Friday, June 29, 2012

Truth in text form

I got a text from a friend tonight... she's singing with Santa Fe Opera this summer...swam in the pool yesterday with Luca know how we do...

"Maybe you thought it HAD to be a struggle or it wasn't right.  Too easy never seems right."

Alas, too easy in my case appears to be right.  Hello Konstanze.

Also, additional quote from dear voice teacher:  "When something is right it just goes."

My new motto: Keep it simple, stupid.

It's Friday!

I'm looking forward to a weekend complete with lots of practicing and walks and going to the pool.  I had hoped it would also include this adorable shoulder bag I bid on on ebay, but someone outbid me and won the auction this morning while I was in the shower.  So sad.  Ahh...these are real first world problems.  :)

I've been working on this insane Bach aria lately, who is really quite a bitch, but I love her.  The twists and turns, and the lack of breathing time!  What was this man thinking??? But it is soooo good.

It's like I am in a twists and turns phase, because Violetta is another current victim-- first act, of course.  I am learning so much about the role by listening to very old recordings of sopranos singing the scena.  I am starting to think I really only want to listen to Joyce and Diana from these days.  And Angela Meade.  And the odd Netrebko moment.  Oh, and Mariella Devia!!!! But really just them.  If I find any others, I'll let you know.  :) But from the old days, obvs, Beverly, Joan, Anna, Maria, Eileen Farrell, the odd Leontyne, and when I am feeling like a mezzo, Regina Resnick.  Oh, and how could I forget Kiri...but she is not really an old timer.

Who are your favorite old time singers?  Have I missed any of the major soprano players?

Happy weekend.  And do me a favor and take out something totally inappropriate for you that you adore and just sing through it.  Experimenting is so much fun, and singing IS supposed to be fun.

Who knows, maybe someday you really will get hired to sing it!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Mid-Week List of Great Things

1. Anna Moffo: need I say more
2. Guacamole: again, need I say more
3. Taking long walks around B-more with Joe
4. The pool
5. Tomatoes
6. Long dresses you can wear to work but still feel like you're wearing your nightgown
7. This weather: amazing, fantastic, reminds me it is good to be alive (although I am not opposed to rainy days either!)
8. Montana Sweet Pea
9. High notes
10. This

Words for Wednesday

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


I've been looking forward to going to the grocery store all day.  That means I am bored. 

But also, I'm excited to cook again-- it's been a while!  Also-- we need flowers in the house...I am able to be cheerier when they are within view. 

I started working on Juliette's other aria and some Violetta today.  This, I can tell you for absolutely certain, is a way to spend your practice time that does not suck. 

Also, THIS BLOG!! Hilar!

Monday, June 25, 2012


I think I am probably the luckiest person alive to have auditioned for the program I participated in last week practically by accident.  Then to have gotten in and been able to GO!   I view it as affirmation that the universe is indeed working all the time to bring us the things of which we dream of and for which we work.

It was so hard to leave.  I cried.  Isn't that embarrassing?

First of all, I have never seen a group of singers all get along so well.  There was no conflict and only brief moments of tension.  Everyone was consistently supportive of each other, and because we expected great things from each of our fellow singers, I watched many, many great moments happen.  Onstage, at dinner, in coachings, in lessons.  You might find it cheesy to read that I truly felt like I was surrounded by love the whole time I was there, and the effect was transformative.

No, we were not going around hugging each other and singing kum ba ya.  It was just that every single person was profoundly obsessed with singing, singers, opera, and the stage in general.  How exhilarating to never have to feel bad if all I wanted to talk about was the subtle differences between the full lyric coloratura and dramatic coloratura rep.  Or the advantages of the Countess singing the top line in ensembles instead of Susanna.  Or whatever!

Among the great people I met was the lovely Kim, a mezzo with a gorgeous dark voice, who sang Olga's aria in the final concert, and writes a great blog dedicated to helping our generation see opera in a new way.  It's in my link list, but check out Opera Rocks! I'm excited to follow her on her journey as she goes to Bard to study with Dawn Upshaw this semester!

I'm happy to be home, because I have all my scores and can start learning MUSIC! 

ALSO: if anyone is interested in the program I went to, please feel free to email me! I'll be happy to tell you about it. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Put me in, Coach

I think I'm kind of ready... I'm getting there.  After today's coaching, I am exhausted and brain dead, which means I got a lot done, but does not bode well for me in the upcoming fortnight of four coachings/lessons a day.

Nonetheless, it's going to be soooo good for me.  I bought a fancy recording device to take along, especially for when I sing with the orchestra.

I did my binders-- one for pianist, one for masterclass teacher, and score for me.  All my tabs are in there and organized, and I am happy to have that done.

Now to find an effective way to pack one hundred seventeen dresses and endless pairs of shoes.

