Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Getting Intimate on Stage

I remember my first stage kiss. The worst part about it was that it was my first kiss ever. How’s that for baptism by fire? I was thirteen years old and playing the part of Ariel in a ballet recital. The music playing was “Kiss the Girl,” from the Disney movie. I was sitting in an elevated canoe with a bunch of seven-year-olds dressed up as fish, dancing around us, watching and giggling. I remember that the guy playing Eric was hot (well, as hot as a 14 or 15-year-old can be to an eighth grader). I was too fearful and utterly humiliated to go through with it during rehearsal, so the first and last time we kissed was in the performance. I was sick to my stomach, face totally flushed and hot, and I remember him planting one on me. “Oh God, my parents are in the audience!” I thought. I did not move, did not kiss back, nothing. It must have been like kissing someone on the lips who was asleep. He was a great sport, but I totally wanted to die. I thought I would die, actually, but here I am, many stage kisses later, alive and well. The one thing I learned from watching the videotaped performance was that, despite my lack of enthusiasm, the kiss looked just fine from the audience; our lips made contact, we looked relaxed, and it was over in just a few seconds.

Over the years, I’ve learned that stage kissing and bedroom scenes onstage just aren’t a big deal. It does not have to be a source of anxiety if everyone practices respect and proper stage etiquette. Here are a few tips to help keep stage kissing and intimacy easy and stress-free:

1. Practice good hygiene. Help your stage partner out by practicing good hygiene. Don’t forget the deodorant. Shower if you’re coming to rehearsal after a workout. If you know you’ll be rehearsing an intimate scene, bring along toothpaste or mouthwash. Re-think eating those Cool Ranch Doritos or garlic chicken; it can probably wait until you are done staging. You’d think this would be a given, but I’ve experienced some of these offenders personally, and you don’t want to be one of them.

2. Ditch the lipstick. Do not wear lipstick that easily transfers on days when you are rehearsing kissing scenes, or even during shows. L’Oreal infallible lip stain is one brand that does not transfer if you must be wearing something. Neither you nor your partner looks fabulous with lipstick or sticky lip-gloss all over your face. Stick to ChapStick or use a stain that will not transfer.

3. Get into character and communicate. You don’t have to go all out every time, but as you get closer to show time, the more you practice, the more comfortable you will be. Remember, you are characters in a show. It does not matter whether one or both of you is gay, straight, married, partnered, or whether you are kissing someone of the same sex, or anything else that may be a first for you or make you uncomfortable in real life. You’re there, on stage, playing characters. Step out of yourself and into your character. If you have been marking an intimate scene, communicate to your partner when you want to go for it. That way everyone is prepared and on the same page. This is something you can work out with your stage partner. You don’t need a director to do this for you.

4. Don’t fake it. I’ve had directors ask if my stage partner and I want to do a “fake stage kiss” as opposed to a real one. It is my opinion that kissing on stage does not work like stage combat. A kiss looks like a kiss. A fake kiss looks like a fake kiss. Nothing is more awkward for the audiences than seeing a romantic stage couple “hug passionately” where a kiss should be or go into an obvious “non-kiss” with someone’s head to the audience. If you are feeling awkward or nervous about a stage kiss, remember, faking it will be awkward for the hundreds or thousands of people watching you. It’s not a big deal to kiss someone on stage. Don’t fake it.

5. Stay in character and commit. Stay in character at all times. Your partner may forget their lines. They may be singing loudly in your ear. They may be sweating. They may be standing over you and sweating onto you. These are the times you will be reminded just how clinical stage kissing and intimacy are. Commit. Keep things believable for your audience who doesn’t know what it is like to hear a tenor singing a high C in your ear or sweating directly into your eye.

