Monday, 23 February 2015

This beautiful, serene scene is proof that the last few weeks have been so worth it, and stands in stark contrast to the flu ridden, carnival infested, estranged weeks of rehearsal.

The estrangement was not at all Oper Köln's fault; their opera house is being refurbished, and they have been banished to a large blue tent for performances, and various far flung buildings in odd parts of town for rehearsals.  I was constantly lost, and I wasn't the only one.  Our rehearsals were made all the more . interesting, by the insistence of the Opera House in Muscat on all references to alcohol being removed.  This production, in common with many, had been rather high proof, and it proved a challenging experience trying to extract the booze without altering the spirit of the original production (it had been put on a couple of years ago, then Muscat wanted it, but in English; hence my engagement, along with a cast of fabulous native English speakers).  We had two weeks; this is an incredibly short amount of time to whip into shape something where four of the major players were making their role debuts and the entire thing is being constantly reinvented, yet is constrained to stick as closely as possible to the director's original vision.  Not helped in the slightest by various illnesses including the flu (which got me for the first time in about fifteen years; it was Not Nice) devastating the whole company.  And the fact that carnival was swirling drunkenly around the flats that the opera house had rented for several of us right in the middle of town . wonderful if you're in the mood; not so much if you have rehearsals morning and evening, and could have done without the party music until 5.30 a.m.

We struggled through it, anyway, and were rewarded (before heaven; how nice!) by our residence at the fabulous Royal Opera House Muscat.  This amazing building was only finished in 2011, and is beautifully detailed and so well thought out.  The only thing I found a little odd was the lack of clocks in the dressing rooms / make up rooms etc. (My very sweet Arab dresser promised to pass on this tidbit to the management.) Other than that, they'd even painted lines along the bottom of the walls directing you to stage right or left (for those that don't regularly work in such places, I would just say that the backstage areas of opera houses are generally the most labyrinthine and impenetrable places you've ever wandered around lonely as a rather bewildered cloud).

I suspect we were all a little nervous as the first night approached; we hadn't even had a proper run through before the dress rehearsal.  However I have to say I have seldom worked with such a marvellous cast of colleagues, and I was thoroughly impressed by the level of professionalism and sheer artistry shown all around.  Having been warned that the Muscat public was a bit cool, prone to clapping mainly Arab productions, we were flabbergasted to get a standing ovation, with the entire public leaping to its feet within seconds of the curtain going down at the premiere, and laughs in all the right places.  Glorious!

OK, so we didn't have a heck of a lot of free time, but what a wonderful place to perform.  And the hotel provided the best buffet I think I've ever snarfed, including an Arabian pudding called Umali which I swear was laced with crack or something, as EVERYONE who tried it came back for second helpings, and third, and...  even those who, like me, aren't that bothered about sweet stuff!  (And who, for reference, no longer have waists...).

I'd be back here like a shot if invited, if only for the glorious feeling of walking across the courtyard to the catering room in the interval, of necessity in costume, and having waltzed past the security detail in camouflage, to step outside into the richly smelling, warm, luxurious evening; so different from the German cold, which shuts down the senses one by one.

Should anyone be interested in photos of the production, there are some lovely ones here.  

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

I have to admit that I've been in hibernation for a little while now.  Cold weather tends to do that to me, and I do apologise!

However I haven't been totally lazy.  One of the great things about a career as an opera singer is the amount of spare time one has, often in new and wonderful environments.  I have always taken a camera of some sort with me at all times, and am proud to say that I now have an exhibition of photographs ongoing at the Bücherei Bischofsheim (opening times here) until April.  I have to admit that it's a little scary, venturing out into new artistic pastures at this point, but the fear is inextricably linked to the excitement, and actually I SO loved taking these photos, I'm very much enjoying showing them to others.  For anyone who is interested, the new (very basic, to be built upon) website is here.

Meanwhile, I am having a hell of a time trying to pack for my next venture.  Two weeks in Germany at the coldest time of the year, followed by a week of Oman in February (the statistics seem to me to be PERFECT!) with the proviso that tops should be long in the arm, mustn't be figure-hugging, yet still capable of managing desert heats . . .  (absolutely the opposite of every single bit of kit in my wardrobe); yes, this is . . . interesting.  Still, I'm very much looking forward to it.  Two weeks' rehearsal in Cologne for Oper Köln as Mrs Higgins in this English-speaking version of their production, then a week out in Oman for performances!  

I must say that the Royal Opera House in Muscat looks glorious and I can't wait to step out on stage there!  I'll try to keep my camera and my wits about me during the tour, and I am currently just praying that I can find the requisite "sensible shoes" for any possible trip into the desert.

I am SO drawn by the thought of a trip into the desert - but I really don't DO sensible shoes!!

Thursday, 23 October 2014

On trust

Hot on the heels of my previous burnt offering, I know, but it springs from the same source, more or less, and anyway I promised it to a friend of mine (hope you enjoy it, B).

What got me thinking (yes, I know; dangerous) was a chance remark after my one rehearsal for this latest jump-in.  I'd been chatting to a (fabulous) colleague about the three consecutive faints in a particular place.  All to the right, I moaned.  (I always faint to the left if I can.)  He gallantly remarked that I seemed to have gone down  like a stone, and a very professional stone at that, even dropping (as opposed to dressing) to the right.

Later, I regaled a non-singer friend with this little anecdote.  She was fascinated by the concept of fainting on tap, and asked how I did it.  I started to explain before totally drying up, realising that I honestly hadn't a clue.  I confessed this, and she asked, well how do you know you're not going to knock yourself out or break anything when you fall, then?  I had to admit, once again, that I didn't know (although I do have a decent amount of natural padding helpfully in place).  I've always just thought, right ho, faint at this point, end up roughly . . . there, rolled my eyes up and gone with it.   Same with falling, and I'm quite proud of my reputation in this respect (very amused a few years ago for my Herodias in Salome to be described as a proper stuntwoman!).

And whilst this might normally have just shimmered and popped like most thought bubbles, my mind shifted in this instance in a helpful direction.  I have no doubt at all this was due in large part to the work I'd been doing over the summer with Steven Sparling, whom I am honoured to count as a coach/mentor and friend.  I can thoroughly recommend his intelligent, directed and thoughtful coaching (in my case I availed myself of his email coaching, as we are currently based in different countries.  Particularly useful in helping artists floating several feet off the ground to find their feet in the dog-eat-dog world of actual art.  More information here.  If you're curious, it's definitely worth contacting him with a query.)  Anyway, all the work we'd been doing helped me to finally make a connection between the ease with which I crash to the stage and the panic which seizes me at times and which certainly had me intermittently in its teeth in the short preparation period I had before this performance.

I'd thought the problem was fear.  And certainly that's a component.  However, comparing stage fright with the unconcerned manner in which I always fling myself to the ground, I suddenly realised that the important thing was in fact TRUST.  In the case of stage fainting or falling, I knew from experience that the worst I'd ever ended up with was a few interesting bruises; I could therefore happily trust myself to fall into the relative abyss.  In the case of singing, it's more complicated.  Fear is present because of past bad experiences - the mental equivalent of fractured bones and exploded spinal discs - therefore panic occasionally took over.  I'd really thought the answer lay in addressing the fear.  Nope.  The fear had to be batted to one side in order to actually do the necessary groundwork, yes.  Without the endless practice, the permanent word-mutterings, the DOING of the homework, panic is going to win.  I'd done it, though.  I'd practised and muttered and incanted and generally been given a very wide berth on public transport.  What I realised in that great moment when I lined up the falling and the wider aspect of performing was that the precise quality required in the moment was trust.  I had to simply take a deep breath, square my shoulders (there's an absolutely fascinating TED talk regarding this question of posture here) and trust myself to do whatever it was I needed to do.

