Friday, September 7, 2007

a great and generous man...

I received an email from a colleague JC, the conductor of a local boys' choir, late last night. I thought that this story was the most touching tribute I had read all day.

Pavarotti was a great advocate of music education, and often invited a youth arts organization to open for him at his performances. In 1985, he was in Seattle, performing at Key Arena, and the boychoir was given this honor. JC had heard that Pavarotti's favorite song was Vittoria, mio core!, and though it wasn't part of the boys' performance set, he wrote a 3-part arrangement and had the boys learn it, in case they had an opportunity to sing it at the sound check for him. They didn't. Backstage after the concert, they met one of his assistants, who said that Mr. Pavarotti was sorry only to have heard their last song. On a whim, they gathered outside his dressing room and sang the arrangement of Vittoria. At some point, JC noticed that the boys had stopped watching him, and he knew that Mr. Pavarotti had come out of his dressing room. Pavarotti had everyone backstage be quiet for the rest of the song while he stood and listened, and at the end he praised them and thanked them several times before returning to his dressing room.

A moment later, his assistant came out and said that Mr. Pavarotti would like to meet the boys. Over the next hour, he had them come in to his dressing room in small groups, with their parents, spoke with each of them, and posed for pictures with them. JC said it right at the end of his email: "This was the act of a great and generous man!" Indeed.

Thursday, September 6, 2007


The opera world has suffered so many losses of great artists this year that when I read the news this morning, my initial reaction was to close my laptop. It couldn't possibly be true. There are some people in the world that I assume to be immortal, and Pavarotti was certainly one of them. His Nessun Dorma is my earliest opera memory, I think. Even as a small child, I remember thinking, "How can that sound come out of a person? How is this possible?" The whole world is mourning today for this man with the golden voice that touched so many.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

summer's over!

How did that happen? Suddenly, it's autumn. It's my favorite season. Every year at this time, I'm grateful that I have a job that is somewhat dependent on the school year. It ensures that every September, I get to have that "new beginnings" feeling. In the two weeks since I've been home from Banff (which continued to be an amazing experience -- more posts on that to come), I've been organizing my schedule of performances and students for the upcoming season. Many returning students, a few new ones, including three boys!

It's funny, I'd been working all summer under the assumption that this year was fairly light for me, performance wise, but as I was updating my website last week, I realized that I'm actually extremely busy! A nice realization to come to. Not a lot of opera this year, but the role I'm scheduled for is one that I'm really excited about -- Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni. I had been nervous about it, since it's traditionally sung by sopranos, but I had the good fortune to study this summer with fabulous mezzo Judith Forst, who has sung the role many times, and convinced me that we high mezzos can do it! I've been working on it, and so far, so good! I'm hoping to be able to coach with Judith on it a few times before rehearsals begin in the spring. It's the perfect setting to try the role out -- with the puppet opera! I can't imagine a more fun, joyful, supportive environment.

Most of my season this year is concerts and recitals, which is just fine by me. Next week, I'm headed to Victoria, BC to do a recital at my alma mater, with my piano professor at the keyboard! I was invited to come up as a guest artist, and it feels like I'm coming full circle in a way. I'm singing some of my favorite pieces -- Mahler's Lieder Eines Fahrenden Gesellen, Debussy's Chansons de Bilitis, and Britten's A Charm of Lullabies. Then, my first Elijah in October, more recitals (Mahler and Brahms) in late October, and two different Messiahs in December. One is with a chamber orchestra and chorus, which should be particularly fun.

In the middle of all this are some pops concerts with the Seattle Symphony, previews of Seattle Opera's upcoming Iphigenia in Tauris (I'm singing Iphigenia), some film score work (listen for the Hallelujia chorus parody in the Shrek Christmas special this winter!), and two shows in the Seattle Opera chorus (Pagliacci and Tosca). I've never done any opera chorus work before, so I'm giving it a try.

So, I'm a busy girl! It seems like a great variety -- all of it fun!

