Monday, November 14, 2011

What Do You Ache For?

Thanks to an old friend for sharing this with me.  I took the above sunrise photo one beautiful winter morning at Key Biscayne, Florida in 2009.
The Invitation
by Oriah

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for, and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn't interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain! I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it or fade it, or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own, if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, to be realistic, to remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself; if you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul; if you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see beauty even when it’s not pretty, every day, and if you can source your own life from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand on the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, “Yes!”

It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up, after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the center of the fire with me and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you, from the inside, when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.

© Mountain Dreaming, 1999 All rights reserved
from the book The Invitation published by HarperONE, San Francisco, CA

Saturday, October 29, 2011

It is finished!

It's Done!!!!  The recording is finished and I am elated.  I just got word that the final touches were done and I feel as though I did when I was a kid and I would run wildly into the field behind our house.  I don't know, so many things come to mind.  Giving forth all the wonderful energy in order to create this recording has been a blessing.  It has given me my voice back in ways.  I mean, my true voice.  Maybe I should call it my authenticity.  This recording is the truest expression of myself, my passions, and my reflections on why we are here.  It's that simple for me. It's all there... the praise, the prayers, the doubt, the hope, and the blessings. The process was daunting and there were times I didn't think it would happen.  But it is there on that brilliant digital machine and knowing that the words I've longed to sing are finally there, give me much joy and peace.  There is still work to be done on getting it printed and distributed and I have many liner notes to write.  But soon you will have what I have called 'my first born' in your I-pods! 

Thursday, October 27, 2011


Sometimes I get notes from young singers asking various questions about the business or about the techniques of singing.  I always try to respond and today since I was home from Pittsburgh Opera rehearsals nursing a cold, I thought I would write someone back.  It occurred to me that it would make a good blog post.  Although I like writing blogs posts, I sometimes feel that I end up filtering myself or I become too generic with my topics. It was refreshing to be very specific and direct with my words.  This young singer met me last year at a master class I gave and he wrote to ask advice about switching voice types and to also to tell me that he was having problems "over-compensating and just doing way too much and therefore tiring myself out when really it should come easier".  Here is my response to him.  One of the great things about being an artist is helping other artists find their way. 

So, it seems you are making a switch to tenor? That is a challenge. All I can say about that is go with your gut. What feels good to you vocally? What roles speak loudest to you? Meaning, what about these characters makes you want to SING them? I've never gone through a fach change but have friends who did and they all say that once they made the changes, they connected more to the new characters they were singing.

As for the 'overcompensating' statement. Be kind to yourself. Don't try so hard. You already are a singer. Your mission is to find a way of singing that is easy, but strong. It really must come from a CALM place. You do your best singing in the shower and in privacy. Learn to cultivate that energy and presence while you are in the midst of people. Most of the time it isn't singer issues people have, it is intimacy issues. This isn't always the case, but I imagine it happens a lot. Learn to go deep inside yourself and calm yourself so that your singing flows out of your breath and not from the things you think you can do with your brain. If your body is tense from stress or will disconnect from your body and your breath. Go inside. Do meditation. Really learn to sing as if no one is watching. Once you have that tamed then you can see if it helps with technical areas. I imagine you will find that your high notes are easier and you like it more. Calm. Take time to get a good inhale and good exhale. Phrase by phrase. Slow it all down for awhile and you will see what I mean by 'go inside'.

I hope this helps! I wish you all kinds of good luck and love for yourself to pursue the craft of singing.
Keep me posted!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Hello from Paris

(written on October 9, 2011)

My first week of auditions is done!  I am happy to say that I am very pleased with my two auditions so far in Switzerland and Belgium.  Oh, how I would love to return to those cities and sing!  Let's keep our fingers and toes crossed, okay?  

Travel has been easy and smooth and I am fortunate to have run into some old friends from college and a few new ones along the way and only in the first week of travel.  Auditions can be daunting and it is such a joy when you can spend time with friends especially ones who know what you are going through.  It's like having your own traveling cheerleading squad.  

