Friday, December 23, 2005

See You in 2006

This week has blind-sided me, and I'm about to join all of my blogger colleagues out there who are taking a brief sabbatical. I'll resurface the first week of January, well-rested and ready to dig into our pre-production phase. (There are some benefits of working for a summer festival company, and a full week of winter vacation is one of them!)

In Case You Haven't Heard...

This sound clip has made the rounds, but you might've missed it: Cure for the "Messiah" Blues. Thanks to Drew McManus of Adaptistration for archiving it.

The jury's out as to whether this was a truly unfortunately and honest-to-god live performance or it was a scripted practical joke. Nevertheless, it makes me smile. I've played those nasty electronic organs where there's a scary "transpose" button right next to the general pistons. (Imagine playing a keyboard where your hands look like they're in D Major but the music emanating is in Db...) This sort of accident is entirely possible :)

Meme of Four

This conversation starter has been making the rounds of blogdom in the last week. I'd hop on board, but I'm too tired to think this hard, and somehow it seems a little more personal than I'd like to be in this forum. (Stick with me, and maybe by summer I'll lighten up:)

Anyway, use the Meme of Four to learn more about your friends and family this week.

  • Four jobs you've had in your life
  • Four movies you could watch over and over
  • Four places you've lived
  • Four TV shows you love to watch
  • Four places you've been on vacation
  • Four websites you visit daily
  • Four of your favorite foods
  • Four places you'd rather be

Light Reading

If you're passing some time surfing the internet and you're not yet acquainted with our previous blogging incarnations, give them a visit: Audition Tour Fall 2004 & Summer Season 2005.

Step Away from the Keyboard

But, as I tell my son daily, you really shouldn't be spending this much time on the internet anyway. Here's to wishing you good health, much laughter, and great music in this holiday season and in the new year - see you in '06!

Friday, December 16, 2005

Back into the Fray

But First,

Toys for Tots
collection at work.

For the Record

A few responses to some of the challenges posed to my previous postings on the Juilliard master class event:

I acknowledge that the star artist behavior in most master classes is neither brutally inhuman nor more abusive in general than much of the rest of our lives.

If performers are not able to develop a bit of a thick-skinned approach to all sorts of criticism, they will either not last long in this business or they will have particularly tortured careers.

There are many paths in life that are far more difficult and ultimately less rewarding than a career in the arts.

If I'm having a bad day, one of the first places I go on my iPod is Barbara Cook singing "In Buddy's Eyes".

Now, to proceed.

Once again, there's an equation. Emotions, frustrations, and all defenses aside; the net result of a master class experience should simply register on the positive side of the ledger. The lessons learned and insights gained may come at a price. They usually do. But the costs should be in proportion to the benefits.

What are these costs? Well, as an administrator, the real expenses are never far from my mind. I'm not just referring to dollars, but to the human resources that go into preparing for and managing an event like this. As a coach and teacher, I'm aware that time and energy are always at a premium and should not be misused. And, as a performer, I resent public performances (and indeed, that's what these singers are doing in master classes) that sap rather than feed me.

The audience generally has a very good time at these kinds of events. Actually, the audience's ability to get a glimpse inside our process is often the solitary benefit of a master class. They come away with a new and stronger connection to the music and to the mind of a performing artist. And this audience benefit is important on many levels.

If we were to be honest and put our singers up there with the knowledge that they're acting out a script for the benefit of the public, that's one thing. Give them a role to play, and send them home with a paycheck for doing their part for the visibility of the institution and the adoring public of the artist. But to expect them to take risks and to make a huge investment in the outcome is wrong.

More Participant Reactions

But first, to put these singers in perspective: They are not wringing their hands or giving up their careers. They're tougher and more realistic than that. But their feedback is important.

“I was nodding but in truth I had absolutely no idea what she actually wanted me to do. So I just tried one thing after another, randomly, and I was just more and more confused.”

“I didn’t even get a chance to do anything before I was being judged. It offended me.”

"I came onstage with a real connection to my song. But from the minute I had to sit in that chair and hold some guy’s hand, I was just faking it, anything to get through the next twenty horrible minutes. I felt nothing, and I gave nothing.”

“Oh, you just humor her, play along. Whatever it takes. In real life, I am never going to go onstage without a mike in a 950-seat house and not sing out, so the whole thing was meaningless from the get-go. You want me to mutter, I’ll mutter.”

“I learned two things. One: I can sing while I am crying. Two: I shall never sing musical theater again in my life.”

A Voice of Experience

Until now, you've heard from me (more than enough, I'm sure) and from some of the Juilliard students. I'm a grownup (or as much of a grownup as I'm ever going to be), and the performers' responses are thought by some readers to be tainted by their youth and inexperience. I don't agree, but bear with me here.

I'm indebted to Steve Blier for allowing me to post his reactions to this event. Steve needs no introduction to those of us who work with and love song. But if you don't know his work, here's an introduction.

Steve works with these and other professional singers on a daily basis. He suffers no fools, as they say. And he was extremely disturbed by the master class.

"We knew it was a sham when the following happened. Alex Mansoori got up and gave a deeply touching, modest, and heartfelt performance of an Ahrens and Flaherty song. He knew exactly how much pressure the song could take, and he didn’t push it too hard. The audience was rapt, and many of us were in tears. Barbara waits for a moment and then says, “Honestly, I don’t know where to start. You don’t know how to use language, you sing it like ‘Nessun dorma,’ and…who wrote this song anyway?” I instantly felt slightly sick to my stomach. (I later heard this same reaction from more than a dozen people.) From then on, the students could see that they were pawns in a theater game where they were at a complete disadvantage.

Cook really tipped her hand when she went to get the repertoire notebook Juilliard had prepared for her a month before. It was clear she hadn't opened the book at all--the music was still clipped together, and she seemed completely unable to remove the paper clips. We all could see that she hadn't felt it necessary to prepare for the class in any way, though she seemed very maladroit coaching material she didn't know. So she rips the first song out and says, "All right. Your lyrics say, 'Take the moment, make it happen, hold moment, make it last...'" Embarrassed silence. "Um, no, Miss Cook. Those are the lyrics to the other song I brought." It made us wonder: had she even listened to Alex before she went into her pre-packaged rap?

The most distasteful thing about the whole afternoon was Barbara’s pandering to the audience. “Isn’t that better?” “Oh, YES!” comes the Pavlovian response from the fans.

As one student said to me, “it’s always better the second time.” The modus operandi seemed to be: make the student uptight, confuse ’em, rile ’em up, then sit them down in a chair, take them off their voice, maybe remove some clothing, and claim credit for a transformation.

[Sidebar from Kim: The "always better the second time" trick is almost foolproof. The resident expert has to do almost nothing in order for the audience to register a noticeable improvement when the performer has a chance to ground himself, relax, and sing something a second time.]

On the real work of helping opera singers find their voice in the song repertoire:

Yes, some opera singers are a bit stiff and obsessed with volume, but others are amazingly versatile. To educate them, you need to share the real secrets: how to phrase, how to bend a line or a word, how to use rhythm, how to find an interpretation that releases your life-force into the spaces of a theater. It is completely counterintuitive for an operatically trained singer to put out more “emotion” while you cut off access to his musical energy.

We all heard repeatedly that the song was a “journey,” and how the printed page was “just a starting point.” I assure you that this is not news to my students. What might have been helpful would have been to explore the specific journey of a few of the songs, to guide the students through the creative process of making choices, and to help them to internalize and manifest those choices.

In sum:

It's not that the advice given wasn't true - it was simply banal. It’s very condescending to assume that these students are not interested in expression because they’re opera singers."

"We should never put our students in a position where they are made to feel ashamed of their gifts. We are training our singers to sing resonantly and let their creative energy explode. This is what they need to do in the profession they are trying to enter.

The day ended better than it began: the Vocal Arts students--including several that had been in the "master" class--put on a 70-minute show called “Shall We Dance” in which they sang and hoofed their way through a wide repertoire of popular music. Under the direction of Jeanne Hime, the cast showed such ease with themselves--their physicality and their voices. Everyone in the room felt it: this was the best possible antidote to the afternoon’s effronteries."

When Steve and I talked about this today, he reminded me that one of the most important things to get across is that we should not believe the whitewashed reports in the press. Something that we media-savvy people think we know, but of which almost all of us need to be reminded.

That's All, Folks

I'm sure I'll succumb to the temptation to address this topic again, but for now, it's all the time I have to spend on it. I'll be offline for several days, posting again by the middle of next week. By then I'll be able to be specific about some of the repertoire and projects we've put in place for next summer's opera season. One Mozart (not a huge surprise, I realize, but particularly important since he's celebrating a big birthday in 2006), one Rossini, and one baroque opera (but not Handel!).

