Thursday, December 19, 2013

Character Creation: Table Work

As you already know, I am preparing the role of the Old Drifter in Shawn Jaeger's new opera, Payne Hollow.  This week, I entered into the next step in opera character creation which is aptly called "Table Work."  Basically, we sit around a table and talk in-depth about the libretto, the music, and our characters.

The first meeting was with the full cast, the director, the assistant director, and the musical preparer.  Payne Hollow has a small cast (only four roles), so it was a rather intimate gathering.  Every director has a different approach to table work and each experience is different depending on the size/dynamics of the cast.

In our table work, our director posed many questions about our characters' back stories, our motivations, and our driving objectives in the plot of the opera.  This is the first place where we make some definitive and important decisions.  The funny thing, for me, was that we spent the first 20 minutes of the meeting deciding my character's sex.  What else is new, right?

Needless to say, we got into some riveting conversations.  The most interesting thing about this character, to me, is the fact that she's drifting, without a home, down the Ohio River in a futuristic world.  Detailing this futuristic world also really gets my brain going, especially since I'm such a sci-fi nerd.  I've read so many post-apocalyptic novels.  I never thought I'd be in a post-apocalyptic opera!

Our second meeting was with the composer.  It was extremely intriguing and inspiring to hear him explain how he came to choose and construct this opera.  He has some really cool ideas and his execution is amazing.  This score really stuns me with its depth and beauty.  And I haven't even heard it orchestrated yet!

Starting a brand new work is exciting, humbling, and, frankly, the tiniest bit terrifying.  It's amazing to create something from scratch and to have the composer as one of my collaborators in the process.  I love the idea that I'm the first person to bring this music and this character to life.  It's also enlightening to get the composer's perspective and insight as I'm preparing the music.  I love that aspect of new music. 

The part that frightens me is the total lack of crutches.  You can't listen to a recording and hear the orchestra.  You can't rely on learning from listening (which is never something that I do or recommend) and you can't rely on memorizing from listening, either.  It's just you and the score.  That can be daunting.

But I'm embracing all of it with a huge smile.  The composer is really open to discussion and that is a huge help.  I'm genuinely pumped about this project and I really hope to be completely immersed in every part of it.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Character Research (aka Kim's Favorite Pastime)

I will flat-out admit it: I LOVE character research.

I'm once again at the very beginning of the opera production process.  I call this "character research," but it's really much more than that.  I love this part because I'm completely on my own and my only goal is to dig deep into every facet of the character and production.  In the past, I've had a lot of fun and made a lot of discoveries during this stage in the process.

There are two parts of character research: book work and music work.  Music work comes with learning the role and peeling back all the layers of the score.  That's a whole other post and it's not something that I'm doing at the moment (since I don't have the full score yet).  But, I'm deep in the book work for this role and I'm making some wonderful discoveries.

I've always loved this part of the process because it feeds my curiosity and natural bookishness.  I get to read tons of book about a wide variety of subjects, learn new facts, and become immersed in another time and culture.  It has also opened me up to new experiences and thoughts that I wouldn't have had otherwise.  For example, I watched tons of David Bowie concerts and read biographies about his life while preparing an '80s glam rock Orlofsky.  I also watched Arrested Development for the first time (before it was cool! lol) because my director suggested it; she wanted me to see sociopaths in action.  Needless to say, it was very helpful for my sociopath Orlofsky.

Right now, I'm working on the role of the Old Drifter in Shawn Jaeger's new opera, Payne Hollow.  This person is essentially homeless, living on a tiny boat on the Ohio River and trading to make ends meet.  The opera is an adaptation of Wendell Berry's play, Sonata at Payne Hollow.

In preparation, I began by reading/studying the source material: Berry's play and the opera's libretto.  Then I did some research on Mr. Berry and his other work.  Next, I read up on the characters in the opera (they were real people!) and their lifestyle.  Then, more to the use of my own character, I began reading stories about people who live without a home.  There are books that record the oral history of people who have lived, for one reason or another, on the streets.  My favorite resource so far has been Howard Schatz's photo book, Homeless.  This collection of portraits is moving, beautiful, and compelling.  I learned so much just from looking into the eyes of these people and reading their stories.

Another great find from this set of research is Berry's poetry.  It's like Thoreau and Rilke had a child.  It's so simple, yet profound.  Here's one of my favorite stanzas (from Sabbaths 2002, Given):

We come at last to the dark
and enter in.  We are given bodies
newly made out of their absence
from one another in the light
of the ordinary day.  We come
to the space between ourselves,
the narrow doorway, and pass through
into the land of the wholly loved.

