Wednesday, November 25, 2015

"So What Can You Do With A Music Degree?”: Surviving Your Family During the Holidays

By Lily Guerrero

As artists, our lives are full of choices. One thing we don’t get to choose in this world is our family, and sometimes they are not always supportive of our career path. Here are a few tips for surviving the holiday season without throwing the gravy in Uncle Adam the Accountant’s face.

Step 1: Answer questions vaguely but politely.

As singers, we don’t know a lot about our futures. Our lives are planned from month to month with each gig determining where we’ll be and how much money we’ll have to spend and save. Instead of trying to explain this to someone who doesn’t understand the business, just tell Sister Susie the Surgeon that you are a self-employed classical singer and that your job is to perform. Smile and go back to eating your mashed potatoes, or change the subject.

Step 2: Ask for clarification.

“What are you planning on doing with your life?” is a broad question that spans from “I want to get married and have five kids” to  “I am going to the grocery store after this meal.” If a vague answer doesn’t work, try asking what they specifically mean. Do they want to know your career aspirations? Family aspirations? Hobbies and interests? Do they want to know what brand of deodorant you use? If it’s just to be nosy, continue being vague. If they are truly interested in your career, as many who don’t understand this business are, try to explain things in a simple way. After all, we can often be defensive when Grandma Susan really just wants to know how often she’s going to get to spend time with you in the next year.

Step 3: Ask the same question in return.

This is a bit passive aggressive, but sometimes people do not understand that the question leaving their mouth is ludicrous because they themselves have not thought of what they would say if someone asked them the same thing. If Aunt Nancy the Nurse asks you what your goals are in life, ask her the same thing back. Say it with a smile and under a veil of genuine interest, of course. When she responds that it is silly for you to ask her if she’s achieving her dreams as a nurse, tell her that you felt a little silly answering her question as well. Hopefully, the light bulb will go off and everyone can move on to dessert.

Step 4: Have a one-on-one conversation with Brother Evan the Engineer in private.

Express your feelings using “I” statements, such as “I feel uncomfortable when you ask me what I’m going to do with my music degree, because it seems like you don’t respect my career choice. Can you help me understand your concerns?” Never accuse someone of anything, which puts them in defense mode. Brene Brown, the author of bestselling books like The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly, suggests that telling the person what the perceived intent was and asking for clarification creates a safe, non-hostile environment for an open conversation.

The holidays are stressful enough between coordinating church gigs, planning travel, and spending time in a home that isn’t your own. Use these tips to diffuse any potential dinner showdowns and remember to always smile and believe that your family has your best interests at heart. If not, remember that people who look down on you only do it to make themselves feel tall. You do what you love for a living! Let that joy carry you through every holiday party!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Artist Feature: Nicole Cabell, Soprano

Nicole Cabell, the 2005 Winner of the BBC Singer of the World Competion in Cardiff and Decca recording artist, is one of the most sought-after lyric sopranos of today. Her solo debut album, “Soprano”, was named “Editor’s Choice” by Gramophone and has received an incredible amount of critical acclaim and several prestigious awards: the 2007 Georg Solti Orphée d’Or from the French Académie du Disque Lyriqueand an Echo Klassik Award in Germany. An avid supporter of meditation and well-being, Nicole's message is to find your center your life. Make sure you are happy FIRST.

Nicole tells all! Watch a Sexi Soprano sponsored LIVE webinar with Nicole here

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Traveling With Pets: is it Possible for A Singer?

photo courtesy of Simone Osborne

By Lily Guerrero

Are you thinking of getting a pet, but are unsure of how they will fit into your travel schedule? Here are some tips from Sexi Sopranos who have made a lifestyle out of having a +1 for their performances!

