Saturday, October 16, 2010

I've moved!


Hello wonderful Yankeediva Readers!!

May I just take one moment to THANK YOU (each of you! Yes, YOU!) for taking the time to stop by and read my ramblings? It started off as a rather tentative venture YEARS ago, and has certainly been more successful than I ever could have imagined. Your interactive comments have helped me shape the direction of my writings, and your enthusiastic replies have always kept me motivated to write when I can.

Thank you!

But, in trying to streamline my life a bit, I've made a SLIGHT change: I've moved my blog over to my newly revamped website.


All future postings will now be posted on the NEW SITE. There is an option to subscribe on the NEW SITE, so you can stay updated and never miss a rambling missive from me, and you will still have the opportunity to comment on the postings as well - please continue to do so! Your comments are always welcome and appreciated!

I hope there will not be too much confusion over the new location, but it will make my life a bit easier, so I thank you for your understanding!

See you in cyberspace!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Positively WOW!

Well, they don't make weeks like that too often, and for good reason - I'm not sure the heart can take it! My previous week started out with an unbelievable amount of intensive, inspiring work, and ended with a day which inundated my emotions and rendered this chatty mezzo nearly speechless. (Well, nearly!)

Last Monday and Tuesday found me finishing up the final tracks for my next disc, and as exhaustion and fatigue set in, as they always do for the final days of the recording process, the work becomes a bit more grueling and challenging - all in the best ways. But the voice is tired, so you have to pace yourself with even more care and attention, and the brain power is wavering, so you must focus even more fiercely, and the body is giving into the fatigue, so grabbing the requisite rest as you can becomes even more paramount.

However, as always, the music is there to infuse you with power and energy. We spent the days with Berlioz, Gluck, and Massenet, and the familiar was paired with the new. For one aria I was hearing the orchestration for the very first time, because to my knowledge no recording of it currently exists, so everything on that piece was a complete discovery - both for me and the orchestra. (I can't wait for you to hear it - it's quirky and a bit bizarre, but fascinating to me!)

Next up on Wednesday was my debut in Lyon with the same concert we gave the week before in Paris, and I had a ball. Fatigue gave way to total immersion in the music and enjoyment in meeting this public for the first time in it's unique black-box of a theater. I can't tell you how amazing it was to look up during the signing afterwards and see young person after young person! You all are FABULOUS for coming out and bucking the trend of some other cities! I was truly amazed to see SO MANY young people, and that lifted my spirits quite high, I must say. Don't get me wrong - I love people of ALL ages coming out for any musical experience, but we hear so much doom and gloom these days about "aging audiences" (which I personally think is exaggerated) and I LOVED being surprised to see right before my very eyes the incarnation of concrete, intentional outreach and education manifest itself! I hope to return very soon to this wonderful city and will be MOST proud to have their wonderful Opera Orchestra and Music Director as my colleagues on this next disc!

Then what happened...? There was something else ... now, what was it? Oh yes, I made a quick trip to London. Just stopped off for a little luncheon, you know, as one does ... and then ... BOOM! I fell smack-dab into one of the most amazing and truly unforgettable afternoons of my life. I was surrounded by a room full of the movers and shakers in the recording industry - the people who are fighting vigorously and valiantly to forge ahead during what everyone says are uncertain times - a vibrant combination of heroes and visionaries and critics and fans and, most happily, friends, and that alone was cause for celebration. Record sales are continuing, thrilling new projects are being launched, music is still being created: it was definitely a "good news" event.

But then winners started being announced, and "good news" morphed into "Who did they just announce?" and "What did they just say?" and "Wait, wait, wait - that can't be!!" I was beyond thrilled to be announced as the winner in the Recital Category for my Rossini disc, and that alone was reason enough to celebrate and phone home. How happy I was to be able to thank all the people who helped make the dream disc of mine a reality, and have "Serious Rossini" being taken seriously! I was on a cloud.

But then the bomb dropped, and this is where I switched into - entirely innocently, mind you - Oscar Mode. I completely get why those Hollywood actresses walk up onto the stage and sniffle and blubber and babble incoherently, for the wave of emotion and disbelief and happiness truly overrides any sense of composure or dignity! I'm still really not sure what I said in accepting the "Artist of the Year" award, but I'm quite certain it centered on you. (That's you, the reader who is valiantly putting up with my babbling here!)