6. And Finally… No tongue. Enough said!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Perfect Hard-Boiled Egg

Ah, the egg  a wonderfully versatile vessel of protein that fits easily into many of your favorite recipes. It makes for a quick and healthy breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack, and everywhere in between. However, one popular method of cooking up the egg holds a bit of mystery  we’re talking the ever-popular hard-boiled egg. Cook it for too little time and you’re left with an oozy mess. Cook it for too long and you’re left with a dry, rubbery disaster.  And then there’s that green-ring-around-the-yolk situation. Yikes.
So how do you achieve that perfectly tender hard-boiled egg with the fluffy yellow center, just begging to be part of your next meal? We’ll show you! By following a few simple steps, you’ll find yourself with the formula for success every time. And to make things even easier, you can make several eggs at once, peel them, and keep them in the refrigerator for up to a week! They will be ready to go whenever you are! These eggs make a great on-the-go snack, or can be sliced up and placed on toast, salads, or with veggies. We’ll even give you our favorite egg salad recipe as another delicious way to enjoy your hard-boiled eggs! Next time you’re searching for that perfect make-ahead power snack, look no further than these eggs-made-easy!
The Perfect Hard-Boiled Egg
-Choose how many eggs you want to boil.
-Place eggs in a large pot and fill with cold water until eggs are completely covered. Place pot on the stove at high heat. Bring to a boil.
-Here’s the important part! Once the water begins to boil, set a timer for 15 minutes. When the timer goes off, carefully remove the eggs and place them in a large bowl full of cold water (ice water is even better!). Allow eggs to sit in the cold water for at least 15 minutes. Remove the eggs and pat dry. To peel, gently tap the egg on a flat surface, rotating until the shell is cracked all around the egg. Peel carefully. Place peeled eggs in an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Sexi Soprano’s Favorite Egg Salad!
6 hard-boiled eggs
1/3 cup low-fat mayonnaise
2 TBSP Dijon mustard
¼ cup finely chopped celery
¼ cup finely chopped red onion
salt and pepper, to taste
paprika (optional)
Cut hard-boiled eggs in half. Remove yolks from 3 of the eggs and place them in a large bowl. To the yolks, add mayonnaise and mustard. Stir together until smooth. Roughly chop the rest of the eggs (whites and yolks) to desired size. Add chopped eggs, celery, and onion to mayonnaise mixture. Fold together until well combined. Sprinkle with salt and pepper as desired. Top with a sprinkle of paprika. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Three Things to Remember Before You Quit

If you’ve spent any time at all pursuing a classical singing career, you know that this is an extremely challenging and competitive business. No matter how much you love singing, there are probably times when you want to quit. If you confide your feelings with friends and family, you’ll probably hear a wide variety of responses. Many will tell you that you absolutely can’t quit, that you were born to be a singer. Others might cite examples of singer friends who quit the business and are infinitely happier for it. I’m not here to tell you which decision is right for you;everyone is different and no one answer serves everyone. But if you are thinking of throwing in the towel, I’d love to remind you of a few things first.
1. You have a gift.
Despite the fact that there are always too many sopranos, the opera world can actually feel extremely claustrophobic. When all of your colleagues, most of your friends, and quite likely your partner are all singers, it can be tough to remember that, in the big scheme of things, your talent and skill level are pretty mind-blowing. Just because your career isn’t where you’d like it to be doesn’t mean you’re not talented. Aside from the fact that career trajectories are based on a host of other factors besides talent, by the time you reach the professional level, or even graduate school, the differences in skill separating singers on various rungs of the career ladder are increasingly tiny. Never forget: There are over 7 billion people on the planet. Very few of them can sing as well as you do.
2. Quitting the business will not eliminate your problems.
For me, thoughts of quitting always strike when I am most plagued by singing’s typical maladies. You know the drill: time away from family, rejection, acute paranoia about your health…and did I mention rejection? It’s tough not to be tempted by a life that is free of these issues, but remember that even if you escape these problems, others will follow in their place. No matter how idyllic it may seem on the outside, there is no life that is completely devoid of problems. Disappointment, loneliness, grief, and fear are the price we pay for the extraordinary privilege of being alive. If your thoughts of quitting stem from the desire for a problem-free life, take a step back and remind yourself that such a life doesn’t exist.
3. Quitting the business doesn’t mean quitting singing.
Why did you start singing in the first place? Think back to your earliest memories of singing and remember why you began it in the first place. For a lot of us I think it’s true that we were encouraged by others who noticed our talent, but surely you enjoyed it or you would have quit long ago. Therefore, I ask that you please remember that, if nothing else, singing is meant to bring you joy. This doesn’t mean that you might not need a break after quitting the business, if that’s what you decide to do. But if your fantasies of quitting devolve into hysterical visions of never singing ever again, not even just for the fun of it in the shower or the car, then you’re probably not thinking rationally about your life choices. Step back; take a breath. You love singing and you cannot escape that, regardless of what you decide to do professionally. And in some cases, quitting might help you get more joy out of singing, once it is no longer tied to paying the rent.
Rough times are inevitable, and it’s easy to fall into the trap of quitting as the solution. Then again, quitting really is the best choice for some. As with all major decisions, consider your choices carefully and over a period of time, and don’t neglect thinking outside the box for what a singing career can look like. Whatever you decide, acknowledge that singing will be a part of your life. How it is a part of your life is entirely up to you.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Stay Calm and Be Glamorous

The day starts off gloriously! You’ve had three hours of sleep, your alarm has gone off ten times, and the sun will rise…eventually. It’s time to get up and head to the airport because that awesome gig you’ve accepted is finally here and rehearsals begin in under ten hours. Never mind that you just finished a production of La Bohème last night and had to attend an after party… hence the three hours of sleep. Today is the day you begin your first production of La Traviata.