1. Elizabeth Caballero and Schumie the Pomeranian: It’s All About the Love!

Liz Caballero says the unconditional love that comes from a pet is the reason she brings Schumie with her: “it's like bringing a little piece from home...these little guys have a way of making a really crappy day no so bad anymore. Say you had a bad day in rehearsal or your performance was not your best; once they see you they jump on you and shower you with love and affection, so then you forget all about it.” Liz also enjoys going on walks with him or taking him to the park during her free time. Liz suggests smaller breeds for their ease of travel. She too stresses the importance of socializing your pup with all kinds of people and animals before traveling, as their boho-dog lifestyle will have them meeting all kinds of people! Next up, Schumie will be making his debut with Opera Coeur d’Alene in their production of La boheme, where Liz will be singing Musetta.

2. Simone Osborne and Gatsby the Morkie: Think Small for International Travel

photo courtesy of Simone Osborne

Gatsby is a frequent travel companion of Simone, and he even has his own Instagram account: gatsbysmommy! Gatsby is well trained, doesn’t bark, enjoys staying in his carrier, and is comfortable around strangers making him especially suited for international travel. This Morkie, weighing under 20 pounds, travels in cabin during flights. Simone has trained him to be adaptable to loud orchestra rehearsals, unfamiliar transportation methods, and the sound of her voice in a small practice room. Logistically, Simone says, “know the rules of international travel. Understand the vaccination schedule and plan ahead, especially in the pet's first six months. There are about three months they cannot fly internationally because their vaccines haven't kicked in fully yet. Every flight will cost an extra $50-200€ to take a pet with you. This, plus all vet bills, including a $50-$100 mandatory pet check up and paper signing EVERY TIME you travel from Europe to North America or vice versa, can get quite costly. Factor this in when considering adding a pet to your life.”

3. Kaitlyn Costello, Beans the Chihuahua, and Bella the Boston Terrier: Leave the Grandpuppies With Your Parents

Kaitlyn usually brings Beans the Chihuahua on jobs with her, but Bella likes to stay in one place with a big yard, like Kaitlyn’s parents’ house. She enjoys bringing Beans because “living on the road can be so lonely at times, and it's nice to have the company.” She suggests that you be upfront with the company about your little companion. Make sure your contract states you will be housed in a place where pets are welcome. “The last thing you want to do is burn a bridge with a company because you were not forthright. Most companies understand and accommodate you!”

4. Daveda Karanas and Koukla the Chinese Crested Dog: Find A Trustworthy Pet Sitter

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Daveda advises that you check quarantine regulations before bringing your dog along. She also suggests finding a trustworthy pet sitter who can come and check on your pet at home multiple times a day, which is easier if you live in a larger city. Lastly, Daveda says, “Bringing a pet with you is a lot of responsibility, but well worth it. For me, it feels like home when I have her with me. I love exploring the area with her, [and] taking in the new sights, sounds and smells!”

Do you bring your pet on gigs with you? Comment below!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Singer Friendly Gift Ideas for the Holidays

By Lily Guerrero

The holiday season is rapidly approaching, and it’s time to start thinking of gifts to give the beloved Sexi Soprano in your life. Whether she’s your significant other, daughter, or friend, there is something on this list she’ll be sure to love!

1. Walgreens Personal Steam Inhaler Kit, $20

This product is pharmacist recommended and travels well for those singers suffering from colds, allergies, or dry weather. It includes an attachment to clear out the nasal passages and plugs into the wall: no batteries required! Buy it in-store only at your local Walgreens.

2. Satechi USB Portable Amazing Humidifier, $30

Going along with the moisture relief theme, a travel size humidifier is great for those dry hotel rooms she spends so many of her gigs sleeping in, and her vocal cords will thank you! This one is extremely easy to use, as it connects to a water bottle as an auxiliary cap and is powered by USB cord. Buy it on Amazon here.

3. Teavana Radiant Flower Gift Collection, $50

If she’s a big tea drinker, she’ll love this gift set from Teavana that includes an infuser mug and two tins of loose leaves. Buy it from Teavana here.

4. “Score Preparation” Kit (tabs, highlighters, pencils, paperclips), $26

If you like to make your gifts a little more “do it yourself,” create a score preparation kit. You’ll save her a trip to Office Depot, plus she’ll love how the kit is both thoughtful and useful! Arrange it in a festive box and put a nice bow on top.

