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Sunday, August 19, 2012

Stress: It's Really a Killer (Especially for us Thespians!)

Although in the past three months I've been very busy singing at lots of different places and experiencing the joy of being able to perform and bring enjoyment (hopefully) to lots of audience members, I have been experiencing quite a lot of depressing thoughts and having trouble motivating myself to keep moving forward on this (seemingly endless) career path.

I sang the role of Konstanze in Laubach, Germany in my first-ever open-air opera performance, and I also participated in Joan Dorneman's IVAI in Virginia for the second year in a row, where I got many hours of vital coaching and lessons with the best vocal professionals from New York and around the world.  I have two other potential engagements coming up in the months ahead, and I have received positive critical feedback from more agents than ever before.  Even though it seems like I should be 'on cloud 9' right now, I am feeling more like I dropped into a labyrinth of delusion and despair.

I am guessing that these feelings of mine might have something to do with the fact that I don't necessarily admit to myself (often, if at all, really) that this career is hard.  It requires a certain amount of emotional and psychological de-cluttering and purifying, and I haven't been vigilant about doing that on a regular basis after each project/performance that I complete.  Often times I think we as performers, and I know certainly I do this all the time, only consider that we are put here 'as vessels' to touch those people in the audience with the public and non-censored self-sacrifice of our souls which will bring the 'message' of the performance clearly across.  But, if we keep going about doing such reckless things without taking the necessary precautions of cleaning up the remains of our strewn innards on the stages of this world, we run the risk (like I am currently finding out) of becoming only the parts of ourselves that we remembered to take with us and pack back into our bodies when we are finished.  So, since I know that the zombie-mauled-looking-corpse that I have become (in a figurative sense) doesn't interest anyone, least of all ME, I am going to let everyone know now, through this blog post, that I am taking a little bit of time off from being so open (at least for the next few months) and working on getting back the pieces of me that I didn't know how to clean off after the last few shows.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

"Vocal Rest": A Gift for Everyone to Experience!

There is a, perhaps outside of the professional singing community, little-known phenomenon called "vocal rest" which has recently made a big difference in my life.  I'd like to share how it all happened, because--a blog necessitates that sharing between me and you (the reader) goes on to ensure that you know more about me, and through writing I know more about me, and through reading my writing, perhaps you find out more about yourself, as well.

Anyway, I've been on "vocal rest" (which for a non-singer just means not talking at all for a certain period of time...literally 'resting your voice' by not using it---simple enough, right?) because I actually have been singing too much and my voice isn't sounding or working as well as it normally does.  Now, even though I actually went on "vocal rest" because I wanted to allow my singing voice to recuperate, in addition to that happening, it has also given me the time to notice a number of things in my life (strangely, not unlike the theme of the recent movie "A Thousand Words") which are unnecessary and not maybe the best for me.  For example, saying things that I don't really need to say, or saying things which I'd regret later are simply things that I can leave out of my life and not be the worse for it.  I've seemingly been spared from several embarassing or awkward moments during this period of vocal rest, and I actually quite like it.  Besides, in a community where I am normally spending the majority of my time communicating through singing words (which someone else wrote and which I have to interpret) perhaps it would be wise for me to use the words that are my own, outside of singing, more wisely.

Especially since I have come to realize through this necessary "vocal rest" time (because I was singing too much when my voice was particularly vulnerable and then it just got worse....seems like a no-brainer there but did I listen to my 'inner' voice on that one? You can guess the answer on that---otherwise I'd not need to be on "vocal rest", would I?) I've figured out now more of what I need to do for myself in order to listen to my gut when I should, and how to not let that get lost in all the other things going on in life, and let it get shouted down by life's numerous demands (or the demands of other people, for that matter!).

So, I know that I have written a pretty short summation of my feelings on the importance of some time spent actually purposely not talking, whether it be to fix vocal issues (perhaps self-imposed, as in my case) or just to become more aware of what we say or would say, which might not serve us, and how we can be more careful to choose to always use our inner voices to guide us in deciding how we represent ourselves with our words (which is, let's face it, how most people get to know or understand who and what we're about).

Therefore, hope you all will be perhaps a bit less talkative, or at least try the concept of "vocal rest" if you're feeling like maybe you could use a bit of perspective (and you singers, ..... maybe it's not such a bad thing if you have to go on "vocal rest"---look for the bit of wisdom that comes with it)!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Audition Tactics for Emerging Opera Singers?

