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Monday, December 5, 2011

The Mysterious World of Exclusivity in Classical Music

Recently, I had the opportunity to see a YouTube video of Renee Fleming singing this great aria written by Erich Korngold found here, and I remembered that a while ago there was an often-whispered-about Masterclass given by Ms. Fleming (her first ever!) at The Juilliard School.  And, I remember hearing that only Juilliard students were invited to attend this Masterclass.

That got me to wondering, why couldn't any old person attend this hugely-touted event?  Apart from the fact that there wouldn't be enough room for everyone who wanted to attend, why didn't they at least sell overpriced tickets?  And then I realized the reason: this was just another manifestation of a phenomenon I have noticed over the years of being "in the biz" of opera singing: the hushed-up mysteriousness and only-for-certain-people attitude that is encouraged among opera teachers/students/professionals, and heck, even the more staunch fans themselves!  It's as if the singers (pros and non-pros alike) think that the more the audience has a glimpse of what they do in order to train their voices and prepare on a daily basis, or before a concert for example, that the audiences will lose interest because the mystery has disappeared. Or, perhaps I suppose they might simply want to keep "industry secrets" secret.

However, I'm curious to know just exactly who these  groups of people think they're protecting by acting this way.  I mean, there are plenty of books out there by notable vocal professionals on how to sing (i.e. Richard Miller's practical one-man encyclopaedia collection of books on the different voice types, how to train them, and how to address various technical problems), not to mention the countless public masterclasses (not by Ms. Fleming, of course, but given by other equally notable singers) and then on top of that, the countless private voice teachers all over the world. 

Strange, isn't it, that there are then, even in spite of all of this available information on how to sing, singers/teachers/conductors/etc. who still protect their tried-and-true methods from everyone else?  I mean, how devastating would it be to Placido Domingo if we'd see the warm-ups that he does before he goes on stage to sing Simon Boccanegra?  How terrifyingly privacy-robbing could it be to ask Ms. Fleming or Ms. Netrebko how they got through their pregnancies and still managed to sing for a large portion of that time, or what their voices felt like in the first six months after they'd had their child?  The experience and memory of these things would not and could not be stolen from these professionals if they shared their knowledge.  In fact, I'd wager that it would help these lofty personages to feel more truly connected to their colleagues, fans and the new generation of singers who are to follow in their footsteps and who largely adore them.  So why, pray tell, do so many people (singers, conductors, teachers, etc!) act like it would be so terrible!?

It's honestly quite mysterious to me, and something which I'm not sure that I will ever really understand.

And, to make matters more confusing, it also has a lot to do with the way that most people (including myself in this very article) view their position in the scheme of things, in possessing an "us" and "them" mentality.  It polarizes and fractionalizes; it makes enemies of people who've never met except psychologically belong to either the 'us' or the 'them' group.  It's honestly absurd.  However, it is difficult to avoid in circumstances where there is a defined group of people who possess most of the experience and the knowledge on a specific subject matter and refuse to share it openly and freely (note that that means without money exchanged in this case) with the people who would like to access this knowledge.  I mean, how silly is it that there are voice teachers all over the world and there are those who still rationalize charging over $200.00 for an hour lesson?

Professors at MIT (one of the world's best and most cutting-edge universities) give their lectures and notes for the classes they teach in every technical and scientific subject imaginable away on the internet for FREE to anyone with access to a computer and the 'www'.  So, again, I repeat: "Why is there such a vice grip on the knowledge that is possessed by classical vocal professionals?"  Why can't these teachers/coaches/conductors/famous professionals realize that the more candid they are about how they do the things they do (a.k.a.: SING!) the better off the world of opera would be?  Abundance begets abundance!  The things that someone learns in Peru from these professionals spreading their knowledge could lead to the development of the next Pavarotti, or heck, an even better singer than Pavarotti!  All simply because someone chose to share their knowledge for free in order to create more singers, better singers, and those who are willing to keep sharing their success tips, knowledge and experience, all because someone first shared that information with them.

See, it's a process folks.  It's something that generates more.  In contrast to the ways of "hoarding" and "privatizing" and "closing off" and "keeping mysterious" and "making expensive so that only a few can participate", that so many classical music professionals have bought into today.  The message in the past 10 years has been that since the economic decline, there is less and less room for classical music and therefore also less room for classical musicians to make a career in the field that they love.  Therefore, the knee-jerk reaction from those classical music professionals who are in the field and already established has been: "Quick, let's make sure to be extra choosy about those people whom we pass on our knowledge to and let into our profession, so that we can ensure through the excellence of the select few that we've chosen to represent the future, we will succeed in keeping the attention of a dwindling classical audience." 