Paperclips, $9, Amazon

Post-It Flags, $7, Amazon

Sharpie Accent Tank-Style Highlighters, 6 Colored Highlighters, $4, Amazon

Dixon Ticonderoga Wood-Cased #2 HB Pencils, Pre-Sharpened, Box of 30, Yellow, $6, Amazon

5. J Crew Chunky Ribbed Scarf, $50

Every diva needs a thick, luxurious scarf to keep warm during the winter months. I especially love a chunky infinity scarf, as it's trendy and works well with either a coat or an indoor outfit. Get it at J Crew here.

6. CafePress Opera Singer Tote Bag, $14

Give your singer a tote bag to carry around all her scores and aria binders. I like the cheeky statement on the front of this one. Available on Amazon here.

7. Opera the board game, $48

Try your hand at running an opera company with this fantasy board game. Great as a bonding activity for when she arrives to her new educational outreach gig and wants to get to know the other members of her touring group! Get it on Amazon here.

8. Sheet Music Toilet Paper, $6

If gag gifts are more your style, or you need a white elephant gift for your studio’s holiday party, order some of this sheet music toilet paper on Amazon here.

See something on this list that you want to buy for yourself? Don’t forget, it’s okay to get yourself a treat for surviving all of those Messiah gigs!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Learning to Love Rejection Season

by Sara Duchovnay

Here we are again, Sexi Sopranos! ‘Tis the season for rejection letters! In 2013 I wrote a blog post about my own particularly gratifying coping mechanism for dealing with rejection, and now, two years and many, many rejections later, I would like to share my slightly revamped system with all of you.

I collect my rejection letters. They sit in a special email folder and part of me feels slightly excited when I get a new one. Allow me to explain:

My teacher in undergrad told me a story about how as a young singer living in New York at the start of her career, she was rejected so often that she was able to use her rejection letters to wallpaper her bathroom. Though I loved the quirkiness and irreverence of that idea, in my opinion, it was lacking in actual pay-off. I’m someone who enjoys attaching special meaning to things. I am also someone who loves researching and dreaming about exciting purchases. If there is anything that excites me almost as much as getting hired to sing opera, it’s jewelry. I decided that I would begin collecting my rejection letters, start saving a little extra cash for every rejection letter, and when I reached 50 rejections, I would purchase a special piece of jewelry for myself. This item would serve as a daily reminder of my perseverance and fortitude in the face of rejection. It would also take a bit of the sting out of being rejected, because I would be one letter closer to my sparkling reward. 

Here are two major tenets of my system:
  1. A freelance career is a numbers game! It is a given that you are prepared, talented, wonderful, unique, and bursting with your own special magic. You are still likely to experience a good deal of rejection, because being rejected is simply part of your job! That’s just the way it goes. Get used to it. Think about dating: just because someone is attractive, accomplished, and interesting does not necessarily mean that you will want to have a relationship with them. There is nothing wrong with them, they just aren’t the person for you. There is a certain “something” that you either feel or you don’t. That same person might be a dream come true for someone else! Auditioning is the same way. You just have to get out there enough times until you find yourself in front of those people who feel that spark when they hear you sing! A very wise friend and colleague once explained this in a wonderful way. She said that every role is meant for someone. If you don’t get the role, it’s not a failure on your part, it just was meant for someone else this time. Sometimes, that role will be meant for you.

  1. It is totally ok to reward yourself for not “succeeding”! Getting the gig already feels great! You don’t need to reward yourself for that...that’s the easy part! The hard part is being rejected and continuing to put yourself out there! How many people go through what we go through on a regular basis? Treat yourself! You deserve it!