Have a great weekend.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


Hot Topic

Receiving even more feedback and comments on the master class discussion, and yesterday's entry saw a significant increase in readership (about 1,500 hits for the day). Clearly it’s a hot button for people on both sides of the fence.

I’ll jump back in tomorrow for a final post on the topic. Then I’m putting up the heat shield and getting out.


A comment a few days ago from a “Non-Anonymous Opera-Singing Blogger” has prodded me to address a subject I sidestepped last week when I mentioned Canadienne’s blog. The Canadienne is a soprano who writes about the opera business from the perspective of a new professional singer, and she does so with humor, self-deprecation, insightfulness and honesty.

The news is that she is taking a hiatus from writing. As you can imagine, there’s an array of reasons for this decision.

A Fool’s Errand?

Regular blogging, while not without its rewards, can be exhausting. We who do it are generally not writing for a living, and blogging gets done in our spare time. It’s a monster that demands to be fed. I’ve climbed onto this train for a year, and I’m determined to see it through. But regular posting can become a chore.

There’s more, though. Canadienne is feeling besieged. She says she feels overexposed, and that every note she sings is now subject to the criticism of every reader. By their own design, performers are on public display. But a surprisingly small percentage of them are exhibitionist at heart. Many are among the most private individuals I know.

Has Canadienne invited criticism by speaking openly in a public forum? I’m sure she knew what she was doing. And I’m equally sure she wasn’t looking to train the spotlight on her performances, but to empathize with colleagues, to offer useful information for students who might aspire to a singing career, and possibly to allow audiences to gain perspective on the often non-glamorous life of a successful soprano.

Singers and actors feel criticism more deeply than many other kinds of artists. Their instruments are their bodies. Their tools are their eyes, their throats, their lungs, their muscles. And it’s an act of courage – almost defiance – to allow anyone with internet access to share their destructive comments about your recent performance with just a few clicks of the mouse.

Although I haven’t named the Canadienne (in keeping with her blog profile), her identity isn’t difficult to figure out. She’s hardly anonymous. And she’s thinking about changing that. Will it make her contribution less valuable? Probably not. Will it make it more difficult for her to write about what really matters? Undoubtedly so.


I’ve been asked if I believe that singers who blog are creating a career liability for themselves. The answer is, of course: It depends.

A friend who’s an amateur singer tells me that she follows several singer blogs, and that some are dangerously unprofessional. That’s a sure way to make enemies, and the jury’s still out as to how potentially harmful blog trash-talking can be.

We all apply filters, those of us who hope to be both professional and truthful. It is my intention to be honest – almost blunt – because I have a strong personal distaste for pretense. But uncharitable reactions, potentially destructive criticism, and raw controversial opinions have no place in public postings that refer to our professional lives.

I am not doing this anonymously. But even if you are, please consider that some of the same ‘filters’ should still apply. The world is getting smaller and smaller, and cyberspace is not a benign place. You may think you’re anonymous, but ours is a small and somewhat inbred business, and I’d be surprised if you could remain anonymous for long.

Every paragraph I write passes the following test. I imagine that I am reading it from the perspective of the following people: a colleague, an aspiring singer, an amateur musician, a classical music fan, and an arts patron. That doesn’t mean that every sentence is relevant to all readers, but it does assure that it’s not inflammatory. If important ideas don’t pass the test, they’re not jettisoned, just reframed.

Why Bother?

Political bloggers get most of the attention, but arts blogging is exploding. Mainstream media are marginalizing arts coverage, and what little gets through is frighteningly skewed. There’s so little opportunity for public discourse.

Other bloggers’ writings have revolutionized my professional life. In 20 minutes a day I feel as if I can stay in touch with some of the most important ideas and relevant news in my business. Sure, I’m selective about what I read, but the selectivity is of my own making, and I’m not forced onto a steady diet of one or two paid music critics. I work in a fairly isolated environment in a small suburban town, I prefer to spend most of my free time with my family, and I’m not a naturally gregarious person. So it’s pretty easy for me to get out of touch.

Our music will stay vital only if we keep the debate alive and invite everyone to the party. We need a diversity of opinions, a sprinkling of spirited disagreements, and lots of room for impassioned responses to the music. Disagreement and heated discussion are good for our music. I want to argue about last weekend’s live concert or opera broadcast the way dedicated sports fans go at it about their favorite teams. We will thrive on almost anything except neglect, apathy, and mute acceptance.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Things Are Not Always What They Seem

Barbara Cook’s Master Class – A Response

As they say, I should’ve been there. And since I wasn’t, I shouldn’t have assumed.

Two days ago, I interpreted a New York Times account of Barbara Cook’s master class at Juilliard through my own particular lens of experience and expectation. Why? I believe so firmly in what I took to be the ultimate goal of this class that I made the error of assuming that the method was sound.

I’ve since heard from some of the participants and observers of that class, and now is the time to retract, reframe, and review.


I’m wary and mistrustful of the hidden agendas of public master class exercises. Somehow, I thought – or perhaps hoped – that this class was an exception. Its goals, as least as seen through the lens of the reporter, seemed unassailable. But since learning more about what happened that day, I realized that my naiveté got the best of me.

Eye-witness accounts inform me that there was a generous helping of “tough love” (bordering on abusive) tactics. Responses like “You sing with the kind of diction that really puts me off” and “No one really talks like that; what do you think you’re trying to do?” and “What is that smile doing there? That is totally phony”.

I’m not strictly against using mildly confrontational language in the right time and place. It’s important to be unafraid to tackle the elephant in the room. When working with singers with whom you have a relationship of trust, and in an environment where artists feel secure enough to venture out of their comfort zone, it’s possible for a “tough love” approach to have lasting benefits. But in a public place, when the balance of power is as skewed as it is in a master class…. Things are learned, but too often, they’re not about performing or communicating.

Playing the Game

What happens when the obedient student feels threatened by the respected Master’s comments? Many of them have done enough master classes to know that you have to play the game according to its particular rules. Roll with the punches. Be dutiful. The star will emerge triumphant, a short-term goal will be attained, and the audience will respond positively.

Some comments from Juilliard artists who were involved with this master class:

The greatest injury was done to the singers, who were not given liberty to express themselves, but devolved into ironically artificial sentimentality in a necessary concession to win over Cook and her adoring fans, and in so doing, betrayed their own truth. They played the game to get through the master class, and they were rewarded for being less than themselves.

The game we played was "opera singer who is only concerned about making sound is taught about communication"… And, predictably, the comments from patrons at the reception afterwards [were] ‘You should sing like that all the time’...I learned that if I take all the resonance out of my voice and sing to the woman in the fourth row, I’m a genius.


Why such reactionary and bitter comments? I will say, for those of you who haven’t been on the inside of these kinds of things, that these reactions are fairly typical. Naysayers will maintain that these are shallow self-protective responses from nervous young people.

I know some of these people, and I disagree. Yes, they are half Ms. Cook’s age with a fraction of her experience. But they are thoughtful, self-critical, imaginative, and committed to communicating through their music. And consider this: If singers feel they have to retreat to such a defensive posture, what could they possibly learn?


I’ve said that dealing with technique (vocal production, placement, projection, etc) is dangerous and destructive content for a master class. And I still mean it. But it seems that in this particular situation, it would’ve been a good idea to constructively address the challenge of aligning operatic vocal technique (read: the ability to fill a big hall) with the directness and economy of communication needed for musical theatre songs.

Again, from the participants:

Equating authenticity with the ‘abandonment of technical propriety’ only reinforces the mistaken perception that musical theater is from Mars and opera is from Venus, when the message ostensibly is that honesty of communication is requisite in all art forms… Telling ‘classically trained singers’ that their education leads to artificiality is likely to be neither successful nor meaningful for them.

[Ms. Cook’s] method of extracting ‘communication’ from me was having me pare down my instrument to a mere filament (perfect for a miked performance, really), getting rid of my stultified diction and having me sing to the woman in the 4th row. Yes, there was some communication that went on. The medium was all wrong.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Do I still believe in some of things I wrote Sunday? You bet I do.

I quoted Ms. Cook: “The place that seems most dangerous is exactly where safety lies.” But the caveat is that none of us knows where that place is for another artist. If we lead them blindly in any direction, just for the sake of variety or experimentation, we’re likely to lead them even farther astray. That ‘place’ is unique to each singer, and the answer doesn’t lie in stripping away his technique, but in using it to create a relationship with the music, with the words, with the audience.

Am I even more jaded now about the firmly entrenched diva approach to these classes? Didn’t think it was possible, but… yes.

Is it still more important than ever to throw away artifice and caution and dare to revel in the risks and rewards of live performance? Of course.

Singing Bloggers

Scroll down to the bottom of Sunday’s entry for a message from a “Singing Blogger”. S/he asks some important questions, not all of which I pretend to have the answers to. But I’ll give it a whirl in a day or two.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Sacred Monsters and Nice Guys

Master classes are many-headed monsters. I've seen very few that deliver significant results and even fewer that purport to be about what they say they are. But according to Sunday's New York Times, it sounds as if Barbara Cook is using this format to do important work with young singers.