To get ready for my audition tour I began reading some books on auditions by actors.  I've probably  read all the books on auditions for singers so I wanted a fresh perspective.  Actors have to do just as many  or more auditions than singers and it is true that most performing artists are actually professional job seekers, thus my second European Audition Tour!   It's been a blast so far and I've been re-reading some passages from a really great book by Paul Russell called Acting - - Making It Your Business:  How to Avoid Mistakes and Achieve Success As a Working Actor.  Yes, I know the title is a little over simplified, as if all the tools to be a success could be summed up in one book.  Right.  But, it does have some good points for auditioning and since the audition season is upon us, I thought I would share a few points on my blog. 
"The audition is my time.  It's not about the auditors.  It's about me.  When I walk into the room I try to make it, for however many minutes, The Mark Price Show.  That doesn't mean bullshitting them or buttering them up.  It's about, this is the package that I have to offer and I'm going to see how well I can do this package for myself.  If they like it, great!  If they don't like it...great!"
"I always feel that I'm a little social worker and I'm there to help them cast.  You want to be of help to them instead of putting it on the other shoe that they are the judge.  Don't go into that.  You don't have time for that.  You don't have time for fear.  Wipe the fear out and do your homework and if you have to read cold, try to find some truth in what you're working with.  Go with the strength of truth.  Be full of something positive.  The nervousness and the anxiety take away from your creativity.  Then you're not free."
"Auditioning has become more about a personal achievement than a public achievement.  If I approach an audition with that in mind and do the best that I can, when I leave, I don't care what the auditors think 'cause I know I've done the best job that I can.  It's about me; it's not about them."
"Most important for you, the actor, in an audition is ... to have fun!  Fun is letting yourself enjoy the opportunity to demonstrate what you can bring to the project.  But apart from enjoying the audition, and being prepared, wonderfully talented, and physically right, is there anything else an actor can do to be more successful at an audition?  Yes.  Be yourself."
"Find in the audition process the same feelings that made you want to be an actor in the first place."

All of these statements resonated with me and I although I had heard them stated in some form before, I really appreciated the views of these actors.  Wow.  Be yourself.  Had I forgotten that over the years?  Perhaps.  It should be about me in an audition and not in aIf you have to audition regularly or even if you find yourself doing a lot of job interviews these days, you should grab a copy of this book.  There is a plethora of candid super-direct information in there for actors which is also relevant for singers.

Personally when I audition I try to be as calm as I am when I am rehearsing with my coach in NY.  I find that if I can bring my body into a relaxed state then I can access all those beautiful notes and get in touch with my best music making self.  It's as if my body has to be on vacation while at work.  I'm getting there!  After many years auditioning I am beginning to enjoy the process.  Being in Paris in the fall is just an added perk. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Leah's Loafings

I'm busy getting ready for an audition tour in Europe.  I leave next week and I am coming and going trying to prepare to be gone for a month.  I'll be writing about my adventure but until then, check out these wonderful stories.  Most important, check out the last posting from Plum TV.  More soon!! 

Opera Beat: : Opera Idol I have the pleasure of knowing Barbara Conrad and I want you to know her story. She is the epitome of never give up. She once told me as I was on my way to a big day at the Metropolitan Opera, "Shoot ya biggest gun, girl." Brava B!!

Opera Funny Bone: : It ain't all about dying of TB NPR article on where all the funny operas have gone.

Poem: : A little bird voice What does your heart do?

 Opera Beat: : Song of America Baritone Thomas Hampson has quite an inspiring project and one that speaks close to my heart through the love of American Art Song. "Our goal is to build and curate a comprehensive archive of American song that tells the story of our culture and nation, through the eyes of our poets and the ears of our composers."

Art Works: : Of course, it helps to be sexy The top 12 Classical Music Pinups. No, I'm not kidding. Well, sex sells folks!

How to: : Shameless promotion Click this link to see a small documentary on the making of David DiChiera's Cyrano with the Florida Grand Opera and yours truly. Great backstage footage. Thanks Plum TV!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

It was like that... Recording Take Two..more details of the upcoming recording

The recording I made in July is under the microscope in the editing room, closely being tended to by the producer, editor, and my sharp, merciless ear.   I am very pleased with all aspects of the project and I am eagerly waiting for the day when I have the final copy in my hand. I've been trying to explain to people what the recording is about and what type of music it encompasses. I have a lot of non-opera singer friends and they instantly get the look of worry on their faces when they think I am going to ask them to sit down and listen to an entire CD of opera. No, it isn't like that at all. I mean, it is still classical music and for the most part I still use my classically trained voice, but it certainly isn't a lesson in stylized operatic technique or an overview of lyric coloratura arias. I wanted this recording to be about honesty and authenticity. In order to accomplish that, I thought it would be best for me to present American music, since well, I'm American. I could have leaned towards the traditional and scholarly and recorded songs in German or Italian, but in order to be the most authentic, I knew I had to sing in English. 

