Erika Sunnegårdh

Venice, 31 December 2009

New Year’s Eve Blue Moon 2009
from Cathy Towle
Intuitive Earth
www.cathytowle.com

I think it is rather significant that we have a Blue Moon tonight as we ring out the old year and ring in the new. And it is a wonderful time to partake in some Blue Moon magick! The chart of this full moon, as well as it’s other magical correspondences, makes it one that can help us manifest changes in our lives that have been brewing since August 2007. Plus there is a partial Lunar Eclipse as well. Lots of energy to work with.

So what is a Blue Moon you ask? It is the second full moon to occur in any one solar month. They happen every 31 to 33 months. Blue Moons are said to reflect the Full Moon in the Otherworlds, so it is an extra potent and prophetic time to ask for help from your ancestors, spirit guides, and other divine beings. As you reflect on what it is that brought you to this point, complete with failures and accomplishments, you have an opportunity to plumb the depths as it were, for new insight about how you tick. With new information about yourself, look at what you want to change and what new energies you want to manifest. Ask the moon goddess Selene to increase your intuition and for the wisdom to use the information wisely. Set goals for the next Blue Moon which is August 31, 2012.

This Blue moon falls on Dec. 31, 2009 2:13 pm EST at 10 degrees Cancer, opposite the Sun in Capricorn (10 degrees) conjunct Venus (7) and Pluto (3). The small shadow partial Eclipse will be seen in Africa, Europe, Asia, and Australia.

The goddess energy of the moon is magnified by the planetary positions in this amazing chart. Moon in Cancer is nurturing, kind and supportive of creating a home inside and out. So no matter if you have lost your home, or are moving for any reason, it is about feeling at home inside yourself that counts. Knowing this you can live and be anywhere, and you can recreate a new home. At the same time, with the stellium of the Sun, Venus and Pluto opposite the Moon, we are challenged to be at home in the world, connected to others by a deep inner core. Our ego’s have taken a beating this year, in so many ways. The only way to be at peace is to surrender to something greater than ourselves and let go. We are being called upon to birth the Earth Goddess, bringing her back from the ashes of our smoldering ego’s. And what comes of that will be very magical, we will discover our individual power comes from letting go and being able to listen.

Saturn is squaring the moon, telling us, to slow down, calm our emotions, give our inner life some structure, and to record our dreams. The wisdom wants to emerge as a plan, as a set of steps to take and will unfold over a period of time. So use this annoying taskmaster to get your emotional affairs in order, and build a nurturing base for yourself – that includes money and a secure living situation. Many of us will find ourselves working from home.

The yod in this chart is about leadership and action that sparked from unusual insight and purposeful thought that is poured into a humanistic cauldron of healing passion and spirit. So spiritual solutions are manifesting as actions right now. We are all being called on to be leaders, which means taking action in the world, regardless of anybody following. Clear action, motivated by higher thought and passionate heartbreak, as my dear friend Andrew Harvey, architect of Sacred Activism, likes to call it. It is a time for activism that springs from a sacred place, our hearts and our souls, so that it can take root in the world.

Here’s my take on this…we have been living a topsy-turvey year, and find ourselves disoriented, worn out and really asking What’s Next? Our usual defenses and attitudes are not working. Surrendering is the perfect course of action. It’s not the giving up kind of surrender, but feeling like giving up brings us to that. It’s more like the kind of surrender that happens from our inner beings, when we lay aside our ego’s and our plans and openly and with our gile ask — What’s next, oh great Architect of the Universe? – Even though I might not really believe in that at all right now.

A lot of food for thought as we bound into another chapter of this interesting ride. Strap on your seatbelts folks!! And remember to breathe. Aaaaah!

Wien, 2 November 2009

There are lessons in life that seem to come back over and over again. Not sure if that means, by definition, that I didn’t get it the first time and the universe is patiently and stubbornly committed that I do… Or if it’s simply that all things of substance have layer upon layer of truth to them, and that I simply could not learn anything that was beyond where I was at the time.
Being an irritatingly impatient person by nature, has had me wanting to know it all already, of course. Actually, one of the biggest lessons of all has been to constantly stand firmly planted in the beginners mind – and be happy there!

This morning, having my morning coffee over some emails and CNN news (the only channel my brain can take after a week of nonstop German!!), I saw an interview with this guy who works for LiveStrong, Lance Armstrong’s foundation for cancer awareness, prevention, etc.

This guy has had cancer three times in his 32 year life, and said some remarkable things. When he was nineteen and was diagnosed the first time, his soccer coach immediately asked when he was going to play again. And then proceeded to make him come and sit on the sidelines in uniform every practice, until his doctors said he could get on the bike, or the treadmill, or start kicking a ball around. He said his coach taught him the techniques to focus on something other than cancer. To make life about achieving something else, separate from cancer.

