Thursday, March 27, 2014

Turkey Chili

Welcome, Sexi fans, to our second installment of this month’s Simply Sexi series! If you missed our first entry, the goal of this series is to provide you with one easy recipe that will give you a delicious meal plus plenty of leftovers, and suggestions for additional meals that can be made using those leftovers! It’s a one-stop-shop for easy, tasty, and healthy!

The star of this edition is an all-time favorite comfort food, revamped to cut calories while still boasting bold flavor and a hearty meal. That’s right…we’re talking chili. While your average chili probably calls for ground beef, we’ve swapped in ground turkey to cut fat (an added bonus for those of you trying to cut down on your red meat, as well!) and added two kinds of beans for some extra protein and fiber.  The slightly tangy, slightly smoky, slightly spicy sauce will have you wanting to lick your plate clean (it’s ok, we don’t judge!). The best part about this recipe is that the leftovers only get better with time! The flavors continue to develop after that first amazing bite, ensuring that each subsequent meal leaves you just as “comforted” as the first.  So go chili-crazy! Dive into a big bowl of this stuff, you’ll be glad you did!

Simply Sexi Turkey Chili
1 lb ground turkey meat
1 small can tomato paste
1 15 oz. can petite diced tomatoes, with liquid
1 15 oz. can light kidney beans, drained
1 15 oz. can dark kidney beans, drained
1 packet chili seasoning
salt and pepper, to taste

In a large pan, brown turkey meat. Add tomato paste, diced tomatoes, light and dark beans, and seasoning packet. Stir until well combined. Cover and simmer over medium low heat for 10 minutes. Uncover and stir. Serve and enjoy!

Notes about this recipe:
-Want more veggies? Add some chopped onion, garlic, and bell pepper after meat has browned!
-Don’t want beans? Leave them out! Want more beans? Add more!
-Need more kick? Add ½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes!

Other recipes with turkey chili:
-Mix with scrambled eggs for a healthy, hearty breakfast!
-Serve over brown rice for a protein-packed meal!
-Spoon over a baked sweet potato for a sweet and savory dish!
-Add canned corn and shredded low-fat  cheese and serve over a whole wheat tortilla!

-Be creative- the possibilities are endless!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Rock it! Sing What You Sing Best

What Does It Mean to “Sing What You Sing Best”?

It doesn’t take long for the audition circuit to harden a person. The long travel and hassle for ten minutes of singing, the varying levels of disinterest from the panel, the constant, unrelenting rejections. A frustrated singer might very well badger her fellow singers, pester her teachers, and troll the internet for advice. What is the secret? One answer a singer is likely to hear over and over is: sing what you sing best.

It might seem obvious but it can be difficult to figure out. There are endless rules about audition arias to avoid, requirements for “contrasting languages and styles”, and our own intimate connection with our singing gives us a somewhat warped perspective about what really shows us off best. I think narrowing down what music I really shine in was one of the most difficult things about embarking on a professional career, and it was a long time coming. Here are some of the ideas that helped me:

What you sing best and what you love most are not necessarily the same thing. This can be the most difficult to comes to grips with, because most of us get in to singing opera because we love the music. Sure we love the way it feels and being able to express ourselves with our voices, but a love of the music is a prerequisite. Unfortunately, the opera you love most in the world might not be totally suited to your voice. If you are a coloratura mezzo you are not going to sing the best Carmen no matter how much you love the score. Nor is your love of the Queen of the Night going to give you a high F if you don’t already have one. Obviously you need to find music that you sing well that you also enjoy. 

Try to look at what your voice does best objectively, without intrusion from your musical tastes.
You can’t sing everything equally well. This is especially confusing in light of the requirements of many auditions to sing in a variety of styles and languages. A typical aria package for a young artist program audition might include Mozart, French bel canto, Puccini, 20th century avant garde opera, and a musical theater piece. But if you look at professional singers, virtually no one is performing regularly in all of those styles. In fact, if you look at the careers of most pros, you’ll see they stick with two or three styles. They might progress through things over the years, say, a Mozart specialization could grown into Verdi, years of bel canto could set the stage nicely for verismo down the road. But I defy anyone to find a seasoned professional singing the kind of variety that young artists expect of themselves.

