Sunday, October 24, 2010


People have things happen which render life a little more difficult. Perhaps an incorrect glasses prescription, being stuck on an elevator, or being a Detroit Lions fan. Nothing worth making a large fuss, just something that makes one sigh.
Mine occurred the day the luggage limits on airplanes were changed from number of checked pieces to weight.
I have several talents of which I am especially proud. Number one is the fact that I can literally stand/sit in deep water without moving a muscle or touching anything. Number two, I can whistle without moving my mouth (as long as I'm not smiling). Thirdly, I can pack more into a piece of baggage than their most strenuous tests ever imagined.
Some people advocate the rolling-of-the-clothes method, others the socks-within-shoes-within-shoes. I'm a reckless jammer. I MAKE it fit. My wardrobe is heavy on ironing-not-required articles, and my performance gowns are miracles of efficiency. No billowing ballgown of shimmering red satin with cascading raised roses of delicate silk drawing the eye toward my plunging neckline. When I finish a performance with orchestra, I often take off my impossible-to-wrinkle gown and throw it into my shoulder bag and head off for dinner. The next day I remove it upon arrival for the next performance and slip it on again. The secret is in interesting wraps and jewelry. One of my favorites is a lovely shawl of special silk from France that is actually a tablecloth. Yes, a tablecloth. So handy. I can sing a recital and then host a dinner party with the cutlery elegantly displayed against a stunning purple background. Best of all is the fact that it is a special permanently wrinkled silk. Price quickly became no object (and how expensive could a tablecloth be....oops). The snooty, slightly stunned French woman running the boutique was nonplussed when I began unwrapping her tres chic cloths and wrapping them around myself and trying out different lengths and arm positions.
Packing in general is a very difficult thing in my chosen profession. Often, I fly to Europe for months at a time. I try to limit myself to one large and one small suitcase. In addition to normal day-to-day clothes for rehearsal and general life, I must include workout clothes and shoes, a performance gown and heels, dressy clothes for parties and dinners, and piles of electronics and serious poundage of music to learn for future engagements. Additional problems arise when the time is longer and stretches across more than one season.
It is often that I peer into my suitcase and find myself staring into a black hole. Black doesn't show wrinkles, spills, and works in every situation. I often find myself on a gig buying a new article of clothing that is a shade I would never choose in the real world, but after two months of black-on-above-and-under-black, a tunic that looks like a bag of Skittles exploded all over it seems a welcome change.
Weight limits are 50 pounds before an exorbitant surcharge is applied. I am that person on my knees at the checkin counter moving things from one suitcase to another, moving things to my carryon, donning yet another layer and sweating all the way to my destination to avoid paying this extra fee. Often, my bags are 50.0 and 49.5 pounds.
I wish to take this moment to thank Mike at the Delta counter in Frankfurt, Germany. I heaved my massive bags onto the counter scales and resigned myself to charges around $300, for I had no defense and even I couldn't handle wearing 4 pairs of socks, 3 sweaters, and an extra coat to help cut the weight which had ballooned far beyond the limit. Mike looked at the bags, looked at me, and with a jaunty wink just moved them to the conveyor belt without a word. Mike...oh, Mike. How I love thee.
Therefore, you will understand my deep sigh when unpacking here in Houston. Hidden among the carefully chosen contents of my suitcase was a bag containing the bones from the chicken wings I ate in Milwaukee. I shudder to think what they weighed....

Friday, October 1, 2010

"Take money, tuck it away."

