Saturday, April 15, 2017

Handling Nerves, According to Joyce DiDonato!



In her June 16, 2011 vlog on youtube, mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato talks about handling nerves after a fan Madeleine asks her the following question:

One thing I'd like to know is: how do you handle nervousness? Of course one big factor is being well-prepared, but I guess that's self-evident -- it's more like: "am I good enough to do this"...
 
1) Dictate Your Breath

Good breathing is one of the key elements to successful singing, and regulating your breathing right before going up on stage is important in battling the frantic breathing that distraught nerves often lead to. Joyce DiDonato says that you need a "long inhale, and make sure that the exhale lasts about as long [as the inhale]". The steadier and deeper your breaths are, the better.

2) Smile!

Smiling and possibly even laughing are extremely helpful in tricking your brain into believing that everything is A-OKAY. Because you tend to smile and laugh when you're happy, if you do it a few minutes before going up onstage your "body interprets that as 'everything is okay'".

3) Preparation (not always a given)

Although this may seem like a given, it isn't always one and it is "underused by a lot of people". Joyce DiDonato suggests that performers over prepare. Another method of practicing/preparing without actually doing it physically is going through the whole thing in your head. Mentally walking through your entire audition day, as well as the number you are to perform, will be a confidence-boosting reminder that YOU ARE PREPARED INDEED.

4) "It's Not About You"

As the last advice Joyce DiDonato offers in her vlog, she presents it as her "biggest weapon against nerves and a lot of different things". Although singers spend a lot of time preparing and taking care of their own body to give the best performance possible, the performance itself is never about the individual performing but more about the individual (character) singing.

"It's Rosina that is in that situation, not Joyce."

However difficult it may seem to draw that barline (hehe) between yourself and the character or music, performance is about the emotions behind the music, not about the singer.

Click HERE for the original video by TheYankeediva and please sign-up for an email subscription to The Freako Diva!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

HOT TOPIC: Is Renée Fleming Retiring???!

 
On April 5th, a New York Times published an article (by Charles McGrath), lamenting opera diva Renée Fleming's departure from the world of staged opera. Although Fleming has announced that she will indeed be departing from staged opera productions, she says that she will still "continue to sing full-time" and that "the rumor [of her retirement] has taken on a life of its own". In the article, although it was stated that Fleming will be moving away only from staged opera productions and not from the stage in general, it was not made clear and a lot of people misinterpreted the article.
Screenshot from Deceptive Cadence NPR Classical Article (source link below)
According to NPR, rumors of Fleming's 'retirement' have been going around for some time now. Because of this, many of Fleming's opera fans were misled by the article of the New York Times. Fleming says that "[t]here's been press about this now for last couple of years floating around." She also added that these rumors most probably started with a London paper, but she assures her fans that these rumors are inaccurate. Renée Fleming will not be retiring from singing. She will be stepping aside from staged operas because she is concerned with the fact that her voice type, a lyric soprano, and the roles typically done by lyric sopranos (young girls) will not suite her visual appearance.

Fleming says: "Unfortunately, the repertoire for my voice is mostly young girls. And it's really important at this point, in the day of HD, to make sure that you're not too far away from that ideal. I can still sing Rusalka and a lot of the Massenet repertoire. But would I? No, at this point."

Fleming did, however, say she really liked the New York Times article.

"I'm not upset. I think the profile is wonderful. It's one of the more balanced portrayals in that [Charles McGrath] sort of got who I am."

Renée Fleming will be focusing on concerts, recitals, and recordings. She will not be leaving the stage completely, as stated, as Fleming herself said regarding the stabbing headline, in the "controversial" New York Times article

Renée Fleming will be singing Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier (April13-May13) at the Metropolitan Opera.



Sources:

NPR
Vanity Fair 
Classical MPR

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Post Audition Essay Craze Episode 1

Now that I'm finally done with my college auditions, I will now resume to blog my brains out at my lovely Freako Diva. But before I can actually come up with entertaining content, I would like to share all of my college application essays. I put such an effort into them and shed so much sweat and blood over them that it would be so anti-climactic not to share them here.

I would like to begin my essay-posting process with a little operatic satire. This was the prompt for the famous Juilliard School of Music, and I think my response to this absolutely awesome prompt is worth sharing.

Prompt: If you could introduce two artists for a collaborative production, who would they be, and what might they make? Provide details that would encourage us to attend the performance.

A colorful blend of American and European art produces an opera production worth the outrageous ticket price. Experience the evening of your lifetime with all-time favorite tongue twisters set to beautiful Bel Canto music. The opera, Yopp, will be written by Gioacchino Rossini on the libretto by Dr. Seuss.

