santa Barbara Part One

I just finished a truly remarkable few weeks singing with Opera Santa Barbara in their production of Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love.  "Elixir" is significant to me because it was one of my first operatic experiences: in my sophomore year of college I was double cast as Giannetta--the smaller of the two soprano roles in the opera.  Until that point, my performances had only been in musical theater and straight plays.  The process of being in opera was similar, but different enough that I developed a mild love/hate relationship with the idea of being an opera singer.  

Somewhere along the way, though, I warmed up to the idea, because just under a decade later I was a working opera singer in my second year in the Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago and was cast once again (this time sung in Italian) as Giannetta.  Ten years later, I had a lot of fun with the experience and felt more like a confident singer.  

Fast forward to the present: for Opera Santa Barbara I sang the larger of the two Soprano roles: Adina.  As with any other role debut the experience marks a significant milestone in my career.  After the opening night performance I felt similar to how I felt the time I sang Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro.  I felt like I'd just been inducted into a very exclusive society of sopranos who sing that role.  It was a very good feeling!

Backstage in my Act 1 Costume

But as with so many other milestones, along the way there was doubt:  “How does one do this?  How will I maneuver these rehearsals?  Will I figure out the pacing?  What will it feel like on stage with orchestra?”

Doubt and all of it’s relatives:  fear, worry and anxiety are feelings that all artists (and humans) deal with and, fortunately, I’ve found ways to silence the negativity.  But when they are at the forefront of your mind they take so much of the JOY out of the experience.  Performing onstage, after all, is all about being 100% focused, 100% courageous and 100% confident.  It helps, of course, if you are 100% prepared!  The end result is exciting, liberating and empowering!

After the opening night performance, I attended an after party at the theater and saw a service dog in the room.  She had attended the two and a half hour opera with her owner--who says opera isn't for everyone?  I asked to have my picture taken :-) 

Anyone who knows me knows how crazy I am about dogs and cats—obsessed is the more appropriate word.  Anyone who remembers me from the first 20+ years of my life will recall that I was PETRIFIED of dogs.  I wasn’t keen on cats either until my parents got me a cat when I was 8 years old in an effort to help me with this fear.  It took a few days for me to allow them to let the cat out of the laundry room, but soon my heart was wrapped around its furry paw.

The dog fear lasted into early adulthood and somehow after a few forced brave encounters with dogs I literally "grew" out of that phase.  With my dog fear behind me, Chef Paul (in the very early stages of our courtship) acquired a dog from another opera colleague and it was love at first sight.  We love Colby!

As I look at this picture of my post performance GLOW with a big, friendly paw in my hand I can’t help but reflect on the milestone of overcoming fears.  Fears that are completely brought on not by some catastrophic event, but by self-doubt and situations that you can't control.  

What a waste of precious energy that could be spent enjoying the process and living in the moment!  Now that Elixir is behind me I am nothing but grateful:  for all that I learned from the experience, from the enormous boost of confidence a successful performance leaves you with and for the artistic connections made with new and old colleagues.  

As far as emotions go, I know I need to take it one day at a time--sometimes one moment at a time. With age and experience come so much wisdom in every aspect of my life.  Among countless other things, this experience reminded me of two things I know for sure:  

I love the thrill of performing and I also love dogs!

Monday, January 25, 2016

Merry Birthday

Thursday, December 3, 2015 was a really REALLY good day.  I am well aware that it was almost two months ago and 2015 is sooooo last year, but this Blog is about my musical and culinary adventures and, on that day, I had quite an adventure.

I'll start by a quick update:  my Fall opera contract was understudying the role of Valencienne in The Merry Widow at Lyric Opera of Chicago.  I really enjoyed being part of the rehearsal process as it was a remount of the Metropolitan Opera's production.  It was directed and choreographed by Tony Award Winner, Susan Stroman and she was scheduled to be in Chicago for nearly the entire rehearsal period.  Cool, right?  Important fact:  Susan Stroman is neighbors with my most favorite Barefoot Contessa and she's appeared on more than one episode with Ina Garten and friends.  

She's eaten Ina's food...and cooked with her....they're friends...Ina calls her "Stro".  

I felt closer to Ina just being in the same room as Susan Stroman.

After a month of rehearsals for both the principal cast and the understudies, the show opened in mid-November and had a run of 10 performances.  I felt really good about my understudy rehearsals.  The Merry Widow is an Operetta which means there are spoken dialogue scenes in between the musical "numbers" with lots of dancing.  This makes the show feel much more like musical theater than opera, but the vocal writing requires an operatic voice.  And, of course, there's the fact that the singing is performed without microphones in an auditorium with over 3500 seats.  

I was mostly concerned that as the understudy for Valencienne I would be asked to learn a series of dancing lifts that my character did in Act 3 with the help of the four male dancers.  Valencienne "performs" with the dancing Grisettes at the beginning of Act 3.  In previous experiences I've done some simple lifts, but never anything quite as advanced as the choreography in this show.  Just to give you an idea of my concern:  one lift involved being turned upside down, one was a cartwheel while holding onto a dancer's legs (huh?) and one involved tossing me between the four men like a sack of potatoes.  

I had a sufficient amount of rehearsals and I felt moderately comfortable with the know, in the off-chance that I would go on in the show....

Do you see where this is going?

On December 3rd there was a 2pm matinee performance and I woke up bright and early because it was my Birthday!  I had big plans to perhaps treat myself to a Birthday lunch, manicure, maybe even some shopping.  I was running on an unusually early schedule that day and it was only 9:30am when I got out of the shower and grabbed my phone (probably to check Facebook birthday posts) and saw a missed call and voicemail from the opera house.  It was THE CALL.  The wonderful singer who I was covering was sick and had sadly canceled.  I was going to be performing for the matinee! 

There is not an appropriate word to correctly describe the mixed emotions that I felt.  Intense excitement, nerves, disbelief, gratefulness and, believe or not, calmness?  I felt deep down that this was a very significant birthday gift.  I only needed to trust that I was going to do my very best.

Everything that afternoon went wonderful--from the last minute wig fitting, costume fitting(s), microphone check (for the dialogue), warming up and hearing words of excitement and encouragement from every person I came in contact with.  What more could I ask for?

You've heard of Soprano Renée Fleming, right?  I've heard of her for almost 20 years.  Hers was one of the first operatic voices that I'd listened to on recording when my voice teacher gave me my first operatic CD as a high school graduation present.  She's easily the most well-known opera singer of her generation.  Lucky for me, she was also singing the title role in Chicago's production of Widow.

I was arguably more excited about meeting her for the very first time (because I hadn't yet) AND singing the supporting lead soprano role opposite her than I was about anything else.  I have described moments of being onstage with her as being "out of body".  It was like I was watching myself sing with her from somewhere up above.  She even wished me "Happy Birthday" in the wings when we came offstage!

The only thing that could have made this birthday "merrier" is if my parents and Chef Paul could have been there!

For my next Birthday I would like to meet Ina.