So what do you do about those “contrasting styles” requirements? Well, usually an audition will only require three languages, sometimes just two. Have an aria in each of the major languages for when you absolutely need four languages, but chuck the weakest one for any audition when you don’t.  If you don’t sing Mozart well, don’t, unless it’s stipulated on the application. This can be a slippery slope—you don’t want to offer five arias that essentially show the same thing. But don’t be so desperate to show contrast that you end up showing your weaknesses instead.

The most important thing in figuring out what you sing best is to be honest with yourself. You must be compassionate as well, because it can be difficult to admit to yourself that there’s something you just don’t do well. But know that by listening critically and not letting biases confuse you, you are well on your way to always putting your best face forward and nailing every audition.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Singer's Path: Finding Your Own Way

Becoming an opera singer is a long, challenging, expensive journey in the pursuit of making something beautiful come to life, but how does one go about “making it” professionally in this exclusive business.  How do you find your path?

As singers, we spend hours per month, week, or  day in vain thinking about the ways in which other singers have built their careers.  Social media encourages this type of thought within us all, keeping up with so many of our colleagues and friends who are embarking on their own careers. How many times this week have you seen a post on facebook of someone’s success and found yourself comparing your talent to his or hers? Do you judge yourself negatively based on other people doing well?

Singers are notorious for being insecure, even the best of them!  Have you ever been in a show when a review came out between performances and a singer didn’t get the review they wanted, or worse they weren’t mentioned at all, but someone playing a compramario role was?  Pay attention next time your in a show, and observe the reactions of your colleagues.  Suddenly, there will be a spotlight on those singers who are insecure.

The power of perception and choosing to think positively can change your life and relationship to your confidence, and pursuit of singing.  Next time you read about someone else’s success try being ENCOURAGED!  Every time I go to see a performance at the Met, I think, “It’s going to be exciting to sing there one day!”

Realize your talent is unique.  Acknowledge that just because someone else is talented and succeeding, it doesn’t mean that you are not talented and can’t or won’t succeed. No one’s talent can belittle or diminish your own.  The most wonderful and beautiful aspect of singing is that we are all different, unique and special.  Every singer has the opportunity to bring something to a role that is different than anyone else.  No interpretation or sound will ever be exactly the same. There will never be another Maria Callas, but her talent doesn't diminish anyone else's.

Once you realize your own strengths and you come to terms with the fact that you are your own person, you can begin to see and walk on your own path, one day at a time.  Don’t feel like you have to rush it. It doesn’t matter if you sing or sang all the leads in your University productions, it doesn’t matter if you get into the top ten young artist programs, or win every major competition you enter, or sign with the most prestigious agent.  SURE, those things are helpful, and they could potentially build your career, but they don’t necessarily or automatically build it, nor are they the only way you will ever succeed. Your voice reaches its peak around 35, so give it some time to get there!

Not all opera singers went straight from school to the stage! There are opera singers, who played professional football, who are voice professors at Universities, who were lawyers for years before singing, who never went to a young artist program, who were told by Met competition judges, and major young artist programs that they weren’t any good.  The one thing most thriving opera singers have in common is that they have not given up.  They use positive thinking, determination, dedication to detail, perfection in languages and styles, and humble promotion of themselves.  You have to believe in yourself, before others will believe in you. 

Define success for yourself.  What does it mean to be a successful opera singer? Is it about how much money you make?  Is it about the work that you do?  Is about the size of the role, or the company you are singing for?  Is it defined by how famous you are?  What does it even mean to be successful in the industry as it is?  

I have sung a principal role with a B level company, opposite a baritone who sings at the met.  I made at least 10 times less money than he did, but was reviewed by the critics as “well-matched”.  But we weren’t “well-matched” in our salaries, and if I compared myself to him and judged my success on how much money I made, I would not find joy in my career, or consider myself successful.  Our paths are and will continue to be very different, but through practice, determination and a wild imagination I can and will be successful based on my own personal success meter.

Finding your own path begins with your ability to drown out the negative thoughts in your head. To ignore your negative emotions and frustrations of the obvious unfairness, and to think positively and focus on the personal unique talent that you have to offer. Live in the moment, and enjoy the differences in your path to success.