The plot will consist of characters from several Dr. Seuss stories who will interact with each other and produce conflicts and their resolutions, with a hint of intrigue. There will be love triangles, unrequited love, revenge, assassination, framing, betrayals, forced betrothals, and possible murder; but at the end, everyone will rejoice nonetheless. Characters from different Dr. Seuss stories will interact and create a new plot rich with enticing developments involving the actions listed above. These dramatic plot developments will produce a much wanted spice-up to Dr. Seuss’s typical comedic development and Rossini’s stunning sense of conflict and resolution. We will include a thunder sound effect produced by the most advanced technology of the 21st century: the thunder sheet. For those who have never had the chance to experience the wondrous effects of the thunder sheet are in for a real treat.

Yopp will be a three hour long opera with an immense cast of singers of elephantine fame. (For marketing purposes, I have attached a potential cast list to my pitch as well as an excerpt of the potential score.) The plot will be of an original manner but created with characters already present in Dr. Seuss’s stories. The libretto will be written in Dr. Seuss’s typical writing style, lacking obscure vocabulary but deep and meaningful nonetheless. The plot of the opera will also be in Dr. Seuss’s style, with lots of political innuendos as well as confusing plot twists, a trait shared by both masters. The overture will be written in Rossini’s Bel Canto style, and will possess several leitmotifs. The vast majority of characters and situational conflicts will have their own leitmotif, and most of those themes will hopefully be traceable in the overture (depending on what Maestro Rossini decides). Coloratura will be a recurring embellishment in the opera as well as lengthy and comedic duets, trios, quintets and more. There will be a chorus of Tweetle Beetles and Who-ville citizens, as well as an onstage band of pigs. (This band will serve as a comedic relief in this psychological rollercoaster of an opera.)

Both Rossini and Dr. Seuss have similar techniques of building up tension using comedic aspects of their craft. They feed the consumer, reader, or listener  themes that are rich with political disputes and psychological aspects of society without the consumers realization of it. Rossini’s works display strong cultural values regarding gender roles and status roles of people. In Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Rossini uses comedy to portray a typical case for the time of a guardian isolating his ward from society in order to easily marry her and then take possession of all her inheritance. Despite the comedic mood of the opera, the topic can be considered quite the tragedy for those times and for all the young women who were unable to get themselves out of the unfortunate situation. Rosina was lucky in many ways. First, she was highly intelligent and extremely risky. Second, she was dealing with Dr. Bartolo who obviously had a low IQ to begin with. Third, she was able to stay on good terms with Figaro, profiting her greatly for she had an insider, someone within the walls of Dr. Bartolo’s household, on her side. And lastly, Rosina’s main portion of luck came from her having Count Almaviva fall in love with her. Count Almaviva sat higher than Dr. Bartolo on the status ladder, enabling him to overpower the guardian socially, physically, and mentally, which lead to his eventual marriage with Rosina.

Dr. Seuss has very similar developments in his books. Most, if not all, of his stories have political and economical backgrounds. In Horton Hears A Who, Dr. Seuss explicitly implies a group of people who are being oppressed and who are working hard to have their voice heard. Who-ville citizens are faced with a challenge to be heard before the kangaroos and monkeys boil them alive. Despite the seeming unrealistic scenario, this is a generalization of oppression. In The Sneetches, Dr. Seuss draws out a segregated society of Star-Bellied Sneetches and Plain-Bellied Sneetches, the latter oppresses the former for not having stars on their belly. Dr. Seuss then proceeds to introduce a new character, Sylvester McMonkey McBean, who charges the Plain-Bellied Sneetches for placing stars on their bellies. When the Star-Bellied Sneetches panic that the Plain-Bellied ones are getting stars, Sylvester offers to remove the stars from Star-Bellied Sneetches. This cycle goes on and on and ends when Sylvester packs up all of the Sneetches’ cash that he has collected and runs off, leaving the Sneetches in a jumble of chaos that magically resolves into universal acceptance. This story demonstrates how large groups of people can sometimes act like a herd of sheep. They succumb easily to peer pressure and societal norms and often times than not end up spending an unnecessarily large amount of money on beautification processes they don’t necessarily need. Dr. Seuss shows how public opinion, or society, tend to amplify the importance of trivial things, such as seeing the barber every month, getting your nails done, and having a specific brand of clothing or shoes, while glossing over more important things such as public education, clean air, and affordable and safe water for everyone. Sylvester is a symbol for an organization that makes money on people’s weaknesses, while never actually helping them solve any of their real problems. Sylvester pretends to be able to solve the Plain-Bellied Sneetches’ problem and then the Star-Bellied Sneetches’ problem. At the end, nobody is the winner but him, and only because he successfully robs an entire society of individuals with their consent and approval, even making them believe that their money was well spent. Quite the children’s story! Rossini and Dr. Seuss are compatible artist in many more aspects than those presented in the pitch, and I welcome you to attend the world premiere and experience for yourself what a masterpiece can be produced if these two talents collaborate and invest their efforts into one, joint project.

