Happy 2014, everyone!
Every year during the holidays,we take a family photo. It's always annoying ---too many cooks and kibbutzers, no one will be quiet or stand still and so the process ends up taking much longer than it should --- and yet we're all really glad to have the finished product. This year, our family grew by two. My older brother and his wife were finally able to adopt one of their two foster daughters, a three-year-old who has been with them since birth. The six month old (we call her Baby Baby) is up for adoption in February.
I really wanted a photo with ALL my nieces and nephews, but at a certain point, Talie, the three-year-old, was DONE. She was DONE WITH PHOTOS. And since getting everybody back together to do another later would essentially be like herding cats, no pic. Oh, well.
But it got me to thinking. I'm not a big one for resolutions; I've always been more into coming up with a theme for the year, something to be mindful about to keep me on track. If I were going to make a resolution, it would be to behave more like a toddler.
Eat when I'm hungry and stop when I'm not, only the stuff I like. Drink lots of bottles of good stuff. Sleep when I'm sleepy. Take naps. Poop as necessary. Stop and look and play with anything that interests me for as long as it interests me. Find joy and humor where no one else seems to. Laugh a lot. Scream and cry when I'm mad. No holding it in. Say whatever comes to mind without fear. Experience the world with wonder and eyes wide open. Not do anything I don't want to do unless someone physically larger than me makes me (but then they have to hold me while I scream about it, and possibly give me a cookie).
Now that sounds like a good resolution to me.
2013 had some real peaks and valleys, and the past few weeks have been so busy there's not been much time for reflection. Now, as the family packs up to head home and those of us here prepare to get back to our regular schedules, I find myself thinking back. It's good to see where we've been. It helps us figure out where we want to go next, and what steps we might not wish to retrace.
January - I traveled to Puerto Rico to give my Business of Singing Workshop at the beautiful Conservatorio di Musica in San Juan, my first visit to the Caribbean. It was a great experience --- such talented and hard-working students, a truly involved and caring faculty, warm and hospitable people. The very small bit of San Juan I got to see was just gorgeous. I enjoyed touring the Old Town. The food is fantastic. Can't wait to go back.
I also got to do a very cool little project --- my friend Mark Erck, music director at University United Methodist Church, recruited me to sing excerpts from the incredible Jake Heggie opera, Dead Man Walking, as part of a special church service. They were doing a sermon series on "When Christians Disagree" and had settled on four controversial topics, such as abortion and the death penalty. Mark convinced the pastor to have actual opera scenes as part of the sermon. Dead Man is challenging subject matter, and my role --- which I first sang at Austin Lyric Opera in 2003 --- is the mother of the murderer. She has two really spectacular scenes; one in which she addressed the pardon board to beg for her son's life; and the other a sort of lullaby, as she says good-bye to her son on the day of his execution. It was an extraordinary experience to reprise these excerpts under this set of circumstances.
February and March --- Eric and I drove to Tulsa, OK, where I made my Tulsa Opera debut as Marie in Most Happy Fella. We love our road trips! Tulsa has a fantastic bike trail along the Arkansas River, and I enjoyed biking there and doing a little hiking in one of the parks. The cast was terrific and included some old friends as well as some new ones, and we enjoyed many a post-rehearsal bowling night at the funky Dust Bowl down the street. Tulsa is full of cool architecture, fantastic little pockets of art and culture, and great restaurants. It's a great company and a nice town. I really enjoyed spending time there!
Also in March, I had the honor of adjudicating the Fielder Grant, a competition in Austin for Texas singers. My fellow judges were none other than Joe Specter, the new general director of Austin Lyric Opera (and destined to be my boss a couple of weeks later!) and Metropolitan Opera soprano Ruth Ann Swenson. We had very different opinions, but nevertheless it was very congenial and enjoyable!
Love this funky apartment tower in Tulsa.
With Kim Josephson as Tony, as Marie in The Most Happy Fella, Tulsa Opera.
April --- I got to stay home for a while, and still be working --- a rare treat. I appeared as Martha Schwerlein in Faust with Austin Lyric Opera, in a modern production that had me getting quite bawdy with the Devil. The cast was truly exceptional, especially Jan Cornelius as Marguerite (she and I had a great time being interviewed by John Aielli, one of Austin's radio celebrities --- it's always a coup to be on his show) and Hyung Yun as Valentine. As a bonus, my mother-in-law was visiting from France, the first time she'd seen me perform since we got married! She doesn't speak English, so it was especially nice for her to hear a French opera and to get to go out with the cast every night (she's a party animal), when people could speak to her.
I'm always happy to get to work at home, but it was a special boon this time because at the beginning of the rehearsal period, we discovered that my mom had breast cancer. I was able to be there to take her to most appointments and her surgeries, the radiation, and so on. Thank goodness she's fine now. Needless to say, however, it was incredibly stressful.
With Jamie Offenbach as Mefistofele in Austin Lyric Opera's Faust.