He now is a survivor, but also a marathon runner (who wasn’t ??supposed?? to be able to ever walk again), and continues to train others in the conversation of life, not cancer!

It is a matter of perception and focus, isn’t it? And it brings to mind the saying ??being part of the solution, not the problem??, and it also calls to mind the teachings of Abraham-Hicks on the Law of Attraction: That which you focus upon is what you’ll get more of, whether you want it or not…

Our problem, as individuals, or as a species for that matter, is not that we don’t have powerful minds that can create realities beyond our wildest dreams…. The problem is that we fill our minds with garbage! And even to the extent that we have defined what we would like, we are too undisciplined to stay with that thought.

Discipline is not about taking things at face value, being realistic, grabbing the bull by the horns, biting the bullet, or PUSHING through… None of these things are very inspiring, life affirming, or for that matter very smart. (Have you ever seen a bull up close and personal?)

Rather, it is about being visionary! It is about seeing beyond what others say reality is. It is about being filled up with the possibility of the unseen, the unproven, and the unlikely! It is about setting goals that have no foundation in the past, committing to a schedule of action, and then sticking to it – no matter what!
Even when solving a ??real?? problem, the people who get things done are the ones who are excited about the result they are actually, in reality, working towards – They are not the ones sitting at home getting an ulcer from watching the news. If you’re going to get an ulcer, do it while solving some problem, right?!

Solving problems requires looking at where we are, sure. But then one has to set ones’ sights on what one wants.
And that definitely requires taking our attention OFF of the things we don’t want. We have to stop leaking and wasting our energy, intentions, dreams and waking hours on that which leads us where we don’t want to go – or above all, that which makes us fundamentally unhappy in the thinking of it…

I once had a director who was really bad. And by bad I mean, couldn’t get the job done and made everyone miserable, including themselves. The fatal flaw was not a lack of vision or inspiration, or even technique; it was a complete inability to rule out alternatives, even if they were bad. There was a sentimental and habitual attachment to arguments, problems, intrigue, and suffering. It made for an undefined mess of ideas, none of which was developed to it’s full potential, while the whole cast and everybody around couldn’t wait for the show to be over so we could get out from underneath the depressing cloud of clingy garbage.

That’s no way to live!!

It is a challenge, but I really believe it is worth it to reach for, and expect, something so fabulously inspiring to come to fruition, that all other alternatives cease to attract our attention!

I am noticing that it takes relentless training in the art of focus of attention.

I am grateful for the people in my life who keep pulling my focus back to the things that most float my boat. The people who don’t let me wallow or suffer complaints for too long. And who always remind me that I was the one who said life could be wonderful…

It is.

17 October 2009

I just finished my first Tosca with Nashville Opera. What a joy it was to work with my dearest director, John Hoomes, again! After doing Salome with him 18 months ago in Milwaukee, I knew that I wanted to work with him again. And when he offered me Tosca, he made this season a completely happy one ~ regardless of what comes next!

What a character she is, Tosca! And Puccini’s music is so spectacular! It’s one of those operas where the more you know the more you understand why it is one of the most beloved operas of all times. Sounds sort of naïve, I know, to say that… Duh!! But, there are those special pieces that continue to amaze. And I feel rather certain that Tosca will continue to amaze me for many years to come.

Having now done a fair amount of Salome performances, I certainly know the rush and drain that it is to sing and “be” her for a few hours. I was also told over and over again by past Salomes just how taxing it was to go through that experience of her journey…

I was not prepared for the devastating process of Tosca. Not that I didn’t get the marathon of singing that the score calls for. I did. And I understood that the character would not be easy to wrap myself around. But I was taken by surprise by the depth of emotion, exhaustion, and sort of total feeling of deconstruction.

It puzzled me, this out of proportion effect on me of Tosca in comparison to that of the tragic and psychologically disturbed Salome.
So I started to look at the nature of these two characters.
What I came up with is something that is crucial to my study and commitment in life at large. Something that comes up a lot in the literature and training of self-development, spiritual awareness, self-confidence, etc.

Salome is a self-generated person. Her desires, statements, actions are all sourced by her own will, her own insides and imagination. She is self-determined. At least she is in the present. She is of course a product of her environment, but inside of the time frame of the opera, she is someone with an amazing sense of self and purpose. Nothing anyone else says or does changes her determined path of action and will.

Tosca on the other hand, is a woman who is completely given by the circumstances and people around her. She is always in a position to be swayed and affected by the slightest inference from ANYONE and ANYTHING. She is a leaf blowing in the wind of whims of others. In one second flat she looses sight of the things she knows to be true and REACTS to the things she is told. She has no consistent sense of self in the face of adversity or lies.

Ultimately, she is passionate, strong and willing to do what it takes to go on. But, in the meanwhile, she is completely at the effect of circumstances, and because of this fatal flaw, she and the one she loves lose everything.

I think this is why she is so exhausting.