Everyone has their own process when they're creating a character and I think that some people might see this type of character research as tedious or non-interesting, but I find it crucial to my acting.  I think there is a new depth to my artistry after I've done this work.  Granted, there are so many other pieces left in order to create a full character, but this is where I start.  I hope to continue to explain/blog my process as I walk through it this time around.  I'm very excited for this project and I can't wait to dive right in.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Hitting a Speedbump: A Personal Post I Never Wanted to Write

Believe it or not, I’m a rather private person.  I don’t like people being privy to the details of my personal life, so I try to hide them and tell very few people.  I’m currently going through a rather difficult ordeal and I’ve kept it under wraps until now.  However, I feel that I must write this post about my struggles because I wish I’d had something like this to read.  Maybe it can help another singer, another artist, another person in the future.  And that, to me, justifies going against my private nature and sharing this.

To make a long story short, I’ve been unable to sing for 9 weeks now.  On September 11, I couldn’t sleep because my heart was beating loudly and strangely in my chest.  I had trouble breathing.  I wasn’t sure what to do.  After 5 days of harrowing uncertainty, accompanied by doctor visits, hospitals, and too many EKGs, they discovered that I had costochondritis.  Basically, the cartilage between the ribs and sternum becomes inflamed, pressing on the heart and lungs.  This condition can be caused by trauma, but mine was caused by a virus.  (Thankfully, no one else had it/got it!)

I was bedridden for a week and then I returned to school, hoping to press through and continue my schooling during my recovery.  The doctors thought that it would only last a few weeks.  I made a valiant effort to participate in school and my teachers were extremely supportive, but my condition worsened and I had to return home.  The doctors say now that I have the worst kind of costochondritis and I might not be healthy until January.  So I’m officially on medical leave and missing a semester of grad school, which I will have to make up next year.
This is, of course, a huge blow to me.  Not only did I miss out on two productions of Hansel and Gretel, but I also had to withdraw from a group benefit concert that I’d been planning.  I’d poured a lot of myself and my time into the project and I wish that I could sing on it.  

But wishes are useless, because I’ve been physically unable to sing.  I’ve never gone this long, in my whole life, without singing and that threatens to emotionally drain me.  It can be scary to not have that one thing that brings you the most joy and fulfillment, that makes up a part of your identity and purpose in life.  But my mentors and teachers have been extremely giving and kind throughout this process, giving me the perspective and help that I need to get through this.  My family and friends have also been supportive, comforting me and caring for me.

That aside, it’s also trying to see all my plans float down the river without me.  Everything had to be put on hold and I had to rethink all of my decisions.  The next step in my education has been set back a year and all of my technical training is on hold until I’m back on my feet.  I won’t graduate with my class or meet the goals that I’d set for myself.

But it’s okay.  We can make plans and have goals, and that’s wonderful and important, but sometimes things are out of our control and they don’t turn out the way we expect.  So I’ve learned the true necessity of flexibility.  I can mourn the things I’ve lost, but it’s not over.  I will sing again soon and I will have plenty of opportunities in the future.  

Also, this new timeline has opened up a few unexpected bonuses.  For one, I was able to meet and interview a mezzo hero of mine, Jamie Barton.  I’ve also had the time to write a libretto for an oratorio that a graduate student at Queen’s College is composing.  And, most exciting of all, I’ll be part of an opera production team in January 2015, working alongside and learning from one of my favorite opera directors.  In addition, I’ll have more time to prepare my auditions for the next stage of my education and I might end up somewhere that I didn’t expect.

So what I’m trying to say is this: in life, you’re going to hit some speedbumps.  They can be upsetting and discouraging and sometimes they make no sense at all.  But they do happen.  The question is: how are you going to deal with them?  My advice is to let yourself feel all the justified emotions that come with it, but then push past it.  Stay positive every day.  Gather encouraging and nurturing people around you.  Ask favors, look for opportunities, and take care of yourself.  Indulge in your other interests or just let yourself rest for a while.  I don’t like asking for help, but I’ve learned that sometimes, it’s essential.  It’s okay to have someone help you out once in a while, because when you’re better, you can be there for them and return the gesture.

