Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Ho Ho Ho

We've successfully navigated the winter solstice here in the northern hemisphere, and, even as you read this, the sunlight is returning and the days are getting longer.

If you're idly surfing, scroll down for a random sampling of my favorite quotes and quips. In no particular order. With apologies for any duplications, misattributions, etc.

And finally, go here for the news on the inaugural season of the Wolf Trap Opera Studio program for undergraduate singers.

And that's my holiday week placeholder.

See you in 2007!


Live your questions now, and perhaps, even without knowing it, you will live along some distant day into your answers. Rilke

And if I'm a great teacher, who will know it? You, your students, God. Not a bad audience, that. Sir Thomas Moore

Nobody can do two things at once, you know. Lewis Carroll

Chance favors the prepared mind. Louis Pasteur

What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us. Ralph Waldo Emerson

Where there is great love there are always miracles. Willa Cather

When once you have tasted flight you will always walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward; for there you have been and there you will always be. Leonardo da Vinci

Reasonable people adapt themselves to the world. Unreasonable people attempt to adapt the world to themselves. All progress, therefore, depends on unreasonable people. George Bernard Shaw

If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable. Seneca

The basis of optimism is sheer terror. Oscar Wilde

Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go. Oscar Wilde

Not all who wander are lost. Tolkien

There is a crack, a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in. Leonard Cohen

Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm. Emerson

Thunder is good, thunder is impressive; but it is lightning that does the work. Mark Twain

Patience, n. A minor form of despair, disguised as a virtue." Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary, 1911

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. Aristotle

Generosity is not giving me that which I need more than you do, but it is giving me that which you need more than I do. Kahlil Gibran

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. F. Scott Fitzgerald

I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I intended to be. Douglas Adams

We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of the dream.
Wandering by lone sea breakers, and sitting by desolate streams.
World losers and world forsakers, for whom the pale moon gleams.
Yet we are movers and the shakers of the world forever it seems. Arthur O'Shaunessey

Whether you believe you can or you believe that you can't, you are right. Henry Ford

To the man who only has a hammer in the toolkit, every problem looks like a nail. Abraham Maslow

He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; he who does not ask a question remains a fool forever. Chinese Proverb

Use what talent you possess: the woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those that sang best. Henry Van Dyke

I don't know the key to success, but the key to failure is to try to please everyone. Bill Cosby

When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on. Franklin D. Roosevelt

Fall seven times, stand up eight. Japanese Proverb

A woman is like a tea bag. You never know how strong she is until she gets in hot water. Eleanor Roosevelt

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Einstein

I am not afraid of storms, for I have learned how to sail my ship. Louisa May Alcott

Art is either plagiarism or revolution. Paul Gauguin

I haven’t understood a bar of music in my life; but I have felt it. Stravinsky

The old is not good just because it's past
Nor is the new supreme because we live with it;
And never yet a man felt greater joy than he could bear or truly comprehend.
Your task it is, amid confusion, rush, and noise
To grasp the lasting, calm, and meaningful,
And finding it anew, to hold and treasure it. Hindemith

Acting is a masochistic form of exhibitionism. It is not quite the occupation of an adult. Sir Laurence Olivier

Music is the lyre and opera is the underworld of passion and romance that everyone desires but which daily life rarely offers. Robertson Davies

Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep. Scott Adams

If ya ain’t got it in ya, ya can’t blow it out. Louis Armstrong

Practice means to perform, over and over again in the race of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire. Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired. Martha Graham

The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without work. Émile Zola

When told by a violinist that a difficult passage in the violin concerto was virtually unplayable, Stravinsky is supposed to have said: "I don't want the sound of someone playing this passage, I want the sound of someone trying to play it!"

“Whom the gods wish to destroy, they give unlimited resources. Twyla Tharp

There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique, and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium; and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, not how it compares with other expression. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is on a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others. Martha Graham

It is important that we are occasionally, perhaps even frequently, depressed by books, challenged by films, shocked by paintings, maybe even disturbed by music. But do they have to do all these things all the time? Can’t we let them console, uplift, inspire, move, cheer? Please? Just every now and then, when we’ve had a really shitty day? Nick Hornby

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Fun with Radio

Today we're in the recording studio at WETA-FM, producing Center Stage from Wolf Trap. An exciting couple of days to spend here, given the recent news about classical music radio in Washington, D.C. We're working through some stunning audio footage from last year's chamber music series - this morning including contributions from Joyce Yang (one of the most both brilliant and musical pianists I've heard in a long time) and WTOC alumnus Alan Held. Photos from early this morning - the Wienermobile was parked at the hotel, and we couldn't resist. From top: radio host Bill McGlaughlin, producers Noel Morris and Vic Muenzer.

