Sunday, April 25, 2010

Splish Splash!

11 a.m. is early for a singer.
Opera is a profession where virtually nothing starts before 10 in the morning, and nothing is thought amiss of a rehearsal ending at 10 p.m. Luckily, I have always been a night owl, and these late hours appeal to me. Last night I went to hear my friend sing in "Simone Boccanegra" and then hung out with him and another friend until almost 3 a.m. It was a lovely evening, however I had to sing at 11 a.m. this morning for what was described to me as an outreach pre-Rheingold thing for donors. The director and the drammaturg (very nice person at this opera house who writes the program notes and prepares this gathering) would explain the story, the concept of the production, and I would be one of 4 singers to sing parts of the opera. No problem.
On arrival, suddenly there was the conductor of the piece who would also be speaking, and the head of the opera company himself, who would be observing. There were hundreds of people. This morning had suddenly been given a violent shove into serious.
We sang in the order of where our pieces fall in the opera, and as my character, Erda, doesn't rise from the depths until 86% of the opera has passed, I sat in the lobby area for an hour trying to keep my voice warmed up. I also now recalled that there would be a camera crew taping and that the drammaturg has asked me if I would be comfortable with him asking me a few questions when I finished singing. I had said that would fine, as long as I would be allowed to give my answers in English.
So, the door opened and smiling, I walked into a packed room with rows on three sides of me and a table with the drammaturg, the director, and the conductor beside me. As the pianist played the ominous, spooky, "Here's Erda!" chords, I couldn't resist bending my knees and pretending to rise up from the ground. I was gifted with some smiles and laughter. Then I had to look serious, foreboding, and concerned for the future the gods would suffer if Wotan didn't relinquish the ring. My voice showed up, for which I'm quite grateful indeed, and I decided I wasn't happy staying back by my piano, and wandered the room, scaring some patrons, and spitting on those in the front rows. When I sing in the German language, there is much phlegm involved, and the front row should be designated a Shamu-like "Splash Zone."
After my aria I went to go sit with the other soloists on the side of the room, but Malte the drammaturg called me front and center and handed me a huge microphone. I had thought this would be a panel-type question session, but it seems I was the only one being put on the spot today. Malte asked me in German and then translated into English that I was very young to be singing Wagner, and how did I come to this role so quickly in my career? I thought of you, dear readers, when I replied in carefully pronounced English that I sing loud, low, and slow, and I would never be a Mozart singer. This did not require any translation into German, and the audience laughed and laughed. He then asked me how this experience was different than my last time singing in Frankfurt as Ulrica in "Un Ballo in Maschera" a year ago as this Wagner was a premiere and the Ballo had been a re-mount. I said that it was great having more time to spend in this beautiful city, the opportunity to sing in German in Germany was exciting, and that it was very special to be singing my first Ring Cycle in Frankfurt.
I was finally allowed to go sit with the other soloists, and after the program finished, I was free to escape home for a nap. I may not have been the most demure diva, but I'm sure I was memorable.

Friday, April 23, 2010


We have had a long long week of technical rehearsals, where as a singer you almost feel like a prop. You're on the stage for the first time, with piano accompaniment and they are stopping and starting, working the lights, movements of the stage, etc. Our set for "Das Rheingold" is very cool. It is a circular, huge, blue Saturn-type set with a circle in the center, and the floor separates into rings that move up and down and rotate (often while singers are standing, walking, running, or lying on it).
I rise up from the very center, and don't move more than a step in any direction. Yesterday I was given smoke as an experiment, and I felt like Madonna. When they stopped rehearsal at the end of my scene and I was lowered back down, I couldn't resist striking a rocker pose with my fist in the air, my face raised to the heavens in tortured bliss, and smoke swirling around me, as I descended to the depths.
My costume will be viewed by the masses during rehearsal on Tuesday. However, I have taken some pictures, and people who have seen them are rendered speechless. I look like Chewbacca after a sex change operation, and the size of these fake boobs would make Dolly Parton look like she was smuggling mini muffins under her sweater. Several people who have seen the pictures have asked if they are my real boobs. Come on, people! There is no minimizing bra in the world that could ease those puppies into the realm of everyday respectability. We have guessed that I will be asked out by men who have seen me in my costume from a distance, and that they would feel on the date that they had been lured there under false pretenses. :)
Speaking of bras, my friend Richard at lunch yesterday pointed out that it's a shame my fake boobs couldn't be more perky. I responded that as the Mother of the Earth, I shun bras and encourage my breasts to return to the earth from which they were sprung.
I am sorry to report that the streets of Frankfurt are not flowing with lava. There's not even a hint of visible Icelandic volcanic ash in the air. Our airport was closed for days, and there were many concerns as to whether casts would make it back in time for performances. One friend I know drove 18 hours from Stockholm to arrive in Frankfurt 2 hours before his opera.
The Frankfurt public transportation system is run on the honor system. I have a month card, as does my friend Martina. We hadn't been checked once since our arrival, and Martina was not happy about spending all that money for naught. To amuse her, we were on the subway and I (in my extremely limited German) demanded her ticket, her ID, and asked her to hurry up in producing both. Just as we were laughing, an official ticket checker lady actually showed up! We both gave her huge, eager smiles and Martina felt the need to tell the lady how extremely happy she was to see her. She looked at us strangely, checked our tickets, and moved on.
Finally, last week I was on the main shopping/gathering plaza, and suddenly found myself in the middle of a massive, organized pillow fight. Hundreds and hundreds of people beating anyone without reach, and down feathers filling the air with a impotent softness. Truly amazing experience. I also thought it was very German that at the end, as happy children rolled around in the snowy banks of the sudden winter wonderland, many people took their empty pillowcases and refilled them from the piles at their feet.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Rehearsing, at last

