27 July 2011

For the love of dachshunds

"Cave dog," via Terry Pond.

I've never been a dog owner, and I can't foresee myself becoming one, but I have grown to be quite crazy for dachshunds. When I see one trotting along a sidewalk I can't help but melt a little bit inside. So noble! They just look so good natured with their tiny little legs and their long, curious noses welcoming the world!
Dachshunds in the art world, via This Isn't Happiness.

Running specimens, via A Place To Love Dogs.

24 July 2011

L'Étoile and Little Women come to fruition

After four plus weeks of rehearsals at the Opera Academy of California, both L'Étoile and Little Women opened at the end of this week. L'Étoile, an opéra comique by Emmanuel Chabrier, has naturally been heavily on my mind, as its rehearsals have been an integral part of my daily routine. Yet as much time as I have spent with it, Thursday night's première, which I did not sing, offered me the first opportunity to watch the show in its entirety. I was able to realize how decadent and funny the opera is, in no small part thanks to our director Yefim Maizel's exuberant and detailed staging. His insistence on our doing gestures precisely resulted in a continuous and logical thread of motion; all of the starting and stopping in rehearsals came into focus when I was able to see the finished product. With simple props and furniture, the stage became lush. Our limited numbers (and budget!) did not impede his cohesive vision.

King Ouf in disguise in L'Étoile.

Maizel has been crucial in shepherding us into our larger-than-life characters (not least of all because he has the ungrateful job of taking charge of the summer program as a whole), but he was not alone. In rehearsals, our conductor David Sloss and pianist John Ballerino, had the patience to lead a wily troupe of singers through the treacherous phrases of French operetta, along with Marcie Stapp, our language and diction coach. As French is my mother tongue, I have an unfair advantage, but I do recognize how difficult it can be to navigate the clipped, wordy and extremely idiomatic texts, as well as the musical gestures that accompany them. And my cohorts largely have risen to the occasion, producing clear pronunciation and intent. I cannot speak for everyone else, but after the trials and tribulations of rehearsals, piecing together numbers and dialogues, I am excited to perform the show when I arrive at the theater, excited to bring this wonderfully weird world to life: a buffoon king, a young princess, a lovesick pedlar, etc... that manage, for all of their over-the-top hijinks to be earnest and likable characters. Watching the opera on Thursday night from the audience made me look forward to my own Saturday début all the more.

Act II opens with feather fans and the adulation of court ladies.

As we have been preparing L'Étoile in one side of the building, Mark Adamo's 1998 opera Little Women has been rehearsing in the other. I've not had any part in the creation process, so I watched the opening on Friday night, as well as last night's cast, purely as an audience member. As with last week's Idomeneo, I was amazed at the preparation and polish of the endeavor. The singers have tackled music that can be vocally challenging with gusto, no doubt aided by Maestro Jun Nakabayashi's supportive and encouraging conducting. The straightforward, human, element that Nakabayashi has culled in his treatment of the score, director David Cox has found in his approach to the staging. Once again, the means are meager, but he has created in a small, dark theater a warm setting for the March family. He has masterfully ensured that the scenes in which multiple conversations overlap are clear but connected. And he has charged his actors with bringing the characters to life without artifice, a challenge that my fellow singers have met beautifully.

Beth's moving death scene in Little Women.

I watched and took part in this weekend's shows with a sense of pride and accomplishment. The witty, uproarious Étoile and heartfelt Little Women were good complements to each other, and, judging from the enthusiastic applause, both appealed to the impressed audience. For those of you in the San Francisco area, I highly recommend catching both shows: Little Women closes tonight at Fort Mason Center's Southside Theatre at 7.30; L'Étoile plays in the Northside Theatre this afternoon at 2.30, as well as the next Friday (7.30), Saturday (7.30) and Sunday (2.30).

20 July 2011

Just Kids

I finally read Patti Smith's Just Kids last week after lugging it around with me from New York to Boston, and finally San Francisco, for a good many months. (But I am often like this, as I navigate a long list of reading material.) It was a great read, both entertaining and touching. Smith beautifully paints her world, a fascinating time filled with fascinating people.

In the midst of scurrying in and out of long rehearsals, I found welcome inspiration in Just Kids. A career in music grows more and more tangible for me every year, and I enjoy the work that goes in to preparing performance - practicing, research, rehearsals - increasingly. So I loved reading about Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe's dedication to art, even more so because they did not necessarily have a clear view of how their careers would take shape. Both tried their hands in numerous media: Smith's transition into music through visual art, poetry, theater, etc... seems both random and fated to readers who know and love her albums. Their vision was broad, but simultaneously certain. This is often how the most fulfilling and fruitful careers evolve: focus and determination coupled with openness and happenstance.

And how the book made me homesick for New York!

17 July 2011

Simple summer pasta salad

After two and a half days of soup and raw garlic (wonderful when one has a cold, tiresome on the senses very quickly), I was more than ready to move on to a solid dinner. So, while preparing my meals-in-mason jars for tomorrow in rehearsals, I also whipped a quick pasta salad to enjoy on the porch.