It is completely draining to have no internal sense of stability ~ To have no structure upon which to base your responses ~ To be a reaction machine, constantly questioning, regretting and coping with the things you’ve said and done.

It is exhausting to not be the generator of your own sense of joy and satisfaction…

LIFE WILL NEVER DELIVER!!!! Other people deliver happiness only as a matter of luck. ONLY to the extent that we are solely responsible for our own happiness and joy do we experience grace in the presence of other human beings. Because only then do we have the capacity to offer only joy and freedom to those around us. To the extent that we rely on others to make us happy, we are slaves to the faulty circumstances of a life and reality the actual purpose of which is to challenge us to be self-determined. AND, the extent to which we hold others responsible for our happiness, is the extent to which we bind them in a web of guilt, self-doubt and defiance.

What ARE we doing to each other, I ask?

Hm. That means we are actually, really, and by design destined to fail ~ until we finally get that it’s all up to us to be happy from the inside out. And then offer our own happiness as a gift to those we love — and by extension, to everyone!

That may sound a bit disturbing, or overwhelming, at first, but ultimately, the only way to give your self to anything is to have a self to give…

Happy ~ and free of neediness.

Now, wouldn’t THAT be something?

12 June 2009

Once, about six years ago, I had an epiphany while brushing my teeth. I was brushing along, worrying about how to kick start a career singing, and I was looking at myself in the mirror of my bathroom. Somewhere in my head, or in my ears, I heard a thought, or a statement, that said: Just do your part! Practice! Study!
We’ll take care of the rest!

We, who????

Anyway, it is very clear to me now, that nothing that has ever come to me in the form of either struggle or success, has done so randomly. I believe intensely that each and every part of my path has been both necessary and perfect. Though it is very easy to see where and how my failures must be due to my own personal failures of achievement, it is also painfully clear that my successes are not of me. Painfully, and also awesomely clear. It is a relief and an inspiration to know in my heart that all good things that come through me, really do so from a higher and more pure source. That the stuff that really penetrates and reaches people is of a higher quality, and a higher purpose.

I am delighted to share this speech of Elizabeth Gilbert with you. It is the closest thing to describing this feeling I’ve had over the past five years. I hope it moves and entertains you too!

Elizabeth Gilbert on Ted.com

31 May 2009

I have been blessed with a career that not only has taken me to great places, and introduced me to great people, but that gives me a chance to regularly express myself through the medium of my talents. Often I am reminded by people I meet that this is not something most people get to do — certainly not at work.

I am sitting on the train leaving Gothenburg after one of the most intense and awesome five days of my career. Not only did I get to sing one of my favorite pieces, the Verdi Requiem; but, I got to do so with a most amazing team of people.

The conducting name on everyone’s lips nowadays is undeniably Gustavo Dudamel. And, for once, the hype, the excitement, the over-the-top superlatives are all justified. He is as normal a 28 year-old as I have ever met (curly-cues bopping, cracking jokes, strolling in 15 minutes before performance while inhaling a melting ice cream), but really this is an individual with a musical identity so developed and inspired that it quite literally overflows the boarders of his being and bleeds into everything and everyone with whom he comes into contact; quite literally transforming everyone and everything that comes into his path…

Add my friend and colleague, Dominic Natoli (whose singing I absolutely LOVE!!), and the sublime mezzo-soprano, Ekaterina Semenchuk, and you have a recipe for delight. Singing duets with Ekaterina was a revelation of ensemble singing, finding sweeter and ever more sensitive ways to turn a phrase, but also spinning off some fiery heat and explosive intensity. I haven’t sung with anyone previously who has had as complimentary and as mutually inspiring expression and vocal quality. Not to mention a super-personality and a tender, generous heart!

The orchestra is really a very fine one, and it is blossoming back into its former glory under the steady stream of Dudamel-fire; and the chorus (an amateur one at that!) sang the whole piece from memory, and with such pure, gorgeous, powerful and enthusiastic sound it was positively tear jerking.

What a week!

Dominic reminded me that most musicians wait a whole career for a musical experience such as this one. In fact, I think his words were that HE really has waited all his life for this!
We are both Maestro Dudamel’s seniors by quite a few years, and, I dare say we have both experienced our share of setbacks and disappointments, challenges and slow roads… And the thought and wish we both carried with us when we left the week in Gothenburg was, how deeply and dearly we both hope that Dudamel’s enthusiasm, sense of play, non-pretentiousness and complete lack of ego both in his music making and his communication, will go unscathed through the quagmire that is the international music business.

He is undeniably mid-dive into the deep end of the pool, and with great mentors and friends and family, I am sure he will do great. But, I found myself fighting back new found elder/maternal feelings of wanting to protect him — and the gift he shares so awesomely!

But I do believe in the goodness of the Universe, so I have to believe that someone who spreads so much joy and inspiration to others, and whose life story so personifies the good that music can do, will have his very own set of guardian angels looking out for him.

