Monday, February 27, 2017

I've Moved!




I'm moving my blog to my website. Find me at kimberlyfeltkamp.com/blog.

Hope to see you all over there!

Friday, March 25, 2016

He Was Despised and Rejected of Men

Yes, it's Good Friday. Now, I don't write about religion or my spiritual beliefs on this blog, but I feel compelled to write something this year because of what Handel's work showed me last week. I'm sure that I have many more Messiahs in my future, but this year marks my very first.

Last week, I worked on the incredible alto solo, "He was despised," with my coach at school. As usual, we worked on diction and technique, but after all that, she made me sing it while forgetting all about that and just focusing on saying something with the piece. She encouraged me to dig deep and be vulnerable with it. Naturally, this scared me to death. But I did it anyway.

He was despised and rejected of men-- a man of sorrow and acquainted with grief.
He gave His back to the smiters and His cheeks to them that plucked off the hair. He hid not His face from shame and spitting.


Singing the words and really meaning them changed me. I had always understood the story of Jesus but I realized in that moment that I'd never personalized it. Before the events of the past year, I had felt some rejection in my life. I mean, we all have to some greater or lesser degree. But I had never endured rejection as I have this year and I had never considered it in the light of this story.

Now, I'm not asking you to believe anything. You can just take this story for whatever you take it to be. But consider a Jesus that loved and accepted everyone and yet suffered the greatest rejection of all. Handel felt and understood this; it's obvious in his setting of the text.

So I thought: all the pain of rejection that I have felt this year, all the sorrow that I waded through-- it was so tiny in comparison to what Jesus felt. It is infinitesimal and yet it felt like my entire world was shaking loose. The story suddenly came alive to me and I felt that I had something to say. Something important.

Is this not what music is for? What live performance is for? Because, of course, so many other singers can sing it "better" than me, technically or otherwise, but no one can imbue the piece with my story, my rejection, my suffering. And in that way, I can reach out to those in the audience and show them something that they have not seen before. And that, to me, is the beauty and power of my career.

So here is the great irony: I was rejected on religious grounds and yet, that experience brought me closer to Jesus and His story than I've ever felt before. I don't claim to know or understand very much when it comes to spiritual matters, but I do know that this story means something to me and I would like it to mean something to those that hear me sing about it.

I have uploaded a clip from that coaching. You can hear a recording here.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Artist on the Ace Spectrum

Demisexuality: A sexual orientation in which someone feels sexual attraction only to people with whom they have an emotional bond. Most demisexuals feel sexual attraction rarely compared to the general population, and some have little to no interest in sexual activity (demisexuality.org).

I am demisexual. I always have been and, as far as I know, I always will be. When I was going through puberty, I didn't have crushes like my friends did and, being the (sometimes arrogant and sometimes just distracted) person that I was, I didn't worry too much about it. I was lucky. Due to a lack of education on the asexual-spectrum, many others on the spectrum (who I know personally or who I've read about) go through a period of feeling "broken" or "wrong" in some way. But that's a soapbox for another time.

So what does performing opera have to do with being demisexual? Allow me to explain.

Being on the ace spectrum doesn't make much difference in my everyday life. In fact, it's something that I rarely think about. However, I've been thinking about it a lot lately and confronting it in an entirely different way while working on Bard College Conservatory's production of Oliver Knussen's Higglety Pigglety Pop!   

Let me give you some background: the opera is a rambunctious setting of Maurice Sendak's book of the same title. It was commissioned in the 1980s, but its final form came about in 1999. We will be presenting its NY Premiere as part of a Double Bill which also includes Mozart's The Magic Flute (March 4 & 6, 2016 at the Richard B Fisher Center for the Performing Arts). The role of the Pig-in-Sandwich-Boards was originally written for a bass voice, but in our production, I'll be singing it (one octave above what was written) and I've been asked to infuse a good amount of femininity and sexual energy into it. Vocally, I'm having way too much fun with it. Dramatically, I've been hitting walls. This led me to investigate why.

Going into this role, I was consumed by the complexity and difficulty of the score. Knussen is nothing short of a genius and his music proves it. So I spent (and am still spending, to be honest) a lot of time just getting notes and rhythms. But now that I'm past the learning stage and heading into the final stretch of staging rehearsals, I've been working the most on my characterization and physicalization of the role. Our version of this character requires an amount of feminine sexual prowess that I've only had to evoke once before: while performing scenes from Bizet's Carmen.

I have to be honest; I find it difficult at times to evoke sexual energy on the stage. I find that this happens more often when the character is female and/or more mature. When the character is male and younger (Cherubino, Orlofsky, and most pants roles in general), I don't have this issue. But on the rare occasion that I play an overtly sexy woman, I have to work harder to get everything just right. My acting method depends heavily on the use of substitution and I think it boils down to the fact that since I have experienced far less sexual attraction than most, I have a lot less material to draw from for these kinds of roles. I just really never considered the connection between my demisexuality and my difficulty with these roles, but now that I have, it makes so much sense!

