Friday, May 4, 2012

Be a Good Traveler

Next month marks the five year anniversary of my first audition trip to Europe.  I am writing this from my tiny hotel room in Antwerpen, Belgium on yet another audition excursion.  I was thinking today as I arrived groggy and dry-mouthed, about how much easier travel has gotten now that I do it all the time.   Going to Europe used to feel as though I was journeying into the far corners of the world and now it seems closer to me than California.  I guess I should really change my earlier statement.  Travel hasn't gotten easier as much as I have figured out how to take care of myself while traveling.  For you youngsters getting ready to brave the European audition circuit, here are some tips:

1. Drink as much water as you can the day before you fly and abstain from alcohol the day before, day of and during the flight.  Trust me on this one.  The voice is a delicate little thing and flights are drying enough as it is. Alcohol only makes it worse.  Save it for the flight home as a treat!
2. is a great website for booking hotels.  I like it because it has a search option where you can find hotels near certain popular tourist destinations.  I click on the filter to find hotels in my price range near the opera house I am auditioning for or near the train station if I'm catching a quick train after the audition.
3.  Pack light.  Seriously ladies.  I did a three week audition tour in the fall and had one carry-on bag and my purse.  I carried my wrinkle free audition dress, shoes, and three outfits.  Since you are going from city to city no one sees that you wear the same thing all the time.  Just bring enough underwear and socks and you are good to go!  I travel with my audition shoes, a pair of sneakers, and my black leather boots.  You can wear black leather boots with anything these days and you never know what kind of weather you will run into. Best to be prepared.
4. Download workouts as podcasts to minimize expenses in gyms.  It also is a handy thing to have because I don't like being out after dark in new cities all alone.  This way I can go out and see a town and come back to workout in my hotel room and not be caught in risky areas.  I was caught in a risky area once all alone in Italy and have never forgotten it!  Jogging in a new city isn't an option for me for this reason.
5.  Get an e-reader.  This is a no brainer.  It is worth every dime you spend especially if you are an avid reader like me.  I remember when I first came to Europe to audition 5 years ago and would buy books and leave a trail of them behind me because I didn't have the space in my luggage.   It's so much better now because we can travel with all our favorite books and magazines.
6.  Take out a lump of cash at the ATM at a time to avoid every transaction having a processing international fee.  Those fees really add up.  You may also be able to find a bank that has low fees.  Don't forget to tell your bank you will be traveling out of the country.  Several times I have forgotten and after the first transaction the card is tagged for possible fraud and then you are stuck with having to deal with that ordeal from overseas where it is difficult to get a new card.
7.  Don't tell the passport agent when you enter the foreign country that you are in town for an audition.  People don't understand what this means and all of a sudden you will find yourself being asked to show a work permit for a job you don't even have.  Until you get the job, it is best to be traveling 'for pleasure'.  I was once very honest with a London passport agent, telling her proudly I was in London to audition.  SHe then demanded to see my work permit for said 'audition'.  I tried explaining to her that I didn't need a work permit to enter the country to 'try' to work.  She was snarky and said, "How do I know you won't get the job and just stay here to work without a permit."  In my tired crankiness I said, "I guess you don't.  You'll just have to take my word for it."  She took my word for it but she also stamped my passport preventing me from entering Great Britain for six months to work.  Ouch.  So, if you are are on a pleasure trip.  When you get the job you can say you are there to work and the company you work for will have submitted you for a work permit which you will have to show the passport agent.....unless you work in Italy, and well, that is another story all together.