However, hasn't that very idea backfired in their faces many times over?  Haven't those people who were chosen to be the representatives of classical vocal music disappointed, given up when it's gotten too tough, become over-worked, burnt-out and disillusioned?  Look at the Rollando Villazons of the world.  He is a classic example of someone who was pushed by the industry too early, got burnt out from singing badly too often, and then was spit out by the public who didn't realize what kind of emotional wreck he must have been after sacrificing his whole life (because that is what an opera career asks of someone who is in such demand) for a business that basically used him for his best few years and then said "Okay, who's next?" 

And, for an art form that has so many stories about the incidence of the little guy triumphing over the big guy (in many guises) shouldn't that be a reminder of how the very people who sing those stories should be treated by the 'higher-ups' in the business?  Otherwise, the story of Liu sacrificing herself for someone who really isn't worthy becomes an all too-true allegory of the singer's life nowadays.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Answer to All the World's Problems!

(This post is unrelated to opera, but it has incredible relevance for everyone, so please read!)

Nowadays with all of the technology that we have at our disposal, we are used to getting results almost instantaneously. When we need to get somewhere we can hop on the highway (specifically built to avoid the delays that are caused by traffic within cities) and get there faster. We can check ourselves out at the grocery store to avoid long lines. We can order on the internet nearly anything we can imagine, and depending on how much we are willing to pay for shipping, it is delivered to our doorstep possibly within less than 24 hours. We are a world full of people (in the developed countries, at least) who are used to not having to wait for anything at all.

Therefore, it is no wonder that we as a people, are also disposed to getting angry quickly when things don't go our way. Perhaps the reason that in the past 10 years terrorism and hate crimes have been steadily increasing is because the people who commit these crimes are the minority victims of a culture who spurns those who can't “keep up”. Did anyone ever think that along with the invention of the iPhone, that would increase people's tempers? Certainly not. But, how often have you in the past year, let's say, been victim to angry outburst of someone else over a trivial topic?

Let me give you an example from my own personal experience that happened today. I was driving the car here in Germany and I was stopped at a red light. I don't normally drive stick shift in the USA and so I'm not quite as fast at starting when I'm stopped as most stick shift drivers are. Then the light turns green, and the guy in the car behind me in the same second as the light changed totally LAYED on the horn like for what seemed an eternity. Of course this unexpected disruption scared the shit out of me when I was trying to concentrate on what I was doing, and I (regrettably!) gave the guy the finger because it was the only thing I could do in that moment since I was so frustrated, embarrassed and defeated. Somehow (as if by a miracle of God) I managed to get the car started in that hullabaloo and lurch through the light and into the left turning lane at the following red light. No surprise now, the guy behind me is tail-gating me as if there was no tomorrow, and I'm now completely afraid that he's going to honestly ram into our car. Meanwhile my boyfriend in the passenger's seat is unaware that the guy is still behind us and driving like a maniac, and keeps telling me not to drive so fast and to drive slower (while I'm terrified of getting into an accident in a foreign country with a car that isn't even mine!) and we arrive at the third red light.

Now here's where it gets COMPLETELY LUDICROUS.

I am the first car stopped at the light waiting to cross an intersection and the guy is still behind me who honked at me earlier. We are waiting at the light when I see from my side view mirror that the guy has gotten out of his car, slammed his door, and is proceeding to stomp over to my driver's door. I think to myself in these three seconds, “Gosh, is the door locked?” and in that same moment that I'm looking to see if it's locked (which of course it isn't!!! How does that work!?!?) the guy RIPS OPEN MY DRIVER'S SIDE DOOR INTO ONCOMING TRAFFIC AS CARS ARE NEARLY HITTING MY DOOR AND HIM and proceeds to shout at me (in German) “LOOK HERE LITTLE GIRL, IF YOU EVER GIVE ME THE FINGER AGAIN I'LL DO SOMETHING MORE TO YOU THAN JUST TAILGATE YOU!” while my boyfriend is totally surprised (since he didn't see the guy get out of his car in the first place) and says to the guy “Okay, please calm down”, as the guy must have weighed at least 250 pounds and was already red in the face from shouting at us. Sadly, I was too terrified and shocked to have said anything in this moment because all I could think was, “How is this happening?! He can't just open a total stranger's car door into oncoming traffic! That has to be illegal! It's not even his property that he's touching! How is this happening?!?! Is he going to hurt us?!?!” and so he slammed the door in my face once he was finished with his yelling and stormed back to his car.

This episode, of course, was really too much for me to handle as a 1.) foreigner, 2.) not-100%-yet-comfortable-newly-learned-stick-shift-driver, 3.)woman (how dare he call me a 'little girl') and 4.) private person who is legally supposedly protected from threats from strangers, and endangerment to their life and property by someone else's maniacal driving.  If I had had my wits about me I would have quickly locked the door before he even got there.  And if I couldn't have done that, then I would have said to the man after he was finished yelling, "May I have your name? I'd like to call the police for you threating to hurt me just now. Please pull your car over and wait here with me." 

