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.