Thursday, February 27, 2014

Here and Back Again in NYC (days 2 & 3) - Hartford, The Audition and Rusalka at the Met

Hallo world! It’s has been so incredibly crazy and wonderful! I decided not to post while I was there because 1- there was hardly any time to do so and 2- because I wanted to write it well. I’m already back in Brazil, arrived on Monday but let’s go back in time to NYC.

So Friday (the 14th) was kind of a dead day because me and my mum went to Hartford that day in the afternoon. So we basically just ate and got our stuff ready, went to Port Authority and got on the bus to Hartford. I did eat a Salmon Wasabi Bagel that had WAY too much wasabi and my eyes started watering, it was pretty awful. We got to Hartford at about 6, grabbed a cab and I could understand about 25% of what the taxi driver was saying (I didn’t really like him)! At the hotel there were the sweetest reception ladies that made us feel so at home and comfortable and with whom we shared a lot of conversation over our Valentine’s day dinner. Me and mum did manage to lock ourselves out of the hotel room which was pretty pathetic but also oh so funny. Our room was fantastic and I had a really good night’s sleep.

me and mum having our Valentine's Day dinner
Next day was completely different, totally heretic and crazy! So we woke up pretty early, had some breakfast and packed our stuff and asked one of the nice ladies from the reception for a cab. When we got to the cab it was the very same guy from last night! He left us at The Hartt School and my heart started pounding real fast. The whole university was covered with snow but I could see how absolutely gigantic it was plus it was beautiful. We got in and I checked in with a very nice girl named Mia (yeah, like the princess!) and we got to talking a lot and guess what? She knows Sydney!

I went to this talk thing that was happening in this big gorgeous auditorium (they have so many, I was drooling!) about scholarships and life on campus and the school. It was pretty nice and a good way to keep my mind occupied so I wouldn’t be so nervous. Around 11:30 I went up to the fourth floor to do my warm ups, there were some pretty nice people there (all the students that were working that day were incredibly nice). Well, I got into a professor’s office which was my assigned place for warm-ups and started doing my thing and texting my voice teacher. I did about 15 minutes of vocal warm ups and a guy knocked on my door and said they were ready for me. HOLY SHIT! I grabbed my stuff and out I went only to find Sydney standing there! I was so happy to see her that the nervousness kinda diminished a bit.

Selfie warming up!
But on I was and in I went for my audition. The room I took my audition in was quite big and there was a long table with about 6 teachers there. There was a small stage with a piano and a pianist. The teachers were really nice and kept asking me fun sorts of questions. They said I could pick my first song so I picked the Modinha by Villa Lobos which was what Gerald Finley had advised me to do. To sing in my own native tongue as quickly as possible to show them my individuality and all. The pianist was insanely good, the intro to this song is super difficult and he totally pulled it off. I sang and I think I did a good job, I didn’t crack and I could hear my voice travelling quite nicely in that room with incredible acoustics.

Then they asked me what else I had brought and they decided on Les Filles de Cadix! One of the hardest ones! Apart from being super incredible the pianist was also so very nice. That Spanish tune went on and there I was, I sang and I didn’t crack which was fantastic. I did mess up some tempos because I was so nervous but overall I think it went pretty well. The high notes sounded really pretty and were kind of effortless and I made it to the end without passing out. After I finished one of the teachers said “Thank you very much, we will let you know”. I then turned to the pianist in a very discreet manner (as if) and asked him if it was good thing or bad that they didn’t ask me to do the sight reading thing. He told me that they probably just forgot and so I thanked him and flew out of that audition room feeling the weight of the world finally getting off my shoulders!

Sydney was waiting out for me and she said that from what she could hear I went pretty well. She showed me around campus a bit, to the libraries and stuff but it was really cold and snowing. We went to a small auditorium where I would be taking my Music Aptitude Test, I was a little afraid of it but as soon as I took it I was chilled. It wasn’t very difficult but I couldn’t wait for it to be over!

