Joan Sutherland died. =…(
I’m so sad! I just knew this would happen soon. Ever since I was informed of her gardening accident during my run of Daughter of the Regiment, I just knew it didn’t look good. I really, really wanted to interview her for Classical Singer, but didn’t know how to get ahold of her or anyone who worked for her. I asked a conductor I’d worked with who knew her- actually I think I asked him twice, if he had any leads, any idea who to ask, and he never got back to me. I mean, since she wasn’t singing anymore, she didn’t have a whole team of agents and managers and PR people that I could go through. I’m not saying I exhausted my resources- I probably could have called the press office at the Met and asked them what I should do, but I’ve had bad luck with them in the past, when I had legitimate reasons for them to call me back- I didn’t imagine I would have better luck asking them to help out just as a favor. (That said, I did once call Opera News with a random question and they were awesome about it and helped me out.)
It was just- I knew the end was approaching, and she was really, really, truly, one of the greats. Of ALL TIME. Like, top 5 on probably any list. And I just wanted to get her words for young singers. I knew she would have amazing things to say. But, no contacts were forthcoming in my initial inquiries, so I put it on the back burner until something seemed to come up, which it never did, and now it’s too late.
Joan Sutherland- she was a problem. A big problem for people like me- for sopranos everywhere, really.
It’s not just in a generic way, like “she was so good no one could live up to her.” I mean, there are plenty of other singers you could ostensibly say that about, but no, they didn’t ruin soprano’s lives the way Dame Joan did.
See, we opera singers, and ESPECIALLY we sopranos, are divided up into different “Fachs” or categories of voice types, which correspond to the roles we sing. You can have a big loud voice, or you can have a luscious pretty voice, or, if you’re like me, you can have a really high voice that does stunts.
The casting directors used to have to choose.
Then Sutherland happened. She had all of those things. She had a big, loud, luscious, pretty, high voice that did stunts.
And then the maestri, the artistic directors, the public- they didn’t have to choose anymore. Now the sound they heard in their minds’ ears when they pictured a coloratura was larger, richer- and still with extreme high notes and flawless coloratura. Why should they settle for a cute little voice, when there were people like Joan out there?
Of course, she was the only Sutherland, but I’ve always felt that there was a shift there. That she single-handedly ended the era that featured Lily Pons and Amelita Galli-Curci. Of course I’m over-simplifying and scape-goating, but that was how it was explained to me as a music student, and it stayed with me. It was the “reason people don’t want to hire you to sing bel canto.” And it’s pretty much held true- to this date I have starred in only one bel canto opera, La Fille du Régiment- and that’s sort of an exception, it is more traditionally associated with sprightly coloraturas than, say, Sonnambula or Puritani. Plus, it’s in French, for which I have a leg up over other American sopranos.
She screwed things up for larger voices too- the bar had been raised. Sutherland can sing insanely fast and flawless coloratura, why can’t YOU?
So I hated Joan Sutherland. Except you can’t. She’s too awesome.
On the surface, she never made my short list of favorite singers. Besides having a bone to pick with her about my career (being a small-voiced coloratura), I tend to gravitate towards singers I can relate to on a musical level- people with voices more akin to my own. My CD players during my musical formative years were stocked with Lily Pons, Amelita Galli-Curci, Beverly Sills, Sumi Jo- people who were not mistaken for Wagner singers early in their careers. But the truth is, I never sang one of Sutherland’s roles without consulting her recording. OK, without buying her recording and listening to it over and over and over again because it’s so great you can’t tear yourself away.
To me and to probably more sopranos than anyone else, Sutherland represented the unattainable ideal. And she maintained this position with distinct imperfections. Most obviously, her diction. One – two?- of my voice teachers, trying to kick my legato in the ass, used to say, “You don’t have to get that hung up on pronunciation. Look at Sutherland- nobody ever understood a word she sang, and it didn’t stop her!” She was not commended for her acting abilities- and is one of the singers you know are being referred to whenever someone complains about how “opera singers of yesterday couldn’t act.” And her looks- being tall is great for models but bad for sopranos, as it leaves you towering over your often-shorter tenor. Plus she had a huge, wide jaw that made her a bit odd-looking. Of course many who fell in love with her voice fell in love with her face as well.
