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Musings on m
y life as a busy opera singer, voice teacher, photographer and mom - not necessarily in that order! I consider myself immensely fortunate to have carved out a way of doing all of these things which mean so much to me - it may sometimes get a little crazy, but it's always worth it. Welcome to the madhouse!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Dear Neglected Blog...

I'll be back. I promise. Really.

In the meantime:


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Addendum

1. Very important open letter regarding the future of New York City Opera over at Musical America, and a statement from Maestro Julius Rudel at the New York Times

2. Cf previous post.... anybody know any good recipes for mulberry wine?

Puppies, mulberry wine and The Tower of London

Some more photos from "The Daily Coop" (as my buddy over at The Next 100 Pounds has dubbed my tendency to post pictures of the little guy on Facebook):


I promise that he isn't really a stuffed toy even if he looks like one! Baby Beardies are unspeakably cute - puppies for this breed (which of course look nothing AT ALL like their adult selves) are hard to ignore. This is, in fact, one of the reasons the breed society is so outspoken about the demands and challenges of this breed once they reach adulthood, so that people aren't seduced by The Adorableness and wind up with an adult Beardie who they can't handle. While they are indeed wonderful family dogs and beyond friendly, they do not stay fuzzy little fluffballs for long and grow into big, high-energy, long-coated dogs who need a lot of time and energy to be happy!

Since this is our third Beardie, we knew exactly what we were getting into, even though it's been a while and it's only now I'm remembering how time-intensive puppies are! It's like having an infant and a toddler all rolled into one.

It's been fascinating, though: our three Beardie boys have all been incredibly different. Watson, our first Beardie - and the last time we raised a puppy- was sweet (none friendlier!) but not always the sharpest tool in the box and, although there wasn't a mean bone in his body, he was pretty much entirely ADHD! Beau, our rescue boy, was a hairy saint and the sweetest, kindest, least-reactive Beardie ever born. He was happily saved from a kill-shelter thanks to the vigilance of the Beardie Rescue coordinator in Massachusetts, and came to us as a 2-3 year old when our daughter was only a toddler; he lived until last summer and the ripe old age of about 13. He was pretty much the other end of the spectrum: calm to the point of couch potato, happiest at home (he never did get used to happily riding in the car or come to terms with Terrifying Manhole Covers), and his only goal in life was to feel secure and loved.

Cooper is a different Beardie entirely. Sweet and affectionate yet very independent, alarmingly intelligent, and with a noticeably strong herd instinct (his favorite game appears to be, "I know - let's play herding! I'll be the sheepdog and you can be the sheep. Tag, you're it!!"). This is a little dog With A Mission. Now, granted, this is our second Beardie puppy so we have a little more experience, his breeder started him off magnificently, and, thanks to the internet, we've had some wonderful Beardie people riding alongside and ready to offer tons of valuable advice and suggestions for the inevitable challenges along the way, but even so - what this guy has learned in the three weeks since we got him amazes me every day. It's taking a lot of time - which is why we planned this for when we knew I'd be at home and not on the road! - but the effort is truly paying off and he's already well on his way to becoming a civilized member of society in what seems a ridiculously short time.

This morning was close to magical: he was quiet until I got up, and we went outside in the still-cool morning. Our mulberry tree has gone slightly mad this year; I wasn't going to bother with them since we still have plenty of the mulberry-port jelly I made two years ago, but the abundance of deep purple fruit is just too good to ignore and I'm toying with the idea of making mulberry wine this time. Cooper had discovered the fallen berries on the ground a few days ago (fortunately not toxic - although apparently if they eat the fermented ones they've been known to get tipsy!) but was fascinated by watching me reach up and collect them straight off the tree into a bowl, particularly as so many kept dropping on his head! He went off to do Important Puppy Stuff like check out his Frisbee and the fence-line, but kept coming back to join me up on the deck, every inch the "bonded dog". Curious, content, and quietly enjoying being with his human pack. A beyond-satisfying way to start the day.