In the meanwhile, I urge anyone who reads this to keep all young musicians in your thoughts — That they find the courage and strength to bring music into a new role of hope and inspiration to all kinds of people – everywhere!

16 April 2009

Welcome address to freshman parents at Boston Conservatory, given by Karl Paulnack, pianist and director of music division at Boston Conservatory.

“One of my parents’ deepest fears, I suspect, is that society would not properly value me as a musician, that I wouldn’t be appreciated. I had very good grades in high school, I was good in science and math, and they imagined that as a doctor or a research chemist or an engineer, I might be more appreciated than I would be as a musician. I still remember my mother’s remark when I announced my decision to apply to music school–she said, “You’re WASTING your SAT scores.” On some level, I think, my parents were not sure themselves what the value of music was, what its purpose was. And they LOVED music, they listened to classical music all the time. They just weren’t really clear about its function. So let me talk about that a little bit, because we live in a society that puts music in the “arts and entertainment” section of the newspaper, and serious music, the kind your kids are about to engage in, has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with entertainment, in fact it’s the opposite of entertainment. Let me talk a little bit about music and how it works.

The first people to understand how music really works were the ancient Greeks. And this is going to fascinate you; the Greeks said that music and astronomy were two sides of the same coin. Astronomy was seen as the study of relationships between observable, permanent, external objects, and music was seen as the study of relationships between invisible, internal, hidden objects. Music has a way of finding the big, invisible moving pieces inside our hearts and souls and helping us figure out the position of things inside us. Let me give you some examples of how this works.

One of the most profound musical compositions of all time is the Quartet for the End of Time written by French composer Olivier Messiaen in 1940. Messiaen was 31 years old when France entered the war against Nazi Germany. He was captured by the Germans in June of 1940, sent across Germany in a cattle car and imprisoned in a concentration camp.

He was fortunate to find a sympathetic prison guard who gave him paper and a place to compose. There were three other musicians in the camp, a cellist, a violinist, and a clarinetist, and Messiaen wrote his quartet with these specific players in mind. It was performed in January 1941 for four thousand prisoners and guards in the prison camp. Today it is one of the most famous masterworks in the repertoire.

Given what we have since learned about life in the concentration camps, why would anyone in his right mind waste time and energy writing or playing music? There was barely enough energy on a good day to find food and water, to avoid a beating, to stay warm, to escape torture–why would anyone bother with music? And yet–from the camps, we have poetry, we have music, we have visual art; it wasn’t just this one fanatic Messiaen; many, many people created art. Why? Well, in a place where people are only focused on survival, on the bare necessities, the obvious conclusion is that art must be, somehow, essential for life. The camps were without money, without hope, without commerce, without recreation, without basic respect, but they were not without art. Art is part of survival; art is part of the human spirit, an unquenchable expression of who we are. Art is one of the ways in which we say, “I am alive, and my life has meaning.”

On September 12, 2001 I was a resident of Manhattan. That morning I reached a new understanding of my art and its relationship to the world. I sat down at the piano that morning at 10 AM to practice as was my dai ly routine; I did it by force of habit, without thinking about it. I lifted the cover on the keyboard, and opened my music, and put my hands on the keys and took my hands off the keys. And I sat there and thought, does this even matter? Isn’t this completely irrelevant? Playing the piano right now, given what happened in this city yesterday, seems silly, absurd, irreverent, pointless. Why am I here? What place has a musician in this moment in time? Who needs a piano player right now? I was completely lost.

And then I, along with the rest of New York, went through the journey of getting through that week. I did not play the piano that day, and in fact I contemplated briefly whether I would ever want to play the piano again. And then I observed how we got through the day.

At least in my neighborhood, we didn’t shoot hoops or play Scrabble. We didn’t play cards to pass the time, we didn’t watch TV, we didn’t shop, we most certainly did not go to the mall. The first organized activity that I saw in New York, that same day, was singing. People sang. People sang around fire houses, people sang “We Shall Overcome”. Lots of people sang America the Beautiful. The first organized public event that I remember was the Brahms Requiem, later that week, at Lincoln Center, with the New York Philharmonic. The first organized public expression of grief, our first communal response to that historic event, was a concert. That was the beginning of a sense that life might go on. The US Military secured the airspace, but recovery was led by the arts, and by music in particular, that very night.

From these two experiences, I have come to understand that music is not part of “arts and entertainment” as the newspaper section would have us believe. It’s not a luxury, a lavish thing that we fund from leftovers of our budgets, not a plaything or an amusement or a pass time. Music is a basic need of human survival. Music is one of the ways we make sense of our lives, one of the ways in which we expres s feelings when we have no words, a way for us to understand things with our hearts when we can’t with our minds.