I'm home from rehearsal, and this evening we staged the section of "Grimes" when I have the most to sing/do. First of all, I'm in heels the entire time. I am of the belief that if a guy isn't interested in me at 5'7, making myself 5'9 isn't going to help my cause. Except when necessary, I am the person who enters her first costume fitting begging for flats or the lowest, chunkiest, most masculine heel they will allow.
These heels are not even 2 inches and compared to the Jimmy Choos and Blahniks of the world, they are the width of a linebacker. However, when I am raised above floor level, all balance bets are off.
As the head of the pub "The Boar" in our little fishing village, I carry pitchers up and down stairs, wipe off tables, and in this production, actually clean up "vomit" which today was the most disturbing deep pink color. Management assures us the color will eventually be a pea yellow. I don't see how this is any better for me as the tottering, unsteady mopper. The mop and bucket are old fashioned in the extreme, and we had a lovely time in rehearsal trying to teach me where to step on one side while pushing down the lever on the other side, while drawing the mop head through the wringer. This would be difficult for me at floor level. Add 2 inches, and I was tipping left.....right....forward..... The perpetrator of the puke is my friend Beau, and I've already told him that he needs to be prepared for me literally crashing into him. It's a sad, sad thing when the village drunk is my only chance of staying upright in my own bar.
Beau's character also hands me fake paper money as he advances on my whores. "Take money, tuck it away" is a common direction for characters in my career. I got home from rehearsal late this evening, and suddenly felt something and discovered my payment was still wedged quite securely.
I would like to think that the professional ease I have achieved with the money-in-boobage moments I come by genetically. Grandma Koop to this day likes to keep cash "safe and close at hand", and despite a bevy of lovely handbags of various materials/sizes/colors/functions, I can often be found with nothing in my hands and a subtle bulge where no gentleman would feel welcome to search. My $20 is just as widely accepted for being on the warm side.
Onstage, I have had paper money, coins, keys, letters, pictures, and even in one memorable scene, a flask, all down in the most convenient and easily accessible space available to women. It's when the direction calls for someone else to place the payment there him/herself that I feel like a personal loan officer.
I once had a famous tenor told to deposit his coins "deep in there." After chivalrously asking me if I was fine with this arrangement, he declared "I love my job!" and dove in.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Grimes!!! Peter Grimes!!!

I hope everyone has been well. Against advice, I have decided to keep this a blog for when I'm working. That could change at any point. :)
Today finds me in Houston singing Auntie in "Peter Grimes" with the Houston Grand Opera. I have never done this role, nor have I even seen the opera performed live. It is a wonderful, though intimidating, place from which to jump. On the one hand I have no one else in my mind as I sing and rehearse my role. What a wonderful freedom to be surprised by and react to tempos I didn't expect, and to hear some of this music for indeed the first time. Our second day of rehearsal was today, and we were treated to 3 hours of musical rehearsal this evening with the full chorus. They are wonderful, and in this show they are intertwined with the plot and are constantly commenting on the scene at hand, passing judgment, or doing everything in their power to throw poor me off by having 64 voices singing different rhythms against mine. It's a brilliant piece, and it's magical to hear.
I had my first costume fitting today, and as I write this I sit comfortably in my chair, not having to think about the deep, luxurious breaths in which I casually luxuriate.
That's right.....corset. Not just any corset. The same corset they built for me when I was here in Houston 2 years ago for the Previn opera "Brief Encounter". In that piece, I was the "tea wench", and luckily my role required absolutely no sitting, as my corset rendered that next to impossible.
Corsets do not work magic. They give me a waist which nature did not deign to do. However, by cinching in the middle, that's not the end of the story. What is decreased in one section must be increased in another. It has to go somewhere. In this particular pink, lace-trimmed instrument of torture, that somewhere happened to be the boob region. Or, as Grandpa Koop called it, my Mt. Vesuvius. During "Brief Encounter", I had people setting trays on them, swiping Visa cards between them, and making assumptions about the person to whom they were attached. Guilt by association.
The role of Auntie in "Peter Grimes" is the head of the whores, my "nieces". However, I thought perhaps because this was set in a working fishing village, it was a casual place, I had the nieces to do the "dirty" work, and it was sweater weather, I might escape looking like me. Wrong, and wrong.
I arrived for my fitting, and there it was sitting on the chair looking benign and rather feminine. However, I knew of what it was capable.
It's never a good sign when your dresser instructs you to "kick me if it's too tight." That's not a woman into pain, that's her recognizing the fact that too tight implies no breath, rendering crying out in pain impossible.
Wide stance, arms against the wall, and organs doing a shifty little dance that would make Scarlett O'Hara proud. It's a strange feeling when the dresser takes a moment to shift her hands up the laces, and you can feel your body literally adjusting and finding ways of accommodating parts of you that until recently had space to spare.
When the flurry of pulling, cinching, and organ relocation had settled, I found my figure once again a faux hourglass. A foot above my own personal "Waistland", my cup once again ranneth over. The two dressers clapped, cheered, and declared "You may be in tons of pain, but you look HOT!!!"
Unfortunately, this role does not allow me to stand at all times. How do you explain to the very nice director during rehearsals that you can't be seated when you sing this line, as chin-resting-on-boob-shelf does not lend itself to a full breath and legato line?
That's the news from Houston. The other day, I received an email touting a celebrated author giving a reading at my "Local Borders". I clicked on the link just out of curiosity as to where they considered to be my hometown. A sad commentary on my nomadic life.
However, here in Houston I have several friends in this opera and also in town. It's one of the most wonderful things about this business. The opera world is very small, and as time goes on you get to know a large majority of the professional set. Rarely do I have a gig where I don't have at least one friend in the cast.
I hope everyone has been well.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Finland, Finland, Finland

