Ja Ja

Being ensconced in rehearsals for Der Rosenkavlier here in (SUNNY! ¡OLÉ!) Madrid, the emergence of a bit of melancholy is to be expected and forgiven, I think, for with all the emphasis in this particular opera on time and the passage of time, one’s thoughts can take flight towards a million different destinations, hanging on the different twists and turns your life has taken and wondering if the clock will continue to propel forward at warp speed, ever so exponentially.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not in a depressive state of mind – quite the opposite, actually, as I find myself in musical and theatrical heaven at the moment, but still, the mind does wander.  Four years ago, while also in Madrid for Strauss, the phone call came to return home to my Father’s hospital bed where we said goodbye for the final time. “Four years?” I keep asking myself, “How in the WORLD is that possible?” And yet, no use arguing with reality: it simply is.

The last time I sang this glorious, immense role, just 6 months after my Dad’s death, I had in turn just left my Mother’s graveside to start rehearsals, and found my head fighting to comprehend my new-found, and certainly not-asked-for identity: an orphan.  My performances, while undoubtedly therapeutic, were somehow sung in a state of numbness and disbelief.  Hearing the words “Die zeit die ist ein sonderbar ding” (“Time is a strange thing”) certainly resonated, but they were also too raw and painful for me to internalize or digest.

With my Dad in front of the Paris Opera

So I come back to this beautiful, welcoming city and to this staggering work of genius (seriously, it is truly staggering in its scope and perfection!) with a heart that has worked hard to pick itself up and dust itself off a bit over these past years, and which has begun the process of living life with loss, but, and this is important: not in any less vibrant of a way.  In fact, life feels richer and more vital than ever – but I have absolutely had to learn that challenging call along the way!  The moments still flood over me where I miss my parents in an indescribably profound way (the recent Award Ceremonies, for example – how desperately I missed seeing their beaming, probably somewhat bewildered faces sitting out there in the seats!), but I have found a new level of experience in letting my performances, and more importantly my life, speak for itself, without requiring the affirmation of Dad’s “You did a good job, there, kiddo”, or without looking for that often elusive approval from Mom.

One of the many gifts they left with me in their departure was the lesson that everything – EVERYTHING – here is transient and nothing – absolutely NOTHING – is permanent.  For me, this is anything but a fatalistic view of life – I instead find it incredibly liberating and freeing, and somehow it seems to take the perceived, but dangerously insistent pressure off of everything.  We make mistakes and missteps, and then we get the fortuitous chance to learn from them and move forward – stronger and somehow more grounded.  We lose people that we love desperately, but the joy and love and adventure we shared with them sustains us over time and propels us forward on our own adventure (provided that we nourished those relationships while we had the precious opportunity.)

With the Sublime Soile Isokowski in San Francisco

Ah, see, opera/music – it is such a faithful teacher: in the first act, the Marschallin speaks of not being able to hold onto anything, how time drips through our fingers like sand in an hourglass.  Octavian tries desperately to understand her, and yet it proves too elusive for him in that moment, which is certainly where I was the last time I sang this role ~ I’ll be curious to see what I take from it this time around!  But as you can see, this is certainly the kind of piece that prompts deep introspection and attempts for meager comprehension! I think great art does just that – it makes you see things through a different prism each time you return to it, feeding you in the way you need in that precise moment.

Speaking of time passing – now please, no one crash down on the panic button here, OK? Promise me. OK.  Thank you! So … speaking of time passing, I woke up last Sunday on the morning of my last matinee at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin after that glorious extra hour of sleep, and realized, completely out of the blue, that according to my calendar I had no more Rosina’s on the schedule after that afternoon’s performance.  I looked and looked and just thought, “Well, that can’t be right!” But sure enough, my lovely Macbook confirmed it – for the next several (or more!) years, there are, indeed, no more Rosina’s lurking around.

With Max, the Ass, a dream of a colleague!

I sat there rather dumbfounded for a moment, finding myself getting oddly emotional thinking, “Come on Joyce, it’s just a ROLE”, and then felt the urge to start quoting the Marschallin like crazy looking for signs of wrinkles on my temple, but then I said, “Well, and so it is!” It must be time!