Speedbumps are okay.  This one has taught me how to do a backflip.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Interview with Cardiff Singer of the World, Jamie Barton

I was lucky enough to be asked to interview recent Cardiff winner, Jamie Barton, about her experiences as a singer and about her upcoming recital in NYC this Sunday.  I had a lovely time doing the interview.  Ms. Barton is a sweet and open person with a great sense of humor.  She is completely down-to-earth and humble about her work, which I find quite awe-inspiring.  You can learn more about her on her website.

You can find the entire interview over at my OperaRox Blog.

I've excerpted a few quotes from the interview that I believe are most helpful to young singers:

On choosing an undergraduate and graduate school: When I meet high-schoolers, people looking into going into undergrad, and I hear them saying, "I want to go to Indiana" or "I want to go to Juilliard," I say, "You know, that's fabulous, but go to a small undergrad first."  I think it's really good to be able to get the experience in undergrad.  If you're in a small program, they're going to have to cast you in whatever they're doing.  You get a chance to grow, you get a chance to make mistakes, you get a chance to shine.  And in a small school, it's like a family.  That's what I had at Shorter.  And then I went to IU and I had to figure my way out.  That's appropriate for that time: to figure out how to fight your way to the top.

On recitals: Recitals are totally a team effort.  It's not the singer standing up there and they're the one doing the performing.  It is a collaboration.  You're both making the music; you're both telling the story.  It's vital.

On the challenge of travel: Honestly, the travel is the most difficult in almost every aspect.  It's also really rewarding.  I now have a worldwide network of friends.  When I go on opera gigs, they're also going on opera gigs, and we meet up in random cities and get to discover the city together.  We get to spend time together.  That's the really wonderful part.

The difficult part is: I haven't been in my own bed since August 21st.  With so much travel, especially nowadays, there's sickness.  The first week that I was here [New York City] doing rehearsals for Norma, I had come directly from Australia.  I was sick as a dog for the first two weeks.  That's the hard part: figuring out how you're going to keep yourself healthy.   It's also figuring out when you're going to see your pets and your loved ones and your stuff. 

On acting: Once you start building a character on fabrication, then it seems hokey.  You get really bored with it.  When it's the truth, when there's something that people can connect with, that's when it's interesting.  That's often really difficult.  But that's the cool bit of getting to do it.  That's the fun part.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Coming Back - Bard Year 2

I was more excited to come back to Bard this fall than I've ever been to return anywhere.  Every time I thought "It's almost time to go back to school," I'd get this jolt of energy and remain hyper for about 20 minutes straight.  For me, that's pretty impressive.

When I dragged my suitcases into my room up here, I got excited all over again.  I love being here amongst the trees, long winding roads, and cute little towns.  My Aunt and Uncle are spectacularly wonderful people and I love spending my time here with them. 

The next day, I met up with some of my old (and new!) friends and my heart was simply racing with happiness.  I drank decaf coffee that day because I felt like my heart would race out of my chest. 

The day after that, I showed up at orientation and met all the "new kids."  They were lovely and bright-eyed and enthusiastic.  (After a week of school, they still are.  This is a good sign.)  Then Dawn walked in and I was flooded with a sense of joy and anticipation for the coming semester.  She gave me a huge, warm hug and complimented my new haircut.  She told me that she'd missed me this summer and was so glad to see me again.  The feeling was completely mutual.

As I went to bed that night, I began to think about why I had been so happy about coming back to Bard.  And the more I thought about it, the more obvious it became.  Bard has become a safe place for me, a nurturing place for my personality, creativity, and artistry.  I feel encouraged and emboldened to try anything, to push myself harder than ever before, and to explore the many facets of myself.  My teachers here have done nothing but build me up and help me become more of what I'm meant to be.  My colleagues are not only talented, but they're caring, funny, and insightful.  I have never been with a better group of people (for an extended period of time, at least) and I was so happy to get back to them and to this amazing environment that my teachers have worked hard to create.

Do I miss my loved ones back home?  Of course.  But I'm so happy that when I'm away, this is where I am.  I'm growing, learning, and refining every day.  There is nothing more I could ask for.  I have all the tools -- I just need to use them to make something fantastic.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Branching Out

So, some exciting news:

I am now an author and blogger for Opera Vivrà!

You can check out my latest posts about Barihunks and My Desert Island Opera DVD.  I'm so excited to be a part of their team and I hope you take a journey over there to check them out.

As I've already mentioned, I'm also the music correspondent for The Millbrook Independent and you can read my articles online here.  I recently wrote about the upcoming obscure Russian opera that will have its U.S. stage premiere at Bard College.

