Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Ballo and the limits of our imagination

Last night I attended Verdi's Ballo In Maschera at the Met, the newest production of the season directed by David Alden. This production fit the picture perfectly on what I read in the book "Opera" by Robert Cannon (Cambridge Introductions to Music). I hear a lot of feedback on new productions: manning the membership desk during intermissions, having a coffee in the Belmont Room or sitting in my seat waiting for the next act to begin. I have a very open mind, with an unlimited imagination, so I love the new productions.

I always tell people that no matter what they think, there is always something positive to find in a production, even if it is just the singing, which is always stellar at the Met.  Many people seem to have issues with the new direction opera is taking, but Robert Cannon has a whole chapter in his book which helps show that there is more to love than just the singing in modern productions.  He helps clarify this new direction and the role a director plays in it.  I always employ this information when I try to change someone's mind.

It has only been in the last hundred years that the role of the director has become important.  In the 'old days', there was no need for a director.  There was only one way to perform an opera; the way the composer intended it to be performed.  Some composers left detailed notes in addition to the music (such as Wagner did for The Ring), while others were a little more vague about what they wanted to see on stage.

In the beginning, all an opera house needed was a conductor.  He interpreted the composer's wishes and set the opera to stage.  As time passed, this job was left to the stage manager, who decided the lay-out of the scene, where singers would enter and exit, etc.  Soon, though, this job became too much for one person as technological advances were made, audience expectations changed (mainly because of the advent of film and television) and productions became more elaborate and complex.

A stage manager or conductor was no longer enough to interpret a work.  What the opera world needed was someone who had a single vision and who could mould a production into a cohesive whole, a director.  So much more was expected of the director; he had to get involved with the acting of the singers, the emotions they needed to portray and the meaning of the roles.  He has the difficult job of finding a balance between text, tradition and modern world.

When a director decides to take on the challenge of mounting a new production of an old work, he can travel two different paths: the traditional or the contemporary.  However, no matter what path he choses, he must always keep the history of the opera in mind.  It is important to learn about the social and political context in which an opera was written.

This is especially important in Ballo.  Even Verdi was not able to mount this opera in accordance with his own wishes.  He created Ballo with an image in mind, one formed by his day and age: the prevalent taste of the times, the artistic conventions, the expectations of the audience and of course the financial, political and social circumstances of the eighteen hundreds.  When Verdi wanted to premiere Ballo in 1859, he was censored in Naples because the opera featured the assassination of a king.  This incident was actually based on true history; the assassination of King Gustavo III of Sweden in 1793 by his disgruntled courtier Anckarstrom.  Instead, Verdi took his work to Rome.  They allowed him to perform Ballo, but only after he changed the setting from Sweden to colonial Boston.  Only recently has the opera been performed in its original context, just as Alden has done in this production.  Alden's Ballo is set in Sweden, but the Sweden of the beginning of the twentieth century, with the men wearing suits and the women beautiful dresses.    

A director must also keep in mind who he is directing for this time around.  The path a production will take is mainly decided by the audience who will get to see it.  Some places are known for new productions and new commissioned works, while others follow the path of tradition.  New interpretations are always needed to keep the audience interested though.  A director just needs to decide what that interpretation will be and for whom it will be.

The Met can afford to have a radical staging of a work as its audience is sophisticated and knows about opera.  I find it a breath of fresh air to see a familiar opera in a new light.  If you go into such an opera with an open mind and unprejudiced, it can be a revelation.  A modern interpretation can be a little more difficult for people new to opera, but they arrive with no baggage, memories or history which means they are more open to different ideas of the same story.  The important thing to keep in mind is to know what you are going to see and know the background of the piece.  MetTalks are a great way to find out about an opera, as is the evening's program which is always available on the Met's website days before the performance.