The list below contains all of the prominent characters in the plot of Yopp as well as the singers who could potentially be cast for each role. Despite some contradictions that one might see on the cast list regarding the style of Rossini’s music and the quality of each individual’s voice, I assure you that Maestro Rossini has done his best to custom compose the roles for each singer. The role cast to each singer will fully manifest the immense capabilities of each musician. Come to the premiere and experience first hand the fascination and excitement of Yopp, and discover for yourself how much depth and darkness can be found in any human being if looked for hard enough.

(Cast list is no longer available for viewing due to non-existent contracts with very much existent singers.)

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Heroes in Opera: 6 Types of Heroes

Last Wednesday in my English class, we had a lecture on different types of heroes in literature. I'll elaborate on my traumatic experience of thinking that I was the first person ever to identify Don Giovanni as the best Anti-Hero in opera only to discover that that topic had been developed millions of times already later. 

Anyhoo, during my research I discovered an article on Huffpost.com written by Rebecca Tinkle called The 6 Hero Types: Which One Are You? I thought, I don't know which one I am, but I sure can bring up an opera character for each type. And so I did.

FYI, Tinkle's bio says that she is an author, film producer, yoga and energy master, and meditation enthusiast. You can find her original article here.  Let's jump right in!

The first hero Tinkle has on her list is The Warrior. I figure she chose to start with this type of hero because it is probably the most typical hero and the easiest to identify in any story. The Warrior is essentially your lovable rebel, the one who pushes back on society and fights standard conventions that keep them in a box. Respectable. I can list off many opera characters that fall under the classification of The Warrior: Cavaradossi, Chenier, Manrico, Figaro, Susanna, Rosina, Isabella, Calaf,  Turandot etc

The next hero on the list is The Protector. Tinkle describes The Protector as the hero who is "always looking for opportunities to comfort, protect, and champion".  She also wrote that The Protector wants to "lay [their] desire for a more harmonious world on display for everyone to witness". The first opera character that comes to my mind as I write this sentence is Violetta from Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata. Violetta is " intuitive and devoted, a result of living in an internal world laden with hidden meaning and possibility", the exact words Tinkle uses to describe The Protector. Violetta's devotion to Alfredo overruns her devotion to herself. Violetta finds herself unable to let Alfredo go and ends up giving up everything she has for him, possibly even her life. According to Tinkle's article, the super flaw of The Protector is stubbornness, the one characteristic of Violetta that is prominently displayed by her actions throughout the story. Violetta refuses to give up Alfredo after Germont, Alfredo's dad, shows up at her door and tells her how his daughter can't get married because her brother is living with a woman lacking modesty, and even after Violetta is forced to succumb to poverty because she needs to somehow support herself and Alfredo. In addition, her stubbornness is manifested at her death bed as she springs up from it a few seconds before death and claims to be reborn and full of strength.

The Healer is definitely Mimí from Giocomo Puccini's La Boheme. The Healer is "[o]ptimistic, authentic and lighthearted" writes Tinkle, making "the world a better place through emanating real love, true love, everywhere [they] go". That sounds like Mimí to me. She brings out the best in Musetta and all the others, and her super flaw is vulnerability. Unlike Violetta, who spends most of her death scene fighting and denying her impeding death, Mimí faces reality from the very beginning and dies peacefully without any battle with fate.

The Master, one who sacrifices their "own comfort in order to help others", is probably a sub-characteristic of The Warrior. Mario Cavaradossi, from Giocomo Puccini's Tosca, is an excellent example. Is Cavaradossi a rebel? Yes. Yes, he is. Sure, he's not the most effective of rebels, but he is "a staunch defender of the law on behalf of humankind".

The next type of hero on the list is The Leader. Tinkle describes this type of hero as "both linear and logical" and possessing "a strong sense of duty". Turandot from Giocomo Puccini's Turandot is definitely The Leader. It is "difficult for [Turandot] to show [her] softer side" and she is "[a] natural leader and politician". Turandot's super flaw is definitely judgement since she spends most of her time making assumptions about the men who want to marry her. She is even somewhat of a feminist, if I dare say so. She wants to avenge the rape of her relative and ends up being unresponsive to people living around her. She is intelligent and follows her principles no matter what.

The last type of hero on the list is The Teacher. I will present Despina as an example of this type of hero even though she does not correspond to the criteria completely. Despina is "[b]rilliant, curious and creative" and she values "experience and [embodies] the very essence of love and its progression in the world". Although Despina is not the most intelligent of people she is definitely very cunning. She uses her wits to deceive the naïve sisters Dorabella and Fiordiligi (not like that's something very hard to do), merely for funsies with Don Alfonso.


Well, that's it for my hero identification day. I discovered how to take a test and discover which hero I am, so click here is you'd like to find out about yourself.