In the meantime, my brief two-week break is over, and I'm back not only to summer teaching commitments, but launching into a new production in a week or so. I'm always a bit ambivalent when I accept a G&S role - here in the US, sadly, often seen by the operatic community as "lesser" work - but I invariably have a good time when I do it, and this production of Yeoman of the Guard looks set to be particularly enjoyable. The cast is full of old friends, it's the first time in a long time that my daughter and I will be in a production together, and the approach the director wants to take will give a lot more substance and dramatic weight to my role than is often the case, which will really give me a chance to dig in and enjoy! It should be a lot of fun.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Cooper's Guide to Staying Cool

He's no dummy!


(Lest my photographer friends think I'm colour-blind: there was about an hour between the small and the large shots during which the light had changed, hence the difference in colour temps!!)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Please excuse this interruption...

This packed (intensely hard-work, but ultimately very successful) semester is over and, although I have a new role to prepare for next month and there will no doubt be theatrical musings once I get into rehearsals, life for the next couple of weeks is entirely focused on the newest member of the family:


Thursday, April 28, 2011

Hmmm...

The article about NYCO I linked in this post has run a correction on what is a pretty glaring error:

"The New York City Opera has suspended plans to announce its fall season. The headline of a previous version of this article incorrectly said it has suspended its season."

Glad to hear that it sounds like merely a delay in finalizing plans rather than scrapping them altogether, but shame on you for that kind of misake, Wall Street Journal!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A letter to my Dad on his 80th Birthday


Ok, so a day late - although I don't think a dollar short, and no less heartfelt.

Those endless hours at the typewriter in Los Angeles! You were determined that there were never going to be any real financial concerns to scare a kid into wondering if everything was going to be ok. To make sure that I really could keep up with the horses and the horseshows. That I could go back to the UK to study, first to reconnect with those important childhood years spent in England, and subsequently to complete my performance training at one of the most prestigious conservatories in the world without having to work 5 jobs just to pay the rent.

Strangely, one of the things I remember most of our LA years was the Sunday night family steak dinners at The Mainsail in Marina Del Rey (or was it Venice?). The dark-paneled, underlit gloom which they billed as "New York Steakhouse", somewhat California-ized by funky murals on the walls and typically Los Angeles servers who almost certainly were out-of-work actors picking up a few bob to make ends meet. But the foil-wrapped baked potatoes bursting with their melting pats of iced butter (why did that fascinate me?) and wonderful - and wonderfully diverse - conversations at the end of busy weekends where we all finally convened as a family without distractions were fascinating at the time and have stuck with me for all these years. Of all the places to remember!

Yeah, it's true that you were working every hour under the sun when I was a teenager, but you've always been there when it really mattered. Being on the spot 10 minutes after my first car crash (even if you didn't know what to do about the wasp sting that caused it, you sure talked the other driver out of his rage and got the insurance details sorted out!). Making sure that everything worked out when A was born, and giving us the freedom and support to re-establish ourselves here in the US happily and comfortably; it can't always have been easy, but you made it work. Being a valued professional ear when things get bumpy in the freelance world that is my own career, and truly understanding the sometimes delicate balance we in the entertainment industries have to find between personal loyalties, professional necessities and simply paying the bills; your advice is still invaluable.

I wish I'd been more interested in the Hollywood you worked in and paid more attention. At the time - since I was completely uninterested in anything that wasn't musical performance (more fool me!) - it didn't make much of an impression on me that you were interviewing and regularly working with the likes of Michael Cain, Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, Chuck Jones, Jonathan Demme, Sean Penn, Dan Akroyd and many others. Talk about missing the boat! It gives me enormous pleasure now, though, to be able to understand just what an achievement it was. Not just because you were working at such a high level with the best-of-the-best, but sustaining a small business successfully for so many years in an industry as notable for knocking people down as building them up. No wonder your colleagues respected you as they did - you earned it.

And so, here we are, at your 80th birthday. In the last 10 years you've become as devoted to the internet as any 15 year old (even if the occasional computer crash still sends you into a panic!), finally jumped on the golf bandwagon, embraced Grandfatherhood in a way nobody could have imagined, and still found time and energy to take on the occasional writing or production gig. Quite an achievement for a guy who was convinced he wouldn't make it past 50!

