Mission: Possible

It started when I was 19 years old. I was a college student, studying medieval literature, but I had a secret habit. Late at night, I would sneak into the basement of my dormitory to sing opera.

Singing gave me energy. Whenever I had to pull an all-nighter to study for a test or write a paper, I would go and practice first. If I sang for just one hour, I would have enough energy to stay up all night.

If I went for too many days without singing, I would get restless. Singing had become a physical need! I was literally hungry for music. And when I did sing, I felt a sensation of wild joy. It was a feeling that I couldn’t ignore.

So I ran off to Europe to become an opera singer. I left school and flew to Austria, where I sang my heart out on the stage of the Mozarteum in Salzburg. I was immediately accepted into a seven-year degree program in opera. That was the beginning of my adventure.

When I followed my bliss all the way to Salzburg, I had a very clear sense of mission. I dared to entertain the idea that God… Read More

Full Post at iCadenza

the White Nights of St Petersburg

Here in Los Angeles, the sun will set over the ocean at  precisely 8:02 PM this evening. I’m sure it will be spectacular.

But in St Petersburg, Russia, the sun will not set until just before midnight. When you are that far north, summer days never end. June is a magical time in St Petersburg, when nighttime only lasts a few hours, and the darkness isn’t very dark.

Back in June 2007, I got to experience the famous “White Nights” of St Petersburg. I was in Russia to compete in the XIII International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, an unforgettable experience.

But since my father had been invited to St Petersburg as a  guest professor, I decided to go there first. After all, this was my chance to experience the Winter Palace, the Hermitage, and the Mariinsky Theatre. Like any musician preparing for a major competition, I would spend several hours a day practicing… but why stay home when I could just as easily practice my music in this glorious city?

Instead of just singing Tchaikovsky arias, I got inside them. I stood at the very place where Liza throws herself into the river Neva in the final act of Queen of Spades. I sang inside a Russian church. I practiced reading the Cyrillic alphabet as I walked around the city, slowly sounding out words like интернет (internet) and ресторан (restaurant).

I strolled down Nevsky Avenue almost every day, visiting every cathedral and every shopping mall. I took a canal cruise. I saw DaVinci’s Madonna Litta at the Hermitage. I went to Dostoyevsky’s house. I attended the Kirov ballet. I toured the czar’s Summer Palace.

But there was one thing I still had to do: I desperately wanted to see a Tchaikovsky opera at the Mariinsky Theatre. I had tickets for Eugene Onegin.

I was staying with my parents in a little budget hotel called the Vyborgskaya. We were living in cramped quarters and it wasn’t very clean.  It had been an especially hard day; my dad had injured his foot, so walking around town was not very comfortable. We’d had to wait in long lines to buy subway tickets, and whenever we finally got to the front of the line, the clerk would pull out the “technological difficulties” sign and disappear! I was also feeling a little queasy because I had eaten a questionable meat pie at a local bakery. But I was still looking forward to the opera.

When we got back to the hotel, we were informed that we had to change rooms unexpectedly.  The maids had already begun to move our luggage out into the hall to make room for another guest! Meanwhile, we had been assigned to an even smaller room, featuring three little cots and one coffee table. There was no time to be outraged about any of this because in all the confusion, we were now late for the opera.

We stood outside the hotel in despair, trying to flag down a taxi at rush hour.  Finally, a friend asked us if we would be willing to take an “unofficial” taxi. We shrugged and said yes. Our friend told the driver to take us to the opera house… as fast as possible. And that’s how we ended up climbing into a strange unmarked car.

Before we could fasten our seat belts, the car sped off with a screech of tires. Our driver zigzagged around corners and through intersections at breathtaking speed. I had never flown across a suspension bridge that fast. (Of course, I had not yet experienced traffic in Kathmandu.) We were speechless, but this pirate taxi driver took his assignment very seriously: he had been told to get us to the Mariinsky as fast as possible. And he did.

We were dizzy when we got out of the car, but we did make it there on time.  The driver was grinning from ear to ear. We gratefully handed him some extra rubles for his race car skills. Finally, we stumbled inside the gorgeous auditorium with its rich interior and blue plush velvet seats.

And the music was electrifying. What could be better than hearing a Russian orchestra play Tatyana’s letter scene? I don’t think I can describe the sound of the violins surging with perfect Slavic passion. There are no words for that. It was an exquisite performance.