However, instead I proceeded to drive home in shock with tears pouring down my face (sorry, I wish it wasn't the case, but I couldn't do anything else but feel totally helpless in the wake of such a terrible personal rape of my psychological power and feeling of safety) and then parked the car and (sadly) yelled to my boyfriend that I was “NEVER DRIVING IN THIS COUNTRY AGAIN!”.

Then after a longer time of trying to mentally get over what had happened to me from a complete stranger over the action of sticking ONE FINGER up at him (GO FIGURE! WHAT IF I HAD USED MY PINKY FINGER!? WOULD HE HAVE NOTICED!?!? WOULD HE STILL HAVE REACTED THAT WAY!?) I realized that this was at the root of things, a story about the precursors to terrorism. He felt pressured, he honked. I felt pressured, I acted out in a not nice way. He reacted to my action in a very not nice way, and in the end I was the one who got damaged psychologically, and almost physically by his dangerous driving and potential beating-up-of-me when he opened the car door (I mean, who the heck knows what he would have done had my boyfriend not been in the car with me!?).

I thought to myself, if he had only given me a bit more time when I stopped at that first red light before he decided to honk at me so mercilessly, this all would never have happened!

Then, I hit upon an idea. I taped into the back window of my boyfriend's car this sentence: “Ich habe Epilepsie, ich fahre langsamer!” (translation: I have Epilepsy, I drive slowly!) and I hope that now that might give me in the future those precious few seconds that I need to escape any further situations like this one that happened today.

But, to sum this up in the big picture, that guy in the car behind me needed patience. Patience is in such short supply nowadays, and it's the thing which makes difficult situations bearable. It helps us stay calm when we are provoked. It helps us put things in perspective. It keeps our children from freaking out when they're somewhere they don't want to be/doing something they don't want to do.   It allows for understanding when someone doesn't react or act in a way that you expect.  It helps us when we are disappointed.  It's honestly the one thing that we are SO OFTEN LACKING in our everyday interactions with our fellow human beings and with ourselves.  We simply expect too much perfection too quickly (which leads to anger, angry actions, dangerous situations...and any number of bad things)!

I am sure that each and every one of you has a story of getting angry or being mistreated which would have never happened if one or both of the people in the situation had exercised patience. So, I urge you for every day of the rest of your lives, to remember, that although nowadays we are spoiled and expect things to happen in the blink of an eye, when they DON'T, use patience to resist the urge to have an angry outburst and take it out on your fellow human beings. It's not pretty, no one wants to see it, and it's something which can never end good. So, the answer to the world's problems nowadays: Patience!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Julia's New Headshots = Check out this Photographer!

In May of 2011 I had the good fortune to meet a wonderful photographer through organizing a solo recital in Reading, PA.  Don Carrick, a Berks County Resident of 15 years and originally a native of Washington D.C., is also an experienced photographer, and explained that he'd been interested in expanding his clientele for Headshot Photography for a long time now as he enjoys working with people in the Performing Arts and he likes to take pictures that accentuate a person's individuality.  Therefore, Don and I worked out a plan where he'd take some great photos for me, and I'd show them off.

So, as all artists know, a  person's work normally speaks for itself, and by this same token, I believe it's easy to see Don's ability by looking at the photos he took of me.

(You should take into account that I am really NOT photogenic at all and Don was patient enough to go through at least 600 photos before I finally started not looking terrible.  So, for those of you who aren't naturally comfortable in front of the camera, that experience alone shows that Don's the kind of photographer who understands how to help you relax and get the best out of your time with him.)

The two photos above are those that we chose out of over 1,000 photos, to be my final and official new Headshots.  What do you all think?

Most importantly, for those of you who would like to contact Don to set up a photo shoot with him you can click this hyperlink to visit his professional website or email him here.  He has UNBELIEVEABLE rates (a.k.a.- for the amount of photos you take and the time Don will spend with you, this man is offering you the opportunity of a lifetime to really get photos that represent you well) and he is also a professional editor and retoucher, so you don't have to take your photos anywhere else after you've worked with Don- he does everything for you in one stop! Remember, Don does all genres of photos, and not JUST headshots, so if you'd need photos for another occasion- he's also someone to call.

So, to sum it all up, hope you liked checking out my new photos, and if you're in South Eastern Pennsylvania----Get in touch with Don Carrick, you won't be sorry!!!

Monday, November 14, 2011

My Audition for a REAL Opera House in Germany!

This past Tuesday I had my first German Opera House audition!  I was asked at the last minute by a colleague who worked there to audition for a role they're looking to cast next season and which I sing, and have sung for this colleague in an audition before.  (Sorry, I can't be any more specific with names because I don't want to jinx it.)  Honestly, I was really lucky to have been asked to audition since normally these sorts of things don't happen unless you have an agent who knows about the vacancy which the theater is looking to fill, and then sends you there, and actually, all of the other singers who were there to audition had agencies.  So, I was quite overjoyed to have been invited, to say the least.

