Wednesday, August 12, 2009

E non ho amato mai tanto la vita...

I've made the long journey back home after what may have been the most wonderful 5 weeks of my life. But I'll get to my feeling about that in a moment. First on the list is the events and happenings of my last week in Urbania.

Our last week of rehearsals was spent in the Teatro Bramante, where the performance also was. Its built like many European theaters, which a raked stage and circular box seating. The ceiling is painted with images of Earth, Wind, Fire, and Water. It's an adorable theater, and I felt like I stepped into a music box when I walked onstage. Teatro Bramante isn't big by any standards, but it has much personality and charm, and I loved exploring around the many different corridors and hidden areas.

To be honest, our first few rehearsals in the theater did not go well. Many of the students were still insecure in the music, which was a huge disappointment and problem. Our conductor was not pleased, but I knew the music and was not worried about being on the wrong side of the line. However, after some "tough love", so to speak, we felt prepared and made it work. L'Elisir D'Amore is a beautiful story, and probably one of the first operas that shows the nerd wins and gets the girl. Nemorino, a shy, nerdy, poor, and generally awkward guy, is in love with Adina, who is beautiful, rich, and flirty, and thinks Nemorino is sweet, but a waste of time. So Nemorino gets desperate, and buys a "love potion" from Dr. Duclamara, a quack doctor. But between some more desperate acts on Nemorino's part, the death of his rich uncle, and some attention from the chorus girls, Nemorino gets Adina in the end, much to the displeasure of the baritone.

Tuesday was Cate's birthday, and I spent some time looking around Urbania trying to find poppies for her. Poppies are the birthday flower for August, but since its winter at this time in New Zealand, where she's from, she's never had them on her birthday. I thought this would be a good idea, and started going to floral shops. My first stop was at Lady Man, which I think used to be a men's/women's clothing store, and the name didn't change when it became a flower shop. Still, its a funny name, and run by a guy that looks like Mafia material. I went into the shop and started asking about poppies, and of course, couldn't remember the word for "poppy" in Italian. I must have been talking very fast, because I was promptly told "Piano, piano" by the Lady Man guy. In the end it didn't really matter, because all Lady Man had were fake flowers, and I ended up buying Cate an orchid plant at another shop. But the Lady Man experience was worth it. There's probably guns in backroom.

All of the host family went out for dinner with Cate on Wednesday. And when I say the whole family, I mean it: Francesco, Leonarda, Hans, Giulia, Carlotta, Tobbia, Agatha, Gretta, Walter, Viola, and Cate's Australian friends Stewart, Natalie, and their children Emannuelle, Maya, and Noah. That's a lot of people and a lot of small children. Nota bene: it took me all 5 weeks to figure out how to spell Hans's name. Since "h" is always silent in Italian, so I heard "Antz", but thought, "That can't be spelled like that". So no, his name doesn't resemble that of an insect, but Hans. This means that he and his sister are Hansel and Gretel. Cute, no? But I realized when we were all together just how much I was going to miss them, and that I really didn't want to come back to the U.S.

Thursday afternoon I sang for Lanfranco, our maestro. There had been some confusion about me singing or not, but in the end I did. There were some nerves involved, of course, because he has connections with the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro and the Academia in Pesaro, something I'm very much interested in. I sang "Parto ma tu ben mio" and "Priva son", and got some very good advice. He told me to not take too many professional engagements too soon, and to not sing roles that were too big at the moment. He told me to start learning the roles of Rosina and Cenerentola, and suggested the Adacemia in 2 or 3 years, which made me quite happy.

Our performance of L'Elisir D'Amore was Friday evening, and everyone was pleased with the results. John, our tenor who sang Nemorino, was definitely a stand-out. The role of Nemorino fits his voice perfectly, and his acting was dead on for the role. The theater is just so much fun to sing in, and there's always more energy with an audience. It was a late night, however; the opera was scheduled to begin at 9, but this it Italy, and we began at about 9.20, and with both acts and an intermission, we finished close to midnight. After the performance most of the students went to Bruno's, one of the local watering holes. I had really never been there before, and definitely not at that hour, which made for an interesting experience. Cate came with me, and after a few glasses of wine, a fun conversation with Stephanie (during which I think she may have been trying to find a guy for me?), and saying ciao to other students, we headed home at 2.30.