The master classes that are really star turns for divas (or divos, thank you very much) or other ego-driven individuals are often destructive. I won't go so far as to believe that they're malicious in intent. But they often revolve around vocal/technical issues that are unwisely addressed in 15 minutes in front of hundreds of people. And there are hidden agendas that are counter-productive, to say the least.

Ms. Cook tells singers that "Your own humanity is your pathway to artistry." But any performer will tell you that allowing one's humanity to speak through the music is threatening and risky. And most of the training that we foist upon young singers is designed to reduce risk. As it should be. After all, there has to be a foundation. But somewhere, somehow, that essential risk must be honored.

She tells them "The place that seems most dangerous is exactly where safety lies." In futher elaboration by Times writer Charles Isherwood: "...self-exposure and the abandonment of technical propriety, scary as it was, was the surest, the best, maybe the only way to communicate with an audience."

Sacred Monsters

It's easy for us to see this phenomenon in opera's stereotypical and often dysfunctional diva culture. (Those same divas who insist on torturing students in master classes:)) These are people who live on the edge, who thrive on risk, danger, and confrontation. They strike fear in the hearts of mild-mannered administrators such as myself, and they find worthy sparring partners in the form of strong-willed impresarios. They have thrived in opera's culture almost from its beginning.

We, the audience, crave their potency and intensity. The art form itself consists of simple ideas, emotions, and truths that are so saturated that they be stretched out over a 3-hour opera and still speak to us. Our artists cannot pale beside this vivid material. The opera culture has always welcomed these larger-than-life creatures, and they have found a home there.

Nice Guys

There will always be divas and sacred monsters in our business. But as we strive to bring opera into the mainstream and to allow the education of our next generation of singers to be less haphazard (dare I say more thorough and linear...) we welcome a higher percentage of aspiring performers who just may be slightly less neurotic and self-destructive than many of their predecessors. Are we selling these young artists a bill of goods? We say, "Be respectful colleagues, run your singing business conscientiously, moderate your lifestyle and take judicious care of your instrument, be a 'well-rounded' person." When was the last time you paid over $100 for a front orchestra seat to hear a careful and cautious performer?

I've veered slightly past my goal in order to make a point. Do I want the performers of tomorrow to be destructive to others and dangerous to themselves? Of course not. But we should lose no opportunity to remind them never to lose their connection to that part of themselves that is so potent and laser-focused that it will speak to someone in the back row. We all have it somewhere inside us. In the 21st century we're all increasingly good at tamping it down. Technology and mass culture are its enemies. Live performance - the opportunity to allow another person and his connection to the music to touch us - will keep us connected to our humanity.

Up on the Roof

Many years ago, when we were younger and climbing on the roof every December seemed like a reasonable thing to do, we unwittingly established a Christmas decoration tradition. A few years ago we decided to take a year off, and by the week before Christmas we had strangers knocking on our door, making sure that we were all OK, that no one in the house was sick or anything. Why else would we miss putting up our lights?

Anyway, the weather hasn't cooperated this year. Cold, windy, and snowy since Thanksgiving. But yesterday found us up on the top of the house, grumbling just a little. Shoveling and sweeping snow off the roof before fighting with the damn strings of lights. Bah humbug.

Today my back aches but I know why we did it. No matter your religious, metaphysical or philosophical perspective, it's hard to deny that as we head toward next week's solstice, we need light.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Repertoire & Casting

But First….

I have to weigh in on the veritable snowstorm of reporting and critiquing that’s been done on last weekend’s premiere of Tobias Picker’s An American Tragedy at the Met. I was not lucky enough to see it, but I am looking forward to hearing it on the December 24 broadcast. Thanks to An Unamplified Voice for culling many of the various reviews of this premiere.

I’m not a critic, and I’m perpetually bemused, confused, and occasionally angered by reviews. (Go here for last summer’s entry on the subject of our artists and reviews.) Like many of my colleagues, I’ve lived this question on multiple levels. I’ve been the producer who’s received more credit than she should take, and I’ve been the artist who received more blame that she should shoulder. And every variation in between. And of course, because I’m active in this business, I’m constantly asked for my opinion of others’ performances.

I find one thing heartening about the American Tragedy discussion: the fact that it’s happening at all. While I’m at it, I guess I also appreciate the fact that so many people are wading in. For the purpose of all of this is engagement. I’m not sure I care what form that engagement takes, as long as it’s active. It’s a beautiful thing to move beyond apathy, blind acceptance, or uninformed rejection.

I’m getting dangerously close to digressing to the “what is art and why does it matter” discussion, and I can’t afford that diversion today. But I so want this engagement with the music to be the reason we go to the opera house and the concert hall. The music of pop culture (and here I don’t mean anything that’s not “classical”; I refer to any music that’s more about its trappings than its content) is an anesthetic. Pleasant in the way it numbs us and distracts us from the tough stuff in life. What we do in our business needs to be about “aesthetics” in the best sense of the word – not having to do with high culture or good taste, but standing as an alternative to the anesthetic effect of so much of 21st century mass culture. It should make us feel, think, laugh, cry, rage… it should make us care.

Oops, I’m pretty far gone. Back to work.


Many young folks who aspire to a career in artistic administration have a single-minded focus on one aspect of the job: Casting. No surprise, really, for creating dream casts is a fairly common hobby for opera fans. Also no surprise that fantasy can clash pretty horribly with reality when actual casts are being assembled for productions in the real world. But the most sobering fact is that those of us who oversee opera companies spend a very small percentage of our time on this aspect of our operations. The last two weeks of my life have been consumed with matching singers to roles, but it’s almost done, and there are another 50 weeks of the year to go.

I get a lot of questions about our casting process, so I will do my best to spin it out. I’ll try to keep it from getting tedious. But a certain amount of deadly detail is necessary in order to represent the process accurately and to disabuse readers of the notion that this is a glamorous undertaking.

As I mentioned at the end of the audition tour, we had 29 finalists who were under consideration for our company. At this point, it looks as if we’re going to be able to work with 18 or 19 of those singers next summer.

The Repertoire Recipe

1) Make a list of operas that contain ideal roles for our finalists (in operas that can actually be produced in one of our very specific venues).

2) Create a master list of the operas above that contain good roles for multiple people. (Jettison pieces that accomodate only a few singers.)

3) Make a series of draft grids that puts the casting of three of these operas alongside the casting needs of next season’s concerts, recitals, and/or outreach performances. I have started out with as many as 30 of these grids, using different permutations and orders of a series of different operas.

The final grid for the 2005 season looked like this:

4) See which ones of these permutations accommodate the largest percentage of the finalists in roles that are best suited to them.

5) Choose the most promising few and do an entire season draft schedule that describes in detail how the assignments might dovetail and how the summer calendar might be able to configured in order to present the smallest amount of conflicts between projects.

A page from this year’s grid. Pink = second Barns opera; orange = Filene Center opera; blue = NSO concert; yellow = recital; purple = improv project.

My head hurts from trying to explain this, so I think I’m done. Taking the weekend off from posting – see you next week from the studios of WETA-FM as we record a few more installments of 2006 Center Stage from Wolf Trap.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Winter comes to these Vienna Woods.

The view outside my office window. Gotta love it.


The fellow bloggers I check in on when I have time:

Arts & Culture

The Rest is Noise (Alex Ross)
ArtsJournal Sandow (Greg Sandow on the Future of Classical Music)
About Last Night (Terry Teachout on the Arts in New York City)
Deceptively Simple (A blog by Chicago music journalist Marc Geelhoed)
Night after Night (Conspicuous consumption of music, live and otherwise, in New York City)
Ionarts (Music, Art, Literature: Washington DC-based)

Arts Management

The Artful Manager (Andrew Taylor on the Business of Arts and Culture)
Adaptistration (Drew McManus on Orchestra Management)
Butts in the Seats (Musings on Practical Solutions For Arts Management)


Canadienne (Canadian soprano living and singing in Chicago) [Note: She's beginning a sabbatical, unfortunately. But check out previous posts if you are so inclined.]
An Unamplified Voice (One Operagoer’s Notes)
Brian Dickie (Life as General Director of Chicago Opera Theater)


A great source of pleasure. OperaMan is one of my favorites, of course. Looking for an unusual Christmas gift? Check out StoryPeople’s prints. (This is an unsolicited plug:))

Back in a Few Days

Almost all off-topic today. Can you tell I need a break?

Taking the day off tomorrow. From everything. Back blogging Thursday or Friday. Promise (really, I do!) a description of our casting/programming process. Without real names and dates yet, for they’re still not fixed. But we’ll walk you through what we’re doing right now. Check back if you’re interested.