I tried to remember all the places I have sung her:

Kentucky, Arizona, Tokyo, Paris (2x), Houston, San Francisco, Chicago, NY (2x), Wichita, Vienna, London (2x), Pesaro, Bologna, Los Angeles, Milan, Berlin…

I’m probably forgetting a city or two, but that’s pretty close, I think.

I’ve played her:

traditionally, trapped in a burka, as Sandra Dee, with a pet Kangaroo I named Betty, in a wheelchair, on a leash, in boxes, in polka dots, and most recently as a Commedia dell’Arte mime; I have been spanked endlessly, duct-taped, and have performed a strip-tease; I have stepped into productions premiered before I was born, and have created numerous new productions from scratch; I’ve sung with the greatest stars of the day, as well as with people just starting out, and with conductors who were fresh and inventive, but also the sad ones who were tired and bored, and in one early case, wildly incompetent.

It has been a riotous, astounding ride with her – one that may or may not continue – who knows? But I feel as if I have had the enormous privilege to grow up with her over the years, as if she has been a wonderful friend to me, giving me a chance to unexpectedly blossom and learn and branch out in every way imaginable. Ultimately, I wasn’t sad as I thought that perhaps this was the end of our journey together, because I was too busy being grateful for all I’ve learned from singing her, for all the places she has taken me to, not to mention all the amazing colleagues she has brought me together with. She has also brought me to the doorstep of these newer roles that I am growing into, and it feels as if the time is right to hand over the baton, so to speak.

With the irresistible Carlos Chausson

I do have to say, however, that the final show in Berlin was a COMPLETE and ABSOLUTE blast, and if in the end it happens that it was my last, I absolutely could not have asked for anything more: it was the ideal cast – a cast of dear friends, and generous, astonishing colleagues who delight in their craft, and as a result we PLAYED together on stage – ah, it’s heaven on earth when that happens! And it was in front of a wonderfully enthusiastic crowd who seemed to relish the joy and magic of this music, letting themselves be carried away for an afternoon of laughter and good-humored fun – what else could one ask for?!?!

I'm too lucky of a girl: Dalibor Jenis & Antonino Siragusa!!

(For the record, it wasn’t a conscience decision of “No more Rosina’s for me!” It has simply evolved naturally over time, because I have a large musical appetite, and as I grow as a person and musician, it is natural that my schedule, in turn, reflects that. No worries, there are still loads of Elena’s and a few Cenerentola’s to come, and certainly I’ll meet up with her arias in concert every so often!! As I always say – one NEVER knows with life!)

Thinking about the probability of no more staged Rosina’s only emphasizes for me the reality that life is short, and we had better make every moment count. I know I’m “only talking about opera” here – I’m not talking about finding a cure for cancer, or a cure for ignorance, homophobia and bigotry (am I digressing?) – but this idea of the stage being a teacher to me comes to perfect fruition with this passing of the baton: I feel as if I made every single one of my Rosina’s count – from Kentucky to Wichita to Milan – giving my all in each show I did along the way, which leaves me free to march forward to the next adventure, because truly (cliché alert): Now, TRULY, is all that we have, and if we are alive and aware in this very moment, well, then it’s all good.

So there we are! As Der Marschallin says:

“Leicht muß man sein mit leichtem Herz und leichten Händen halten und nehmen, halten und lassen …”

“Light must we be, with light hearts and light hands to hold and to take hold, and to let go….”



  1. Richard Whittington said…

    This just makes me all the more glad that I got to see you in Milan as Rosina,even if it wasn’t in an exactly cutting edge production:)New roles for you mean new thrills for us.It’s all good.

  2. Auntie Opera Nut said…

    Ach jawohl, lebewohl du liebe Rosina! hoffentlich nicht! But it’s thrilling that you’re so in love with Rosenkavalier (your San Francisco performance a few years ago was wonderful, and I look forward to many more). Congratulations, too, on mastering the dreaded ß!