This particular award varies from the standard categories which are voted on by a jury of critics and editors associated with the Gramophone Magazine, in that it is voted on by you, the beautiful, opinionated, passionate public. (I do believe I invited you to cast your vote awhile back, for your favorite artist, but never did I actually think that my number of votes would put me into the top slot!) This was your award.

And so I'm quite sure that I made it a point to articulate to this roomful of power players that we must never, ever lose sight of WHO we are doing this for, of WHY it is vital that we carry on with integrity, vision and adventure, and how we must fight for not only the preservation of our industry, but allow for the exciting GROWTH of our industry as well. I do believe that I challenged them (as I will politely challenge you, as well!) to stay POSITIVE during all this talk of crisis and doom and gloom. I'm weary of all that. I know there is a reality to face, and I know we are all faced with certain challenges, but I hope we can find a way not to contribute to the spread of the fear and worry and panic, but that we can be leaders in remaining inventive and positive and joyful at the prospect of looking at the challenges we face and coming up with the most creative of solutions that will move us forward onto great things.

I've been thinking a lot lately about the power of thought, and how our thought patterns and processes can define us, often without our awareness. And I've been trying very hard to come up with one concrete example of where my negative thinking has produced any single thing of merit. In my personal experience, I'm pretty certain that the only thing it has produced is lethargy, suffering, inaction, woe and hopelessness. When I am facing something negative or difficult or challenging and painful, if I can somehow manage to shift my way of thinking away from despair to the positive side of things, then I somehow feel empowered to actually ACT, and to participate more fully in life. It's a simple, but somehow immensely powerful thing that I'm trying to foster, and so I felt compelled to throw that out there for the recording industry to ponder, and happily, you - you amazing, astonishing wonderful supporters - you gave me the platform to say it.

You humble me, you charge me up, and you make me feel unspeakable amounts of gratitude for your vote of confidence. That's the kind of thing that carries an artist through down times, knowing that the work they put in is not falling on arid ground - it's being received and welcomed. So I owe each and every one of you a very profound and sincere "Thank you", "Merçi, "Danke", "Grazie mille", "Muchas Gracias", "Arigato gozaimasu", "Děkuji", "Dank u well", "Obrigada", "Multumesc", "Спасибо", etc!

The other highlight, and boy do I mean highlight, was performing with Maestro Antonio Pappano, who won the choral category for his latest "Verdi Requiem". We tossed off a little "Somewhere Over the Rainbow", and boy were those words ever true that day! "Somewhere", indeed.

But now it's back to work (Hello, Rosenkavalier score!) and that includes happily building the excitement for the next, thrilling new release:

Word on the street is that the Maestro is overjoyed with the results! I don't think he'd mind at all picking up another award next fall back at the Dorchester!

Photos: ©Mark Harrison

OH! PS!!! In case you haven't heard, the NEW WEBSITE HAS OFFICIALLY LAUNCHED!!! Hope you enjoy the results of a LOT of work!!!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

One of those weeks...

One of those delicious, indescribable, unforgetable, "please can't they all be like this" weeks has just come to a close, and while I'm very happy to be settling into my hotel room with a rented movie on itunes waiting for me and room service on its way, I did want to put a few thoughts down about why a week like this blows my mind.

I promise you, it just doesn't get old ~ at least not yet, it doesn't ~ and certainly not when the level of music making rises to such beautiful heights and everyone involved finds pure JOY in the sometimes arduous, but ultimately uplifting and invigorating process. I've completed 5 of 9 recording sessions for my new disc, as well as giving a concert of a handful of highlighted arias in Paris, and I don't want it to end. I'm very fortunate to have an orchestra that, under the baton of Maestro Kazushi Ono, is extremely well prepared, proficient and eager, so all that is left to do is to play, to make choices, to find new levels of expression and new layers within the music.

If I were recording a full-length opera, as I've done in the past, I would blog about the process of recording each individual aria, but I don't want, yet, to give TOO much away. I will say, however, that it is a project I'm IMMENSELY excited about. My first two solo discs for Virgin Classics were very specifically themed explorations of a single composer around a single "idea" (Furore for Handel, and Arias for Isabella Colbran for Rossini). This time I wanted to spread my wings a bit more.