Want to start your own Rejection Reward System? Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A shiny new email folder marked “rejection letters”
  • A shiny new savings account or one you already have. The important detail is that it must only be used for this purpose. You cannot just dip into it whenever you want. You ABSOLUTELY cannot use it toward application fees and/or work-related travel!
  • Rejection letters

Each time you get a rejection letter, contribute some money to your rejection savings account.  When, and only when you reach 50 rejections, you may use the money that you have collected to treat yourself to something special. You can celebrate the fact that after 50 rejections you are still standing tall, resolute, committed to your career, and ready to be rejected another 50 times!
When I go into an audition and look down at that tiny sparkly band on my right hand, I am reminded that being rejected is far from the worst thing that can happen to me. Handling rejection is a commonplace annoyance that is part of my job. It has no power to hurt or deter me from my goals. When my rejection ring catches my eye in rehearsal or performance, I feel proud that I didn’t let the fear of rejection keep me from finding the opportunities that were meant for me.
Two years later, I am also in a different place in my career than I was when I first began collecting. Most of the time these days, my rejections don’t come with a letter, they just come in the form of never hearing anything. This provides me with a chance to write my own emails to put in my rejection folder. I use this as an opportunity to reflect on the audition and collect data. I often write myself notes about what I sang, what I wore, and how I felt. Sometimes I write objectives for my next audition. If I received feedback in the audition, I write that down too.
It’s not that rejection isn’t upsetting. Especially around this time of year, it’s very easy to become discouraged or to feel like your rejections define you. The truth is that they really don’t. How you handle your rejections is what defines you! In my opinion, there is nothing more exciting than someone who doesn’t allow rejection to deter them from their dreams.
This rejection season, be proud of the courage that allowed you to even be in a position to be rejected! You are already winning!

Monday, November 9, 2015

From Stage to Screen: Lunch with Anthony Laciura

By Ellen Hinkle

Gone is the gray mustache, round-rimmed glasses, and coarse German accent from Anthony Laciura’s award-winning performance on five seasons of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire. His transition from stage to screen was a new experience for Laciura, whose extensive career as a world-renowned opera singer has brought him to the stage of the Metropolitan Opera more than 800 times in over 50 shows, as well as singing with all three tenors. Terrance McNally of the New York Times deemed him, “One of the outstanding character-tenors of our time”.  It is Laciura’s refined acting skills, however, that allowed him to make the move to television.

Was it difficult transitioning from performing in front of a live audience on stage to a television/film studio?

It’s different, but equally enjoyable. When shooting film, there is no immediate feedback that a live audience imparts. You may shoot the same scene thirty times in a row so it can be captured from a variety of angles and perfected from each angle before they go to the editing room and piece it together. In film, gestures must be minimized, and you must allow the emotion in your speaking voice to create the expressions on your face. It’s a completely different kind of acting. You’re performing for that little bitty camera as opposed to live in front of 4,000 people, so you must find the music in the text and how to deliver the emotion only through speaking.

How did you land the role of Eddie Kessler in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire?

Originally, Martin Scorsese’s office was looking for a character called Big Jim Colosimo. In real life, Colosimo was a very large Italian man whose personality was also bigger than life. They called my manager and he described me to them. I didn’t fit the description of Big Jim Colosimo, but they thought I may be a good fit for the role of Eddie Kessler. Eddie’s character was a loyal, old-world German, who was extremely precise and endlessly dedicated to his employer. 

I arrived to audition in a three piece suit and with a beard, just as I thought the character may require. I walked in to the audition room and up to the women behind the casting table, kissed their hands, and said in my best German accent, “ I am very nervous because this is a very important audition for me because I have…” I took a deep breath, “Martin Scorsese is probably the greatest film director…I am…phew…very…I stutter sometimes because I am trying to translate from the English, but I hear you and am translating into the German so I can understand what to say and so I…whoa…I take a deep breath and try to calm down.” Then, Ellen, the casting director for most of Scorsese’s films, asked what part of Germany I was from. I looked at her, smiled, and said in my regular voice, “The South Bronx.”

After you first signed on as Eddie Kessler, did you know that they were going to have you sing?

They knew my background and so singing did evolve in two episodes. I got to sing for the Mayor’s birthday and later, another German drinking song in the bar. They asked me to find a German song for the Mayor’s birthday so my friend Karl and I came up with the pig farmer’s song from The Gypsy Baron. The singing I did for Boardwalk Empire was completely different than singing opera at the Met, though. Instead of singing at my best, I stayed in character and attempted to sound like an older man where singing was not his profession. Also, the music is pre-recorded, then mouthed while filming.