There's a lot of writing happening this summer and I'm loving all of it.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

That Inevitable Post in Which I Talk About My Body

So, I wrote this 3 weeks ago:

"I'm currently living in Limbo Land between Classical Singing and New York in June and the Baroque Opera Workshop at the Aaron Copland School of Music.  My body is exhausted, my voice is inoperable, and I'm fighting some horrible cold/infection/thing.  Did I mention that I have a lot of Italian to memorize?

Let me quickly follow that with: I'm not complaining.  I'm not complaining simply because what I just finished and what I'm about to do are AWESOME and I actually love learning music.  It's just my body that's holding me back and this is the one thing that is giving me grief at the moment."

How often does a singer feel like their body is having a huge, and uncontrollable, impact on their performance, productivity, and/or musical self-esteem?  I think it happens quite often.

I think the greatest negative effect of this situation, besides the obvious inability to perform at peak capacity, is the stress that it causes.  And this stress affects our physical health and our emotional/mental health.  So, how can we singers avoid not only the bad effects of a less-than-perfect body, but also the ensuing stress?

First, I think we must accept the fact that we cannot control everything.  If you get a sinus infection, what can you do about it?  You can only take medicine, take care of yourself, and ride it out.  There's no cosmic button you can press or immunity you can earn that will keep you from getting sick.  But, you can accept that it's happening, and it's really not a positive thing, but it's something that will resolve and all you can do is take care of yourself until it passes.

I've heard singers say, "I don't want to sound like I'm making excuses, but..." and then follow that with things like "I have had a cold for a week now" or "I had a infection and now I have no voice" or "this allergy medicine is drying me out and I can't sing well."  Those aren't excuses!  Those are the simple facts of the situation and they are things that you had/have no control over.  So, you do your best and press on, taking care of the things that you can control (such as being prepared, being engaged, and taking care of yourself) and not stressing out over the things that you cannot.

You may be saying, "Well, that's easier said than done."  Of course it is.  Most things are easier said than done, but it doesn't make them any less of a good idea.  I think it's something to consider and work at.  I'm certainly not perfect.  I still get a bit stressed or nervous from time to time when my body holds back my singing.  But I press on and hope to do better next time.  That's all we can do, really.

So, take care of your body as best you can, prepare as best you can (always!), and take things as they come.  No performance is the end of the world or the last time you'll sing.  There will always be something else, sometime else.  And you'll rock it.  Take care of yourself, be aware of your body's needs and condition, be smart, and listen to your mentors.  We can only do so much.  There's obviously so much more to be said on this topic, but what I've covered here was my lesson this summer.

Just as an update, my voice did heal up by the time the Baroque final performance rolled around.  It was a bit scary that first day, and it was a bit shaky throughout the week, but I made healthy choices and my voice was back to normal on the day of the performance.  I've posted a video of it on my website if you'd like to check it out.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Life in NYC

For the past two weeks, I've been participating in Classical Singing and New York in June, a training program for singers involving some of the best Manhattan coaches and teachers.  I'm loving all my  coachings, lessons, and master classes.  I'll definitely be blogging more about this program after it's over (and after I've recovered!).  We're having our final concert this Sunday, June 9th at the Christ & St. Stephan's Church if you're interested!  (3pm, 69th between Broadway and Columbus)

Today, we took a very special Lincoln Center Tour with guide Maria Mansfield (there's a NY Times article about her here).  I was not only impressed by her vast knowledge (she's been giving tours for 45 years!), but I was so encouraged by her advice to young singers.  She told us, in her no-nonsense way:

"When someone says something negative to you, when they give you a negative comment, you just throw it away.  You know that little garbage can on your computer screen?  Just throw it in there.  Gone.  Don't think about the one person who doesn't like you.  Think about all the others who do."

She told us great stories about Beverly Sills and James Levine and other influential opera/classical music people.  She took us into a rehearsal of the NY Phil and we got to see Alan Gilbert conducting the Phil, Patricia Racette, and Gerald Finley!  I love hearing them live and what a perfect way to start my day.

Another encouraging moment was seeing Rise Stevens' costumes on display at the Met.  They had her Octavian and Cherubino jackets and one of her Carmen dresses.  You can tell she had a womanly, yet fit, figure.  It was so inspiring to see a physical representation of a tiny part of what she achieved and hope to do the same.  Her recordings are incredible and if you haven't checked them out, you really should.  Her Orfeo is my favorite.