One of those realisations that's probably gone through most people's mind before mine made the connection, but it was an epiphany for me, and I really hope that someone else might read this at the right time and benefit from it!

Monday, 13 October 2014

This was really meant to be the other way up.  Starting from the inception of this not-totally-sane venture and following it through, in a scientific and disinterested way, to its culmination.  However, heck, firstly it was me, and secondly it was me actually in the middle of all of this, never mind writing about it, and the possibility of commenting on what I was far, far too busy experiencing just went right out of the window.

So what am I actually talking about?  Well, an opportunity came up to learn a role in a Brecht/Weill piece on a terribly short timescale.  And the chance was a little random in the first place as my agency had recommended me on the basis of the wrong opera!  I'd sung Mrs Peachum in the Britten version of John Gay's "The Beggars' Opera" when at music college.  Great stuff, but musically absolutely nothing to do with the Brecht/Weill version of the same piece, which uses the same situation and characters, but utterly different music and dialogue.  (Not that the latter would have helped anyway, because the version in question was in German.)

I'd been very excited when I first got the call from the theatre.  It's a great theatre, very near me, and I'd been wanting to sing for them for ages.  When it became clear that they thought I'd done this particular role, however, I explained that I hadn't, and directed them back to the agency.  I said how disappointed I was, and that I could probably learn the role in an emergency.  Upon talking to the lady at the agency, she said in no uncertain terms that they wouldn't let someone loose on such a role at such short notice unless they'd performed it on the German stage previously, and that they'd recommended other performers, and, well, that was that.  I sighed and carried on.

However, ten days ago I got a slightly panicked call from the theatre again; evidently the other performers couldn't do that particular date or something.  Long story short - they begged me to do the role.  The message landed in my voicemail at 10 p.m.; I spent an anguished evening asking friends and colleagues for advice (I am very lucky indeed to have such a great network of contacts willing to help!).

It was a very finely-balanced decision; definitely not without the bounds of possibility, but requiring unstinted focus until the performance and a huge amount of trust in myself as a performer and as a German-speaker.  Needless to say, I didn't get a huge amount of sleep that night, but at some point in the morning, as the dawn was starting to break, I just thought, BUGGER IT, I'm doing it.  

The bloke had said he'd ring me at 9 a.m.  When he did, I said I was actually standing at the stage door of the theatre and maybe we could discuss it in person.  Within minutes we had an agreement and copies of the score and libretto and a DVD of the performance were in my bag as I headed back home.

At which point the fun started!  Naturally, the entire process was a gut-churning mixture of adrenalin-fuelled excitement and soul-destroying dread, involving the detachment of much of my brain from functioning life for the duration.  Contact with friends and family was severely curtailed (sorry, everyone!).  Food and exercise had to be plotted in as necessary; I would have forgotten them for the most part, but was conscious that they were necessary to the higher functioning of the organism as a whole, and they therefore had to be allowed a certain percentage of brain function.

A few "highlights" of the intervening days:

-  the realisation that despite having looked over the score and thought, oh that's OK, the rest of the cast being actors meant that the whole shebang would have to be sung an octave lower than my normal tessitura.  *gulp*

-  waking to the incessant noise of the words I was trying to drum into my head.  Failing to fall asleep because of the same.  Repeat unto insanity.

-  realising with cold horror quite how much stage business there was to get my head around, quite apart from words and music.

Oh yes, it was . . . interesting.  I enlisted friends and colleagues, scribbled upon reams of paper and doodled upon scrolls of wallpaper which I then draped around my flat (see photo above for one of these in its growth stages!).  This really is when you realise how lucky you are to have people who support you, calm you, slap you gently back into reality, feed you, encourage you and remind you to actually breathe.  Thank you, everyone!!

Anyway, yesterday evening was the performance.  I'd had a run-through on a rehearsal stage the previous afternoon, with a couple of my colleagues who were nice enough to give up their time.  Their generosity of spirit reassured me hugely; this was mainly an acting role, and in true Brechtian spirit, the production involved a nod to the fact that the audience knew that we were in fact actors playing these roles, rather than actually "being" the characters.  Far too complicated right now to explain coherently what I mean, but in practice, I was reassured that if absolutely necessary (i.e. totally drying or venturing into completely the wrong scene), my fellow actors were free to feed me lines, and I to ask or to shout out that I couldn't hear the bloody prompter and that they weren't paying me enough to jump in etc...

The colleagues I met were superb.  Much reassured on the acting front, I was still pretty nervous about the one classic ballad I had to sing.  Doesn't matter how many arias etc one has memorised and sung on stage, the fact remains that when you transfer anything learned on to the stage, there is normally a bit of a memory blip whilst doing so. Well, there is with me, any rate.  I was a bit worried; this is a classic Weill ballad, the audience might well know it far better than me, and the logistics (pretty much darkness apart from a follow-spot, huge movements of stage machinery behind me) meant that any prompts would probably be inaudible and any words scribbed on fingers unseen.

Suddenly, there was nothing more to be done.  I was out on stage.  And BUGGER ME IT WAS FUN!!!  Feathers flew everywhere (I really, really hate having feathers up my nose, but in such a role it was permissible to fish them out again, and with something like five changes of feather jacket, a few here and there were probably unavoidable).  Most of the words came out in the right order (I rather think a further post is demanding to be written concerning acting on stage IN GERMAN - but it's going to have to wait; it would make this post interminable).  The ballad somehow got sung.  I managed to spit out the important verbal cues, and to be roughly where I was expected to be at certain moments.  I might have trodden on a couple of extras, but they forgave me (happily, I'd worked with one of them before, and she must have given me a good report - thanks, Alice :-) ).

When push came to shove, I even got the bloody ballad right.  Not the best singing I've ever done in my life, but the words came out, and I meant them, and - for me at least - they were not overshadowed by a whorehouse in all its glory being rolled out and used to the max behind me...

I ended the evening sweating and triumphant and happy; I am a couple of new friends up from these colleagues, and have gained a world of experience from being allowed onto the stage as an actress (there is an amazing freedom of timing, of improvisation, of expression, to be found.  As an opera singer, my constraints are usually slightly different).

So, still floating on a tide of adrenaline, and happy as a sandlark, and yes (this usually freaks anyone who isn't in The Business out), all that work was just for the one performance.  Still you never know; anyone need a Frau Peachum in the Brecht/Weill "Die Dreigroschenoper"?  Correct pronunciation of "Brecht'scher Verfremdungseffekt" guaranteed ;-)

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

I know, I know.  I do apologise; I have indeed been Missing in Action for FAR too long, and I thank all those who've either called me out on it or wondered whether I was OK or just sent silly jokes!  Trouble is, here in Germany, and in fact pretty much across Europe, once the summer season starts, unless you are singing in something like Bayreuth (oh!  I went to Bayreuth, to hear a friend sing, and it just occurs to me that I failed to report on it - duh!  She was absolutely glorious, I have to report), there's not much to say.  I had all these plans to get a tan by spending all my days lazily lounging by the local (and wonderful) outdoor pool - those got a bit scuppered by the weather.  Which was NOT conducive to outdoor-pool lazing this summer.  There were of course lovely interludes.  Normally I'd take advantage of these by hopping on my bike and dragging my beach mat, bottle of Apfelschorle (apple juice and fizzy water mixture - great until it gets really warm, at which point it really can't be recommended) and book down on to "my private Rhine beach".  (I might have mentioned this one before.  Bit delusional calling it private; it is often also occupied by dogs and children and, erm, the occasional naked man - but it is about two minutes' bike ride from my house and has no facilities, just beach and river and peace.  Except this summer, when the Rhine hasn't budged more than a couple of centimetres from the high-tide mark.  No beach!

