Thursday, June 26, 2014

OTP (okie dokie)

Dear Readers,

My second week here with Opera Theater Pittsburgh is coming to a beautiful conclusion.

As for Wednesday, it was an intense day:
I sang two performances, had an hour coaching with Maestro McDonald and then two staging rehearsals - not too mention what has become my Steel City morning ritual.

The first performance was for the Pittsburgh Children's Hospital. I sang about a half hour's worth of music for some wonderful children. I sang some Neapolitan songs, some musical theater and some operetta. We wore some funny hats - it was a blast.

I then rushed back to the Twentieth Century Club and then over to the Pitt music building for a second, very rewarding coaching with Maestro Bernard McDonald, Cat Schaeffer, and Michaella Calzaretta. We worked on the Merry Widow music - I even offered the musical staff my rough Italian translation of  At the first kiss of April (Wie Eine Rosenknospe [Jeremy Sams' translation]). Truly, my two coachings with Maestro have been vocally, artistically and emotionally very satisfying. He finds a way to both lead and follow in such a wonderfully organic way. It is true music making. Maestro was very complimentary of our work and we are all looking forward to the Merry Widow.

I then headed to a staging rehearsal with Mo, Gale and the musical staff. We rehearsed our scenes (No. 2 and 11) which are starting really gel!

I had to run off to my second performances, which was at the PAA (Pittsburgh Athletic Association). What a lovely building, with a friendly and welcoming staff. They even offered dinner, which I took to go because I had rehearsal (I ordered the Filet :-) ) - the rehearsal was with the chorus. Nearly our full compliment of singers is among us! I've never sat in a theater eating a steak out of a Styrofoam box.

Today, Thursday was a fairly regular day.
After my morning practice ritual I decided to take it easy after the many hours of singing yesterday - I read through some more of the Stillman & Stein book to further refine my methodology for my Bottesini project. I had a rehearsal and a photo shoot. I worked on memorization and analysis of my Strauss Songs.

Some good news to come :-) finalizing some details for upcoming performances.

Thank you for reading,

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

OTP Day 7 & 8 (and Week 2 begins)

Dear Readers,

Week two feels a lot like week 8, in the best possible way!
I am feeling very comfortable and have fallen in to a great routine.

After a fabulous weekend of great music and fun with the Lackner family, Pat Jennings, Susan Wagner, Mimi Jong, Maurizio Berlincioni, and countless others, I am back to work.

I did have rehearsal on Sunday, which was a fantastically productive afternoon of Merry Widow.
Monday and Tuesday were both fairly regular days here in the Burgh. Merry Widow rehearsal in the afternoon after a morning of practicing.

On my quest towards my capstone document/lecture-recital I did come across some interesting information in Michael Henstock's book on Fernando De Lucia  :
       On page 158 he writes
"Lohengrin [which must have been sung in Italian] was an opera in which Gayarre, Masini, and Stagno, De Lucia's predecessors and models, had each had notable success over several years. But for De Lucia this excursion into Wagner was never to be repeated after that season..."

"An analysis of when such a massacre of the singing voice might have begun must consider both the gradual rise in pitch from A = 422 or below in the time of Mozart, to the modern A = 440 or even higher (a rise of almost a semitone), and a corresponding increase in size of the orchestra..."

But most interestingly:

"Wagner evidently attached great importance to the clear and emphatic enunciation of the words, and to those vocal qualities essential in the performance of Bellini's operas, to wit: ' ... rounded coloratura ... genuine, unaffected, soul-stirring portamento ... complete equalization of the registers ... steady intonation through all the varying shades of crescendo and diminuendo... '
His operas, he told Manuel Garcia II, should be sung using the methods of 'the great old Italian opera... with complete mastery of voice technique.' To Angelo Neumann, he exclaimed: 'They think that when they stand there and shout at the top of their voices, this is the 'Wagnerian' style.' 

Henstock even goes on to mention Wagner's Bayreuther-festspielehaus with it's orchestra pit that is 70% underneath the orchestra and partially covered.

