Halloween in the Swiss Alps

A not-so-scary story about pumpkins, opera singers and church history.

Meet Brünnhilde, the operatic jack-o-lantern! I put Brünnhilde on my doorstep last October and she was a very successful singing pumpkin. She could even sing “Ho-jo-to-ho!” with a candle in her mouth. I almost sent her on her own European audition tour! 😉

Holidays are fun. When I lived at International House in New York City, we made a point of celebrating every holiday in the world.  This was not an attempt to be hyperpolitical or pantheistic, but just to truly appreciate every unique culture… and to make sure that life is a constant party!

So I hope you’re having a happy Halloween. But I just have to ask: has anyone wished you a Happy Reformation Day today?  Because 494 years ago today, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Schlosskirche in Wittenberg. And soon afterward, Huldrych Zwingli  began working on the first German translation of the Bible in Zürich. These guys were radical Protestants.

As the daughter of a church historian, I have a special place in my heart for these cool historical details.  I can’t stroll through Zürich without thinking about all the other people who have walked on the same cobblestones — not only great composers like Honegger and Wagner, but also great theologians like Zwingli and Bullinger.

So when I was invited to sing at the International Protestant Church of Zürich on Reformation Sunday, in the very church where Bullinger and the Huguenots worshipped, I was pretty stoked. I bought a train ticket and embarked on a “Reformation Road Trip” to Zürich!

Watch a short clip of me singing Gabriel Fauré’s Pie Jesu in the église reformée française in Zürich on October 30, 2011:

Of course, knowing too much about church history can make things awkward for a soprano.  You see, Zwingli did not actually approve of having musical instruments in worship!  He was an excellent musician himself, but he did not feel that it was appropriate in church.  I disagree with Zwingli on that one (and so did Luther!) but I do admire the bold, exciting way that he loved Christ. So that’s what I tried to convey in my singing, even though we broke some of Zwingli’s rules by using that gorgeous organ. Since Huldrych was a bit of a rule-breaker himself, I hope he’ll understand. I returned home to Salzburg feeling very grateful that I’d had an opportunity to sing there.

Protestants aren’t the only ones who are celebrating this week. There are some beautiful Catholic holidays coming up.  In Austria, we will celebrate All Saint’s Day (November 1) and All Souls’ Day (November 2).  Hermann von Gilm wrote a marvelous poem about All Souls’ Day (“Allerseelen”), set to music by Richard Strauss.

So that’s my Halloween update from the Alps. I wish you a happy holiday. Just remember to watch out for singing pumpkins in pigtails. Auf Wiedersehen!

Zurich for Chocolate Lovers

Gruezi miteinand!  (Hello everybody!)

It’s time to tackle a subject that is close to everyone’s heart: Swiss chocolate.  After all, one of the great things about singing opera in Europe is having access to high quality chocolate, right?

Chocolate — or “Schoggi,” as it’s called in Swiss German — is seriously delicious. Switzerland is famous for its chocolate. Ever heard of Sprüngli and Lindt? I have recently discovered an entire blog devoted to swiss chocolate — if you speak German, check out their yummy episodes of Chocolate TV!

Today I enjoyed a tasty slice of Schoggikuchen at Café Odeon.  I usually advise people NOT to eat at the riverside cafés in Zurich because it’s so incredibly expensive, but if you’re going to splurge, do it at Café Odeon.   This legendary cafe has been frequented by some very famous patrons; when you slide into a booth, you may be sitting on the same red leather banquette used by Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky, Franz Kafka, Mata Hari, Thornton Wilder, Benito Mussolini, Stefan Zweig, Bertolt Brecht, James Joyce or Albert Einstein! So you can contemplate all of that history while eating your chocolate cake. My Schoggikuchen cost me CHF 9, but it was worth it.

Of course, not everyone is passionate about chocolate. If you’re more of a savory person, you’ll enjoy Tibits, a fantastic vegetarian restaurant near the opera house!

But if you’re serious about sweets, you’ll appreciate Switzerland’s commitment to chocolate tourism. For a real taste of the chocolate empire, take the “Sweet Zürich” tour!