Monday, December 05, 2005

The Filene Center – The Venn Diagram...

Any questions?

Report on Holiday Festivities

Wolf Trap’s Holiday Sing-Along was terrific. Thousands and thousands of people… hundreds of little children on the stage during "Jingle Bells”… good December weather… a huge truck filled to the brim with Toys for Tots. Unfortunately, I sang myself out and was in tatters for the second event of the day, the Messiah Sing-Along at my church where I was due to stand in for our contralto soloist who is battling bronchitis.

Explanation required. I am not a singer, strictly speaking, but occasionally I haul my voice around pretty fearlessly, and I’ve absorbed enough basic information about intonation, phrasing, and placement to unwisely twist my garden-variety soprano into an imitation of a mezzo. It’s not a healthy vocal production, and it doesn’t hold up well after an hour of leading carols in freezing weather. Anyway, I sounded like a cross between Carol Channing and Rod Stewart. Huge hole on both sides of the bottom register break. Any salvageable music came out of it was a minor triumph of chutzpah over talent. (Or, as my friend the sick contralto reminds me, it required “more guts than sense.”) :) All of this, of course, was designed to give me true empathy for all those singers in my life.

Shop Talk – Leftovers from the Audition Trail

Résumés – a few more observations:

  • Layout. The column format is time-tested and unassailable. We can look at each engagement singly, or we can skim down columns of companies, roles, and dates.
  • Dates. Please list engagements in reverse chronological order. Especially because we deal with artists who are still developing, it’s important to be able to see growth and momentum.
  • “Career Objective”. Don’t bother trying to include an “Objective”. I know that it’s part of the process when applying or interviewing for a lot of other kinds of jobs, but it’s really hard to include it on a singer résumé without sounding silly. Lots of effort could go into trying to figure out how to state the objective clearly. Don’t bother.
  • Colleagues/References. Only list people who would be able to speak easily on your behalf. Name-dropping doesn’t really work if they don’t remember you.

Random Aria Advice for Sopranos:

  • Adele’s Audition Aria. Extraordinarily hard to bring off. Almost always harmless and stultifyingly boring. You have to be a phenomenally gifted comedienne to make an impression with this in audition. Those “la-la-la’s” (you know which ones I mean) have to be to die for.
  • Manon’s Gavotte. Consider only singing one iteration of “Profitons bien” (instead of the two that are written). Brings the scene down to about 4 minutes. Might make the difference and get you a second aria if the audition time frame is tight.

Tomorrow - back to casting!

Friday, December 02, 2005

Interlude: 'Tis the Season

Taking a break from talking about opera at the Filene Center. Today happened not to be all about opera, so the blog will reflect!

‘Tis the Season

Friday, 12/ 2/2005 – A typical arts administrator December day:

Morning – “Jingle Bells” and “Frosty”. Rehearsal with the Marine Band for this weekend’s Holiday Sing-Along at the Filene Center. Yours truly will be co-hosting – leading the singing and trying to contribute witty banter.

Afternoon – Mozart and Tchaikovsky. Programming and marketing ideas for next summer’s National Symphony Orchestra line-up.

Evening – Couperin and Rameau. French Baroque music of the season with the Aulos Ensemble at The Barns.

Shop Talk – More Audition Pianist Rants

During the lunch break at the Cincinnati stop on the audition tour, Donna Loewy, Thomas Lausmann and I decided to expand the audition pianist advice I offered in an earlier post. We figured that we have at least 75 years of accompanist duty among the three of us, so our pet peeves probably have some staying power.

  • Cuts. A follow-up to my previous advisory. Don’t just mark the cut clearly with pen; rather white out all of the irrelevant music with post-its or white paper.
  • Xeroxes. If you travel with copies in a binder, please make sure they’re first-generation copies. Nothing worse than trying to read grayed-out notes in dim rehearsal room lighting.
  • Cadenzas. Whenever possible, write out your cadenzas. It’s sometimes unnerving to guess when you’re headed toward the final cadence.
  • Double-sided. Half as many page turns.
  • Staples. Exposed staples in the center binding are a rare but serious hazard. As a last resort, pianists will press down the center fold to make a book stay open. Each one of us has ended up bleeding on the keyboard after a run-in with center staples.
  • Clean copies. Get rid of old pianist fingerings (fingerings from previous pianists, not fingerings from elderly pianists. Sorry... :)
  • Tempo indications. As I mentioned before, it almost never works to conduct or clap to demonstrate your tempo. And comparative instructions (faster, slower…) are useless without a baseline. What does work, however, is putting a ballpark M.M. (metronome) marking on your music. Pianists aren’t human metronomes, but most of us have a pretty good feel for M.M. markings.
  • Pages in backwards. Or upside down. Or not there at all. You laugh. It happens.

In the Audience

Back to the French baroque. I had some trouble acclimating to tonight’s concert. Took me almost half an hour. Not that it wasn’t marvelous in every way. Aulos played with spirit, virtuosity, and heart. And some of this music was cutting edge in its time. It’s just that in order to reframe the experience, it always takes me a while to enter into that sonic world.

Truth be told, the colors, harmonies, and rhythms of this music occupy fairly narrow and fairly conservative bandwidth to our 21st-century ears. In order for this music to speak to us, we have to enter its world. Once we do, its rewards are many. Until we do, it’s marginalized.

Musicians’ Love-Hate Relationship with December

From tonight’s holiday baroque concert to Sunday afternoon’s sing-along to a Sunday evening Messiah (Advent portion only, thank heaven.), it’s a typical start to a musician’s December. My email messages from colleagues are full of Nutcrackers and Messiah’s, with the occasional Christmas Oratorio, Ceremony of Carols or Amahl and the Night Visitors thrown in.
Freelance musicians love it because it pays the bills, hate it because it steals personal time during a season that purports to be about families. Someday we’ll get legislation introduced that re-schedules a Musicians’ Christmas in March. :)

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Filene Center - When Grand Opera Isn't

I was more than a little fried when posting last night, and I should’ve known better than to try to discuss the complicated relationship between our young artist company and Wolf Trap’s amphitheatre. It’s a thorny issue even for a clear mind.

So, if operas like Aida, Tosca and Madama Butterfly sell lots of tickets, why not embrace them? Why not perform them in our 6,000-seat theatre? Within our industry, it’s widely (but not universally) believed that developing voices should not sing a lot of grand opera. The thing is, it’s astonishingly difficult to explain exactly why.


A savvy voice teacher would probably describe this more scientifically and accurately, but the result would likely be pretty arcane. If you’re maddened by the generalities I’m about to spew forth, then just skip this section.

I was determined to find a sports metaphor for this phenomenon. After all, the limitations here are largely physiological. It’s not as if young singers lack the musical or interpretive chops to tackle Puccini. (Rather, Puccini gives up his secrets more easily than Mozart… If this were an intellectual or artistic issue, Puccini would be one of the first places we’d send newbies.) No, it’s a question of readiness and suitability of the instrument: the vocal cords, the support mechanism, the entire singing body. But athletics is a young person’s domain. Ball players are washed up by their 40’s. But operatic basses and dramatic sopranos don’t hit their stride until their mid-30’s.

What’s the worst that could happen if we turned a 25-year-old singer loose on Madame Butterfly? Well, the world would still turn. Perhaps she would crash and burn, maybe there would be lasting damage to the voice. Or maybe the chops would be strong enough to sustain it for a while.

An important digression: It hasn’t always been thus. Licia Albanese debuted as Butterfly at age 22. Callas made her professional debut as Tosca at 18. But two important things (at least) have changed. First: Early- and mid-20th century singers were studying with teachers and coaches daily, for many hours, to the exclusion of most other activities. No liberal arts undergraduate degrees for them. Second: They were generally not staring down a career of jet-setting to a series of huge theatres across the world. Many venues (particularly in Europe) were (and are) more hospitable to the voice. And while travel was certainly arduous, the pace of a career was more humane.

Do our singers fritter away valuable years getting multiple degrees and attending class? I’m almost afraid to answer. For the record, I believe the answer is no, but there are plenty who disagree. Do our singers suffer from a paucity of targeted, sustained technical study? You bet. One voice lesson a week for two semesters (if you’re lucky) is hardly a recipe for efficient training of an entire musculature. Imagine a professional gymnast who only sees his coach 25-30 times a year.

When Grand Opera Isn’t

But just why is grand opera such a threat to a developing voice? Part of the answer lies in the size of the orchestra. It takes a lot of well-placed decibels and overtone frequencies to be heard over a 75+-piece orchestra. Another component is the emotionally gut-wrenching nature of the material. It’s easy to get sucked up in the hyper-dramatic stories and viscerally emotional music. It takes a strong foundation to put your voice at the service of such potent stuff without having it eat you alive. And finally, there’s a question of stamina. A huge outpouring of physical energy for a fairly long time.