The next decision I made was about the theme. For as long as I have been singing, which is as long as I can remember, I have sought and connected to songs that spoke about the mystery of spirituality. At first the songs I sang when I was younger were connected to church and to a specific religion. I still love and cherish my old church hymns, but as I have grown up and encountered more of the world, I have gravitated towards music that has a universal mystical tone and reverence and one that is all inclusive. Basically, it means that you will connect to these songs whether you are Christian or Jew or Muslim or insert own religious belief here _______. You see, I do believe that out of all of the art forms, music has the power to connect us and show us that we are all really longing for the same things. We are all here loving each other and all asking a lot of the same questions. We all respond to the need to define why we are here and we search for meaning. We often find these answers in the same places, through love, beauty of earth and nature, loss and stillness. My desire for the recording project was to collect a group of songs by American composers that dealt with this theme of spiritual reverence without the influence of indoctrination. It was an uplifting process and it was difficult to choose which songs didn't make the cut. I have enough material for another recording! 

My cornerstone for the project were the songs given to me by Jake Heggie. When I decided on my theme (which it really was decided for me, kind of always there as part of what I've always known I would do) I contacted Jake and filled him in on the broad details. He quickly sent a set of songs with text by Gene Scheer and without being too dramatic here, totally blew me away. They were perfect. The set is titled Rise and Fall. It is a set of four songs with texts inspired by Artifacts and Sculptures from the Sackler Collections at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. These artifacts are religious in nature, such as the incantation bowl which is also known as a devil trap bowl. It was believed by certain cultures to have magical capabilities of protection and were commonly used in homes of the deceased and was placed in a corner of a room to rid the space of any demon or negativity. Jake described the set as the story of a woman from her wedding day to her death, and then her role in the afterlife as a shaman, comforting others. Other artifacts include an ancient wedding jar with the image of a Phoenix on it; a modern water sculpture by Noguchi; the ancient incantation bowl; a modern sculpture of an angel’s wing; and an ancient shaman’s mask.
Not all of the songs are as esoteric as these. The songs I chose by Ricky Ian Gordon are more unmistakable in their meaning. Ricky's songs use some of our beloved American poets such as, Emily Dickinson, e.e. cummings, and Langston Hughes. Ricky was also very forthcoming for this project and presented me with songs from some of his earliest compositions which have never been published.  Both Jake and Ricky play their own songs on this recording.  I am still reeling in delight over having the two of them work with me on this project.  They are the voice of American music for the 21st century and I am proud to present a wealth of their songs on this recording.
The recording project is still being edited and I have many decisions to make. There is an arc to the project as a whole, which takes us from praise of the earth, devotion to heaven, uncertainty of anything, back to praise in simplicity, and ending with responsibility and acknowledgment of gifts. I am diligently working on an order for the songs and am contemplating the title for the album. I toss around titles here and there and I know I'll keep tossing until it feels right.
This entire process has been a gift. It hasn't been without challenges and there is still work to be done, but it has been an enormous labor of love and a vessel for me to express authentically why I do what I do.  It has become my statement of why I believe music is the answer in inching us closer to peace and understanding and the closest answer we have in defining the great mystery.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Leah's Loafings

This week I am back to school, so to speak.  Back to daily practice and forward motion on the art of singing and the passion of living.  Here are a few places I have found inspiration.  Enjoy!!

Make it work:: Be invisible "You can think it. You don't need to perform it." How actors are being trained to blend in. Great article for the over acted opera singer gestures we love and hate.

Art Works:: Finding a Niche "It is not our business to analyze it as it takes shape, because analysis will ruin it." Replace the word 'write' for creative verb of your choice. Thanks Dani.

Back to School:: Here, Now, It is enough Letting go of Striving is one of my favorite blog posts of all time from one of my favorite writers and the only person I've ever stalked on the internet. You should read her, follow her, stalk her. Brava Patti and thank you.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

It was like that. Recording Take One.