By this time I was in denial about leaving Italy, as was Cate, since she was moving into her own apartment on Sunday. I just could not bring myself to think about leaving Italy, Francesco, Leonarda, Cate, and all of the other wonderful people I'd gotten to know. 5 weeks is just the right amount of time to develop relationships with people, and leaving after that amount of time made me feel like I was simply abandoning everyone in Urbania.

But my last day in Italy was wonderful. Cate and I went to Pesaro in the morning, and stayed until the shops closed for la pausa. I got some great deals in the shops, and probably spent more money than I should have. On the way back to Urbania, we stoped at a friend's country house, where some English tourists were staying and Cate was cleaning. The view of the hills from this house was enough to take your breath away, and I about burst into tears when I thought that I had to leave. After Cate finished cleaning at the house, we drove back into Urbania for a gelato with the Australian family, ran into Francesco, and then drove to Peglio. Peglio is a town of about 400 people 5k from Urbania on top of a hill. There's really nothing in Peglio except for the clock tower and the view which lends itself to great photography. We went to the top of the tower, and I could see Urbania and the other surrounding towns. When one stands on a place like that, or the Duomo of Firenze, you sense just how wide the world is, and all of the different places and people to see, and how small we are in the midst of this spectacular existence.

After returning home, the host family and I went out for one final dinner together. And while the pumpkin ravioli and steak were wonderful, Leonarda's cooking really is better than any restaurant food I've ever had. When I expressed my nerves about flying the next day, Francesco told me to drink some wine to relax. We later had Limoncello with the guy who ran the restaurant in his winter room, and I was indeed relaxed. We walked around the piazza for a while after dinner talking to friends, and also saw Hans and Giulia and the grandchildren. Carlotta chased Cate around the statue of Sant Cristoforo, and Tobbia began a game of catch with me, which mostly involved me running all over the piazza after his plastic ball. Before leaving to go home, Francesco asked me if I was sad to leave Urbania, and when I said yes, he patted my head and told me it would be OK. Even though I knew he was right, I still was not looking forward to packing and returning home.

Because my bus for Roma was leaving at 2.30 in the morning, I decided to just not go to bed that night. I still had most of my packing to do, and it seemed simpler. Leonarda said good-night and good-bye to me when we came back home from the piazza. The reality that I was leaving began to set in, and a few tears rolled down my face. Leonarda gave me a very motherly hug and told me not to cry, that I am a kind and generous girl that will be missed, and to give her best to my parents. Francesco also said good-bye and seconded Leonarda's words. Leonarda went to bed, and Francesco stayed up for a bit; I don't know if he intended to stay up until I left, because he fell asleep on the couch with the TV on. But I packed up my things, and left the apartment with Cate at 2.00. Leaving at that hour, I felt like I was running away, or simply vanishing into the dark night sky. And just like that, I was gone.

I feel like I was in Italy long enough to make some observations about the country, the people, and the culture in general. Here we go:

1. Italy really is as beautiful as books, film, and travel guides and shows lead you to believe. Being surrounded by such magnificent beauty, it isn't hard to see how some of the world's greatest achievements in art and music came from this country. When surrounded by such spectacular scenery, inspiration almost comes naturally.

2. The food. Oh, the food. The food is even better than I thought. In America, we tend to overcook our pasta and then drown it in sauce. But Italian cooking is much more simple and subtle than we would like to think. Everything Leonarda made was beyond words, but I do have some favorites: rice salad (rice, grape tomatoes, olives, mozzarella, corn, olive oil, tuna, basil, and capers), her meat sauce which she made every weekend and took hours to cook. It had sweet undertones and she cooked sausage links in it. Risotto alla Milanese (risotto with saffron), and the roasted tomatoes topped with bread crumbs, oil and vinegar. I've tried making some of these dishes here, but its just not the same.

Speaking of food, Italy is the only place where I have ever been peer pressured into eating. Leonarda would always give me a huge bowl of pasta followed by meat, salad, or something similar. When I finished, she would offer me more, and if I said I was full, she'd give me more food anyways. One Saturday the entire family came over for lunch, and after having a bowl of ravioli, Hans, Francesco, and Leonarda insisted I have some tortellini, because I needed it. I learned that I just can't win, and dig in.

3. Italians do most things slowly, except for drive and drink coffee. In America, when you go out for coffee, a 3-hour conversation is usually a part of the deal. In Italy, going out for coffee means you get your espresso, drink it in under a minute and go.
Traffic laws are sometimes just a suggestion, especially when turn signals are concerned. Why use a turn signal when you can just go? I also saw a few people drive on the sidewalk when the mood hit them, and driving at speeds over 80 mph on the highway is perfectly normal.