One of the major perks of singing opera is traveling to new and diverse destinations. One day you’re in Toledo, OH and the next you’re in Paris, France. Over the winter you find yourself freezing in Syracuse, NY followed by a gloriously hot spring in Fort Worth, TX and beautiful Italy for the summer. All your non-singing friends and family envy your exciting lifestyle and ability to travel. Never mind that’s it’s exhausting and that you spend hours of hard work and all your money preparing for the opportunities. Let’s face it: after you calculate the lessons, coachings, recordings, scores, and food you’ve bought on the gig, you will probably have spent more than you made, but they’re jealous none the less. Really, who can blame them? It is a dreamy existence.

A typical travel day for an opera singer consists of a taxi or rental car to the airport (or maybe you’re really lucky and a friend or family member can drive you and hug and kiss you goodbye…you really are glamorous), followed by a line to check in and realizing your itinerary doesn’t have the right confirmation code. “Oh no! What do I do? The company booked this flight for me and the computers nor annoyed lady at the desk can find my name on the flight!”
You’re in a rush so you search your phone to find any e-mail from the production manager, hoping and praying that you have a phone number for anyone who could help. You graciously explain to the lady at the desk that the flight was booked for you by the company you’re working for and you’ll try to contact them. Success! You found the number and it’s ringing…it’s ringing… They answer and you try to muster the most pleasant tone you’ve ever delivered, telling them about your dilemma. Just then the lady at the desk interrupts. “Ma’am…” (you think, “Seriously, she’s calling me ma’am… I knew I didn’t get enough sleep.”) “Your flight has been cancelled, and there’s not another flight to Akron, OH until tomorrow.” Breathing deeply, you return to your phone call, breaking the news you have just received. The company tells you they are not sure what to do about that, but will call you back. Click. Okay, remain calm, everything’s going to be okay, you’re glamorous, amazing, and you can figure this out. Once you’re off the phone you finally find a solution. It’s not perfect, you’re going to have to fly to Cincinnati, rent a car, and drive the rest of the way, but at least you’ll make in time for the first rehearsal. 
The flight was direct, unlike the last time you flew to New York, but you had to make a transfer at the Charlotte airport and run three terminals over just to be the last person able to board.

Next is security. “How long did that take? What time am I boarding? Are you serious?  I have ten minutes until my flight is boarding!” Running to security, you see from a distance that there’s a line. Breathe deeply, you have your favorite shoes on and you’re totally glamorous!

You make it through security and to your gate with just enough time to grab a bottle of water. Thank goodness you packed your sandwich and apple to eat on the plane. Once you finally make it to your destination, the production manager warmly greets you at the airport.
“How was your flight?” he asks.  “Oh, it was really great.  Smooth sailing,” you say, smiling! Next you’re taken to your hotel, or wait…is it a home stay? Do you get a rental car or are you sharing? What time is rehearsal? Where is rehearsal? Are you staging tomorrow or starting with music? Are you close to a grocery store? Do you have a refrigerator or a microwave? If not, are you close to restaurants? Is there Internet where you’re staying? These are just a few questions that might be scrambling around your head.

Once you finally settle in and have a few of your questions answered, and maybe a few groceries, it’s time to sleep. Tomorrow is the first day of rehearsal and you must get your rest.

Traveling to Europe is a beast of its own. If you remember only one thing, you MUST remember your passport! You will need it not only to get on the plane, but also to check in to your hotel or apartment and sometimes even to get the Internet.
The term “Uphill both ways” has a whole new meaning in Italy during the summer. Maybe you’re staying in a major city with lots of taxis that won’t try to overcharge you, but chances are you’re in a small town with an empty taxi stand at the train station. So you lug your two suitcases behind you from the train station to the hotel and then up the three flights of stairs or if you’re lucky, in a closet sized elevator that barely fits you and your luggage simultaneously. Let’s not forget about the showers! “Um, excuse me. Is this two-by-two-foot square with a showerhead actually going to be my shower for the next three weeks? How do I shave my legs?” Answer: In the sink! Or:  “Um, excuse me.  How do I wash my hair in the bathtub? Is there not a shower or shower head?” Answer: Duck your head under the running faucet or find a cup you can fill with water and dump it over your head.  By the way, that thirty-minute shower routine you have going on…. let’s make it five because the water only stays warm for that length of time!

If any of these stories sound terrifying to you, it’s time to let out the inner warrior, flex those opera singer muscles, and train yourself to appreciate the fun and challenging aspects of the gypsy life. It takes strength and fortitude to get used to this lifestyle. It is not for the faint of heart or mind, but if these stories sound exhilarating, you may be ready to carry yourself to the next level of excellence – being glamorous in the most glamorous life!