I took another giant somersault out of my comfort zone and made my first recording this past July. I say, 'out of the comfort zone', because I am used to live performances. I hunger at the energy of an audience and have referred to myself on many occasions as an audience whore. I use the audience, so the entire recording process has left me speechless for some time. Really, for nearly two months now I have sat down to write about the process and have been left without words. I haven't wanted to access those emotions but rather carry them around with me like a talisman for fear of losing those dear feelings or having that surreal moment of super-focused creativity pass me by, oh how I made friends with them! I also would have to be a fairly adept writer to describe with the writing process this journey into recording, but with my layman abilities, here it goes... I would liken it to being stripped of skin and every artery and vein is exposed and every rise and fall of breath is seen and every trickle of every cell is detectable and every morsel of care for humanity is in the throat and every joy for the wonderment of the great mystery is falling off your lips. You are ripped open and shown. It is at once the essence of being yourself, being heard and all at once there is a pulsating madness flowing out of you, full of expression and then, a longing for quiet, simple perfection. Day after day you show up to the microphone surrendering to the muse and shedding the noise of yourself to the greater light you long to shine through in that tiny window of perfect alignment.
Yeah, it was kind of like that.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Leah's Loafings

I spend a little time each day perusing through Facebook and Twitter and I find huge amounts of enjoyment reading posts of friends I don't see often enough. I've recently become a twitterer and I follow people and organizations to stay abreast of interesting things in my field of opera or other arts and hobbies I like. I tweet, I post, I retweet, I 'like' things on Facebook and although I'd rather be more connected physically with people, in your face so to speak, I see that our social media can do wonders for sending messages of goodness and spreading news about art and the need for more art and not less. So this is why I am bringing an occasional blog post linking you to the tweets and postings I find the most interesting and worthy of the retweet or like button. Enjoy!

Mind Body : : Awakening the Artist How Yoga can awaken your focus and skill and tap into your bravest creativity. Basically, tools to get your mind to shut up and your body to run the show.

Opera Beat: : Opera Idol My opera idol Renee Fleming offers a free concert in Chicago. Brava Renee!

Art Works: : Architecture from Music London-based architectural firm Orproject displays their proposal for the Busan Opera House in South Korea slated to begin construction in 2014. The design of the proposed structure, entitled "Anisotropia," is informed by a piano piece composed by the firm's director. The repetition of musical elements become the repetition of structural elements, such that "complex architectural rhythms...are used to control the light, view and shading properties of the facade." Check this out! Very unusual combination of two art forms. I think this is an incredible idea.

Time, well, spent.

Ten years ago I entered the Santa Fe Opera Young Artist program, had the time of my life and began the incredible journey as an opera singer. Ten years. What? Really? Yes, here I am ten years into an aspiring and inspiring, yet challenging career and I've had an amazing time. I've traveled the world. I come from a three stop light town in Georgia and music has given me the greatest gift of meeting interesting people, learning about different cultures, devouring intoxicating food, seeing the beauty of the earth. Ten years have passed. There they go. Poof, into the twilight. There are so many things I could say about the passing of time but I'll save that for another posting. I'm focusing now on how I spent the past ten years and how thankful I am that I took risks and I listened to the positive voices rather than the dark gremlin on my shoulder. I wouldn't change anything from this time. Not even a tear shed or a lonely night. It was a wild and crazy ride and at times I held on for dear life and other times where I breezed through with loud pulsating joy in my heart. Don't worry, I know it may sound as though I am throwing in the towel. No, although I have thought about it, mostly seldom as most artists do during a difficult recession. I am not giving up on the opera business. But, I am finding myself as a new season begins thinking ahead a bit to other inspiring adventures and contemplating what I can add to my music making to ensure that I am putting it all out there to shine a bright light. You see, I make music so that the world is a better place. I feel when we gather together and experience beauty, raw emotion, primal sound, we are better off than if we run amok through our day to day only hearing the latest negative sound bite from the latest negative event. I feel a vibration that is higher than myself when I make music and I know I have a responsibility to put that energy out there for everyone else. There are many ways to connect to people and music just happens to be my medium as well as my occasional writings and my various twitterings. My job goes beyond standing on stage and playing a dying courtesan. So, the past ten years was time well spent on honing a difficult craft and knocking on doors to get it all strengthened into motion. I learned an immense amount of music and I dug my feet in the dirt, wiped the sweat from my brow, and never gave up. Looking ahead I can see all the remaining beauty and guts I have left to give to this business and I am more excited and eager than I was on that first day in Santa Fe. It is time for me to start throwing more into the mix. More guts, sweat, beauty, rawness, primal intuitiveness, and pure soul is what I aspire to give. I hope that whatever you choose to do, you can also find more soul to bring. Bring it. What would you do if you knew you couldn't fail? What risk would you take if you knew you wouldn't fall? Where would you go if, if, if? What awesome power would you be?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Crazy Grateful