4. The stereotype about Italian men and their mothers is true. Enough said.

5. Italian culture, at least in a small town, is very open and welcoming. Whenever I would talk with people and say how much I love Italy, a huge smile would appear on their faces as if to say "Of course! How could you not love Italy?". I met so many people during my 5 weeks simply by walking into a store and asking questions, or by saying hello to the lady down the street. Italian culture is easy to slide into, mostly because they want you to be a part of it too.
And while gender roles in Italy are very traditional, I never felt that the culture was sexist, but that women are very much appreciated and respected. The men constantly compliment women on their looks, but usually it was with sincere intentions. When one of the older men told me I looked like a Botticelli painting, it wasn't because he was a creeper, but because he thought I looked like a Botticelli painting. There are the people you know to avoid, however, and I did so, sometimes by pretending I was Russian and didn't understand Italian or English. Its all part of the learning experience.

The rest of my journey was fairly uneventful: arriving at Fiumicimo and saying good-bye to the other students, flying from Roma to London with a group of middle-aged Italians from Bari set for a week in Scotland, trying to stay awake in Heathrow, and the 8-hour plane ride to Chicago, followed by 4 hours in a car home. I arrived in the USA at about 9.30 Sunday night, and we made it back to Indiana by 2.30 Monday morning. I was happy to see my family, of course, but after having been up since 8.00 am Saturday morning (2.00 am US time…so that makes a total of 48 hours with really no sleep?), I was exhausted and ready to sleep.

And so my Italian adventure was over, and now I’m back. I’m still slightly jet-lagged and experiencing culture shock, but I’m here. I miss Italy, and all of the people and places I left there. You may ask how is it that me, someone who always has struggled with homesickness, can miss a place half-way across the world? It’s because after years of looking for my place in the world and somewhere that I feel like myself, and after failing many times, I found what I was looking for. Never before have I felt so free and so comfortable with myself, and I never knew that life could be so beautiful, or that a culture could be so welcoming. Cate and I had a talk about this very topic, and the welcoming atmosphere is the very reason she decided to move here, and despite the not-so-wonderful things we’ve seen of life while there (deaths, friends having housing troubles at the expense of others…), we still haven’t felt happier. For the first time in my life, everything felt right.

I’m going back to Italy. I don’t know how, or when, but I’m going back.

Ci vediamo presto!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Firenze è come un albero fiorito...


The Italian sun has been hot the last few weeks, reaching 35 degrees Celcius nearly every day. But I'm learning how to keep cool; hand fans, closing the windows in the morning to keep the cool air inside, walking slowly, and drinking lots of water. But the sun here is not as brutal as in the states, and for the frist time in my life, I have something that resembles a suntan. You may ask, "What?! Pale Nordic Lydia has a tan?" Oh yes. You won't recognize me.

You wouldn't have recognized me on Monday night either. During Italian class, Corinna, one of the teachers, came into our class and told us about a variety show that night. She needed 4 or 5 people to be models for traditional international clothing. I knew Francesco was involved with this variety show, so I thought "Why not?", and volunteered. Corinna's mother was in charge of the show, and told us where to go for trying on the costumes. I thought I would remember where to go, or that someone else would have remembered, but I was wrong. We all had the general area (By the tourist office, Sunrise Cafe, La Loggia, and that area)...but no one knew where to acutally go. We wandered around for a while looking for Corinna's mother, but didn't find her. I finally went to the cafe and asked the barista if he knew Corinna's mother, and said that we had a reahearsal, but didn't know where it was. An old man happened to be there, and knew exactly where to go.
This is a photo of Francesco and I before the show.

I ended up wearing a Spanish costume (think Carmen). The other blonde took Holland, the only thing either of us would have looked "authentic" in. So I took Spain. I had a good time, though, hanging out with Italians, and listening to Francesco's sketch. I think it was funny, but there was a lot I couldn't understand. But he's a great comic actor, and I anjoyed it. But the fashion show was fun, even if I got ordered around by Italian children.

Wednesday was our other program of opera scenes. In this program I sang Dame Quickly in the Letter Scene from Falstaff. Quickly is very low, and the whole scene is quite demanding. The two measures of laughter (chromatic pitches, yes!) was very hard to put together, but after finally getting a consistant tempo, I belive it worked. After the program, Judy told me, "You know, I'm going to have to change my mind about you. I don't think you're a soprano anymore, you might be a contralto!". So there's that discussion again...chi sa?