So there I am, unable to bask in the sunshine and unable (hopefully temporarily but who knows) to practise at the theatre, as has been my almost-daily habit for the last five years.  In the short term this was due to a failure of the loudspeaker system (therefore no-one could lurk in practice rooms as, in case of fire, it would be impossible to contact them).  What to do?

Well, one solution has been to meddle a little in other possible complementary careers.  Never hurts to branch out a little, maybe? (I do wish, however, that my talents ran to branching out into such artistically-fragile careers as, say, accountancy, or plumbing!).  I am enjoying myself immensely; I knew from the start that I hadn't enough talent as an artist to make it per se.  However, mural artistry is different, and I think I may even become good at it one day.  Definitely not as good as my sister, but then she takes at least 14 hours to paint a lifesize but absolutely perfect anchovy, for example (I know; we worked together, giggling, to "transform" together a downstairs loo for our parents a decade or so ago - huge fun, and a wonderful example of different aspects of talent working together, with her providing every scale and fin of the smallest fish, and me enjoying getting the feeling of the octopus leaping at you from behind the toilet door . . .), but this is fulfilling and enjoyable work which might be fun to incorporate with  my opera career. 

So this is basically an advertisement!!  Should you know of anyone who might be in need of a mural anywhere in Europe, please let me know! 

Obviously, with the proviso that my singing work comes first...

Sunday, 6 April 2014

When I was younger and stricken with near-fatal romanticism, I was hopelessly conflicted as to whether I should be carrying my passport around with me at every moment.  On the one hand, I surely had to be prepared for a tall, dark, handsome stranger to ask me to dine at the Georges V at any moment (I vaguely knew it was in Paris, and even more vaguely realised that it was rather improbable, given that I lived in a small market town in the darker reaches of Humberside, as it was then, but Hope Springs Eternal in the teenage breast...).  On the other hand, I knew with a witchlike certainty that actually having the passport to hand negated any possibility of such a thing happening. 


Anyway, living in Germany, you don't actually have that agonising choice.  You're meant to keep such documentation with you at all times, and therefore I generally stuff my passport into the inner pocket of my current handbag and basically forget it.  (Not without, I will admit, the occasional twinge of superstition that worries lest doing so will forever banish the possibility of the attractive-stranger-whisking-me-across-the-globe-for-lunch scenario.)

On this occasion, I was more than grateful, however.  There follows a cautionary tale...

Well, I was setting off across the country.  A good friend of mine was holding a birthday party, and it seemed a great opportunity to enjoy that and combine it with visiting other friends and a voice lesson or two - perfect!  I'd even managed to find cheap bus tickets there and back (this is all a little new here - Germany only deregulated inter-city bus travel about a year ago).   Long trip, and once we'd passed Frankfurt, well, that was it, we were trapped.

No worries, I thought, I had nothing planned . . .

The first phone call came as we were nearing Frankfurt.  I was tempted to ignore it - I HATE phone calls, especially from unknown numbers, as they do tend to be from affiliates of my phone company offering rubbish.  

I was tired and I could hardly hear her voice, and what's more there might have been a slight foreign accent to her German; I was more snappy than I should have been and frankly had it been me I would have given up on me there and then.

Thank goodness she didn't; I got a call back a little later, and because the air conditioning was a little less fierce, the basic tenor of the conversation got through; would I be able to go and jump in (i.e. sing a role I know, at short notice, in a production I don't know) the next night, in a lovely theatre in Switzerland?  That woke me up!  Naturally, I leapt at the chance.  It was a role still fresh in my memory, and vocally an easy ride, so all the possible scary factors were eliminated, and all I had to do was get there and enjoy it.

Of course, confirmation from the theatre (they had to wait until they heard from their poorly singer, who was at the doctor's) came JUST after we'd set off from Frankfurt and were therefore stuck in a hot tin can on wheels for hours.  Frustrating doesn't even begin to cover it!

Luckily for me, the theatre came up trumps.  Flights were arranged from my destination back to Switzerland (we'd thankfully gone to email by this time, as shouting over the phone was really not ideal - I had to bellow my email address out in front of all the other passengers, so if I get a sudden extra wave of those "Dear Beautiful Lady" messages, I guess I have only myself to blame); accommodation was arranged for me (the taxi driver who delivered me was MEGA impressed that I'd only been found the apartment that day - there was a huge exhibition on, and apparently the entire city had been hoovering their guest rooms and making a fortune renting them out - not a hotel room within miles to be had); everything went amazingly smoothly, albeit with me wandering through the whole process in a dream - totally surreal to be suddenly transported back over your initial starting point to end up in a strange country being treated like royalty...

I loved it.  As it happened, the singer who was ill chose to walk the role, so I didn't even have to go through the rigmarole of being fitted for a costume made for someone a completely different shape; I borrowed a shapeless black nightie sort of dress and sang the role from the side stage.  Met some wonderful people, enjoyed the performance, and even got given loads of Swiss chocolate.

Ergo, it PAYS to keep your passport always to hand!

And then, having been delivered back to where I was originally headed (got to love having friends who, having offered to put you up, are unfazed when you apologise that you're going to be late, and when they ask by how much, you admit, well, two days...), I had a glorious time there too.  A blur of singer friends and learning so much from my teacher; of coffee in hip cafés (I love Mainz but even I have to admit we're a little short on those); of meeting new people and, well, cooking for them; of long walks in the woods as the spring starts to warm up, including the unforgettable sight of a naked man feeding the ducks - I have included a photo thereof below, for those who believe I simply make all this up - those of a sensitive nature should forbear to scroll down; of great nights with friends which lasted longer than they maybe should have (friend with whom I was staying : "So did you get woken up by the dawn chorus again today, Katy?"  Me:  "Erm, no, we got in after it had finished!"); culminating in a fabulous impromptu concert late at night in a kitchen - if anyone is interested in managing a ridiculously-talented couple of musicians with actual catchy melodies, along the pop / good-to-dance-to lines, and sung by a totally unique voice, just get in touch, my finder's fee is totally reasonable...
I am inspired by the randomness of the above!
 PS I do apologise - there's me with several pretty pictures of Switzerland, and THAT'S what I choose to post?  It did amuse me, however.  And don't worry about the bloke in question being shy or reluctant to be photographed - he'd paraded several times past my friend and me before giving up and interacting with a couple of more grateful birds...