If you think it and believe it, anything is possible!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Marinated Chicken

In a perfect world, cooking a meal would go something like this: going down to the market to pick produce and groceries from today’s fresh shipment, returning home to a lavish kitchen equipped with the finest cooking utensils, carefully taking time to lay out the various items you will use to prepare your meal, leisurely strolling about the kitchen without a care in the world, etcetera, etcetera, sun shining, birds singing in the window, dancing with the duster…you get the picture.  In our world, time is scant, the market seems like a distant memory from, oh, maybe two weeks ago, and the singing birds are more like curtain calls and vocal warm-ups.

If the latter sounds more like your life, then this month’s Simply Sexi series is for you: one super easy recipe with endless possibilities! By preparing one versatile ingredient, you can cut your prep work and create meals to last a few days. We will give you the “special ingredient” along with one recipe, and then show you how you can use that ingredient to make lots of other easy meals! This week’s focus is a delicious, tender, and simple marinated chicken.  So take control of your time and your kitchen-these recipes are perfect for you! Who knows, maybe a little birdie will even show up to keep you some company!

Simply Sexi Marinated Chicken Pasta Salad

*Special Ingredient-Marinated Chicken*
2-3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
½ cup fat-free Italian dressing
½ cup fat-free balsamic dressing

Combine ingredients in a gallon sized zip seal bag. Allow to marinate in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour, or overnight. In a large sauté pan or grill pan, cook chicken until cooked through, flipping once during cooking. Allow to cool slightly and cut into thin slices. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Marinated Chicken Pasta Salad
1 box whole wheat rotini pasta, cooked al dente according to package instructions
1 cup garbanzo beans, drained
1 cup broccoli florets, raw or cooked
1 cup frozen kale, thawed
1 ½ cups sliced marinated chicken
½ cup fat-free Italian dressing
½ cup fat-free balsamic dressing

Toss all ingredients together until thoroughly combined. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Notes about this recipe:
-Don’t like these veggies? Swap them out for your own! Asparagus, spinach, peppers, and even beans are a great addition!
-Add ½ cup of reduced fat feta for a salty kick!

Other recipes with marinated chicken:
-Spread hummus on a whole wheat wrap. Add chicken, lettuce, and tomato for a yummy wrap!
-Place chicken slices on top of fresh spinach with strawberries and sliced almonds for a healthy salad!
-Top slices with marinara sauce and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese for a healthy chicken parmesan!
-Serve slices with brown rice for a protein packed dish!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Ask For What You Want

We all want more performance opportunities, and we all struggle with finding more work.  The truth is, there are more of us than there are opportunities. 

So, you can either sit in your prison of thoughts waiting for someone to hand you an opportunity on a platter, or you can take matters into your own hands and do something about it.  It’s like dating.  You can shyly smile at the cute guy or girl from across the room and hope that they notice you, or you can walk right up to them and say, “Hey, I think you’re really cute!”  When you want something you have to tell people, because more than likely they won’t read your mind or attempt to guess how you feel.

Ask for what you want.  It’s the beginning of a new year, so it’s the perfect time to make a few goals for your self.  Start by making a list of what you want. 
Here are a few ideas:  perfect your five audition arias, learn a new role or two (or three), get an agent, take more auditions, move from young artist programs to main stage roles, direct, conduct, or coach— wherever you are in your process or whatever your focus is, the concept is the same.  Figure out what you want and tell people. Don’t assume people know you’re interested in an opportunity just because they know you. Even if you’ve worked with a company before, and even if they’re your friends, don’t expect them to know that you want a job.  As individuals we spend a lot of time assuming that others know what we want and expecting them to give it to us, but in reality every one is very busy thinking about what they personally want or need.  In order to stay on others’ minds, you have to remind them you’re interested.

As a singer and producer, when I hold auditions and don’t hear from my friends, I assume they’re not interested. I suppose I should know better because I am a singer, and they are my friends. Of all people, I should know that they want the opportunity to sing, but I don't.  I only want to work with people who are really interested in my project. If you’re really interested, you’ll contact me.  Again, it’s like dating— we want to be pursued. 

After you’ve determined what your goals are, make a list of all the industry professionals you know.  Use this list to make a diagram of the people they may know.  It’s possible that they could introduce you to career-changing opportunities. Make another list of potential companies you are ready to audition for.

