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!

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!

My Inner Italian

Fluency is a survival skill.

If you have a vague desire to become fluent in a language, you will probably fail. But if you need to be fluent, your brain will do whatever it takes to make that happen. Nothing can stop you.

I know this to be true.  This is the story of how I (briefly) became Italian.

When I moved to Italy in the spring of 2005, I stuck out like a sore thumb. You could tell I was a foreigner from a mile away. It wasn’t just my blonde hair and my H&M wardrobe; it was my whole way of being!  My gait, my mannerisms, my accent. Of course, it wasn’t obvious to everyone that I was American. Many people guessed that I was Swedish or German. But I was definitely not Italian.

Strangely, this came as a complete shock to me. Having lived in Austria for seven years, I already felt very much at home in Europe. I thought that I was good at adapting to new cultures. But I did not realize how much my comfort was tied to my northern European look. When I moved from Vienna to Florence, I suddenly stopped “blending in.”

Fortunately, I did speak some Italian. After all, I had been singing Italian opera for years! My education at the Mozarteum had included three years of Italian classes, and I had continued to study the language in Vienna.  But when I won a scholarship to study with Mirella Freni at her academy in Vignola, I discovered just how much Italian I didn’t know.

I remember my first night at school in Italy.  I was sitting at a long table in a local restaurant in Vignola with all of my classmates from the academy. I was at the middle of the table, so I could hear about four different Italian conversations going on around me. But I didn’t know what anyone was saying. I had made an effort to speak Italian all day long, but now it was after 10 PM, and I couldn’t even speak German and English anymore, let alone Italian. “I have to learn fast,” I thought to myself.  “I’m the only American at this school. I have to get comfortable in Italian as soon as possible.”

And amazingly, I did.  But I would never have succeeded without the help of my roommates. I was rooming with two extraordinarily talented young singers: Beatriz Diaz from Spain and Chiara Amarù from Palermo.  The three of us became the best of friends! Chiara was so kind and patient with us as she taught us to navigate her native language.  Together, we laughed and cried through the intricacies of Italian verbs.

But we only roomed together while we were at school in Vignola, and that was only one week out of each month.  The rest of the time, I lived in Florence, where I was working for Opera St Mark’s. I loved living in a city of history and art and culture, but I couldn’t get used to the fact that strangers were constantly approaching me! With my bright hair and touristy image, I attracted a lot of attention.

At first, I enjoyed chatting with people. But I got so tired of the question, “where are you from,” that I started to make up outlandish answers.  “I’m from Brazil,” I would say firmly. Or I might claim to be from Greece or Korea or Egypt.  This made the Italians laugh until they cried.  “Please, miss, where are you from?” they would ask as I passed them on the street. And I would reply, “Dalla Antartide. Non si vede?” (From Antarctica. Can’t you tell?)  It was my little joke.

Out of sheer necessity, I enrolled in Italian classes at the Istituto Italiano in Florence.  They have great intensive courses, with fun field trips! After a few months, I had earned certificates in advanced grammar and conversation and diction. I passed all my exams.

But the real test of my language skills came when I was asked to be the official interpreter at an opera master class taught by Sergio Bertocchi! Three students from Australia and Singapore had come to Italy to study with Maestro Bertocchi, and since I was the only native English speaker in residence at the academy, I would be their interpreter. I didn’t have too much trouble translating their voice lessons, or helping them order at the restaurant.  But I gulped when Maestro Bertocchi asked me to spontaneously translate his lecture on vocal anatomy and the philosophy of singing! Somehow, I managed to translate an hour-long graduate level lecture, but when it was over, I couldn’t remember a thing that Maestro Bertocchi had said.

Meanwhile, I worked very hard to create a life for myself in Florence.  I made friends in the local ex-pat community.  I bought a membership card for the Uffizi Museum so that I could look at great art every day. And I also got to know the churches of Florence very well: I worshiped in one, sang concerts in another, and practiced my music in a third!

Day by day, things began to change.  The people in my Florentine neighborhood started to accept me as one of their own.  The guys in the pizzeria nodded as I went by. I had a “regular” order at the caffè in the piazza.  I shopped in Italian stores and read Italian news. Once, I even got interviewed for a market research survey about Italian brand names!