Interesting thoughts... 

Tomorrow I am singing at a Children's Hospital here in Pittsburgh. I am going to bring some Neapolitan songs and maybe I'll do my first La Donna e' mobile ... what do you think? Might be a safe place to give it a try? Maybe you ain't never had a friend like me from Alladin?

Thanks for reading,

Saturday, June 21, 2014

OTP Days 5 and 6 (What a ride)

Dear Readers,

Friday and Saturday have come and gone!
Things here in Pittsburgh are really starting to take shape and blossom.

Friday, because of my car troubles I spent the morning working on my dissertation and practicing bass. I headed out for the bus and caught the bus for Oakland around 11:20 am. I have to admit, the people of Pittsburgh have been - collectively - the nicest people in the US. Their hospitality, kindness and general friendliness, as city folk, has really impressed me. The bus driver was very helpful, I was clearly not from Pittsburgh and he picked up on it right quick [southern-ism].

Miraculously my car started... I know not how or why it started for I knew not why or how it stalled. I then, as I have been everyday, warmed up and practiced at the Pitt school. The R. Strauss lieder are coming a long well! I had a fabulous rehearsal with the cast of the Merry Widow (Anna Singer, Dimitre Lazich, Gail Mosites, Ray Blackwell) and the musical and stage staff (Maestro McDonald, Cat Shaefer, Mo Zhou, Michaella, Jody, Tania Coambs). We had a musical coaching of the act II finale of MW! I get to sing the big tenor aria, for a second time!!

Friday evening, however, I drove back to Rosslyn Farms in the rain, without functional windshield wipers.. dangerous, possibly illegal. It was scary and I drove with extreme caution.

Saturday... day 6... well it's been a wild one!
I ran my first competitive race. The Prevoznak family are very athletic, Ben won first place! They convinced me to run a 2 mile (1 mile down hill 2nd mile back UP hill) race. I won first in my age group - I have the mug and t-shirt to prove it. It poured and soaked us as we ran.

I then did several hours of Bottesini work! I got a ton of info done and I am nearly happy with my translations. Ever days is a little bit closer to the document.

My night however was again a first for me. I was invited by Anne Lackner, who is the Belgian consul for the Belgain Consulate in Pittsburgh (which is the representation of the Belgain Embassy in Pittsburgh), and her husband Vincent to attend a Summer Solstice party at the house of sculptor Susan Wagner. Susan is the sculptor of  Roberto Clemente statue in Pittsburgh and many wonderful and impressive works throughout the country.

The co- hostess was Mimi Jong from Pittsburgh ( Indonesian-born of Chinese descent and German-trained architect, who plays  two-string Chinese violin ERHU). I met about 30 or 40 local musicians, artists, engineers and dancers. I even jammed with them! I hope no one recorded with their iphone. We had a blast, me singing with Erhu, guitar, baroque violin and accordion! It was an artist house party and I really enjoyed myself! Hopefully my singing will get people to come to OTP to see our performances!

It turned out to be a incredibly enriching day. WHO KNEW?

Just wait till tomorrow ;-)

Thanks for reading,

Thursday, June 19, 2014

OTP Day 4 (ossia the Cluster Day)

Dear Readers,

Today was just one of those days...

Looking back it was kind of like a "pastrami" sandwich on "soggy nasty old stale tasteless manure bread." The middle of my day was awesome (awesome = pastrami), the beginning and end of my day were both horrible (horrible = soggy nasty old stale tasteless manure bread).

In short, I had a fantastic rehearsal and coaching with Maestro McDonald. In his charming Scottish accent the Maestro said to me "You know it's right when the tenor gives you chills. Joe, the chills never lie." We worked in very fine detail, on vowel selection. Despite what one's natural or instinctual reactions are to singing in English, it is very challenging. We spent a lot of time considering which vowels sound most like the spoken English word printed and which sound best in my voice. We talked about consonants contributing to legato as opposed to stopping or impeding the legato. My favorite aspect of working with Maestro McDonald is that his answer to all of my questions is: let's find the solution that works best in your voice. We also came to the conclusion that almost all inaccuracies in pitch or music or vowel came from a misuse of my breath - we fixed that and things just lined up!