Being glamorous is like being sexy – it comes from within you. It is not so much a specific look, but actually a way of living, an attitude, and a state of mind. In order to be glamorous and sexy, you must embrace who you are – body, mind, and spirit!  You must be confident in all aspects of who you are, including knowing your voice well enough to know what kind of diva you are. Are you a Mozart diva, a Puccini diva, an early music diva, or a contemporary opera diva? Which ever you are, you should embrace it! People who are glamorous aren’t trying to be someone they’re not. They are just themselves and they love who they are.

Don’t worry if you don’t have the answers to any of your questions. Don’t worry if something goes wrong during your day. Something will inevitably go wrong and you will not get all the answers you need. The best way to remain glamorous is to accept these realties now and not let them bother you. Just remember that even if the costumes, scenery, and props in your production are not what you expected or hoped, your job is to sing beautifully on the stage. All of those other things are for someone else to worry about. You can’t let those things distract you from being the glamorous and hard-working singer you are.

Here are some suggestions to help you travel glamorously:
·      Wear something that you feel great in, is comfortable, and versatile. You will more than likely be meeting someone from the company at the airport or you may even be going straight from the airport to rehearsal. Remember that plane, airport and rehearsal room temperatures can be unpredictable so try to dress in layers.
·      Wear shoes that are comfortable, keep your feet warm on the plane, come off easily when going through security, and that you sing great in. My favorite pair of travel shoes is a great pair of flat boots – they make it easy to run from one end of the terminal to the next while still looking put together!
·      Pack eye drops, eyeliner, touch-up powder or foundation, and a small compact mirror in your purse. This way, when you’re waking up from your long nap on the plane, you can easily get the dryness out of your eyes and make any necessary touch-ups to your face before meeting the company representative.
·      Pack a healthy snack and drink plenty of water. A sandwich, fruit, or a granola bar is a great way to keep your energy up for the long day ahead of you.
·      Don’t forget your sunglasses! A great pair of sunglasses is sure to help you feel glamorous!

Remember: Stay Calm and Be Glamorous!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Third Maid from the Left: Ruminations From the Chorus

Thanks to the impending union negotiations, much ink has been spilled recently about the Metropolitan Opera chorus. The New York Times has covered the topic in great depth. And everyone I know shared this well-reasoned HuffPo piece on Facebook. And in case you’re interested, auditions are (probably) coming up soon.

Scoring a spot in the Metropolitan Opera chorus is both very difficult and apparently pretty lucrative. But the Met Chorus is the outlier. You’d be hard-pressed to find another American opera company where those singing in the chorus are making their living solely on that exact work.  What does this mean for the young soprano? That local, paying opera chorus work is an opportunity to diversify your money-making, skill-building, network-forming singing life!

Open Eyes, Open Ears, Open Mind

What an excellent chance to get an up-close look at how the professionals operate! While everyone’s process is their own, it never hurts to see how those singers a step (or five) ahead of you make their magic happen. Chorus work is an all-access pass to watch how the principals handle themselves in the rehearsal room, in dress rehearsals, and finally for the real deal. By the same token, you’ll also be in a better than first row seat for what is likely to be some powerful, polished singing. Absorb every minute of it and pick up any useful tidbits you can.

You’re also likely to be working with a high-caliber director. Maybe the concept is way out in left field, maybe it’s as standard as they come. Whatever you’re presented with, commit to executing it with panache and professionalism. If you’re working with an assistant director tasked with wrangling in the chorus, treat them with the same deference. It goes without saying that you’re bound to run into them again somewhere down the road!

Try New Things

Maybe you’re in a high-concept, euro-trash update where everyone’s mostly naked. Maybe you’re the third maid from the left in costumes that have been recycled for the past twenty-three seasons. Either way, you have the opportunity to invent a rich internal life for your character. This is great exercise for your character development muscles, and will absolutely serve you beyond this stint in the chorus.

Bonus points if you take the time to find physical expressions of this rich inner life that you haven’t explored in previous stage time. Since the vocal demands in the chorus are likely to be less taxing or high stakes than solo work, this is an ideal time to break out of any physical ruts and see what your limits really are.

Network like a Pro

Be polite and professional, but make yourself known. It has to start by showing up (early is on time, on time is late), knowing your score backward and forward, and bringing some serious focus to the rehearsal room. Then again, don’t be afraid to be a real person. If the opportunity arises to socialize, remember that no one was born into a career—they all had to work for it. You’ll never find a professional mentor or have the conversation that leads to a great next gig if you keep entirely to yourself.

If you are lucky enough to find a fantastic, regular chorus gig with a company you love, more power to you! Let’s all stop with the nonsense about the right way to make a career in singing. The brave souls up on the Met stage for as many as 200 performances each season are making their livings singing every day. Their financial stability is hard to beat in the classical singing world and they are an enormous part of the world-class opera coming out of that house.