Last week was a wonderful vacation in Helsinki, Finland. My brother-in-law was there to present at a computer conference, so I joined him and we played tourist and enjoyed the perfect weather. After the cold, rainy weeks in Frankfurt, Helsinki was about 68 degrees daily and sunny sunny sunny. The sun didn't set in the evening until almost 11 p.m., and was back up at 4:30 a.m. It was great having to wear sunglasses to dinner at 9 p.m.
Speaking of dinner, I was very happy to have the opportunity to eat reindeer, moose, and special local berries (in addition to escargot, shrimp, and other dishes that benefitted from Helsinki being right on the water).
One of the days, I took a boat 90 minutes across the water to the country of Estonia. In addition to being able to check off another country on my list, I had the greater desire to see one of the world's tallest toilets. Yes, a toilet. I had read about it in my internet research before my visit. Apparently, it is 77 meters tall (thanks to America not embracing the metric system, that to me translates as "REALLY TALL"). It is in a watch tower, and was built that tall so that guards on watch at the top of the tower didn't have to descend all those stairs to relieve themselves. Genius.
My research had stated that the tower was directly next to the town hall. So, there I stood in front of the town hall, which was in the center of a circle of many MANY buildings, some tower-ish and nothing seeming like the perfect candidate. As I stood there puzzling, I befriended a couple from Virginia, who had a detailed map and had been on the official tour, but hadn't heard a word on a famous toilet. The woman turned out to be an opera fan and we agreed that when I sing at the Washington National Opera at some point in the future, she would come backstage and ask whether I had found the toilet.
I went from building to building, and the best prospect turned out to be a church. I received strange looks from the little lady on duty as I looked behind very closed doors and asked if this was where the special toilet lived. Her blank looks and indication where their normal-sized WC resided was repeated as I circled town hall cursing the lack of specificity as to location. Eventually, I realized that the tower was the tower that was actually attached to town hall, which I had sat in front of and circled for the past hour. Yay! Tall toilet!!! However, this is a sad story. Town Hall is CLOSED in the off-season and doesn't open until July except by appointment. So, if I ever find myself once again in Helsinki, I will not travel to Estonia unless I'm there in July or August (or with a confirmed reservation and promised toilet viewing clearance).
I was strangely happy to get back to Frankfurt after my week in Finland. I had spent the week automatically answering everyone and making requests and excusing myself in German. Virtually all of Finland speaks English, and try as I might, my tongue automatically replied in German.
Another amazing thing is that once one is admitted to the EU, passports are no longer checked. Flying from Germany to Finland, boat to and from Estonia, and flight back to Germany, my passport was neither requested nor (regretfully) stamped. Everything is very easy and accommodating. In Estonia, I paid for a pair of mittens with local Estonian money and American dollars, and my change was in Euros.
After Saturday's show, we have 12 days between shows. I am spending the time here in Germany, as the final long break in June I am spending in Sweden and perhaps Latvia as well. I'm being a good little singer who is trying to remember that when I'm on the road for a job it is not really a long vacation but a chance to get a jump on learning music for the future.
This week is dedicated to "Peter Grimes" by Benjamin Britten which I'm performing this fall in Houston. My role is Auntie, who is the head of the whorehouse. I see another costume with my breasts playing a central role in the near future...
Tomorrow is my birthday, and I am looking forward to another day of sunshine, Britten, and having dinner and attending a vocal recital with some friends.
Hope everyone finds the "tall toilet" in their life. :)