With much love xoxoxo

Thursday, April 14, 2011

#Operaplot, Part 2

This has been so much fun - the entries are really a hoot. Funny if you're only passingly familiar with the stories, and even funnier when you know them well (or have sung them!). Great stuff.

The prize list is growing all the time, so I encourage everybody to have a look and a try, if only for a giggle! For those not familiar with twitter, to find the summaries go to www.twitter.com search the hashtag #operaplot (include the # symbol in your search).

Here are some of the ones I submitted - I'll leave you to figure out which operas they are (comments welcome!):
  • Druid love triangle goes up in flames while secret squeeze runs off with the kids. (this one was actually quoted in an LA Times article yesterday, which was kind of fun!)
  • SWM seeks doll, sick singer, adventurous lady & bi-curious violinist for raving and poetry. No medics, please.
  • Wedding bells for single-mother acquitted in baby-drowning scandal.
  • Breaking News: mom pimps teen to get a head.
  • Authority figures & ripe peaches spark conflicted sexuality & drunken rebellion. Everybody lives happily ever after - NOH8!
In other news, Kevin Spacey posted an update regarding NEA funding (scroll to the bottom for the update): it's still a cut, but a much smaller one than initially proposed. And it looks like NPR got its funding after all, too! First good news for the arts in quite a while.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

#Operaplot

Click here for rules

Short version: summarize an operaplot on Twitter in a status update of 140 characters or less. Tweet must include the hashtag #operaplot.

Even if you're not an opera fan, it's worth tootling over to Twitter and searching the hashtag #operaplot to check these out - anybody who thinks opera, opera singers and opera fans are boring fuddy-duddies is in for a surprise!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

And now for something a little different...

I generally avoid discussing politics in public, having taken to heart sage advice given to me as a student that the three things you should never talk about on the job are politics, religion and vocal technique. Well, I've never managed to keep my mouth entirely shut about the latter, and apparently I'm now going for a two-out-of-three failure rate, but so much is going on that I'm finding it impossible to keep stumm.

Even as the US government was threatening shutdown of its own, there was news again this past week of more opera companies suspending seasons, and symphonies filing for bankruptcy; in the UK, eyebrows were being raised over the recent Arts Council of England cuts. All of which has resulted in a great deal of activity in the press and blogosphere which needs to be shared and rather than paraphrase, I'm taking the liberty of linking to some of these articles and interviews. Much food for thought.
While it's been a rough week there have been some positive announcements amidst the closures and, strangely, I personally feel more optimistic than I have in some time. I suppose I hope that perhaps the undoubted problems can be turned into solutions that eventually lead to something better and that maybe now is the right time to start looking to the future rather than merely trying to unsuccessfully sustain the past. Most of all, I hope that artistic passion and imagination will triumph over the frustrations of broken business models and reduced funding and continue to thrive, even if in a different way. I can hope.

Monday, April 4, 2011

"Free"

The Cardinal's Nest

I don't think it's just us mezzos who regularly face this, but a recent blog post I stumbled over has sure hit the nail on the head, almost word-for-word echoing my own experience and understanding! I won't even add comment here, since the author has said everything I would have myself.

Enjoy!


Monday, March 14, 2011

The last three weeks:

5 auditions, three photoshoots (that I took, rather than was in!), two headcolds, and a full production of Figaro. Talk about "feast or famine" (and that's before we include my husband's concert commitments, as well as our daughter's school play and charity dance performances.) It's been insane!

It's also been fantastic. Figaro, as always, was such a joy to work on (Mozart's music never seems to pall, even after 11 productions!) - and it was rewarding that it was so warmly received by the full houses we garnered.

With my lovely Figaro colleagues Olivia Vote, Zulimar Lopez-Hernandez, and Troy Cook at the closing party


I love my job(s), but all that said after another audition and 350 miles of driving today, I can't deny that I'm very glad for a day off tomorrow without any set commitments!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Scottish Legacy: Dr Who

It seems that last year's "Catching up on missed TV" festival chez nous has rolled right on into the new year without missing a beat, and we've kicked off 2011 by finally watching the modern series' of Dr Who. We've wanted to give it a look for a while - like many, harboring fond memories of the show from our own childhoods, and wanting to see how they resurrected it - but when we discovered that David Tennant grew up in the same neighbourhood as our Glasgow family, it was just the push to ensure that we dug in and caught up.