Are there such things as audition tactics for Emerging Opera Singers to use to their advantage in order to be the one chosen for an engagement?  That's exactly what I've been asking myself these past few months in order to figure out how I can improve my number of successful auditions completed, and in this case, successful means that I got chosen to sing the role.  So, I've read a LOT of industry publications, Classical Singer, for example, and every interview I could get my hands on with someone who is right beyond where I currently am (a.k.a. working consistently at reputable opera houeses and not just intermittently) and, I have come to the sad, but perhaps logical conclusion in this very fickle business of mine and yours, that there is no straight forward way to systematically improve yourself in order to get hired.  Everyone is looking for something different (in terms of things that you can change outside of having a good voice and being a believeable actress/actor).

Though, along the way I have definitely learned a few things which help me, and which I would now like to share with you below (it's a short list of things, actually).

1. Always get there at least an hour early.  It ensures that you can find a place to warm up (especially if you have to share rooms with the other singers who are also auditioning) and that you won't be stressed running around the opera house looking for a bathroom, a place to change clothes, the pianist, the audition location, etc.

2. Wear something in which you feel comfortable AND fancy.  I know that may seem like a contradictory statement, but, let's face it, all auditioning committees want to see someone who is clean-looking, wearing something that fits adequately (not too tight, too short, or too baggy), who can project self-confidence (a.k.a. don't wear something that you don't like the way it makes you feel or how it looks on you), and who can perform in their outfit as if they were 100% at ease.  It should be that the clothing you're wearing doesn't draw any attention away from your wonderful performance, but only adds to your success when the audition committee notices what you're wearing when you walk into the room, and when you leave (in the middle they should be mesmerized by your singing if all goes according to plan).

3. Bring extra copies of your press materials (headshots, resumes, repertoire lists, press reviews) and have them paperclipped together in organized packets- approximately 3-5 sets- so that in case they have people on the jury who didn't see your materials, you can provide them with a copy.

4. Make sure to greet the members of the jury upon entering the room AS WELL AS the pianist!  Most people forget them, and you know, they're important- perhaps that's the assistant conductor who's playing for you, or the main coach.  Don't forget- the first impression is an important one- so make sure to be relaxed, be confident and be cheerful in how you greet everyone.

5. Begin your audition with your most secure piece (aria or art song- whatever's required) and if there is anything to talk about with the pianist beforehand make sure to do that and take your time explaining any musical changes or tempo changes or dynamic changes, etc...  They will appreciate you pointing it out, it looks professional to the jury, and you will be able to perform better and feel more secure.  Then, make sure that the pieces that you brought to the audition (regardless of whether or not they're the arias from the pieces the company will be doing in the coming season) are things which you feel vocally comfortable with and which you could also sing at a moment's notice well.

6. Be kind to your colleagues who are also there to audition- you would be surprised who knows whom, and if you aren't nice, it could get around and might hurt your chances of being hired for a future gig, or hey...maybe one of those singers already knows the conductor, or whoever, and anyway....you see where I'm going with this.  It ALWAYS pays to be nice.  So, get over your psychological issues (or your shyness!) and try to open yourself up to meeting new people and being friendly to them.  I mean, if everyone is sitting in the room staring at the wall until they sing and looking nervous it's not going to make it any easier for anyone if that environment continues that way.  Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, is thankful when they receive a compliment or can talk about something to get their minds off of the audition coming up, or at least break up their negative self-talk going on in their minds.

7. Make sure to honestly evaluate the circumstances of the audition and what happened after you've sung.  If you really did your best, then you should let it be and hope for the best.  If there were things that you could have improved which you want to do better int he next audition- take note of them and work on them in the practice room in the coming days/weeks/months.  It rarely pays to berate yourself (unless that sort of thing is necessary to get your butt in motion but...considering you're even trying to make it in such a difficult profession I highly doubt this possitility) and the main result you'll get from doing that is depression and frustration.  So, let's not go down that road, shall we?

8.  This is really the most important thing for me and which I make sure to do EVERY time I sing somewhere- is: perform and communicate to your audience!!!!!!!  I don't care if it's a group of hard-of-hearing old folks at a senior citizens home, your Aunt Nellie, your dog, three famous jury members who aren't even looking at you, sportsfans in the audience at the Superbowl, etc....  The most important thing you can do is to always communicate your characters' story (and also YOUR story) every time that you sing.  If you don't....you're not doing your job- plain and simple.  So, don't let those jury members psych you out who don't look at you- then tell the wall behind their heads your story- but tell it truthfully and well.  And you know, you'd be surprised how that makes them look at you after a few well-sung bars.  Trust me!