Some of you may know Samuel Barber’s heart wrenchingly beautiful piece Adagio for Strings. If you don’t know it by that name, then some of you may know it as the background music which accompanied the Oliver Stone movie Platoon, a film about the Vietnam War. If you know that piece of music either way, you know it has the ability to crack your heart open like a walnut; it can make you cry over sadness you didn’t know you had. Music can slip beneath our conscious reality to get at what’s really going on inside us the way a good therapist does.

I bet that you have never been to a wedding where there was absolutely no music. There might have been only a little music, there might have been some really bad music, but I bet you there was some music. And something very predictable happens at weddings –people get all pent up with all kinds of emotions, and then there’s some musical moment where the action of the wedding stops and someone sings or plays the flute or something. And even if the music is lame, even if the quality isn’t good, predictably 30 or 40 percent of the people who are going to cry at a wedding cry a couple of moments after the music starts. Why? The Greeks. Music allows us to move around those big invisible pieces of ourselves and rearrange our insides so that we can express what we feel even when we can’t talk about it. Can you imagine watching Indiana Jones or Superman or Star Wars with the dialogue but no music? What is it about the music swelling up at just the right moment in ET so that all the softies in the audience start crying at exactly the same moment? I guarantee you if you showed the movie with the music stripped out, it wouldn’t happen that way. The Greeks: Music is the understanding of the relationship between invisible internal objects.

I’ll give you one more example, the story of the most important concert of my life. I must tell you I have played a little less than a thousand concerts in my life so far. I have played in places that I thought were important. I like playing in Carnegie Hall; I enjoyed playing in Paris; it made me very happy to please the critics in St. Petersburg. I have played for people I thought were important; music critics of major newspapers, foreign heads of state. The most important concert of my entire life took place in a nursing home in Fargo, ND, about 4 years ago.

I was playing with a very dear friend of mine who is a violinist. We began, as we often do, with Aaron Copland’s Sonata, which was written during World War II and dedicated to a young friend of Copland’s, a young pilot who was shot down during the war. Now we often talk to our audiences about the pieces we are going to play rather than providing them with written program notes. But in this case, because we began the concert with this piece, we decided to talk about the piece later in the program and to just come out and play the music without explanation.

Midway through the piece, an elderly man seated in a wheelchair near the front of the concert hall began to weep. This man, whom I later met, was clearly a soldier–even in his 70’s, it was clear from his buzz-cut hair, square jaw and general demeanor that he had spent a good deal of his life in the military. I thought it a little bit odd that someone would be moved to tears by that particular movement of that particular piece, but it wasn’t the first time I’ve heard crying in a concert and we went on with the concert and finished the piece.
When we came out to play the next piece on the program, we decided to talk about both the first and second pieces, and we described the circumstances in which the Copland was written and mentioned its dedication to a downed pilot. The man in the front of the audience became so disturbed that he had to leave the auditorium. I honestly figured that we would not see him again, but he did come backstage afterwards, tears and all, to expl ain himself.

What he told us was this: “During World War II, I was a pilot, and I was in an aerial combat situation where one of my team’s planes was hit. I watched my friend bail out, and watched his parachute open, but the Japanese planes which had engaged us returned and machine gunned across the parachute chords so as to separate the parachute from the pilot, and I watched my friend drop away into the ocean, realizing that he was lost. I have not thought about this for many years, but during that first piece of music you played, this memory returned to me so vividly that it was as though I was reliving it. I didn’t understand why this was happening, why now, but then when you came out to explain that this piece of music was written to commemorate a lost pilot, it was a little more than I could handle. How does the music do that? How did it find those feelings and those memories in me?” Remember the Greeks: music is the study of invisible relationships between internal objects. This concert in Fargo was the most important work I have ever done. For me to play for this old soldier and help him connect, somehow, with Aaron Copland, and to connect their memories of their lost friends, to help him remember and mourn his friend, this is my work. This is why music matters.

What follows is part of the talk I will give to this year’s freshman class when I welcome them a few days from now. The responsibility I will charge your sons and daughters with is this: “If we were a medical school, and you were here as a med student practicing appendectomies, you’d take your work very seriously because you would imagine that some night at two AM someone is going to waltz into your emergency room and you’re going to have to save their life. Well, my friends, someday at 8 PM someone is going to walk into your concert hall and bring you a mind that is confused, a heart that is overwhelmed, a soul that is weary. Whether they go out whole again will depend partly on how well you do your craft.

Yo u’re not here to become an entertainer, and you don’t have to sell yourself. The truth is you don’t have anything to sell; being a musician isn’t about dispensing a product, like selling used Chevies. I’m not an entertainer; I’m a lot closer to a paramedic, a firefighter, a rescue worker. You’re here to become a sort of therapist for the human soul, a spiritual version of a chiropractor, physical therapist, someone who works with our insides to see if they get things to line up, to see if we can come into harmony with ourselves and be healthy and happy and well.

