Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Little Lunch

A mom I know writes a very entertaining and insightful blog called Lunch Box Mom. She's interested in upping her readership and also seeing the connections a la Kevin Bacon and Six Degrees of Separation. And even though it's *gasp* not about opera, it's worth checking out. So, go ahead and check it out.

Maybe I'll invite her to the next Opera Project recital, just to, you know, relate everything.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Reading the Notes

Just glanced at the blog and realized that there's no way I can keep that monk photo from the previous entry at the top for any longer, so I decided to write about, what else, singing.

I'm learning a song in Spanish called El Majo Discreto. After all this time of my Spanish knowledge interfering with my Italian, now that I'm singing something in Spanish I find that the Italian is interfering! Go figure.

My teacher suggested that I figure out how to play it on the piano, so I sat down and actually did the "Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge" and "FACE" thing to work out the notes and hand write them in on top of the staff. I even remembered the sharps... which I also had to figure out with the fudgeface saying. Then I sat at the piano and plunked it out. It definitely does help me to learn the melody faster than I would if I just listened to it. I actually like playing it on the piano. If I get myself into a certain state of relaxed awareness I can play along by looking at the music. Oh is that reading the music? I guess? But I have to concentrate and get to this place where my fingers just find the right notes on the keys. Normally I don't have enough time to myself to do that for long periods of time. And it's just the melody, not the chords or anything like that. But somehow my brain sees the jumps on the staff and can translate that to jumps in the keys with my fingers. I guess I can do it with my voice too. Wow... Am I actually learning to read music? I still have to count the staff to know the letter of the note, although I know where they all are on the piano without having to count from any specific location. Perhaps I just need more practice identifying the notes on the staff so I can do it at a glance. So maybe I've just suggested to myself that I learn to read music. Fascinating. Maybe I'll study up on that a bit. My problem is that I'll want to know all the fancy complicated stuff all at once, when I should go little by little. Then I'll get impatient, then frustrated with myself. Then I'll get over it, and then I'll learn it for real. Wish me luck.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Almost Forgot!! Jawas in Don Giovanni!

How could I forget to post this most important thing about Don Giovanni???

At several points during the performance, a monk-like figure would silently walk across the balcony at the back of the stage. Then there were monks at the end too. Monks... in exactly the same outfits I wore as a monk when I supered in Romeo.

Of course my exact robe probably wasn't on stage, since I'm just 5 feet tall and I think these were all guys, but it was from the same set. And now I see that yes, we did look like Jawas. And so did they.

Don Giovaaaaaaaani

Went (alone) to Don Giovanni last night. It was delightful and creepy. Delightfully creepy. I got there early enough to catch most of the pre-performance talk, which was interesting. They talked about Mozart writing it, and the first performances, and also of certain things to listen for in the music. There was enough time after that ended to browse the gift shop, where I was entranced by the display of marcasite (things like this) and rhinestones. I was wearing my brown ensemble, with my hair twisted up into a bun to help provide relief from the 98 degree temp, (that's over 36c if you speak metric) and there in the crowded case I saw it - the perfect barrette. I mean, it perfectly matched my jewelry - I was wearing these earrings with this brown necklace - AND it sparkled to me. I mean that in the active sense. It sparkled, "You want me, you need me, I need to live in your hair" and the next thing I knew I was asking to see it and handing over my credit card. It's like the spirit of Don Giovanni inhabited the thing for a moment. I unbunned my hair and wore it right away. This photo doesn't do it justice, as I took it with my phone on my lap during intermission.

On to the performance itself. I loved it!!! During the overture Don Giovanni was on stage with some dancers. They were frozen in position in beige bodysuits that covered everything, including their faces. He grabbed each one in turn, did a ballet-style hug/kiss/whatever (it varied) and they crumpled to the floor. Then Leporello, his unwilling assistant, dragged them into a pile. Meanwhile women's names were projected onto a scrim, which is like a thin curtain. All the names, and then the anonymous dancers - it really brought across the idea that he'd seduce anyone, didn't matter what they looked like - just so long as they were female. That point is explicitly stated later in the opera. It also showed the almost magical charm he had over the women. They couldn't say no, even though it led to heartbreak and in some cases, ruin.