Cyrano wrapped up in Miami a few weeks ago and I remained to enjoy some of the South Florida sun while also learning new music. My husband and I work in the mornings on our various projects and then we enjoy a fun adventure. We are making sure to enjoy ourselves outdoors going for walks, kayaking in the bay, or with yoga. We've had a crazy two years (we've only been married two years!). The life of an opera singer has its ups and downs and at times it the most exhilarating experience and then there are others that make you want to hunker down bury your face and cry. The same can be said for being in the financial or banking world these days, which is the business my husband is in. After a long ten years with a company in Atlanta he was laid off in 2009 during the big kick of the anthill, as I like to call it. He was lucky to find another job fairly quickly and for two years we were in Philadelphia where he worked for a small company. Now, we find ourselves at a junction once again, at least this time with less financial responsibilities, no house tying us down, and now we are free to go where the southerly wind takes us. At least I hope it's southerly enough to take us to Atlanta or further south.
I'm writing this personal information because I've been thinking a lot about trust and acceptance lately. In the music business we never know from year to year what money we will make, how many jobs we will have, whether or not we will get sick and miss a performance, or if the company we hope to work for will go bankrupt. It is a rickety life as a musician and one must learn to live moment to moment trusting in art that it will sustain us as it always has. It is a constant movement of faith and practice of letting go. Trust. Living with fear all around us, thrown in our faces everyday by every way imaginable doesn't leave much room for fear in our jobs and means of stability. The thing is, eventually you come to standing with hands up, face to the sky, and saying, "I have no control over what happens to me" and this realization somehow, somewhere, gives you peace. After all, no job is ever stable and nothing is forever. I don't mean to be so preachy and philosophical. After all, this is a blog about music. However, I find that in our music making we are at our best when we trust, when we surrender. We make the best music when we permit the creative forces to have their way, just go with the flow and allow the music to happen to us and through us. It takes us on wild adventures, moves us to tears, transforms our minds, and connects us to others. Imagine if we could let that flow into every area of our lives?

So, even though we are voyaging into the somewhat uncomfortable realm of the unknown, I am filled with excitement and as my yoga teacher says, "I am crazy grateful." Our next stop along this beautiful life path just might take my breath away.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

My Love of Cyrano

For three weeks now I’ve been rehearsing an opera that is very dear to my heart. The opera Cyrano, by David DiChiera, was premiered in Detroit in October of 2007. I had the enormous opportunity to debut the role of Roxane, an extraordinary part in a breathtaking story. I am more than delighted that Florida Grand Opera co-produced the opera and have included it in their season. The past three weeks have been filled with much joy as I dig back into this character and bring to life, with deliciously gorgeous music, this precious girl, Roxane! For those of you unfamiliar with the story, the opera is based on the play Cyrano de Bergerac by Rostand. You may also be more familiar with the late 1980’s Steve Martin film, Roxanne, which is a loose adaptation of the story. As I mentioned, the world premiere took place nearly 4 years ago. It was performed a few times in Philadelphia in 2008 but with the hardships of the economy, several performances at various opera houses had to be canceled. I am thrilled things are recovering around the country and that we are now bringing most of the original cast back together for these performances in Miami.

