Posts made in September, 2011

Thank you Dawn Upshaw

Posted by on Sep 29, 2011 | 0 comments

My absolutely favorite opera singer, Dawn Upshaw, was supposed to perform with the Portland Symphony this weekend and I was going to pay a pretty penny to see her- it was going to be inspirational and motivational. Alas, she cancelled the concert, so I will have to find encouragement from her recordings which are numerous and sublime. She was going to sing a very varied program starting with Benjamin Britten’s Les Illuminations and ending with Bernstein, Gershwin, and Sondheim songs! (I told you the signs were everywhere!) Even this choice of idol is yet another clue that I too belong singing both genres, as she does so frequently and brilliantly. Dawn Upshaw is my favorite for many reasons. She sings everything exquisitely and with great feeling, theatricality, musicality and perfect diction. Her operatic singing is glorious. (I think my favorite is her recording of “No word from Tom” from Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress. I knew the minute I heard it that I had to someday sing that aria. Little did I know how devilishly hard it is- she makes it seem ridiculously easy.) She sings Musical Theater equally well and best of all, with a perfect sense of the STYLE. One of my biggest pet peeves is an opera singer who sings Musical Theater as if it were opera. ARGH! (Renee Fleming comes to mind. Her “I could have danced all night” is just wrong.  But her “Ain’t it a pretty night” from Floyd’s Susannah is very beautiful and expressive. This kind of American music she understands.) Ms. Upshaw seems to take great joy in the uniquely American qualities of Musical Theater; the phrasing, the diction and theatricality. She always sounds like she is having fun while singing- what a wonderful quality!


I confess that some of the very best compliments I have ever gotten on my singing are the rare and amazing times I have reminded people of the great Ms. Upshaw. That makes me feel so wonderful, humble and warm all over. To even be in the same sentence as her is an honor.


I actually met her my freshman year of college when she came to UCI to give a Masterclass. I did not get to sing for her because I was a lowly underclassman. But after the class I got to shake her hand and in my laryngitis-riddled voice thanked her for her insights and her talents.


Thank you, Ms. Upshaw, for always being an inspiration to me.

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A clarification

Posted by on Sep 28, 2011 | 0 comments

I suddenly realized that one could construe from my previous posts that I now hate classical music and opera. Let me set the record straight: this is absolutely false. I still loveclassical vocal music in all its forms. I love to sing and teach it as much as I do Musical Theater. That is the point, after all: BOTH genres getting equal time and love in my musical life. Just as I found my way back to Musical Theater, I am also finding my way back to classical music as well, partly because I gave myself time away from it. I am rediscovering why I was drawn to it in the first place: the beauty, the elegance, the nuance, the power, the scope, the lushness, the intimacy. I am getting back to wanting to sing it for its pure qualities and the joy it brings to me as a singer and a teacher, to my audiences and students, not for this audition or that, this requirement or that technical milestone. 
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Cole Porter to the rescue

Posted by on Sep 27, 2011 | 2 comments

After my musical epiphany, I sought out my dear and über-talented friend Jeff Caldwell, who also harbors an equal passion for both opera and Musical Theater. If anyone would know what I should do about this situation, he would. And he did. Coming home on the 7 train one evening he suggested that I do a cabaret and that having never done one before, I should do it with someone and he would happily volunteer. Yes! Brilliant idea! And so, two years later we did our original cabaret, “The Boyfriend Back Home” at Don’t Tell Mama Piano Bar and Cabaret in New York City. We created a sort of mini-musical from already composed Musical Theater songs. We wrote a script, had props, choreography- the works!  It was a fantastically wonderful experience from beginning to end. I loved everything about the process; the creativity, the collaboration, the rehearsals, and the performances. After every brain-storming session or rehearsal, I felt exhilarated and rejuvenated; I was genuinely, profoundly happy! I was so proud of what we had produced. It was the first project in a long, long time that I felt completely connected to- it came from a place of real joy and inspiration. And we did it for the pure satisfaction of creating something new and personal and then we got to share our vision and  talents with the outside world! It doesn’t get better than that!


I had planned on trying to shop the show around, but 2009 brought huge changes to my personal life (my mother almost died and I fell deeply and totally in love with the most wonderful man) and that did not happen. But it was so deliciously fun to do and so well-received, I hope to someday give it a second life! 

