Check out this Behind the Scenes look at the new production of Rossini's Moses in Egypt at New York City Opera this coming season. They've teamed up with director Michael Counts, to put on a non-conventional, completely new staging of this opera. (Perhaps the first full production of the work in over 100 years?) It looks like it is going to be a truly stunning event. I'm thinking that this is going to take the use of multimedia in stage works to a new level, like the next generation of The Enchanted Island from last year's Met Season.
The artistic team took countless photographs of water, sky, sea, fire, and inks that create interesting and abstract visuals that serve as the world surrounding the characters. This is a truly innovative way of combining classical traditions and forms with our contemporary lives - modern art at it's finest.
"Light is the essence of the spirit" - couldn't have said it better myself. I hope you enjoy this video as much as I did, and many thanks to Steve for sending it my way!
photo by Mid Pennine Arts
It's days like these where I thank the 21st Century, and Mark Zuckerberg for inventing facebook. This amazing tower you are gazing at is called The Singing Ringing Tree. Did everyone out there know this existed but me?? If I hadn't scrolled down in my news feed today and seen a video clip posted by a friend of mine, who knows how much longer it would have been before I learned about it!
The singing tree is a sculpture designed by Tonkin Liu for a project called the Panopticons, which includes four other large-scale public sculptures. The Mid Pennine Arts websites describes them as "designed to attract visitors into the countryside to enjoy the stunning landscapes that this delightful area has to offer. Each Panopticon is situated on a high-point site commanding spectacular views." The Singing Tree is made entirely out of galvanised steel pipes that are cut at different lengths, and placed in the direction of the most prevailing winds. It was built right in the middle of the British countryside in the Pennine Mountain Range. When the wind travels through the pipes, any number of chords can be heard. I think this is one of the most exquisite pieces of modern music I've ever heard of!
I'm sure that nothing can compare to experiencing it in person, but the video is worth the watch (the random sheep in the middle of it really takes you to the British Isles...) What a beautiful example of chance music - something we were just discussing in my recent music history lecture (John Cage etc...) The sounds out of the singing tree are probably never the same twice. It's really quite extraordinary, and requires no players, no conductor, no audience: just nature. It's so simple.
I find myself needing more simplicity in these final weeks leading up to my degree recital. It's holy week, and while I am not a church-goer, I have so enjoyed singing in the church services this year; something I've only done before at Christmas. I find the beauty and simplicity of singing choral motets in a small ensemble so deeply satisfying. The exposed harmonies, the crunchy dissonances that release at the perfect moment, the purity of the vowels and the acoustics of the sanctuaries I just came home from my last Good Friday service where I sang with Dr. Weinert's Voices ensemble. We performed some exquisite music at the Asbury Methodist Church, where I sang the Bach St. Matthew Passion last month:
Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt (Schutz)
O vos omnes (Victoria)
Agnus Dei from Requiem (Faure)
Crucifixus a 6 (Lotti)
Wondrous Love (Fissinger)
What singing in church this week has reminded me of is that so much of what moves in singing is the sheer emotional power of the human voice. Such beauty of sound coming out of human instrument - it's unbelieveable. Last night I subbed for a friend at Third Presbyterian Church for their Maundy Thursday service. Bob Swensen, one of the voice teachers here at Eastman (and my teacher's husband) was singing with us. At the end of the the final scripture reading, all of the lights went out in the santuary until there was total darkness. I've never been in a church where this has been done before. Then, Professor Swensen stood up and sang the hymn "Were you there". If you don't know it (I didn't before last night), it's a hauntingly beautiful, simple spiritual tune. He was standing directly behind me, and the moment he began to sing, tears immediately started streaming down my face. I couldn't stop them or even try to control them. I was so overwhelmed by the beauty of the sound and the color of his voice as he sang the text. It didn't even matter that I wasn't at the service last night to worship - the singing is what brings me to that place of total meditation and quiet.
I imagine that if I ever get the opportunity to visit the singing tree in person, I will have a similar experience. These moments are rare, but when they do happen, it's the best cry I've ever had.
Photo Source: health.com
I need to take a moment to interrupt my orals research on the brilliant composer, Mary Howe, here at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center (!) to bring you this extremely important blog post. This has been an exciting week for singing news: THREE amazing bits of vocal wisdom floating around the internet that you should not miss!
1) THIS JUST IN: Vibrating sex toys can be used to "loosen up singer's vocal cords". HALLELUIA!!! For all you singers out there who struggle with that evil little bugger called Tongue Tension, or how about that pesky Mr. High Larynx, they've found the solution!! Now, if only they could find a way to make a giant neon pink vibrator less conspicuous....