    • Gaulimauli said…

      Sharp eye, Auntie! She also does Umlaute and the cyrillic alphabet. Amazing!

  3. Magda said…

    GREAT posting, Joyce!!! Thank you for sharing your emotions, insights, artistry, humor, and so much more with your friends and fans!!! xoxoxomagda

  4. Great words, thank you so much!
    Ja, die Zeit ist ein sonderbar Ding – hope to cu soon in Vienna! Congrats!

  5. Jakob said…

    Dear Joyce, I was so sad that I couldn’t come to the Berlin performances because I was just too ill! I hope that I can hear you live in “my” citiy soon, maybe with Elena or Cenerentola or even Semiramide… 😉

  6. Gabriela said…

    Bienvenida in sunny Madrid! Looking forward do see your performance at the Teatro Real. It has been nearly a year now that you were here in Spain! Viel Glück!

  7. George said…

    Joyce, what a moving blog post. Anything I could add to your words would be inappropriate and mediocre.
    Keep on fighting ahead with new roles and giving us all much pleasure and wisdom.

  8. Emma said…

    what a wonderful post!
    Reading it made me both cry and laugh.
    Thats a wonderful photo of you and your father.

    And that Rosina description: “I’ve played her:
    traditionally, trapped in a burka, as Sandra Dee, with a pet Kangaroo I named Betty, in a wheelchair, on a leash, in boxes, in polka dots…ect” that was hilarious!


  9. Gi said…

    I’m sorry I’ve never seen you live as Rosina, and now it may never happen (but who knows?) and I’m glad there are recordings.
    And I really hope to see you on stage in any other role in 2011, in fact it’ll be one of my New Year resolutions 🙂

  10. Chris said…

    I can’t believe that you won’t be singing Rosina again sometime, somewhere. In any case we have your wonderful London performance on DVD for the ages. Did you ever do another DVD as Rosina? If not, perhaps you should. The wheelchair one was amazing, but we also would like a more conventional version for posterity. So, if neede be, one more time, at least, Joyce, for a second DVD. Hopefully with Florez so it will be perfect.

  11. Klaus said…

    Truly a wonderful and deeply moving post. Thank you and good luck with Octavian.

  12. Gaulimauli said…

    Your Chicago Cherubino was almost one too many, and the Rosina last week a culmination. As I was listening, I had the eerie feeling that this might be a farewell performance. Go figure. You are very good doing concert versions: The ‘hot rollers in my hair’ Una Voce is by far my favorite.I have sympathy for your personal loss;it must be very difficult to appear on stage when you are still stricken with grief, or just when the leg hurts like hell.Yes Rosenkavalier can be an epiphany of sorts, Strauss and Hofmannsthal knew what they were doing.

  13. marcillac said…

    I’m sure many of us hope that wasn’t your last Rosina but even if it was, those of us who have been lucky enough to see it will always remain a remarkable souvenir.

    I do have to disagree with Gaulimauli above about the Chicago Cherubino. It was obviously very uncomfortable for you but by not stretch was it superfluous, certainly not for those of us for whom it was the first and probably only -snif- opportunity to him. You’re going through it under those circumstances is appreciated that much more.

    Obviously many of us are looking forward to your Octavian with the greatest anticipation (although for me that will unfortunately not include the Madrid performances). There were a couple of particularly distinctive aspects to your San Francisco performance (as heard on the internets) and it would have be even more interesting and poignant to hear that again having read that post. What is clear is that everyone of those Rosinas most certainly did count, and given the amount of material available with Octavian there should be more than enough to keep you interested and creative and us enormously entertained and moved for many scores of performances. Stay safe and enjoy.

  14. Sibyl said…

    Such a lovely post, and so many things I would like to respond to. I guess what I feel most, though, is how grateful I am to have seen you and Betty in Barbiere. Even with that impressive set and cast, the detail that has always stuck with me most fondly is you and Betty. Thanks for that and Yay!

  15. John Kenneth Adams said…

    Joyce, Its amazing how far you have come since those sad times a few years ago. I think your wonderful posting reflects your amazing ability to always move forward, even when the going seems almost impossible. May you always have the wind at your back and the sun in your face.