And even after all of that, we still made it back to the hotel well before sunset. I remember the sunlight shining on the river as we drove back across town.

So whenever June rolls around, I always think about the White Nights of St Petersburg… and my wild ride to the Mariinsky!

Listen to Your Life

Life doesn’t always go according to plan. When I graduated from the Mozarteum in Salzburg, I did not expect to create an opera festival in Nepal. That was not part of my “five-year plan” for launching my career. But in the summer of 2009, due to a very unusual chain of events, I found myself singing and teaching in Kathmandu!

Just a few months earlier, I had been struggling to survive in New York City. My master’s degree in opera was framed on the wall, but I was not getting enough “opera gigs” to pay the rent. So I took a day job with a non-profit organization called Hope Partnership Nepal.

While working for HPN, I learned that Nepal is a beautiful country that has been ravaged by civil war and political upheaval. Most Westerners are completely unaware… Read More

Full post at icadenza.com

Soprano in NorCal

Watch out — I just showered some high notes on Northern California!

I was invited up north for a couple of auditions. Auditioning is a funny thing. A typical opera audition only lasts about 10 minutes.

That’s enough time to sing two or three arias, and have a quick chat with the casting director. Opera singers will often travel for days to get their 10 minutes onstage!

And we plan our audition tours very carefully to ensure that we will have “a good ten minutes.”  We eat well, we sleep well, we save our energy, we warm up our voices and we focus our minds… all so that we can be dazzling when we step into the spotlight.

But what happens when the audition is over?  That’s when it’s time to relax and have fun! Whenever I audition in a new city, I just love to go exploring. So without further ado, here are my latest travel tips:

Sacramento

* California State Capitol Museum – Inside the magnificent capitol building, you can take a 45-minute tour emphasizing Californian history and politics. Unfortunately, there is no coatroom where you can leave your luggage, so I had to drag my little pink suitcase through the entire State Legislature, into the Senate, through the Assembly, up into the cupola, down into the basement, past the Governor’s office, and out into the gardens. But I had a great time.

* Old Sacramento – This historic part of town has an Old West atmosphere. There are several Gold Rush exhibits nearby; in fact, this would have been a better setting for the ill-fated Gold Rush tour that I took in San Francisco in January.

* Sacramento International Airport – Don’t ask me why there is a huge red rabbit suspended from the ceiling of the Sacramento Airport. It’s artistic, and it’s fun, and that’s good enough for me. In fact, there are a lot of fun surprises in Terminal B, including WI-FI lounges and a massage bar.  If you want a bite to eat, I can recommend the Gateway Bar, which features cushioned sofas, a selection of California wines, and a really amazing Greek sandwich (the “Icon,” a heavenly combination of gyro meat, lamb gravy, and tzatziki).

San Jose

* San Jose Museum of Art – if you like contemporary art, you’ll love this colorful collection.  And if you simply need to take a break, you can sit beneath the palm trees in the outdoor plaza, or visit the museum shop and café inside.

* Extended Stay Deluxe Hotel (San Jose) –  My suite included a kitchen, a desk, a queen-sized bed, a sofa, a TV, and a washroom with a full bathtub. I also had access to the swimming pool, the jacuzzi, the fitness room (mostly cardio, no free weights),  and free ensuite high-speed internet. The hotel has plenty of parking, and is located just one mile from the airport and two blocks from the nearest light-rail station. The Bay Area isn’t cheap, and it can be tough to find affordable accommodations in a town where it costs $15 just to open the door of a taxi cab!  But this hotel fit neatly into my travel budget.

Norman Mineta San Jose International Airport deserves a shout-out from the Globetrotting Soprano because it is the only airport I have ever seen that has live piano music in the baggage claim area! That’s pretty impressive in and of itself.

And that’s all for today. Have a great weekend!

Superior Vocal Health

How do singers stay in peak vocal condition?

“Water, sleep, and good technique!”

That’s what I always tell my students. But what about throat sprays? Do they really work?

To be honest, I don’t trust every throat spray on the market. I’m skeptical of anything that claims to improve vocal quality. Even when I’m ill, I rely on my vocal technique to get me through a performance.  Technique is a singer’s first line of defense!