It would be a huge understatement to say that we have most definitely not been disappointed, and are having a BLAST with the adventures of the Tenth Doctor. It's a far cry from Jon Pertwee ("my" Doctor as a child - whoops, I'm dating myself!) and the wobbly-sets and toilet-plunger aliens which used to define the series; the high production values of the new episodes are almost cinematic at times, even if they do (thankfully) still seem to use quarries as locations, and continue to do a great line in Man In Alien Suit characters. It's a glorious blend of adventure, nostalgia, philosophy and humour performed to an amazingly high standard (especially when you consider it's still in some ways considered children's programming!). An absolute pleasure to watch, and truly something the entire family can enjoy together at so many levels.

In addition to enjoying the show itself, it's led us to the work of another brilliant actor in this new "Golden Age" of the BBC - we've now caught up with Tennant's Casanova (which is an absolute delight), the quite extroardinary Blackpool (which is a triumph for all involved - definitely gone straight to our A-list!), and we're looking forward to watching the critically-acclaimed RSC production of Hamlet he starred in as well. For once the reality lives up to the hype, and his performances are infused with an energy, a wit and an epic emotional range which is absolutely deserving of the accolades and superlatives thrown around to describe his work.

For fun, here's a semi-outtake - apparently this was, in fact, used in an episode as part of a sequence where a character fast-forwards through a message from the Doctor, hence why all that mattered was the duration he spoke rather than what he actually said. I live in hope that someday I'll get to sing a recitative that can weather similar daft whimsy!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Scotland III: Lochs and Glens

We didn't go far out of town, but one of the beauties of Scotland is that from the major cities you can be away from the city and into rural countryside in a matter of minutes. Callander/Killin used to be one of my favorite "get away from it all" spots when I was working in Scotland and living with the family in Glasgow, and - thanks to the glorious weather (we're still marvelling at the 50+-degree temperatures and true sunshine that we had for 95% of our visit!) and a cousin with a car, we had a magical day out on this trip, including not only a quick stop by my former haunts, but also getting to see a couple of the minor lochs, a very castle-y castle and a celebrity Highland Cow - all within an hour's drive of central Glasgow. Bliss.

Loch Earn

Even in the depths of midwinter, the countryside is staggeringly beautiful. FWIW, this was about 3pm - may have been warm, but the sun still goes down early in the frozen north....






Doune Castle

Edinburgh Castle is a sight well worth seeing, but its military history tends to overshadow its sense of having been a place of residence. Doune, on the other hand, looks and feels like you expect a castle to look and feel - it's easy to imagine people living in it, something emphasised by the "mod cons" design features it had built into it! No doubt that it was still windy, damp and cold, but it offered private privies for the nobility attached to each state bedroom and in small "aristo only" cubbies off the great hall, serving hatches from the kitchens into the halls to keep the food moving smoothly, and an early kind of central heating through clever hearth and flue placement heating upstairs rooms with the fires in the kitchens.. It looks like it was quite a practical and pleasant place to live by Medieval standards.



Sharp-eyed readers may notice something else about Doune: it was the castle used in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. In fact, Terry Jones narrates the castle's audio-tour guide and, if you're remotely familiar with the film, it's impossible not to walk through without lines from it leaping into your head as soon as you see the reality of the location!





Serving hatches to allow the cooks to hand off the food to the servants to take upstairs. If I'm not mistaken, the reverse of this shot is where they filmed the "Just a little bit of peril!" scene.


While we didn't get as far as water-logged Perthshire, there was still some flooding in Callander.


Didn't stop us from taking in the view and enjoying a supper from the (very good!) chippy in town. Not sure our daughter has quite connected with (understatement) the iconic status of the British chippy, but she did at least give them a try, even if she balked at trying the deep-fried steak-pie she was offered.........