I think it's really great to take on these roles that present new and particular challenges because it forces me to examine not only the world around me, but also the world inside me. We are each such interesting, unique, and complicated individuals and it's a thrilling journey to discover the details of that reality. I'm excited, too, to realize this now, because it will help and inform me in the future when I have far more difficult (or far more visible/criticized) roles.

I'm so excited for this role and for this Double Bill in general! If you're in the Hudson Valley (or even in NYC), please consider coming up to experience this sparkling and poignant show! Tickets and info here.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Sometimes, You Just Can't Listen

I feel like recently I've been having a lot of conversations with singers on the topic of idiotic advice, so I'm going to elaborate here. To illustrate my point, I'm going to tell you a story:

Once, I was in a masterclass with a successful NYC agent for classical singers. I sang a Handel pants role aria for them and they proceeded to critique my performance. They immediately began to compare me to my colleague (who has recently switched fachs and is now a soprano); they told me that since my colleague was smaller and thinner than I, that I shouldn't ever play pants roles. Instead, I should only portray female characters onstage, because I am "more curvy" (the agent's words). Not only had they directly compared me and my colleague (which I think is an unhealthy habit, especially in a masterclass setting), but they hadn't commented on my voice or my acting ability at all. They had only critiqued me on my physical body. I was furious.

Up to this point in my career (when this annoying advice was given), I had been cast in six operas. Four of those roles had been pants roles. I had worked hard to do well in this niche and I had had success. (Also, if you know me at all, you know that pants roles interest me in particular and four out of five of my current dream roles are pants roles.)

Obviously, I ignored the agent's advice and kept on pursuing roles that I sang well and that I thought suited my particular artistry.

Let's fast forward to now. I recently sang Cherubino in Le Nozze di Figaro and was given the following reviews: "Kimberly Feltkamp, the Cherubino, had me checking the program for her gender when she tumbled onto stage, so convincing was she as a twichily teenage boy" (Patrick Dillon of OperaNews) and "The Cherubino of Kimberly Feltkamp was a treat to see, with all the awkwardness and dumb enthusiasm of a teenage boy" (Taminophile). I'm not trying to toot my own horn here; I'm trying to prove a point.

My point: don't listen to idiotic advice when it goes against everything you know to be true about yourself, even if it comes from a reputable source. Sure, if everyone is telling you the same thing over and over again, maybe you need to listen, but you can't let one person's opinion change your self-image or self-worth.

Sure, I could have listened and pursued all female characters. Or, I could not limit myself and work hard and go for whatever interests me as an artist (and fits well in my voice and is appropriate for my age, of course). So, if you happen to get some idiotic advice, please take it with a grain of salt. Don't listen to everything you hear and follow your gut. It usually knows what's up.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Dog Days

Gosh, these have been a few busy, exciting, and challenging months! Where to start...

There have been several huge moments in my life, all in a row, and I know I should have stopped and written about each one as they happened, but I hardly had time to process one before the next rolled in. So here is a short recap.

First, I had to leave my family home when they realized that I have different religious views from them. In short, I believe that sexual orientations and gender identities outside cis heterosexual are acceptable and undeniable. We are each born as we are, and we are who we are, and that is sometimes outside the "majority" of cis heterosexual. So I had to rebuild my life and prepare for my road trip to Illinois for the world premiere of Sweets by Kate.  

Griffin Candey's Sweets by Kate was an experience unlike any I've had before. Adjusting to living in the Midwest was quite an adventure. All I could think was, We're not in New York City anymore, Toto! I always forget how much of a city slicker I really am. Then I go outside the urban area and I'm violently reminded. Can't say I could complain about the lower gas prices, though.

Sweets is the story of Elizabeth, a lesbian woman living in 1950s America, who is returning to her home town after being forced out 12 years earlier by its homophobic residents. Elizabeth returns with her partner, Kate, and they take over her deceased father's sweets shop. Despite the heavy subject matter, it's a fun, comedic show involving magic and the devil.

I had the express privilege of creating the character of Elizabeth and living her life for three weeks. It was emotionally draining at times, and the music was challenging, but overall it was only an extremely rewarding experience. My colleagues were some of the best I have ever worked with and the entire Midwest Institute of Opera festival was really fantastic. I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to make a world premiere and to make it with such a meaningful and beautiful work of art.  

Sweets by Kate, Midwest Institute of Opera, seen with soprano Kathryn Frady, Photo credit Alexandra Plattos

Only one day after returning from my trip to Illinois, I started rehearsals for my own project: OperaRox Presents Figaro. In this, I was managing everything. I produced the show, scheduled rehearsals, worked out venues, and played Cherubino. Once again, I had an awesome cast to work with. There wasn't one cast member who wasn't hilariously funny onstage and a consummate musical artist. The rehearsals were fun and the show turned out better than I could have expected. We had a full house for both shows and the laughter that filled the hall at Opera America just made all the hard work worth it. (You can check out a review of our opera here.)

Le Nozze di Figaro, OperaRox Presents, seen with sopranos Devony Smith and Jaimie Appleton, Photo credit Nikhil Saboo
To say the very least, it's been a whirlwind of a summer. In just four days, I start my second year at Bard College in the Vocal Arts Program. I couldn't be happier to finally return after my medical leave. 