However, sticking to the point- I'd like to relate what the experience was like.

I heard of the audition on a Friday and the audition itself was taking place on Tuesday of the following week, so in four days.  That really didn't give me a whole lot of time to polish up things or change anything technique-wise or performance-wise, so I was glad that I had been practicing ferociously for the past few months.

I was able to drive there with my boyfriend who was kind enough to take a day off of his classes at University to take me there, and we drove the morning of the audition, meaning that we left the apartment at 8am and got there around 11:30am.

I was scheduled to meet the pianist to work with him/her at 11:45am so I was worried that we'd gotten there too late, but fortunately a woman from the KBB (the opera houses' personnel director, you could say) came to meet me in the waiting room/lobby and took me to a room where I could warm up before I met the pianist. 

I warmed up for about 15 minutes and the pianist came in at that point to work with me.  However I wasn't fully warmed up just then, so I asked her if she'd be able to come back in 5 more minutes.  She said it was no problem and that she'd work with some of the other singers in the meantime.  So, I warmed up some more and then finally felt that I was ready to work with her, and had loosened up my stiff limbs from being in the car for so long.  Luckily, I had the ability to drive with my boyfriend; I can only imagine how frazzled I might have been had I taken the train and tried to find my way from the main train station to the theater (which weren't near one another)!

Anyway, the pianist returned and we worked on the pieces I'd prepared for the audition, going over things which are particularly tricky (places where I breathe, take the tempo slower or faster, add fermatas, etc...) and things were really going well.  The pianist seemed to be in a cheery mood and she was really wonderful to boot, so I am quite glad that I got to have her play for my audition.

At any rate, I was the 5th person to auditon, and I was glad that I had the opportunity to relax and focus myself after my rehearsal time with the pianist.  It was also good that I wasn't the first or second because I then observed how the other auditionees did it.  I wasn't aware, actually, that it was allowed during such an audition to ask for a break once you'd sung your first aria.  And, that is what my colleagues did.  In fact, two singers who were from the same agency sang their arias interchangeably and that way the one could take a break while the other was singing and vice versa.  So, I was lucky enough to have seen this practice before I auditioned, otherwise I might have just gone from one tough aria to the next.

Upon entering to audition, the super-friendly stage manager ushered me to the side of the stage through a small hole in the curtains and I was thrust onto the stage in front of the General Intendant, the Music Director, the Dramaturg and the Assistant Dramaturg, sitting in the audience.  The pianist came over to meet me in the middle of the stage and I handed her my music.  She motioned for me to step into a rectangular box outlined on the floor of the stage with gaffer's tape, saying that singers sounded best from that spot.

So, I began the audition and the first piece went smoothly- and my acting went well too, which is normally difficult for that particular aria since it involves a lot of movement.  Then, the audition panel themselves said they'd like to hear a second aria but asked me if I would like to take a small break before singing that, and they'd hear someone else, so I said that would be great.

I walked off the stage and went straight to the restroom while trying to mentally focus on keeping my energy up until I had to be back on stage.  They had elected to hear another singer while I took my break, so I was thankful that I had at least three minutes while they finished their aria before I was back on.  I exited the restroom only to run practically right into the General Intendant who had come out especially to ask me if I wouldn't mind not acting at all during the second aria, and just concentrating on my singing, to which I said that would be no problem.  The Intendant seemed pleased and I was glad that they had told me that before I went ahead and acted in the second aria too (phew! that was a lucky break for sure!). 

I walked around the hallways thinking of how amazing it was to be there auditioning and how much more amazing it would be to be able to sing there in the coming season, and I tried to focus that excitement into a laserbeam of energy that would come across when I sang the second aria.  As I was doing this and walking back toward the door leading onto the stage, the singer who had just finished exited, and the energetic stage manager ushered me onto the stage again for my second aria.

The second aria I sang without doing nearly any acting (okay, I couldn't contain myself enough to sing it totally deadpan- I had to at least do some facial expressions and two-ish hand gestures- cut me a break!) and it went off without a hitch.  At the end I was possibly more excited than when I had begun because I simply fed off the energy of just standing there and singing (for once!).  It's actually a nice change to be able to audition without worrying about the acting so much in the initial stages of things- it takes the spotlight and puts it on your voice.

Anyway, I finished the audition and was glad with my performance, and was also glad to have had such a good experience at such an important moment.

St. Martinstag Festival in Dortmund's Westfalenpark

This past Saturday night (November 12th) I attended an interesting festival that is an historically important Catholic tradition, based on the life's work of St. Martin (Martin of Tours), and one particular event in his life, specifically.