Okay, so.....I guess that all there is left to say now is: GO OUT THERE AND NAIL THOSE AUDITIONS!!! :)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

My Audition for Operklosterneuburg, an Austrian Summer Opera Festival

In January of this year, I auditioned for the Operklosterneuburg, a very important summer opera festival in a town called Klosterneuburg, which is approximately twenty minutes outside of Vienna in a northerly direction with the regional train.  They were looking for singers for the Donizetti opera, Don Pasquale and I thought that the role of Norina would be well-suited to my voice (though perhaps not quite fully yet to sing it in a large opera house- therefore I auditioned for this program which serves also as a sort of a 'final-step' for emerging opera singers).

I have nothing but wonderful things to say about the entire experience actually, although in the end I was not chosen for the role.  Therefore I will bore you with details of how my own audition went since you already know the result (ha!) but instead I'll give you a brief synopsis of how it was for me to travel there, so that you too can get an idea of what might be awaiting you if you plan on auditioning.

I took the train actually from Dortmund to Vienna (which took approximately 10 hours) and stayed overnight in Vienna.  Then I woke up the next morning (I can recommend the A&O Hostel near the Westbahnhof, for those of you who were wondering where I stayed), ate a wonderful breakfast (courtesy of the A&O- yay them!) warmed up in my room a teensy bit (aka- hummed for 20 minutes) and then took the regional transit train to the town of Klosterneuburg, where the Kloster (Convent) is located and where the audition was being held.

Upon arriving in town it's easy enough to spot the convent hanging on the side of a large hill, sort of precariously it seems, when viewed from the angle of the train tracks, and I made my way by foot in that direction.  It took me only about 10 minutes to walk there from the train platform, via a steep inclined path which led me through a huge wrought-iron door and an old archway onto the Kloster grounds.  There was no one really around outside (it was a super cold day- of course! lol...) and so I walked around a bit admiring the buildings' grand statuesque gothic architecture while trying to find someone to ask for directions to the building where the audition was taking place.

I finally ran into someone who looked like he was in a hurry to get somewhere (a.k.a.- "He knows where he's going, therefore he must know where I should be going too", was my reasoning) and I asked him for directions.  He pointed me in the direction of a town square which was adjacent and abutted the Kloster property toward the east, and I exited the official Kloster grounds and entered the town square approaching the building he showed me.  Upon entering, it reminded me instantly of a high school auditiorium lobby: low ceilings, pseudo-1960's-esque wood paneling on the walls, stone floors.... and I made my way to the office and found one of the coordinators of the program and the auditions and he informed me that there were rooms to warm up in downstairs.  I had arrived there approximately an hour early (because I was in the habit of doing that since I had learned it was better than being rushed for me psychologically) and so I proceeded in a leisurely way to go to the practice rooms downstairs (which turned out to be two huge halls, actually, so that was awesome!) and warm up and change my clothes for the audition.

After about 40 minutes I was finished warming up, and I went upstairs because I was technically (according to the email invitation I received) due to be singing in 10 minutes.  So, I found out that the audition room was directly next to the entrance through which I came earlier that morning (with the wood paneling) and so I waited there, with a Baritone colleague who had also showed up around the time I had, and who was also there to audition.

He was called into the audition room first, so I waited in an adjoining room off of the opposite side of the entrance lobby so that I didn't have to listen to his singing through the door (which I really don't like to do when I'm mentally preparing for an audition and am about to go on--it psychs me out somehow and I can't focus as well...).  He was in there for about 15 minutes and then they called me in to sing.  There were only two people in the Jury- one was the Intendant of the program and the other I'm still not sure of (drat! darn you Google for not having a photo of everyone and their mother available to me to search through....) and the pianist actually upon seeing him I felt that I had seen him before somewhere but couldn't quite place his face (sadly).  I began with the aria I always begin with (I unfortunately did not have time to prepare Norina's aria "Quel guardo il cavaliere" for the audition even though I knew that they were auditioning for Don Pasquale, so although they asked if I had brought it with me I said that I hadn't and said I'd be offering something else and they seemed okay with it) and I think it went really well.  The pianist was terrific (who was he!? Man oh man that's going to kill me....) and I felt as if I was really totally free to interpret my aria like I wanted to acting-wise and vocally-speaking, and not have to concede to less-than-stellar piano playing (like is often the case here in Europe, I've found) and I was really glad.  So, after the audition was finished (I only sang my one aria- it's relatively long so they didn't ask for a second) they asked me what drew me to apply for the program, and then that was it.  Although I was heartened by the one nameless Jury member who ushered me out of the room and assured me that I sang "really very well" (said in German, of course) and I thought to myself "you know, for being on a train 10 hours a day ago, it's really awesome that I did so well today".