When it comes to Alden's interpretation of Ballo, he takes the path less traveled.  As often happens in his productions, he pays less attention to the composer's original ideas and focuses more on the hidden meanings and subtleties of the piece.
"I can't really direct something until I feel that what I have to say personally I can say through the piece.  I think that is what an artist is supposed to do...My productions are very much about my inner emotional life." (Directors in Opera, 2006)    
Icarus, the Greek mythological figure who flew too close to the sun, is featured prominently throughout the opera as a metaphor for the king's days filled with pleasure and illicit love.  This performance is not straightforward, but will have you discovering hidden meanings behind all the going-ons on stage.  

Of course the performance features Stephanie Blythe and Sondra Radvanovsky, both winners of the National Council Auditions and graduates of the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program.  They perform opposite Kathleen Kim, Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Marcelo Álvarez.  So all in all, a stellar cast and a must-see performance which will keep you on your toes right until the end.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Monetary Confessions of an Opera Singer

This wonderful article was submitted to me by one of our District Audition participants, Kiri Parker.  As she was warming up in the green room at Casa Italiana, she overheard some singers and organizers talk about how expensive it is to be an opera singer. When she found out I was in charge of the blog, she came to me offering to write an article on the subject. We have had this discussion before here on the blog, but I always love a fresh perspective, especially on a subject as important as this. Enjoy!   


"Overheard moaning about my financial situation at the first day of the MONC NY District Auditions, I was asked whether I would like to blog about it. Pleased to do what I can to help the cause, I am now writing my first opera blog.

What was the cause of my being so vocal about my financial situation at that moment? A combination of the rush of openness I experience after performing, bumping into a lovely colleague I hadn’t seen in a while and the tingling of my still swollen eyes from the day before.

The previous day I was trying to find an alternative to the $200 asthma pump that had been prescribed. After a frustrating day of looping among my insurance company, my doctor and a pharmacy, a rather exasperated pharmacist finally told me that there are no significantly cheaper alternatives. I promptly burst into tears. Dignified? Not exactly. True to the life of a young singer – I’m afraid so.

Opera singing is a technical feat – each note we sing has a different frequency, which is achieved through a balance of air pressure, tension in the chords and the right shape in our mouths to create a resonance chamber. A singer must train for years in order to be able to do this optimally – the voice is said to be ‘lined up’ when we can do that throughout the range. This creates the strangely but gloriously resonant sound operas singers have. Then add onto that that the optimum combination changes depending on the note before and after (e.g. if we had a low note followed by a high note, we would choose a resonance on the low note that would be optimal for the high note and sacrifice some of the low resonances on the low one).  If we vary dynamics (amplitude) this also changes the combination. To master this it takes about 10 years of training. A lot more complicated than rubbing your head and patting your belly …

Training is expensive. Luckily, there are generous people who donate and thus allow us to compete for scholarships and prizes to help us in this long, arduous and wonderful journey. I personally have been incredibly lucky to have generous scholarships throughout my studies, as well as the opportunity to study with some of the most amazing teachers and coaches. I’ve done some prestigious young artist programs and was ‘spotted’ by an agent in my first year of leaving school. This doesn’t mean I haven’t lived a shoe-string budget lifestyle since leaving home and had various financial crises from which kind angels have rescued me.

So why was I crying in a pharmacy over an inhaler? Well, as we all know, life is expensive. There is rent, health insurance, food, transport. Once you’ve left school, as an opera singer, you need to continue working on your voice and repertoire. Throughout your career you need regular lessons and coachings. In New York, these are $125-250 each – today we consider one a week luxurious and optimum. The proponents of ‘bel canto’, the technique developed during the time often considered the golden age of singing, reported that singers would have a lesson everyday and until fairly recently this was common practice in operatic training. Coachings ($80-$150 each) are needed whenever you are learning new music, which hopefully is all the time! We also have to pay for auditions. Young artist programs charge us to apply to keep down their costs and even some professional companies have begun the practice of charging for our equivalent of a job interview. The audition is, as freelancers, a regular practice throughout most of our careers. Then add on the fact that we need to look like we stepped out of the pages of a magazine if we possibly can and you can see that the costs add up. Most young singers have to choose a balance between their finances and the fact that they need time to study and practice. In addition, if you are an international, like me, your visa severely restricts what you can do to earn money – only being allowed to do exactly what your visa has been granted for. Shall we say the inhaler was a straw landing on a very sore camel?

