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.