Sydney and I
I had a chance to talk to some people who were applying to the school and everyone just seemed so nice! After some time me and mum met Sydney and we ate at a supermarket place at the university. It was a shame our taxi got to Hartford University so quickly, we had to say our goodbyes and leave for the bus station. It was snowing by then and really cold. Our bus left 20 minutes late and the driver drove SO SLOWLY I wanted to murder him.

You see, Saturday I had a very good balcony ticket for the very last Rusalka from the Met which is probably the last Rusalka Renée Fleming would do, ever. My bus was to leave Hartford at 4:00 and arrive in NYC at 6:30. Bottom-line I was oh so very nervous for the whole trip, I watched about 3 episodes of Dracula to see if I could distract myself, it helped a bit. I was particularly pissed off because the driver took 9th Ave to head to Port Authority which means that, yes, we went by the Met at about 7:30. I went to the driver and asked him for the love of God to open the door so I could hop out because I had tickets for the opera and I wouldn’t be able to make it otherwise. The fucking bastard said that he just couldn’t do that and so, yes, I saw the Met go by and so went by my first act of Rusalka.

But I wasn’t going to give up so easily, 7:43 we arrived at Port Authority and I was flying out of that bus and into the subway. Flying from the subway to Columbus Circle and ran 3 blocks up to Lincoln Center and let me tell you, IT WAS SOOO COLD. And the streets were filled with snow and ice so it was quite slippery. 7:55 I was in front of the Met hardly believing I had made it. As I ran up the stairs to the Balcony area I could hear the instruments tuning and that lady with that instrument I do not know the name of which meant that the performance was gonna start at any minute. I could have totally passed out when I got there. I went inside and looked back only to spot Mike right away! I started screaming “Mike, MIKE!” but my voice was very weak because of the running. Suddenly I hear someone screaming “ISABELA!” it was Harry. We waved enthusiastically at each other, I got myself some water and went to my seat just as the lights were dimming still panting from the running marathon.

To top things off just before the performance started Peter Gelb appeared on stage and there was a loud sigh from the audience and I was like “Oh no, oh no, no, no!”. Fortunately he was only there to let us know that Dolora Zajick was sick but that she still wanted to perform and passed on to us her apologies. It took me the overture to have my blood run in a more human rate. The curtains open and you can’t help but be completely and utterly transported, I totally gasped when I saw that scenery. By the way I have not seen the live in HD nor have I ever seen this opera ever before so it was all new to me. For the first act we have the lake where Rusalka lives with her Green Gnome dad, the effect used for the water is the same as the one they use for Turandot and it definitely looks awesome when you are in the house but must have caused some confusion for the HD viewers. The set was boosted by the most amazing lighting design that could take you to literally any time of day in that place.

Well, in the beginning we have three nymphs playing around (much like the rhinemaidens) and then comes the Water Gnome who is completely blue and a total base. That guy’s voice is deep as hell! This scene reminded me a bit of Das Rheinegold because of the three beauties teasing someone who they knew wasn’t up to their standards. Rusalka then appears and I’m FREAKING OUT because it’s Renée Fleming, one of my personal heroes for crying out loud! Right after some song making with her Gnome dad and telling him she’s totally depressed because she’s in love with a human prince she sings her signature aria. I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t a very big fan of the acoustics from where she was singing, her voice sounded a little muffed (gorgeous as usual but muffed), I think the tree was too upstage and too high so the sound didn’t travel as well as some of the other singers’ did.

But the aria itself was like walking into a dream, although I felt the tempo being a little bit dragged! I couldn’t believe my luck that was actually getting to experience such a thing as this! Renée was glorious and she held that high B flat just a little bit longer like she always does and then there was a rain of applause that must have lasted 30 seconds. Rusalka goes to the witch Jezhibaba so she can turn her into a human (very much like the Little Mermaid). Let me tell you Dolora Zajick did not sound sick at all, her voice is totally huge and it just traveled beautifully through the whole theater. The character of the witch wasn’t exactly a villain but more like a mean comic relief. She asks Rusalka for her voice in exchange for the potion that will make her human plus if her lover is untrue to her she is condemned to become a dark water spirit neither living nor dead for the rest of her days and if her lover kissed her after that he would die. Pretty brutal, right?