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Yesterday I took part in a form of theatre I'd never even considered as such before.  Here in Mainz, the carnival season is taken extremely seriously (it's Fassenacht, and god help you if you refer to it as Karneval or even Fasching!), and nothing more so than the Rosenmontag parade (not quite sure what Rosenmontag translates into in English; technically it means "Rose Monday", and is the day before Shrove Tuesday, but there appears to be no mention of pancakes here - maybe most people are too hungover to contemplate them...).  Anyway, it's the culmination of several days' HARD partying, the parade is hours long, the costumes and transport are meticulously constructed, several along current political themes, others following long tradition, and it's a quite awesome thing to behold, as I am lucky enough to attest from my previous years here.

However this year I had the opportunity to actually march in the parade - and I pounced on the chance.  A once-in-a-lifetime experience, with German friends here asking wonderingly how I'd managed it.  The Tierheim Mainz (the animal shelter here) was for the first time fielding a team, in order to "raise awareness", and supporters were invited to sign up, the costume theme being, naturally, pet animals (which might make their way through the Tierheim at some point).  My friend Nicola and I put our names down straight away - she went for a British Bulldog costume, I for a cat (she favoured patriotism over vanity, I sadly the other way around).

We had to attend some frankly inane and/or crazy meetings in order to qualify, but we stuck it out, and I have to report it was wonderful!

The day itself dawned (in contrast to today and the day before yesterday, both of which were sunny) grey and misty.  And chilly.  Damn.  I'd refashioned a plush fake-fur coat into a tailored shorter version complete with tail (a tail coat, haha), cat ears and paws.  I was hoping for sleek and sexy, but in the event preferred my health to looking slim, and therefore stuffed an extra coat underneath for warmth.  Well, lots of house cats I have met have been comfortably padded, so I reckon it didn't detract too much from the costume...

I set my make-up with powder AND hairspray against the ravages of the weather, and set out in costume, with all my key belongings stashed in a "fanny pack" (sorry Americans, that phrase still makes me giggle like a naughty schoolgirl!) which augmented my tail.  It was early (for carnival) and in hindsight I would have been better trying for a bus, as I ended up with blisters from having been on my feet in unfamiliar boots for such a long time.  That extra three-quarters of an hour, crossing a deserted railway bridge and trudging through a silently expectant city, probably did for my poor toes.  But who cares?  By the time I joined up with the rest of the gang, the excitement was starting to mount.

The weather was strongly reminiscent of various straggling and half-hearted parades I'd taken part in as a child.  Memories of sodden floats and disappointed adults kept drifting in and out of my mind, only to be forcibly ejected by the rousing appearance of a phalanx of burly blokes dressed in orange and black hooped skirts, Venetian masks and mad feathers, marching in as disciplined a manner as soldiers and blowing or beating the heck out of their brass-band instruments.  Any reservations I had had about marching stone-cold sober (we were asked not to bring alcohol on the march as it would invalidate the insurance, and besides, setting off from home just after nine a.m. was definitely too early for me to drink, no matter what the parade-watching protocols might be!) were literally blown away, as I felt my energy ramped up by the tangible excitement all around.  

This was a gathering of carnival clubs whose entire purpose was concentrated into this moment.  They had practised and sewn and hammered and laughed and argued together for the whole year, in order to march proudly out together, showing their city and the world their unity and purpose.  I was uplifted by their excitement, and by the time we set off (at the tail of the nineteenth float, in a procession which started at 11.11 a.m. and continued well into the late afternoon), I was hopping about with anticipation.

Well, from the start it was something special.  From a theatrical point of view (and when can I ever want to escape that?), the experience was immersive.  We were in the middle of a huge potential wave of energy, whose escape relied on us (well, that was at least the way I chose to experience it).  For me, one of the most interesting aspects of the experience was learning to trust my intuition on which segments of the audience would respond best to my yowled HELAU!!! (the carnival greeting here, echoed back and forth, a tangible connection between audience and parade).  Such a fabulous feeling upon seeing a gathering of those who would obviously respond, drawing breath and engaging my breath support (because those HELAUs and the ensuing miaows due to my costume really needed  to be produced in the right manner, or else I would have been voiceless today), and simply calling out in the sure and certain knowledge of a response.  

From the inside, therefore, I was breathing the togetherness of the crowd.  It was different from my usual appearances on stage, in that there was more OBVIOUS energy being passed back to the "performers", but I felt the same way - an exchange of energy was taking place, and it enriched both sides.

There's normally an orchestra pit and an imagined "fourth wall" between me and my audience as an opera singer; yesterday, these disappeared.  I met the eyes of those whom I was stirring up to make noise together, and it was thrilling.  For nearly three hours, I leapt around and played and vocalised, and it was glorious.  And afterwards, the knowledge that people had taken notice of the Tierheim made it even more worthwhile.  

So for once my photo is integrated into the subject of my ramblings.  Here I am mid-yowl, belting out HELAU to the crowds... long live carnival!!!

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Well, that went... somewhat chaotically!!  I have a couple of performances of this role (hopefully more, although given the state of the theatre's finances, not something I am relying upon.

Anyway, I was looking forward to yesterday's first one.  I'd sung most of the rehearsal period, was thrilled to be able to get (mostly) into the same clothes as my colleague who was originally booked for the role (her legs are about double the length of mine and she's tall, slim and beautiful) and knew that if I just barrelled on with a champagne glass in hand, nothing could go wrong.

Which it didn't, it really didn't, until the Act II Finale, when I am meant to be starting my own rather riotous party, in this case being wheeled speedily along by my erstwhile lover in a wheelbarrow, legs up in the air, bottle in hand, whooping.  The idea was that I would end up in a particular place at a particular angle, so that I could step out, in contact with the conductor, and sing the introductory phrases.  

Well, I knew it was always going to be an interesting ride, given this particular colleague, and had come to giggling grief in a couple of rehearsals, but they'd changed the wheelbarrow AGAIN, and somehow my colleague got a little overexcited and managed to tip me out with a resounding thump, face-down on the stage, totally disorientated... it's hard to get the music precisely right when you're laughing so much!

It's also hard to negotiate tricky passages in the role when they are meant to be accompanied by ladies of the chorus, flocking around one's stage lover, being flicked expertly off by either a look or a stage tap on the shoulder.  Not this time.  Oh no.  Whether by accident or design, the first lady I signalled off with an imperious gesture simply stood her ground and stared back at me.  I restrained my immediate impulse to thump her and set about extracting my "lover" by force.  Which, at a point where breathing is at a premium and contact with the conductor essential, DIDN'T HELP.

Nor did hunting haplessly around for the black velvet jacket I had earlier twirled off.  It was meant to be "at the front of the stage, at the side", according to the assistant director's instructions, thrown there by someone from the chorus.  New thing since the dress rehearsal.  Fine.  Except they obviously hadn't thought that if such a garment lands in the wrong place, it's virtually impossible to see...

Ah bliss.  I love the theatre!

PS going for the most inappropriate photo vis-à-vis content ever.  That was the view as I cycled along the Rhine on the day before the performance.  Ghostly in the freezing fog, the as-yet-untrimmed pollarded plane trees seem to melt into the mist...

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Happy New Year!!

What an utterly surreal end to the year!  I have spent the last month or so immersed in Verdi, covering a small role in rehearsal, frantically scrabbling to learn the words whilst actually blocking all the moves (if I didn't say before, I was asked to jump in on the first day of rehearsals...).

Anyway, yesterday was the piano dress rehearsal.  For pretty much the first time, I was watching rather than singing, and I looked forward to seeing everyone in their actual costumes and make-up (and what a luxury, to see it from the auditorium!).