So, Dame Joan in Heaven (you get to keep your titles when you get your harp and wings, right?) a sarcastic “thank you” for making my career more difficult than it already is, and a heartfelt “thank you” for being the greatest soprano of our lifetime.
Now’s the part where I obligatorily paste a YouTube video. There are a couple going around today, her Lucia, her Norma- I’m more of a Lucia-lover, and since so many of my readers are not opera people, this clip shows everything that’s amazing about her.
Hey! I am mega overdue to speak with you. I never even finished writing about my trip that was over almost a month ago. I’ve had lots of ideas for things I wanted to blog about but haven’t felt inspired to sit down and write any of them.
But lots of people are asking me about Germany so I feel like I should wrap that up for you.
You were there for an audition tour, right?
Sorta. I originally wanted to do that, but couldn’t really pull it together in time and under the circumstances, so I was considering it more of an audition preview. So I just did a few very minor auditions, worked on my German, met some cool people, wrote an article for Classical Singer, checked out the city, had some coachings, did a little circus training, oh and jaunted over to Paris just ’cause it’d been too long.
Are you going back?
I don’t know yet, it depends on the sublet situation on both continents.
Did you play any gigs?
Yes, I played a gig at my friend’s art gallery, MMX. I hadn’t realized at first that a girl I had worked with at Pink Inc. had moved to Berlin and helped found an art gallery there. So once I found out she was there too, I swung by the gallery and hung out, and they mentioned they were still looking for someone to play their closing at the end of the month. I was hesitant at first, because I was so far out of practice with guitar (as has gotten me into trouble before, I only practice when I have a specific gig coming up), and I hadn’t brought anything with me- no instrument, no equipment, no CD’s, no merch, no publicity materials, no charts. But I thought it would be cool to have my Berlin debut so I eventually offered. They lent me a guitar and had a PA system so it worked out. The gig ended up being a little weird because, since the crowds were all congregating outside in the garden, they suggested I play out there, but just about when I started, night finally hit (comes late in Berlin in the summer) and it got dark and cold very suddenly and people went inside, leaving me playing outside with no light and no amplification. So not that many people really ended up hearing my whole set, and I didn’t have any CD’s to sell and there was no pay, so I don’t know if the gig did me any good or not. Only two people approached me afterwards, one who wanted to use my music in a movie he was working on whom I haven’t heard from, and one who loved my set and was gung-ho determined to order my album online since I didn’t have any with me, whom I also haven’t heard from (and who hasn’t ordered it- I have few enough customers that I can keep track!). But I got to have my Berlin debut, and play some guitar which always ends up being fun once I really get down to it, and it was a fun little project for the end of my trip!
So as for “how it went,” it was a good trip. Love Berlin. The month was a little weird for me because for part of it I just did not have enough structure- even though I’m self-employed, vast stretches of free time are not a part of my vocabulary. And then the latter part of the month I was pretty slammed. So I guess it was unbalanced, and could have been fixed if I’d gotten off my ass in the first couple days and organized my plans- start right away organizing the interview for CS, set up coachings, get in touch with people to hang out with, instead of laying in bed “adjusting.” But to be fair it took me awhile to get my phone and internet going.
As for singing and auditioning, the feedback I got was extremely varied, but it all hinged on “There’s no positions available in your Fach right now and there’s 1000000 people in line for those 0 positions.” Ah, the curse of the coloratura. We have to sing circles around everyone else, but still can’t get hired. Actually, you know what would be a really fun research project? Take a handful of standard audition arias, of the same length but of different Fachs, and literally count how many notes each singer has to sing. Like, a 3 minute full lyric soprano aria versus a 3 minute light lyric coloratura soprano aria. Of course the coloratura soprano will generally have more (generally, because there is florid singing in most Fachs, not just ours), but I’d like to see an actual ratio. Hm, that could be a potential article, or at least blurb.
Hi! I just had the most amazing weekend in Santa Fe. Well it was Sunday-Thursday, but it had the feeling like a long weekend.
It was so great. Like, all of it. It was just so great! I usually temper my enthusiasm more than that, but it was really one of the best vacations I’ve ever taken, even though I was working like the whole time. It was all work I love.
It was my first time in the Southwest. I’ve been to Vegas plenty, and Denver for one day, but that’s it. It was so beautiful!!! I have a thing for mountains. I guess from growing up in the Midwest, where there aren’t any! But I just feel so great when I see a mountainous landscape, and the scenery around Albuquerque and New Mexico was amazing.