Zucchini and chickpeas in jars.

Summer pasta salad
(serves 2)

1 cup [whole wheat] pasta, dry
3 large, ripe tomatoes
1/2 Haas avocado
extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar
salt, fresh-ground pepper
3 to 5 leaves fresh basil

Instructions are hardly needed: Boil pasta as directed. Drain the cooked pasta and toss with olive oil in a bowl to let cool. Chop coarsely the tomatoes and the avocado. Toss all of the components together with more olive oil as necessary, a dash of balsamic, salt and pepper to taste. Finely chop the basil and add to the salad before serving.

15 July 2011

Sick day

We're in the most tiring stretch of the program: the final rehearsals, and the openings, of our three productions. Last night was the opening night of Idomeneo; next week Little Women and L'Étoile kick off. These are busy times!

I watched the Idomeneo production with a great deal of admiration and pride - I was rather amazed at what they were able to create with few people, few means and little time. But by the second act I could also feel something far less pleasant brewing as my nose began to run. I was coming down with a head cold.

via cuteoverload

I was was granted permission to miss today's rehearsal run and instead stay at home. The woman with whom I am doubled graciously filled in for me, and I've been staying in bed sleeping and reading The Imperfectionists. Fittingly, my character has a short aria about sneezing, so let's pretend I'm working on my interpretation. Friends, I am quite determined to be in fighting shape within a few days as we head into dress rehearsals!

07 July 2011

Count Basie in the morning

Starting off what is sure to be a long day (two sets of scene dress rehearsals) with some Count Basie as I pack costumes and meals.

04 July 2011

Rosemary olive oil cake, pastry cream and peaches

Considering this is the second olive oil-based cake I present to you, it's evident that I have a real weakness for them... and that I often don't have butter on hand. (I highly encourage you to try this cake, too.) In this version, I've opted to add whole wheat flour and almond meal to the mix, and to top it all off with bourbon-flavored crème patissière and peaches.

Whole wheat rosemary olive oil cake
(adapted from 101 Cookbooks)

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cups almond meal
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp kosher salt
3 eggs
1 cup olive oil
1 cup milk (preferably whole)
1/4 tsp almond extract
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary

Place your rack in the middle of the oven; preheat it to 350ºF. Grease a 9-inch-diameter cake pan or 9x5-inch loaf pan. (I used a glass dish, as no cake pans were to be found.)

Sift the dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. Some of the whole-wheat flour and almond meal will not go through the sieve; throw them back into the bowl.

In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk and olive oil, along with the almond extract and rosemary. Gently fold the liquid ingredients into the dry ones. Pour into the prepared pan.

Bake for 40 minutes, or until a test toothpick comes out clean. Let cool 5 to 10 minutes before unmoulding.

Meanwhile, make a small batch of pastry cream...

Crème patissière with bourbon

1 cup whole milk
2 eggs
1/3 cup sugar (or 1/2 cup if you have a sweeter tooth than I)
2 tbsp flour
2 tbsp bourbon

Bring the milk to a simmer at medium low heat in a heavy-bottomed pot. Beat the two eggs in a mixing bowl with the sugar and flour. Pour the simmering milk little by little into the egg mixture while continue to whisk (lest the eggs cook in clumps!). Pour the entire mixture back into the pot, add the bourbon and cook to thicken at medium low heat, stirring continuously. Once thickened, let the cream cool and refrigerate.

The cooled crème patissière and peach slices.

Peal and slice three ripe peaches. You can choose to add sugar, but my specimens were plenty sweet on their own (ah! summer! what a season!). Serve the cake at room temperature with the cooled cream. I opted to assemble everything together, spreading the pastry cream over the cake and adding the peach slices to the top.

Having improvised on the bake ware front (and having no serving plate of the appropriate size) , I decided not to unmould my cake.

The cake, refrigerated and covered, will keep about 2 days.

01 July 2011


I love breakfast, and I always have. In part it's because I've always been a morning person, and a hungry morning person at that. When I was little, I relished this early meal because it meant I could eat anything I wanted: leftovers from the night before, soft-boiled eggs in hotel rooms, thick wedges of camembert... I've always been able to digest just about anything at any early hour. (I also had a period of ostrich-meat cheeseburgers.) When I first went out for an American breakfast, I was amazed and overjoyed to discover that my penchant for large, hot plates of starch, fat and protein was not so odd after all.

As evidenced by the great big world of websites around me, I'm certainly not the only one who's obsessed. I stare hungrily at the offerings of BKFST, xo breakfast, breakfast for dinner and simply breakfast, to name a few. Issue no. 3 of The Gentlewoman had a small feature on how several women start their mornings. It's no wonder that breakfast is so important to people - apart from physical nourishment, it's the ritual that starts off our day. It says a lot about us as people. For my part, I continue to favor substantial, eclectic breakfasts with a mix of savory and sweet.

Summer breakfast: yoghurt with honey, toasted pain de campagne, nectarine.