This festival takes place to commemorate St. Martin (a knight in the Middle Ages, and then later on a monk) who met a beggar on his travels who was on the verge of freezing to death on a particularly cold night.  The back story to the beggar is that he had been robbed shortly before he meets up with St. Martin, and that he was previously a middle-class citizen who was on the way home to his family when the night grew colder and he decided he'd never make it with his heavy cart full of his master's goods to sell the next day at market, all the way home on dark roads with the potential danger of getting lost or getting robbed.  Therefore, the man decides to camp outside the city gates of where he came from, and then gets accosted by two bandits who steal his cart, his money and his clothing.  That's when Martin comes along the man and the man begs Martin to help him, whereupon Martin takes his cloak and cuts it into two pieces.  He gives the man half of it to keep him warm and thereby saves the man's life.  Thus, Martin is sainted for this action, and a heap of other good deeds he accomplished in his lifetime.

And, to finish this story with some fun photos, here are a few of me with my 'lantern' (there are traditionally parades of children with their parents and homemade paper lanterns who follow behind someone dressed up as St. Martin on a horse and parade through the town, or in my case, a public park, to reenact the noble deed that Martin did that cold night).

My first German Opera House CHORUS Audition

I recently auditioned for a medium-sized Opera house here in Germany for a position in the chorus (simply because I thought- well, at least then during my search for some professional solo work, I could have some money, and perhaps also an introduction to important people in the Opera house, e.g. the Stage Director, Conductor, etc...).  Contrary to my perceptions about chorus auditions, it seemed like the theater had made many preparations and considered this audition just as important as any solo auditions would be (as they organized everything really effectively and kept strict tabs on whether or not everyone was able to meet with the pianist to rehearse and also had private time to warm-up).  Therefore, I felt confident that I would be chosen (to put it honestly) because I figured, well if you're working on a solo career, then you'd certainly be good enough for the opera chorus (don't hate me Opera chorus members!) just by sheer technical skill and experience.

I arrived at the theater 40 minutes early, warmed up adequately, worked with the pianist who was very nice and very good, and waited around for another 30 minutes.  Then, finally, the auditions began, and although I requested to go first, there was still someone who had requested it before me (drat!) so she was slated to sing first.  However, (hallelujah!) by a stroke of luck, she had never showed up.  So, it turns out that I did get to sing first of all anyway.

I walked onto the stage and the jury members (5 to 6 people who I didn't recognize at all, but who ever does- so far away?) were sitting in the audience ready for me to sing.  I gave the pianist the music and said I'd like to begin with "Der Hoelle Rache" from Mozart's Die Zauberfloete.  They seemed pleased with this selection and indicated for me to begin at my leisure.  I sang a really strong audition- made absolutely no mistakes and sang even better than I had sung before (ha! the irony!) and then once I was finished hoped to be asked for a second piece.  The judges apparently had heard all they needed to hear, they said thank you very much and that was it.  I was done! A successful audition- and a quick one too- the whole audition time took as long as that aria (4 minutes approximately) and then I was out the door and catching my train to the airport (a separate story) and it was all over with.  All the rest of that day I felt really wonderful about my singing and that I had done so well in a circumstance which could lead me to making some steady money. 

It was only two days later when I found out through an email from the Chorus Master that I was not chosen.  I thought to myself, "But, how can that be? I really, honestly did a superb job, and I mean, they should have picked me! At least they'd have had good high notes!" However, it was the following day when a colleague said to me about the situation, "Well, I really don't think that you have a 'chorus voice' and they were probably just looking for someone who blended in more to the sound of the ensemble than you could have" which shed some light on the situation for me.  I mean, what was I thinking auditioning for a chorus position which was only at a medium-sized house? Of course that person was correct in saying that--if anything, if I will ever be eligible for a chorus position, I'd have to certainly do it in a big opera house, so that at least I wouldn't be sticking out in the mix of voices.  Yes, that is absolutely the case.

However, at the time it still felt terrible to not have gotten chosen for something which I deemed as a 'sure success', so.....yeah. Just another reminder to me to not count my chickens before they hatch in this biz!

Note: I haven't mentioned the theater on purpose, just in case they'd say it was illegal or something along those lines.  So, sorry about that but..better safe than sorry in this case.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

2011 Opernakademie Bad Orb:What A Barber of Sevilla Normal Rehearsal Schedule Was Like

I think that it's about time that I get to the nitty-gritty of what things were like for me in terms of rehearsal schedule and working environment for the 5 weeks that I spent in Bad Orb, don't you?  And for those of you who have insatiable curiosity about these sorts of things, if I haven't answered all of your questions by the end of this post, feel free to leave your questions below in the comments section.  Therefore, on to the crux of the matter!

The rehearsal schedule that I experienced in Bad Orb, Germany while I was working on the role of Rosine in Der Barbier von Sevilla was quite unlike anything that I had heretofore experienced in America.  Of course we did the same sorts of things during rehearsals (staging, musical rehearsing, tightening up ensemble singing, acting, etc..) but we did it at totally different times than what I am used to from the programs in which I had previously take part in the states.  To be more specific, here was a normal day's schedule for me over the course of rehearsals:

7:30am- wake up, shower, do yoga, eat breakfast (usually muesli with ricemilk and a banana), get dressed and pack up bookbag.