When I prepare a role I spend some time listening to the singers of the past to gain familiarity with the score. I like to hear how different each performance can be and how the slightest change of tempo can alter the mood of the scene and intention of character. It is one of the most fun parts of learning a new role. Obviously, being part of a new opera meant that this learning curve was no longer available to me and that gave me an even more exciting learning opportunity. For the first time, I have been able to create a role from the bottom up, note by note with my personal stamp on it first! Dr. DiChiera wrote most of the role with my voice in mind. I remember in fall of 2006 when I was covering Natalie Dessay at the Paris Opera, I received a phone call from Dr. D. He was working on Act II and specifically my aria that would start the act. We talked about things that I liked to do with my voice, things that I thought made it unique. I remember telling him that I loved high notes! He asked for ones in particular and I told him that high D’s would be just perfect! I remember thinking of how extraordinary it was to request how a piece be written and it made me wonder how much other singers in the past influenced a composer’s writing. We do know that Mozart was highly influenced by his women! I felt honored to be continuing in such a long tradition. So much so, I had to pinch myself!! Roxane’s music has many arching lines and sustained high notes and the aria Dr. D wrote is exquisite. It’s a sensual explosion in reaction to the letters of Christian.

My dear character Roxane is a delight to play. Our director and librettist Bernard Uzan, upon being asked by me if I was being too cute and cunning with my character, kindly suggested that I need not to worry. He said they cast me as Roxane because I WAS Roxane. Bernard said, “You need not do anything but be yourself.” It’s amazing how we don’t see ourselves the way others see us! Of course, he is right. I only need to focus on those elements of myself that are most like the character. I love that she obsesses over beautiful things. It is most poignant that her allure to what is beautiful and perfect blinds her from ever seeing the possibility of love with Cyrano who was the most genuine love she could ever have known. I guess we all tend to miss the forest for the trees? She is elegant and intelligent and I love how passionate she is about Christian without even knowing a thing about him. She reminds me of my 16 year old self and maybe some of my 35 year old self who tends to day-dream and create wild stories of love and romance. These lovely parts of Roxane make the character pleasurable to play and it is easy to find myself in that realm of naïveté. The challenge of the role is the realization of Cyrano as the one behind the letters and the voice of Christian. The realization happens during a duet and can’t happen all at once. Finding the balance of when the tears come, the shock, or the desperation, has been the largest challenge. Sometimes just the beginning phrases of the music make me cry and I know I have a lot further to go, but I just go with it and hope that the tears can seem to be coming from many levels of emotions. Pacing emotions over bars of music can sometimes be quite difficult, but it has now become my favorite scene. The words in this scene are the most stunning. Cyrano tells Roxane that he was unaware of feminine comforts and that his mother didn’t find him handsome, he had no sister, and he dreaded the lover for fear of being mocked. He tells Roxane, “Je vous dois d’avoir eu, tout au moins une amie. Grâce à vous, une robe a passé dans ma vie.” (I owe you to have had at least one friend. Thanks to you a dress has passed through my life.) After this incredibly heartbreaking line Roxane replies with my most favorite line in all of opera, “Je n’aimais qu’un seul être, et je le perds deux fois.” (I loved only one soul and now I have lost him twice.) Well, the rest you will have to come to the opera to see. To say that I am completely infatuated with this role and this music is an understatement.

I know that it is typical to boast about how perfect everything is in an opera in order to lure the public into buying tickets. I do not take my words lightly. It certainly isn’t like me to sit and write a dissertation about an opera just to get you to come. I write these things because I believe in this opera AND because I do think we have the perfect cast. Our Cyrano is being inhabited by the extraordinary Marian Pop. I say inhabited because that is really what he does. It is as if all the great parts of Gerard Depardieu, José Ferrer, and Kevin Cline morph into Marian. If only any of these legends had Marian’s voice! He gives a splendid, exhilarating performance and is truly the definition of a singing actor. Our Christian is new to the role and comes from France. Sebastian Geuze is everything a Christian is supposed to be. Handsome beyond words, witty, and he is a formidable singer. The duet between Christian and Cyrano is stunning, reminiscent of other great tenor/baritone duets we have come to love in opera. I am thrilled to be singing again with the great bass Peter Volpe. Peter plays the role of De Guiche, a lustful, vengeful count who attempts to marry Roxane off to another man so that he can have his courtly rights with her. In my scene with Peter I get to trick him into keeping Christian and Cyrano out of harm’s way by suggesting it would be the best way to get revenge since Cyrano adores dueling and action more than anything else. It works and crisis is averted. I secretly marry Christian instead!