But I didn’t realize just how Italian I had become until the day I moved back to the States.  My mother had come to Rome to help me move, and we were shoving all of my worldly possessions into the trunk of a taxi.  But the taxi driver, thinking that we were gullible tourists, charged us triple the usual rate. Naturally, I started to argue with the taxista in a loud voice, with my hands flying. The Italian language had become a part of me, gestures and all!  (Click here for a quick guide to Italian gestures.) I won the debate and got my money back, but then I looked over to find my mom suppressing giggles.  “I can’t help it,” she insisted. “My daughter sounds like Sophia Loren!”

So that is the story of how I became Italian, just for a little while.  It wasn’t a permanent change. After returning to the United States, I lost some of my italianità.  But every now and then, my inner Italian comes out!

My Italian side can be triggered by little things: the smell of oregano, the sound of a vespa, or an exquisite piece of Renaissance art. And suddenly I feel like I’m back under the Tuscan sun, my heels clicking on the cobblestones while I adjust my sunglasses and chatter away in Italian with my friends.

If you really want to learn Italian, make it a top priority! Then, get in touch with your Italian side. Eat Italian food. Argue with an Italian taxi driver. Read an Italian website. Listen to an Italian opera! Release your inner Italian. Arrivederci.

Why I Like Shiny Knights

I like knights in shining armor.

These days, medieval warriors get a bad rap. Their popularity has really gone down over the last two centuries. But that’s not fair.

Seriously. What maiden wouldn’t welcome a handsome champion with a sword, a shield and a swan?

In most German Romantic operas, the hero gets to be a hero.  He slays dragons, he fights for what’s right, and he lavishes attention on the ladies. It’s kinda nice!

Take the characters of Lohengrin and Elsa.  They could have used some marital counseling.  But their goodness is so refreshing.  Here are 3 things I like about the opera Lohengrin:

1. Virtue is hot

When Elsa first sees a vision of Lohengrin, she’s pretty excited about him.  She can tell that he’s one of the good guys. She sings,

In Lichter Waffen Scheine         In splendid, shining armour
ein Ritter nahte da,                   a knight approached,
so tugendlicher Reine              a man of such pure virtue
ich keinen noch ersah              as I had never seen before

Bad boys just don’t have that same appeal.  They’re a lot of fun in Act I, but then it all goes downhill. Who would choose the philandering Duke of Mantua over a noble knight? (Even Gilda regrets her choice. Sort of.)

2. Charity is cool

Lohengrin, the mysterious knight, shows up on a boat drawn by a swan. His quest is to find Elsa and fight for her innocence.

Have you noticed that international charity projects aren’t cool anymore? It’s considered arrogant and condescending if we want to improve somebody else’s quality of life. Our gifts are deemed culturally inappropriate. We can still send money to starving children, but we’re not allowed to feel good about it. If we do charity, it’s only because we have a hero complex.

As a world traveler, I know that it is essential to respect local cultures, and to honor the dignity of every person I meet.  I know that it is naïve to assume that other people need (or want) my help. I know that it is dangerous to launch a short-term service project that has no sustainable effect. I know that local problems usually have local solutions.

But I also know that problems are real. There is genuine suffering in the world. We can’t pretend it’s not there. And we have to do something about it. We need to respect cultural boundaries, but we must not use multiculturalism as an excuse for laziness!

Every charity project has flaws. But is it really better to stay home, hoard your cash and read an e-book?  That’s not the way to change the world. Sometimes, you have to take a risk. Grab your sword, call your swan, and get on that boat.

3. Chivalry is still alive

Lohengrin is kind to Elsa.  He’s not very forthcoming about his own past, but he’s very respectful of hers. He rescues her when she’s in distress.

I once had to be rescued by a lifeguard while swimming off the coast of California. The waves got too big for me. As a novice triathlete, I had made some poor decisions and I’d spent all my energy. I knew that I didn’t have enough strength to make it back to shore, so I waved to someone who did. (No, he wasn’t wearing a suit of armor.)

Getting rescued isn’t such a bad thing.  It doesn’t make me less powerful as a woman.  It means I needed some help. That’s all. We all need help sometimes. And I really appreciate being alive.

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not suggesting that we return to a tenth-century worldview. Or that women should only date Wagnerian tenors. 

I’m just challenging the idea that there is no value in medieval German legends. Lohengrin is only a story, but it has a compelling message. Heroic stories are very inspiring. The Dark Ages weren’t really that dark.  After all, some of those guys knew how to shine!

My Name in Japanese

Tokyo, 2005 ~ By the time I landed at Narita International Airport, I knew that something was wrong.