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There are signs everywhere*

Posted by on Sep 26, 2011 | 0 comments

Once I decided to be a vocal performance major in college, there was no turning back. For four years of college, eight years of graduate school and a decade in New York City, I immersed myself in the classical vocal world. And I did truly love it. At both my universities, my professors taught me to adore art songs, find the theatricality in a well-programmed recital, and flex my operatic muscles. And my beloved voice teachers Julian Patrick and Cornelius Reid taught me how to sing it all beautifully and healthfully. Ironically, all those skills would turn out to be just as invaluable in singing and teaching Musical Theater as they are in the operatic and classical repertoire. But a few years ago the business of it all just got to be too demoralizing and my passion for my art started draining away. Frankly, I practically stopped singing altogether. At about this same time I did a favor for my vocal coach and sang a bunch of Cole Porter songs with him to show him the style so that he could play them for someone else’s recital. When we finished the session, I was practically levitating off the ground with joy. It was a high I had not experienced in my singing in far, far too long. I took this as a sign.

But the signs had actually been everywhere that I would eventually find my way back to Musical Theater, I had just ignored them. For Heaven’s sake, the first and biggest one was my being hired as a voice teacher for the American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA NY) when I first moved to NYC. Here was Musical Theater at its most intense and varied. I remember thinking in the first few months of my employment there how much I had missed the genre- the energy, the fun, the American-ness of it all. Sign #2? the most well received, most enjoyable set in my recital in Paris, the songs that had the audience jumping to their feet: four songs by George Gershwin! And did I listen to classical music or opera for fun? Did I hum Puccini and Schumann while I did the dishes? Nope. Musical Theater, again. Did I go to the Met when I had the money? A handful of times. But I racked up more debt going to Broadway. Opera had somehow become a job to be done and Musical Theater a relaxing vacation.


On the subway ride home after that fateful coaching session, I pondered the meaning of my elation. I knew that it meant something profound and that I HAD to do something with these feelings, but what? 


*a nod to the movie “Fools Rush In”
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From Annie to Die Zauberflöte

Posted by on Sep 25, 2011 | 0 comments

When I was nine years old, I was cast as Duffy in Annie with the Diablo Light Opera Company  in the early 1980’s fervor for that wildly successful new musical. At the time, every little girl clamored to be on stage wearing that curly red wig, hugging that shaggy blond dog and belting their brains out. But ironically, I was not one of them. I wanted to be Eliza (Julie Andrews), or Marian (Barbara Cook), or Adelaide (Vivian Blaine). Thanks to my mother, I grew up listening to records of all the old school musical theater with the original casts. I knew every word and every note to such classics as Anything Goes, Music Man, Guys and Dolls, and most especially My Fair Lady. Annie was way too new to be noticed in the Cheifetz household as anything more than a passing fad. I auditioned on a whim because my friend wanted to be Annie more than life itself and somehow she convinced me to audition with her. I have no idea how I came to this wild decision since I had never done anything remotely like this in my very young life. But I learned a song from the show (little did I know you should never do this!) and auditioned in an auditorium of 500 other hopeful little girls and their anxious parents. I thought I would die from fright. To this day I don’t know how I got through it- I don’t remember the actual singing, just my heart pounding so loudly that I thought everyone must be able to hear it! When I finished and found my mother, I burst into tears from fear and relief. Fast forward a few weeks and two callbacks later and I was cast in one of the 12 coveted orphan roles (double cast for child labor laws).  And my friend, you ask? Well, she did not even get a first call back. So much for that friendship…
For the next year I was happily immersed in the wonderful world of Musical Theater and the land of Annie. We did two runs, 64 performances- one entire year of my life was devoted to Annie Annie Annie. And it was fantastic. I was entranced by the process, the theater, the actors, the director, the stage hands, the show, everything. Mostly the other orphans stayed in the greenroom when they weren’t on stage, but not me. I stayed out of the way in the wings and backstage watching every minute of almost every show. I knew every note, every lyric. I was devastated when it ended because at the time it never occurred to me that this joy could continue. I thought of it as a one-time thing. Happily I discovered I was wrong. Two more shows with the same company followed. And then something fateful happened- I hit puberty and an operatic voice started emerging from my throat. Everyone around me who was musically and theatrically inclined persuaded me that classical music was my future. And who was I to argue? When Musical Theater wasn’t playing on the record player, it was Beethoven, Mozart and Schubert, courtesy of my father. It was beautiful music that seemed interesting and certainly challenging, so I dove in. First there were three grueling, emotionally galvanizing years of choral boot camp, otherwise known as the San Francisco Girls Chorus. Through tears and great struggle, I became an excellent musician and a second soprano who could (barely) hold her part in the middle of 6+ part harmony. And from there it was a natural progression to classical voice lessons complete with art songs and arias. And opera suited my temperament and intellectual curiosity. But Musical Theater was always home. I found my comedic talents doing Winnie from Washington in No, No Nannette and my serious side with Hodel in Fiddler on the Roof. But opera beckoned at the same time that Musical Theater moved in the pop/rock direction, something I knew instinctually was not “me”. So two musical roads seemed to diverge in the wood, and I, I (for the next twenty years) took the classical/operatic route. 

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