My Life in Passport Pictures

My parents must have known that I would become a world traveler: I was issued my first passport at the age of 4 weeks!

I was born in Hollywood, but my family moved to Scotland a few weeks later so that my Dad could earn his PhD at the University of Edinburgh. This photo tells a whole story: my Mom looks like a supermodel (she still does.) My sister Heather is obviously not thrilled about the whole passport picture experience. But I appear to be sleeping through it.  In fact, I’m told that I slept through the entire transatlantic flight!  Perhaps this explains why I am still able to sleep on planes: early conditioning.

But I almost didn’t survive that first flight to London Heathrow.  My mother tells this story:

As we boarded the plane, I followed after Heather, clutching a purse, a diaper bag, an overstuffed carry-on case and wearing a backpack designed to carry a toddler.  At barely two months of age, Lindsay was only a sleeping bump in the bottom of the backpack but as I edged down the aisle, one of the shoulder straps broke! The pack began to sway gently from side to side behind me.  Unable to even turn around, I went white and yelped!  An attendant quickly figured out the problem and helped me re-fasten the strap while I started babbling that we were moving to Scotland for three years and, and, and…. “I didn’t think you were going for three weeks, Luv,” he said with a wry smile as he helped me limp to my seat with the baby and the luggage.  We were seated next to an elderly lady in a black chador who seemed terrified, gripping a row of beads, rocking back and forth and softly chanting prayers throughout the take-off.  That was our first flight to Europe.

It’s quite fortunate that I didn’t get dropped on my head before I’d even had a chance to travel the world. But my real passport drama occurred in Rome, twenty years after that first international flight.  I was in Italy for the very first time, and as a naîve young music student, I managed to get my passport stolen before I had even laid eyes on the Colosseum!  So I spent my first day in Rome at the American Embassy on the Via Veneto.  I ducked into an automatic photo booth to get this photo for my temporary replacement passport.  After the blinding flash, I staggered out and handed the picture to the Italian man behind the desk. He glanced at the photo, did a theatrical double-take, kissed his fingertips and exclaimed, “Ma che bella!  È venuta bene, la foto, no?”  I smiled and blushed. It was a very Italian moment.

My “Roman” passport served me well. I got it extended at the U.S. Embassy in Vienna and filled it up with stamps (and student visas) from Austria, Italy, Spain, Japan, Russia and a host of other countries. But then before I went to Nepal and Thailand in 2009, I decided it was finally time for a new passport.

Just a couple of days ago, I discovered that my friend Mirva Lempiäinen (a world-traveling journalist who writes a fabulous travel blog for Finnair) is in the possession of a pink passport cover that reads “JET SETTING DIVA.”  Seriously.  Yeah, I gotta get one of those.  Happy travels, everyone!

Fun with Hair Extensions

My hair is often described as “baby hair” because it’s as fine as an infant’s. It falls past my shoulders and I can coax it into various shapes with sophisticated hair products. But unlike my sister, who had waist-length curly hair by the time she was 12, I did not get the long-hair genes in the family. So what do I do when I am cast in an opera as a 15th century Spanish maiden and I am supposed to wear longer locks?

Hair extensions!

Although most theaters have a variety of wigs available, I travel with clip-in hair extensions. This is often the quickest and easiest solution. Before my performance of Il Trovatore last Saturday, my fabulous hair stylist Kili prepared my mane:

First, she curled my hair into ringlets so that my straight hair would match the “wavy” extensions. Then she parted my actual hair (see left). And finally she added PutOnPieces synthetic clip-in extensions

I found them at a local beauty shop in L.A. for $29.99 but you can also buy them online.

I used the two-piece wavy system in the color “Golden Wheat,” which has subtle brown low-lights, but these wash out in the stage lights for a super blonde look. (My signature hair color.) They stayed in place beautifully; I sang a two-hour opera without worrying about my hair even once.

The clip combs are attached to the inner lining of the extensions on elastic bands so that they do not create an uneven line in your hair.  Just push the combs into your hair below the part and snap them shut:

And then allow the rest of your hair to fall naturally over the lining.