Friday, May 7, 2010


I have fulfilled a life-long dream. I have met someone actually named Helga. She is a super for "Rheingold" and not at all how I imagined a Helga would look. When I give people massages, I often say "My name is Helga, and I am here to crack your back!". The real Helga is a diminutive lady who appears to need help opening a jar of pickles. A real Helga. What joy is mine. :)
We had our second show this evening, and when I rise up in the middle of the stage, there is a lot of fog and a very hurried few seconds as a stagehand pushes my chair into the center of the ring, gets out of the way, and the three girls hurry to their places with me right behind. I stood in front of the chair and the girls gathered around me. However, as we rose and the fog cleared, it became clear that the stagehand in his rush had not set the chair at the proper angle, and we were facing a good 25-degrees west of the audience. I quickly turned my body to the right while subtly kicking the chair around behind me, and the girls kind of crawled while holding onto my hairy costume. All while trying to appear supernatural, ethereal, mysterious, and as if our shuffle was part of the plan. And while singing in German.... sigh.
I have been continuing with my German lessons, and it's a great motivating factor to my learning that every new thing can immediately be applied to my day-to-day life. I am having trouble remembering to say "I'm hot" temperature-wise as opposed to "I'm hot" sexy sexy-wise. It's all in the order of the words.
"I'm hot" in either sense hasn't been necessary as of late as the weather has been low 40s and raining these past few days, and now that my boobs have been downgraded, so has the backstage male attention. :)

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Open for business

We opened "Rheingold" on Sunday, and it was greeted as I'm told most new productions and certainly most Wagner productions are in Germany.... cheers for the singers and orchestra, and LOUD boos mixed in with applause for the production team (director, costumes, set, etc). I had been warned before, but it was still jarring as rarely in America is such displeasure displayed so vocally. It was explained to me that Wagner is something quite sacred and personal to the people of Germany, and they take how they react very seriously and to the extreme. There is no middle groud. However, apart from several enthusiastic dissenters, it seemed well received and no one threw frankfurters at the stage in displeasure. :)
The greatest source of disappointment was that my ludicrously large, lusciously lovely fake boobs will never have their day in the sun. There was much scurrying several days before opening as the director saw the costume on Tuesday for the first time and declared them "distracting". Um...yes. So, I was brought to an emergency costume fitting where they figured out how to make them smaller. I volunteered to lead a "Save The Boobies!" rally out front. In the end, Erda's boobs are now my boobs, covered in two bras, with fake nipples sewn on the outside. Everyone backstage was disappointed (particularly several men). They asked what I was doing with mini boobs (thanks a lot), and that it looked like something was off with them (again, thanks). I was also downgraded from Chewbacca's hot twin to his second cousin.
My favorite thing was that on his opening night card, my Wotan wrote that he missed my boobs. The feeling is mutual.
However, my brother-in-law has suggested I wear them in Helsinki in a few weeks when he is there presenting his research at a conference. Between planting me with a brilliantly insightful question to ask and the spectacle my silicone puppies would be sure to create, it would give them all something to talk about.
Now that we have opened, I find myself with much free time. I spent yesterday trying all sorts of German dishes at a restaurant with friends, and then with a friend visiting churches, government buildings, eating ice cream, and even taking a 50-min. boat ride up and down the river. Frankfurt is knows for its museums, and I'm going to give them each their due. Tonight I'm going to see the play "The Fox" at the English Theatre, and then tomorrow take in a Seurat exhibit.

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.