Eddie Kessler’s character is based off of a real person, Louis Kessel. How much research did you do beforehand and is it the same type of research you do for an opera?

The research is similar, but a little more in depth for film. I became very close with Lou Kessel’s family. Lou Kessel was my height, 5’6”, but he was 240 pounds. He was a wrestler, had bear hands, and spoke with a heavy Yiddish accent. In the show, I spoke in a German accent as opposed to Yiddish, as it came across more clearly.

In a scene in Boardwalk Empire, Nucky (played by Steve Buscemi) asks Eddie to help him open a door and get Lucy out. Lou Kessel would have pulled the thing right off the hinges, grabbed her, and put her on the bed, followed by asking in a Yiddish accent, “You want something else?” My interpretation of Eddie in this scene and my character in general was a contrast to this, and a collaborative effort between the creative team and me. While based on Kessel, Eddie didn’t need to be Kessel in entirety. If I had been hired to play Al Capone or Arnold Rothstein in a documentary, the research and embodiment of the character would have been more true to life.

Do you think that taking theater classes would be beneficial for singers?

Without question, definitely. I teach a course called Acting for Singers where I show my students how to move and embody a character. How one holds or uses a prop completely differs by character. For example, there are lots of ways to sit in a chair. How you approach and sit in the chair won’t be the same if you are old or if you are a kid. And if you’re a baby, you’ll crawl up to the chair, circle it, and sit just like a cat. In the same breath, I also teach actors how to sing, even if an actor has no aspirations to be in a musical. Learning proper singing technique will support the actor’s speaking voice on screen, and give the actor a better sense of the sound and emotion they create with their voice.

Is there any advice you would give young singers?

You must have a strong, solid technique. I’ve unfortunately come across many voice teachers who are instructing their clients to belt without that support. In the long run, your vocal chords need proper technique in order to remain healthy. If you want longevity in this business, and want to increase your range and be able to sustain it, learning and implementing proper technique is essential. This is an ongoing process, and the reason people hire vocal coaches.

Once that is established on a consistent basis, young people need to understand that keeping their bodies healthy will help to keep their voice healthy. Smoking, excess drinking, and junk food should be avoided. Be in tune with what affects your voice; for some singers it’s dairy, for others it’s spicy foods. Don’t yell. Rest your voice when you can.  Your voice is like a fingerprint – it’s unique to you, and you want to always treat it with care.

Picture: HBO 

Thursday, November 5, 2015

THRIFTY THURSDAY: Flirty and Fun for Fall With Anna Netrebko


By Lily Guerrero

Is your little black dress #MetReady? Anna Netrebko spruced up her LBD with a bright print jacket, matching bag, and flirty shoes. She is definitely not one to blend into the background! Here’s how to make your big #MetReady look happen. Maybe you’ll even end up being featured on the Metropolitan Opera’s new Instagram account, @LastNightAtTheMet!

1. Find a colorful print jacket. Layers are especially important during the fall, and it’s always nice to have a jacket over an LBD in case the theatre gets cold or you have to run across the street for a latte.

2. Add a matching purse. Keep the focus on your jacket by pairing it with a neutral bag. I love the chain big that Anna has in this picture.

3. Add an exclamation point with the shoes! Anna is not a boring person and neither are you! Keep them guessing by pairing your outfit with a fun shoe. It is the wink at the end of your sentence, so to speak.
Patterned Kimono, $50, sizes XS-XL, H&M; Leather shoulder bag, $99, H&M;
Steve Madden Mira Printed Sandal, $20, sizes 5.5-8, DSW

Floral Print Peak Lapel Jacket, $118, sizes 00-14, Express; Quilted Chain Strap Shoulder Bag, $30, Express; Single Sole Ankle Strap Heels, $15, sizes 5.5-8, Charlotte Russe

XHIL Sharkbite Soft Jacket Black, $23, XS-XXL, Target; Faux Suede Chain Strap Shoulder Bag, $30, Express; Lattice Cut-Out Heeled Bootie, $108, sizes 6-10, Express