So the plot is pretty well known, but here is the quick version: The Don, in a mask, tries to seduce/rape Donna Anna. Her father comes, DG kills him. Donna Anna is engaged to Don Ottavio. He vows vengeance for her, etc. Then Donna Elvira comes along looking for D.G. because he wham-bam-thank-you-ma'amed her and left her heartbroken. Leporello tells her she wasn't the first and she won't be the last, then goes on to sing about how he has kept track of D.G.'s conquests. The projected names come up again and also women come onto the stage with long, wide cloth strips of names. He wraps her up in the cloths, ending with one with just her name on it. At first I was like, Ok, this is hokey, but then I really liked it. The more she learned about DG, the more cloth she was wrapped in, until her name was added to the top of the pile and she finally got the point.

Next we see Zerlina and Masetto coming on their way to their wedding. DG of course wants Zerlina. He gets Lep to lure Masetto and the gang away and tries to seduce Zerlina. Here we have the duet, La ci darem la mano. And we have the Don's magic touch. He snaps his fingers and a scrim descends as his charm descends upon Zerlina. She watches it come down with wonder - she is under his spell. There's a rainbow on the scrim - like his charm has totally blinded her to reality. She's ready to run off to never-never land with him until the scorned Donna Elvira shows up to prevent it. She snaps her fingers and breaks the spell, causing the rainbow to vanish. Then of course Masetto gets jealous, Zerlina sings Batti Batti, all is well. Eventually we're at a party where, according to the pre-show lecture, there's 3 point time melody, then a 2 point, then a 1, all under each other. I listened but couldn't pick it out.

Intermission meant, of course, a quick trip to the ladies room and then a seat upgrade. Before intermission, I was in the 2nd to last row in the balcony, a $35 ticket:

After intermission, I was in the front row of the balcony, in a $110 seat:

That seat was not worth $110 but it definitely was an upgrade - it was a single plush chair with its own arms, lots of leg room and of course the unobstructed view. It was also an upgrade in the sense that I no longer had these annoying people in the row behind me commenting on the obvious and banging their knees into my seat every 30 seconds. I was ready to relax and enjoy...

...Act 2. In pure operatic fashion, Don G and Leporello switched hats and capes and fooled everyone into thinking they were each other. So of course Leporello almost gets killed by the outraged gang (Donna Anna, Don Ottavio, Donna Elvira, Masetto and Zerlina) because they all thought he was Don G. Meanwhile DG is out trying to seduce Donna Elvira's maid. Other stuff happens too but you get the idea. So eventually DG and L are on their way home when they come across a statue of Donna Anna's father. L is totally creeped out but DG is like, "Invite him to dinner, go ahead," thinking it's a great joke. Then later he's "entertaining" a group of women when the statue takes him up on his offer. Everyone is freaked out and they run out, screaming. The scrim comes down and we see a GIANT projection of the dead guy's face, grey hair blowing back in the wind, mouth opening and closing as if he were laughing in slow motion, while we hear him singing about how he's going to punish DG for being such a scoundrel. The anonymous dancers from the overture come back and are all writhing around while strobe lights flash, there might have been smoke or it might have been part of the projection, and the music was creepy and fantastic. It was awesome. It created great tension and I was totally drawn in and frightened. They drag him down to hell and then the rest of the characters come out to tell what they did after that. They sing how wonderful it is that Don Giovanni is gone forever. Meanwhile, there's this clunk as a modern suitcase flies onto the stage, then DG comes out in modern day dress. They see him and are totally confused, but they don't stop singing. He snaps his fingers a la Fonzie and two women in cocktail dresses come to him. Like, sure, go ahead and sing your relief that he's gone... but... he's never gone...

On my way out I heard a couple people complaining that they thought the end was overdone. I disagree. I love the way they incorporated the projections and the strobe lighting to make it totally creepy. It fit with the music perfectly! And the modern Don G added a nice touch.

The singers were all great. Zerlina was so cute. Don G of course oozed charisma. But in my opinion the woman who sang Donna Elvira stole the show. Everyone had beautiful voices but hers had that extra something, something in the timbre, combined with her acting and her general stage presence, that set her apart from the others. I wasn't the only one who thought so - the audience's cheering rose in pitch during her curtain call.

