“You will never make it … “It” doesn’t exist for an artist. The work will never end… It will always be there for you — even if in some moments you lack the will to be there for it. All it asks is that you show up, fully present. It’s not about you … You may not yet realize it, but you haven’t signed up for a life of glory and adulation. The world needs you … We need you to help us understand that which is bigger than ourselves, so that we can stop feeling so small, so isolated, so helpless.”
The word “masterpiece” appears often in my line of business, and while the majority of works I participate in unquestionably fall into that category, there still remains THE Masterpieces: those holy relics of unparalleled genius that have changed the course of the art form entirely. Winterreise is this singular, crowning achievement in song.
And yet, as much as I have always loved the great recital repertoire, it never once occurred to me to personally tackle this mammoth undertaking until, just over a year ago, when Yannick approached me with the bold idea of performing Schubert’s masterful journey together. Naturally, I was compelled to give it great consideration: “But it must really speak to you”, he warned. “You must feel deeply called to enter into this world and live there for some time.”
And so naturally I dove in. Completely. And yet, diligent as I was, I couldn’t quite find my way into the protagonist’s world, despite the utterly compelling journey in front of me. It wasn’t a question of gender – I’m used to donning pants on the stage. No. Instead, a persistent question took hold of me and simply wouldn’t let go: “But what about her?” my heart kept asking. In most writings about this cycle, authors gloss over her involvement dismissively: “We don’t know much about her,” the papers reveal, and the discussion promptly closes.
Perhaps it’s my identification with Charlotte in Massenet’s Werther that kept this question front and center in my mind. (I’ve always wondered what happens to her when the curtain comes down. Does she cave in to her passion and follow Werther into his fate of suicide? Does she obediently return to her life with Albert, dutifully, yet completely hollowed-out?) This girl – this catalyst– that prompts our protagonist to flee his life, to embark on his pilgrimage of sorrow and despair, and to journey into oblivion presumably must know of his departure. She must feel it. She must surely wonder about him … after all, she “spoke of love”. Has she mourned his loss? Has she simply gone about her life as is expected of a girl of her stature? How has she moved forward in her life?
This lingering question provided no resolution in Müller’s poetry, and so I set out to create my own story: what if He sent His last journals to Her before he parted? A tormented and painful a scenario to face, what if His final words arrived to her as a kind of suicide note? What if He wanted Her to understand Him? To feel His pain? To experience His torment and despair? To force her to wander alongside Him? And what if She reads the writings? Word for word. Over and over. (“Ces lettres … ces lettres”, Charlotte screams out.)
What happens to the winter’s journey when we feel it through the heart of the one who was the impetus of such agony and despair? The survivor. The one left behind. What does a singular event look like through the differing eyes of two separate people, two separate perspectives? The lives that have entwined so closely cannot be separated or disregarded so easily.
Perhaps one element of a true masterpiece is that it invites itself to be experienced in new light.
So what about she who spoke of love? This can also be her journey …
So, that was 2016 … ! I’ve always loved looking back at a recently closed chapter in my life, analyzing it to learn what worked well (and what didn’t), appreciating it for what it was, and setting up my game plan for the next adventure. While this past year has been an astonishing one for me in many ways, I have to ask: is anyone else out there happy to usher this particular 365-day cycle out the door? I thought so. So, that means THIS is the moment for us to decide HOW we want to open the door to the next cycle. More
This past week, Cal Performances featured Grammy-winning Joyce DiDonato at UC Berkeley. The mezzo-soprano vocalist, who has been called, “the most potent female singer of her generation,” by The New Yorker, collaborated with the Italian instrumental ensemble Il D’Oro. However, this wasn’t an ordinary performance.
It’s 16 November, 2015: I am seated at my father’s old piano in tranquil, uneventful Kansas City, Missouri, with a pile of 60 obscure Neapolitan arias. I’m researching music for my new album, music by composers such as Niccolò Jomelli and Leonardo Leo, who wrote in a post-classical, pre-bel canto world that is sorely underrepresented today on recordings and concert platforms. My task is to select 10 of these obscure arias to feature on my album and perform on a world tour.
Just the day before I had been in glossy Dallas, Texas singing the final emotion-filled performance of a new opera written for me by Jake Heggie titled Great Scott, which asks the pressing question,
Tonight is the opening of “I Capuleti e i Montecchi” here in Zurich. It is a role that I feel and love very deeply, and the opportunity to bring him to life, set to Bellini’s exquisitely well crafted vocal lines, fills me with tremendous gratitude. (I’ve written about my passion for him before.)
It tells the familiar story of Romeo and Juliet: the story we know well, masterfully told by Shakespeare, read aloud in countless sophomore literature classes, endlessly danced to (by yours truly, at least) in Bernstein’s version, retold and remade in numerous cultures and epochs – always breaking our hearts in the end.