But there are days when your throat gets attacked by allergies, cold viruses, air conditioning, altitude and humidity. Is there a throat spray out there that can make those days a little easier? Yes, there is.

I’ve just discovered a line of all-natural products by Superior Vocal Health.  These organic herbal formulas were created by a professional singer, so they are specifically designed for singers. And they work.

1. Throat Saver (spray). Throat saver is a refreshing spray with a sweet, minty taste. It moistens the throat, reduces mucus, and boosts immunity. It’s safe enough to be used several times a day, in between rehearsals.

As a frequent flyer, I notice that my mouth gets dry after several hours on an airplane. So there is already a special place for Throat Saver in my flying pharmacy, the little medicine kit that travels with me whenever I get on a plane.

2. Sinus Clear Out  (tongue dropper application).  One April day, I woke up with a miserable headache behind my eyes. My nasal passages were swollen and painful. After putting two small drops of Sinus Clear Out on the back of my tongue, I was overwhelmed by the taste of horseradish and alcohol! But just 9 minutes later, my headache was completely gone. (It’s rare for any sinus medication to work that fast!) Within thirty minutes, my Eustachian tubes were clear and my nose was back to normal. Since I suffer from chronic sinus allergies, I was absolutely amazed. This is seriously good stuff.

3. Vocal Rescue (gargle). This gargle solution combines Turmeric with ginger and honey to soothe a sore throat.This is made for more serious conditions like laryngitis or tonsillitis. It can also save your voice from wear and tear during an intense performance schedule. But please do not swallow; Vocal Rescue is only to be used as a gargle.

Of course, this is great news for singers. But it is just as exciting for actors, professors, politicians, and for anyone who does a lot of public speaking. Just remember that everyone’s body chemistry is a little bit different, so you may react differently. I strongly suggest that you do not use any medication in a vocal emergency until you have first tried it on a non-performance day. But take the time to experiment with these formulas. I think you’ll find that they are safe and effective.

Personally, I’m very careful about what I put in my throat, so I might never have discovered these products if I hadn’t received free samples for the Globetrotting Soprano. But at $19.95, they are reasonably priced, and I have been genuinely impressed by the results. I’ll be buying more.

As a traveling opera singer, I need to stay in peak vocal condition. Most of the time, I can rely on my health and my technique.  But there are days when I need an extra boost, and that’s when it’s nice to know about Superior Vocal Health.

Upcoming Concert in L.A.!

Please join me on Sunday, May 13th at 4 PM at the First Presbyterian Church of San Pedro for a springtime concert.

There will be some fun surprises, including special guests and exciting music. It’s Mother’s Day, so treat your mom to something special, a bouquet of MUSIC AND ROSES!!!

Our festival of spring will include a wide variety of songs, arias, opera scenes and concert pieces. Works by Puccini, Verdi, Schubert, Bartok and more! At the piano, you’ll experience the award-winning Romanian pianist Bogdan Dulu!

Don’t miss this! Meet us on Sunday, May 13 at 4 PM at:

First Presbyterian Church of San Pedro, 731 S. Averill Avenue, San Pedro, California. Admission is free. Donations will benefit the church music program.

Opera Therapy

Why does music make us feel better?

Do sound waves actually have healing properties?

Opera is medicinal, and not just because there are sometimes “doctors” onstage! In this image, Dr. Dulcamara dispenses potions to Nemorino (Robert McPherson) in Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore. But there is serious evidence that music plays an important role in physical and mental health.

Music therapy has produced some exciting results. The Los Angeles Times recently reported that music therapy can reverse the symptoms of a wide variety of disorders, from dyslexia to Parkinson’s. It even improves the outcomes of patients with brain trauma!

In the ancient world, no one questioned the link between music and medicine.  The ancient Greeks treated patients with melodies, and they considered Apollo the god of both healing and music. Traditional Chinese medicine used particular pitches to heal diseases; in fact, the Chinese word for medicine comes from the word for music!  And in the Bible, David practices a form of music therapy when he soothes King Saul’s rage with his harp.

Thousands of years later, music therapy still has a profound effect on mental health. It can even help victims of severe emotional abuse. My talented cousin, Devon Feldmeth, will be doing drama and music therapy with orphans and former child soldiers in Uganda this summer! Click here to learn more about her project.