9:15am- get on bike and ride to Opera house.

9:45am- arrive at Opera house, park and lock up bike, head to dressing room with piano to warm up vocally.

10:00am- Rehearsal starts with staging and music combined (normally it would begin anywhere from 5-10 minutes late depending on when everyone else showed up)

11:30am-Break (normally 10 minutes long, and normally accompanied by a piece of cake which one of the lovely women from the Foerderkreis baked for us, and coffee for many of my cast-members)

1:00pm- LUNCH (Many of my colleagues and most often the Stage Director and the Conductor went to a nearby Hospital which provided a reduced-cost lunch for us performers because the head of the Hospital is also a member of the Foerderkreis from the Opernakademie, therefore he helps us artists out where he can- super nice guy! Normally, however, I stayed in the Opera house during lunch break, ate a sandwich and some fruit or pretzels that I packed the night before, and read a book or practiced the things on stage that I had not gotten 100% correct from that morning's rehearsal period. That's the good thing about being alone in a theater- no one disturbs you- and you can try out the stage, props, and acoustics as much as you want without feeling rushed. Also during the break usually around 2pm the Buehnenbildner (Set Designer) and the stagehands came to work on finishing the set (painting, drilling, nailing, building stairs, attaching doors, etc..) so that was great because I got to know them better and figure out exactly how the set goes together and work on opening and closing the shuttered doors that were attached to my balcony for the first Act.)

4:00pm- Rehearsal starts again with more staging (although depending on who was called in the last two weeks, not everyone was required to be there right at 4pm)

8:00pm- Rehearsal finishes

8:30pm- arrive back at host family house, put bike away, unpack bookbag, wash lunch tupperware, make dinner

9:00pm- Eat dinner

9:45/10:00pm- Check email/call family & friends/look over notes in score from today's second rehearsal period and memorize changes

11:00pm- set out clothes for tomorrow, read a bit

11:30pm- go to bed

Therefore, as you can see from this schedule above, it's certainly not at all like what I am used to in the USA in terms of how rehearsal times are scheduled.  Though, on the bright side, it does give you a lot of time during the majority of the day to really focus on your personal improvement of your role.

I noticed that my colleagues tended to use the time after lunch and before 4pm to practice privately, go over staging, memorize words, or coach with the Assistant Musical Director on things that they didn't do correctly in rehearsal time.  That way, unlike in the USA, you are practically forced to spend 3/4 of your day (from 7:30am til 8pm) doing some sort of practice for your role.  Which, if you are a typical European person (let's face it- they take more time to enjoy life than we Americans do, a.k.a. "breaks") then this schedule might help to light a fire under your butt, and if you're American (because we normally are overprepared and quasi-neurotic in the first place) then you simply have extra time to polish your characterization, get to know your colleagues better, or explore the town or city in which you happen to be rehearsing the show.

[I confess, I did get a lot of reading done in the breaks (since it would have been impossible to sing during the entire break time and then sing later that same day too after having already rehearsed that same morning).  I am happy to report that I finished Anna Karenina there (it's over 1,000 pages!) and half of Jane Austen's 'Northanger Abbey' (...otherwise I would have certainly spent my time blogging if the Opera house had wireless internet and I had one of those wireless internet devices....of course).]

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Gelnhausen Concert Coverage and Town Photos from last Saturday!

This past weekend my colleagues and I sang in a concert located in the neighboring town of Gelnhausen  The concert served to promote the upcoming Opernakademie performance of Rossini's Barber of Seville, and to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Opernakademie Bad Orb, and all the hard work and dedication that has gone into producing successful summer Opera performances year after year.  Since 1986 in July and August international emerging artists come to Bad Orb specifically because of its wonderful reputation for putting on quality performances, allowing younger singers to sing important roles for future use in developing their career, and its well-known capacity for acting as a platform from which these emerging artists receive opportunities to take on larger projects at important opera houses in Germany and internationally.

Therefore, there was quite a lot to celebrate at this past Saturday's concert, and we all had a wonderful time, however, as is now normal seemingly, my lack of performance photo skills has turned out to have yielded me exactly zero photos of my colleagues or myself in our performance attire! As exasperated as you may be at this moment, I am hoping this next piece of news might soften the blow a bit.  I do have a consolation prize for all of you since I know that photos are important when giving a sense of atmosphere to a place: I have posted below a bunch of photos of my walk through the town of Gelnhausen in the hours before the concert took place Saturday night.   So, at least you're not reading this article and going away empty-handed! ;)  And, I have captioned each picture so that you can get an idea of what you're looking at- plus, I even hyperlinked the title of this blog post, so if you click on the blog post title, you will be taken to the webpage for the town of Gelnhausen itself, if you'd like to get more info on it for future reference.  Okay, enjoy!