The weather was great. The first two days it rained on-and-off, but it was never overwhelming. It rained and then it stopped. The sky is so big and long there that even when it’s raining you can see the clear skies in the distance.
I was staying with the son of the producer of the opera I’m doing this summer. He’s a producer, like a producer of like albums, not a producer of like operas. He and his girlfriend were cool, we all went out to a big dinner the first night and they introduced me to New Mexico cuisine, which is its own thing. We had a vegetarian dish called Chiles rellenos which was delicious and didn’t resemble anything else.
Albuquerque I was only in very briefly, it was pretty but I didn’t see much- just had some coffee in the Old Town (is that what it’s called?) before heading to Santa Fe to meet my hosts. Santa Fe was a great town. The Plaza was wayyyy to touristy for me, but once you got away from there the town was just right. What does it remind me of? Maybe Cusco, Peru? Drastic mountains, indiginous people alongside non, tons of tourists but they don’t own the town, lots of local crafts, nice weather, a little altitude chill at night.
Monday I swung by the Opera just to introduce myself. Everyone was so nice! They were going to give me a personal tour, but at that point it was raining so we decided to hold off. That night I played in a sort of open mic at the Tin Star Saloon. It wasn’t really that much of an open mic, though. It was more of one big pick-up band playing standardy stuff. But they let me play solo, so I played a couple songs (they told me as many as I wanted, I played three and they insisted on a fourth- that never happens in actual open mics!), and spent the rest of the time hanging out and chatting. I really liked the people I met. I tried to rustle up an audience for my gig Tuesday, though most of the people I talked to told me they couldn’t come but would talk me up to their friends.
Tuesday was the big day- my interview with Natalie Dessay AND my gig at the Santa Fe Brewing Company Pub & Grill. I hardly slept, though I’m not sure if that’s because I was nervous (very rare for me) or because I had slept 13 hours the night before and couldn’t get on a real-person schedule.
I got to the opera house early for my personal guided tour. Everything is outside! The theatre, all the rehearsal spaces, the cafeteria seating. They have a pool, too. I saw a lot of rehearsals- a really, really promising-sounding Don Giovanni on the mainstage, Alceste with Christine Brewer, and The Letter (a world premier) with Patricia Racette. I should have done my homework- if I’d realized what amazing people were hanging out on “campus,” I could have knocked off a bunch of interviews on one trip! Seriously, it seems like Santa Fe is the place to be this summer.
My host had lent me an insane recording device, the Zoom H4, and I totally totally have to NEED TO buy one, like NOW. It was amazing. I tested it in my room and the sound was shockingly clear. Only problem is it looks like a taser- I’m afraid I’d have problems bringing it on airplanes… Anyways it took me forever to get it set up in a way where I could just leave it on the table, but it wouldn’t pick up too much background noise (it was lunchtime and the whole organization was sitting around the Cantina chatting over “Frito pie”), so I’m glad I had extra that time to get set up.
Natalie Dessay came with her husband, Laurent Naouri- I invited him to join us but he was checking his email. Anyways I spoke to them both in French just to impress them, but we conducted the interview in English.
First thing was I gave Mme Dessay a gift- this French book based on the Dialogues of the Carmelites story that’s so obscure I can’t even find so much of an image of it online. (It’s called “Autres dialogues des Carmelites, qui suivent pas-a-pas le cheminement historique” and it’s a more historically accurate retelling of the story.) Something I bought at the esoterica branch of the used bookstore chain Gilbert Jeune in Paris, randomly discovered half off on the outside clearance rack. I read it and really enjoyed it, and since I had read that Mme Dessay wanted to sing the role of Blanche, I thought she’d be interested. I was right on all accounts- she did a double-take at the book, having never heard of it before, and we talked about the opera and her intentions of singing it.
So then we had the interview, I asked her about Traviata and everything I’d been wanting to ask her. We talked a lot about acting, since I knew that’s what she’s most interested in. I was hesitant to bring up her nodes and subsequent surgery from several years ago, but she brought it up herself twice before I even thought of it, so finally I went with it. The most interesting things she said were about that, but you’ll have to wait for the article to read it!