So what's next? The opera company is putting on two other operas this summer - Faust and Don Pasquale. But ticket prices have gone up and the $15 standing room tickets no longer exist, so we'll have to wait and see. There were lots of empty seats last night, so I wonder if the price increase has helped or hurt them?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Trying to Float

I have a voice lesson this afternoon. To prepare, I usually listen to the previous lesson while I'm at work. Obviously I don't sing along… but it helps put me in the right frame of mind. So this morning I took notes on what my teacher said. Here is some of it:

  • Pull it up
  • Get the tip of the tongue down
  • On top of air all the time
  • Make the connection (from exercises) to songs
  • Think UP as you do down
  • Keep the air going
  • Keep it on the air
  • Open jaw (as notes got higher)
  • Drop jaw like you're going to vomit
  • Pull it up (the voice) for the "flip"
  • Right away on the airstream
  • Drop it (the voice) on top of your airstream
  • Float it (the voice) on your air

Anyone else sense a theme here?

One of the things I noticed last week when I was doing it right was that the airstream never changed - just the notes did. Before, I had been in the habit of changing the air along with the notes. It really is so much easier to sing with that steady airstream - like no effort. The voice really DOES seem to just float up top.

So I seem to get some of the cognitive stuff. Now I just have to continue practicing the physical side. Float it, baby.

I'll report again after the lesson.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

What I Missed - Vids from Central park

While I was busy boozing it up with Husband to celebrate his PhD, this was happening in Central Park: (and as usual, click through if my blog format cuts off the video window)



Still waiting/hoping/wishing that person will post the Pearl Fishers duet from that evening. Then my regret will be complete.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Opera Chic's JDF Interview

Opera Chic's recent interview with Juan Diego Florez is such a delightful read that I simply must link to it from here. So not only is the man incredibly talented and quite handsome in person, he's actually got a brain. As if we didn't all love him enough already...

Thursday, July 15, 2010


Trying to figure out this vocal thing here. Consistency. Want it. Don't have it.

I can do the warm-up exercises great. I can do all the notes on all the vowels. Too bad I can't do a recital of vocal runs. So why do I lose it during certain (read: higher) parts of the songs?

Here's what I think is happening and what I'm planning on doing about it. This is in no particular order:

For one thing, I have to forget about the consonants. The l and the r bog me down. Gotta just forget that they exist.

I've made up vocal exercises using the runs that are causing me trouble. I do the notes in order but up and down the scale. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

When I do that, and when I sing the songs, I'm being very very conscious of my breath. What I mean is, I'm really filling up, expanding my rib cage, and really steadily pulling my abs in as the air comes out. I have to trust my throat will make the right notes, so I can give the air flow the attention it needs. So for the songs I'm doing one section at a time, consciously filling up and letting the air out.

I understand now what my previous teacher meant when she said to think of all the notes on one plane. Because when I have the air in the right place, the notes really are all there in that place. It feels great, it sounds great. I understand. The high notes are no different from the lower ones. I understand!!! Now I just need to convince myself and do it more. And do it more in order to convince myself.

Also I have to go back to the "basics" of legato - of not touching the ending consonant of a word until the beginning of the next word.

I feel like I'm back at that place where I have to hold all these three-dimensional shapes together in the space in my head. I have to concentrate, and at the same time, sort of relax and let them go. It's kind of like when you blur your vision to see those 3d pictures. Did I mention that the last time I wrote about this? With those, once you start to see something you can relax and just let your brain focus on what's there.

I trust the concept of "muscle memory." I want my body to just relax and do what I'm training it to do. I can get there. I just have to be patient. Wish me luck with that.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Where I Wasn't, Where I Was, Where I'm Not and Where I Won't Be

Where I wasn't last night: Central Park. People from the New York Times were, though. Wow - That review makes me sad I couldn't go...

Where I was last night: At home, celebrating Husband's successful PhD defense!! I am now married to a Doctor. Doctor Husband. We had balloons, drank champagne and I gave him a picture of the gift that's arriving in the mail:

along with something to put in it. The bottle came in a gift box with two brandy snifters. Did I mention that his PhD is in Geography? Isn't that the perfect gift? I'm very proud of him!!

Where I'm not as of today: I had a voice lesson today. I'm still having trouble with consistency, of keeping my voice on top of the airstream. I can do it much better during vocal exercises than I can during the songs. I think I'll make up my own exercises using the phrases from the songs that are giving me trouble.