This radio stuff is a small part of my professional life, and I feel very much like what my kids call a 'poser'... but it's fun nonetheless. Listening to Bill McGlaughlin and Rich Kleinfeldt talk about the music is endlessly interesting and entertaining. (photo below)

These are busy people, and it's particularly impressive that they've managed to set aside time during the week before the Christmas holiday. But, as Leonard Bernstein said (and as Bill reminded us this morning), "To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan, and not quite enough time.”

Wolf Trap Opera Studio Reminder

If you didn't see last week's post, and you're interested in finding out more about our new opportunity for undergraduate singers, go here.

Back to making radio!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Announcing the Wolf Trap Opera Studio

Big news today. We're launching a new division of the Wolf Trap Opera Company next summer - an introductory tier designed for singers who are just about to finish or who have recently finished their undergraduate work. It's called the Wolf Trap Opera Studio, and auditions will be held in February 2007.

Go here for complete information, and/or keep reading for an informal description.


Because our Filene Young Artists are all at a relatively advanced place in their young careers - generally finishing that final Performer Diploma or Certificate, and finishing up a series of YAPS (young artist programs) - we have no viable way to contribute to the developing careers of those singers who are beginning their journeys.

We're flattered by regular inquiries from folks who recognize our track record of identifying and promoting emerging talent and who want our advice on opportunities for the 20-23-year-old set. (Forgive the chronological reference: There is no age limit for this program, but we will be targeting undergraduate juniors & seniors as well as first-year graduate students, and this is the typical age range. If you're a late starter, and you're still in this academic target, then you're in our demographic.)

For a number of years we've been toying with the idea of providing opportunities for younger singers, and we've finally been able to put together all of the pieces (financial, philosophical, artistic, logistical) in order to launch the Studio.


Dates: For 2007, the Studio program will run from May 28 - July 29. We expect to choose somewhere between 12 and 16 singers for next season.

Singers will sing bit roles and chorus roles in our two operas at The Barns (our small venue). There will be regular individual coaching and group instruction (movement, diction, auditioning, etc). Note: There will be no voice teacher in residence.

Singers will receive a small stipend and local dormitory housing. They will be responsible for their own transportation, both to/from Wolf Trap, and local. (This means bringing or renting a car.)

Apply to Audition

We have absolutely no idea what kind of response to expect. Anecdotal evidence from our colleagues indicates that there will be substantial interest in the Studio. But for a number of reasons, we have to start small. So, in this first year, we've set aside 3 audition days - two in New York (Feb 17-18) and one here in Vienna (Feb 24). If we have a moderate level of response, we might be able to hear everyone who falls in our target pool (see more below). If there's a higher quantity of applications, we may need to screen.

You will find a link to a fillable and printable PDF application form, as well as details on other materials that must accompany your application, at Starting next week, you'll also be able to navigate to an interactive online application by visiting that same website. The interactive application will allow you to fill out the form, upload your resume and other materials, and pay online.

For the audition, we're asking for three contrasting pieces, either arias or art songs. (We will probably only be able to hear one of these selections, and possibly a portion of a second.) One selection must be in English, one must be in Italian or French. We're also asking for a contemporary monologue, no more than one minute long.

How to Figure Out Whether to Apply


You should be at least a mid-level undergraduate student with a declared voice major. Rising juniors as of summer 2007 are on the borderline: rising and graduating seniors preferred.

You should have prepared (and ideally, performed) at least a handful of opera scenes.

You should have a few years of solid vocal study under your belt and be vocally stable enough to spend eight weeks away from your teacher. We have very experienced coaches on staff, but no one is going to mess with or be able to fix basic significant technical issues.