Now for a more contemporary look, I use straighter extensions with honey lowlights: And of course, you can always add in strands of red or brown (or purple or pink) if you want to add some cool highlights for a night out with your friends without frightening your boss the next morning. Just clip them in and unclip them when you’re done.

These extensions are fun and fast and they don’t damage your hair.  But those of us with sensitive hair do need to be a little more careful: I never sleep with my extensions, and I double condition my hair the next day. Never apply heat to synthetic extensions; only use your curling iron on human hair. Have fun!

Salzburg’s Brand of Magic

Salzburg is a magical place.

I could feel it even before my plane landed at Mozart Airport on Tuesday night. As soon as we entered Austrian airspace, my pulse got faster.  Like a little girl, I pressed my nose to the window to gaze at the twinkling lights of the Old City. I can’t help myself: I love this town.

When we landed, I grabbed my bags and ran outside to take a breath of cold Alpine air, which felt refreshing after last week’s heat wave in Los Angeles. I got in a cab and joked with the taxi driver in Austrian German. I couldn’t wait to get to the flat that I share with a friend here.

I had been away from Salzburg for four months but it felt like I had never left. When I finally arrived, I pulled my suitcases up the old marble stairs and saw my friends’ smiling faces framed in the doorway. It was a beautiful feeling. This is truly my second home.

This week, I have enjoyed readjusting to my bohemian Salzburg lifestyle.  My circle of friends here includes an extraordinary number of amazing musicians. As one might expect, we spend a lot of our time singing and dancing.  I stay up late into the night — singing and talking and laughing with my friends — and then I sleep until noon.  It’s really a perfect schedule for an artist with jet lag.

Living in Salzburg is a bit like living on the set of The Sound of Music. However, contrary to popular belief, the hills are not alive. They are freezing, like the rest of us, in the frosty autumn weather. But even so, this city is absolutely saturated with MUSIC! And I have some exciting musical plans for this fall.  So let the magic begin.

O Air Canada!

It’s unusual to fly to Salzburg via Vancouver, but it’s not quite as crazy as it seems.

Air Canada is the new hot airline if you’re looking for affordable tickets to Europe from the West Coast of the U.S.  As a frequent flyer on a budget, I am constantly on the lookout for good deals. And this is already the second time this year that Air Canada has been able to offer me a better price from L.A. to London than any other airline.

(AC partners with Tyrolean Airways, but I have found the best deals to Austria by switching to Lufthansa when I reach London.)

The in-flight experience is quite pleasant, as all of the Air Canada planes I’ve flown have been in mint condition.  The food is nothing to blog home about, but the service is very efficient.  Individual entertainment screens offer a wide selection of films from Hollywood and Paris. There is also an extensive audio library; they do not have a dedicated opera radio channel, but they do include several classical albums, including a complete recording of Schubert’s Winterreise!  I wish other airlines would feature German Lieder. I’m not sure if “Der stürmische Morgen” is what you want to hear at 30,000 feet if you’re already experiencing turbulence, but it’s still nice to have the option.

What makes an airline “opera friendly?”  Its radio selections, or the fact that it offers affordable fares?  Air Canada scores well on both counts, making it a great choice for traveling singers on a budget.

* vancouver international airport

The international lounge at YVR is an oasis of blue and green.   They have done a nice job with the British Columbian theme: I enjoyed gazing at totem poles while I was on the people mover, and crossing a log bridge on my way to passport control.  I was pleasantly surprised to find an enormous fish tank near the Arrivals/Departures Monitor, and a pottery exhibit at my gate. These little details make a long layover a bit more fun.

The airport offers free public wi-fi and well-placed electrical outlets, so that you can check your email, recharge your phone or even update your blog!