Where I won't be: Next Opera Project recital is in about 2 weeks. I'm not fully comfortable with either of the songs so I probably won't sing. It's a bit farther from home than the usual recital location, so I may not go if I'm not singing. Instead I might go to see Don Giovanni at the local opera company. That's a "where I might be" but it's so vague that I'm not including it in the title.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

One More Sing For Hope, Play Me I'm Yours, Thing

Musical family time!!! Jeffrey Biegel is a cousin of mine - I think we share a great-grandmother? We've gone over it many times but I can never remember. But the musical genes are in there and he got a TON of them. I remember going with my aunt (and no doubt my parents and brothers, but for some reason I remember only my aunt) to see him play at Carnegie when he was 18 and I was about 12. Anywhere, here he is now, at a Sing for Hope, Play Me I'm Yours piano. Incidentally, I believe this is the first time I'm "seeing" him play since then. Click through to YouTube if the blog format cuts off the video frame. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

My Final Glass of Whine (I Promise!)

First, more on the weather. Here's a photo of the weather conditions on my iPhone yesterday.

Which leads me to a new whine. The home button on my iPhone stopped working. Whaaaa!! Whine!!! The home button is the only way to get out of an application and back into the main screen where you can enter apps. It's also the only way to take a screen shot... so this is a photo of the page. And now in order to switch apps I have to shut the dang thing off and then back on again. Apparently this is a covered problem under the warranty, and the warranty lasts until September, so I have a few weeks to haul myself to the nearest Apple retailer (about 45 min away, WHINE!) for a diagnosis and hopefully a replacement phone.

The next is a smaller whine.

No matter what the weather next week, I won't be going to see Nathan Gunn and Michael Fabiano sing in Central Park. That happens to be the very same day that Husband is defending his PhD thesis. He's been working towards this degree and indeed this day for a long long time. Plus Alex's summer music lessons start that day. So in spite of what some people may think, without question Husband and Child do come before Nathan Gunn and any opera, even free opera. Can you just see it, "Hi Husband, congrats on your defense, ok, I'm off to NYC, see ya..." Not in a million years.

Final whinish thing.

Had one of those voice lessons today where I just couldn't get my air up. I get mad at myself which of course makes it worse. I know what I need to do - get the air up and have the voice be on top. I know I can do it. I just want to do it consistently. It can be so frustrating sometimes.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


This morning's forecast from the National Weather Service:


And so on. Air quality alerts. Hazy, hot, humid and cranky.

I do have a voice lesson on Wednesday afternoon. Luckily, it's inside in an air-conditioned environment.

In other hot and hazy news, the local opera company's summer season starts this month. I recall going to rehearsals for Traviata in weather like this and I admit I'm not sorry to be missing that. I also recall that no matter how frigid the seats in the auditorium were, the stage was always hot, hot, hot, and it was no joy running around backstage sweating like mad in layers of long-sleeved, high-necked costumes.

Anyway, I still haven't purchased tickets. The prices have gone WAY up!!! $59 for the cheapest tickets in the small theater and $35 for tippy top final balcony row in the big theater. If they are also selling $15 standing room tix for the small theater I'll go see Don Pasquale there. Otherwise I'll probably get the $35 ticket to see Don Giovanni and skip D. Pasquale and Faust. Although someone recommended I go see Faust because the wife of this guy who was in a band that I used to go see when I was in high school is one of the leads, and it would be fun to see him and say hi. My friends and I hung out with them a bit so he might remember me, although I doubt it. I'd have to go opening night, I assume, and look for him in the lobby during intermission? Yeah, exactly. Not really a reason to go. However another singer in Faust was in Rape of Lucretia and Lucia from last year, and he was great in both. Scared the heck out of me as the brother in Lucia, if I recall.

Don't know what to do. Last year I managed to see all three productions for $15. I had final dress tickets for Mikado, got free tickets for Lucia because they hadn't sold enough and wanted more bodies in the house and I happened to be in the right place at the right time (ie, the lobby after Mikado) when they were collecting names for the list, and then I bought a $15 standing room ticket for Abduction. Don't think that's going to happen this year. *sigh* Whine, whine whine.

Friday, July 2, 2010

More Sing for Hope Stuff

A few months ago I posted a video here about Sing for Hope's plan to put 60 pianos around New York City for a month. It started last week I think, and already lots of videos are popping up on YouTube. People are even bringing opera to the streets! Click through to YouTube as the blogger format cuts off the video window.

You can see a whole bunch of the Sing for Hope pianos in use here.

I love love love this idea/project/thing. Love it. Love. It.