Monday, July 9, 2007


One of my biggest performance assignments here at Banff happened this past Friday, at the end of our first week here. Osvaldo Golijov was the composer and residence here this summer, mentoring the young composers, and working on a cello concerto for Alisa Weilerstein (who was also here last week, and participated in several performances – what an amazing musician!), which will receive it’s premiere next month at the Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center. I was given a piece for voice and string quartet, entitled How Slow the Wind. The text is from two short poems by Emily Dickinson and, like most of Osvaldo’s vocal works, it was composed for Dawn Upshaw. He wrote the piece after the death of a dear friend of his, in a car accident in Argentina. A young couple with their baby ran in to a tree, and the man and baby both survived, but the woman, Mariel, was killed. The piece represents the loss of someone that is completely sudden and unexpected, as opposed to the loss of a loved one from an illness, or other more drawn-out circumstances. Hearing Osvaldo tell the story at our first coaching with him last week, I had to fight back tears. He was so open in his sharing of the accident, and seemed to speak directly from his heart, and suddenly the piece, which had been beautiful before, became so much more meaningful and powerful. It’s one of the reasons I love working with composers on their pieces. We, as musicians, get so much information from our scores and program notes, but nothing can take the place of personal experience and interaction with the composer. Still, it can be intimidating to be in an intimate, rehearsal setting, trying to bring to life what the person sitting in front of you intended in a piece of music, and I was quite nervous for our first coaching. Luckily, Osvaldo was so lovely to work with! The next morning, sitting with him at breakfast, I knew I had done something right: he turned to me and said, smiling, “I emailed Dawn last night to tell her that everything is good with her piece.” I will take that as a stamp of approval!

Here’s a picture in the lovely recital hall at the dress rehearsal. From left to right: Emily (violin 2), Catherine (violin 1), me, Osvaldo, Indre (who sang his Lua Descolorida with the same quartet), Francisco (cello), and Marie-Eve (viola). A fantastic quartet!

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breaking the silence

Long time no post! Sorry about that. It seems that the rest of my life has been taking up all my attention for the past couple of months. But, I arrived in Banff a week ago, and I thought this would be a good time to get back to the blog. More to come, but here are some pictures from the balcony of my dorm room. Suffice it to say that this summer promises to be an incredible musical and artistic experience. And the setting? Not bad either!

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Wednesday, May 2, 2007

puppet opera recap

The puppet opera is done, and it was a lovely and joyous experience from beginning to end. Sometimes, I think experiences come in to our lives at the exact time and in the exact way that we need them, and this was definitely an example of that. Some thoughts on the process, in no particular order:
  • Everyone involved in this project was so wonderful to work with. I realized close to the end that there had not been a negative word spoken since we had started the project -- no tension between the performers, no talking behind anyone's backs. It was very refreshing, and made for a really easy rapport between everybody involved.
  • I realized how much I've been missing chamber performances. There were 12 people involved in this project -- 5 singers, 4 instrumentalists, and 3 puppeteers, and as we all became comfortable with the piece and each other, it was so fun to engage in play with each other in rehearsals, and in every performance. There were eight performances, which is a lot (at least, more than I usually get to do with the same group of people), but it never got even a little bit old and stale. The singers and instrumentalists traded ornaments, the puppets reacted to us, and vice versa, and there was a real sense of synergy. It's the same feeling one gets working with a great pianist on a recital, but the feeling is multiplied when there are more people involved. This particular piece was almost entirely recitative, so that allowed even more play between characters and with the continuo players. I'll get to do some chamber music at Banff this summer, so I'm really looking forward to that.
  • Even an intense rehearsal schedule (we put the show together in one week, with about 6 hours of rehearsal every day) can be made pleasant with good colleagues, tea, and lots of high quality chocolate!
  • There's a lot of change happening in my life right now. Most of it is good, but change is always hard. I think that being around so much joy and love and laughter every day has really opened my heart to allow some things in that I probably would have resisted otherwise. In a time when lots of things are feeling out of control and unsettled, it has been a real blessing.
  • This has been a season filled with Baroque music for me, and the more I do the more I love it. I'm feeling more at home all the time with the style, I'd be very happy to have much more of it in my future!
  • I got a great compliment from a friend who came to see the show. "I've never seen or heard someone act so much with just their voice!" The musicians were all dressed in black and sitting with music stands at the side of the stage, so the audience could see us, but the puppets (obviously) were the center of attention. Singing a role (well, 3 roles, actually) from a chair, with no staging, gave me a great opportunity to explore characterization in other ways, experimenting with different vocal colors, and really delving in to the text in a detailed way. We do this as performers onstage as well, of course, but isolating these elements was very rewarding, and something we don't often get to do. I felt like I grew a lot as a performer from the experience. What a great way to make a living, right?
Now, on to the next thing. I have an audition and competition at the end of the month that I need to prepare for, and hopefully assignments from Banff will be coming soon, so I'll have lots of music to dive in to. More on all this soon!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

pupi per tutti!