Bellini’s version hails from later Italian sources, and as the title indicates, throws the emphasis squarely on the shoulders of these two warring families. This is undeniably an opera about war. Here there is no love duet between the two: they fight in every scene, even in death, never finding peace – even as harmonious thirds in the music ache for them to find each other. After the deaths, the warring families rush the stage and we see how the cycle will inevitably continue.
During the flurry of my insanely bizarre and wonderful fall schedule, I received a request from the Mu Phi Chapter at Radford University in Virginia, asking for some words of encouragement. As a proud Mu Phi Alum, it took me a few weeks to respond, but I managed to get a few thoughts down onto “paper” while speeding across Europe on a high speed train. It’s not my most eloquent writing, but it captured that particular moment in time where my brain was buzzing with the desire to impart some, eh hem, wisdom, words of encouragement, and perhaps even so much as empowering them to get fierce about their paths! More
Chairman Kovner, President Polisi, most distinguished honorees, dedicated family, friends, faculty, and to EACH of the talented, ambitious, courageous, adventurous Juilliard graduates of the class of 2014 before us here today, thank you! More
I’m not a fan of silence. Wait. Allow me, please, to clarify: I’ll take contemplative silence whenever I can, or the silence that comes from crisp mountain air or the hush that befalls your heart when gazing up at the galaxy of stars on a moonless night. Oh, I love that kind of silence. But silence in the face of oppression? Nope. Not a fan. Never have been. Can’t imagine I ever will be. That doesn’t mean that I always know how to speak up, that I always do speak up, and it certainly doesn’t mean that I always know the most effective way to speak up in order to actually invite people to listen, and then – under the best of circumstances – perhaps to actually feel the call to action. No. I’m not an expert in any of those areas. More
There’s a wonderful opera fan out there who corralled several other ardent fans into starting their very own on-line magazine about opera, called Opera21. It’s a brilliant venture, where they find a theme each month, solicit articles by their own readers, and put it out into the cybersphere for discussion, growth and discovery. Absolutely my cup of tea! The following is a letter I wrote to their editor for the February 2013 edition, and just wanted to share it with you here, as well.
I arrive (nearly) to the end of this very full season, and it’s good moment to remind each of you reading this that YOU are the reason I travel the world, away from home for months at a time, working towards an unattainable perfection, exposed in ways very few people can imagine, singing the stories of characters searching for enlightenment/redemption/hope/relief/joy, and why I dedicate a large part of my life to this century’s old art form. I do it to entertain you at a minimum, but mostly to offer you comfort, to help us all join in a communal “event” that connects us across time and space despite our perceived differences, and I do it because I truly believe it makes the world a better place. I know you feel this most of the time as well. It’s likely what keeps bringing you back! I hope that after this season, perhaps you feel a bit more inspired to take what you receive as an audience member and activate that sensation in your own life, to bring hope and joy to the world around you. Don’t ever underestimate your power to do that - one doesn’t need the spotlight to bring transformation. #Songplay #Winterreise #Agrippina #Didon ✨
If this girl can do it, you can too!!!!!!! #belikeanant #heavyload #yourenevergivenanythingyoucanthandle #antsruletheworld #summerlovin
Grazie Mille @accademiadisantacecilia and the @baciopanino boys. What a JOY it was to perform with you all. Until the next time!
Celebrating #WorldOceansDay ... hoping every single one of you has the chance to swim in the vast blue ocean one day. Growing up in Kansas, I didn’t have the chance until I was in my 30’s, but when I finally did, an entire new universe opened right underneath me and I was changed. I’m so grateful for all that the planet’s oceans give to us. I want to be sure I’m doing all I can as a citizen of the world to take care of them and their vast, life-giving properties. Let’s get more informed and more active in protecting them and helping them thrive.
I was not prepared. The inspiration is through the roof to bring to life the towering cantata of #JoanOfArc tonight in the very cathedral de St. Denis, where she prayed for strength centuries and centuries ago. The same stones that received her pleas tonight will hear them again filtered through the mind of Rossini and the vibrations of those of us on stage. This, perhaps, is the thing I love most about the world of music - it connects us directly through time and space, and it shows us demonstrably how we are one. Ask me how much I love my “job”! @festivalsaintdenis @accademiadisantacecilia
#HowToFlower . . . What’s beautiful around you right now?
Grazie Mille, Roma. What a gift to be here for the briefest of moments - how much life we can find in the now!!!! #LightShower #Pantheon #Mystical #Luz #Luz #Luz #NoFilter #LookAround #Stopqndbreathe #batheinthelight #recoup #regenerate #batheingratitude #boydidtheromansknowhowtobuildabuilding #agrippinawashere #perfection #ladolcevita
And behind the scenes with Maestro Pappano and his @accademiadisantacecilia: a glimpse into the PROCESS which I love so much as we create our journey to prepare for the magic of the audience’s arrival. Thank you all for making our hard work so worthwhile!