28 June 2011

An outside post and a song to start off the day

Two short things this morn: 1) I wrote a guest post on my mother's blog about the experience of being in a startup music program.

2) I can't help dancing when this song begins to play - it's certainly a good way to wake up a body that's still tired from the previous night's rehearsal. Dear readers, do you listen to music when you get ready in the morning? What do you choose?

27 June 2011

Language in two masterclasses

The masterclasses keep coming! This week we had two additional classes, each dealing with text and language.

On Thursday, Erie Mills gave class at Old First Church to some of our Little Women cast members with a focus on [American] English diction and, more accurately, phrasing. Far from spending hours nitpicking at vowels and consonants, she urged the performers to sing their text, not as a series of syllables, but as full phrases, concentrating on prosody. This is the same work that we must do in a general musical sense: seeing beyond the collection of individual notes to the phrases they make up. The former instance turns syllables into sentences; the latter pitches into melodies. In both cases, the result is actual meaning.

Looking for fluidity and strength.

Her insistence that the singers approach their pieces naturally and organically extended to the technical issues she addressed as well. Mills urged them to use their entire bodies to support their sound, thinking of a breath's trajectory as going beyond just mouth to lungs and back. Her approach was both energetic and relaxed as she reminded the performers to pace themselves and not to attempt super-human feats: "Remember you love to sing." "Human beings breathe. It's okay."

This emphasis on "humanness" in singing is one I take fully to heart. Yes, we are training ourselves to do extraordinary things with a body part that most people take for granted. But we must also remember that our voices are natural extensions of ourselves after all. Why not approach them in singing, both physically and psychologically, more like we do in familiar, spoken territory?

French vowels.

Marcie Stapp's class on Saturday night in the Southside Theater at Fort Mason dealt with more of the nitty gritty aspects of languages. She tackled major themes of diction in Italian, German and French, each language represented by two performers. But although the focus was on very specific pronunciation questions, Stapp's aim was very similar to Mills': making the text come out, naturally, easily and with the character of its language in mind. The adjustments she made to the singers' approach to sounds were not meant to add more rigid rules to the task of singing, but rather to make singing less difficult. As in Mills' class, the ultimate goal was to communicate humanly, and to do so with as little interference as possible.

26 June 2011

Saturday on the marina

As I had three hours free in my schedule today, I met up with my mother, and we walked from Fort Mason along the marina to take advantage of the fine weather. I proceeded to take pictures of boats with dutiful observance of my family's seafaring history. (Most of us modern generations, I must admit, have long embraced dryer occupations, but we still feel a connection to the ocean.)

Well hello, Bridge!

We rounded back and came to A16 as it was opening, nabbing two walk-up seats for an early dinner before I had to go back for a masterclass.

Beautifully cooked rabbit with wild fennel for my mother.
Monterey squid and halibut over zucchini and eggplant, roasted sunchokes for me.

Back to Fort Mason Center, with one last look at the sea before going into the theater.

25 June 2011

Friday night Off the Grid

Every Friday night from five to ten, the parking lot of the Fort Mason Center, where I spend the bulk of my days in rehearsal, is overtaken by food trucks and tents and the hungry patrons that frequent them. So yesterday, during my break before evening rehearsals, I went down to explore the music and commotion a bit.

23 June 2011

Flowers at Prada Menswear sping 2012

Fancy floral trousers in summer? Prada's spring 2012 menswear collection may be your [expensive] ticket!

19 June, Milan. via Style.com

22 June 2011

Masterclass with Sheri Greenawald

Last night was the first of OAC's masterclass series at Old First Church, and I had the opportunity and great pleasure of singing for Sheri Greenawald. This was my first time doing so, but I had seen her work with others before in San Francisco and Boston, so I had some idea what to expect. As always, Greenawald was detail-driven and supportive, and a riot to watch.

While she did address a few technical concerns as they came up, Greenawald concentrated the bulk of her efforts on reshaping our interpretations. She fastidiously focused our visions of the scene for our arias, our emotional arc as dictated by the text and the music. Especially in the context of a masterclass, where time is limited, reshaping the interpretative form of a piece can work miracles in transforming the performance, so much so that the singing often improves too. More often than not, this task is about honing on the specifics of drama (or comedy, as the case may be), and I find it invaluable to have a pair of experienced eyes to give me a fresh take. Ms. Greenawald, through her work both on and off the stage, certainly fits the bill!

Hatem Nadim, who dutifully braved The Rake's Progress and Roméo et Juliette alike.

I'm a great fan of masterclasses, both as a performer and as an audience member. Their quality, of course, relies largely on the personality and strength of the master teacher, and on the students' ability to implement new ideas quickly. Even the best masterclasses can feel long, as they can clock in at around three hours, often without intermission. But they are quite valuable, and not only for the musicians directly concerned. Most non-musicians I've invited to watch have found it fascinating to witness a piece evolve before their eyes. People with no particular connection to or interest in opera have said that they understand better the appeal of the art form because they've seen what goes into creating a skilled vocal interpretation. I encourage everyone to attend a masterclass!