Since most of us have performed this opera before we have had the great opportunity to be adding layers to our characters. Whenever you perform a role for the first time you are really focusing 75% on getting the music and words right. The other 25% is spent on remembering where you go on stage, how to remove hats, capes, and gloves appropriately, and then add some layer of believability on the top. This time we have the luxury of knowing the part really well, so we have spent a lot of our time working as actors do. Our director Bernard Uzan has pushed us to find ourselves in our roles and to layer many more specific elements to our characters that we just didn’t have the space for when we performed it in Detroit. Not that our performances were bad, but this time we are coming from a place of knowing how it goes which gives us security in knowing we have room to play and grow. I’ve loved going to work each day trying to find new ways to say a word or new ways to respond to my colleagues. The level of commitment and effort put into this production astounds me and I am very proud of our work. Our conductor and orchestrator Mark Flint has helped us everyday stay true to the score and his orchestration is stunning. The colors he brings out in the orchestra really make this piece come to life. I know that I am very fortunate to be working in the arts these days. It isn’t lost on me that times are hard and we must enjoy the opportunities when they come our way. I hope that if you are in the Miami area you will come to see Cyrano. We open next Saturday night, April 23 at the Adrienne Arsht Center in downtown Miami. You can find tickets at and you may want to follow my tweets this week. I’ll be tweeting all about the final rehearsals and be giving some backstage pictures as well. I can be found on Twitter as leahoperabird. Come join us and may I suggest you bring your tissue?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Singing in the Crooked Letter State

A few weeks ago headed south through thick northeast snow to Hattiesburg, Mississippi. I was invited by my dear friends from graduate school, Kerrin and Taylor, to come and do a recital and master class at the University of Southern Mississippi. It was a great opportunity to perform the songs I am recording on my first recording project which is coming up soon. I loved being back in the South and being with old friends, staying up late, getting to know their three young children, and cooking all our favorite fattening foods. I had birthday cake three days in a row because Kerrin makes specialty cakes. I had to try all her new fabulous flavors. I also had the most incredible smoked barbecue made by Taylor which he cooked in the smoker for nearly 24 hours. I spent time playing doll house, reading books, and playing the Wii with the kids. I made fake lolly pops for Graces' birthday party and a wreath for Kerrins' front door of her new house. It was a great week for me to step aside from the constant climb up the singing success ladder and just be with people. It was important for me to get back to myself and remember other things I used to do a lot of, like cook, decorate, and sit in the sun and visit with friends. A lot of times I find myself working so hard and being focused that I forget the substance from which all of this music revolves. I loved every second of my visit even with one of the kids having the worst time with a bout of stomach flu, which thankfully and surprisingly, no one else got.
To be down there spending time in this way was therapeutic for this country girl currently caught up in the big city life.

Having the recital and master class was just icing on the cake! I had a great performance with Mary Chung, a doctoral student at Southern Miss. She was such a great collaborator and hard worker. We managed to pull together a really nice performance with such little time. I salute her for her hard work and fun spirit. We really enjoyed working together and laughed when we realized we were both married to men named Carlos.

I didn't' think the week could get any better or more rewarding and then it was time for the master class. I don't usually like master classes. More often than not they turn into episodes of American Idol with better music. I've never really liked the term 'master' as part of the class. I'd prefer it to be called student class , since that is what we all really are and should never forget we are all always learning and always searching for better ways to sing. Anyway...
The master class was incredibly fun and the singers were very talented and most importantly, extremely receptive to my suggestions. All the ladies who sang had such eager personalities and were good sports. It isn't easy getting up in front of people to sing. It is double hard getting up in front of people to sing knowing that critical thoughts are going through everyone's head. But, they did it and took my suggestions, and all in all, made some enormous changes fairly quickly. I didn't have any magical words to say. I mainly focused on having them take breaths that were part of the character and getting each singer to take their own time in the phrasing of the music. We often get ahead of ourselves as singers, trying to fit into someone else's tempo whether it be the pianist accompanying the singer or a conductor. Finding your own tempo and own space to breathe is a challenge and one that has to be incorporated in a young singers' practice. I loved my time with these ladies in Hattiesburg and heard some really great, mature singing. I saw eager students willing to put it out there and experiment with new ideas and I felt a true openness from them, too. There are good things going on at so many schools across the country and after this visit down south, I am hopeful for the arts knowing that they will continue through these fine talented young ladies! Bravi girls!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Roanoke Recital

On January 23 I had the wonderful opportunity to perform in recital the songs from my upcoming recording in Roanoke, VA. Last year while I was covering at the MET I was hanging out with conductor Steven White in the green room. We were talking career stuff and I started telling him about my idea for my recording and one thing led to another and he suggested I bring the program to Roanoke to try it out before I record it. Brilliant! I had been dying to get back to Roanoke since my debut there with Opera Roanoke in 2004 as Gilda if for no other reason than to see the larger than life sized picture of me and tenor, Scott Piper that hangs in the Roanoke airport just over baggage carousel 3. I heard about this banner from several people and was glad to get to see it in person and get my picture taken with it!