2) Fred Plotkin wrote a "Letter to Aspiring Opera Singers" on the Operavore blog, following the Metropolitan Opera National Council Finals. He offers some very SOUND advice, like picking arias that suit you NOW, not what will sound good in 10 years, learn how to SPEAK the languages you sing in, etc... A lot of his advice is what I learned at CoOPERAtive, and what my voice teachers have stressed along this journey. Check it out on WQXR's website here.
3) Antonio Pappano at Covent Garden has been complaining about young singers canceling engagements. Fabio Luisi, principal conductor at the Metropolitan Opera, pretty much handed him the door in a very well-worded reply to Norman Lebrecht's blog, Slipped Disc. Luisi writes that the young singers are not entirely to blame for the issue - but rather the conductors, managers, and directors who beg of them TOO Much TOO soon.
I think the second two articles compliment each other very well. As my voice teacher, Kathryn Cowdrick often stresses, too many young artists are singing on YOUTH alone, and not on solid, safe, healthy technique. We need to be thinking of singing as a LONG-TERM career! I want to take a moment right now to thank my other teacher, Meredith Ziegler, for teaching me why it was so important that I don't try to learn Dalila at age 19 (I was so naive...).
The Bach St. Matthew Passion is over, and I'm putting the arias to rest...for now, at least. A huge thank you to all of my friends and family who came to see the performance: it was a beautiful afternoon that I will never forget. I look forward to the day that I can perform the work again, and in German! In other news: I am delighted to announce that on March 6th, after singing in the preliminary round along with 19 other singers, I was named one of the finalists in the Jessie Kneisel Lieder Competition!! I am so excited to prepare for this amazing opportunity. There will be more about that in the near future, as the finals are not until May 11th.
So now that I am on a much needed Spring Break, I am beginning to focus solely on the monumental task ahead of me: preparing my Master's Degree Recital. Today I spent all afternoon working the rhythm and text of my Spanish set, and learned two of the five pieces I have remaining. This is one of the most important parts of my two years of study here at the Eastman School of Music. For those friends of mine who have already completed theirs, I congratulate you...and glare at you with envy! For those like me whose recitals are still to come, hang in there guys, we can do this!
I've worked carefully with my teacher to create a program of music and poetry that inspires me, challenges me, and is satisfying to sing and perform. I knew I wanted a chamber work on my recital that featured cello, so Professor Cowdrick suggested Lori Laitman's song set, Daughters, for mezzo-soprano, violin, cello and piano. I knew I wanted some lesser-performed French melodies - so I'm doing a set of Duparc songs, concluding with "La Vague et la Cloche", almost never performed by women. I'll also be doing Montsalvage's Canciones Negras, in addition to a set of songs I've handpicked myself: 4 songs by different composers, all set to the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke. Peter Lieberson, Paul Hindemith, Felix Wolfes, and Mary Howe all made the list. 75 percent of my recital features art songs composed in the 20th Century. If you were to tell me that two years ago, I'd never have believed you.
To send us on our breaks with a bit of vocal wisdom, my voice teacher sent the whole studio an email with this fantastic, short interview with mezzo-soprano, Stephanie Blythe (embedded below, or here), on the importance of art song. I think it is so important for young singers to hear this message, especially coming from a performer that is most often associated with the dramatic opera repertoire, and not art song. While Blythe admits that it is more and more difficult (if not impossible) to create a career solely based on recital, art song has been unfortunately given the "short shrift." I agree with her that this is a shame, both for singers and for audiences everywhere. As she notes in the interview, art song is a deeply personal, intimate art form, and can inform you as an opera singer. Creating an inner subtext as a performer, and then conveying that as a story that will touch the audience is a profound experience. She quotes the great soprano Martina Arroyo in the interview, saying: "In art song, you're not relying on props or costumes or sets. It's you, some music, and a piano." To some singers that sounds like a nightmare, but to me, that sounds exciting. I love the work and preparation that goes into a recital - analyzing the poetry, drawing inspirations from visual art to the text, translating, researching the poet and the composer, creating subtext, finding the thread that links the songs in a set together, singing in multiple languages on the same program... the list goes on and on!
What I liked most that Blythe said: in art song the singer is "painting a world that is accessible to an audience." I've often felt like performing is very much like painting: that we are creating an image or a scene before the audience's eyes, unfolding as the song or set goes on without any actual set or scenery to help portray the idea. It requires a beautiful sense of imagination, which is why I think I find it easy to connect to. I think it is important as a young singer not to approach this career with "opera blinders" on. There is SO much music out there to be performed. I have no doubt that the more experience we can have on stage in a recital setting, the more prepared and versatile we will be on the opera stage.