I felt sick, and this was very annoying, because I almost never get sick. In fact, people can usually count on me to “jump in” at the last minute to sing for sick colleagues.

But sinus headaches are my Achilles’ heel. Just before the plane took off, I had sensed a familiar throbbing between the eyes.  Then after thirteen hours of breathing airplane air, I was congested and my throat felt raw.

What a great way to start my first Japanese concert tour!

My friend and pianist, Ayako Watanabe, met me at the airport. She had planned the details of our tour. We were scheduled to perform eight concerts in twenty days.

I’ve mentioned Ayako before, but this was long before we ever performed in Moscow, Los Angeles, and Kathmandu together. Back in 2005, we had only recently graduated from the Mozarteum, and we had just given  a series of Liederabende (art song recitals) in Salzburg and Vienna. Now we wanted to “take our show on the road” and perform in Tokyo, Ayako’s hometown!

Our first rehearsal went well, but when I finally admitted that I “might” be getting sick, Ayako gasped. “Lindsay! That cannot happen.”

She took me straight to the doctor. As soon as we got there, she filled out my paperwork for me; people smiled when they heard us chatting in German. We took off our shoes before we sat down in the waiting room. I stuffed my big American feet into dainty little plastic slippers.

I was still admiring my plastic slippers when the nurse came to the door and called out, “Rin-Shee-San?”

“That’s me?” I exclaimed in German.  “My name is Rin-Shee?”

“Rinjii,” Ayako giggled. “I tried to spell it out in Japanese.”

“What’s my last name then? Is it still Feldmeth?” I asked.

“No, it sounds more like Perdometo,” Ayako said sweetly. I threw her a confused look as we followed the nurse inside. (I guess there are just too many consonant clusters in Feldmeth.)

The doctor gave me a combination of herbs and medicines and told me to take it easy. By the next day, I felt much better, but I was still a little weak.

Right before our first concert, I found a quiet spot backstage where I could lie down.  I rested there for a few minutes. When I opened my eyes, I saw an older gentleman looking down at me with a worried expression.

“¿Tienes fiebre?” he asked.  I decided that I must be delirious because it sounded like this nice Japanese man was speaking Spanish to me! “Me duele la cabeza,” I told him. My Spanish isn’t great, but it’s much better than my Japanese.

Later, Ayako explained that the owner of the concert hall was an excellent musician, himself, and that he had studied music in Spain.  Then it all made sense. My name was Rinjii and I was speaking Spanish in Tokyo. Stranger things have happened, right?

And I was still singing Mozart and Strauss. So at least that was familiar!

Once I got my strength back, I started to really have fun in Japan. Ayako is a fantastic tour guide.

I ate sushi. I got fitted for a kimono. I went on a river cruise. I saw Mount Fuji. I experienced the Chinatown in Yokohama. On a cold night in Kyoto, I even saw a geisha hurrying along the road.

One morning, we woke up to discover that it was snowing in Kyoto! The famous temple gardens were now frosted with snowflakes. It was dazzling. I have pictures, but they don’t do it justice. The scenes I tried to photograph were large and bright, so Ayako and I look like tiny black smudges against a pretty white world. But I still consider this once of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen in my life: a Japanese flower garden dusted with fresh fallen snow.

And of course, we had our music. Everywhere we went, our audiences were very warm and appreciative. We sang in some amazing venues and we felt humbled to receive several standing ovations. We even got to do some concerts with the Japanese violinist, Misai Takahashi.  It was an unforgettable tour.

But as soon as I got home to Austria, I made an appointment with a famous otolaryngologist.  I just wanted to be sure I hadn’t damaged my voice by singing that first concert when I was ill.  So I went to the doctor trusted by all of the singers at the Vienna State Opera, Dr. Reinhard Kürsten.

Dr. Kürsten examined my throat with his laryngoscope. It was hooked up to a TV screen so that he could give me a guided tour of my own larynx. “You’re fine!” he said cheerfully. “The voice looks very healthy. Nice, thick vocal cords. It’s a pleasure to look at them.”

The truth is that you can still sing when you have a slight cold, but you have to know how to protect your voice. My voice teacher, Horiana Branisteanu, had trained me very well for that contingency. She showed me how to take all unnecessary pressure off of my throat. In fact, I now teach singers and speakers how to protect their voices when they’re slightly ill.

So that’s the story of how I got my Japanese name.  If you want to know your own Japanese name, check out this website. Sayōnara!