So, 12 days after arriving in Frankfurt, I was finally called to a rehearsal. It quickly became obvious that Meredith was not so easy for some people to say, and Mimi became my name. It was quite intimidating to show up to a group that had been rehearsing together for weeks and was jabbering away in German. We immediately spoke through my whole scene (my character, Erda, only appears in one scene in "Das Rheingold" and only interacts with one other character, Wotan) in rapid German. I had to get up close to the Wotan, basically mold my body to his, and whisper the German lines in his ear. I wished I had met him first, and that I hadn't eaten that Greek salad for lunch.
The assistant director then proceeded to make the whole room sit there while she went on for seriously 12 agonizing minutes speaking directly to me in German explaining the whole set, costumes, setting, plot twists, etc. I think there was something in there about a gold ring. heehee. It was terrible, yet I just sat there smiling, nodding, and trying to look clued in.
As I expected, I rise out the ground, stay in a small little circle, and then sink back down. Not so difficult staging. However, I have a chair on which to sit, and have to deliver 90% of my aria seated, which is not easy for me as a singer. And then Wotan crawls up to me when I beckon him, plops himself between my legs and I have to cradle his head, stroke his hair, sing looking down at him, etc. However, many roles I sing in opera have me comforting another singer (usually a soprano) and petting their heads. I do, however, fear it's going to look like I'm giving birth to him onstage. We'll see. Unfortunately, I have to be looking straight down into Wotan's eyes at a difficult rhythmic part, and I still haven't quite figured out how I'm going to be looking down and see the conductor at the same time. It will all work out.
The next day of rehearsal, the kinder arrived. They are playing up the Earth Mother aspect of my role, and literally giving me 3 children to have around me for my scene. There were 6 adorable kids between I'd say 5 and 8. I had to lift them one by one to find the lightest and then we tried out different combinations of kids to see which ones were the better actors. Now, that 10% of the aria I get to stand for, I have to hold a not-small, not-light child in my arms. Her name is Marie, and she is adorable, but I fear for her ears when I'm singing inches away and I fear for my breath control to sing long phrases while holding 45 pounds or so. It's just nice to have Marie, Lilly, and Elizabeth there, so I have something to make our small little circle more enjoyable. They laugh at my attempts to speak German to them, and I am teaching them some quiet clapping games.
I have made a friend in Martina, the woman singing Fricka. We walk, eat, talk, play frisbee and ping pong, and she lives on my street. That's one lovely thing about this cast, which is universally friendly. These people will be singing in the other parts of this Ring Cycle here over the next few years as well. I am involved in 3 of the 4 operas, and knowing the people I'll be singing with and liking them very much makes me so much more optimistic for the next few years of my career. My many many months in Frankfurt through 2013 will now be something I look forward to. Such continuity and repeat colleagues is rarely found in this business. It's a treat.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Waiting for the boobies!