Those of us who have the opportunity to work with singers who are primed to begin singing professionally have the obligation not to abuse the privilege. Could I make a bet that Emerging-Dramatic-Soprano would get through an Aida? Would the odds be good that Young-Lyric-Tenor could throw himself at Cavaradossi and live to tell the tale? Probably. Would it be in the performers’ best interest to do so? Decidedly not.

The Mozart Prescription

So, what should these 20-somethings sing? Mozart? It’s a topic for tomorrow. Or the next day, depending on how things run at the office.

The Small World of Blogging

Later this winter, when there’s more time*, I’ll make a short list of the blogs I read. But tonight I must mention Greg Sandow’s writing, hosted on Arts Journal. He’s posting installments of his new book on the “classical music crisis”, and this week he referenced Julian Johnson’s book Who Needs Classical Music – one of the best things I have ever read on this topic. It’s becoming a huge soapbox of mine. If you end up sticking with us all the way into January, I’m sure you’ll be subjected to some ranting on this topic. But don’t assume that you can guess what direction said ranting will take.

*I always believe there's going to be time for critical reflection in January or February. There never is. But it doesn't stop me from believing.


Oh yes, and we’re still working on operas and casts for next summer. The process will be ongoing for a couple of weeks, but I’m in one of those black-out periods where I can’t be too specific in a public forum. Information will be forthcoming soon enough. And I still have audition fodder to post. Next week.

Today was spent with a huge spreadsheet that sketches out a possible schedule scenario for 3 operas, a concert, 2 recitals, and a week of children’s performances over a 14-week period. It’s tedious, but critical. A few mistakes at this stage can result in lots of frayed tempers in July.

All this talk about grand opera has Cake’s “Opera Singer” playing in my head. Thanks to Peter Z. for allowing this song to take up the remaining scarce real estate in my brain.

"I am an Opera Singer
I stand on painted Tape
It tells me where I'm going
And where to throw my cape

I call my co-star's brother
I call my co-star's name
I play both good and evil parts
I sing to Verdi's play

And every single morning
By 10 AM I'm dressed
My rehearsals last for hours and hours
With diligence I have been blessed

Some people they call me monster
Some people they call me saint
My talent feeds my darker side
Yet no one will complain

I am an opera singer
I sing in foreign lands
I've sung for kings in Europe
And emperors in Japan

And after each performance
People stand around and wave
Just to tell me that they love my voice
Just to tell me that I'm great

I am an opera singer
I will sing when you're all dead
I sing the mountains crumbling apart
I sing what can't be said

I am an opera singer
I sing in foreign lands
Most people seem to know my name
Or at least know who I am"

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Filene Center - Charting a Narrow Course

As we close in on repertoire for 2006, I’ll take a moment to share my pain. The subject is our large amphitheatre – the Filene Center. The dilemma: deciding which opera to produce in the Filene Center each summer.

The facts:

#1) The capacity for Filene Center opera (different than that for concerts because of sightline issues) is 6,130 (3,730 in the house; 2,400 on the lawn). In order to come close to filling the seats (on a single ticket / no subscription basis, thank you very much) and recouping even a portion of the expense of performing in such a large house, it’s essential to program an opera that has instant and widespread name recognition. Not just among opera fans, but on a man-on-the-street level. It’s important to our bottom line and our mission that we attract first-time patrons who might not try opera in a more formal venue, but just might come to Wolf Trap to try out an operathat they’ve heard of before. The operas that meet that household name test are represented in lists like Opera America’s “Top Ten” (Sometimes this general category is called the “ABC’s – a.k.a. “Aida-Bohème-Carmen”)

#2) The singers of the Wolf Trap Opera Company are emerging artists, and their average age usually hovers around 26-27. Most of these voices are still developing, and the heft, stamina, and general requirements of grand opera are not a good match for the vast majority of singers in the first few years of their careers.

#3) The kicker. #1 and #2 are, to a large degree, mutually exclusive. The only operas that easily fit into both categories are The Marriage of Figaro, The Magic Flute, Don Giovanni, and The Barber of Seville. Those are terrific shows, but the list is, well, short. (This would make a fascinating Venn diagram, but it’s after midnight, and the time for illustrations has passed.)

Why not do Magic Flute every year? What exactly is wrong with doing Aida anyway? And didn’t Wolf Trap do La bohème last year? All good questions. For another day.

Sunday, November 27, 2005


Feeling a little more human after a few days off. It always takes longer than I think it should to regain some sort of equilibrium. I am, however, getting much better at finding balance in my life over the last few years. Middle age has its benefits.

Audition Results Notification

As of this weekend, all singers who auditioned for us have been notified as to the results of their auditions. If you auditioned and haven’t heard from us yet, send us a message.

Preliminary Casting – What’s Happening This Week

We’ve identified 29 singers as finalists. Over the last few days, we’ve begun to get in touch with a few of those people in order to discuss possible repertoire and role assignments for next summer. We don’t choose our operas until we’ve heard the auditions, so the process of deciding which operas are the best vehicles for this group of people is a bit like a series of interlocking puzzles. The really sick thing is that I detest puzzles of all kinds. (My husband is a crossword & Sudoku fan. I consider them a step away from torture.)

We have a temporary sketch of what next summer might turn out to look like. (Sorry; it’s the one thing I can’t share in this forum until it’s finalized, and there are many steps to go until we get there.) As I speak with our finalists over the next two weeks, we’ll determine if the current scenario will hold. Right now it comprises 54 different assignments spread out over 13 weeks – roughly 19 featured roles, 20 supporting roles, and 15 recital and concert assignments. The challenge is to disperse those 54 assignments among 15 or 16 singers, making sure rehearsals and performances for different projects don’t overlap, each singer has a chance to sing both featured and supporting material, and the assignments are tailored to the strengths of each artist. Sudoku is starting to look pretty good.

If you’ve followed any of this math, you’ll realize that almost half of our finalists won’t receive final offers for next summer. That’s one of the toughest things about this process. It’s truly not possible to take the best 15 singers without paying attention to the way the casting process begins to narrow the repertoire. The Fach system is very specific, and every year there are people we’d like to hire that we are unable to find the right roles for in any given year.

This Year’s Finalists – A Snapshot

I hear (secondhand, of course) a lot of complaints about what some singers feel is a closed system. The impression is that we only hire singers from the big young artist programs (at the Met, or Houston Grand Opera, for example). While it is true that each summer we choose a few people from these and other young artist training programs, the singers we choose are a pretty diverse group. There’s a sizeable contingent of finalists from these “Big House” YAP’s, but the vast majority of them are people we began to follow before they were accepted into those programs. Trust me - it would be easier (if much less effective) to just handpick some folks from the high-profile training programs and not have to travel all over the country every fall. But that's not our goal.

This year's finalists - an overview:

City of Audition

  • Chicago – 2
  • Cincinnati – 4
  • Houston – 5
  • New York – 9
  • Philadelphia – 3
  • Seattle – 2
  • Vienna – 4

Current Professional/Academic Status:

  • Big house YAP – 10
  • Enrolled in Advanced Degree Program – 11
  • Freelancing – 8

Other Descriptors:

  • Average age: 27
  • Age range: 24-34
  • Have participated in an average of 2 paid summer apprentice programs
  • Hail from 17 states, the District of Columbia, 1 U.S. territory, and 2 foreign countries (birthplace, not current address)

No Day Like Today – Off-Topic

My daughter and I are Rent-heads, and we took the whole family to see the new Rent movie the day it opened. If you’re not familiar with Rent, all you need to know is that its basic subject material is the same as the source for La bohème. (So I guess this isn’t truly off-topic.)

I won’t force our response to the movie on you, but I have to say a few things.

First, all young sopranos who sing Musetta’s Waltz should really spend some time listening to “Take Me or Leave Me”. An infusion of red-blooded exhibitionism that some Musetta's could use. “Every single day, I walk down the street, I hear people say 'baby so sweet'. Ever since puberty, everybody stares at me – boys, girls, I can't help it baby.” Really not so far from Quando m’en vo’: “When I walk alone down the street, people stop and stare at me…”.

Second, Jesse Martin was a revelation as Collins. Couldn't take my eyes off him. A bit unfair, for unlike most of his Broadway colleagues, he has the advantage of having spent much of the last 10 years in front of the camera. Too bad Colline doesn't have as much raw material. Basses, work the subtext.

And last, it’s so weird not to applaud in the movie theatre. (I would’ve but didn’t want to embarrass my teenage son.) We did stay and sing along with the credits, though.