I usually conduct really long interviews, but I felt that I had asked all the questions I wanted to before half an hour was up. So I let her go, giving her my card in case she had anything to add. When she saw that I was a singer too, she became instantly interested. This was the most surprising thing of all for me. Instead of being like, “Oh yes of course, another singer, I’m surrounded by 50 other singers right now and I’m being interviewed about singing for a singer magazine, whatever,” she became like intensely interested in asking me about my career and stuff. I’m not sure if it’s because she’s interested in how young American singers make their careers (we had talked about American training and opp0rtunities young singers) or if she just had an intuition about me (if only she knew how much we have in common!), but she asked me a lot of questions, and seemed genuinely interested in my story. I tried not to talk about myself too much (I usually try not to let on at first to anyone how insane my life is because it’s just too much to process), but I couldn’t help but answer her inquisitive gaze with some nuggets, musical and otherwise. As a result, we kinda made some plans for next time she’s in New York in the Spring. Sweet. But yeah it was so touching how much she seemed genuinely interested. The most brilliant people I know, though, are fascinated by other human beings. So I guess it makes sense.
She took off suddenly when her husband established a Skype connection with I-don’t-know-who, and I followed her interview up with a briefer one with David Holloway. I’m working on an article about directors who want singers to move around when they act versus those who want you to stand still, and stuff like that. That can all be done by email, but I figured, since I was there, and I do like to talk to people face-to-face, I might as well kill two birds with one stone. So I asked the press office if there was someone I could talk to, and they recommended Mr. Holloway. They were right- he was totally intense. And gave me exactly the information I needed. Wait for the article, people!
Since the interview with Dessay was so short, I managed to transcribe the entire thing before leaving for my gig.
There was almost no one at the Pub and Grill, but two tourists came in in time to hear my set. They were so enthusiastic- one laughed so hard during “The Reason” that I almost lost it myself- that they wouldn’t let me leave the stage when my set was long since over. I played every song I knew, plus some opera arias. They totally made the night worth it, they were so fun. I hung out with them afterwards, while I enjoyed my free beer and sandwich. Mmm, sweet potato fries.
Wednesday, since I had checked off my interview with Mr. Holloway the day before, I had some free time. Everyone kept talking about how amazing the hiking was, but all I had brought with me were dresses and strappy heels, and I was very sad not to be able to partake of the hiking. But not sad enough to buy new shoes. My host recommended I take a drive through Hyde Park to the ski lodge to enjoy the scenery and the view, so I did. It was pretty frickin nice. Just what I needed. Then I went to Burt’s Burger Bowl for a French Coke, which was sooooo yummy. I don’t know how they make something so delicious out of Coca-Cola.
So the opera company comped me a free ticket to see Dessay’s Traviata that night. They gave me a really good seat, plus a press parking pass, use of the press room during intermission (including the bathroom with no line), and even a free poster. I got such the VIP treatment all week (they even invited me to use their pool, though that’s not really my scene) that I felt guilty and wanted to tell them I’m not actually important. I mean, they knew I was there to interview Natalie and not to review their opera. But at least I can review it in my role of blogger. I loved the Traviata. Pelly’s production was really cool, it totally worked, most of it was visually interesting, there was symbolism but not to the point that it was too much of a stretch with the staging, the costumes and behavior of the character were of course not period, and very much over the edge in their excesses, but it was what they were going for and it worked. And Dessay was the most beautiful Violetta I’ve ever seen. I’d be lying if I said she was 100% on spot vocally (I’ve only seen her live twice, I don’t know if she’s ever 100% vocally, but most people aren’t, even among the pros), but you didn’t even care. And I’m picky. You just loved her character so much. And I do love her voice.
Look for the interview extremely soon- the cover story of the September issue. You’ll love it. Buy it, order it, get it somehow, even if you don’t subscribe to Classical Singer. It’s a really great interview. I can’t take credit for that beyond requesting to track her down for an interview because I knew she would have just the best things to say.
So, New Mexico, two thumbs up. Santa Fe Opera, two thumbs up. Natalie Dessay, two thumbs up. Pelly’s production, two thumbs up. This is one for the Amanda White annals of history, folks- I never give unqualified approvals like that.
I still am kinda feeling a floaty buzz from the whole week’s experience.
