1 July 2007

Sometimes life gives us lemons so that we’ll have the opportunity to learn how to make lemonade. That’s something that I’ve noticed over and over again in my own life. And let’s face it – nothing wrong with lemonade!

I believe that it is practically impossible to distinguish between the things we really desire and the things to which we have just simply grown accustomed without the forced experience of contrast. How would you know light if you hadn’t experienced shadow, how would you know humor if you hadn’t been bored, how would you choose anything in life unless you had gathered a little bit of information about what makes you tick – as opposed to that which drains you of energy and gumption.

My life has certainly been filled with contrasts. All sorts of good, bad, boring, fun, exciting, mellow, adventurous, safe…
Some jobs are considered “good” simply because there’s some kind of consensus that they should be, while others need to be experienced and “created” in the moment in order for the magic to appear.

After a year or so of jobs that by most would be considered the top of the heap, I am struck by the sheer joy of the two I’ve experienced lately.

The first was returning to my Alma Mater, Aaron Copland School of Music, to do a concert with the student orchestra and Choral Society. We rehearsed more than for all my Met performances put together, and we struggled to find out exactly how one plays a Verdi or Puccini aria with both abandon and sensitive ears. First timers were put on the spot in solos, and the chorus found out that each and every one of them alone had the power of all of them put together. You don’t get to be a wall flower when singing opera choruses…! It was funny and disarming, and completely exciting – Particularly when the result was so wonderful!
I also spent an afternoon working with the students in the opera studio. Four fabulously talented singers, each with their own obstacles, each with their own irresistable personalities, and with such amazing spirits of generosity and openess. Initially I wondered what on earth I would talk about. I am fairly certain they have some pretty good advice coming from their teachers and coaches. But then I figured that I would trust that something would be born in the moment and that we would find out together what would be useful.
And lo and behold, there was some kind of magic going on.
We did talk about technique, and phrazing, and shaping both sound and presence – but ultimately all those things are experiments that they will base their own choices on, and they may end up somewhere completely different than where I would go. And that is the point, methinks.

What I did notice, though, was that just talking about how my studying eventually led to a career really gave them some light at the end of the tunnel. They work so hard, and it is good to know that it actually does pay off – not just in an abstract sort of way, but in real life for real people. People with flaws and obstacles, and even people who struggle with focus or discipline or even such mundane things as money and finding enough hours in the day to practice. It is possible. Because here I am.

One of my reveiws recently said that my career “is not super stardom, but at least it’s a solid career”…. Yippie!!!
I am so pleased he noticed. And I am so grateful for the the amazing experiences a “solid” career gives you, versus “super stardom”. I can only imagine that super-stardom sets you apart so much from “average” colleagues, and the pressure of remaining a star would be detrimental to almost anyone, unless you are one of those rare birds that really is perfect in that elusive exciting way – every time you open your mouth…. I know for a fact, that isn’t me!

And yet, I must confess that working here in Aix-en-Provence on Die Walküre is a close to perfect experience!

First of all, the cast is really amazing. Especially two of the singers stand out as some of the best performances I’ve heard. Lili Paasikivi as Fricka, and Eva-Maria Westbroeck as Sieglinde.
You can pretty much bank on the quality of a lead soprano when the other sopranos in lesser roles are routinely reduced to tears or endless, excited explanations of why she’s SO great!
And it’s all true and no exaggeration. And the praise means so much coming from truly knowlegeable, gifted and experienced colleagues. There’s not an ignorant opinion in the group.

What is even more astounding about this group of women is that each and every one is a wonderful artist in their own right. And every one is a generous and genuinely nice person. Healthy artistic egos and pride in the work, sure… – But not a hint of nasty and back biting insecurity. And you know what? It shows in the work. Imagine that! We all adore getting on stage together, and none of us resents being hired to do a role for which all of us are slightly over-qualified.
It is simply a great opera with great singers and people in it.
And that’s what it’s all about. And unfortunately, it’s not always the case.
But it can all be chalked up to the experience of contrast, I think.
It is important to know what is bad about one situation to truly appreciate what is good about another. It is good to know that there is a choice in life. There is no reason to have repeat bad experiences – not when you know something else is possible.

I read recently that once you have reached a certain level of good energy and vibration in your life, say around success or relationship, then you can’t go backward. You can temporarily lose the external manifestation of your energy (say money, or a particular relationship), but you will inevitably create it anew. At the level you know is possible.

The other day I was marveling at the extraordinary experience I had in a particular relationship, saying that it had raised the bar for what I think is possible. And yet my lack of faith had me also express that I wasn’t sure it would be possible to find it again. One of the girls (one of my dear and fabulous colleagues) countered by saying that maybe it was me who brought a new level of relating into that situation, and if that’s the case, then it is in fact inevitable that I bring it with me the next time too.

In other words, life only gets better – because you are in it!

Ugh!! – The responsibility and possbility of it all…. :-)

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