And that was it!  I wish there was more to tell, but honestly I just walked to the train station there in Klosterneuburg, arrived in Wien (Vienna) and then waited around for my train.

JUST KIDDING! There IS more to tell.  Though, if you don't want to read about my touristy experiences in Vienna, you can stop reading here.  Otherwise, proceed!

So, after getting back into the center of Wien with the regional train, I had 5 hours to kill before my train left from the Westbahnhof (West train station) and so I thought to myself "Heck! I'm not going to waste my time in Vienna waiting around in the train station! Especially when I've had such a great day thus far.  Therefore.....what can I do which I haven't done before when I was here last October?"  And that was how the plan was born to visit the Prunksaal (Showroom) of the Nationalbibliothek (Viennese National State Library)!

I actually had a heck of a time finding the place....it took me about 20 minutes of walking around downtown near the Reitschule (Riding school) of the Lippanzaner Stallions (which is located near the palace where Kaiserin Elisabeth lived, a.k.a. "Sissi") and then a few wrong turns and some direction-asking until I found out that it was located in the building attached to the Kaiserin's palace, but not connected to it via any sort of hallway, etc.  They are simply two buildings smushed onto one another with no way of entering either except for exiting both.  (Yea...tricky, huh? Ah, those Viennese!!)  So, I walked into (finally!) the building where the Prunksaal was located (it's actually not on the ground floor of the building, which surprised me, but rather on the second floor which is also kind of cool- considering it's a multi-story room itself!) and I was somewhat shocked by its rather spare white marble appearance.  For the entryway to something called the "Prunksaal", literally translated that means "Pagentry/Pomposity/Grandiosity Hall" it was rather less pageant-like and more.....nice-lawyer's-office-like.  But, ah well......I proceeded to purchase a ticket (4 Euros for students- not bad--perhaps one of the cheaper things I've done in Vienna to be honest---everything else is really quite expensive- even with a student discount, I might add) and I ascended the large (again, white marble) staircase.  There was a guard who was checking tickets at the top of the stairs right in front of the doorway to the Prunksaal, so I handed him my ticket and entered the Saal.

Man oh man!  If there was a reason why everything else in the building was so minimally decorated, I'd wager it was because nothing else could compare to the splendor, and dare I say it, "pagentry", of this room.  It was simply the most amazing and wonderful room I've ever seen (and let me tell you, I have seen some great rooms- I've been to Versailles, Schloss Belvedere, Schloss Charlottenburg, Schloss Sans Souci, Schloss Neuschwanstein, Schloss Mirabell, Schloss Schönbrunn, the Hofburg....and probably others I can't think of right now) and I really cannot remember ONE single room which I thought to be so splendid as this library/hall.  I actually wondered as I wandered (cheesy Christmas song lyric reference!) through the hall (which was actually the private library of the monarchy at the time of the Kaisers' rule in Austria) if it was the room which the Disney animators of Beauty and the Beast used as a model when they drew the library in the Beast's palace, because it was SO similar to that in terms of design and feel.  It was a two-story hall where every wall was lined with built-in bookshelves which stretched from floor to ceiling and were filled with old, precious leather-bound books containing the first editions of important literary works and the details of important discoveries of historical, biological and every other kind of significance.  Truly a collection of books fit for kings and queens, to be sure.

There was also a really cool exhibit on display of the original lithographs of an Austrian biologist who had been the first to document in drawings with color the appearance of several different species of animals- and had put together basically the first field guide to identifying these animals by sight (but, I have to say, the drawings that were on display were SO gorgeous, we'd consider them nowadays worthy of an art gallery and less-so a biology text book, even though they were also accurate depictions of these animals).