Maestro McDonald is a singer's conductor. He is a sticker for precision, but very flexible and reads his singers very well. It is nice to come to a place in my singing development where I feel like I am collaborating. In our coaching we talked a lot about breath. We even borrowed a Tibby Plyler quote BOYB (Blow Out Your Breath).  I worked with Ms. Plyler in 2010 in the semester that I sang my first Merry Widow at UGA. It is a small world.

I also had a lot of fun staging the first act duet with Gale Novak Mosites (playing Valencienne) and Mo Zhou (Merry Widow director). It is going to be a great show, I am sure. 

I found out after rehearsal that my car wouldn't start.... 

However, Johnathan Eaton and Dennis Robinson were so accommodating and helpful.
I was fortunate, again, that Ms. Demareus Cooper was available. She was kind enough to drive me all the way back to Rosslyn Farms.

I am going to call it a night early... if I can get away from this Murphy's law day sooner I would.

A great day for music - a terrible day for me.

Thanks for reading,

Wednesday, June 18, 2014


Dear Readers,

It's day three and I had my first OTP performance.

A group of us sang solos for an event with the Pittsburgh Social Exchange this evening. It was great to hear my colleagues at work:

Benjamin Taylor sang Harlequin and Impossible Dream from Man of La Mancha
Betsy Fischborn sang Zerbinetta's aria
Rachel Eve Holmes sang some musical theater pieces and music from the Fantastiks.
Chelsea Hollow sang some musical theater including Glitter and Be Gay.
Brian Hupp sang some great musical theater classics

I, of course, sang One Alone and What Kind of Fool am I? - I need to learn some more repertoire, and probably some music for tenor, I don't think the baritones like me stealing their music.

Hyery Hwang collaborated at the piano.

The most fantastic part of the evening was listening to Demareus Cooper sing some classic standards. The most touching of all was Count Your Blessings followed in a close second by Some Where Over The Rainbow. What a treat!

We had out first Merry Widow dialogue reading, which turned out to be hilarious!!!!
Favorite line so far is "She can use her magic tongue on him."

Maybe not the most exciting day in recap, but what a rich and fulfilling experience.
(not to mention I worked on my impending Bottesini recital in the morning and made head way on my methodology for analysis of his songs)

More soon,
Thank you for reading,

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

OTP Day 2

Dear Readers,

It was a pretty full day here in the Steel City (I am going to run out of nick names and euphemisms for this city fast).

The Steel City at night (photo courtesy of google)
Fortunately, I had the morning free to practice, catch up on Bottesini and start working on my new Strauss songs. Ray Blackwell asked me to sing on an all Richard Strauss concert for OTP; honestly, how could I refuse? When was the last time you turned down the opportunity to sing Strauss songs?? I rest my case. . . .
With what would have marked Strauss' 150 birthday [June 11th to be exact] if here was still alive, it makes sense that the company is presenting Ariadne and an evening of Strauss songs. WQXR, the radio station in New York, in fact, just finished its Strauss week this past Sunday.

Are you familiar with Cacilie and Heimliche Aufforderung? They are both from op. 27. The text is particularly sultry and illustrative.  There is something so sensual about late German lieder...

We had a Merry Widow production meeting and we ran through all of Camille's music today. Which was tiring, but still rather exciting to have rehearsed all of my music. I would like to share that Maestro McDonald made some fascinating arguments for the distinction and treatment of 19th century dances in the Merry Widow. There are Polkas, Waltzes, Mazurkas and lots of other dances in 3/4 time in the show an the Maestro made a well supported argument for their differentiation musically and dramatically. Unfortunately, Maestro McDonald suffered a minor injury after our first rehearsal and  had to reschedule my coaching. Please, let's hope that it is nothing serious.