As I rushed into the theatre, people kept popping out of the woodwork, giggling, asking me if I'd seen the colleague who will be singing the role in most performances, and for whom I was covering.

Once I saw her, I understood.  Not only was she, understandably, dressed as I had been for the past month, but the costume designer had evidently got a bit of a thing about my hair.  There it was, in exactly the same mess as I generally pin it up in for rehearsals (the one time I wore it loose, a couple of weeks ago, it got tangled up in the wheel of a wheelbarrow.  Don't ask.).  And there, in all its glory, was my white streak.  Yep, the designer had decided that her idea of Flora now included the Morticia look, and so my colleague had had a fake white stripe stuck into her hair.

Combined with the occasional physical mannerism that I recognised as my own, it was an amazingly surreal experience to, in effect, watch myself on stage (yes, yes, in my dreams - my colleague has endless legs and is taller and slimmer than me, but the general effect was spooky).

Great end to the year, though!  Fabulous music and an unrepeatable experience.

Thank you for reading this, and I wish you a MAGNIFICENT year in 2014!!

Friday, 13 December 2013

What we do as opera singers is judged.  That is, of course, only fair.  People are paying to hear us sing.  Critics rate us, auditions weed us out, we are hired or fired on the basis of our reputations.  What I am concerned with here, though, is the situation where we are being judged on aspects of our performance that are without our control.  It's slightly worrying that there are layers of the opera world which don't seem to realise that as performers in the modern world, we do NOT have total control over what we sing or how we sing it.

There may be a few performers at the peak of our art who have the luxury of choice when it comes to roles, but most of us need to pay the bills and eat and boring stuff like that, and so if a role comes along which is singable and which fits with the rest of what we have going on, mostly we are forced by circumstance to take it. This applies particularly to singers on permanent contract with a theatre - of course, some of the roles they sing are not a perfect fit for them as artists.  However, it was, in many cases, not a choice.  When you're Fest, you often simply sing what's there, provided it doesn't actually harm your voice.  Some roles will fit, others will be taken on unwillingly but as part of the contract.  If you're independent, of course, sometimes you'll take something just in order to eat etc etc, (I would say, maybe this is just me, but, well, it isn't).  And we are judged on our choice of roles.

Within that constraint, there are others.  We are often dressed in clothes which do nothing for our figures.  Ditto make-up.  That's simply the way the opera world works now.  What is less obvious, though, is that we are constrained to accept the concept of the director as regards our character.  This can occasionally be a path to artistic discovery - an angle we may not have thought of ourselves, an overview gathering several conceptual strands together - but it can also bunch us awkwardly into a performance in which we are not intellectually invested.  And we are judged on our acting, and how good we look in our costumes.

You'd think that our voices were at least our own to command.  Not entirely so.  Conductors can - and do - ask for particular effects.  And sometimes it's a question of conform to their demands or leave the production (see comments on needing to eat etc. above).  What critics may decry as lacking sufficient dramatic power may in fact be us trusting the conductor enough to accede to her demands to feel the role lyrically - and what agents may interpret as blindly thundering around may, on the contrary, be our attempt to keep up with the conductor's request to let all our resources loose at a particular moment.  Again.  We are judged on our musical interpretation.

This isn't necessarily personal; I am incensed by how various friends and colleagues of mine have been judged recently by people who really should have known better, on aspects of their performance over which they had little control.

So; a plea to critics of all guises:  we may not be the masters of our own performance in all aspects; if you could please be aware of this, we'd be hellishly grateful.  (Newspaper critics; have you, for example, considered your situation in parallel with ours?  You may have aimed for a Pulitzer-Prize-winning investigative journalism position, but all that was offered was the post of music critic...).

And agents, whom we as artists naturally bow to in the normal order of things, well, there remain those who know what a voice is about, and I am lucky to know and work with a few, but (oh I shouldn't post this), there are those who really haven't a bloody clue about the voice.  

In an ideal world, one in which our artistic choices were our own, I would uphold our duty to be judged on our performances alone.  In this not-so-ideal world we get to live in, however, I'd simply like to ask those who legitimately judge us to take various considerations in mind...


Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Given how much of a cliché it is for opera singers to float around in satin ballgowns, dripping with jewels and made up to the nines, I can't believe that I have never once gone on stage in a fabulous meringue creation!  

So when I was rung up a couple of days ago and asked to leap in as an alternate for a small role in a Verdi opera (pretty urgent as the scheduling difficulties had evidently only come to light on the first day of rehearsal), I immediately accepted, thinking, aha, even in Germany in this day and age, surely this role is a shoo-in for cinched waist and fabulous décolleté (well OK if I'm honest, considerations of it being actual paid work, and keeping myself off the streets, also contributed to some degree to my decision).

So the first thing I did upon arrival at the rehearsal stage this morning was to trot hopefully over to the wall of costume designs.  It was filled with drawings of absolutely gorgeous ball- and evening dresses.  Hooray!!  Pay dirt!!  I eagerly scanned the bottoms of the drawings, where the character names appeared.

Tight black leather trousers and jacket... *sigh*.  I am sure it will look fabulous, but there's my ballroom dreams shattered once again...

Not the only things that were shattered, mind.  I came out of the morning session absolutely in a heap.  Having been laid up with a cold for the last four days, and only getting the score yesterday evening, I wasn't expecting perfection.  However a combination of the increasingly oxygen-free environment (it's never particularly pleasant down there, but when the entire chorus, soloists and production team are working hard, the available breathable air soon appears to vanish), a hot and sweaty rehearsal costume, and - basically - not knowing what the hell I was doing (in terms of character, music, staging - in fact, admit it, the entire bloody opera), took it right out of me.

Still, can't complain.  Great music - and all I have to do is cram it into my reluctant and stuffy brain (note to self: does not work properly in the aftermath of a cold).

Speaking of cold - and this of course is not helping either my voice or my return to full health - this was the view as I cycled in for rehearsal this morning.  No, I didn't mess around with the colour balance - it was minus 4 and everyone was suddenly frozen!

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Well, that was pretty amusing.  I attended a concert of opera scenes yesterday evening, given by the chorus.  Many of them are friends of mine so it was a combination of support for colleagues, curiosity and a free ticket.  Never a bad thing.
Afterwards, I was chatting with a couple of women who eventually asked whether I was a singer too, and if so, was I a member of the chorus?  I said no, I was a soloist, and they asked if they would have seen me in anything.
Turns out they have between them seen just about everything I have done here, but totally failed to believe it was me each time!  (Yes, I *did* check whether they had eyesight problems, to forestall any snark comments...).

Slightly weird being in a profession where one is delighted not to have been recognised!

(They are now both coming to my next performance of Eugene Onegin - which they praised to the skies even before I let on that I was singing in it (thank goodness) as they said they still weren't convinced that I could possibly be the little old lady they remembered...)

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Back in rehearsal, as the weather slithers greyly and inevitably towards winter, for a revival of Mainz's Eugen Onegin, with me gladly resuming my role as the increasingly demented nanny, and one question looms large in my mind;  why the bloody hell did we put so much blasted KNEELING into this part??  Argh.  
I am very nearly there* with regard to my knee, but the act of sinking to my knees and staying there currently makes my body very uneasy, and I don't believe a chorus has EVER lasted as long as the eternal peasanty jubilations in Act I ...