I feel so lucky to be singing opera and studying again. It was a thrill to sing lead roles in both Sweets and Figaro. It was like returning to a long-lost place and running my fingers over all the familiar furniture. My fingers felt different, having changed with the time and with everything that life has thrown at me, but the place felt the same and that was a comfort.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Adventures at Loft Opera

This past week or so, I've had the privilege of being part of the team working on Loft Opera's production of Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia.  I was just a volunteer, doing little jobs here and there to help the production crew along, but I had such a blast working with the team.  While there, I got to hang out with tons of super cool people, including two other volunteers (and bloggers!) Maayan and Michael.  I also got to meet soprano Michelle Trovato, who I've been tweeting with for a while now.  She was so sweet and she sang the role of Berta like no one's business.

I had so much fun meeting people passionate about opera and getting the inside scoop on Loft Opera's mission and origins.  It's amazing to think that such a successful company (they were sold out!) has started from two guys who love opera saying "Let's start an opera company" and then working hard to make it happen.  Every person working on the production had the same passion and genuine interest in the art.  And, to make things even better, they were all sweet and fun people.  I have worked with quite a few smaller opera companies in the past and I am glad to report that Loft Opera is one of my favorites.  They are some of the best, and hardest working, people you can find in NY.  They always made me feel right at home and appreciated.  It was exhilarating to be part of such a dedicated group.

They made the mistake of giving me free reign in decorating the bathroom.


After all the nay-saying about opera and the future of the art form, it is such a breath of fresh air to find that something like Loft Opera is happening.  It's making opera fun, relevant, and accessible.  They told me that 70% of their audience are first-time opera goers.  That is fantastic!  And they let you drink beer during the show.  What else can you ask for?  The space itself (The Green Building in Brooklyn) was really cozy and the production remained up-close-and-personal to the audience, utilizing the space economically and creatively.

Outdoor bar


The other exciting aspect of the experience, for me, was being able to be a part of the opera community again.  It's crazy to think that a year ago today, I was too weak to even cut up my own dinner.  But this week I was building sets and barbacking without any trouble.  It was so fantastic to be useful again and to just be able to physically do things without worrying about collapsing.  Recovery is a beautiful thing and it was so great to have it happening in tandem with opera-related activities.

I am just so grateful to live in a place where opera is happening and I can be a part of it.  I can't thank Loft Opera enough for the opportunity and I can't wait to get even more involved this year in opera in all different places.

Dress Rehearsal, Act I





Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Year Without Singing

Before I became ill in September 2013, the longest I'd gone without singing was two weeks.  And what a torturous two weeks they were!  I've been singing for as long as I can remember and the loss of that most basic activity had much more of an effect on me than I could have ever anticipated.

As I explained in an earlier blog post, not being able to sing severely cramped my usual form of self-expression.  I felt bottled up and hindered, maybe even less, because I couldn't sing.  I had to find new ways to be creative.  In general, I turned to writing.  But another hurdle that I had to overcome was the fact that when I'm upset, I turn to singing as a stress reliever and as a way to lift my spirits.  The illness brought with it a lot of disappointment and sadness, and without singing, I had to find new ways to cope with those emotions.

But beyond all that, the loss brought with it its own set of unforeseen emotions.  I will try and describe, as best I can, the feeling of being a singer without a voice.

I believe it is most akin to having a lover, a soul mate, who has gone on an extended trip to a far-off country with limited communication and no set return date.  In their absence, your life is forced into an unhealthy limbo.  There is a sort of grief that emerges, as though the person has died even though they haven't, and it pulses in your bones, coloring every day.  And, yet, you tell yourself that the separation is for a good cause, so you power through, trying to find some normalcy in this new, unsettling rhythm of things.

I know that this might sound dramatic, and I am generally not a dramatic person, but the feeling was that strong and I've been pressed to dramatics to accurately describe the depth of it.

Thankfully, that time is now over.  After an unending plethora of doctor visits, supplements, treatments, and physical therapy, I am able to sing again.  It's different, and still a struggle, but I can sing and that is a blessing.

Even though this time has been "really not fun" (as I like to say), I have tried to glean good things from it.  For one, I have improved my piano skills.  Because of the costochondritis, I couldn't sing or play my cello, so I was pushed toward my tertiary instrument: the piano.  These new skills will definitely be a help to me in all my musical endeavors.  Secondly, I have spent a lot of time writing and I feel that I'm able to be more articulate and polished in my poetry, fiction, and non-fiction writing.  And, thirdly, I have watched so many operas.  I don't even have to explain how helpful that will be.

But, most importantly, this time of separation from my voice has only increased my passion for singing.  Before I became ill, I always felt this fire inside me for singing and for opera.  Left without an outlet, this fire has only grown stronger and hotter.  I feel like I'm going to positively burst from its intensity.  This can only be a good thing.

I feel like I'm ready to take over the world -- I am so excited for all that's to come.  I intend on returning to Bard in January for the Spring semester and finishing my final year of graduate school.  Then, who knows what's in store!  I'm just looking forward to it, whatever it may be.