Now if you’re sleep-deprived because you’ve been singing opera all weekend, and you didn’t actually start packing until shortly before midnight, you’re going to want to get some coffee. There’s a Starbucks if you’re craving that grande non-fat salted caramel mocha. But if you’re pinching your Canadian pennies, you can get caffeinated at Tim Hortons for a quarter of the price. French Vanilla Cappuccino: $1.61

Fast food is available, from Pizza Hut to Subway, and there’s Hanami for sushi-on-the-go.  But if you’re not in a big rush, I recommend Milestone’s — they have a flat bread plate with delicious goat cheese and cranberries and a short stack of fresh hot naan!

Duty free shoppers will enjoy the wide selection of perfume, makeup and gourmet chocolate. There are also some fun touristy shops to explore, even if you’re not in the market for a stuffed moose wearing a knit sweater.  And if you are, so much the better.

The Hanging Jewelry Box

My favorite jewelry box is a miniature mahogany wardrobe that I picked up at a street market in Bangkok. The bejeweled doors and secret compartments make me feel like a Thai princess whenever I touch it. The wood shrinks and swells, and I have to open the drawers ever so slowly, so as not to disturb the tiny jade tiger who sits on the top of the box with his teeth bared. I carried this treasure across the Pacific in my lap, but it is far too fragile to come with me every time I board a plane.

 

When I travel, I use a hanging jewelry organizer instead. It is simple and functional and I got it on Amazon for just $7.42!

2 Minute Opera: Il Trovatore

I’m currently singing the role of Leonora in Verdi’s Il Trovatore. It’s an opera about gypsies, nuns, knights, ladies, passion, revenge & arson. Watch my own 2-minute synopsis of Il Trovatore:

(Don’t you just love how YouTube freezes your face in the strangest expressions? Oh, well.)

  • Title: Il Trovatore (The Troubadour)
  • Composer: Giuseppe Verdi
  • Libretto: Salvadore Cammarano & Leone Emanuele Bardare
  • First performance: Teatro Apollo, Rome, 1853
  • Takes place in: 15th century Spain

Come and join us for Verdi’s Il Trovatore with the Repertory Opera Company on Saturday, October 15 at 2 PM at First Christian Church in Pomona: 1751 N. Park Ave, Pomona, CA, 91768

Tickets available HERE

Getting Launched

When I was 20 years old, I ran off to Europe to become an opera singer.  It seemed like a good idea at the time…

Actually, it was a brilliant idea. I have never regretted that decision – that deliciously risky decision – to cross an ocean and follow a dream. Singing had become a physical need for me; I was literally hungry to sing.  I wasn’t sure if I had what it takes to be an opera star, but I just had to try.  And several years later, when I graduated from the Mozarteum in Salzburg with my master’s degree in opera performance, I was ready to conquer the world!

Of course, I had no idea how hard it would be.  Living out of a suitcase, auditioning for every new role, negotiating contracts, dealing with backstage politics, learning a ton of new music, trying to grow as an artist, and taking a LOT of day jobs to pay the bills… it can be a crazy lifestyle.

But it is also a beautiful way to live. I get to spend time in glamorous locations, singing gorgeous music with amazing people. What could be better than getting paid to sing your heart out?  And life is never boring when you are dipping in and out of various languages and cultures. So I want to share some of that joy with all of you, and include you in my daily craziness!

This week, I am singing the role of Leonora in Verdi’s Il Trovatore with Repertory Opera Company in Pomona, CA, while packing my bags for autumn in Austria. You see, I am now based in both Salzburg and Los Angeles, and this year, I have divided my time pretty evenly between the two places.

Salzburg and L.A. are my “home base(s)” while I travel around, performing and auditioning in other cities.  This means that I am a walking dictionary of travel information! Or perhaps a singing dictionary. Anyway, I will entertain you with the latest news about planes, trains, restaurants, museums, attractions and concerts — so that if you’re planning a trip to one of my destinations, you’ll find all kinds of useful details right here on my blog.

This fall, I have some fun travel plans and some exciting musical projects. But as any experienced traveler (or performer) knows, there may be some unanticipated hijinks. In fact, that’s all part of the fun! I’m sure that this blog will include plenty of hilarious adventures and misadventures as I sing my way around the world.

So sit back and enjoy the ride!