The biggest event of the week, however, was out Thursday trip to Firenze (Florence. I like to use the names of cities in their language.). We left Urbania at 8.00 am for the 3 hour bus ride. Since driving anywhere in Italy is a beautiful drive, I wanted to look out the window on the way. However, this was difficult, as we drove through Umbria, which is right in the middle of the mountains, and the motion sickness kicked in. And I wasn't alone. But once we arrived in Toscana, and the ground once again became flat, I was fine.

Because there is a high fee for buses to come downtown Firenze, out bus dropped us off in the suburbs, and we took public transit into town. There was slight panic as our Italian teachers figured out the bus schedule, and they finally just asked a lady in her apartment for help. After we arrived downtown, people went their separate ways to enjoy the day. I stuck with Andrew, Rachel, Amanda, and the two Lucias, as we all wanted to see some of the same things. After getting some lunch and a gelato (omg gelato in Firenze...)we went across the road to the Duomo (cathedral). What struck me first about the Duomo is how colorful it is on the outside, the stone decorated with different shades of green and red. The Duomo began construction in 1296 and was consecrated in 1436, and is simply stunning. Next to the Duomo is the Baptistry, where Dante himself was baptized. I didn't go into the Baptistry, but I did see the beautiful doors on the outside, called "The Gates of Paradise" because of what Michelangelo thought of them.

The Duomo is as beautiful inside as outside. Services aren't really conducted here anymore, so there are no pews to sit in, leaving the interior open to walk about in. The most splended and beautiful part though, in my opinion, is the inside of the dome, which is a painting depicting Judgement Day. Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven are all shown in the painting, with those in Hell being eaten by monesters or being beaten over the head by a frog-man (what the frog-man is, I don't know), Purgatory being a small place where people aren't haveing a great time, but there's also no frog-man, and Heaven being a great place. The beauty of the Duomo was almost overwhelming, and I could hardly belive I was there.

After we left the Duomo, we decided to climb to the top of the cupola. Normally, I'm terrified of heights, but I couldn't miss this opportunity to have this view of Firenze. There are about 463 steps to the top of the cupola, and many are small spiral staircases with little air. This is what actually made me the most nervous, and the spirals made me a little dizzy. Lucia counted all the steps, and she and Amanda cheered me on as I tried not to overheat. But once we reached the top and I saw Firenze in all of its splendor, all dizzyness melted away in the heat, and I was stunned by what I saw. Firenze is, as Rinuccio says in Gianni Schicchi, a flowering tree, and there may be nothing that can compete with it.

After visiting the Duomo and having a leg work out, we went to the Piazza della Signorina, which is a sculpture paradise. Most in the piazza are copies of the originals and have been put there for some reason or another. For example, the copy of Michelangelo's David is in this Piazza (And no, I didn't have time to see the original). However, that is where Michelangelo actually wanted the original to stand. One of the sculptures that is an original, however, is Benvenuto Cellini's bronze sculpture of Perseus holding the head of Medusa. It's a bit grusome, but at the same time fascinating, especially when I think about that this sculpture is about 500 years old.

We walked about town for a bit before deciding to have a go at the Uffizi Gallery. The Uffizi has some of the world's most important paintings, and certainly there is no better place to see Italian Renaisance art. The Gallery is famous for its long lines, and waiting two or three hours is the norm, but there was no way I wasn't going to spend a day in Firenze without seeing art. However, we were extremely fortunate, and only waited for about 20 minutes to get in. From what I hear, this never happens, espeically without a reservation. Inside the Uffizi, I saw some of the world's most famous paintings: Botticelli's "The Birth of Venus" and "La Primavera", Raffaello's Self-Portrait and Madonna of the Sparrow, Michelangelo's painting of the Holy Family, Da Vinci's unfinished Adoration of the Magi, Caravaggio's Medusa and "The Sacrifice of Issac", and Artemisia's "Judith Slaying Holofernes". In my opinon, the two most captivating were the unfinished Da Vinci and the Caravaggio Issac. The Da Vini is a hauntig piece, as the Madonna is content, while those around her have tormented faces and are climing up to see her. No one knows why these people look like this, or what Da Vinci's intention was. Caravaggio's Issac is powerful, and you can see the panic, fear, and sense of betrayal in Issac's face as his father prepares to kill him. The feelings of Issac in this story are often ignored, and seeing them displayed in such an open and naked way was more powerful than any words.