There are those that are lucky enough to have wealthy families who want to support their children in the pursuit of their dreams. But that is the exception, rather than the rule. Quite often opera singers’ families aren’t able to support them or don’t understand why their offspring would choose such a career and so choose not to help (much more commonly than we would like to think). Those that are blessed with larger voices are not blessed with an easy path – it takes longer to coordinate the more hefty chords (which produce the heavier rich sound) and the voices mature much later, meaning they are training longer and likely to land contracts that can pay the rent much later on. Even for lighter voices, the person who doesn’t struggle financially is very much the exception. Even if one has contracts with major houses, you need enough of them to cover your costs. I have friends who are lucky enough to sing regularly for major houses and they still have points where they don’t have enough for the basic bills.

Why should you help? Everyone has their own reasons for supporting different causes, in the same way no two singers sing for exactly the same reason. I would say that opera, due to the combination of elements that it combines, has a unique potential to transport us to a different place – to something bigger than ourselves. In a time where it is so easy to lose ourselves in the chaos of modern life, the arts are an anchor that is too valuable to lose and it is far easier to support and nurture something that is waning than to reignite something that has gone out.

There are too many singers for the number of jobs and so we could let simply those who have the private means to fund themselves or those most quickly out of the stable be the ones who succeed. This is the trend right now, but as we all know that talent doesn’t always correlate with wealth and it isn’t the product that is made quickest that is of the best quality. One just needs to look at the annals of the great singers to see that often the greatest voices meet with much adversity before they come to fruition as artists. Without young singers being helped to train and supported in the difficult years of establishing themselves, the art of opera will be lost.

The world of the arts is in the realm of dreams, and so we could consider them dispensable in the face of the multiple needs of humanity - but in our dreams both the turmoil and hope of humanity is inherent. What would the world be like without the room for the expressing that?"


- If you would like to support the MONC Eastern Region and the wonderful singers who walk onto our stage, please check out our website.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

District Auditions 2012: The Winners

Eastern Region District Winners (and moving on to the Region Finals)

Yujoong Kim

Evgenia Chaverdova

Sabrina Laney Warren

Takaoki Onishi

Leela Subramaniam

Mizuho Takeshita

Karen Vuong

Lilla Heinrich Szász

Rose Sawvel

Felicia Moore

Matthew Anchel

Encouragement Awards

Sheherazade Holman

LaMarcus Miller

Sofia Diana Antonakos

Sunday, November 11, 2012

District Auditions 2012: Meet the Singers Day 2

Meet the singers who will be auditioning on Day 2 (November 14th, 2012) from 10.30am until 4.30pm.  I hope to see you all there!

Winnie Nieh

Tornami a vagheggiar - Alcina - Handel
va la jeune Hindoue - Lakmé - Delibes
Saper vorreste - Un Ballo in Maschera – Verdi
Ah, ich fühls - Die Zauberflöte - Mozart
Come, now a roundel - A Midsummer Night's Dream – Britten

Yujoong Kim

Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön - Die Zauberflöte - Mozart
Lunge da lei - La Traviata - Verdi
Il mio tesoro - Don Giovanni - Mozart
Quanto è bella - L'Elisir d'Amore - Donizetti
Kuda, kuda - Eugene Onegin – Tchaikovsky

Sheherazade Holman

Che faro senza Euridice - Orfeo - Gluck
When I am laid in earth - Dido and Aeneas - Purcell
Près des ramparts de Séville (Seguidilla) - Carmen -Bizet
Voi che Sapete - Le Nozze di Figaro - Mozart
Una voce poco fa - Il Barbiere di Siviglia – Rossini