But somehow all I can bring myself to do is Pinterest.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


I am so happy it's raining!  My car was simply covered in pollen and I haven't had a chance to wash it...
I kept wondering why I kept arriving at my coachings with allergy-like symptoms.  :)

All singers know this feeling: walking down the street singing that one part of that aria to yourself over and over, using your footsteps as a metronome, determined to memorize it if it kills you.  And it just might.  I am in memorization overload.  Ahhh!

Friday, June 08, 2012

What does "easy" really mean?

I have spent most of my vocal career being cautioned to avoid that which is vocally uncomfortable.  Good advice, in some ways, and especially if you are a very young singer and do not yet understand your musculature and the whole structure of the voice enough to be able to protect yourself.  And because I am a person who will practice myself into the ground doing an exercise if a teacher tells me is good for me, I can understand why everyone would have wanted to keep me from doing myself  harm. I actually practiced myself into some major clinically diagnosed vocal fatigue my first year of grad school-- so I think I was on the crazy grad student watch list from then on.  But in typical Jessica style, I may have taken the advice to "take it easy" a little too far.

As I look at new audition arias, I've noticed that one of my few criteria for choosing them seems to have been: does it not stress me out too much?  Is it relatively easy for me?  Are there few vocal challenges?


What in heaven's name ever gave the me the notion that singing was supposed to be easy all the time?  I guess when I was singing off my voice, singing was easy, and sounded rather easy, I suppose, to the listener.  But it was missing the vital component of resonance, so I might as well have been using a microphone, which is missing the whole point, really.  It's amazing how many singers can get away with this-- some can sing off their voices and really be relatively loud, because of the shape of their faces, resonating cavities, all that stuff.  But they will never know the depth and width of the sound of which they are capable, using what is essentially falsetto all the time.  I think the memo I missed was that my tone should (ultimately, when I am finished...imagine that) SOUND easy to the people listening.  Nothing will hurt (yay), but it will never be "easy" to sing in an athletic manner and project over an orchestra!

With this thought in mind, I am more willing to commit to the idea that a chosen audition aria need not be instantly a breeze to sing.  Mimi is very much like that for me-- easy to sing, and therefore I assumed it "was right for me."  And indeed, I can sing it, but I have come to the conclusion that it does not really showcase what is best about my voice!  What is best about my voice requires real work to refine.  Of course Joan Sutherland could have sung Mimi-- it would have been a walk in the park for her to hit the notes and do the role, but who would ever want to hear her do that piece when her other vocal assets could be better shown off as Lucia?  Much like Mi Tradi, it may take weeks of intense practice to get the muscles to remember what to properly do.  But oh how much I felt I grew through that experience!

For me, Bach is like falling off a log in terms of my voice-- it sings itself.  But it is the musical and rhythmic aspect that is so challenging for me, also the breathing part.  You never have a chance to get a GOOD breath!!  Musically, I have no trouble catching onto Mozart, and you get tons of chances to breathe, but vocally, technically, it takes conscious work.  That does not mean that it isn't going to work for me as an audition piece.  I never thought I would be able to sing things I am singing now-- but it has been so much work.  But I am proudest of myself when I can say that at the end of a long process, I have accomplished what I set out to accomplish.  Things that come easily never result in that kind of satisfaction.


Thursday, June 07, 2012


I love this excerpt from one of my favorite blogs, Kashu-Do: The Way of the Singer (read the whole post here):

"I look at the great Nina Stemme as a model of the modern Diva. Her speaking voice leaves no doubt that she is possessed of a substantial instrument, but she is the most down-to-earth, friendly, unpretentious opera singer I have had the pleasure to encounter lately. What makes a great operatic personality, indeed a charismatic personality in any field, is the ability to inhabit one's true frame--one's complete physical volume, including the power of the complete voice, whether soft or loud. To put on a grand personality is a poor attempt at compensating for a reduction in the true self. When one opens himself/herself totally, there is no need to "put on" grandeur. One is then simply "grand"! 

One of the biggest obstacles therefore is simply recognizing the grandeur in ourselves--not in an egocentric way but rather in a self-fulfilling manner. A society bent on conformity, the need to fit in, suppresses true individuality simply by definition. We artists have a responsibility to be models of individuality since our job depends on it. We are not going to be hired to be the poor copy of a great predecessor but by achieving the uniqueness of our complete selves. As opera singers, this means inhabiting our true voices."

So true.  Great inspiration for Thursday!

Wednesday, June 06, 2012


This morning's walk to work included two fun songs--
Secrets by OneRepublic and The Power is On by The Go! Team.  Add them to your green room/hallway of Nola Studios playlist.  They're so uplifting.

