My aunt Sharon is a huge opera fan, and she told me that Classical Bay Area radio station KDFC is having a little youtube competition to get someone to sing the national anthem before the Rigoletto Simulcast in AT&T Park on September 15th at 8pm.
So I figured why the hell not. I practiced in the car a little bit and then a couple days later I did one take on my computer. It's not perfect, but who cares?
Saturday August 13th was just another amazing day in San Francisco, after the fog burned off in the afternoon anyway. There was a perfect breeze and the sun was out and I had music all around me.
We bounced back and forth a lot today, just following our mood. On the agenda was OK Go, the Arctic Monkeys, The Black Keys, The Roots and Muse if we felt like it.
OK Go. I know the joke is that their music is nothing special, but I totally dig these guys for their continuous outpouring of creativity. Their videos are obviouslyincrediblyinnovativeandfun, but they also do crazy stuff like play a whole song on the hand bells (like the video below). These guys are true artists and performers, in every sense of the words.
And let me just say that this might have been the one time in the whole of the weekend that I wanted MORE VOLUME.
Ok GO also cracked me up continuously calling the crowd a bunch of "dirty sinners", what San Francisco has always been known for. I can't say I disagree with them. He also mentioned how overwhelmingly white the San Francisco crowd is, can't disagree there either.
The Roots: So fun. I wish I was Jimmy Fallon and have these guys has my house band. They paid tribut to Fela Kuti, Guns and Roses, Zeppelin and some "Jungle Boogie."
Girl Talk: This is performance you really have to experience live to really get I think. Imagine all your favorite songs coming at you in enormous speed, sometimes only teasing you with one hook or one chorus. Some of the mash-up pairings are so awesomely funny. I need to get some of this for working out.
I ate this (I did not eat it all myself, in fact we couldn't finish it, it was too insane):
Good Lord, what is that you ask!? It's peanut butter mousse, chocolate fudge crust, candied bacon and caramel. Don't believe me?
The couple across the picnic table was eating this chocolate covered Oreo, marshmallow stuffed thing. It was too amazing not to photograph.
Later we also ate this from Criolla Kitchen : OMIGOD SO GOOD! Shrimp Po'Boy and Yam-Yam Tater Tots. I will definitely be visiting the restaurant in the Castro. Seriously... SO GOOD.
I did not eat this, but enjoyed the sign, imaging what these would be like:
Prisoners of Shawshank Prison stop and listen to Mozart
Hey world. Sorry for not writing this month. My job situation has changed and I've found myself busier and more mentally exhausted. I'll get back into the swing of things, I promise.
One of my favorite movies of all time, The Shawshank Redemption, has been on tv a lot lately. And the scene where Andy plays the duet from Mozart's Marriage of Figaro over the loudspeaker is one of the many incredible scenes. And, it includes the line "pinch a loaf", which I always thought was pretty awesome.
Just to job your memory about what this is all about, Andy has been writing a letter a week to get funds to build a better prison library. After six years of letters, he receives a check, several boxes of books and other donated items. Including some LPs. And then he gets himself in trouble.
Shirley Verrett was my voice teacher at the University of Michigan from 1999 to 2001. Even though I don't think she quite understood why I didn't want to be a professional opera singer, she kept me in her studio anyway. I realized early on that if she didn't think I was worth her time, I wouldn't have been there. I was honored to learn from her.
Verrett was a black woman in the world of opera when there were few. She was a black woman in the era of civil rights. She was a woman in an industry that didn't (and still doesn't?) really believe that a woman could have a successful personal and professional life.
Professor Verrett's office was covered in photographs reaching as far back into the 1950s showing herself onstage and posing with presidents, other famous opera singers and celebrities. She was fearless. And I learned as much from her vocally as I did from her about life.
She taught me that you can be as successful in your personal life as you can be in your career. You CAN BE a famous opera singer and be a wife and a mother at the same time. And if others tell you differently, it doesn't matter.
She also taught me that you should not allow yourself to be pegged in a corner if you do not want to be. Being labeled as a mezzo-soprano, a dramatic soprano and more, Verrett kept critics on their toes by tackling operatic roles that were unexpected for her vocal type. She appeared in music theater productions (she was in a production of Carousel with Taye Diggs and seemed more excited about that than anything else she ever did!) and encouraged her students to sing music theater.
Professor Verrett also valued beautiful and natural things. Her vocal technique was based on supporting the natural positions of the body. I know this is pretty common, but at the time I had been learning from a voice teacher in high school who got me to make funny faces when I sang. It's been an uphill battle to unlearn those habits ever since.
Verrett also loved clothes. She LOVED clothes. Her father was in the fashion industry and she had the opportunity to travel all over the world. So she managed to pick up some interesting garments along the way. It was fun to see what she wore to campus each week.
Shirley Verrett died yesterday November 4th in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She will be missed.
Here she sings Tosca at the Met in 1978 with Pavarotti and MacNeil.
This evening I took my dad to see the last night of Puccini's opera The Girl of the Golden West. It is a love story that takes place in California gold mine country and it’s full of cheese, redemption and tragic love, you know, like most operas.
During the climactic aria "Quello che tacete" in the second act, I spotted what sounded like a short passage of “Music of the Night” from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera (“Turn your face away from the garish light of day” for those who care). I noticed that other people in the audience acknowledged it too. The motive came back later as well, and more people got it that time. Sure enough, our evening’s program threw in a little tidbit about this very melody:
“Was Puccini Robbed?” it asks. The story goes on to inform the reader that following Phantom of the Opera’s success in 1986, the Puccini estate filed suit against Webber accusing him of plagiarism and the suit was settled out of court.