If you have finished or are past the first year of a graduate program, you're too advanced for this particular demographic, and you should consider applying to audition for our Filene Young Artist program. That doesn't mean that you are a prime candidate for the latter; it just means that we consider you to be too experienced for this entry-level demographic, and that you are at the point where we are interested in following you for as a young artist candidate. There is a gap between the "sweet spots" for the two demographics (that of the Studio and that of the Filene Young Artist.)

If you have sung featured roles with local or regional companies, you're probably out of this pool.

If you have already done more than one higher level YAP/apprentice program, you've probably moved beyond this type of opportunity.

'Tis the Season

I'm a grouchy yet good-natured Grinch about the inescapability of the seasonsal Messiah sing-along. I long for the occasional Christmas Oratorio or Ceremony of Carols. (And after all, the Hallelujah Chorus is an Easter song...) However, fresh from this year's Handel free-for-all at my home parish, I will admit (as I do every year, in spite of myself), that it was pretty cool.

I'm not a fan of the big-budget concert hall variety of sing-along, but our homespun version still holds a place in my heart. A 9-person chamber orchestra, about 35 in the chorus, and another couple hundred in the strictly-participatory audience. All the soloists come from the ranks of the choir, and a generation of teenagers is passing through the ranks of the orchestra, the chorus, and front-of-house - including my own cellist daughter and general factotum (usher/box office/photographer) son. And of course, my fabulous husband as conductor and tenor soloist.

Add to this a loyal group of church neighbors, parishioners and friends who refuse to allow us to abandon this 16-year-old tradition, and you have something that feels distinctively unlike my professional life in music. Which, while it has its unique attractions, can still benefit from the periodic experience that exemplies all the best that amateur music-making has to offer.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

All Over the Map

I'm drowning in dry-erase boards. Most of the time, I'm blissfully content with spreadsheets and databases. But there's something about trying to figure out how an opera season might assemble itself that wants to be played out on a large screen.

So I've absconded with most of the large white boards I could find, spelled out various scenarios, and arrayed them around my office. Somehow I have to end up with about 18 singers in 3 operas, 3 concerts, and 5 improv performances condensed into 12 weeks. About 50 assignments, all of which have to be arranged on the May-August calendar grid so that everyone stays busy but not overworked.


It's difficult to find just the right voice for a blog like this one. I envy my blogger colleagues who are either anonymous (or pretend to be), or at least whose blogs represent only themselves. Writing a blog as a representative of an organization is its own punishment. Of course, it bears a certain stamp of legitimacy. But when I'm going through one of these inevitable troughs of energy and enthusiasm, it's a tough balance to strike.

So, having a hard time getting through the days lately; much of it undoubtedly due to residual fatigue from the last few months. Posting is very difficult, so I'm about to go into a once-weekly pattern. (Even that seems optimistic, but we'll see how it goes.) Please do continue to check in occasionally.

Silent Night

This week was full of many things having nothing to do with opera. Good, in a way, but hard to juggle when we're under the gun to get our season figured out... and fast! But there are few more beautiful things than the candlelight recessional at the end of the Wolf Trap holiday sing-along. 6,000 people joined the Marine Band and members of metro-area choruses for today's holiday season kick-off, and it all happened just a few hours ago.

Audition Tour Postscript

I've been doing these Wolf Trap auditions for 13 years now, and I've never stopped underestimating the effect they have on me. I guess that every year I think it will get easier. Truly, compared to many difficult things in this world, our little autumn jaunt around the country is a breeze. Perhaps that's why I'm (annually...) surprised that it takes so much out of me.

At the core, this "talent search" part of our year is a fairly linear, objective thing. And one would think that every year of additional experience and the purported wisdom that's supposed to come with age would make it easier. Unfortunately, it seems to be taking a bigger toll each year.

First of all, even though I'm sure we screened out many good singers before we held the auditions, I probably should've put through even fewer applications. Next year we will either spread the tour out over a longer period (which has its own complications, both financial and logistical) or screen a little more heavily. It's not something I relish doing (I've given up trying to learn how to say no...), but it's something that may be necessary in order to get through the fall.


A few recent blog comments that deserved a speedier answer than I'm providing.