I actually found myself wishing that libraries today still looked like this (though I do have to say that Columbia University's East Asian Library does look similar to this--it's two stories and has those book ladders but is not nearly as large, has as cool books or is nearly as full of "pagentry" as this place was) and I was really starting to look around for a comfy chair to settle into and simply admire the beauty of this place, and what do you know!?  There were chairs designated for that very purpose situated at different locations all over the hall!  So.....they really did think of everything, those Austrians.  To say the least, I was impressed.

Then, after I had soaked up as much of the knowledge of the past as I could after gazing upon leather cover after leather cover of that library's treasure trove, I made my way, tired, but happy, toward the Westbahnhof and the train back to Dortmund.



Wednesday, January 18, 2012

DON JUAN IN HANKEY,PA: Surprise Blog Tour Visit!

The characters of DON JUAN IN HANKEY, PA are milling around backstage in the Hankey Opera House. Vivian is dusting the green room. Oriane, who is eight months pregnant, is waddling down the hall. Leandro Vasquez is reading about himself in the Sound Bites pages of Opera News. Arnaud is trying on women’s clothes in the costume shop.

Knobby (general manager of the Hankey Opera Company, via the intercom): All right. Everybody on stage. Let’s go.

Characters are mumbling things like, "Now what does he want?" "Still barking out orders, is he?" "The book’s over, you numbskull."

Knobby: Are we all here? Okay, pipe down people. A sprightly young soprano, Julia Katherine Walsh, who very much enjoyed the book, would like to ask you all a question—the same question. Here’s what she wants to know. What would have happened to our production of Don Giovanni if you had not been a part of putting it together? Anybody want to start?

Characters grow silent, pensive.

Oriane (hometown opera singer made good): I’ll start. I want to get this over with so I can go home and put my feet up, Carter. Without me and my awesome network of professional contacts there would have been no Leandro.

Deanna (Type A former chair of the opera guild): No Leandro without you? Tell you what. I’ll forward you the bills for my essential eye treatments, purifying facials, and psychotherapy. My body is still recovering.

Leandro (strapping Argentine baritone): Why you a—body need—recover a me? I be—body butter.

Deanna: You’re body butter? More like Nutter Butter.

Leandro: What a this—Nutter Butter?

Oriane: Do they have Nutter Butters in the Chaco, Leandro?

Deanna: Big strapping megalomaniacal Nutter Butters who croon to their lonely cattle.

Vivian (the fragile ketchup heiress): Deanna, your aura is bright red. Feel your pain, but then let it go. Don’t mind her, Leandro. She is oozing hostility. As for me, I had nothing to do with the show’s success or failure. I had no impact whatsoever.

Richard (retired dermatologist): Vivian, you can’t mean that. We both were vitally important to its success. We supported Knobby unconditionally, for one thing.

Knobby: You’ve got to be kidding, Richard. How about the time when you took my head off because I didn’t hand the part to—

Jeannie (society matron): I, of course, provided an abundant source of real-life inspiration for the woman singing Elvira.

Arnaud (balloon entrepreneur and clairaudient): Shut up. All of you. You are spoiling the plot for people who have not yet read the book. And if they do not read it, how will Arnaud become famous worldwide?

Oriane: Not many of us can talk to dead people, Arnaud. That’s a claim to fame.

Arnaud: Now that you mention it, that makes Arnaud pretty special.

Leandro: There you a—rata—un poco! I ought a—pinch a huevos. Plunk, plunk. VoilĂ !
You tenor.

Knobby: Okay, everyone, vamoose. Am-scray. Sorry, Julia—that’s about as long as I can keep this crew civil in one room together. You had one other question?

Everyone hurries out. Leandro is chasing after Arnaud with a cattle prod. Jeannie is chasing after Leandro, also wielding a cattle prod.

Julia: Yes, yes I did. Is there going to be a sequel?

Knobby (whispers): I have it on good authority that a sequel is in the works. But keep that under wraps. Leandro’s not in the new book, and I don’t want him pinching off my huevos either.

Julia: Will the new book be based on an opera, too?

Knobby: Yes, I suppose so. We are all supposed to read synopses of Manon Lescaut in preparation for a brainstorming session during Chinese New Year next week. It’s the Year of the Dragon.

Julia: Interesting. Is Oriane going to sing Manon?

Knobby: I refuse to answer that on the grounds that I might incriminate myself.