* I hope!  Mind you, I was most chuffed today, having run into (almost literally; I was on my bike and it was raining...) a lovely choreographer I know, who seemed to assume I was built of the same essential stuff as dancers ("Broken knee?  Oh no, no, that won't have stopped you for long...").  I was immensely flattered.  It's not, of course, true - dancers will regularly practise and perform through unbelievable pain levels, and generally only give up on limbs when they actually crunch and fold underneath them...  I am in awe of such bloody-minded and strange creatures.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Auditions have to be the weirdest things out.  They simply do not comply to any rational scheme of things.  Logically, to do ones best, one should be well prepared, calm, decently rested, hydrated, etc etc etc.  That's what we aim for; we book travel so as to arrive in good time, we splash out on hotels when we have no money, in order to sleep well, we determinedly push problems to one side for the duration, in order to keep our minds clear and our focus untainted.

So how on earth could I have arrived at an audition a few days ago utterly ragged with exhaustion (travel plans had, to put it mildly, gone to pot), in anything but a calm and focused state of mind, only to somehow take a breath and surpass all that for the duration of the audition?  I even walked in apologising for squelching (there had been a bit of a plumbing failure in the corridor; my audition shoes are actually dance shoes, as they are light and flexible; fabulous for bunging in ones case, but slightly less wonderful when soggy, due to their suede soles...).

It doesn't work when the panic of other circumstances is deliberately induced (please don't ask me how I know this), but sometimes the hysteria of adverse circumstances allows one to slip into an attitude of devil-may-care (or MoFo, as expounded brilliantly years ago by a tenor friend of mine whose fascinating blog is a must-read for anyone in the opera industry), which turns incipient nerves into amusing passing thoughts, and lets the voice rip out unhindered by overthinking.

I have no idea yet whether I got the job, but I at least achieved my audition aim, which is basically to sing as well as I can on any given day; if I don't get the role, well it's not because I let myself down in my performance on that occasion.  They simply wanted something else...

Wednesday, 9 October 2013


This is probably even more off-topic than usual (although that appears to be pretty normal with me - staying ON topic - whatever that is - would be fairly ground-breaking!). 

However, tonight I was attempting a self-portrait for the first time in decades.  I was facetiously challenged by my mother to do so, and, inspired by posing for a drawing class over the summer, out came the pencils and, squinting and smudging, I had a bash.

It's not particularly good.  Fair enough; that wasn't the point.  I can try again, and fail better, as it were.  That which I have stuck up here is not even half way to where I eventually decided I should abandon this particular Gorgon Medusa incarnation.  

What gave me pause, just before this point, was the ghostly appearance, in my mind, of my long-lost auntie Jackie.  I haven't seen her in decades; none of the family has (to my knowledge).  In studying my own face in order to try and transfer it to paper, however, hers came vividly to life in my imagination.  She was puffing away on a roll-up and her voice was tired and cynical whilst explaining marvels and she had an illicit dog under her arm and it occurred to me with a physical shock that she would have been of a similar age to me when I last saw her.  

I couldn't tell you precisely what it was that conjured that particular ghost.  Probably a line, an angle, a shading, rather than a definite feature; but, goodness, it had quite the effect of Proust's madeleines upon me.  I'm used to spotting transformed bits of me in the next generation, but for an older relative to come visiting through the medium of a bit of scribbling - well, it quite sent shivers down my spine.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Unexpected side effect of this damned knee injury:  my buttocks have declared war on me!  Yes, those poor overworked bunches of muscle, to which I had frankly never paid that much attention, have decided that they would be far better off without the rest of me and are threatening to secede.  The way they are feeling at the moment, I am inclined to let them...

First it was the right buttock, taking ALL the strain when I was oiking myself around on two crutches.  When there can be no weight at all on the left leg, there's only one possible pivot when heaving oneself to a standing position or trying to sit without crashing inelegantly and painfully back into sitting.  One side which has to take all the strain when standing, and, naturally, one buttock which bravely bore all the strain for about three days before protesting in the strongest possible terms against this unfair distribution of labour.  I apologised profusely but the resulting sulk built to epic proportions.

Then there was the left buttock.  After weeks of inactivity, it was finally forced to do its bit as I abandoned the crutches and attempted, hampered only slightly by the fabulously cyborg-like knee brace, to walk without a limp.  All that time listing desperately to one side really takes its toll on the musculature, and it requires conscious effort at all times to pull errant limbs into place (whilst attempting to avoid bashing the right inner knee with the brace, which totally spoils the effect, what with all the swearing and stuff).  And the cramps and aches as the left buttock finally had to pull its weight, after so much time out... well, let's just say, I had to have severe words with it.  Turning the other cheek is not all it's cracked up to be (erm, so to speak!).

And finally, now that I am back on my beloved bike (oh, the freedom!  The wind in my hair - OK a lot of it actually blowing sideways, it having turned rather viciously into autumn, rather than streaming through my flowing locks, but you get the idea; the sun on my face - yes, yes, mixed with a bit of rain, but I MISSED being mobile so much!), both aspects of my gluteus maximus are up in arms (wait; very dodgy figure of speech there; sorry).  The knee itself is quietly doing its stuff while I am cycling, humbly aware of the trouble it has caused and trying wholeheartedly to improve.  But ohhhhhh the pain in the backside that comes from renewed acquaintance with the saddle!

On a serious note, I am however all too aware that all of this shrinks into insignificance compared to the health problems of others.  A wonderful friend, one of my sources of true inspiration in overcoming whatever obstacles life chooses to throw in one's direction has again been clobbered without cause by the universe, and this time, despite all her courage, strength, and relentlessly dangerous sense of humour, could probably do with all the positive thoughts there could be.  So if anyone has time to send good wishes speeding towards the Blue Mountains in Australia in this coming week, please do so!  Get well soon, Carol x

Friday, 6 September 2013

Goodness, it's awkward trying to gauge the correct outfit to wear to a première in which I was meant to be performing but which, due to the slightly-mangled-knee situation, I am going to be supporting as a member of the public.  Worrying about dress is definitely not one of my usual preoccupations, especially when it comes to premières - I absolutely adore dressing up (one of my small sadnesses is the prevalence of modern-dress productions - I *like* wearing massive flouncy skirts and rivers of diamonds and breathtaking headdresses).  I am well aware that in this city of dressing-down and sartorial restraint (I'm being nice here.  There is a culture of jeans and T-shirts, which changes to jeans and jumpers when the weather closes in; wearing dangly earrings is often interpreted as going a bit over the top...) I stand out like a sore thumb at times, but heck, I'm used to it and it amuses me, so why not?

Well, this evening I really don't want to overdo it; I am there to support my colleagues rather than to glitter away happily, and I definitely have no wish to overshadow anyone.  I was thinking something classy yet elegant, then, and combing my wardrobe for something which might fit the bill.  I do have a few bits and bobs which come under relatively restrained, mainly generic little black dresses which I use for auditions, being absolutely the only singer I know who actually has to dress down for audition; however all of these, upon closer inspection, tend to leave my left leg far too exposed.  I have graduated to walking slowly with a knee brace, and have recently been brave enough to abandon the crutches, but I really don't wish to present a picture of ill health to the Powers What Be at the theatre, so the brace, in all its dalek-like glory, really needs to be covered up.