Alright, I'm off to a coaching!  Before I go, I want to give a shout-out to my good friend, Jessica, and thank her for writing a really nice article about me and other young bloggers who love opera.  Viva the next gen of opera! :)

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Viva la liberta! - Don Giovanni Review

My first professional review is out!  It's published online now, but it will be included in Opera21's PDF magazine later in the month.

It was an honor to be asked to cover NYOE's Don Giovanni.  Not only is it one of my favorite operas, but it's a company that I respect and believe in. 

Here's a little taste:

New York Opera Exchange, a relatively new opera company based in New York City, presented Don Giovanni as their full production of the 2012-2013 season.  The brutally alluring set, comprised simply of a black wall with a bleeding red “VIVA la LIBERTÀ” in the upper left corner, worked well for this down-to-earth 1960s version of Mozart’s classic opera.  Director Jennifer Shorstein used her limited space well, moving furniture into and out of the space as needed.  She also highlighted the stark red text by creating poignant tableaus with her singers in front of it...


Saturday, May 4, 2013

NYC Weekend

I'm spending a lot of time in NYC this weekend.  (And, inevitably, a lot of time traveling there.)  But, it's all opera and music and friends, so it's worth it.

Tonight I'll be attending New York Opera Exchange's production of Don Giovanni.  If you're in the area, you should really check it out.  If you're there tonight, be sure to say hi!

Tomorrow, I'll be attending a lovely recital by one of my OperaRox buddies, Jamie.  I'll also be meeting up with some other OperaRoxers (including Opera21's Jennifer Choi) for some much-needed coffee.

Yesterday, I had the privilege of attending a roundtable discussion with Dawn Upshaw and alumni from the VAP program.  It was incredible to hear about the wide range of success of the alums since their graduation.  It only solidified what I already knew: that this program teaches you, first and foremost, how to find what is most unique about you, what you are most passionate about, and then it gives you the tools to make your goals happen.  The alums are doing everything from opera to new music to creating their own music festivals.  It gave me a lot of hope and confidence when I saw how other singers have taken so much from this program and applied to their lives in order to achieve their artistic desires.  Again, I am so excited and honored to be a part of this fantastic program.

So, toi toi toi to all the performers tonight!  I'm looking forward to experiencing all the thrills of Mozart's Don Giovanni.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Opera in the 21st Century

As you probably already know, I am an editor for the collaborative online magazine, Opera21.  This brilliant idea, launched by Jennifer Choi, has really taken off and I'm very proud to present the April 2013 issue.  The topic for this issue is Opera in the 21st Century.  There are some really interesting articles about the effects of changing technology on the opera industry and how that determines the expectations placed upon the art form.  I've attached it below so that you can easily peruse through it for yourself. 

Inside, you'll also find information about two important upcoming events:
1. a press release for New York Opera Exchange's production of Don Giovanni that I will be reviewing in May

2. details about this Monday (7pm EST) -- I will be part of an online panel addressing topics relevant to opera in the current world.  Check the Opera21 Tumblr for the link to the panel on Monday.

You'll also find the continuation of my historical fiction novella about Mozart.  What more could you ask for?  Check it out!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Journey to Cambridge: Bringing Music to Boston the Day After

Tuesday, I performed in the First Songs concert with Dawn Upshaw and my fellow Bard Vocal Arts Program singers at the Edward M. Pickman Concert Hall in Boston.  That (beautiful!) concert hall is part of the Longy School of Music in Cambridge.

The Boston performance of the First Songs concert, which premiered in New York City (I mention it here) and featured world premiere works, seemed doomed from the start.  We had to cancel our first engagement back in February because of a snow storm and after the horrific events on Monday, I thought that the concert would be cancelled once more.

But we all got on the bus and traveled to Boston early in the morning.  Dawn explained that Boston needed this music now more than ever.

Cambridge was beautiful and vibrant.  I got to walk on Harvard's campus (a nerdy dream of mine!) and have some amazing ginger tea.  I spent time with some old friends and some new ones.  I had the privilege of meeting fellow OperaRox member Sasha, which was an overall delight.

The concert went so smoothly.  I don't think my quartet has ever been so attuned to one another as we were that night.  I loved every minute of that experience.  The composer was in the audience and she was overjoyed by our performance.  The smile on her face made me light up with happiness.  A few other composers, including the illustrious John Harbison, were also in the audience.  This made me feel that this concert was really special.