Sadly, we had to rush through the Uffizi because of time, but I'm more than glad that I was able to see it. As I felt when walking through Urbino's Palazzo Ducale, part of me finds it hard to believe I'm here, and that my eyes have seen these priceless pieces of history (because no matter what anyone says, art is history). Some of the pieces have been in the Uffizi for over 400 years, and when I see these paintings and think out their history, and the history of those who created them, and the history of the city where they are, I realize just how little I am in this world, but at the same time how one person can leave a legacy that can last for hundreds of years. It was humbling and uplifting.

After the Uffizi, we sped to Ponte Vecchio, where there are many jewelry shops, selling some of the worlds msot beautiful gold and silver. Ponte Vecchio is famous for many reasons, and is even mentioned by Puccini in Gianni Schicchi: "Andrai sul Ponte Vecchio, e per buttar mi in Arno." After a admiring the jewelry and taking a few photos, we ran to Santa Croce, even though it was closed for the day. But I got one photo! Soon after we baorded the bus for the journey back to Urbania. Needless to say, I was exhausted when I came back to the apartment; Francesco was still awake and doing some work, and we talked for a bit, although I didn't understand a word he said. I was that tired.

The rest of the week was fairly relaxed. Saturday afternoon Francesco and Leonarda's kids and grandkids came over for lunch, and I had a good time entertaining 2-year-old Tobbia, who might just be the most adorable child on the planet. That evening, Cate and I went to the Orotorio (school) play, where her English students were performing. The play was about the life of Saint Francis, and had music and break dancing. Yes I said break dancing. Her English students asked me how to say their names in English; Marco, Alice, Frederico, and Elena, and they laughed when I told them.

I went to Mass on Sunday morning, mostly because I wanted to see what it was like. I found that I could understand parts of what was going on, and maybe got the general idea of the sermon. As I was walking home, I heard a car horn sound and someone called my name. It was Cate; she had rented a car for the day and had been looking for me to take a day trip. So, we went to the beach town of Fano for the afternoon. It was a very hot day, and the Adriatic felt wonderful. I ended up with a huge sunburn covering my entire back, but that's what happens when you're pale like me.

This is my last week in Italy, and I can't believe how quickly the time has gone. I'm exhausted, but in no way ready to come back. There's something about this country that has captivated me in a way that no other place has. My next post will probably be after I come back to the States, so look next week!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

I concerti, le prove, e gli altri cosi.

This week has been the most busy so far, and I'm slightly exhausted, although very happy. Monday evening was our Laude concert in the church of Sant Cristoforo. Donna, with whom I worked with at Interlochen, coached us on these 14th century pieces and also accompanied us on the organ. These pieces were written by common people in Toscana because they were not allowed to sing in church. But they're beautiful songs, and I love singing them. Most of the voice faculty here hadn't heard me sing since sending in the audition CD this winter, so I was a little nervous, like taking the frist test from a new professor. To top it off, I'd had a sore throad and a slight cough for a few days. But everything turned out fine, and I got some very good feedback from the faculty, which, of course, made me happy.

Tuesday was our first opera scenes prgram. For this, I sang a duet from Mozart's Cosi fan Tutte, playing Dorabella to Stephanie K's Fiordiligi. Our voices work very well together, and we look like we could possibly be sisters. She's working on Strauss's Presentation of the Rose and gave me an extra copy to learn Octavian's part. Again, I was nervous because of my health, but we were first on the program, and I kenw I'd be fine. Working with Stephanie was great fun, and I felt we did a good job with Mozart's beautiful music. After the concert, Cate and I went to a cafe for a bit. Now, everyone has warned me about the "dangers" of being a blonde in Italy, and I really haven't had much trouble. However, Tuesday night I had the experience of being followed to the bathroom by an Italian who claimed to be 20. Like I believed that for 1 second. The guys he was with are definetly sketchy, so I knew to turn him down. Yes, the attention is a bit flattering, but following a girl to the bathroom and then leering at her all night is not the way to win her over. So there. Cate and I have gotten to know quite a few of the older men in Urbania, who are far from the scetchy "20" year old discussed previously. That same Tuesday, we met another friend of Benvenuto's, Agusto. From him I learned something about my name; apperently, although my name is of Greek origin, it was also a common name among Roman nobility. So I have a Roman name, but look like a nothern Italian, kind of. Another friend of Benvenuto's (I think he knows everyone) was talking to us about music, and mentioned the singer Fred Buscolglione, and gave us a CD the following evening. I actually really like the music!