This was a tower where in the Middle Ages they actually used to burn witches at the stake. Thank goodness that nowadays we have feminism and have ditched that custom, otherwise who knows if I'd still be here (eek!)!

This gate in the center of the picture was part of the old town wall in the Middle Ages- it was a lookout post, presumably.

A look up one of the streets towards the Marienkirche in the center of the old part of town.

Part of the 'Markplatz' (which is used as a parking place when the open-air market isn't taking place) and the Marienkirche (Catholic and from the Medieval Ages) is in the background.

More beautiful 'Fachwerkhaeuser'.

Another angle of the open-air marketplace transformed into a parking place in its off-hours.

This is actually a bust of the original European inventor of the telephone,  Johann Reis, who was born in Gelnhausen, and you can read about him more on Wikipedia by clicking here.

A very skinny street! Certainly not a two-way....!

I love Medieval door hinges!!

This was only a fraction of the large staircase leading from the Marktplatz up to the Marienkirche.

The organ in the Marienkirche and part of my finger...sorry but it was tough to take a pic without flash and have it come out clear, let alone worry about silly things like fingers in the photo.... :P

The main altar inside the Marienkirche.

This is the 'engste Strasse' which means 'skinniest street' and which was used during the  Middle Ages to connect the two main trade centers of Leipzig and Frankfurt, and to find out more, but in German, click here.

The Marienkirche from the opposite side.

The towers, or 'Türme' from the Marienkirche.

Me sitting on a bench in the 'engste Strasse'.

This is painted on one of the buildings on the 'engste Strasse' and it says , "From Leipzig on the Pleisse (a river name presumably) to Frankfurt on the Main (definitely a river name), this is the skinniest street from the entire trip, and so the width of this street was used as the measurement of how wide the wagons were allowed to be loaded (so that they could pass through here)."

Friday, July 22, 2011

Barber of Seville in Bad Orb, Germany: First Two Weeks' Update!

This particular entry is meant to provide an insight into my first two weeks here in Bad Orb thus far while working on the role of Rosina in Rossini's opera, The Barber of Seville, or in German "Der Barbier von Sevilla".

The photos below are included to be a sort of progressive explanation of my experiences during these two weeks, almost like a photo journal.
Our first day of staging, and part of our scenery! During this day, we went through the First Act musically, and then began right away to become acquainted with the acting out of the First Act Finale, and putting it on the stage as it would look in the final product.

Different angle, same scenery :) Though, the set has changed even further from what it looks like here, and it is currently really much more developed than what you can now see.  A side note: the tables on the stage are where the Stage Director (Carlos Krause, a Kammersaenger from the Oper Frankfurt, and this year has been working in Opera for 50 years!) and the Stage Director's Assistant, and the Apprentice sit (two very wonderful gals, Klara and Svenja).

The Konzerthalle in Bad Orb where the performance will be, and notice- this theater is relatively flat as the chairs go further back- there are only a few steps towards the back, which makes for a great experience for the audience member- they all have the same perspective of the stage action- whether they sit in the first row or the last row, which I think is awesome!

This photo was taken while I was standing on the stage of the  Konzerthalle, and thinking about whether or not my voice will carry to the back row over the noise of a whole orchestra (that's daunting!)....

More Konzerthalle...  (It's an 890 seat theater total!) and it has been where I have been spending the most time here- I'm normally in rehearsals each day from 10am-1pm and then from 5pm-8pm, and when I have time off in between those two rehearsal periods, I normally stay there in the theater and eat lunch, practice some more on the stage, and figure out acting ideas while I'm alone and undisturbed.  It's actually a great place to think.

The Gradierwerk, otherwise known as the Saline.  This is an interesting contraption which used to be used to produce salt- the salty water from their salt springs here in town would be allowed to flow over these special branches in this building from top to bottom, and then the salt would be left in the bottom after the water had been absorbed and all but gotten rid of through the dripping process (after of course the highly concentrated salt water that was left at the bottom was boiled so that the salt was the only part left over).  And, nowadays it is a great treatment for the lungs; many coal miners have gone through this to cleanse their lungs of dust, which happens through walking through a small hallway directly in the middle of the building- and of course I've done it several times---your lungs can never be too clean as a singer, right? :)

Part of the 'Kurgebiet' in the middle of Bad Orb and the way that I bike or walk to the Konzerthalle (Opera house) every day that it doesn't rain.  And when it does rain, I am lucky enough to be given a ride to the theater.

My transportation to and from the Konzerthalle (when it's not raining)!

A more artistic view of my transportation, and a good way to exercise!! :)

The Gradierwerk from another angle--it's huge, right? And notice the beautiful flowerbeds along the Gradierwerk- they surely are so nice because of the abundance of rain we've gotten lately- but also because Bad Orb is a really wonderfully clean place- it's just amazing!

One of the ends of the Gradierwerk.... and the stairs leading up to the platform which leads you through the middle of the Gradierwerk so that you can inhale the salt vapors!