I am pleased to announce that I have seen my actual costume, and I don't look so much naked as frightfully similar to Chewbacca in Star Wars. There is a clear plastic body-length sleeveless "dress" which is COVERED in thick, red, (I fear real) hair. It's enough to turn your stomach. I spun around the room, and looked something akin to a sea anemone. The hair moves and shakes and waves and ripples. I'm a living perm.
My favorite costume lady, Anna, told me they had wanted me naked underneath, but that she had fought for a slip-like nude shift. She thought I would be more comfortable. Ich leibe Anna! and am bringing her flowers.
So, this human hair coat starts just below the breast area, and I will have 2 large silicone fake boobs that will be there for the world to see, only covered a bit by the additional red wig on my head. However, they were not here. We all sat down while someone went to find them. In my terrible German, I managed to explain that this was like a young girl eager for womanhood "waiting for the boobies." Well, they just thought that was hilarious, and I had several German ladies trying out the phrase "waiting for the boobies!" loudly in English and giggling.
The boobies were not yet ready to be tried today. So, there I stood in my bra and had no fewer than 8! German ladies surrounding me and discussing my breasts. One came up, literally grabbed my chest without saying a word first, and I said "uh, hallo?!" They had another good laugh about that, but the grip was not lessened, and was subsequently repeated by several others. "This one is larger... If we lift them this high... The nipples should be placed here..." All these things were shown to me physically, and did not require translating.
Hope everyone had a great Easter!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Greetings and welcome from Germany!

So, my sister Allison and various friends have convinced me that my life is blog-worthy. If no one reads this, it shall then serve as a useful tool for reminding me where I was on a certain day when I'm attempting to reconstruct my year for tax purposes. The title of the blog refers to the ways I prefer to sing. I try to avoid singing softly, high, or too quickly. :)
I am currently in Frankfurt, Germany. I arrived here several days ago, and as of yet, have not been called to a single rehearsal for my role of Erda in "Das Rheingold" by Richard Wagner. This is one opera of 4 in the "Ring Cyle", and I will be returning to Frankfurt for 2 of the others, reprising my role of Erda in "Siegfried" and singing First Norn in "Gotterdammerung".
The reason for my light rehearsal schedule at the moment is that Erda is the Mother of the Earth. The entire role consists of me rising from the depths (often accompanied by fog and strange smells), singing an aria lasting about 6 min, singing one more line, and sinking back into the earth. I usually emerge a little sleepy, a little cranky, a little confused, and a little dirty. I am the Mother of the Earth, after all. Often a sackcloth, messy hair, and brown smudged makeup are what an Erda wears. However...
I had been called into the opera house for a costume and wig fitting. I should have been suspicious when all they did was take measurements of me, and then fit me in a bra, taking very detailed chest-area specifications. I was then taken down to the wig department, where they tried on a wonderful red wig that was shoulder length. As I sat down, in my limited English I said "Entschuldigung, mein kopf ist sehr gross!" Which, roughly, means "Sorry, my head is very large." I always feel the need to apologize for the size of my head, as wig departments rarely have wigs in stock that fit my monstrous melon, and usually have to build mine from scratch. I hadn't realized what a reputation I had until I was in the cafeteria at the Metropolitan Opera for "Dr. Atomic" and the head of the wig department, Tom Watson, came over to me, (never having met me), placed his hands on my hair and said "I've heard about this head."
But I digress.... After the wig fitting, the woman asked if I would like to see the designer's sketch for my character's costume. I said "ja." What she showed me was a completely naked women, with bare feet and a red wig that stretched from my scalp to my toes, covering my nakedness. The only thing visible were two gigantic silicone breasts complete with nipples protruding from this hairy curtain. It looked like a cross between Pamela Anderson and Cousin It.
I needed a moment.
Now, mind you, I will not be naked (I assume). I will have a body stocking or some such thing on under that wig. I have another fitting Tues, and will attempt to find the German words in my limited vocabulary to implore thick garments of coverage from the costume department.
What this means is that my staging (what actions and movements the director asks of me) will consist of standing ABSOLUTELY still and avoiding drafts, so that my hair of modesty will not be ruffled. My biggest concern lies in me having to take a bow at the end. I'm sorry, but there will be no walking, bending over, or anything else that encourages wind.
What other news....
When I first arrived, my apartment was not yet cleaned, so I wandered in a jetlagged and sleep deprived state around the area for a few hours. I found myself at a Palm Sunday service which was lovely, and full of kids and even two live donkeys. It was a very very crowded room, and I was lucky to find a seat. However, the man that sat next to me started to be just a little too close and friendly with his hands. There was nowhere to move, and I lacked the German words to tell him what I thought of him. I resorted to a whispered "nein!" and a swift, gentle, and altogether holy kick in the shin. When it came time to circle the block with our palms, donkeys, multitude of children, choir, and parishioners, I kept going down the block instead of re-entering the church. I'm not sure where I will be Easter Sunday, but I know which church I will not be attending.
I went to the outdoor market 2 days ago. and by pointing, smiling, shrugging, apologizing, and using the numbers 1-10, emerged with a bevy of fruits and veggies, meats, and cheeses. However, my cucumber on closer inspection turned out to be a zucchini. Such is life.
That's the news from Frankfurt. I wish you all well. Auf Wiedersehen!