May I ask for the sake of my peace of mind the percentage breakdown of basses to bass-baritones? That number leapt from last year's 4% (IIRC), which means that either there are more Bass-Baritones, or I'm in trouble! :)

The record 9% representation of low voice this year broke down to 6% describing themselves as bass-baritones, and 3% as basses.

By my count above, you heard 145 sopranos. I'm sure that's at least 50% of your audition pool. How in the world do you pick just a couple from that group? Do you find yourself being extra critical of sopranos to make it easier to whittle down -- "well, she flubbed those words, we can put her in the NO pile" -- or is everyone judged on the same plane? How do the 4 or 5 sopranos that are chosen stand out from the pack?

Let's break this down.

Are we extra-critical of sopranos? Actually, I don't think so. We hold all voice types to the same standard. If that were not the case, the same level of ability might qualify a baritone (for example) as a finalist, yet not qualify a soprano. Yet the profile of the successful candidate is remarkably similar across voice types.

In any given year, are there likely to be more sopranos who are qualified who don't get chosen than in other voice types? A qualified yes. But the discrepancy isn't as large as you think. And almost every year, sopranos are more heavily represented in our company. (For 2007, it looks as if we headed for something like 5/4/4/2/2.)

As for "she flubbed those words, we can put her in the NO pile", memory slips are not the kiss of death. We have hired people who forgot something. I do believe it's possible to tell the difference between someone who had an uncharacteristic memory slip and someone who is skating on the edge because s/he learned the material poorly or is incompletely invested in the performance.

After those encouraging words, I would have to agree that if you're a soprano, you have to work pretty damn hard to distinguish yourself. That doesn't mean it's impossible, though.

Am curious to hear the answer to that question as well. I mean, let's face it, auditioning as a soprano is automatically different than any other voice type simply because of numbers. Advice for the auditioning soprano would be very welcome. Would also like to know how many sopranos might return from a previous season, making the spots open to newcomers even smaller.

No advice separate and apart from all of the other random things I've suggested for all singers. As for the number of returnees, it waxes and wanes in each voice type each year. It's typical that about half of each year's spots may go to singers who have re-auditioned for consideration for their second year at Wolf Trap.

Love the blog(s) since the past two years; however, you forgot the two, count 'em two "Ah, quel diners/Griserie" under Mezzo arias..... ;)

Actually, I was afraid I had missed them, but they're there. (Alpha, under mezzo: Once or twice.) But I did find that I missed one Mi tradi and one O du mein holder Abendstern. Could've been worse!

I wanted to agree with your attention to detail advice regarding resumes and other submission materials, though I wanted to point out a funny irony. There were three typos in the "Basic Information" sheet provided by WTOC at the Chicago auditions this weekend. Human error is certainly understandable, but just know that singers are also paying attention to the professional presentation of companies. Please forgive this spotlight of honesty, I only mean to demonstrate your original point.

It was only a test to see if you were paying attention. No... seriously.... I checked the information sheet on my computer and couldn't find the typos. Then we went back and looked at the printed sheet and realized that we had duplicated and distributed an earlier sloppy draft version... As I tell my son, intention is only part of the equation. Sometimes, follow-through can be everything. It is critical that we follow our own advice, especially if we're going to be criticizing others.

In the Meantime

Do check out soprano Laura Claycomb's "Young Artist Corner." She has some marvelously truthful, insightful, blunt yet compassionate things to say to those of you who are considering a career in opera.

Do your favorite accompanist/pianist/collaborator (hard to know what to call us these days...) a favor, and spend some time surfing the Collaborative Piano Blog; especially 10 ways to translate song and aria texts into English. I also love Chris' list of required personal skills for the collaborative pianist. Truer words were never written: *** A positive attitude*** Ability to get along with most people and to develop working relationships with a wide cross-section of people without confrontation*** Ability to develop working relationships with difficult people** Ability to connect well with people in a limited time-span, ie. a 3-day rehearsal process* Ability to work in more than one language*** An open-minded attitude, and a willingness to try new ideas** A sense of when to compromise and when not to** Ability to become a trusted and respected colleague, with the ability to inspire confidence in others... and more...

See you soon. Enjoy December and those endless Messiah sing-alongs and Nutcrackers. Someday we'll pass the law that gives musicians a separate holiday, sometime in February.