I had a coaching yesterday on a bitch of an aria-- "Amour ranime mon courage" from Roméo et Juliette.
It receives this distinction not because it is really challenging vocally, but because it has this accompanied recitative that requires being really secure rhythmically and with the text, and I am having to work harder than I am used to to get it to not be a hot mess.  Oh hard work and metronome.  Hello again.

While I consider Juliette to really be a lyric role, it has enough florid and high singing to make it feel like my first real venture back into what I am calling Coloratura Land.  Not this aria, really, but certainly the other one.  And I've always felt that you have to check out the whole role before you can really put an aria into your package-- only if it's all something you could do well should you touch it.  I've always wanted to sing "Du bist der Lenz"  but I really don't see it happening based on the rest of the role. :)  Unless I was being accompanied by toy piano.

Yesterday my voice felt so thick and tired, and so instead of practicing-- I made wontons.  I made a ton of them, we had wonton soup for dinner and I froze the rest.  It made me feel so good.  I don't know why.  I think because of some of the less fantastic aspects of my past, I really feel best when there is lots of food in the house.  Having a full refrigerator and freezer make me less stressed, so knowing there are delicious pork wontons ready to defrost is oddly comforting.  Another fun fact about me.  Oh my.

Also, I was thinking a lot about the whole true voice thing yesterday while making wontons.  Repetitive motions like folding wontons gives you time to think.  Another reason I probably loved it so much.  Anyway, I have found that as I embrace and give way to my own true sound, I am becoming way less judgmental of other people's.  I think that within the operatic genre, it is becoming easier for me to recognize those who have it and those who don't, so in that sense, I long for real resonance when I hear singers rather than precious musicianship (that which I find is mostly fostered in conservatories and universities, when there is so little time to nurture true technical proficiency, and the focus is on the recital, or the "product.").  But more and more I find myself appreciating vocal honesty in other genres-- jazz, broadway, country, hip hop.  I am less likely to think of those folks as untrained, undisciplined singers (which sounds so snobby and is embarrassing to admit), and more like people who are using their true voices in a very different way.  The difference is amplification, really, when it comes down to it.

Any way-- I better get back to work.

Oh, and check out my latest style inspiration-- The Kate Middleton LookBook!

Monday, June 04, 2012

Good things

This past week has been simply full of great things.  

I am practicing like a maniac to get ready for opera camp, and learn and memorize three new arias…waiting on a score for the fourth…*bites nails…*  But in the meantime it seems I have a couple of new performances on my schedule for the year, and I am getting very excited about the music—some chamber music and oratorio, and indeed, another new opera.   It is hard not to work on it before opera camp even though I want to so much, but I must get my priorities in order.  J

After having way too good a time with Mr. S last week, I have learned the old lesson again: It is really best to stop after three vodka sodas.  Or else you are cruising for a bruising of epic proportions, resulting in the next day dawning as quite the hairy disaster.  The following night I stayed home and made raviolis out of wonton wrappers (so good! Thank you, Pioneer Woman! ) and sauced them with Marcella Hazan’s fantastic tomato sauce recipe, then we waited for a break in the tornado that was happening outside and ran across the neighborhood to hear a performance of new music featuring a former student.  I am so proud that she has chosen to follow her heart and do something truly new and different with her life.  It takes courage to do what she is doing. 

It was great to go to yoga again, and get my practice restarted after lots of time off.  I’m back there again tonight—I’ve lost a little ground after all the vacationing and wining and dining with the whole weight loss thing, so I’m back on the wagon.   It’s not really that much fun, but I have to do it.  It was probably a mistake to weigh myself this morning after some wonderful dinners out and lots of cocktails with great friends, but hey.  I have to start again somewhere.

Sunday afternoon, we went to a concert with a couple of Bach cantatas and an African American children’s choir—it was a collection of performances that seem rather unrelated, but the sum of which just one hundred percent melted my heart.  First of all, I have always felt like Bach is really best in live performance, because somehow, even on good recordings, it loses some of its sparkle and warmth.  In person, in a beautiful church, it is electrifying.  With the first strains of the orchestra, I can’t help but smile—it’s just pure joy-- and my heart feels lighter.   THEN, then!!  the choir of children singing on the second half, perfectly in tune, with such expressiveness-- it made me have to keep myself from downright sobbing, right there in the pew.  It was so completely moving—to hear something so real and honest, nothing manufactured, nothing manipulated—it is a rare thing indeed.  No one had told them that the way they naturally sing was wrong—they sang with a huge sound, some would call it “at the top of their lungs” for several pieces (appropriate dynamics for tender moments notwithstanding), and yet, at the end, I bet none of them were hoarse or tired.  The sound itself was raw, the performance was refined in its quality of musicality. It was the most inspiring experience for me as I continue my quest to get back to my true voice.  I won’t forget yesterday afternoon for a long time.