I've had a tremendously varied repertoire ever since my early days in Houston, even if it seems that I've dedicated most of my time to the worlds of Handel and Rossini, and so I wished to find a way to present "the rest of me" that was cohesive and interesting, with composers that reflect my musical appetite and roles that I have spent some time around.

The cumulative result will be (provided the coming 4 sessions go off without a hitch!) a real peek into the world of a mezzo-soprano (more or less), who usually spends half of her time in pants, and the other half in skirts, with composers to include Gluck, Mozart, Rossini, Bellini, Berlioz, Massenet, Offenbach, Gounod and Strauss. Ah ... it's just bliss, really. It's a HUGE undertaking, but truly, it is unblemished bliss.

This morning I started my day with a harp, 6 cellos and a few woodwinds attempting to create an ethereal, transparent, intimate mood about the poetry and ecstasy of love, followed by beating Satan at his own game, and finishing up with a lone clarinet, avowing to kill for love. Are you kidding me with all of this?

I had the afternoon off today (that's rare!) and because it was raining here in GORGEOUS Lyon (what a delightful city this is ~ such a discovery for me!), which meant no Lyonaisse Photo Safari for me, I had some fun answering more questions for my video blog over on my Youtube channel. Feel free to explore and offer your comments!

In the meantime, the launch of my new website is crawling towards the big launch ~ so stay tuned! What a fun period this is!


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Passing By

It is with great, slightly belated pleasure that I announce the release of a new disc on which I had the extraordinary privilege of participating: please give a hearty welcome to Jake Heggie's most recent compilation of his compositions for voice and piano, with a string quartet thrown in for fun entitled PASSING BY.

As if exploring new music and poetry wasn't incentive enough, he managed to draw an unbelievable line-up of singers, including Susan Graham and the legendary Frederica von Stade, to bring these pieces their world premiere recording. Jake has written an incredibly witty, gritty, heart-wrenching cycle of 4 Mother-Daughter duets - Susan joins Flicka for two, and I join her for the others, and if I tell you it was, without a doubt one of THE highlights of my musical life to sing these pieces alongside her, I think you'll understand why, once you give them a listen.

As fate dictated, I recorded them while I was in San Francisco performing Der Rosenkavalier (yes - over 3 years ago!) and my own Mother had just passed away the previous month. To sing next to Flicka as she urged me with her plangent voice to "Let it go, let it out of your heart..." the entire reason for music to exist was confirmed solidly and immovably for me, for it gave emotion to the things I was not yet ready to comprehend. I still can't quite manage to listen to the duet "Facing Forward" all the way through, and yet it was one of the most therapeutic gifts I've ever been given.

Broadening my horizons

I am currently a bit inundated with reams of notes and words being sung into a very perceptive microphone, all which will hopefully be for the benefit of your listening pleasure in a few months, so my writing capacity is a bit dimmed for the moment.

I CAN, however, easily post a few photos from the most lovely of trips to Istanbul. It was a magical trip, and one which captivated me from beginning to end with its mystique, exotic charm, abundance of history, and warmth of people.

Not to be missed, the Hagia Sophia ~ dedicated in 360 - first as a church, later a mosque, and currently a breathtaking museum:




Having the great honor and pleasure to sing at the St. Irene 6th Century Basilica took my breath away. It's hard to imagine a more mystical setting to sing "Amarilli", or enter into the drama of Desdemona's Willow Song:

6th Century Atmosphere

Domed Platform

As a side note to all concert presenters, both present and future hopefuls: thinking of EVERYTHING really, REALLY counts! A 6th century church may not be too modernized, but with the help of portable units, any and all emergencies can be accounted for:

A short trip to the Grand Bazaar did not disappoint, as I found some fabulously exotic lamps to bring home with me as the perfect souvenir for this lovely trip. But that wasn't the best part. I luckily had a local negotiator, and now dear friend, with me who assured that I would be given the best price and be well taken care of - this was a definite bonus. But I never, ever could have been prepared for what happened the next day: having exchanged business cards with each other, this lovely salesman called my guide to say that his boss had negotiated a better shipping rate and that he would like to refund me €35. Cash.