After the concert, the Dean and the President approached me and personally thanked me for making the trip to Boston to share my music with them.  The gratitude was evident in everyone from the area.  I was glad that I could contribute, in some small way, to the healing that must happen in that place.

My heart goes out to the resilient people of Boston.  I wish all the comfort and peace in the world for the people of that great town and for all those who were affected by the tragedy.  I'm just glad that there are beautiful things in the world to compensate for all the bad.  May we all strive to create these beautiful things every day, in our own way, for all the people in our lives.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Feeling Legit

A little over a year ago, OperaRox was just a fun idea that was doing jumping-jacks in my head.  Now, it's a community of opera enthusiasts that spans continents, ages, and social media platforms. Most exciting of all, it is now being acknowledged by powers in the opera world.

First, mezzo Joyce DiDonato gave OperaRox a shout-out at her Juilliard Masterclass when asked how young people can get involved in opera.  I'd organized a meet-up at her performance of Donizetti's Maria Stuarda at the Met back in January and when they met her at the stage door, they told her that they were all part of the OperaRox group.  (Technically, they've deemed themselves the OperaRox "gang," but that's another story.)

Next, Met children's chorus member Melanie Spector mentioned OperaRox on the classical radio station WQXR during her intermission interview.  I've been listening to WQXR since I was a kid, so it was really special to get a shout-out there. 

As you can imagine, I was starting to feel pretty legit.

Finally, I got an email/phone call today from the artistic director of NY Opera Exchange asking me to review their new production of Don Giovanni.  I'm very excited about this opportunity and I'm hoping that it will only lead to more!  I've always been impressed with the quality of NY Opera Exchange's productions and concerts.  They're definitely a thriving part of NYC's opera scene.

If you're interested in the OperaRox community, you can find us on Tumblr and Twitter (with the hashtag #operarox or you can follow me @cherubino88).  I host LiveShows on occasion where you can interact with other opera lovers in real-time.  Announcements for the LiveShows are made on Tumblr and Twitter. 

So stick around and we'll see what comes of it.  Definitely check back for my review of NY Opera Exchange's Don Giovanni in May!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

In Loving Memory

This past week, I sang one of the most difficult performances of my life to this point.  I sang "The Lord's Prayer" at my grandfather's funeral.

When my grandmother first asked me, the same day that I'd found out about his passing, I told her that I probably wouldn't be able to do it.  For me, the moment I get emotional, I lose all ability to sing.  Just thinking about it made my throat close up.  I knew that if I had anything emotional happening in my brain and body while I was trying to sing, I wasn't going to make it through the song.

As I thought about it, I realized that I really wanted to sing.  It seemed like the absolute right thing to do.  I needed to sing for my grandfather and my grandmother.  My grandparents have always been huge supporters of mine (even though Grandma always complains, "When are you going to wear a pretty dress in an opera?") and it seemed fitting to honor my grandfather in this way.  He told me many times, and again right before he died, that he was so proud of me and everything that I've accomplished.  I knew that singing was the greatest gift that I could give him.  So I set out to find a way to sing for his funeral service.

I devised a plan and did something completely unorthodox.  It went against everything that I've ever believed or been taught about performing.  I went into the performance cold - unrehearsed in every way.  I never met with the organist at the church and I didn't look at the music once.  I've, surprisingly, never sung "The Lord's Prayer" before, so I knew I'd be sight-reading.  Sure, I've heard it a few times, but I've never sung it.  I figured that the attention I would need to spend on the notes and the words would leave no room for anything else.  I'd sing it as straight and emotionless as possible and hope for the best.

So, I printed out the music the night before and carried it in my jacket pocket through the last viewing, the procession, and the service until it was my time to sing.  I ascended into the church balcony and looked out over the altar which I know so well.  I've attended every Christmas Eve of my life at that church.  My grandfather was baptized there and my parents were married there.  Now, I was to sing for my grandfather's funeral there.  It felt so right that I couldn't doubt myself.

I followed through on my plan and focused on getting every note, every rhythm, and every vowel right.  My voice was normal and strong throughout.  After it was over, I felt like I'd just run a marathon, but it felt good.  I was so happy and honored that I had the opportunity and ability to give such a gift to my grandparents and everyone else in the service.