They leave and on comes the Prince played by dashing tenor Piotr Beczala. I had already seen him live as Lensky which was such a wonderful performance but this one was even better. He sounded absolutely on the top of his game, voice crystal clear, beautiful color and charming all over, just a dream! And of course he has all that prince swagger dominated so he looked and sounded just perfect for the role of the Foreign Prince. He walks in and goes straight to the water to which he looks lovingly and strokes the water.

You see Rusalka is a water spirit, even though she looks like a woman to the audience she is really a wave from that river. And when the Prince comes and strokes the water and stares at it so tenderly Rusalka falls for him, after all he is caressing her! When Rusalka reveals her human self to him it’s like one of those love at first sight scenes, the Prince is completely taken by her beauty but she can’t speak.

And so one of the most interesting things happens. On the page this part looks like an aria, just the Prince singing but when you see and hear it it’s more like a one person duet. His lines yearn to be completed by something she would say, same with some vocal lines. It’s quite romantic and Renée is so absolutely graceful! This role fits her like a glove! They head off and it’s intermission time.

Normally I’m not a very big fan of long intermissions but, one, I had fantastic friends to chat to and two even if I didn’t I could just stare at those beautiful chandeliers all through it quite happily. I finally met Mike one of my closest and oldest twitter friends and saw Sasha and Harry again. I might have been over enthusiastic when hugging the friends. We chatted and the 30 minute intermission felt like 10 minutes. The gongs went off and it was time for me to get me ass back to me seat.

Happy intermission!
Second act is set just outside the Prince’s castle where you can see a big stair case and some large glass doors that led inside the castle. This first part we had the kitchen boy (a mezzo) and a huntsman chatting about this strange girl that the Prince found by the lake and with whom he’s totally in love with. The thing is, nobody really likes Rusalka, they think she’s weird and a little bit nuts. Because as a water spirit she was sweet, gentle and shy but as a human she has the very same personality but now in a human body, for you to get a mental picture she’s a bit like Luna Lovegood, with her head up in the clouds. Plus she’s very frigid to the Prince's caresses because she doesn’t really understand them. So Rusalka is not at all popular and is feeling quite literally like a fish out of water.

They come out and the Prince is making an effort to try and understand why Rusalka is so different and odd. He says she’s beautiful but her beauty is cold and he yearns for the warmth of her love for him. Enters then THE bitch, the Foreign Princess who is so pissed off because she was to be marrying the Prince but isn’t anymore because of Rusalka. She makes every effort to try and humiliate and bully Rusalka and to make her look unfitting and odd to the Prince’s eyes. She sways his attention by pointing out that he is giving a ball and should be a good host. The Prince takes the Princess by the arm and leaves poor Rusalka outside alone. She is miserable obviously, for the first time since she traded away her voice Rusalka speaks and her father appears and they have a long conversation.

The Prince reappears with the Princess and we can see through the glass doors that he’s making out with her with much ardor. What a dick! He comes back only to scorn Rusalka and tell her it wasn’t really going to work out because she’s so odd and chooses to be with the Foreign Princess. The water Gnome appears and takes Rusalka away and tells the Prince what an awful mistake he just made. As the Prince approaches the Princess once more she now scorns him and laughs at his face.

End of act 2 and another great intermission featuring some of my best opera buddies. But all good things tend to feel as if they last 5 minutes and before I knew it we had to run back to our seats for act 3.

Now in act 3 we have all that ‘you reap what you sow’ thing. Rusalka is back to her lake, cursed and miserable but she hasn’t touched the water yet, only when she touches the water she used to call home will she be cursed. She urges Jezhibaba to help her get back to her sisters and forget all this business. Jezhibaba tells her there is a way for things to be just the way they were, Rusalka must take a knife Jezhibaba gave her and kill her beloved Prince, that way she will be able to live as a water nymph again. Rusalka is horrified and absolutely refuses to kill him saying she would rather suffer for eternity than to do that to him. Jezhibaba is hardly impressed and gives her a “suit yourself bitch” look and heads off.