I don't think anything in Istanbul impressed me as much as that, and considering the wealth of beauty and discovery waiting there, that's saying quite a lot.

A few minor updates:

*the re-launch of my newly designed website is looming, which will affect the design of my blog and various other undertakings! Don't let it throw you - once all sorted, it will still be me, and I'll be writing and posting as usual - when I can, and when I have the time!!!

*In case you don't know of it, there is a "Fan Page" on Facebook - for those of you brave enough to face the chaos of Facebook, you'll find it a very fun and interactive place to quickly catch up on things - like the announcement of the theme of my new disc I'm currently recording!! Feel free to come join in the festivities ... although this, too, is soon to be revamped a bit!

That's it for the moment! I must now go spend more time with Orfeo! Poor me!!! ;-)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The beautiful, inspiring good news about the Arts in today's world

Please allow me to share this inspired, thought-provoking talk given by Ben Cameron - another gold mine from the astonishing TED team. There seems to be so much pessimism about what is happening in the world of the arts - is there any hope? I found this passionate talk to be direct and uplifting and a bull's eye challenge to those of us that care about our world, to continue to forge ahead with our music and dance and poetry and life. I hope that if you enjoy it, you can help spread the word:

Monday, September 13, 2010

Broadcast Alert and random thoughts

Well, that didn't take long! I blinked and my next season is starting up already! I know I'm certainly not alone with the thoughts that time flies, but this time it seemed to explode into oblivion! Our vacation was simply sublime, but our time at HOME was even better. It's amazing what that does to refresh the spirit, ground the heart, and remind me that I, occasionally, have a very lovely domestic side!

One of the things I love about my life is that I feel I have the chance to share a small part of my world with other people. I have a number of nieces and nephews who haven't yet had the chance to travel the world (how I hope they will!), and sharing photos and observations of the countries/cultures I see helps broaden their horizons just a bit, after all, to quote the great Mark Twain - a native Missourian - "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness." Well, we can certainly use a bit more of that around these days.

But I'm also fiercely proud to be a native Kansas Citian and quite boastfully put my city up against many of the more famous cities around the world where I pay a lot to rent their hotel rooms. "Why," you may ask? There are a number of reasons, but perhaps the top of the list belongs to the sky: the glorious, expansive ocean of sky that hovers above and constantly changes in its dramatic, unpredictable, vast, astonishing, and humbling way:

*Taken with my i-phone!*

The other reason is that an incredible community of generous people thrives there and works tremendously hard to make it a better place. I had the great privilege of spending time with several of them while home and it reminded me of how a great city is built - by people with bold vision and undaunted determination.

Outside our window I can see the birthing of our new Performing Arts Center which has come a LONG way since they first dug the hole in the ground. It is being financed by these amazing movers and shakers who have weathered the incredible financial climate of the past few years to see this building come to fruition. People who know the value of the arts to a society, who have fought against all odds to bring it to a town who perhaps doesn't boast of the glamour of New York City, but who proudly and rightly defends its quality and vision and pushes forward.

Sure the sunset was stunning that night, but seeing "my" new playground there in the corner come to life made it all the more thrilling!!!

Before I forget! Tonight you may listen, via the tireless and astonishing BBC Radio, to the recital that David Zobel and I gave at the Usher Hall for the Edinburgh Festival just a few weeks ago. It was a BLAST of a concert for us: we had the joy of revisiting our "Amore" recital that started in chilly Madrid back in January, and it has certainly heated up over the months. I fell head over heels in love with that program and will miss it greatly, so it's nice to have the chance to share it with you here, tonight.

7:00 pm London time - I'm afraid you'll have to do the math for where you are in the world..I'm WAY too jetlagged to get it correct!!

Speaking of which, I've safely arrived in Istanbul (ISTANBUL!!!!) for a recital on Thursday night which officially kicks off my next season! Next up: Lyon for my next RECORDING, Paris for another concert, because it's been TOO long since I've last sung there ;-), and hopefully the launch of my new website!!! It's all terribly exciting! But if I feel homesick, I can return here and revisit my amazing Kansas City Sky!