Truly Off-Topic

Went shopping on Black Friday for the first time in my life. I’m pretty much mall-phobic, but I jumped at the chance to spend the whole day with my daughter who’s home from college. Did manage to buy a red sweater to wear when I co-host next Sunday’s Holiday Sing-Along at Wolf Trap. (Said daughter refuses to allow me to wear anything with large Christmas trees or Santas imprinted on it.) But the most interesting thing I learned is that all the hippie clothes we wore in the 60’s are coming back in style. If I had kept any of them, I’d be an Ebay millionaire.

Some Perspective for the Audition Season

“Not everything that counts can be counted. And not everything that can be counted counts.” (Einstein)

Monday, November 21, 2005

Cincinnati, then Home!

The last day of the audition tour dawned with a palpable sense of fatigue. But the level of singing in Cincinnati was so reassuringly high that the day flew by. A few real surprises – probably the biggest percentage of the entire tour. CCM always welcomes us so warmly, and their facilities are among the best in the country.

If J. Alfred Prufrock “measured out [his] life with coffee spoons”, then we have measured ours out with opera arias. There’s a curious rhythm that settles in during a full day of auditions. Just as my kids and their friends used to measure time by saying an event took “three Simpson’s (episodes)”, I now have an internal clock whose units of time correspond to the Catalogue Aria, Dido’s Lament, and Musetta’s Waltz. Whenever I think about the prospect of spending a solid six hours of wall-to-wall arias, it’s more than daunting. But the truth is that a rhythm sets in, and the day flies by.

I’m back home now, facing the usual backlog of laundry, mail, and phone calls. I’m always surprised by the wallop of mental fatigue that hits right at about Thanksgiving. All by way of saying that postings will be scarce this week. I’ll try to catch up on Wednesday, then go into a tryptophan-induced turkey coma until next week. You should do the same.

15 Minutes of Fame

It was a little strange to be recognized by singers and other colleagues all across the country. Noticing my startled reaction, they usually explained that they saw my picture on this blog. Thank you, Lisa Kohler, for making me look even better than I do on a good day!

For those of you who are reading primarily for audition information, stick with us for another couple of weeks as I tie up loose ends. And take this opportunity to ask me any questions you have about auditioning. Send an email to, and put “Blog Questions” in the subject line.

And thanks to all of the Blog Cheerleaders I’ve encountered. It’s a tough thing to keep this up and do my real job as well. If it were just a whistling into the wind exercise, I’d abandon it quickly. But I hear regularly from teachers, singers, colleagues and patrons who say that we’re making an important contribution, and that keeps me going, at least for now!

Coming Attractions

There’s a huge backlog of notes from the audition tour that have yet to be translated into blog entries. I’ll chip away at them over these next few weeks.

  • Fach. Mezzo or soprano? An audition panel’s perspective.
  • Choice of a second aria: What factors into the panel’s choice after your first choice aria is heard.
  • More audition pianist feedback. Lots of it. Good stuff. We were mentioned on the Collaborative Piano Blog during the audition tour, and we’re inspired to hit you with another round of things to consider.
  • Résumés. Basic, largely common sense suggestions. Surprisingly, not everyone follows them.
  • Responses to your questions. (See above)

Where Do We Go From Here?

December 2005 & January 2006: An audition tour summary, and an analysis of the scheduling and casting processes that will consume us over the next 6-8 weeks. My “Young Artist Development” and “Artistic Director” hats.

February & March 2006: Pre-production. Getting the season ready. Deciding how it will play out, how we will pay for it, how we will advertise it. Artistic Administration, Finance, Development, Marketing.

April & May 2006: Season kick-off. Logistics – housing, travel, schedule, facilities usage. Company Management, Production.

June – August 2006: The summer 2006 season. The best plans have been laid. Now it’s all about active response.

September 2006: What worked? What didn’t? Lessons learned, satisfaction taken, train wrecks avoided.

Audition Tour Wrap-Up By the Numbers

  • Arias Heard: 608

  • Cities Visited: 7
  • Miles Flown: 5,853
  • Coffee Drunk: somewhere north of 10 gallons
  • Pounds Gained: only 2!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Chicago & the Aria Frequency List!

Not an easy day. Started out with a voice mail from United Airlines telling us that our flight to Cincinnati tonight is canceled. The helpful reservations agent was happy to put us on a flight tomorrow morning. Unfortunately, it would arrive an hour after we’re due to start auditions tomorrow morning. Anticipate needing lots of caffeine to get through today (at left). Four ventis for two people. That's 80 ounces of coffee. 2.37 liters. Even I think that sounds obscene.

Got onto an American airlines flight that leaves a few hours later than the originally scheduled one (it's theoretical, of course, because we're still sitting in the airport, so we're not strictly on the flight yet...). Of course, changing one's flight to a one-way ticket mere hours before departure is a threatening thing to do, so we were singled out for particularly special treatment by O'Hare security. Getting tired and cranky. I'm not a good road warrior.

Thanks to the extra two-hour hang time here at the airport, the rest of today's entry is given over to this year's aria frequency list. It's a summary of all the arias that singers have offered for our auditions, sorted by frequency of appearance. This list doesn't reflect what we've actually heard people sing, but rather the choices they've offered. Please forgive typos, etc. Made an attempt to proof for accuracy, but there's only so much time.

Who’s Singing What


The big winner – 31 times
Ach ich fühl’s

The Runners-up – about 20 times each
No word from Tom...I go to him
Ain't it a pretty night
Jewel Song
Deh vieni

Very Popular - 10 or more times
Adieu, notre petite table
Be kind and courteous
Come scoglio
Durch Zärtlichkeit
Je dis
Je veux vivre
Non mi dir
Porgi amor
Quando m'en vo
Quel guardo…So anch'io

Somewhat Frequent - 3-10 times each
Ach ich liebte
Ah fors'è lui...Sempre libera
Ah non credea...Ah non giunge
Ah! fuggi il traditor
Batti batti
Bester Jüngling
But you do not know this man
Caro nome
Chacun le sait
Chi il bel sogno di Doretta
Comme autre fois
Da tempeste
Dearest Mama
Depuis le jour
Der Hölle Rache
Donde lieta uscí
Dove sono
Du gai soleil
Elle a fui
Embroidery aria
Es gibt ein Reich
Fire aria
Glitter and be gay
Grossmächitge Prinzessin
Have peace, Jo
How beautiful it is
I want magic
Je marche sur tous les chemins
Je suis encore tout étourdie
Les oiseaux
Mein Herr Marquis
Mi chiamano Mimi
Mi tradi
Nun eilt herbei
O luce di quest'anima
O mio babbino caro
O quante volte
O wär' ich schon
O zittre nicht
Once I thought
Padre, germani, addio
Piangete voi…Al dolce guidami
Presentation of the Rose
Silver Aria
Song to the Moon
Steal me
Sul fil d'un soffio etesio
Tornami a vagheggiar
Tu che di gel
Willow song

Once or Twice
Adele's Audition aria
Ah! Douce Enfant
Ah! non sai qual prestigio si cela (Maria Padilla)
Ah, que ton âme (Jemmy’s aria)
Always through the changing
Amour, ranime mon courage
As when the dove
Barbaro, o Dio, mi vedi
Bel raggio lusinghier
Bell song
Care compagne
Come in quest'ora
Come per me sereno
Convien partir
Da schlägt des Abschieds Stunde
D'amor sull'ali rosee
Das war sehr gut
Di, cor mio
Dich, theure Halle
Die Wiener Herrn
Dieu, quel frisson
Douce enfant
Du bist der Lenz
Einsam in trüben Tagen
En proie à la tristesse
Eran già create in cielo
Fair Robin
Furie terribili
Gluck das mir verbliebt
I can smell the sea air
I’m looking for Curly
Ich bin die Christel von der Post
Il faut partir
I'm full of happiness
In uomini
Injurious Hermia
Io son l'umile ancella
Je suis Titania
Je vais le voir
Kiss me not goodbye
Kommt ein schlanker Bursch gegangen
L’altra notte
Lady, to your dressing table
Lagrimas Mias
Love me big
Ma quando tornerai
Marenka's aria
Mes filles (Carmelites)
Monica's Waltz
My man’s gone now
Non so le tetre immagini
O patria mia
O sleep
Oh Nelly I’ve fallen in love
Ombre pallide
Par le rang...Salut à la France
Pensieri, voi mi tormentate
Per pietà
Plus grand, dans son obscurite
Quella vita a me funesta
Qui la voce...Vien diletta
Regnava nel silenzio
Robert, toi que j'aime
S'altro che lagrime
Saper vorreste
Se il padre perdei
Se pietà
Sempre libera
Senza mamma
Si, mi chiamano Mimì
Signore, ascolta
Snow wraps us
So che non e più mio (Arianna in Creta)
Sola, perduta, abbondanata
Son vergin vezzosa
Stridonò lassu
Tacea la notte
The hours creep on apace
Tiny’s song
To this we've come
Trees on the mountain
Tu che le vanità
Tutte nel cor vi sento
Un bel di vedremo
Una donna a quindici anni
Una voce poco fa (sop)
V'adoro pupille
Vedrai carino
Venite inginocchiatevi
Vixen’s aria
Volta la terrea
Welche Wonne, welche Lust
What would it be for me
Wo bin ich
You’ve never seen the winter here