18 June 2011

Adventures in the dunes

This morning we took a long, adventurous walk in the forest and along the shore in Pebble Beach. Two and half hours later we returned exhausted and fully ready for a lunch by the ocean at Schooner's in Monterey. Let us look back on this périple:

Resting in the forest along Spyglass Hill Golf Course. (Check out my Del Monte Kennel Club Dog Show sweatshirt!)

After a fair amount of to and fro in the woods, we hit the dunes.
Rubber boots do not sand-walking shoes make.
"Maman! Smile for the camera!"
Approaching the shore...
... seemed to take a great deal of time.

17 June 2011

Seared chicken breast, sautéed zucchini with olives

Driving South.

My mother and I met up at San Francisco International, both landing at approximately the same time (she was coming back from France, so she definitely had me beat on the jet lag front). As I'm free until Sunday we drove down to Pebble Beach this afternoon for a short week-end at the sea. I'm certainly looking forward to a few walks by the beach, and slipping back into my familiar role as house cook.

Simple seared spicy chicken breast with rosemary
(serves 2-3)

2 large chicken breasts, halved length-wise
appr. 1 tsp nutmeg
appr. 1 tsp red pepper flakes
2 big sprigs rosemary
large sea salt, to taste
1/2 cup white wine, chicken stock or water

Rub the nutmeg into the pieces of chicken, and place them in a heated cast-iron skillet (preferably) with olive oil on high flame. Let sear about five minutes, until one side is browned a good deal. Add salt, red pepper and half the rosemary. Flip the chicken and let sear the second side.

Add the rest of the rosemary, and more salt as necessary. Add the wine, stock or water and cover loosely with a lid. Lower the heat to medium. Let the chicken cook until done through, approximately five to ten minutes. Let rest a few minutes before serving.

As the chicken is cooking (err... burning under supervision), let's get going on the zucchini:

Sautéed zucchini with olives
(serves 2)

3 small zucchini
3 medium cloves of garlic (or 2 if you're not so garlic happy as we are), minced
5-6 Kalamata olives in brine, minced
salt, to taste

The ingredient list is really for the sake of formatting - here are the less than abundant requirements.

Heat olive oil in a skillet over high flame. Slice the zucchini and add them to the pan.

Let the slices brown, about ten minutes. Add salt (not too much, as the olives are already quite salty themselves), the olives and garlic. Lower heat to medium and let cook five minutes more.

The finished zucchini await their chicken companions on a plate.

16 June 2011

Off to San Francisco

As of this picture, I had yet to fit my various sweaters and cardigans. Oi...

My bags are packed. The laundry and dishes are clean; the rubbish taken out (I forgot to do this before a two-month trip once, which resulted in a rather unwelcome homecoming surprise). Presently I will be on my way to the airport, and off to San Francisco for the next seven weeks.

Carry-on entertainment and necessities: books (About Town and Strong Opinions), notebooks, pens and cartridges, phone, wallet, haphazard embroidery, scores, passports.

I'll be part of Opera Academy of California's start-up summer program. We'll be presenting several master classes and scenes in addition to three full productions (I'll be singing Lazuli in L'Étoile). As the program is new, we will be a relatively small group of singers, so we'll be kept quite busy!

Going away also means finishing-off-the-contents-of-the-fridge meals:

Brown rice fried with lettuce, almonds and an egg for lunch yesterday...

... and eggs scrambled with cottage cheese, turmeric and pumpkin seeds on toast for breakfast today.

14 June 2011


Somehow, my small break became a very long hiatus indeed. But, no matter – here I am now, back and promising not to ignore my Scrapbook any further.

I won’t go into the details of everything I’ve been up to. It’s like that awkward phone conversation with a half-forgotten friend after a long silence; there is simply too much to say, and so there is nothing to say at all.

And, somehow, it also became nearly Summer. To mark the event (driven home by last week's heat wave in New York), I went to Brighton Beach.

It's not surprising that this turned out to be such a long bout of silence on my part. Without the framework of deadlines, even loose, self-appointed ones, things easily fall by the wayside. After all, what's one more day without writing? These are the pleasures of Procrastination, my friends, that unwelcome house guest so familiar to so many of us.

I am a big procrastinator, but I am also generally productive. The magical ingredient is, of course, a concrete motivator. This is usually external: a paper deadline or the start of a rehearsal period. Breaking up the work usually requires a personal commitment to self-imposed micro-accomplishment, however, and I my track record is uneven in this department. A paper is generally relegated to an all-night typing binge, for instance, but I can't get away with this when it comes to memorizing music. I have a long history of cramming for tests, but there are too many factors to control when it comes to performance - movement, harmony, text and character conjured in real time - for me to trust a haphazard memory bank.

Ah! To live on the edge! Charley Chase rides a bike, via Rides a Bike.

Yet things do seem to pile up; I am not perfect, after all. Currently, I'm finishing the process of learning a fair heap of music for a quickly approaching summer program with a certain amount of panic. (As anyone who's had a conversation with me in the past month will tell you.) Therein lies the ugly side of simultaneous predilection toward achievement and procrastination!

Our hero, tired of practicing and memorizing.