And what trip to Callander would be complete without a quick visit to local celebrity Hamish the Highland Coo?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Scotland II: Edinburgh and environs


(PSA: this post probably ought to come with a tilt-shift alert!! The camera I was using recreates the effect of these adjustable focal-plane lenses digitally and since I love it I may have... uh... indulged a little..... :)

Duddingston Village (from Arthur's Seat)


Towards the Lothian Coast (from Arthur's Seat)

Duddingston Loch (from Arthur's Seat)

Edinburgh from the Castle

same view without the TS effect



You can always find a muckle coo if you look...


The Forth Railway Bridge


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Scotland I: Glasgow

The University

Yup, blue sky. In January.

Kelvingrove Art Gallery



(organ recitals - in the art gallery - most lunchtimes)


The Burell Collection, in the idyllic grounds of Pollok Park


Pollok House


(The tilt-shift feature of my Canon s95 saw a lot of use this trip...!)


One of the themes of the entire visit: Muckle Coos (aka Highland Cattle).

The prizewinning herd at Pollok House are known around the world



Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Who says you can't go home again?



Nearly thirteen years.

Since I left the UK I've had a baby, established a career, and watched my life morph from what was more-or-less still a student lifestyle to that of boring (but stable!) suburbia. I've been re-assimilated into my birth country and had the luxury of living near my parents and getting re-acquainted adult-to-adult. I've learned to accept and enjoy the higher standard of American living, embracing the 24hr supermarket with open arms, and have grown to consider firehose-strength water pressure a constitutional right. I've even started thinking of Chipotle as our "local".

Still, within minutes of landing in Glasgow, it felt like being back home. Now, granted, I never lived in Scotland (although I did work there and spend extended time there), so perhaps the changes of 13 years weren't as obvious to me as they would have been in London or Manchester, but even with that in mind, there was that sense of coming home and, frankly, of never having been away at all. As my husband's relative put it, "It's just like walking into another room", and I couldn't put it better myself. Another room rather than another house, country or world.

Of course, things have changed - stores have come and gone, prices have most assuredly gone up, buses have privatised (growl - do NOT get me started on the horror which is Glasgow's privatised bus system - it's a mess, and expensive to boot!), and readily available Starbucks are clear signs of "the 51st state" which we'd been warned to expect. And yet....

One of the things I always do to acclimatise myself when I travel is immediately head to a retail area - I often don't buy much, but it's a way of assimilating prices, local delicacies and getting in a lot of people watching. This trip was no different - while undoubtedly (to quote Marty Feldman in Young Frankenstein) the rates have gone up, and an American-style glossy-tiled mall graces the bottom of Buchanan St... so much is still the same; the faces were the same, somehow, the way things are labelled, the fonts on the newspapers, and even the pace of movement down the streets. Things may have moved on, but they haven't changed. I'm not sure what I'd expected really - to go back and find that I'd remembered everything with rose-tinted glasses? That it wasn't as much "home" as I remembered? That things had changed so drastically as to truly feel like just another American city? In the event, it was reassuringly the same as it had always been. Well, except for the weather - unlike the usual cold, damp, drab and drear of January, 7 of our 8 days there were bright, sunny, and downright WARM! It was a heatwave for the time of year; I'm not quite sure how we got so lucky given the blizzards of the previous week, and freezing fog that followed our departure.

My husband and I were both thrilled to see our daughter enjoy this new/old home as much as we did. This was her first trip overseas, and we really didn't know quite how she'd react. As it happens, she can't wait to get back quickly enough, and has been suggesting schemes to mail herself there if we can't figure out a way to put her on the plane for the summer!

It was a delight to see her meet her paternal extended family, too: many new aunts, uncles and cousins to get to know (and to translate from their native Glesg'y) as well as family friends many of whom she'd never heard of before. It could have been quite overwhelming (don't we all remember being paraded out as children to oohs and ahs of "Last time I saw you, you were only ~hands spread apart~ this big" and "You've grown since that last picture your mum sent!"?), but she embraced it with style.