James Grace

De' miei bollenti spiriti - La Traviata - Verdi
Addio fiorito asil - Madama Butterfly - Puccini
Una Furtiva Lagrima - L'Elisir d'Amore - Donizetti
Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön - Die Zauberflöte - Mozart
It's about the way people is made - Susannah – Floyd

Rachel Selan

O mio fernando - La Favorita - Donizetti
Waiting - The Great Gatsby - Harbison
Svegliatevi nel core - Giulio Cesare - Handel
Seguidilla - Carmen - Bizet
Wie Du warst! - Der Rosenkavalier – Strauss

Lauren Michelle 

Deh vieni, non tardar - Le Nozze di Figaro - Mozart
Quando m'en vo - La Bohème - Puccini
Je suis encor - Manon - Massenet
How beautiful it is - The turn of the screw - Britten
Ach, ich fühl's -  Die Zauberflöte – Mozart

Evgenia Chaverdova

O pallid, che un giorno - L’amico Fritz - Mascagni
Smanie implacabili - Cosi fan tutte - Mozart
Must the winter come so soon? - Vanessa - Barber
Piangete occhi dolente - L’Egisto - Cavalli
Nobles Seigneurs, salut! - Les Huguenots – Meyerbeer
Una Voce - Il Barbiere di Siviglia - Rossini

Clayton Okaly

Bella siccome un angelo - Don Pasquale- Donizetti
Lieben, Hassen - Ariadne auf Naxos - Strauss
Spectre infernal! - Hamlet - Thomas
Mab, la reine des mensonges - Roméo et Juliette - Gounod
Suicide Aria -  Die Zauberflöte – Mozart

Shannon Jones

Chi il bel sogno di Doretta - La Rondine - Puccini
No word from Tom…I go to him - The Rake's Progress - Stravinsky
Amour, ranime mon courage - Romeo et Juliette - Gounod
Ach, ich Liebte - Die Entführung aus dem Serail - Mozart
Dis-moi que je suis belle - Thaïs – Massenet

Sabrina Laney Warren

Ain't it a pretty night - Susannah - Floyd
Chi il bel sogno di Doretta - La Rondine - Puccini
Ah! Je veux vivre - Roméo et Juliette - Gounod
Je dis que rien ne m'épouvante - Carmen - Bizet
Ah, ich fühls - Die Zauberflöte – Mozart

Eowyn Driscoll

Einsam in trüben Tagen - Lohengrin - Wagner
Sola perduta Abbandonata - Manon Lescaut - Puccini
Embroidery Aria - Peter Grimes - Britten
Du bist der Lenz - Die Walküre - Wagner
Ich kann nicht sitzen - Elektra - Strauss

Chen Yu

Caro Nome - Rigoletto - Verdi
Durch Zärtlichkeit und Schmeicheln - Die Entführung aus dem Serail - Mozart
Hymn to the sun - The golden cockerel - Rimsky Korsakov
The Bell Song - Lakmé - Delibes
Glitter and be gay - Candide – Bernstein

Eui Jung Chang

Je veux vivre - Roméo et Juliette - Gounod
Una voce poco fa - Il Barbiere di Siviglia - Rossini
Ruhe sanft, mein holdes Leben - Zaide - Mozart
Ann true love's aria (No word from Tom) - The Rake's Progress - Stravinsky
Piangerò la sorte mia - Giulio Cesare – Handel

Jessica Fishenfeld

Glitter and be gay - Candide - Bernstein
Tornami a vagheggiar - Alcina - Handel
Ah! Je veux vivre - Roméo et Juliette - Gounod
Durch Zärtlichkeit und Schmeicheln - Die Entführung aus dem Serail - Mozart
Quando m'en vo - La Bohème – Puccini

Shana Grossman
Lyric-Coloratura Soprano

Tornami a vagheggiar - Alcina - Handel
Quel guardo, il cavaliere... - Don Pasquale - Donizetti
Silver Aria - The Ballad of Baby Doe - Moore
Da schlägt die Abschiedsstunde - Der Schauspieldirektor - Mozart
Je suis Titania - Mignon – Thomas