Finally, ASK.  Send your previous employers and contacts a professionally written e-mail two or three times a year, sharing an update on your career.  Let them know what competitions you’ve won and what roles you’ve learned, as well as new headshots, new recordings, or website updates.  Remind them that you are around.  Remind them how much you enjoyed working with them, and that you would love another opportunity to do so again.  Mention that you may be driving through town and that it would be great to have an opportunity to audition for their upcoming season.

When it comes to companies you’ve never worked for:  send that audition application.  Send an e-mail asking for an audition.  Do you have a reference who might be willing to e-mail them on your behalf?  Ask.  Do you have a connection to the company in some way?  Ask.

Don’t wait for someone else to do it for you.  You must be self motivated and determined to achieve your goals in this business.  Promote yourself! Be your own biggest fan. If you believe in yourself, chances are, others will believe in you too.

The opera-tunities will come!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

“Life Lessons for Singers”: An Exclusive Interview With Soprano, Melissa Shippen

This month we are excited welcome soprano, Melissa Shippen to the Sexi Soprano family! Since her operatic debut with the Palm Beach Opera Company in 2003, the Juilliard graduate has been no stranger to the operatic stages around the world including the US, Europe and Asia. Her powerful and exotic voice commands roles such as Mimi, Micaela, Thais, and Magda.

This beautiful young lady has struck the hearts of audiences with her commitment and passion for the characters she plays. She is a true example of focusing not just on the singing, but on the story she is trying to tell. It is her dedication to bringing a character to life that makes her stand out, giving her the whole (‘Sexi’) package needed for a career as an opera singer.

***Poised in her lovely apartment in Philadelphia, Melissa is all smiles throughout the interview. She is graceful with a positive and upbeat demeanor, and her charming southern-belle accent makes you immediately feel like she has been your best friend for years and years.***

Sexi Soprano: “What do you do to stand out in an audition?”
MS: “I believe is that it’s not what is on the outside (audition wear, etc) so much as it is what you bring in your singing. I hope that every time I start a new aria that there is some kind of vulnerability in the character that I can find to bring out. Whether it’s Mimi being so nervous to meet Rodolfo for the first time or Micaela being so scared in this place with the bandits and not knowing what will happen to her. I try to find that central vulnerability and play into it.

Us singers, we are constantly working to better the vocal technique. We spend hours in the practice room adjusting vowels, and perfecting every phrase. Melissa’s words remind us that the character is worth just as much as the voice. An audition panel and an audience want to be moved, and we can do that by bringing life to our characters.

When I sing a certain role, Liu, Mimi, etc…it’s about enough commitment to your technique that you can step through it when you're performing, and feeling like you’ve completely given yourself over in a performance. That is where my satisfaction comes from.

In 2005 Melissa sang for The Opera Foundation on a recommendation by a conductor she was working with. He had asked her after an opera rehearsal if she thought she was ready to make the next step in her career. Fearless, and in high spirits Melissa rocked her audition and a call came her way that very night.

“I remember standing next to Barnes & Noble at the time at Lincoln Center, (as I was singing at the Juilliard Opera Center at the time). I was shocked and thrilled to receive the call from The Opera Foundation that I was selected from their auditions to move to Germany and sing at the Deutsche Oper Berlin. I was so excited and nervous all at once. I immediately began thinking about needing to become more fluent in German and what roles would I sing and with whom? How would I live all by myself in a new country, when would I be able to see my family in the US, and would I make friends??? I believe everything happens when it needs to and it all did. That was a phone call I will never forget!!”

After a successful three years in Germany, Melissa met the man who would later become her husband. He was based in the US and she was faced with the question that goes through most of our minds as we continue on the path of this demanding career. Do you choose love or career? Do we have to choose?? Melissa says we don’t.

I believe that you have to make decisions as a human, not just as an artist. Sure, more time in Germany would have been optimal, but I believe that a hard work ethic, great focus and polishing daily of talent in this business can help you overcome any obstacles. I believe that while being in a demanding business you need to find peace from somewhere; your family, faith, exercise, hobbies or from a partner. My faith and husband bring me great peace and joy. We always ask each other the question: How can I be there for you? You find ways to support each other through everything.”