These are just a few of the things that came to mind today as I was reflecting on my audition travel.  You will learn your own things and you will figure out what works for you.  Here are some good tips on being a good traveler:
1.  You must have patience and be open to change.  Things don't go as planned so be very grateful for when they do.  Flexibility is the name of the game.  I've slept on the floor of the Madrid airport and on a string of three chairs in London Heathrow with a high fever.  Accept it, fall asleep, get comfortable.....raising hell doesn't fix it.  I always see people getting all worked up about things and the truth of the matter doesn't fix the problem.  It only adds to the frustrated energy permeating the boarding area.  Find a good spot and hunker down.  Go to sleep.  Drool.  You'll get there eventually.
2.  Know that you can always get whatever you need most anywhere you go.  So, don't feel obligated to bring everything and your kitchen sink along with you.  Aside from specific medication that you have a prescription for, most European pharmacies have everything we have at home. 
3.  Be kind to people and polite.  This throws some Europeans off because they think you are fake or crazy but it's always good policy.
4.  Talk to strangers.  I've met many interesting people in SAFE PUBLIC places by doing this and I have wonderful stories from chatting up strangers.  I met my husband in the Atlanta airport!
5.  Be curious and unafraid to get lost.  You can always turn around and ask for directions.  Getting off the beaten path is part of the fun.
6.  Try to speak the native language and even when you can't,  ask politely if they speak English.  Don't just assume they do. 
7.  Bring your own shopping bags.  This is big in Europe.  They charge you for plastic bags and who couldn't use some savings?
8.  Be more patient than ever with TSA agents.  This is mainly a personal reminder.
9.  If you get on the wrong train.  Don't panic.  Eventually it will stop and your mistake can be corrected.  Hopefully, before you exit into another country!  (I could be speaking from personal experience here.)
10.  Learn about the history of the place you are visiting.  You don't need to be a scholar, but when you take the time to learn about the group history of a people, you can see their perspective and really get to know a culture.  Educate yourself.  It fuels your art.

Bon Voyage!!!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Pearl Fishers Promotional Video

I have sung the role of Leila in Bizet's Pearl Fishers twice this season.  Each time I was fortunate to be a part of this wonderful production directed by Andrew Sinclair, choreographed by John Malashock, and designed by the fabulous Zandra Rhodes.  The production has traveled around the U.S. since 2004 and has received great acclaim.  This is the twelfth time this opera has been produced and second time it has appeared in Detroit.  Tonight is my final performance and I will miss this wonderful cast and delightful production.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Bee! I'm Expecting You

Bee! I'm expecting you!
Was saying Yesterday
To Somebody you know
That you were due—

The Frogs got Home last Week—
Are settled, and at work—
Birds, mostly back—
The Clover warm and thick—

You'll get my Letter by
The seventeenth; Reply
Or better, be with me—
Yours, Fly.

~Emily Dickinson

Monday, April 16, 2012

God's World

O world, I cannot hold thee close enough!
   Thy winds, thy wide grey skies!
   Thy mists that roll and rise!
Thy woods this autumn day, that ache and sag
And all but cry with colour! That gaunt crag
To crush! To lift the lean of that black bluff!
World, World, I cannot get thee close enough!

Long have I known a glory in it all,
   But never knew I this;
   Here such a passion is
As stretcheth me apart, -- Lord, I do fear
Thou'st made the world too beautiful this year;
My soul is all but out of me, -- let fall
No burning leaf; prithee, let no bird call.

~Edna St. Vincent Millay

*Photo taken at Muir Woods July 2011

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Wild Geese

Wild Geese
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
       love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

~Mary Oliver

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Let Evening Come

Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles 
and her yarn. Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.

Let it come, as it will, and don't
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come. 
~ Jane Kenyon 
*Photo taken at my parents' farm in Lincolnton, GA 

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice ‑
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible. 
It was already late                                                                                 
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do ‑
determined to save
the only life you could save.
~ Mary Oliver

*photo taken on my honeymoon at Little Palm Island, FL on June 11, 2009

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Lay My Head Down

Oh the party's kicked up a few notches look at us getting loose
She leans back against the wall and she watches tugging her collar like it might
be a noose.

And everyone's tied to their thing
To their past or their drink or the date that they bring
I just get tired all of sudden taking it in.

And I want to lay my head down on you

Because you're the only solid thing in this room

A room full of changes strangers illusion confusion,
I speak from my heart but I'm not really sure if its true.
I wanna lay my head down on you.

Oh don't waste too much time planning
Or you'll get rug ripped out
And the only way you'll be satisfied
Is learning to live without.
But some plan for the kingdom of heaven
And some take their chances and bet lucky seven
I don't know what to believe I just show up and breathe anymore.

And I wanna lay my head down on you
Because you're the only solid thing in this room

A room full of dressers, professors, lookers, hookers
If I don't get out I'll do something I don't wanna do.

And I wanna lay my head down on you.

Was it so long ago
That we sat and talked in your car
Your things were all packed
And the place you were headed not really that far
Years later I think
That I would have been much more alive
To have taken you up on your offer and taken that drive

Well everything that's come before us leads us to where we are now
And that's simple, I know so why can't I let go of the feeling
That i'm lost somehow
I'm just a ghost looking in
Out of my own life just visiting
In search of a body to have and to hold and to keep and to sleep.