Paul Scholten

Hai gia vinta la causa... - Le Nozze di Figaro - Mozart
News has a kind of mystery - Nixon in China - Adams
Come Paride vezzoso - L'Elisir d'Amore- Donizetti
O Nadir - Les Pêcheurs de Perles by Georges Bizet
Sibillar gli angui d 'Aletto - Rinaldo – Handel

Erik Bagger

Ah! lêve-toi soleil - Roméo et Juliette - Gounod
Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön - Die Zauberflöte - Mozart
New York Lights - A View from the Bridge - Bolcom
O figli, o figli miei - Macbeth - Verdi
Kuda, Kuda vï udalilis - Eugene Onegin – Tchaikovsky

D'ariel Barnard

Depuis le Jour - Louise - Charpentier
Voi che sapete - Le Nozze di Figaro - Mozart
The trees on th mountain - Susannah - Floyd
Quando m'en vo - La Bohème - Puccini
Ah, ich fühls - Die Zauberflöte – Mozart

Daryl Freedman

Oh! La pitoyable aventure - L'heure Espagnole - Ravel
Iris, hence away - Semele - Handel
Give him this orchid - The Rape of Lucretia - Britten
Seguidilla - Carmen - Bizet
As I was saying - The Rake's progress – Stravinsky

Tamara Rusqué

Marietta's Lied - Die Tote Stadt - Korngold
È Strano…sempre libera - La Traviata - Verdi
I want magic - A Streetcar named desire - Previn
Dis - moi que je suis belle - Thaïs - Massenet
Signore, Ascolta! - Turandot – Puccini

Daniel Berryman

Un aura amorosa - Così fan tutte - Mozart
Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön - Die Zauberflöte - Mozart
Dal Labbro il canto - Falstaff - Verdi
Lonely House - Street Scene - Weill
Ah! lêve-toi soleil - Roméo et Juliette – Gounod

Carami Hilaire

Je dis que rien ne m'épouvante - Carmen - Bizet
Chi il bel sogno di Doretta - La Rondine - Puccini
Non so le tetre immagini - Il Corsaro - Verdi
Dove Sono - Le Nozze di Figaro - Mozart
Is this the fate of our race? - Wolf by the Ears – Wilson

Karolina Pilou

Podrugi milyye (Pauline's Aria) - The Queen of Spades - Tchaikovsky
Wir warten dein (Gaea) - Daphne - Strauss
O mon Ferdinand (in French) - La Favorite - Donizetti
Weiche, Wotan - Das Rheingold - Wagner
Stride la vampa - Il Trovatore – Verdi

Takaoki Onishi

Silvios' Aria - Pagliacci - Leoncavallo
Uzhel ta samaja Tatiana - Eugene Onegin - Tchaikovsky
È sogno? o realtà - Falstaff -Verdi
Mein Sehnen, mein Wähnen - Die Tote Stadt - Korngold
Rodrigo's Aria - Don Carlos – Verdi

Crystal Amendola

Sul fil d'un soffio etesio - Falstaff - Verdi
Zeffiretti lusinghieri - Idomeneo - Mozart
Ah! Douce enfant, ta painte légère - Cendrillon - Massenet
Mein Herr Marquis - Die Fledermaus - Strauss
Volta la Terrea - Un Ballo in Maschera – Verdi

Leela Subramaniam

Regnava nel silenzio...Quando rapito in estasi - Lucia di Lammermoor - Donizetti
Dis-moi que je suis belle - Thaïs - Massenet
Ruhe sanft, mein holdes Leben - Zaide - Mozart
Be kind and courteous - A Midsummer Night's Dream -Britten
Son vergin vezzosa - I Puritani – Bellini

Joshua Arky

Like things be like they always was - Street Scene - Weill
Il lacerato spirito - Simon Boccanegra - Verdi
Vi ravviso - La Sonnambula - Bellini
La Vendetta - Le Nozze di Figaro - Mozart
In diesen heil'gen Hallen - Die Zauberflöte- Mozart