Rusalka goes inside the water and BANG she’s doomed! The Prince hurries to the lake but it’s too late, Rusalka is inside and totally cursed for good. They sing the most gorgeous duet and a water platform thing appears and Rusalka walks on the water toward her lover. When they meet they share a kiss that kills him and Rusalka goes back to the bottom of the lake to an eternity of misery. The end. Holy moly, that was SAD! I had to literally take a moment to just chill after that because as it ended I was crying like a baby!

Curtain call time and the people were quite enthusiastic. Here are some amazing pics my friend Felipe Cunha took, mine are awful!

Emily Magee as the Foreign Princess
Dolora Zajick as Jezhibaba
Piotr Beczala as the Prince
Renée Fleming as Rusalka
After that we all head down to the stage door. Stage dooring is a lot of fun but it is also a very nerve-racking business. Because you never know in what mood the singer is going to be in or whatever so I’m always excited but a little bit afraid. The more I like the singer the more afraid I am and keep rehearsing what I’m going to say to them in my head. So you can only imagine the state I was because of Renée. Getting to the stage door we had our usual crazy people and some normal people, there were about 25 people there if I can remember correctly. Dolora came out and just walked past everyone, did not stop not even to take a breath. I do understand her though, she was apparently recovering from sickness and must have been really tired.

Piotr was a sweetheart as always! Gosh I adore him, he is such a fantastic singer, great actor and such a cool person. He stopped to chat with us and even said he remembered me from Onegin! It was really cold so I was wearing my ridiculous hat and as I took it off to take the picture with him he told me he loved playing that game so we thought the bird should make an apparition at the picture.

After a while Renée came out and my heart was beating so fast I could have chocked on it. She talked to everyone and signed everything, she’s so fantastic! Although she would sign the programs of the stage door beggars (yes, that’s what I’m calling them now, my friend Felipe’s creation) with just a line. She finally came our way and we got to chat with her a little bit and I told her everything I wanted to tell her. She was very sweet but we could see it that she was very tired. She signed everything and also wrote a few words for me in my Inner Voice which was so amazing. I forgot to take off the pathetic hat before the picture, hence:

After all the stage door fever me, we went to PJ Clarks to grab something to eat and did not leave ‘till 2 in the morning or something. It was pretty fun, I loved seeing some of my friends again and meeting in person others. So I guess that was that for that Saturday. Stay tuned for more and pray that I get into The Hartt School!


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Here and Back Again in NYC (day 1) - Snowy Arrival and Gerald Finley singing Schubert

Hey everybody! Guess from where I’m writing this little post! From my hotel room in New York! Yes! And let me tell you all about my first day in da city!

Starting off with the fact that yesterday morning I woke up to the horrendous news that a snow storm was hitting New York City on the very same day of my arrival. A few hours later I started coming across all kinds of people who had their flights cancelled to New York because of the storm. Now, I couldn’t just tell my mom, she’d be terrified and refuse to go and would not rest until I told her I wasn’t going either. So I kept it all to myself and kept checking the Delta website every 5 minutes to see my flight’s status. Well we packed, we screamed at each other and me and mom were out to the airport, the car journey took about an hour and a half. Even though we were 4 hours early the plane departed with one hour of delay that did not surprise me since there was a storm coming up where we wanted to land! I hate flying, I never get any sleep and the chairs are uncomfortable because I’d rather buy good seats to the opera than at a plane.

We did land smoothly after 10 hours on the air, we did have quite a bit of turbulence which terrified mum (and she didn’t even know about the storm then!). When we got out of the plane the first thing I saw was snow! Now, I had never seen snow before so for me it was like magic! I was only wearing a t-shirt and a jacket and feeling fine with that snow falling from the sky and landing everywhere. The journey to the city was fine but there was snow everywhere, I felt like I was in a Christmas Movie or something!