"When The Ocean Is Tired", a short story by Laura Iceberg

Usually, when I go to the beach in the morning, I say:

"Ocean! Oh, Ocean! I like you! Do you like me too?"


And the ocean answers:


"S-s-s-sure. . . S-s-s-sure. . . S-s-s-sure. . ."


And when I go to the beach in the evening, I can hear the ocean telling me "He-e-e-e-lp-p-p me, ple-e-a-ase. . . He-e-e-e-lp-p-p me, ple-e-a-ase. . . "

But how can I help the ocean? And I shout to him:


"Oh, Ocean! Oh, Great Ocean! Oh, hoary Ocean! You're so ancient and so huge! You're so wise and so mighty. Oh, tell me, please, how can I help you? I'm so small and weak, and old and tired. . . Explain to me, please, how can I help you?"


But the ocean only asks me again and again: "He-e-e-e-lp-p-p me, ple-e-a-ase. . . He-e-e-e-lp-p-p me, ple-e-a-ase. . . He-e-e-e-lp-p-p me, ple-e-a-ase. . . "


"Oh, Ocean! I see! You're tired. You're like our poor heart: working, and working, and working constantly without ceasing. The human's heart is tired too. And when it ceases, our life will cease too.



"Oh, Ocean! You're the heart of our Earth, and if you stop, the life of our wonderful World will stop too. Remember it, please. Don't forget about it, Ocean, please!"


But the ocean asks me again and again: "He-e-e-e-lp-p-p me, ple-e-a-ase. . . He-e-e-e-lp-p-p me, ple-e-a-ase. . . He-e-e-e-lp-p-p me, ple-e-a-ase. . . "


"Oh, Ocean! I guess I know! I know how I can help you!"


And I said to him softly and quietly,


"Ocean, I love you. Do you hear me? I lo-o-ove you-u-u-u. Do you hear me?"


"Y-e-e-e-s. . . th-a-a-a-anks. . . Y-e-e-e-s. . . th-a-a-a-anks. . . Y-e-e-e-s. . . th-a-a-a-anks" tiredly sighed the Pacific Ocean.
 



Written by: Laura Iceberg


"When The Ocean Is Tired", a short story by Laura Iceberg

Usually, when I go to the beach in the morning, I say:

"Ocean! Oh, Ocean! I like you! Do you like me too?"

And the ocean answers:

"S-s-s-sure. . . S-s-s-sure. . . S-s-s-sure. . ."

And when I go to the beach in the evening, I can hear the ocean telling me "He-e-e-e-lp-p-p me, ple-e-a-ase. . . He-e-e-e-lp-p-p me, ple-e-a-ase. . . "

But how can I help the ocean? And I shout to him:

"Oh, Ocean! Oh, Great Ocean! Oh, hoary Ocean! You're so ancient and so huge! You're so wise and so mighty. Oh, tell me, please, how can I help you? I'm so small and weak, and old and tired. . . Explain to me, please, how can I help you?"

But the ocean only asks me again and again: "He-e-e-e-lp-p-p me, ple-e-a-ase. . . He-e-e-e-lp-p-p me, ple-e-a-ase. . . He-e-e-e-lp-p-p me, ple-e-a-ase. . . "


"Oh, Ocean! I see! You're tired. You're like our poor heart: working, and working, and working constantly without ceasing. The human's heart is tired too. And when it ceases, our life will cease too.


"Oh, Ocean! You're the heart of our Earth, and if you stop, the life of our wonderful World will stop too. Remember it, please. Don't forget about it, Ocean, please!"

But the ocean asks me again and again: "He-e-e-e-lp-p-p me, ple-e-a-ase. . . He-e-e-e-lp-p-p me, ple-e-a-ase. . . He-e-e-e-lp-p-p me, ple-e-a-ase. . . "

"Oh, Ocean! I guess I know! I know how I can help you!"

And I said to him softly and quietly,

"Ocean, I love you. Do you hear me? I lo-o-ove you-u-u-u. Do you hear me?"

"Y-e-e-e-s. . . th-a-a-a-anks. . . Y-e-e-e-s. . . th-a-a-a-anks. . . Y-e-e-e-s. . . th-a-a-a-anks" tiredly sighed the Pacific Ocean. 


Saturday, October 15, 2016

Luciano Pavarotti on Opera

The following is an excerpt from the foreword written by the legendary Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti to The La Scala Encyclopedia of the Opera by Giorgio Bagnoli. Translated by Graham Fawcett.

"Opera means passion, excitement and love, but like all great emotional experiences, it calls for a deeper understanding and needs to be constantly cultivated and nurtured. This is why for some years now I have not concentrated exclusively on performing opera but also on making it more widely known as well as strengthening its roots by searching out new singing talent, setting up new music institutions and becoming involved in operatic events aimed to have widespread public appeal."

-Luciano Pavarotti