In Tibet, healers use sound bowls to cure their patients of both physical and emotional distress. At this clinic in Thailand, singing sound bowls are a part of therapy. The vibration is meant to restore the body’s natural balance.

But it is a misconception that music therapists only use the type of  “new age” music you might hear in an incense-scented massage room.  Sometimes, the very best results happen when the therapist plays the music that the patient loves most.  Watch this dramatic transformation when an elderly man listens to his favorite songs:

In Sweden, some opera singers make house calls!  If you are depressed in Stockholm, you can apply to have an opera singer come and sing an aria for you in your living room.  The arias are from traditional operatic literature and they are chosen to address certain emotions and situations.  The program has been especially effective for couples who want to resolve conflict. It’s called Opera Aid.

As a group, opera singers tend to believe in the healing power of the human voice!  We actually “self-medicate” by singing, and we find joy and energy in our music every day. Is this because of the emotion in the music?  Or is it the vibration of the frequencies that we sing? Or does singing really soften the soul?  Whatever the reason, music is pretty powerful stuff.

So next time you’re feeling under the weather, try some opera therapy! Crank up the Puccini, or ask your favorite singer to give you a live performance. You might just find that music is therapeutic, both in the sound itself, and in the space between the notes. “Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.” William Congreve

Living Outside the Box

When I tell people that I’m an opera singer, they often gasp in surprise. That’s because most people don’t think opera is a real job. I might just as easily have said that I’m a dragon slayer or an alchemist.

And then, when I tell them that I don’t belong to a company, but travel around the world performing as a soloist, they get even more excited. Finally, they ask me if I’m famous, but… Read more

Full post at www.icadenza.com

Photo by cutebabiespictures.com

the Parasailing Soprano

Have you ever tried to sing while flying over the ocean?

Last July, I  wanted to do something special for my birthday.

So I convinced my friends to go parasailing!  The perfect California adventure.

Flying was my childhood fantasy.  I always longed for the freedom of flight, without the help of an airplane. What could be better than the sensation of gliding effortlessly through the air?

The sensation of falling is not quite so much fun, which is why skydiving has never interested me.  Hang gliding would be an option, but it requires some real training. Parasailing, on the other hand, requires no particular skills. The desire to fly is enough!

We all felt giddy as we launched our boat from Balboa Pier.  This was really happening! Our guides from Catalina Parasail had given us some serious life preservers. Sitting on the edge of the boat, strapped into a harness with two of my friends, I had a brief moment of “flight fright.”

But the fear disappeared as soon as the parachute lifted us up into the air.   The sensation of flying was so much more gentle than I had expected it to be! It was almost hypnotic. Twelve hundred feet in the air, we glided peacefully (and noiselessly) above the water. We also had a panoramic view of Newport Beach.  It was breathtaking.

On our way back down, the guides thought it would be funny to dunk us in the ocean before bringing us back to the boat.  This came as a surprise! Swooping down into the water like a pelican, I felt like I was hugging the Pacific. It was one of the best moments of the trip.

We finally landed back on the boat with a little thud.  It was time to compare notes with our other friends. “Did you sing up there?” one of them asked.  “Oh no!” I exclaimed. “I forgot!  I yelped some high notes when we first launched, but they were unintentional.”

To make room for the next group of parasailors, we transferred into a smaller boat. But as we made our way back into the harbor, the outboard motor died. And while we were waiting to get ‘rescued’ by a dinghy, the conversation turned to opera. Our guide mentioned that he really likes the Ride of the Valkyries.

My friends happily explained that they had brought an opera singer along. They asked me to sing Brünnhilde’s Battle Cry as entertainment while we waited.  My high C’s bounced off the surface of the water.  We saw some people on the shoreline spin around in confusion. Because of the accoustics of water, it was hard for them to tell where the sound was coming from.  We all laughed together, imagining a new staging of the Ring Cycle where the valkyries arrive on parasails instead of stallions.

I love to sing while I’m out in nature.  It gives me a feeling of pure freedom. And I really like that feeling. It’s why I still chase my wildest dreams, like flying.

All in all, it was a perfect day: fun, friends, and parasailing! I even got to sing on the water.  I have not yet planned my next birthday adventure, but I welcome your suggestions!