If you're in town, my degree recital is on Friday, April 19th, at 9pm in Hatch Hall! See you there...
Eastman Chorale, Asbury First Choirs
and Cordancia Chamber Ensemble:
Johann Sebastian Bach’s St. Matthew Passion will be performed at Asbury First United Methodist Church, 1040 East Avenue in Rochester, N.Y., on Sunday, March 3 at 3:00 p.m. The work will be sung in English. Performers will include the Eastman Chorale, the Cordancia Chamber Ensemble and the Asbury First choirs under the direction of William Weinert. Soloists will include Michaela Anthony, soprano, Caroline O'Dwyer, mezzo-soprano, David Tayloe and Matthew Swensen, tenors, and Zachary Burgess and Anthony Baron, basses. Tickets are $10, $5 for students and seniors, and are available at the door or by calling the church office at (585) 271-1050.
The St. Matthew Passion was written by Bach in 1727, and is often considered to be his greatest masterpiece. Its text is taken from chapters 26 and 27 of the Gospel of Matthew, which tell the story of the last days of Jesus Christ. The Gospel text is augmented with devotional poetry and twelve hymn settings. The St. Matthew Passion was last performed in Rochester in 2000 by the Eastman Chorale.
The Eastman Chorale is a select ensemble of 60 pre-professional singers from Eastman School of Music. Cordancia is a Rochester-based chamber music ensemble founded in 2009 by violinist Pia Liptak and oboist Kathleen Suher and comprised of professional musicians and musicteachers. Asbury First’s resident choirs include the Sanctuary Choir, Asbury Singers, Youth Choir, and Children’s Choir.
William Weinert is Professor of Conducting and Director of Choral Activities at the Eastman School of Music, and also Asbury First’s Director of Music.
With a congregation of 2,300 people, Asbury First United Methodist Church is the largest Methodist church in upstate New York. The church is noted for the quality of its music programming, presenting an annual concert series featuring notable regional musicians and national touring groups. The Asbury First Dining and Caring Center serves 24,000 meals annually to those in need; the Asbury First Storehouse provides donated clothing to more than 6,000 persons annually.
Professor of Conducting and Ensembles
Eastman School of Music
26 Gibbs Street
Rochester, NY 14604
Photo credit: Melanie Buford/NPR
On January 27th, two of operas greatest women, soprano Renee Fleming and mezzo-soprano Susan Graham, took to the stage together, as they have many times in the past, to perform an all-French recital at Carnegie Hall in New York City. These two women certainly did more than practice to get there; they have earned their right to perform on this prestigious stage. Though I couldn't be there in the audience to see the performance live, I did have the great pleasure of tuning into the streaming audio online that evening. The fabulous Bradley Moore (pianist, vocal coach, and guest conductor at the Metropolitan Opera) collaborated with them at the piano, adding beautiful support, color and shape to the already exquisite repertoire they selected.
A perfect mix of duets and solo melodies, and even a solo piano piece for Mr. Moore (can you believe this was his first time performing Debussy's Clair de lune), the recital was a true gem, for singers, and all musicians, and French enthusiasts alike. What impressed me most, aside from the flawless interpretation, diction, and character, was that both Graham and Fleming took turns speaking to the audience in between pieces. They gave the listeners historical background on the composers, poets, and the performers who originated or who made popular many of these songs, as well as shared funny stories and anecdotes. One of them, a funny memory about a corset mix-up, which Fred Child aptly clarified as Susan Graham receiving Renee Fleming's underwear in the mail! These dialogues made the recital a very intimate, personal event. Even listening over the webosphere, 360 miles away, I felt like I was a part of the evening. My room here in Rochester was (almost) transformed into a French salon in La Belle Epoque, and for a moment I felt a bit like Owen Wilson in Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, who longs to go back in time and brush elbows with the great writers and artists of the era (Hemingway, Stein, Picasso...) Ah, to be alive in the good old days!
Personal favorites of the evening included Fleming's "Beau Soir" (does anyone sing it better?) and Grahm's entire Reynaldo Hahn set, especially "Le rossignol des lilas". These will definitely be on my "to-do" repertoire list for when I'm done with my degree recital (April 19th!).
If you missed the live stream, tune in here at WQXR's archive. Happy listening!