I wanna lay my head down on you
Because you're the only solid thing in this room
A room full of missed chance, slow dance, cold fate heartache
I showed up for a party and saw my life story full view

And I wanna lay my head down on you

Emily Saliers

Friday, April 6, 2012

i carry your heart

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in 
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere 
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done 
by only me is your doing,my darling) 
     i fear 
not fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want 
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true) 
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant 
and whatever a sun will always sing is you 

here is the deepest secret nobody knows 
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud 
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows 
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide) 
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart 

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

e.e. cummings

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

When Death Comes

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measles-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it is over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.

Mary Oliver

Monday, April 2, 2012

It's all I have to bring today

April is National Poetry month.  To celebrate my love of poetry and words I've decided to post some of my most favorite over the next month.  I start with my first love of poetry, Miss Emily.

It's all I have to bring today –
This, and my heart beside –
This, and my heart, and all the fields –
And all the meadows wide –
Be sure you count – should I forget
Some one the sum could tell –
This, and my heart, and all the Bees
Which in the Clover dwell.

Emily Dickinson

click here to read the poem and hear it read at

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Let's Get Physical

I've been chasing Spring this year.  After a beautiful time in Florence, Italy I came home to Georgia for the month of February where we had some of the warmest temperatures on record.  It was gorgeous.  The cherry blossoms started blooming in late January and by mid February the near 80 degree temperatures had me resisting the urge to start planting flowers.  The first week of March I headed north to Washington D.C. for a few days and then on to New York city for three weeks.  Again, I was met with incredibly warm temperatures and early blooms.  Now, I'm in Detroit and when I flew into town on Wednesday last week, I was greeted with a balmy 72 degrees.  I love chasing Spring!  These past two months of warm weather have given me the opportunity to get outside and get my body moving.

One of my New Year's resolutions (surprise, surprise) was to get into shape.  I've always been fairly active and have managed my weight by what I eat.  I've been practicing Yoga for 12 years, the last 6 years of which have been fairly intense and dedicated.  But, I wanted to push myself this year to new levels of fitness because, as I have gotten older I've noticed how much harder the travel and singing lifestyle is on my body.  I knew I needed more.  So I took advantage of the beautiful Springwinter and got outside.  

I began in January while in Florence.  I walked to the theater from my apartment.  It was a nice 40 minute walk and very beautiful.  To and from, I figure I was walking 3-4 miles a day.  I continued my Yoga practice but adding the extra cardio really helped when I had to run around on stage as the Contessa di Folleville in Rossini's Il Viaggio a Reims.  I had to run around in high heels while singing high E flats.  That was easy in my 20's but ten years of the business and the hard travel has left me with some injuries that flare up at the slightest strain.  I joined a fitness group on Facebook led by the fit and fabulous tenor, Larry Brownlee.  It has become a great place for support and a place to ask questions concerning any level of fitness.  We discuss workout routines, food, favorite running shoes, and post accomplishments.  In February I took advantage of the sunshine and began running outside at the Chattahoochee Nature Trails in Atlanta.  Some days I hiked Kennesaw Mountain and I kept up with my Yoga practice by attending intense vinyasa classes.  I started an evening Fab Ab February challenge with my husband that progressively got harder.  We ended the month with 100 situps and a 2 minute plank hold.  It's amazing how one month of dedicate work made me feel.  In March I went to New York for voice lessons and coachings. Yes, I still have to keep my voice in shape.  Singing is identical to being a top athlete.  You must train and you must stay in shape vocally.  While in New York I visited my favorite Yoga studio and teacher as often as possible and worked out at the gym.  I walked on the warmest days, which there were many, and I continued with a Mad Abs March routine in the evenings.  I've lost 5 pounds since I started, which may not seem like much but I've gained a lot of muscle and have toned my body.  I feel strong and lifting those heavy suitcases while traveling to Detroit weren't near as hard or bad on my back.