We left our heavy luggage at the Hotel and vestured off to Starbucks to have a happy breakfast. We only forgot about one tiny detail; the storm. Have you ever experienced a storm? You know in Frozen when there are those rough winds with snow? It’s very much like the ending of Frozen, I felt like Anna, freezing to death fighting the winds. We had an umbrella, I brought it because of the rain, but we used him in the storm and it died. After me getting loads of snow inside my mouth because I was laughing too hard at my mother almost falling every 5 steps she took we arrived at Starbucks. We drank a lot of coffee and ate a lot of yummy things and neither was very keen on leaving.

I was actually kind of sad, because the storm was really bad, that Starbucks was like a block away from the hotel and getting to it had felt like building the great wall of China. I wanted to go to Lincoln Center if only just to drool and cry and look at the cool stuff at the Met store. We went back to the hotel and got to the hotel room, pretty nice, two queen beds, spacious and free wifi. After about half an hour it stopped snowing so I decided to get some things done now that it was ok to walk outside.

Oh, how I was wrong! It had stopped snowing, that’s true but it had started raining! It was about 0 degrees and the rain was falling in the diagonal, almost horizontally sometimes. Result; I got super wet, my boots got wet, my feet, my trousers… And I could feel the front part of my wet tights burn because of the cold wind that was blowing, worst sensation ever. Nevertheless I did go to Carnegie Hall and picked up my tickets and did the stuff I needed to do. My prize? Going to the Met!

But the thing is, to get to the Met I had to navigate the melting streets of Manhattan and that is an art! I felt like I was a character in a video game or something. What happens is: it snows, the temperature is a little below zero, it stops snowing and the temperature rises a bit to a little something above zero. That little subtle yet fatal change in temperature starts to slowly melt the fluffy snow on the floor turning it into something I like to call “street slushie”. Trucks clean the car ways and people clean the side walk but what people neglect to clean up is the little piece of street between the side walk and the street the cars use. Actually most of the snow removed actually goes to this spot. What happens? It’s impossible to cross the street because one step out of line and you have your precious foot underneath urban freezing New York slushie water/snow/ice thing, the point is that it makes your shoe wet, your socks wet and your foot wet and it’s already really cold here.

So basically one of the things that I have learned today was to navigate the slushie and make sure I don’t take a false step into freezing waters. I eventually got to the Met, although I was all wet. I sat for a while in one of those benches inside the Met outside the Met Store. When I felt I was politely dry enough I entered the shop and just browsed through the stuff. Ah, it’s so great to be back here! I feel whole, it’s so odd walking along these streets it feels so natural to me.I got a DVD of that concert Dmitri Hvorostovsky did with Sondra Radvanovsky in Moscow plus I got my Rusalka ticket! 

I was just about to leave when a man stopped directly in front of me, from a certain distance, and started texting. At first I squinted my eyes to see if he was who I thought he was then I quickly reached for my glasses and saw it was him! David Daniels, the Met’s super counter tenor. Then I did something that is worthy of my dear opera bff Otávio and of which I’m slightly ashamed of confessing… I followed him! Down the stairs, out the door, out the other door, (Oh my God he’s heading to the stage door you gotta catch up with him) I pretend to be running for something, turn my head in his direction at the very last minute and say “Hey! Excuse me, I’m so sorry to bother you, but aren’t you David Daniels?”. We chatted for a little bit and he was THE sweetest! So nice and asked me fun questions. When I asked for a picture he said “Yes, but only taken from above” to which I replied “Do you thing I take any other type?” but a guy turned up and took it for us. He was on his way to rehearse The Enchanted Island which is so thrilling!

After that I came hopping back to the hotel and me and mum had lunch together at a restaurant close to our hotel. Again she almost fell several times trying to cross the street, my entertainment is forever guaranteed! After that we came back to the hotel (it was a late lunch) and I started writing this post while trying to watch Renée Fleming’s masterclass that was streamed online but couldn’t.