© Javier del Real/Teatro Real 2013
I was excited to read today in Opera News online that Philip Glass' new opera is hitting the stage in Spain with success. The Perfect American, about the life of American super-icon Walt Disney, premiered at the Teatro Real in Madrid in January. With a libretto by the playwrite Rudy Wurlitzer, it is based on Peter Stephan Jungk's novel, Der Konig von Ameirca (literally translated as, The King from America). I've become quite a Glass fan in the last few years, and I regret to have missed the Met's production of Satyagraha in 2010. I hope this makes it to New York City in the near future What is interesting is that the project was originally commissioned for New York City Opera in 2008, before Gerard Mortier left. The review, by Roberto Herrscher, is mostly positive, citing :
"Among The Perfect American's many virtues are a masterful use of orchestration, innovative percussion writing and some passages of Romantic string playing,a welcome change from the propulsive clusters of notes that are often regarded as a Glass trademark."
I've been playing Glass' studio album, Glassworks in my yoga classes recently. The "Opening to Glassworks" is a perfect savasana song. The repeated melodic and rhythmic patterns seem to safely lull you to relaxation. If you are in the market for a good recording, check out Signal's recording, led by Eastman's very own Brad Lubman, live at (le) Poisson Rouge.
Felix Sanchez/Houston Grand Opera
Snowed in with nothing to do? Problem solved: Today at 12:30 PM EST, as winter storm Nemo gives it's final blow to New England, Marilyn Horne chats with Joyce DiDonato "about the fun of being a drama queen on stage". The interview will air on a program called Operavore on WQXR, New York's Classical Music Radio Station. Operavore streams an all-opera playlist twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week and maintains a blog on their website, as well as a weekly radio show. Opera lovers everywhere, rejoice! The legendary Marilyn Horne goes on air every week to discuss opera news stories and productions: last week she interviewed United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg to discuss the best court scenes in opera. Apparently Justice Ginsberg is a "noted opera fan who has even appeared onstage in cameo roles." Who knew?! (Law and Order on the Opera Stage)
So, if you are stuck indoors with snow piled so high you can't get out your front door, put some water in the kettle, cozy up on the couch with a blanket, your cat, and a nice cup of chai, and tune in to this fabulous program! See you there...
Photo (c) Cory Weaver
I've had this website for about 6 months now, and have always intended to add a blog to it. The thing is, I am in denial about the fact that life at the Eastman School of Music leaves little time for writing, unless of course it is a 20 page paper on the erie silence of John Cage's 4 or the thematic variations in Brahm's Piano Trio No. 2. (Admit it, you are a music nerd like I am and you laughed at that!) I already leave my yoga website sadly neglected - how naive I was to think I could keep up posting an entry a week - however, this blog will be different.
I'd like to dedicate this portion of my website to the wonderful, challenging, and audacious journey that is trying to become a singer.
The first inspiration for this blog has come from none other than the fabulous diva, Joyce DiDonato. The coloratura queen has been my mezzo-muse for the past 5 years. From the moment I discovered her, I was in love: her brilliant vocal color, her flawless technique, her command of the stage, her passion...the list of what makes her amazing goes on and on. But above all, it is her humility and dedication to the art that inspires me the most. The first time I read her blog I knew she was no ordinary singer. Her gift of writing and reaching out to young singers, offering sound advice and heartfelt inspiration, is a gift to all of us.
This winter I was lucky enough to see her perform in Maria Stuarda at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. If you haven't seen it yet, well just gush over Anthony Tommasini's review of her performance in the New York Times and get yourself to a movie theater to see it Live in HD (I think it's tonight!) I saw the January 4th performance with my boyfriend, Steve. Those who know me might say that I tend to speak in hyperbole, but I swear I have never seen such a moving performance at the Met. My heart stopped every time Joyce walked on stage. I cried during every single aria. The final scene, where you can just barely make out a pianissimo F until it crescendos to soar over the entire chorus and orchestra, is one of the most glorious, satisfying moments in opera. Her poise in her dramatic performance was the icing on the cake.
As if her performance in Stuarda weren't enough to inspire this blog, Joyce appeared again on stage at Lincoln Center, only this time at the Julliard School, where she gave a live-streamed Master Class for their very fortunate voice students on January 25th. With Eric Owns heckling her from the front row (!) - it was both wildly entertaining and fantastically educational. I found myself hastily scribbling down as much information as I could into my voice journal. Ever humble, Ms. DiDonato insisted that she was not a "master", and often put herself on the same level as the students as she worked with them. Her advice on artistry, language, dramatic presentation, emotion, life.... all of it I will treasure and look back on as I continue on my own singing journey.
Here are some quotes I wrote in my journal that I will leave you with:
About this blog
Occasional musings, interesting finds, and inspiration from an aspiring mezzo/yogi.