Cruising with Mickey Mouse

What could be better than sailing the high seas on a luxurious cruise with… your favorite cartoon mouse?

Last week, I enjoyed a dream  vacation aboard the Disney Wonder, cruising from Vancouver to San Francisco to Los Angeles.

This fantastic trip was completely unexpected. It all began a few weeks ago, when I got a phone call from my talented friend, Tiffany Sparks-Keeney. Tiffany and I are friends from way back, and her expert knowledge of kinesiology (and its impact on singing opera) will be the subject of many blog posts to come. But she wasn’t calling about work; she was asking me if I wanted to join her (and her adorable 9-month-old baby) on a 7-day cruise.  It took me about 3 seconds to say, “YES, PLEASE!”

This was my first cruise and I have to say that it was nothing short of amazing. There were three (yes, three!) swimming pools on the top deck. Because this was a Disney cruise, the entertainment was top notch. The cast and crew were fantastic, and we were treated like royalty the entire time. In seven short days, I got used to having delicious food and relaxing spa treatments. When it was finally time to disembark, I didn’t want to leave!

Sadly, there were no scheduled opera performances.  But on our final night, I got up on stage and sang “Vissi d’arte” to a very appreciative audience — I guess nobody expected Tosca to show up on a Disney cruise! 😉

I especially enjoyed the international flair of the cruise.  More than 50% of the guests were Canadian, but the crew came from all over the world. I had a chance to chat with new friends in German, Italian, French and Nepali. (I only remember a few phrases in Nepali, but I was able to use them all!)

Since I do a lot of my “globetrotting” for work, it was especially nice to have a relaxing vacation with a good friend.  Thank you, Tiffany! It was magical.

the Art of Listening

Opera doesn’t always prepare you for real-life situations. My education in stagecraft did not include many “practical skills,” unless you include sword-fighting and swooning.  I certainly know how to: a) fall in love with a tenor b) go insane c) die of grief or d) slay an enemy. But if there are no tenors or enemies in my general vicinity, I sometimes feel unprepared.

Baby photo from hearos.com

On the other hand, opera does teach you how to listen well, and that turns out to be a very important life skill.

Listening has become a lost art. Our world is full of wonderful distractions like smartphones and nanospeakers. Multi-tasking is the norm; we need laws to prevent people from texting and driving at the same time! We communicate with everybody, but it’s hard to give anybody our full attention. We’re talking more… but listening less.

Musicians have one key advantage in this situation: we already know how to focus our attention on sound. We’ve learned to identify pitches, intervals, melodies, chords, and rhythms without any visual cues. We’ve analyzed thousands of hours of music. We take our “ear training” very seriously!

Just think of a concert violinist, alone in her practice room, drawing her bow across a string.  The intensity of her concentration is absolute.  If she notices the tiniest inconsistency in the vibration… READ MORE
Full post at www.icadenza.com

Outdoor Opera

Opera doesn’t only happen in opera houses.

Don’t get me wrong — I love opera houses.  When I lived in Italy, I embarked upon my own personal “Opera House Tour,” visiting famous opera houses from Milan to Palermo. I have nothing against sweeping staircases, painted ceilings, gilded ornamentation, glittering chandeliers and plush velvet seats. The acoustics in many opera houses are wonderful. And there is a special joy in singing to a house full of opera lovers!

But opera is a thriving and dynamic art form; it cannot be contained! People are singing opera everywhere these days: on lakes, in parking garages, and in Swedish living rooms. Travis Pratt even sings Rossini in elevators.

Personally, I love to sing outdoors. Some of my favorite concerts have been outside: on a Hawaiian beach, in a friend’s backyard, in the middle of the Sequoia National Forest, and in the courtyard of an ancient museum in Nepal.  I occasionally sing while kayaking and parasailing.

For me, there is something thrilling about singing to the ocean.  Last week, I went beach camping with my family near Santa Barbara.  It was a wonderful vacation, but I didn’t really have anywhere to sing.  So one afternoon, I hiked up on a a little cliff and sang Gershwin to the sea: “Summertime, and the livin’ is easy…” It felt great to sing in the open air.  And at the end of my aria, I was rewarded with applause from the beach below! My audience consisted of 1 snorkeler, 2 kayakers,  a few hikers, and several seagulls.  Spontaneous concerts can be fun.

Opera is everywhere. 🙂