Putting together this recording and the gathering of these songs has been extremely rewarding. I was eager to get them into performance mode and Sunday afternoon was sublime. My pianist, Carol Goff, who was my first vocal coach and still teaches at the fabulous Townsend School of Music at Mercer University, flew to Roanoke with me to present these songs. This was my first complete outing of the songs and it felt incredible to sing them as one whole program. I was able to get a good idea of how the entire recording will flow and was also able to get a better sense of what order I should record them in to best suit me vocally. I'll have to pace myself in the recording studio and the beauty of a studio recording is that I don't necessarily have to record them in the order in which they will appear on the CD. I recorded the recital on my iphone and was able to get a good enough recording so that I could listen back and take notes. This week I'll listen a few more times and keep gathering ideas on how best to express and deliver these little gems that I have gathered.

This past week I was in Hattiesburg, MS to do the same recital at The University of Southern Mississippi. I like the idea of being on the road singing songs. It reminds me of when I traveled with the Gospel singing group, Jeff and Sheri Easter. I toured with them the summer before I went to college. I sang back-up, sold CD's, cleaned the bus, and babysat. We had Dolly Parton's old tour bus that still had the stained glass Dollywood butterfly skylight in the top. Yes, I wish classical music would be so popular that we could travel around the U.S. from state to state on large tour buses singing songs. What if? More exciting news from Hattiesburg to come!


For the past three months since I returned from Germany I have been working on a new project that I am finally able to talk about on my blog. It took a lot of work to get all the pieces together and I am happy to announce that I am recording my first CD! Should I even call it that? Do people say it that way anymore, I mean, who uses CD's? I guess I should say I am making my first recording! For several years I have wanted to make a recording of American Art Songs. Singing songs was the first love of my life, as is the case with most singers, and I wanted to gather a collection of songs that expressed the joy of why I do what I do. Why do we sing? Why do I bother to play these crazy, yet beloved characters? What is it that we are trying to say throughout all of this? I guess it kind of goes along with the notion of 'How Can I Keep from Singing?' that I have talked about here on this blog. I also wanted to incorporate songs that dealt with spirituality and faith not associated with some particular dogma, but rather that spoke to a universal sense of these words and the essence of spirituality. As I searched for songs, some really important themes started developing dealing with all sorts of emotions that come with having a spiritual practice such as doubt, fear, and anger. I started making a pile of songs that I couldn't stop thinking of, ones that made me think, "Hmm, well, that says it all." I started to see other patterns emerge such as, themes of blessings and being thankful and songs about giving back to others. Oh, and of course love kept coming up in there too. Another theme that I keep coming back to is the idea of home and how the place of home changes as you grow older and as you move from place to place and meet different people. Some of these songs I have known for years and others have come my way just in the last month. It's a process that kind of baffles me. I combed through aisles in the New York Public Library in the spring of last year looking for just the right pieces about faith and never found songs that quite suited me. I had thousands of possibilities there, but none of them grabbed me. I found most of them randomly in old anthologies I already had or just casually looking through stacks in music stores. It seemed the less I looked the more I found. The cornerstone of the recording is a song cycle by Jake Heggie called Rise and Fall. I wrote to Jake in 2009 when all of these ideas started growing legs. I gave him the overall sense of the theme and he sent me these songs. They are AMAZING! They are perfect not only for the words and thoughts I am trying to express, but also for how they are written for the voice and how they suit me. I owe Jake a huge thanks for allowing me to use these songs for my recording and for pointing them my way.

I will be blogging a lot more in hopes to give you all a play by play of what is taking place with this truly exciting project. I feel an incredible creative burst happening and can't wait to share every moment with you. Stay tuned!