  16. Marco said…

    Cara Joyce,
    I still remember with pleasure and joy your fantastic interpretation in San Francisco back in 2007.
    You rock! 🙂

    Marco Z.

  17. Ysabel said…

    Joyce, I find your posts always inspirational. And how cute are you in the polka dots? I am glad I had the chance to see your Rosina; you were wonderful, but since I can only stand to see so many Barbers, it stands to reason that you can only sing so many Barbers. There are lots more Rossinis (and others) to look forward to.

  18. Mete said…

    There is only one little quibble I have about this new blog space. It is the fact that I loved your nickname “yankeediva” in the old blogspot space.

  19. LoveyouJoyce said…

    I have not met you personally Joyce – though I have seen several of your wonderful performances in London (Rosina in a wheelchair!), Paris and elsewhere. Your writing proves to me however what I have always thought. Truly special people make truly special artists. That’s you!

    I’m looking forward to your Octavian in Madrid. I might even sneak up the courage to come to the stage door after the last performance just to shake your hand. (Oh God I’m sounding like a stalker)

  20. David said…

    Thanks for this, Joyce…makes one cherish the time with our loved ones who are gone….who knows, Rosina may return, but there are so many others out there to give life to for you….am looking forward to DMW in Houston and finally saying HELLO in person….best, my friend…

  21. Zsolt said…

    Thank you Joyce for this wonderful, touching post!

  22. Raisa said…

    Dear Joyce,
    Thank you for this most wonderful and deeply moving post and for the wisdom that you share with us.
    Just like Gi, I have never seen you in Il Barbiere (I was waiting for my son to get a bit older, so we could see your Rosina together). I have to admit I am sad that we won’t have that opportunity in the close future. However, I am certainly taking him to see your Cenerentola, no doubt about that! I hope it can be his first live opera.
    As for Rosina, please accept the warmest greetings and the most sincere wishes of every success from my senior students, who just saw the recording of the 2007 Met production and loved you! They keep saying that they have never heard “a better Rosina” and could never imagine that she can be “so vibrant, alive and real”.
    All my best!

  23. Papagena said…

    Hey Joyce!
    It’s been a while since I last showed up… happy to see you keep writing such beautiful, sensitive and moving things 🙂
    Too bad you’re leaving Rosina, but there are lots of new characters waiting for your beautiful voice and unique personality to bring them to life.
    I saw you last night at Zapata’s tango concert… you seemed to be having a great time! So did I 😀
    I’ll attend the Rosenkavalier premiere, it will be my first live performance of this opera… non vedo l’ora!
    I’m so glad you find it comfortable here in Madrid dear Joyce! and by the way I like your new site 🙂

    Besos guapa

  24. Pam Frame said…

    Joyce, so many of these Rosinas have we seen and heard, watching and listening to your ever creative interpretation of this delightful heroine. Whether this is your last Rosina or not, the opera world is richer for her time spent with you! Thank you.

    Pam and Tom

  25. jill martin said…

    Joyce, I have seen Barbiere 7 times and each time you were singing Rosina! La,NY, Chicago & London. It just won’t be the same without you.

    I am going to see you in concert in Chicago in February. Can’t wait!

    And of course New York in April. Possibly London in July.

  26. Pedro Albacar said…

    Dear Joyce,

    I read and reread your post. I have most unfortunately never had the privilege of hearing you sing on stage but your words have both moved me and stirred the dephts of my soul and left some wonderful and joyous moments of laughter. I wish you all the best with the production of Der Rosenkavakier, which I shall attend without hesitation.

    Toi toi toi,

    • Yankeediva said…

      Thank you for sharing that, Pedro! I hope you’ll enjoy the show! Cheers!

  27. Esther said…

    Dear Joyce,
    My heart pounded tonight at the Teatro Real like it never did before! I’m so grateful for the experience. There sure was a connection with the beyond, with the pure essence of art, something sacred and magical. Here I stand joyfully sleepless in Madrid ; )
    Thank you!

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