May --- Big doings in May. I finally was able to have surgery on my knee, which had been injured the previous October on opening night of a show (worker's comp works veeeeerrrry slowly). The day after Faust closed, I was on a plane to Bozeman, MT, another company debut and a state I'd never visited before. The opera company very graciously housed me in an isolated cabin overlooking a hiking trail up a mountain. It couldn't have been more beautiful and restful, and just what I needed after April's stresses. This time, the show was Romeo & Juliette (my third production). The director, Jeffery Buchman, and I knew each other, but couldn't remember how at first ... it turned out we had both been apprentices at Central City Opera back in the day! The cast had a great time together on and offstage. Maestro Joey Mechavich and I recruited many members for BFROO (Bigfoot Field Researcher Organization of Opera --- yes, we have a thing about Bigfoot , I'll tell you later) and I fell in love with Bozeman. But possibly the highlight of the trip was the day off when Joey and I drove his convertible to Yellowstone National Park --- definitely on my bucket list!
No sooner did I get home, but Spotlight on Opera had its big spring production, Arabian Nights, which featured excerpts from The Abduction from the Seraglio, Arthur Sullivan's seldom-produced operetta The Rose of Persia, L'italian in Algeri, and the Carl Maria von Weber one act, Abu Hassan, which I directed.
As Gertrude in Intermountain Opera's Romeo & Juliette.
Joey and me in front of the spectacular Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone.
June --- I headed to Chautauqua Opera in upstate New York for a production of one of the greatest operas I've ever had the honor to be part of --- Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes. Chautauqua is a very special place, a Victorian lakeside community dedicated to arts and religious studies. There are lectures, concerts and plays every day, as well as art everywhere you look. It's beautiful. It will also, as all the singers say, try to kill you --- and it did me! There's so much moisture there that there's a lot of mold and gunk, and it's easy to get sick and not get well. I got a terrible upper respiratory infection that lasted most of my time there. Still, I adored it and would go back any time.
As the gossipy laudanum addict Mrs. Sedley in Chautauqua Opera's Peter Grimes.
July --- July found me returning to the Sugar Creek Festival in Watseka, IL, where I was united with Maestro Joey, stage director Jeffrey Buchman, and tenor Daniel Shirley (who'd also been in the Bozeman R&J). It was my second production of Carlisle Floyd's Cold Sassy Tree; the first was with Austin Lyric Opera in 2001, which was the second time the opera had been produced. Watseka is a pretty sleepy little town, but we did have a few adventures there, including visiting the county fair, and rescuing a tiny kitten we named Tosca!
Itty-bitty Tosca Kitty. I found her huddled on this tree and with the help of a colleague,we got her to the Iroquois County Animal Rescue (on opening night, no less)!
My favorite entry at the county fair --- this scary-looking possum cake!
August --- No vacation for me in summer 2013, and no end to the stress. We found out that another family member had cancer, and would need surgery and chemo. And the minute I got home, Spotlight on Opera's 7th summer season started. I am the founder and general director, I do all the scheduling, teach, and stage direct. I was super proud of all our singers this year and of our two main productions, both of which had been on my list to produce for quite some time. For the first time in several years, I was able to direct one of the mainstage operas, The Ballad of Baby Doe, which also happens to be one of my personal favorites and one I'd jump at the chance to sing again. At the end of our final show, the leading lady's boyfriend proposed to her! It was an unforgettable moment.
My favorite scene in the whole show --- "What do you intend to do, Augusta?"
September --- I did not have a single singing engagement in September. I spent the whole month being domestic, cuddling with my husband and dogs, spending time with the family cancer survivors. It was sort of a staycation. It was awesome.
October --- This was a month of great adventure --- my husband, mother-in-law, and I drove cross country from Austin to Lynchburg, VA , where I was singing Gianni Schicchi and Suor Angelica with Opera on the James. We had a GREAT time, stopping off in Memphis to do a little sight-seeing and eat some good barbecue, and visiting the Natural Bridge outside of Lynchburg. Lynchburg is gorgeous and it was a perfect time of year to be there. When Eric flew back, we spent an entire day driving on the Blue Ridge Parkway, one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. Also, I had an EPIC wig.
Overlooking Otter Lake on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
November --- From this point to today, it's all kind of a blur. Spotlight on Opera did our fun Aria by Request concert, in which the audience chooses what they want to hear from a menu; we had another installment of our Professional Development Series with master classes and private sessions with stage director Marc Verzatt; I went to NYC a couple of times for auditions; and of course there was our 12th anniversary, and Thanksgiving.
December --- I traveled to Boise, a city I always enjoy visiting, to sing Messiah with the symphony. It's not Christmas without singing a Messiah, and it was lovely. I got back in time to finish rehearsing and producing Spotlight's Diva Fits Scenes Showcase (mad scenes!) and we had an exciting performance, in which I had to discourage a homeless fella who strongly desired me to stop the show so he could beg the audience for money. And just before Christmas, we found out that a dear friend has a brain tumor, which turned out to be yet more cancer. I've had enough of cancer and really hope it stays in 2013. But we had a nice visit from the family, ending the year with a fun party chez nous.
Lots to look forward to in 2014 --- next weekend I'm doing a reading of Il trovatore; in a couple of weeks I go to Jacksonville, FL to sing Figaro with the Symphony there; and a little later this year I get to spend some time in Portland, singing Ruth in The Pirates of Penzance. This summer I get to sing one of my favorite roles in one of my favorite operas, Erda in Das Rheingold, at the new Hartford Wagner Festival. And I get to spend a little more time at home with my sweetie and my puppies than I did last year, which is always a happy thing.
May your 2014 bring good things and happiness to you, too!