Now, back in the states, Melissa has been able to have both her relationship and her career. Basing herself in Philadelphia has enabled her to continue to coach, take auditions, perform and travel, all while being able to come home to her husband and balance out the demands of being an opera singer. It is important for us all to heed her advice to make decisions for our lives as well as for our careers. It balances us and keeps us going at the end of the day so that we can tackle the next big performance or audition. What an inspiration to us all to go after EVERYTHING that we want!

Throughout the interview, Melissa brought up many fantastic points and suggestions for singers at any stage of their careers. Sometimes we forget these little but important details as we move forward and make choices. So Sexi Soprano has taken the tips that she has given us and fluffed them up to give you  the “Melissa Shippen’s ‘Sexi’ Life Lessons for Singers”. (Note: these tips are paraphrased pieces of advice we took from the interview and not exact quotes from Melissa. Enjoy!)

 Record yourself and listen back.
Whether you are just starting college, or a young artist or singing professionally at the Met, it is important to listen and think: what can I learn from this, what can I do better? Your voice is the product and you have to learn to look at yourself objectively. You wouldn’t send out a book to a prospective publisher without reading it through and finding what you could do to make it better. It is the same with the voice! No, it may not be something vocal, but it may be musical or perhaps you are missing that yearning from your character. You can always take something back from listening. Get comfortable with it, and learn from it!

Organize your life as much as possible.
This is a hectic and unstable career that leaves your head spinning sometimes. Do everything you can to have a routine no matter where you are. Plan ahead, and create a schedule on a day to day or weekly basis to keep you grounded.

Get ready for rejection!
It’s just inevitable in this business and something you have to deal with. It’s not going to change. Don’t take it so personally! You would be surprised at what you find about casting sometimes. You’re thinking ‘oh It must have been my high notes’, or ‘I must not have held out that fermata long enough’, but what you find out is that they actually just needed a redhead or they thought you were too tall to go with the tenor that they had already cast. Own what you do as a singer and (if you fall down), get back up and move forward. Remember…

 Be okay with turning age 30 and not being as stable financially as your non-singer friends around you.  
Remember to love and enjoy the process more than you dislike the unstable nature of the lifestyle. This is a career of absolute planning and marketing, you are getting paid very little and you are taking temp jobs, church jobs and extra gigs on the side to pay for not only your living expenses but your coachings, lessons and audition trips. You have to be ok with getting to 30 years old while watching your friends that are lawyers and doctors settle down and have a stable career and income. Honestly, this is not how it feels to be a singer. But what we do get is that exhilarating feeling when we are onstage and we have touched someone in the audience with our performance. That is a great feeling.

In auditions, be confident in what you prepared!
You’ve done all of this work and you've just traveled to a new city and there is a lot going on. Be proud of that and OWN that. Own who you are and OWN YOUR VOICE, regardless of the outcome.

It’s important to remember that every panel WANTS to hear you do well.
It’s not a judging panel so much as a panel that wants to be MOVED. They may love your singing and still not choose you for whatever reason, but you shouldn’t leave feeling like you did a bad job.

Be mindful of lifestyle choices:
College is a great time to hang with friends and meet new people, and auditions are a fabulous way to meet up with old friends in NYC and even have a drink, but the more we mature as singers, the more we need to be mindful of those lifestyle choices. Don’t scream at a football game or stay out late partying. Take care to rest during your audition trip and limit your night out with old friends to one drink or water and a curfew. It is important to have a social life but there are habits we have to take on as singers in order to maintain energy and our voices for performances and daily practice.

Take time for you.
It is very important that you have a sense of peace and grounding. This is a field that pulls you in many different directions, and it very important to hold to that. Have something that makes you feel centered and grounded in who you are and what you've accomplished, whether it is exercise, yoga, meditation, reading etc. TAKE THE TIME, and cherish it.

You must know in your heart that you are doing this because you cannot possibly do anything else.

See Melissa THIS month in her upcoming performance of Mimi in La Boh√®me with the Lyric Opera of Virginia!  She will also be heard in NYC on April 4 in her Avery Fisher Hall debut with Beethoven Symphony no.9 with the National Chorale.