Frankly, ladies and gentlemen, I expect you not only to master music; I expect you to save the planet. If there is a future wave of wellness on this planet, of harmony, of peace, of an end to war, of mutual understanding, of equality, of fairness, I don’t expect it will come from a government, a military force or a corporation. I no longer even expect it to come from the religions of the world, which together seem to have brought us as much war as they have peace. If there is a future of peace for humankind, if there is to be an understanding of how these invisible, internal things should fit together, I expect it will come from the artists, because that’s what we do. As in the concentration camp and the evening of 9/11, the artists are the ones who might be able to help us with our internal, invisible lives.”

15 March 2009

Life is pretty awesome!

I think I am finally finding a little bit of perspective on this crazy life style of mine. It’s still crazy and terribly overwhelming at times, but there are also insights that pull the plug on some of the nerviness of it.

Here are some silly ones:

When you travel to an unfamiliar place, loaded with luggage, dog, and pre-rehearsal or performance nerves… I tend to be uneasy about the practical things. Where do I get my train ticket, am I on the right train, did that announcement apply to me…. Are there going to be a zillion stairs to maneuver (like in London), and will I find a place to let my dog pee (a very important detail although he is unbelievably cool about it!)… And is it OK to take the bus driver’s time with a stupid question while other passengers are waiting to go home after long day at the office??

In the midst of these worrying, flashing-by thoughts (because they are lightning fast, but oh so undermining), it occurred to me that every place I go ~ which to me is new, “other”, unfamiliar, and in its workings a bit mysterious ~ is HOME to a whole bunch of people!

It would be like someone arriving at the suburban subway station I commuted to school through as a kid, and being befuddled and nervous about it…. Hm! Clearly not necessary in reality!

Maestro (my little puppy!) has a beautiful way of relating to each and every apartment we sleep in. Actually, I am not sure what makes an apartment a home to be happy about for him – maybe his bed, his toys, his food, all of the above…. Or, maybe it’s simply because it’s a door behind which you get to arrive “at home”…

Regardless, he get’s so excited to come home (even from a 5 minute walk) that he literally can barely keep his skin on. He wiggles and runs and jumps and looks back at me with this excited question of: “Why are you just walking so calmly? This is the coolest thing ever!!!”

I have to remind myself just how lucky and comfortable I am ~ wherever I am!

Right now we are staying in Munich in between my tour performances of Salome with Welsh National Opera. Time is flying too quickly, as I am really enjoying Munich. I found a wonderful coach, I have friends here, there are lots of places to walk Maestro, and somehow, there is a nice and relaxed feeling in this city. A good mix of north and south.

My time at WNO has been a lovely, calm and sweet experience.
I think you get a natural kick going to work every day and facing a theater that has its motto etched into the facade.

“In these stones horizons sing!”

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Is it just me, or isn’t that one of the most inspiring thoughts one could bring into this job every day? Something not to forget. There for everyone – performer and audience alike!

The rehearsal period was easy and nice, and everybody working on the show is so lovely and competent! Just totally pleasant!
It is always strange to come close to the end of a contract where you have felt so comfortable. There is an urge not to leave. A recurring question of whether the next job will be as nurturing.

I guess that is how I would describe this experience. Nurturing!
Being hired by John Fisher (formerly head of the music department at the Met), and conducted by Lothar Koenigs ~ and so supported, respected and appreciated by both, has been the kind of experience that fills up your reserves of strength and confidence. It’s really important.

I am also increasingly grateful for the tender, fun and always enthusiastic support of my agent, Ann.
So many of my colleagues are unhappy with their agents, or simply having to fire them for incompetence, gross negligence, or simple lack of interest. And I do understand that no agent, or for that matter, no singer will ever be perfect. There is always someone else who has better contacts, or more clout, or knows more about this or that. BUT, I would rather share this trip with someone with whom I share mutual respect, admiration and commitment. Someone who gets as excited about music and my singing and the potential in my career as I do. Someone who doesn’t think my value or theirs is derived solely from how many Euros we clock in this month.
I can call Ann to talk if I’m feeling low or high, if I need to discuss strategies in a sticky situation at work or if I need some advice on dog training, I can argue repertoire or fees or vacations, and most of the time she is the one taking a protective and wise stance.
I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that she is on my side and that she will fight like a lioness to keep me safe, healthy, and putting my best foot forward. How many people in this business can say that?

I am indeed blessed with the best of all worlds right now: A great boss, an amazing and inspiring conductor, my friend and agent, Ann, and wonderful colleagues whom I can also call friends.

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8 February 2009

Finally starting to catch up to date with my website entries, I now must share about the most amazing change in my life….

The last week of September I brought home my newest family member, a little Miniature Pinscher, named Maestro!
Actually, being part of the M-litter at the Bellocean Kennel, his full name is Bellocean’s Marvelous Maestro.
I can’t help it, I have to share a whole bunch of pictures, because he is soooo adorable, and he is growing up so fast. Although I can’t promise I won’t publish more pictures of him, I can speculate that it will not be as frequent or in as high quantity as today…

I used to have two cats. Sophia and Leicha. They were the sweetest little friends, and I loved them so much. Both of them died in 2007, having had long and good lives, and having spread an amazing amount of TLC to everyone they knew.