Alright, this is a little too much for me. There is a time and place for lawsuits, this is not one of them.
Much like an actual visit to Burning Man, “How to Survive the Apocalypse” is a musical production with no obvious plan: you must experience what’s in front of you as it presents itself and just go with it. There is beauty you will be transfixed by and ugliness you will want to turn your attention away from. Sometimes you might not sure what’s going on, but it’s sure fun to watch.
A Burning Man blog describes it best:
The rock opera is a little bit Hair in that it tries to capture the zeitgeist of a movement, and a little bit Rent in the joyful exuberance that sometimes comes along with incredible hardship, and maybe a little bit Jesus Christ, Superstar in the way it touches your spiritual buttons."
My favorite line: "when we stop consuming, we create."
I always get a wave of pride when I hear of a fellow Michigan Music School alum making music in the big bad world successfully. Being a professional musician is not easy and I know many people, including myself, who have decided that was not the route for them. So those that have taken that route get much respect from me.
My favorite success stories right now are that of Lauren Molina and Leah Dexter. Both of these fine ladies were voice students with me at the University Michigan. Molina started off an opera major and then switched over to musical theater. Between you and me, she could have been an opera singer, she has a gorgeous mezzo-soprano voice. But the girl can sing, dance and act, which makes her a prime music theater suspect. And she's been working it on Broadway.
Right now Molina is in the hit production of Rock of Ages with American Idol alum Constantine Maroulis. I randomly caught this clip of the show on the Today Show the other day. Molina plays the character Regina, you can spot her as the curly blonde with the big glasses and a long green flowy skirt.
She was recently in the Broadway production and the touring production of Sweeney Todd and originated the role of Johanna where she also played the cello. Chances are, if you caught this production while it was in town, she was in it.
Molina is also a singer/songwriter and has a CD album out called Do-Bee-Do. which is full of quirky folk/pop songs like "Marriott on Wheels" and "Rollerskate"
Leah Dexter on the other hand has gone the opera route. Also a mezzo-soprano, she was a vocal performance undergraduate and master's student at the U of M and has since performed all over the United States and Europe. Dexter has travelled the country singing recitals of pieces by female African American composer and is currently preparing for her next project and dream role, Carmen.
Opera is not a cheap art form. Performed traditionally (in an opera house with sets, costumes, etc.), it is very expensive to produce and it is not cheap to attend. Fortunately for Bay Area residents, there are cheaper ways to enjoy opera: we've got free telecasted operas at AT&T park and standing room at the War Memorial Opera House.
Last Friday, 27,000 of my best friends and I attended Puccini's Tosca shown live by telecast at the AT&T ballpark in San Francisco from the Opera House. This is the most people that have ever attended this event. What a unique and bizarre way to watch an opera: blankets, beer, soda, wine, seagulls sandwiches, popcorn, scarves, hotdogs, whatever. It was even weirder noticing that right above the center of the huge 1920x1080 high definition digital screen was a Budweiser ad.
The audience booed the villain, cheered the heroine and tried not to yell at people who were talking too loud (Some didn't do so well, you know who you are!) This is the way opera was meant to be seen and how theater was experience hundreds of years ago. Watch out though, the sound system is so good that you might need earplugs for some of those high notes!
The next live telecast will be on September 19th at 8pm and the opera will be Il Trovatore by Verdi. I HIGHLY recommend that you check it out if you can, even if you're not sure if you like opera. Maybe combined with the ballpark experience, you can ease your way into it.
Over the weekend I also had the privilege to get a sneak preview of the new Porgy & Bess production. This is an amazing production and a gorgeous show all together. I had seen it in Los Angeles when I was a child and really didn't fully understand the story. Knowing more about the history of the opera and Gershwin I, obviously, enjoyed it much more.
One of the things I learned about Porgy & Bess is that when it was first premiered in New York in 1935, it was not well received. People liked it, but it did not have enough staying power to become an immediate classic. While it was performed in pieces in years after, it was not until 1976 when the Houston Grand Opera resurrected the opera mostly in it's entirety. Porgy & Bess has now joined the canon as one of the most popular American operas of all time. It was not well received in the 30s due to the African American stereotypes of some of the main characters: the cripple/begger, the "loose" woman, the drug dealer and the violent man. This makes sense considering the ideals during the Harlem Renaissance to "lift the race through art". It seems that by the 70s, the white and black artistic communties felt comfortable enough to perform the opera and that enough time had passed for audiences all over the country and the world to see it as more than just a racial stereotype.
Last night I went to see the opera Tosca shown live by telecast at the AT&T ballpark in San Francisco. The production was actually taking place live in the San Francisco Opera House. Several times a year, the ballpark opens its doors to thousands of people FREE OF CHARGE to watch a live opera. I heard this year 27,000 people showed up, the most people attending this event since it's inception a couple years ago.
What a unique and bizarre way to watch a show: blankets, beers, wine, sandwiches, popcorn, scarves, whatever. It was even weirder noticing that right above the huge digital screen was a Budweiser ad.
The audience booed at the villain, cheered with the heroine and tried not to yell at people who were talking to loud.
The next live telecast will be on September 19th at 8pm. The opera will be Il Trovatore by Verdi. I HIGHLY recommend that you check it out if you can. Even if you're not sure if you like opera. Maybe combined with the ball experience, you will ease your way into it.