Longer skirt then - shouldn't be a problem for me as that's my standard attire.  Longer skirt without holes gnawed through by oily bicycle chains and aiming for something like elegance?  Hmm.  Bit more difficult, that.  Eventually I settled on one which matches well with a beautifully fitted little velvet jacket.  Ha, I thought.  Sorted!

And now the weather has stumped me with a last-minute reversion to high summer.  Last night it was nearly 30° until well past eleven p.m., and today is just as hot.  However elegant, a velvet jacket in a packed auditorium might just be pushing it in temperatures where a swimming costume would be more comfortable.  Damn - back to the drawing board!


Today's random picture was taken on a very overcast day last weekend at the Botanical Gardens.  The sky was so depressingly grey behind the last sunflower standing that I couldn't resist taking it out completely and tweaking the colours to make everything just that bit more cheerful.  I hope it raises a smile!

Saturday, 31 August 2013

Apologies for the long hiatus.  I would love to report that I have been lazing on tropical islands, exploring long-lost cities in the jungle, wrestling alligators, overthrowing governments or pottering aimlessly along the Rhine; in fact I have been out of action due to a fractured knee.  First I came off my bike in order to avoid a small child in the road; then (evidently to make sure the knee was properly wrecked), I slithered and crashed on a suddenly-wet pavement, despite flat shoes (SO not me) and a crutch due to the earlier injury.

We shall pass quickly over the painful and inelegant stage immediately following the second splat (it involved ambulances, hospitalisation, more crutches - I stuck diamante on those, mind, just to give them a bit of je ne sais quoi, sad little changes of plan, helplessness and quite a bit of humiliation, including but not limited to being shoveled around in a wheelchair and crawling carefully up and down stairs on my bottom...).  Suffice it to say that I am at present in the totally frustrating state of being written off sick until the end of September, without a firm date upon which I shall be back to normal (apparently this is par for the course with knees, which are capricious things, but is not the easiest thing to convey to the Powers What Be at the theatre), and forced thereby to miss the première of Mefistofele, with my tigerlike role involving leaping around in vertiginous stilettos having been reluctantly handed over to another singer. Damn it.

I am very aware that Joyce di Donato went on as Rosina with a fractured leg, in a wheelchair - and I would have loved to work around this in a similar fashion - but she was the Star, and I am just a jobbing singer, and besides, the director's concept includes half the chorus dressing in identical costumes later in the opera, complete with silly shoes, all of which had already been bought and rehearsed in.  It just wasn't possible this time.

Not an awful lot more to say (for once, huh?).  Onwards and upwards, with a slight lean to one side and a state-of-the-art personalised knee brace providing that little extra something...  Come on, femur, you can do it.

I would be grateful, however, if in future, people could refrain from wishing me out on to stage with a hearty "break a leg!"...

Thursday, 27 June 2013

So where did *this* damn bruise come from?

One of the most intriguing aspects of rehearsals has to be the appearance of totally inexplicable bruises and scrapes.  I was going to say "unexpected appearance", but after a few productions I've come to expect them.  I dare say that in the days when we just got happy and fat (if there were any such), lumbered on stage and sang looking up to the audience from the sweet point on the stage, this wasn't the case, but nowadays... oh yeah. 

I approached the rehearsal stage rather carefully today, having managed to hurl myself rather spectacularly from my bike a couple of days ago.  (Nothing serious; skinned knee and elbow.  Can't imagine how I have got away unscathed in four years of cycling here previously, especially given the prevalence of lightning-quick toddlers darting through parked cars.)

Anyway, scraped knees and elbows are pretty much par for the course, given that cycling has been my chosen mode of transport for more than four years now.  However, looking them over, it was rather amusing how many other unnoticed bashes and scrapes they joined and blended into happily on a social level. 

I mean, seriously, how on EARTH did I get a dark-blue double-centred bruise on my upper thigh in the last couple of days??  There's no way any of the action in the opera I'm rehearsing (usually the culprit) or anything that's running is to blame.  

Just has to be the rehearsal genie to blame.   Not going to go there as concerns howling with laughter and throwing oneself all over the stage at the slightest opportunity.  Absolutely nothing to do with this particular topic.


And that's all I have to say . . .

Thursday, 20 June 2013

And it starts again... god, I LOVE the rehearsal period!  Today I spent quite a bit of time lying on my back in a box, with the lid inches from my nose, sweating like I never have before (cycling home yesterday evening, I passed a time/temperature display hanging outside a chemist's.  22:57 / 33°C, and so humid I couldn't apply make-up this morning because I was shimmering with sweat even before breakfast time...). 

First blood was drawn, I think on a spar of wood I misjudged slightly.  Only a rap to the knee, didn't even notice until someone pointed out I was bleeding onto the floor.  (Quite impressed with myself.  Never before managed to draw blood on the first day of rehearsal.)

My rehearsal costume drew wolf whistles; my favourite comment was a dry "Kein' Oma mehr, gell?" (Not a granny any more, huh?) - that much, it has to be said, is true.  Another small role, but oh what fun to be had with it.  The skimpiness of the dress and the height of the (vertiginous) platform stilettos stem from the character being seen as basically created following a man's wishlist... after the battering my ego took as a disabled old woman, it is going to be HUGE fun to be (for ONCE!) the saucy turn in an opera not distinguished by its comedy (the role is Marta, in Boïto's Mefistofele.  No, you won't have heard of it...)

My back aches already from hurtling around on the stage in those bloody shoes (the director asked me to run quicker one too many times; for information, snarling the equivalent of "You put them on, Sonny Jim, and THEN tell me to go faster" is not terribly effective with directors with a great sense of humour - they just laugh . . .).  I'm missing the communal theatre outing tomorrow due to agreeing to rehearse for the director's sake.  My feet hurt too.   Rehearsal clothes often smell.  There was NO air in the rehearsal stage.  Etc etc etc.

And yet, THIS is where I live, and this is where I come alive!  Line up a fabulous director, brimming with ideas and energy, and wonderful colleagues across the board, from new and interesting to old friends whom one can be horribly rude to at will . . .   Ah yes. I am very much looking forward to this fascinating process once again!

Monday, 10 June 2013

Argh.  Could there possibly be anything more irritating, in this land of order and regularity, than the ungrounded late-night bus timetable wibble?  All day, every day, the bus leaves that particular stop at seven minutes past the hour.  Sometimes there is another bus in between; during peak hours, maybe even two.  However, regularly at seven minutes past the hour, comes the bus.  My brain is pretty good at patterns, and that one had sunk in.  So after a première (good) and the party thereafter (managed to resist dancing competitions with the dancers, which is A Good Thing, and even held back from too much madness on the dance floor as I had forgotten to bring alternative (flatter; premières mean networking, which means showing  the best ankle you can... dancing in suitable première shoes can be quite literally crippling) shoes), I sauntered down to the bus stop (I normally cycle everywhere, but knew I'd have a couple of glasses of wine this evening so opted for public transport). Arrived smugly at three minutes past midnight.

Only to spot the blasted bus pulling away from the stop.

Closer inspection showed that - for absolutely NO reason that I can see - the bus just past midnight leaves at two minutes past the hour.  And the next one, at fifteen minutes past one.  Much gnashing of teeth!! I can see NO reason for these irregularities apart from sheer joy at disrupting passengers' journeys.  

I walked. Warmer evenings mean the scent of acacia blossom still hangs in the air, and with such an accompaniment, even stomping home annoyed in high stilettos is a pleasure - but still - irritating!