Patrick during lunch, happy to be inside with the snowy weather
Around 6:30pm I left the hotel all ready to go to my first night out of fantastic music in New York, Gerald Finley and Julius Drake performing Schurbert’s Witerriese. First of all it wasn’t at the big hall of Carnegie, it was at the Judy and Arthur Zankel Hall to which I had never been and was very excited to experience. This musical event was unlike any other musical event I ever went in NYC or anywhere really. Everybody there was dressed well but rather casually which I found most revigorating and cozy. The hall is so lovely, it is much smaller but I think it’s perfect for this kind of recitals, it gives you that intimate feel that a big hall just cannot provide. Also almost everybody there that I could spot was there for the music and not just some social status of being in an expensive musical event in the city.

view from my seat, second row :)
Gerald Finley came out first and spoke a few words to the public and mostly thanked us all for coming despite of the crazy heretic weather. The hall wasn’t full but almost about 8/10 full but I knew that that concert had sold out and people hadn’t come because they really weren’t able to get to NYC today because of the storm.

Now, I don’t know much about Lieder and I don’t like pretending I do but that was freaking awesome! I was feeling stuff by the end I didn’t even know I could feel, it was so intense, so well executed, with so much artistry from both performers and also so much humility. I’ll talk more about Gerald because I’m a singer and of course I paid more attention to the singer. Seriously now, the moment he opened his mouth and started singing I went “Oh my!” and kinda held my breath, I couldn’t believe it, it was so simple and yet absurdly beautiful. His objective was so clear, to be a vessel to tell the music of Schubert through his voice, to show us what each little piece was about through his voice and fantastic facial expressions that were just the right dosage. I was so impressed by his technique, of course I knew he had a killer technique because of other works he’s done but to hear it live it’s unbelievable!

People, go see stuff live, the sensation of a singer’s voice vibrating in your face without the use of any amplification is like no other, you will be touched, I’m sure!

There were so many songs in that cycle and I think that he recorded a CD singing these and I promise to review this CD as soon as I buy it with more details. I just know that right at the begging, I think it was the fourth song “Erstarrung”, there was one song that his rendition nearly drove me to tears. But that’s the thing about these song cycles, you have to really know them in order to appreciate the performance you see more (that’s for everything not just song cycles). From this particular one I knew I liked the last song “Der Leiermann” in which Gerry carried a lot of emotion and at the end drew a very long pure silence from the audience, nobody even dared to breathe. Then he lowered his head and the hall exploded with applause, they did 3 curtain calls, another real first for curtain calls I attended here in NY. By the end I swear to God I was dizzy, didn’t know what to say or think, I just knew I needed to share that with someone. I noticed that that was the general feeling amongst the people who watched, most of them were very really touched by what they saw.

After the recital Gerald did pop up in the reception area and as a line formed to talk to him he would talk to everybody for as long as the person wanted to talk to him. I wanted to speak to him SO BAD! But I was very nervous and very cold which made me tremble nonstop. So I waited for a while for all the other people to talk to him and before I know it he’s having the most enlightened conversation with a 12 year old young musician to be who keeps asking for advice, he was very cute and intelligent, he talked like an actual grown up. After the boy left it was my turn and I was so nervous. He was absolutely incredible! I told him I was from Brazil and we entered in conversation quite easily, I told him I was auditioning for the grad program on Saturday. He was very interested to know what I was singing plus he gave me great tips of what to do in my audition that I think will really make a difference. I told him I loved his masterclass and he was so flattered and we started talking about giving Mozart for young singers and something in my head was like “OH MY GWAD YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT MOZART WITH THE GUY WHO WAS YOUR FIRST ALMAVIVA!”. We talked for a while and he was so incredible, supportive and HELPFUL, really, just AWESOME! We took a picture (of course!) and he gave me a big hug and his most sincere well wishes for my audition when we said goodbye.

You can only imagine I came back to the hotel eating snowflakes out of happiness. And now here I am, writing it down! One more thing, New York is the BEST place to be!