With this new chunk of time to myself and no practice rooms available, I sat in my car and studied my music a bit. I then took a self-guided tour (a.k.. got lost) in Oakland and made my way back to Rosslyn Farms to meet, once again, with Ettore Borri. Mr. Borri is the Italian musicologist who wrote the chapter on Bottesini's "liriche da camera." Further more, he is quite possibly the only person to have written anything about Bottesinis 70+ songs. I am proud to announce that tonight, I finally completed the second draft of my translation.

Cheers to great music and progress!!!

Thanks for reading,

Monday, June 16, 2014

Opera Theater Pittsburgh Summer Fest 2014 Day 1

Dear Readers,

Today was the first day of O.T.P. Summer Fest 2014.

It is my first time to The City of Bridges. I have been pleasantly surprised by the wides streets, interesting architecture and friendly citizens. The opera company operates out of several buildings in the Oakland area of Pittsburgh, including the Pittsburgh University music building, which has some very narrow and some what limited practice room space.

I am staying in a borough just outside of Pittsburgh in an area called Carnegie. The borough is called Rosslyn Farms. I am staying with the Prevoznak family, who are delightful and accommodating. Despite crashing their father's day Susan, Steve and Ben (their son) have been nothing but generous and helpful since my arrival yesterday evening.

So, it is me, a stack of library books, my bass and my scores for the next 6 weeks. Day 1 down!
I've got plenty to do with OTP, but I'll need to find time to finish my dissertation.

I can't leave you without a brief recap of my day:
Rosslyn Farms feels a little like a town up the Hudson River in Tarry Town or New City. I felt very at home, having been given my own room and own bathroom.

I headed in to town early to catch my bearings in the city and found them (my bearings) not more than 10 min away from Rosslyn Farms. Getting over the bridge was a cinch and finding my way around Oakland was a piece of cake (not I've got cinches, cakes and bearings... go figure). I arrived early and scoped out the Twentieth Century Club where the main office of OTP are housed. WHAT A GREAT SPOT! It's gorgeous and in a fantastic location.

We had a meet and great with the cast, crew and administration followed by a tour of the grounds. Then we dove strait into work with Maestro Bernard McDonald and Gail Novak Mosites, who is singing Valencienne.

It is going to be a great show. The show will have some emotional and personal significance: Merry Widow was the first opera that I sang at UGA and is now the first opera that I am singing since completing my course work. ~~Spoiler alert~~ I will be singing Camille de Rosillion again in September with Capitol City Opera in Atlanta.

Keep your fingers crossed for me readers.
It's going to a rewarding but grueling few weeks.

Thank you for reading,


Monday, June 9, 2014

Long awaited up-date

Dear Readers,

I apologize for the delay, it was a rigorous and challenging semester.

I am back in New York!!
Yes, after five years and two degrees at the University of Georgia in Athens, I am finally home!
"How sweet it is!"

I'd like to share with you some great news:
In spite of the challenges Spring 2014 was my final semester at UGA.
I have advanced to candidacy and completed my course work toward a Doctor of Musical Arts degree!

Click on the image to enlarge.

I gave my final recital which was another somewhat Italian based program.
The recital went very with, and I have Greg Hankins to thank for his masterful playing!
The first half was a music featuring the poetry of Michelangelo and the second half featured the poetry of William Shakespeare.

I'll post some clips and the program notes shortly.

Some more great news that you should hear is that I will be singing with the Opera Theater of Pittsburgh in their summer festival this summer.

I will leave for Pittsburgh next week and spend the following six weeks singing Camille in the Merry Widow, Scaramuccio (cover) in Ariadne, Don Jose in Carmen for the Mildred Miller concert  and Bob Dart in a special concert series called Fall Out. I will also be singing some much beloved Richard Strauss lieder in concert.

Lastly, I was hired to sing Camille in the Merry Widow with Capitol City Opera in Atlanta this September.

~~Spoiler Alert~~
I will be making a final trip to Athens to complete my capstone project, which is a thesis on the tenor voice in Bottesini's vocal works.. more soon folks.
Thanks for reading,