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Anxiety Dreams . . .

We all get these of course.  Our subconscious simply tailors them to our particular requirements.  I find them occasionally useful yet often - as at present - baroquely absurd.  I have been having ridiculously vivid dreams for the past few weeks - possibly something to do with the weather, as spring has definitively not yet sprung here on the banks of the Rhine - grey, louring clouds have been an enduring feature, along with rain and unseasonal chilliness (I had to turn the heating on this morning.  It's nearly June, for goodness' sake!).  The sun has been notable by its absence.  And such weather gives me headaches, which make me ratty and irritable, and the constant feeling that my brain is being squished from above, forcing my eyeballs to bug out in a cartoonish fashion from the pressure.  

The simple ones, shared by most if not all performers, are those where you step out on to stage, only to discover they changed the opera/play/symphony without telling you; you often have to improvise madly despite desperately insisting you weren't told and have never sung/acted/played this piece).  That's enough to make you wake up sweating.  And a nice - if pretty unsubtle -  reminder from the brain to put in more practice, make sure the piece you're working on is learned as thoroughly as humanly possible, and then a bit more for the road.  Fair enough.  I've learned to either take note and step up my game, or ignore with dignity, as required.

Slightly more rococo variations are endless - different settings, clothing, audience etc etc.  This morning's was one of those.  I'd (in real life) been to a "Fiesta" I'd helped to organise; with a Spanish theme, we were trying to welcome in the summer.  Given the weather, however, we'd been forced to set up a couple of fires (it was a garden party), and despite my best attempts, the firewood was not bone-dry (ha ha, given the recent rain and humidity) and there was a thick pall of smoke and ashes adding "atmosphere"...  However much one tried to circle round to avoid this, the changing wind directions made it impossible, and even though I tried to compensate by drinking as much (non-alcoholic) liquid as possible, it was perfectly rational of my brain to worry about the condition of my voice before the performance tonight.  Fine.  Thanks, brain.  But did you have to translate that into my voice becoming a froglike croak that embarrassed me so much I failed to sing any of my lines, and instead cawed along ruining everyone else's lines?  And somehow I'd forgotten about getting dressed, and upon discovering this before my first entrance, decided that I'd go on naked, as this would distract from my lack of voice.  That apparently not being enough, my brain decided that I would now sing my role hanging awkwardly from a splintery wooden frame, which I proceeded to do whilst anxiously squashing down bits which might suggest I was not the old woman I was meant to be portraying...  

The worst however appeared out of nowhere a couple of days ago.  I smashed into that particular dream having just murdered one of my best friends (she has in real life escaped back to Canada, and I can report very thankfully that she is still alive and kicking).  I have no idea *why* I'd killed her - even my feverish brain apparently couldn't think up an adequate reason for that - but I now had to somehow wrap her up and hide the body, and was consumed in the hunt for proper wrapping materials and tape, and proceeded in jerky, interrupted scenes, to dispose of her, with many scenes reminiscent of something out of Laurel and Hardy (feet falling out of a cupboard, tape unwinding, the body slipping inexorably down a chute into view) but desperately unfunny and heart-stopping at the time.  As light relief, these gruesome scenes were spliced with some sort of concert in a HUGE arena, where I variously heard the introductory chords to my aria but couldn't find the stage, started to sing but provoked a mass exodus from the crowd, and came on to find a tenor singing my aria instead, because I had been late arriving - at which point my dream self, enraged, stood behind the poor man and simply roared louder than him.  Oh dear!!

Really, dear subonscious, I don't need this.  My current roles are well learned, and the one I have coming up is (a) small and technically uncomplicated and (b) not yet required to be off copy.  I thank you from the bottom of my heart for caring enough to warn me, and to provide embellishments which evidently amuse your creative impulses, but... enough, please!

Monday, 22 April 2013

So, once more to the ballet.  And to a real appreciation of the other arts and how they focus the mind on aspects of one's own craft which might need more work.  I watched a light descend dramatically low into a stage full of dancers at one point, and thought, gawd, had those been opera singers, two minutes would have sufficed for *someone* to have failed to heed any of the thousand warnings from stage management and been carted off to hospital with a bleeding forehead...

I know I've said it before, but they are so physically AWARE - of course the athleticism and the flexibility is amazingly impressive, but, well, I can't hope to achieve that (it's useful, though, as a comparison for those members of the lay public who believe that "anyone can sing" . . .  yep, most of us can howl happily through a tune in the shower - but those who power through an evening of opera on stage are to the shower-singing what ballet dancers are to those who happily tread all over their partner's feet after a couple of beers in the pub . . .).  The physical hangover of a good evening at the ballet is, for me, at least a couple of days of finding myself balancing on one foot whilst trying to extend the other gracefully (thank goodness for yoga in this respect.  Most of the time, I don't actually fall over.)

Thank you to my dance colleagues who gave so much tonight (whilst I am very aware that what we as opera singers do is generally no picnic in the park, we very seldom sweat so hard that a sudden turn will send an arc of sweat droplets flying from our foreheads and catching the stage lights.  That's, like, proper physical work.)

And then I get to cycle back home past the above panorama.   Yep, my life is good!

Friday, 12 April 2013

Well, yep.  Sometimes a day doesn't turn out quite how you expected.  I was singing the modern (Henze) role again this evening, my first outing as the Kurfürstin for... argh, nearly three months!! At times the system here feels absolutely crazy - six weeks of intensive rehearsals, then the premiere, a second performance a few days later - then a seemingly totally random series of dates, often separated by ridiculous blocks of time.  In this case it was made worse in that I started off being a rehearsal cover, then jumped in for the second performance, and then today's was a scheduled performance in my own right.  Still, as I said.  Nearly three months separated the last time I sang this from today.

So, reasonably enough, I was a little nervous about how this evening would go.  I had time to prepare and had sung through the role a few times, and had even got as far as watching the DVD twice (at least the dress rehearsal is recorded here, just for internal use, so that, should any roles need to be sung by someone jumping in at the last minute, they can see what they're meant to do when.  This probably works better when you are totally focused on your character because, for example, you have to sing it in a few hours and haven't a clue what the production is like;  I found my attention wandering horribly because I kept seeing bits I hadn't really seen from the front before and forgetting to watch my character closely.)

Which meant that I bowled up to the evening not 100% certain of being in charge of myself.  I was lucky enough to have had a refresher rehearsal earlier in the day, with others in  the cast, but still... for me, a lot of the memory problems in this piece are to do with counting rather than words or notes - I don't see WHY I should hold this particular note for four bars or six or whatever, so I have to remember to count them off rather than FEEL them,  Which, for me, is something that doesn't necessarily come naturally (yes, I know.  Those who know me personally will be laughing their heads off about that.  In other walks of life I have been known to be an OCD mathematical perfectionist.  Just not in singing mode!!).  And my brain "helped" by for insane little reasons of its own going through Act III of Tosca note by note, chord by chord.  Thank you, brain.  NOT.

So as the curtain went up I was having to breathe in a mindful manner in order not to panic.  

And then all the learning I'd so conscientiously gone through kicked in, and I SAW the pages in front of me, and I loved the prompter for saying what I knew came next but just reassured me I was in the right place...

Yep.  One of those evenings where everything comes together, and everyone grins at each other afterwards.  One of those.  I'm SO privileged to find myself in the middle of even one of those in my life.