The Thermae Spa and Pool in Bad Orb--it's awesome, trust me!!!  I was there last Friday afternoon after our rehearsals ended early because our Stage Director was performing in Bonn, and the gray bubble-looking part of the building has got to be my favorite; it's a round room with a beautiful stained-glass looking light in the middle of the ceiling which changes colors slowly- and the room is closed off by doors because there is a round pool with highly concentrated salt water (much like the Dead Sea I'm guessing) and you can simply float there and listen to the music that they play under the water--it's heavenly--a truly otherworldly experience, particularly for a music lover.  Check it out here by clicking on this link! And this is for those who want to check it out in english- click here.

The Thermae next to the Gradierwerk in the Kurgebiet, and experience the current webcam view of what's going on outside the Thermae by clicking here.

The garden behind the Kurhotel an der Therma. Somehow this garden reminded me of what I always imagined 'Alice in Wonderland' to look like in the scenes when Alice is playing croquet with the Queen of Hearts (not sure why).

The bottom and back side of the Opera house (a.k.a Konzerthalle).

The outside ampitheater behind the Opera house.
These types of houses are called in German "Fachwerkhaeuser", which just is their name for the style of how they are built- meaning that they look very "Middle Ages". There are many good examples of these types of houses in Bad Orb, and I am told that they are many of these as well in a town which I will travel to tomorrow to perform a small preview concert- I will certainly post pics of those too for you to compare to these.
Does anyone else besides me think that the house in the middle seems to be leaning ever slightly to the left? :)  I guess that's what happens when you live in a house for over 600 years...
Right behind this silly traffic gate you can see a tower made of stone and a bit of the old town wall which used to surround the entire central part of Bad Orb.
This is a modern sculpture on the north side of the town wall, and behind that is a silver archway which is the entrance to the "Fussgaengerzone" which means the street where shopping happens, and which is only for pedestrians.
This is the Bad Orb trainstation, which is nowadays only used by one steam train traveling between here and the next town over, Waechtersbach, on Sunday afternoons as a sort of travel through history transportation-wise.
There are the train tracks and the bit of blue sky that popped up today-yay!
This is the 'Kleinstes Haus', or smallest house, in all of this state of Germany (called Hessen) and it's only 1.5 meters wide (which is 4.5 feet)!
This is the Kleinstes Haus again, with the older of the two Catholic Churches in town next to it (the yellow building on the top of the hill).
This is one of the side streets in Bad Orb, with lots of pretty Fachwerkhaeuser (Medieval-style houses).
This is a picture of one of my favorite Eis-Cafes (Ice cream restaurants- literally, they serve all sorts of delicious ice cream specialties- mostly sundaes) in town.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

IVAI Virginia Wrap-Up: Photos!!

My favorite practice room in Henderson Hall, # 308B (and me in the mirror-lol!)
Since I didn't get a chance to post these photos on here while I was actually in Blacksburg, VA at IVAI, I will post them on here now, so that you guys can see after the fact what things were like there.  I honestly should and would have taken more photos of more people and places in VA while I was there, but you know, as you can see from my photos here- the majority of my time was spent in this lovely little practice room (which amounted to something like 3 hours a day) and then the rest of my time was spent in lessons (something like 4-5 hours a day) and then the rest of my time was spent sleeping, eating, or some other uneventful but necessary thing like that.  However, I do resolve to take more photos when I am in Bad Orb (and have done so already - yahoo!) because I do realize that I am sorely in need of photos with people in them from my time at IVAI.

More of my favorite practice room (including my singing stuff!)

More favorite practice room...

Can you tell how much I liked this room? ;)

This photo was taken after I sung in the Strauss and Mozart Concert on Friday 7/24.

A historical house in Blacksburg, which was moved (hence it's on supports here).

Two lovely ladies and colleagues, Miss Courtney Johnson and Miss Rachel Elise Sigman!

Looking across the 'Drillfield' from one side of campus to the other.

Path leading across the Drillfield.

More drillfield- you can get a sense of how huge it was here.

This is near the lake on campus called the 'Duck Pond'.

Brook leading to the 'Duck Pond'.

Random dorm buildings that I liked with a cool roof.

More random classroom buildings.

Part of the brook and Duck Pond where they met.

Duck Pond.

More Duck Pond (I took a 3 hour walk that night to get these photos)!

Squirrel friend!

More Drillfield, this time at dusk.

More cool buildings.

The main hall on campus- not sure its name but...important building.

Part of the memorial on campus.

More cool dorm buildings.

Dusk on campus in the horticulture garden!

Memorial on campus to soldiers who fought in wars and went to VT.

Campus at sunset----BEAUTIFUL!!!

VT School logo hedge near Squires (the music bldg where we were).

Cool shady part of campus on opposite side from where we were.

My wonderful roomie, Kasia Sadej and me after the welcome party at the President's House!