So like anyone with a blog I figure it’s my duty to make a sort of year-in-review/best-of post.
First off, everyone says this year sucked, but I had a good year. I did like 10 new roles!! I was mad busy all year, and in this business that’s a good thing.
Most insanity: Singing Nedda and Serpina on a double bill- in that order.
Biggest suckage: My bass player Sashi’s suicide in April.
Most random adventure: Running around Bolivia trying to track down a score of Bastien und Bastienne.
Best performance: OMG I have no idea. The first night of Serva Padrona was amazing. Fledermaus was also pretty off the hook. That one at least there are videos of.
Role I most want to do again: That would have to be Marie from Daughter of the Regiment. I just discovered what an amazing role it is for me, and I’m dying for a chance to do it in a full production.
Don’t call it a comeback: Rejoining New York Circus Arts Academy after a year off for my surgery.
Best new song by me: Monica’s Getting her Tits Done, of course.
Rapid-fire role learning: While learning Serpina in a week was the hardest by far, my speed record is learning Madame Herz in two days.
Diva moment: either getting a private dressing room in the Smith Opera House, or hiring an assistant. In India.
Personal victory: Getting a new, fancier church job in a better choir with a good director a year after getting “not invited back” to my old church job. Nyahh.
OK I’m off to band rehearsal, you all be good and I’ll see ya next year!!!
Still trying to get caught up on back issues of Opera News and Classical Singer, of course I’ve been reading lots of interviews with classical music industry people. As a writer who conducts a lot of interviews myself, of course it causes lots of reflection- the course of the discussion, the process by which an interview becomes an article, the way different reporters conduct interviews. And, interestingly, patterns- both good and bad- I observe among subjects.
As someone who’s been on both sides of the mike, I thought I’d take the opportunity to share what I’ve learned- mostly from the writer’s perspective. Mind you, I am a very small-time reporter- I just write for Classical Singer, and if you saw my paycheck you’d laugh- but I think it just makes me that much more self-reliant. If nothing else, people who are planning/hoping to be interviewed by me can get inside my head and know what to expect!
* Relax. I am not out to get you. People are so afraid of saying the wrong thing, they become super self-conscious about saying anything at all. I don’t want you to look bad- that would just make me look bad. If you say something and it comes out wrong, go ahead say, “Sorry, can I rephrase that?” I usually ask a couple conversation-starting warm-up questions just to get people used to the format, be it talking into a microphone or group IMing.
* A finished article has to satisfy 4 different sets of objectives. Yours (promote your book), mine (be funny and charming and entertaining), the publisher’s (make a good headline, grab the interest of the reader, try not to offend anyone), and the readers’ (news they can use). It’s my job, as the writer, to consolidate those into something that will make everyone happy. Be sensitive that yours is only one set of needs to be filled.
* If your objective is not the obvious, warn me! If I’m trying to write an article about a show you’re currently in, but you’re only interested in promoting the next one, please give me a heads up. Maybe I need to do some research, or maybe your current “story” doesn’t fit my theme at all.
* Get off-topic conversationally, but don’t keep changing the subject to something that doesn’t fit. I recently interviewed a performance group who are known for their unique format, but they kept bringing up premiering new works, which had very little to do with what they are known for. Bring it up once, when it fits in context, but don’t lose sight of the subject.
* Yes, contact me with a story proposal- IF it fits. Do your homework. Read the magazine I write for, read the pieces I write. I am looking for ideas, but don’t make me stretch my imagination to force your story into my column.
* I do not want to write an article about you. Unless you are very famous, my readers are not interested in you. They want something that applies to them. I can write about something you have done or are doing, but I will not write about your life story and leave it to them to find something of value in it.
* Give credit where it’s due, but don’t gush. This is the worst when interviewing a group of people, and they all feel the need to fawn all over each other. Say something nice that’s true, but don’t overdue it. Likewise, I know you want to give a shout-out to all your friends, but this isn’t an academy award ceremony- it makes you look generous but is probably boring to the readers who have never heard of any of these people.
* No, you don’t get to see a draft of the article before it goes to press. Sure, you can ask, but to be honest, it appears amateurish. In the real world, you don’t get to have your say. Get used to it.
* One-phrase answers are not interesting. A string of “Yes. No. Tuesday.” is not interesting to the reader or helpful to our conversation. Don’t give me cold, bare facts- give me discussion! Too much is better than too little- I can always pare down.