I am in stagings for The Pearl Fishers by Bizet.  It's the Zandra Rhodes production directed by Andrew Sinclair that has gone all around the country in the last ten years.  This is the same production I did in this past November in Pittsburgh.  Yesterday we staged the intensely physical scene between Leila, my character, and the baritone Zurga.  It is a work horse just to sing standing still.  It is full and lyric and one of my most favorite duets in opera.  It's one of the only times on stage I get to fight back instead of give up and die.  It's a hot scene and very physical.  I get pushed to the ground several times.  I literally wrestle with a large baritone while singing very difficult music.  I sing full out while crossing the stage and we end with me screaming in his face and then he tackles me to the floor.  It's awesome.  Come see it.  Yesterday's staging work was incredible.  What I felt yesterday after three months of dedicate fitness was COMPLETELY different than what I felt in November.  I was less out of breath.  I could fall to the floor with ease and support from my muscles.  I am stronger and it makes singing sooooo much easier.  Singing opera these days is quite physical.  I've had to run in high heels, fall backwards down stairs, run up stairs and sing, fall down in a 30 pound costume then get up and sing, and I've wrestled with baritones while singing high b flats.  When I went on at the MET in 2010 as Marie in La Fille du Regiment, I had to run all over the stage, flail my arms while ironing clothes, and roll around on the floor and sing.  Opera is no longer just about the voice.  You have to be in top form.  

I write all of this because I know a lot of people who read my blog are young singers.  I encourage you to get physical!  Start now and add to your vocal practice some sort of workout routine.  You can start small but START!  Find something you love, that you will commit to and just do it.  It will help you stay injury free from the stress travel makes on the body and you will be stronger and more able to play your characters fully and truthfully.  Your body is your instrument.  It doesn't stop below the larynx.  Take care of your instrument like a top athlete does.  You'll find not only do you feel better and look better, but your singing will be connected to something grounded and strong.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

How I Brought in the New Year

Ah, it's the start of a new year.  I love new things and especially love a new year.  It brings with it a feeling that the etch- a- sketch has been shaken and it's time to start on a clean gray board.  I brought in the New Year in Florence, Italy where I am currently singing in a new production of Rossini's Il Viaggio a Reims.  New Years Eve was wild here.  I mean really outrageously wild.  I went out with some friends right after the turn of the clock to the New Year and it sounded like a war zone.  We were told by our hotel concierge that fireworks were illegal in Florence so there would be no place to watch any over the beautiful Arno river.  We were disappointed because we had wonderful views of the river from our balconies.  Instead we were told to just walk around the city and experience the livelihood in the streets.  Well, lively it was.  I grew up around guns.  I'm from Georgia, and my father was a Marine Corps Drill Sergeant.  I also grew up shooting my own a field of about twenty acres.  I know loud gun noises and proper use of firearms and how to shoot a firecracker.  Nothing could prepare me for this New Year's experience.  Since it was illegal to shoot fireworks in a contained area for fear of lighting a precious Renaissance building on fire, people decided they would have their own firework celebrations in the streets of Florence...Right next to said Renaissance building or......  Right next to where I was standing.  Or next to the 400 year old Duomo.  Or in some other person's face.  Seriously.  The sound was unbelievably loud because of the echo off of all the old stone or marbled buildings.  Some of them scared me so bad I screamed out loud.  I watched as people broke bottles and dodged bottle rockets and I watched while the police also watched.  Police were standing around watching adults...not bottle rockets into crowds, over heads of children and drunken people.  Everyone was having a blast.  Except for us.  I was like a scared dog and was sure I was going to take a bottle rocket in the eye.  Needless to say, I tucked my tail and got the hell out of there.  The next day the entire place was clean, no glass, no dead bodies, poked out eyes, or burned buildings.  The evidence of any bawdy, uncivilized behavior was gone.  No one was shocked except for us tidy, law abiding Americans.  The only damage was to a centuries old fountain in the Piazza della Reppublica that nearly fell on someone.  It was in the newspaper.  And, I know there were some eyeball casualties because I dodged several ambulances on my way out of there.  It was not in the newspaper.  My guess is that one of the missals either exploded on the fountain or the sound of the missal vibrated the portion of the fountain so much that it fell.  My guess on the casualties is that they took a bottle rocket in the eye which my Daddy could have prevented with his knowledge of, "Don't shoot fireworks in a crowded space."  Or, his other good piece of advice, "Stand back, this one's gonna blow."  I'm just glad we made it back safely and lived to tell about it and laugh.  I wish I had photos but instead of pictures, I decided to watch out for shooting sharp objects and flying wine bottles.  I love Italy because you just never know what you are going to get.  But whatever you get is never dull or boring.  2012 is going to be a blast.  Ciao!!