I started contemplating getting a dog I could travel with shortly after I lost the cats. Partially because I missed them, and partially because I became more and more aware just how much more sane and emotionally normal I had felt when being in contact with animals daily.

So, I started looking for a kennel in the south of Sweden, seeing as I would be in Malmö for a long enough period to get at least a little bit settled with a new puppy. And I found Bellocean’s, run by a lovely young woman named Britzyk Bell Mantilla. I found the puppy for me there. Britzyk guided me through the early process of choosing the breed and gender of my future dog, and I also got a lot of helpful insight into what this all would entail.

In the end of July the M-litter was born. Four sweet puppies for lovely mom Tali.

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The name Maestro was suggested to me by my dear friend Evan. Evan is a former violinist and has played under the baton of dozens of the past century’s most distinguished maestri, and for some reason the name suggestion just kept me smiling and giggling. Especially since I know something about the breed of my future dog, it seemed somehow appropriate that a feisty, small dog with a huge personality should have such a name. Somehow Ben or Fido just didn’t do it for me. I hadn’t quite made up my mind, but then Britzyk sort of sealed the deal for me.
Maestro is the one with his nose in the air ~ closest to his Mamma…

I also call him Baby-Roo, because he bounces like a kangaroo, or alternatively he lifts off like a helicopter.

I saw him the first time when he was three weeks old, already displaying his insatiable kissing urges…

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I didn’t see him again until he was 8 weeks, but I couldn’t take him home until two weeks later, after my premiere of Death and the Maiden.

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At first he spent most of his time sleeping, or keeping me from sleeping…. I figured that the most important things to teach him besides the normal doggy behaviors, was how to cope with my singing as well as how to travel like a pro. I started by taking him to a practice room at the opera house, for some vocalizing. At first he looked at me and tilted his little head as if to ask, “are you OK?”. Then he promptly asked to jump up in my lap, and while I sat at the piano, he then proceeded to curl up and fall asleep, and stayed that way for 90 minutes while I hollered Strauss above his little ears. In fact, he can sleep through almost anything. Amazing!!

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But then I thought I had to see if he really could find his place in my life, so I took him on his first plane ride up to Stockholm. He was a model jet setter, staying in his bag and being very quiet and calm. Of course he charms everyone he looks at (like all babies), including his by now hopelessly enamoured owner. It is lovely to see the otherwise stern security control guards crack smiles and ask to take the leash for a few moments….

In Stockholm the autumn leaves were turning and my niece Sandra got these lovely photos of the two of us.

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I finished my time in Malmö and headed back to the States. So, this of course was the big and scary test for the new dog owner, as we now had an 8 hour flight ahead of us. I took all the good advice I could get my hands on, timing his food and water rations, taking him for a 90 minute run on the beach before leaving, and trying to stay calm myself ~ and lo and behold, he was as perfect as if scripted. He liked the meatballs I brought and he was so sweet and still the whole flight. Ten hours later, he put his little paws on American soil, immediately did his business, and then calmly hopped into the car and said hello to his new friend Tim, who picked us up.

Since then we have flown to San Francisco, Chicago, and South Carolina, and he has proven that he really can handle this life style I’ve dragged him into, and with flying colors, as it were…

We spent Christmas and New Year’s with friends on Hilton Head Island, where he ran his little self tired on the miles of open beach and played hysterically with his new Labrador friend Megan. He loves other dogs, is very careful but sweet with people, and thinks birds are just the coolest creation ever. He can easily do a 3-4 mile run, despite his small frame. He’s now 11.5lbs and very feisty.

Unfortunately, he is not at all growing into his name. He follows me everywhere (who ever heard of a Maestro who did that), although actually, rarely when I want him to…. And he doesn’t like being in the center of attention AT ALL. In fact, it makes him very upset. If you ever meet him, don’t look at him, and no hands please. He’ll sniff your legs and a few minutes later he’ll be your friend… He has discovered his voice, but is rarely angry or confrontational, and he always wants to play with the others of his kind… No, he’s not a normal maestro at all. But he is mine.

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But the term is really originally for someone who is masterful, isn’t it? Someone who teaches and mentors. He does that. He is teaching me patience. And forgiveness. And gentleness. He is teaching me to be consistent, or forever hold my peace. And to have fun…. EVERY DAY!!! He reminds me to take naps and to gleefully distribute wet kisses even if uninvited… That every day is a new beginning… And that sometimes, all you need to be happy, is a stick of your own!