And music still helps me, every day, to battle through the grief.  I've found solace in the arms of family and friends, in the words of poets, and in the music of great composers.  At the end of the day, I've found beauty to be the most comforting thing of all -- whether it's a memorial mounted by the Fire Department for my grandfather or Billy Collins going off about the beach.

A friend shared this with me and I will share it with you:

"Unable are the loved to die.  For love is immortality." -Emily Dickinson

My Opa will be missed, but I know that his strength and love will always live on in my heart.  The things he gave me are priceless and I will always treasure them.  
With my grandparents at my college graduation in 2011

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

New York Times!

"...mezzo, Kimberly Feltkamp, blended seductively with Ms. Levis in the vibrating close harmonies of Daniela O. De Matos’s 'Encounter'..." -NY Times

To be honest, I really didn't think that I'd see my name in the New York Times so soon.  But, it has happened and I couldn't be more delighted about it.

Our last concert, First Songs, was covered by music critic Zachary Woolfe.  Not only was it an honor to have him in the audience, but it was amazing to read his review.  You can read the entire article here.

The concert was a positive experience in general.  The venue, The Morgan Library, was absolutely beautiful and the acoustics in the hall were even better.  I love my fellow quartet members and I enjoy bringing new music to life.  Also, low F#s are always a treat to sing.

They just released some photos from our Winter Songfest, so I'm including them here for your enjoyment.  The first is from my performance of Ned Rorem's "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening" and the second is Michael Buble's rendition of "Jingle Bells" (apparently, I'm one of the Puppini Sisters).

Right now, I'm working on a production of Bach's St. John Passion.  It's amazing to be immersed in the music of a genius and to work with such talented musicians.  The orchestra sounds fantastic and it's a thrill to work with conductor Leon Bostein.  He is so in love with this work and he's such an incredible musician.  We had a special moment in rehearsal last night toward the end of the second section and we all had to take a moment to wipe away the tears.  Rufus Müller is an inspirational Evangelist and Jesse Blumberg expresses the character of Jesus with such nuance and passion.  The process has been a pleasure all around.  I'm really looking forward to the performances this weekend.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Singers and Fitness

This is not a New Year's resolution blog post.  And this is not another rant about how opera singers are "fat" and need to get skinny to fit into modern society.  This is only what it says it is: an article about singers and the crucial element of fitness in performance.

Now that we've got that out of the way, let me say that this is a topic that I've been thinking about a lot this past semester.  Back in September, I set some goals that I'd work towards during this entire first year of grad school.  One of my biggest goals was to work to become more physically fit.  I'm so glad that I've committed to this, because I've seen a huge difference in my singing and performance.

In short, here is what I've learned:

1. Building stamina in running/lifting/etc. helps me build stamina in singing.  It has changed my breath and my ability to use that breath.  It has given me more control overall and I can sing much longer without getting tired out.

2. I have also gained stamina onstage.  Opera is very physical - not only in the actual act of singing, but also in the movement required by the acting/blocking.  Opera productions are becoming more active all the time and the things asked of me are always becoming more extreme.  Staying fit gives me the ability to do whatever I want on stage.  I have less limitations.

3. Staying fit keeps me flexible.  Once again, that flexibility is so useful in the blocking.  More than that, it gives me so many more options when it comes to building and executing the physicality of a character.  This is important for any role, but it's especially helpful for pants roles.

4. A strong musculature helps me keep my posture correct.  Correct posture is integral to good singing and I'm finding that as I get stronger, it's easier to keep everything in alignment.  I've also found that I've had less muscle knots and aches.  I think this is due to a combination of studying Alexander Technique and keeping my body in motion through healthy exercise.

5. Exercising regularly gives me more energy on a daily basis.  I love feeling more awake and focused throughout the day.  Of course, this helps me sing better, study better, move better, and improve overall.

6. As my body works better and feels better, I have more confidence.  As any singer knows, confidence is crucial to this field.  So, a boost of confidence is always a good thing!

In short, I've found that fitness is an extremely important part of a singer's life.  I find it strange that this has never been stressed to me before.  Now that I've discovered it, I can't imagine why I didn't realize it before.

I think personal fitness should be part of a singer's education and daily practice.  I want to encourage any singers out there who haven't given it much thought to give it a try.  Make time to tone your body.  (I'd suggest 30-45 minutes of cardio 4-5 days a week and about 10 minutes of lifting 3-4 days a week.)  Find a good workout partner, a supportive gym, and some time in your schedule.  Then, go for it!  I know you won't regret it.