Karen Vuong

Quando m'en vo - La Bohème - Puccini
Come scoglio - Così fan tutte - Mozart
Da tempest il legno infranto - Giulio Cesare - Handel
No word from Tom - The Rake's Progress - Stravinsky
Nun eilt Herbei - The merry wives of Windsor – Nicolai

Claudia Chapa

O mio fernando - La Favorita - Donizetti
Acerba Volutta - Adriana Lecouvreur - Cilea
O ma lyre immortelle - Sappho - Gounod
Voce di donna - La Giocando - Cilea
Paula's aria - Florencie en las Amazonas – Catan

Joel Herold

Largo al Factotum - Il barbiere di Siviglia - Rossini
Avant de Quitter - Faust - Gounod
Come Paride - L'Elisir d'Amore- Donizetti
Tanz Lied - Die Tode Stadt - Korngold
Look! Through the port - Billy Budd – Britten

Dongling Gao

Una voce poco fa - Il Barbiere di Siviglia - Rossini
Cruda sorte - L'italiana in Algeri - Rossini
Svegliatvi nel core - Giulio Cesare - Handel
Seguidilla - Carmen - Bizet
Must winter come so soon - Vanessa – Barber

Soomi Yoon

Voi che Sapete - Le Nozze di Figaro - Mozart
L'amour est une oiseau rebelle - Carmen - Bizet
Il segreto per esser felici - Lucrezia Borgia - Donizetti
Che faro senza Euridice - Orfeo ed Euridice - Gluck
Va! laisse couler mes larmes - Werther – Massenet

Jose A. Heredia

Ella mi fu rapita/Parmi veder le lagrime - Rigoletto - Verdi
Kuda, kuda (lenski's Aria) Eugene Onegin - Tchaikovsky
La fleur que tu m'avais jetée - Carmen - Bizet
Recondita armonia - Tosca - Puccini
Che Gelida manina - La Bohème - Puccini

Jacqueline Lenz Murphy

Arie der Blonde - Die Entführung aus dem Serail - Mozart
Cavatina So anch'io la virtu magica - Don Pasquale - Donizetti
Saper Vorreste - Un Ballo in Maschera - Verdi
Je marche sur tous les chemins - Manon - Massenet
The trees on the Mountains - Susannah – Floyd

Mizuho Takeshita

Manon's Gavotte - Manon - Massenet
Caro nome - Rigoletto - Giuseppe Verdi
Willow Song - The Ballad of Baby Doe - Moore
Adele's Audition Aria - Die Fledermaus - Strauss
Einst träumte meiner sel'gen Base - Der Freischütz – Weber

Matthew Wallace

Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön - Die Zauberflöte - Mozart
Una Furtiva Lagrima - L'Elisir d'Amore - Donizetti
Tra voi, belle, brune e bionde - Manon Lescaut - Puccini
Che gelida manina -La Bohème - Puccini
Salut! demeure chaste et pure - Faust – Gounod

Catherine Meyers

Mi tradi quell'alma ingrata - Don Giovanni - Mozart
Signore, ascolta! - Turandot - Puccini
The Jewel Song - Faust - Gounod
Ach, ich fühl's -  Die Zauberflöte - Mozart
Ain't it a pretty night - Susannah – Floyd

Phillip Gay

Se vuol ballare - Le Nozze di Figaro - Mozart
Vecchia zimarra - La Bohème - Puccini
Vous qui faites - Faust - Gounod
La calumnia - Il Barbiere di Siviglia - Rossini
Hear me, O Lord - Susannah – Floyd

Jasmine Thomas

Depuis le Jour - Louise - Charpentier
Ah non guinge – La Sonnambula - Bellini
O mio abbino caro - Gianni Schicchi - Puccini
Ah, ich fühls - Die Zauberflöte - Mozart
Summertime - Porgy and Bess – Gershwin