Tied for First Place
Must the Winter Come So Soon
Sein wir wieder gut
Smanie implacabili
Va, laisse couler mes larmes

The Runners-up
Cruda sorte
Non so più
Parto parto
Una voce poco fa
Voi che sapete

Ah Michele don’t you know
Chacun à son goût
Faites-lui mes aveux
Give him this orchid
Iris hence away
Je vous écris
Nobles seigneurs
Podrugi milïye
Sta nell'Ircana
Things change, Jo
When I am laid in earth
Wie du warst

Once or Twice
Addio o miei sospiri
Adieu forêts
Afraid, am I afraid?
Ah! que j’aime les miltaires
Al lampo dell’armi
All’alma fedel
Amour, viens aider
Cara sposa
Che farò
Cho chvila (Jenufa)
Connais-tu le pays
Dopo notte
È amore un ladroncello
En vain pour eviter
Enfin je suis ici
Già dagli occhi
I do not judge you John
I was a constant, faithful wife
Il segreto per esser felice
Je suis Lazuli
Kiss me not goodbye
Lascia ch'io pianga
Lullaby (from Consul)
Mon coeur s'ouvre à ta voix
Nancy’s aria (Bartered Bride)
Nina’s aria (The Seagull)
No innoncence (Grapes of Wrath)
Non ho colpa
Non piu di fiori
Non più mesta
Non, non vous n’avez (Huguenots)
O don fatale
O mio Fernando
O pallida, che un giorno
O thou bright sun
Ombra mai fu
Perfect as we are
Presti omai
Priva son d'ogni conforto
Que fais-tu
Quint, Peter Quint
Re dell'abisso
Saga of Jenny
Se Romeo
Send in the clowns
Sgombra è la sacra selva
Stride la vampa
Svegliatevi nel core
The Best Thing of All
Und ob die Wolke
Va, l’error mi palesa
Vedrai carino
Voce di donna
Voi lo sapete
Vois sous l'archet
Waiting (Great Gatsby)
We cannot retrace our steps
What a movie
Where shall I fly


First Place and Runner-up
Dies Bildniss (16 times)
Ah lève-toi soleil (12 times)

Very Popular
Ah fuyez
Che gelida manina
Dalla sua pace
Ecco ridente
Here I stand
Il mio tesoro
La mia letizia infondere
Lonely House
New York Lights
O wie ängstlich
Parmi veder le lagrime
Salut, demeure chaste e pure
Sam's aria
Si, ritrovarla
Un aura amorosa
Una furtiva lagrima
Vainement, ma bien aimée

Once or Twice
Ah come mai non senti
Ah mes amis
Ah! Do not laugh (Goya)
Ah, la paterna mano
Air de gonzalve (L’heure Espanole)
Amore o grillo
Avete torto!
Cessa di più resistere
Com'è gentil
Dal labbro il canto
De' miei bollenti spiriti
Deserto in terra
Di rigori armato il seno
Donna non vidi mai
E lucevan le stelle
Empio, per farti guerra
Fatto inferno
Fra poco a me ricovero
Frisch zum Kampfe
Fuor del mar
I know that you all hate me
Ich baue ganz
In quegli anni
Inkslinger’s Song
Je crois entendre
Kuda, kuda
La fleur
La giustizia
Languir per una bella
Love sounds th’alarm
Love too frequently betrayed
No puede ser
O blonde Cérès
O Paridis
On the path to the lake
Oui, je veux par le monde
Outside this house
Pour me rapproacher
Pourquoi me réveiller
Povero Ernesto
Que les destins prospères
Rome is now ruled
Take a pair of sparkling eyes
Tarquinius does not wait
Täubchen das entflattert ist
Tradito, schernito
Un momento di contento
Una ne so a memorìa (Viaggio)
Unis dès la plus tendre enfance
Wie stark ist nicht dein Zauberton


The Winner
Hai gia vinta la causa (22 times)

Avant de quitter ces lieux
Look, through the port

E fra quest'ansie
Largo al factotum
Lieben, Hassen
Mein Sehnen
O du mein holder Abendstern
Onegin's aria
Papageno's suicide aria
Questo amor
Within this frail crucible

Once or Twice
Bella siccome un angelo
Carlos, ecoute
Cecil’s Song of Government (Gloriana)
Churchyard’s agog
Come Paride vezzose
Come un ape
Come un'ape
Cruda, funesta smania
Dearest Amelia
Deh vieni alla finestra
Der Vogelfanger bin ich ja
Do you know the land
Donne mie
È sogno?
God does not need my name
I am a saint (Miss Lonelyhearts)
I burn, I freeze
I had to strike down that Jemmy Legs
If she be innocent
Il cavallo scalpiti (Cavalleria)
I've got plenty of nuttin’
Joseph’s confession
Lodgers’ aria
Mary Warren
Nur mutig, mein Herze
O Nadir
O vin dissipe la tristesse
One alone
Pari siamo
Schaunard's aria
Se vuol ballare
See the raging flames arise
Si tra I ceppi
Sibillar gli angui d’Aletto
Soliloquy (Carousel)
There was a knight
Tickling a Trout
Vision fugitive
When the air sings of summer
Who am I? (A Month in the Country)
Ya vas lyublu
Zaza, piccola zingara


Most Popular

I'm a lonely man, Susannah
Aprite un po'
O du mein holder Abendstern

Once or Twice
A Ship called Hunger
Ah per sempre
Come dal ciel
Come Master
Ecco la sconsolata donna
Ella giammai m'amó
Épouse quelque brave fille
Gospod' moy
Hear me O Lord
Hear me ye winds and waves
Ho capito
Il lacerato spirito
La calunnia
Lakme, ton doux regard se voile
Let things be like they always was
Lyubvi vse vozrastï pokornï
Mein Herr und Gott
Sanft schloss Schlaf dein Aug’ (Fasolt)
Non più andrai
O beauty
O Isis und Osiris
O wie will ich triumphieren
Piff paff
Pravaslavniye (Shelkalov’s aria)
Se vuol ballare
Si la rigeur
Sorge infausta
Sweet Moon, I thank thee
Vecchia zimarra
Votre toast
Vous qui faites l'endormie
Wie schon ist doch die Musik


Multiple times
Che farò
I know a bank
Tu preparati a morire

Ah di si nobil alma
Cara speme
Cor ingrato
Di tanti palpiti
Di te mi rido
Fammi combattere
Hymen haste
Impious Wretch
Non so più
Non so, se sia la speme
Ombra mai fu
Quel torrente
Son reo
Venga pur minacci e frema
Verdi allori

See you in Ohio tomorrow.

Friday, November 18, 2005


I can feel my brain reaching its pitiful saturation point, and I’m oh so thankful that there’s no singing in my Friday.

Spent the day getting from Seattle to Chicago and catching up on some paperwork. And as if to make up for the fact that we couldn’t see Mt. Rainier from Seattle because of the fog, today’s lift-off provided a spectacular view of the Cascades.


It’s appropriate that on our way to Chicago I finished reading Fortissimo (“Backstage at the Opera with Sacred Monsters and Young Singers”) on the plane. William Murray’s report of a year spent behind the scenes in the Lyric Opera Center for American Artists just hit the bookshelves this fall. A pleasant and easy read, informative without being dry, frank without being cruel.

Richard Pearlman runs one of the great year-round young artist training programs in the country, and he’s quoted to good effect in this book. “Every would-be opera singer, no matter how talented…soon discovers that it’s a long, often painful road from having a beautiful instrument in your throat to being able to compete in one of the world’s most demanding and difficult professions.”

And the Chicago theme continues – I’m in the middle of The Devil in the White City. Great historical novel about the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. A story of truly operatic proportions:)

Knowing When to Quit

Ever since we set up the schedule for the audition tour, I’ve been eyeing the Lyric Opera’s production of Manon Lescaut, with a 7:30pm curtain this evening. I love Karita Mattila’s work, and this piece isn’t done very often. But it became clear this week that in order to do good work in auditioning our final 70 singers tomorrow and Sunday, I’d better make it an early night. Deep dish pizza, some clerical work on this year’s aria frequency list (it’s almost ready… maybe tomorrow’s posting…), and hashing out some possible permutations for next summer’s schedule.


Some random parting words on the art and craft of practicing – of learning music.

  • From Benjamin Zander in his fabulous book The Art of Possibility: “What? You’ve been practicing it for three minutes and you still can’t play it?”
  • From Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart: “There is nothing more pointless, or common, than doing the same things and expecting different results.”
  • And finally, two divergent points of view, not surprising considering their respective sources: “Chance favors the prepared mind” (Louis Pasteur) and “Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative” (Oscar Wilde).