* Tidy up your speech. Above all, if you are writing, use proper punctuation and capitalization! When you are speaking, I can edit out your “umm”s and and “I guess”es- and I do want you to speak casually, but the more white noise there is I have to clean up, the more likely I will delete the wrong thing and obscure your meaning.
* Let me know if you have time constraints. My interviews usually take well over an hour. If you have to be gone by a certain time, warn me before we start (and hopefully when we first make the appointment)- don’t tell me at 4:45 that you have to go at 5.
* Be clear if you want something off the record. Don’t be iffy. I hear a lot of “Maybe this should be off-record, but…” and it’s always the most useful stuff. Be clear, either before or after the statement, that it is not to be published, or I’ll make up your mind for you. When in doubt, make the statement that needs to be made but leave out the names. “I once worked with a soprano who had her lyrics written on the back of her hand” gives the juicy story without making anyone look bad. (You can tell me who it was off the record!) Generally, if a reader can figure out who the subject is, they already knew the story anyway.
* Laugh. Have fun. It’s not just a promotion, it’s a conversation. I’m an amiable enough person and I love to chat. It’s my job to pull the useful stuff out of the conversation. You just have to relax and talk to me.
Amanda White’s opera blogging buddy *~the gr8 OC~* celebrates her 2nd blog birthday. If you are not reading her yet, you are losing at life.
Also, in addition to my landmark interview with Opera Chic for Classical Singer Magazine, which launched my Tech-Savvy Singer column (I won’t bother linking because you can’t see it unless you’re a subscriber), the interview for which took place a month ago this coming Wednesday, our girl has been interviewed by another Amanda. Does Opera Chic have an Amanda fetish, or do Amandas have an Opera Chic fetish? Either way, if you have any opportunity, please drink a margarita for Opera Chic and her blogday, which she will appreciate since my understanding is that Italy sucks at margaritas.
Amanda White is running late so she will have to wait til later to update you on Pirates of Penzance, and how I finally met my “tenor”… Talk to you all soon.
I don’t have anything hugely exciting to report, but I’m telling myself, “Maybe if you write more often you won’t ramble on and on so much trying to cover 10 topics in one post and scaring off your readers with huge blocks of text.”
I haven’t been able to find my Pirates of Penzance score in awhile, which is bad because I’m currently rehearsing Pirates of Penzance. I realized it was gone before rehearsal on Monday, and figured I’d find it by rehearsal today. No go- not even with me straightening up my room by fixing some broken furniture. Which looked just like this:
So before I left for rehearsal I sent out an email to the entire cast and their grandmothers asking if anyone found my score, I go to rehearsal and there’s no score, I come home and I’m like I swear to God I know it’s on this shelf!!!!! And I went through everything on the shelf, taking it out and putting it back in, and yeah, it was there. I’m cool. Well I’m just happy to have my score. I celebrated by tabbing it. I had highlit it but never tabbed it, which was driving me crazy during rehearsals. I got all rebellious and got different colored tabs than I usually use. Previously, we had yellow=recitative, blue=aria, red or pink=ensemble, and green=ensemble with chorus. (I dunno, how do you tab your scores?) The current set has purple instead of yellow, so from now on my recitatives are going to be purple. Hopefully this doesn’t confuse me.
I finally finished my “Singer’s Wish List” article for Classical Singer!!! I put it off til the last minute because I didn’t know what to put on it- Sara Thomas asked me to write it, wheras normally I propose my own topics. I could have gone the easy route and listed vague things like “a gift subscription to a spa” and “a trip to Europe,” but I wanted it to be an actually interesting article with actual useful ideas in it, so I put a shit-ton of thought into it. I never thought I’d spend so much time on an 800-word article. (My column is 1200-1600 an article, my other articles are usually around 2000.)
Today at rehearsal, under my sweater which was soon discarded because it was hot and we were dancing (with parasols!), I wore for the first time in public the prototype of my Amanda White T-Shirts! I have the white tank top. I was thinking of making the design smaller on it. What do you think?
I updated my website to include links to the store and the new blog address on all pages. Let me know if there are any broken links!
One last thing- the Stuff White People Like article I linked to the other day has been made into a cartoon!
Talk to you guys later!