Cardiff, 7 February 2009

It’s Sunday in a very gray and misty Cardiff. I am halfway through the rehearsal period here for my second production of Salome. It is such a joy to be back on the horse singing this incredible music. It is difficult to find a more perfect score, although going to last night’s performance of Marriage of Figaro one finds a great contender… Good thing there is no need to choose. I marvel at these wonderful Mozart singers. Such grace and prettiness. And humor!

I am again blessed with a wonderful group of people with whom to work. Our conductor, Lothar Koenigs, actually clapped his hands in delight at the end of our first musical rehearsal. Gleeful, to say the least. What a joy it is to work with someone who stays within a close few steps of the wonder and amazement of the alchemy that can happen between music and a specific combination of people. One really has to be open to it though, lest it flash by under the scrutiny of a hard heart, and spend the rest of the production hiding in the shadows of each person’s good intentions and self-criticism. One must coax and charm such loveliness into the light of day.

Our director, Andre Engel, is a marvel of theatrical integrity. Steeped in the traditions of classical theater and proper technical stage craft, he continuously draws us back to balance and justified action, understanding the deeper human prerogatives of each character, and always, always peeling off the layers to the core conflict or objective.
It is amazing to me that a production twenty years old maintains such a high level of relevancy and interest. And I am even more amazed to consider the wonderful women who precede me in this role, on this set… Stephanie Sundine, Helen Fields (with whom I share this run), and of course, Catherine Malfitano, who has been my teacher for the past few years.
Stephanie’s daughter Francesca was the assistant stage manager in Milwaukee during my first Salome. She was seven years old when her mom did the initial run of this production. That’s just too cool!

Much has happened since I last wrote in September. The run of Death and the Maiden was by far the most taxing period of my career so far. Playing Paulina Salas took its toll. When I met Ariel Dorfman during our final week of rehearsals, he mentioned that no Paulina had ever made it to opening night without getting sick, and he marveled at my strength. Hm… I guess I am just a late bloomer in everything, because I just haven’t been myself since… I made it through the run. And actually, the show grew and became quite organic and wonderful by the time we got to run it on our own terms for a while. But coming out of it I felt like I had been hit by a freight train ~ helplessly grasping into thin air, trying to hold on to something solid to drag myself up on my feet again.

It was a remarkable experience to live with this woman in my heart. Because that is inevitably where she took up her residency. There and in my spine. It is really something to try to stand up straight when every bone in your body feels broken. It is painful to speak for the right to exist ~ not just physically exist, but emotionally, spiritually, and most of all, exist without fighting… That’s what I felt most about Paulina. That her story is about the right to exist with dignity, without justification or the destruction of self in the process. To love oneself enough to stand it. And perhaps to be loved enough to do so with joy.

I make this point again, that I would never make it through these challenging jobs were it not for the amazing people upon whose shoulders, or under whose wings, I get to do my work.

In this case it was our conductor, Thomas Søndergaard, the amazing cast, particularly Fredrik Zetterström, and the skilled, good hearted and generous quartet of guys who played out Paulina’s inner world in mime, dance and violent physicality that carried me through. It is interesting how I found that having the quartet play out Paulina’s feelings came as a relief. She spends much of her time trying desperately to control her anger and damage, or being told to do so, and actually having them act out her most seriously creepy urges was liberating. Nothing that would make sense in reality, but as an emotional construct it was remarkable.

Also, had it not been for an eleventh hour visit from our dear librettist, Ariel Dorfman, the emotional connective tissue of this piece could have been lost on us all. He came to us and spoke so candidly about the meaning of these characters to HIM ~ personally. And he connected all of us to each other and to the reality this play depicts. It was with great relief in many ways that most of the chorus and myself sat in tears and listened. It made our journey through this piece worth it. And in fact, it is the stuff that makes an artistic life worth it.

Having read Ariel’s auto-biography, “Heading South, Looking North”, it was with amazement, admiration and respect I spent a few hours in the presence of him and his wife Angelica. I had built up a picture of this woman, who stood on a street outside the Argentine embassy during Ariel’s exile there, day after day for months, with her toddler by the hand, hoping that he might catch a glimpse of them just to know they were alive.
I just couldn’t put together the picture in my head of the woman of whom he spoke so candidly in his book with the young and gorgeous woman I met. The woman I met had no resentment or tiredness in her eyes, and no walls around her. She was one of the most beautiful and generous people I’ve met. It is no accident of course that someone like Ariel is married to someone like Angelica. They clearly deserve each other, and thank God they had each other given the life that they have continuously taken on living so fully. One can’t help but wonder what makes certain people MORE full of life through their adversity, and others fall broken and bitter over it.

It was an inspiration. I would not wish their experiences on anyone. But I am grateful that their insights and attitudes are available to the rest of us to learn from. It is people like them who move things forward. No matter how bad things seem sometimes. It is possible to choose a softer and more generous heart, while still standing for your principles.

In my comparatively insignificant and gentle circumstances, I stand inspired and grateful.