Have a great weekend! I’ll be posting throughout as we wind up this little odyssey of ours. Parting image is of the always-astonishing Beaux Arts ceiling here at the Palmer House in Chicago.

Thursday, November 17, 2005



I’m afraid that I would spend an obscene percentage of my food budget on coffee if I lived in Seattle. The coffee shops are so inviting, and who can resist the lure of free wireless access and caffeine?

This is my second time here, and I haven’t seen Mt. Rainier yet. But the view from Kerry Park (with Thomas, who's one of the most caffeinated people I know, at left) was lovely this morning.

Strange Behavior at the Table

It was brought to my attention that some singers find it troubling that I don’t always look at them during their auditions. I’m sorry that this is the case – believe me, I don’t intend to appear inattentive. I do it for two reasons.

1) I occasionally need to look down when I type – not often, for my touch-typing is pretty good. But the stream-of-consciousness monologue that I try to capture during the audition is crucial. When I get back home and the crush of casting is over, I promise to devote a blog entry or two to demonstrating exactly what we are writing on our laptops.

2) I listen better when I’m not watching. Yes, the visual component is terribly important, and of course I watch the audition to get a sense of the artist’s ability to communicate. But my old instincts as a coach and teacher kick in very quickly. I empathize immediately and fatally with almost everyone, and I find myself rooting for each singer’s success. That’s a lovely and noble thing to do, but it doesn’t help one bit when the ultimate and unavoidable goal is to take 320 auditions and trim them down to 15.

The Videotape

I was also mortified to find out that people are watching to see when I turn the video-camera on and off. Singers should not read too much into this! We record the audio for every single note of every single audition, but I dip in and out of the video. It’s used as a quick reminder of the visual component of the audition – it jogs the memory and helps me put my written comments in perspective. I use it in snippets – usually not for entire arias. My use of it is not scientific, and it’s certainly not directly proportionate to the success of the audition.

Fatigue Setting In

Really wanted to hear the Seattle Symphony tonight (Beethoven 4th Piano Concert and Bruckner 7th Symphony), but I’m toast. Travel day tomorrow. The ears need a rest, and I need a good night’s sleep.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005


It’s the Little Things

I’m reluctant to mention this, for I’m sure it will reveal the depth of my compulsiveness. When we arrive at our various venues (usually large rehearsal rooms of some sort), we expect to spend the first ten minutes doing basic setup. Pushing pianos, finding chairs and tables, locating electrical outlets. Thomas also has to arrange the furniture for good Feng Shui.

We walked into our Houston Grand Opera home for the day and found the piano and furniture preset, an extension cord carefully strung and taped to the floor, a table with pencils, Kleenex, post-its, water, and hand sanitizer. God bless stage managers!

Shop Talk

“Smanie implacabili” – a nice demonstration today of how it’s possible to deliver the recitative without it becoming a caricature of a lady with severe ADHD. There are moments in this recit (and aria) that give perspective to Dorabella’s agitation. Look for those points of focus and self-control, and the more manic episodes will have more clarity and impact.

Baby Doe – lots of “Dearest Mama”s and “Silver” arias this year. No “Willow”s so far, and that’s unusual. One “Always Through the Changing.” This is pretty much a good thing. We always find that the Silver Aria tells us much more about the artist than does “Willow” or “Dearest Mama”.

Despina – another trend: “In uomini” seems to be edging out “Una donna a quindici anni”. This is a good thing.

The Equation in Practice

There are two frustrating extremes that we encounter pretty regularly during these auditions. Let’s call them “Miss America” and “Extreme Stage Animal.” Of course, most artists fall somewhere in between these two poles, but they help illustrate two common problems. And please, don’t take offense at the nicknames.

  • Miss America. Not, strictly speaking, always a female. But the most common incarnation is a soprano with a lovely, sweet, light instrument. What distinguishes the Miss America is the lack of fire in the belly. No blood and guts. No coglioni, as they say in Italian. (If you don’t know what it means, don’t look it up. You’ll be embarrassed.) The singing is sometimes charming, always inoffensive, typically technically proficient. But it’s maddening because after the first few minutes there’s very little to command the audience’s attention. Unfortunately, this is the type of performance that sounds lovely piped into an Italian restaurant or an upscale boutique. The problem is that it’s DOA as art. Music needs to move us, agitate us, console us, inspire us. Which brings us to
  • Extreme Stage Animal. Unbridled enthusiasm. Raw talent. Burning desire to perform. All of which are unmatched by either technical skill or stylistic integrity, or both. It’s easy to see why vocal technique is a necessity – after all, it matters little with how much verve someone throws himself at a high note if he can’t attain it. But stylistic integrity – that’s a little hard to describe. It comes from a discerning ear, knowledge of the legacies of great opera singers of the past, and a willingness to get inside the music and the language. It’s all about finding out what gives our art form its potency and structuring your performance toward that goal. (I know, it’s a little obtuse but I warned you.)

The Short List Gets Shorter

We’ve heard 235 of our scheduled 320 auditions. The repertoire for 2006 is not yet set, for I’m sure there’ll be a few more surprises in the next several days. But the list is narrowing by process of elimination.

What is falling by the wayside?

  • Most of the Handel, because we have a wonderful “crop” of baritones (What is the proper aggregate term for baritones? A pride? A flock? A herd? A bevy?:)). My beloved Handel specialized in lots of mezzos or countertenors, a fair amount of sopranos, a smattering of basses, and the occasional tenor. Few baritones.
  • Most of the Donizetti, because it just doesn’t seem viable for The Barns at this time.
  • The Rape of Lucretia – still a slight possibility, but looking less likely that the full casting is optimal.
  • Paisiello’s Re Teodoro. Too many basses in a year in which most of the basses we are hearing are pretty young and inexperienced. But we have a half-dozen or so more to hear up north, so who knows?
  • Rossini’s Viaggio. We prefer Comte Ory; the music for the two is almost interchangeable, for good ol’ Giachino stole from himself in a big way, shamelessly crafting Ory from pre-existing material.
  • Rossini’s La gazza ladra. Aside from the exciting and well-known overture and occasional aria, I can’t seem to get behind this piece enough to produce it. If you’ve seen it done well, tell me about it.
  • Ariadne. Duh.

I promise a discussion (soon!) of the elephant in the room: What are we going to produce in our large outdoor venue?


We have the pleasure to work with some truly fine audition pianists. Being pianists ourselves (Thomas in the present tense, myself in the occasional tense…), we probably appreciate their contribution more than most.

What makes a fabulous audition pianist?

  • Listening. The ability to put the playing in subconscious mode and use most of the conscious mind to take in all of the details of the performance and become a split-second collaborator for singers the pianist has never met.
  • Flexibility. Turning on a dime to respond to the unexpected – a mis-timed entrance, a sudden change in tempo, an ill-marked cut in the printed music, a book (or, perish the thought, a stray piece of loose music) that won’t stay on the rack.
  • ESP. The ability to know sometimes a singer grinds to a halt not because he wants to, but because he can’t help himself. The pianist must gently prod the tempo. The ability to know that a singer’s desired tempo is predicated on the length of phrase she can sustain or the very specific speed that the coloratura must move in that particular voice.
  • Tolerance. Auditioners are a nervous lot. Normally sane, pleasant people can become pretty tightly wound in the audition room. Face it – the pianist is physically closer to the singer than any of us, and some of that wears off.
  • Musicality. We notice this and are thankful for it almost hourly. Singers feel it in their bones even if they don’t acknowledge it consciously. A well-shaped phrase, an interlude or prelude that actually encourages the singer to join in the music-making – that’s what it’s all about.

A note to singers: What does the audition pianist need in order to serve the singer well?

  • Pianist-friendly materials. Books that stay open. Sheets of paper that are held securely in place by a binder. Double-sided, please. And not in shiny sheet-protectors.
  • Clearly-marked cuts. You don’t want your support system to have to guess where the next measure is.
  • Easy-to-find arias. We ask for aria #2, you smile and acquiesce, and begin to compose yourself to assume the new character. Meanwhile, the pianist is fumbling through your notebook or anthology.
  • Clear intentions. Know what you want to do and indicate it. By preparing for phrases with a breath that indicates the downbeat. By choosing a tempo and sticking to it. Indicating the tempo of an aria by conducting it, snapping it, or singing a phrase before starting never works. Never. I know you don’t believe me, but it doesn’t. Sing with clear intentions and a good pianist will be with you.

Leg Room

I’ve rambled far too long during this long, overbooked flight to Seattle. Less leg room than I’ve had on a plane in a while. An entire basketball team is occupying the last 5 rows. Poor guys – their knees are up around their ears, and their legs are spilling out into the aisles.

More from the beautiful Pacific Northwest tomorrow!