For me, it was a chance to be a tourist in Scotland for the first time - every other time I'd been there it was for a gig, and I was too busy to do much as a rule. Oh, I had managed to do some hillwalking around Loch Lomond and visit Callander/Killin once or twice on days off, but I'd never really "done" the cities properly, so it was a real treat to explore. This time we made a point of visiting galleries, castles, and stately homes as well as a day into the lochs and glens, really getting to enjoy it as a holiday as well as a long-delayed family visit.

And we've learned that you really can go home again.


Saturday, January 1, 2011

2010 Roundup

A well-timed nudge expressing pleasure that I'd "finally posted again" (!) reminded me I hadn't yet posted my annual roundup for the year. Somehow while working on that I was also moved to experiment with a "new year, new look" for the blog so apologies for any glitches - work in progress! So, without further ado:

In 2010 .....
  • I finally caught up on about 5 years of British television I'd managed to miss; this project started out merely as entertainment, but quickly became something much more artistically important and, in a way, prompted the theme of dramatic exploration that drove my performing year. We started the year with North & South and were bowled over by this amazing production - it would be hard to overstate what a tremendous artistic "reboot" it prompted (it even warranted its own blog entry). Impressed as we were, we decided to give some of Richard Armitage's other productions a try which led us first back to Spooks (MI5 in the US) and then to Kudos Productions' other series': first Hustle, and then Ashes to Ashes. We'd given the original Life on Mars a try when it first came out but, for whatever reasons, hadn't really connected with it; Ashes, however, immediately drew us in and we were hooked - actually, more like completely pole-axed as this powerful series worked its magic on us. As with North and South, while we enjoyed the series just as great television and entertainment, the intensity and brilliance meant it became more than that: the artistic impact those performances had on me was profound. Watching emotional layer upon layer expressed sometimes with no more than the flicker of an eye was a very powerful reminder of just how much we can achieve as performers, and how much we can and should - must! - strive for.

  • My daughter and I took a spontaneous whirlwind trip to Vancouver to take advantage of a friend's invitation to see the dress rehearsal for the opening ceremonies - it was every bit as much fun as it sounds and we were just grateful to make it there and back between the brutal snowstorms that hit the east coast the week we traveled! We got incredibly lucky with our flights (and even luckier that close friends put snow tires on their car every year.....!)




  • I performed a well-received duo recital which prompted ideas that came to fruition later in the year...

  • I enjoyed a wonderful festival production: fantastic colleagues in an idyllic setting was pretty much a guaranteed recipe for fun and it was a terrific experience. Despite being a role in a genre I don't sing all that much (and also sustaining a miserable foot injury which slowed me down more than I liked), it was a rewarding summer both artistically and personally and given the chance I'd repeat the experience in a hearbeat! It was perfect timing to work "outside the operatic box", too, with a great deal of "real" dialogue (George Bernard Shaw's original text was reinstated for this production) - the entire process was very different from the usual opera production, and while it was sometimes challenging, it was enormously exciting and satisfying to stretch my dramatic wings in different ways.




  • I got home from New York and hit the ground running, putting the ideas sparked at the spring recital into practice. The result was a concert in the words and format first tried out in March, but this time based on a unifying theme: the life and works of Edgar Allan Poe. The idea seemed to spark a lot of interest, and we benefited from some terrific publicity including a nice piece in the paper and a fun interview with the classical radio music station.


  • We lost our much-loved Bearded Collie at ~14 years old. He was a venerable old man and it was time, but that never stops it being hard. The animal was a hairy saint and we miss him terribly; hopefully 2011 will include a small furball addition to the family at some point...













  • Continued to take many, many pictures, and photography certainly didn't wind up on the back burner! A series of headshots for young performers, a chance to meet and work with The Strobist (aka David Hobby)as part of an advocacy journalism project, and even a small competition win were just a few of the many projects I undertook and enjoyed this year.
Which I think brings us to the end of the year and makes me wonder.... what's in store next? What adventures that I haven't even considered yet are waiting in 2011? I have no idea, but I'm game to find out! Here's to a fresh, open page ahead of us - I've never liked the idea of "resolutions" for the new year, but I love the promise of possibility ahead.