Ruggiero opened last night. I've had so much fun this week getting comfortable with my roles, working with the musicians and the Carters, all of whom are wonderful, joyous people, learning so much about music, puppets, and life in general, and getting ready for this fabulous show! It's gotten some great preview press, and opening night was nearly sold out, so get your tickets now if you want to come to a performance! Here are some pictures to tempt you. First, the stage. The waves in the front are turned by a hand crank during the prologue and epilogue, and Neptune, sea horses, fish, and various other creatures rise from the depths to sing.

This is one of my characters, Alcina, a sorceress who lures Ruggiero (left) to her island. The Carters let us singers hold some of the puppets last night before the show -- Ruggiero weighs about 20 pounds!

Below is my other main character, Melissa, another sorceress who transforms herself in order to rescue Ruggiero (along with many other of Alcina's ex-lovers, who have been transformed in to enchanted plants) from the island.

Pulcinella, on the left, is a commedia dell'arte character who was added to this production for comic relief. On the right is my favorite of the monsters (because what puppet show would be complete without some monsters?) He talks from the face in his stomach and that huge tongue comes out and slimes Pulcinella during the climactic battle scene. :)

Alcina does not appreciate being double-crossed by Melissa. (the puppet's head spins around to reveal her true nature, below)

How fun, right????

Sunday, April 8, 2007


Every performer or otherwise self-employed person loves tax time, right? Ummmm... yeah, right....

Every year, I dread the day I finally sit down to enter all our information and find out how much we owe, and it's never as bad as I think it's going to be. I should really learn from that and remind myself not to procrastinate so much next year. We'll see how that goes.

For the past couple of years, I've been using this handy-dandy deduction worksheet for artists/performers that was sent to me by an accountant friend of mine. When I finally break down and have someone else do our taxes, I'm sure this will come in very handy. It has an excel sheet for each month and a place to enter your deductions each day in various categories, and then everything magically adds up on a separate sheet with yearly totals. I know, it's not rocket science, but it cuts the amount of time I spen going through receipts and such at the end of the year by probably 75%. My taxes used to take a full day. This year they took 2 hours. Not bad. The good news -- we made 20% more this year than last year on our gross adjusted income, and the taxes we owe are down by about 15% from last year. Woo hoo! We still owe plenty, believe me, but it's not nearly as much as I had feared. This is due mostly to the fact that I was employed full time by a school during the spring semester last year and had taxes being withheld from my paycheck, which doesn't normally happen for me. However, I also ended up with lots more deductions than last year (more audition trips, and more expensive voice lessons). I made significantly more as a performing singer last year than I have in the past -- it's kind of fun to look back and see the numbers ticking up over recent years. The other good news is that the amount we owe is significantly less than what I had saved up in my "tax account." The rest will go into savings or to pay off some debt, but a little will become some extra spending money on our vacation next week. Yes, that's right, a VACATION! Only for 3 days, but still! I'm very excited about it.

Ah, and now I can curl up on the couch and watch a movie, with no feelings of guilt or dread hanging over me. :)

Friday, April 6, 2007

a goal...

I've been thinking a lot lately about gratitude and being truly present in the moments of my life, and how that relates to singing and performing. I am so grateful to have this amazing job that brings joy and communicates to people on a deep level. It seems to me the best way to show that gratitude, and the best means to opening the most direct line of communication, is by being as present as possible, moment to moment, in performance. It's not that I'm generally un-present during performances (in fact, I've always felt very involved, mentally and emotionally) but it has occurred to me as I've explored these concepts in other areas of my life lately that a deeper level of awareness is possible, and the St. Matthew seems the perfect opportunity to play with this idea. At the dress rehearsal on Wednesday night, I experimented with taking a moment before my arias to focus my energy on the beauty of the music, the meaning of the text, and what I wanted to convey in my interpretation, and one of the arias in particular was a truly transformative experience. For me, that is. I can't speak for the audience, though the feedback I got from my fellow soloists was very positive. So tonight, at the performance, my goal is to be completely present every time I breathe to sing a phrase, aware of the power and exquisite beauty of this music and the message I'd like to convey.

Monday, April 2, 2007

a few changes...

I was playing around with my blog layout tonight. I haven't added all the links yet -- I'll have to get to that tomorrow (or soon, anyway!). I have officially taken my first stab at a banner as well. Not sure I'm entirely happy with it, but it's a start!