Wednesday, my Italian teacher, Lucia, invited a few of the students to go to Sant Angelo in Vado, her hometown, for the evening. Wednesdays in Sant Angelo are like Thursdays in Urbania, and she wanted us to see. So, 4 of us climbed into her cream and purple car and went. Sant Angelo is about 9k from Urbania, and has a very style. The roads in Sant Angelo are more winding, and everything is a little closer together. Sant Angelo has an interesting history; Pope Clement XIV was from there, and the words of Mussolini are painted on the inside of the city gates, although they are now covered in red paint to resemble blood. But we had a great time; real Italian pizza (freaking awesome), walking around town, and just hanging out. We got back a little later than I would have liked, but it was most definetly worth it.

This weekend marked the festival of Sant Cristoforo, the patron saint of Urbania. Friday, there was a special mass, and music by John, our Nemorino. Saturday was another mass, which I sang at with the choir, and a very long sermon. Very long. After Mass there was a procession through the town. About 6 men picked up the large statue of Sant Cristoforo, and with the clergy, musicians, and townspeople, we walked through the streets. Children were dressed up as angels, but I wasn't able to see them. Cate and I saw Francesco, Leonarda, their daughter Gretta, son-in-law Walter, and granddaughter Viola and joined them. I think I was supposed to go back to the church after the processional, but I didn't, and instead joined my host family for some coffee and conversation. I think this was the better choice.

I sang in the Performance Class Saturday morning. Since we didn't have great amounts of time, I had to make some cuts in my aria, "Parto, ma tu ben mio", which is my favorite aria. Judy, one of our teachers, gave me some wonderful feedback, and also some things to work on, especially with coloratura. After the class, I nearly ran to the bus station to catch the bus to Urbino, where I was meeting Cate. I got there in time, but met a young man from another music program here who had slept through his alarm and had been left in Urbania. He was more calm than I would have been in the situation, but he was still nervous about getting to Rome by himself with no contact information or anything. I hope he got there.

While in Urbino, I saw the Palazzo Ducale, which was the home of Frederico di Montefeltro and Battista Sforza (yes, of THOSE Sforzas), and is now the Galleria Nazionale Delle Marche. It was most definetly worth the 2 Euros to get in. Sadly, the furnishings of the Palazzo are no longer housed there, but are in Paris (I think). But there are paintings by Raffaello, his father, and other important artists. Since Cate and been through the Palazzo 4 or 5 times, I went through by myself. There wern't many people there, and at times I had whole rooms to myself. Just me, the history, and the art. It was overwhelming to think of the history of this place, and how important Urbino, and il duca Frederico are. Frederico di Montefeltro baisicly brought the Renaissance to this region on his own will, and is a very important figure in the history of this part of Italy. And I walked on the same floors, looked out the same windows, and touched the same doors he did. I noticed many painting of Sant Francesco as well; Assisi really isn't that far from here, and between him, Frederico di Montefeltro, and Raffaello, you realize how important this region has been to history.

In Urbania, the Sunday after Sant Cristoforo Day is the Blessing of the Cars (Cristoforo is the patron saint of travelers and cars). So, at 6.00, the statue of S. Cristoforo was again brought out of the church and taken to the piazza. A large group of clergymen also brought the relics of S. Cristoforo, a piece of his shoulder, supposedly. But after a prayer was said, the priests took turns holding up the relics as anyone in a car or motorcycle drove by. And there were hundreds of poeple. First a group of motorcycles went by (because every man in this region with a motorcycle imagines himself to be Valentino Rossi)
I saw people I knew drive by, including Donna, Carlo the choir director, and Cate's friends from Wales. Small towns in Italy take their patron saints very seriously, and it showed in the numbers of people who had their cars blessed; you even saw some go through twice, and sometimes in the same car. I enjoyed watching, because I'd never seen anything like it in the States.

I only have two more weeks left in Italy, and I'm shocked at how quickly the time has gone by. I was told many times that after a few weeks I would be sick of living in a different culture and trying to communicate every day in a different language, but that has proven to be anything but true. Sliding into Italian culture was a fairly simple process, and I'm picking up more of the language every day. There are new adventures in abundance, from eating something new to talking with the 92-year-old lady down the road to discovering that I've been saying "hooker" instead of "market" for two weeks ("marcato" meaning "hooker" and "mercato" meaning "market"...say that three times fast). But its worth it. Every single day.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Italy 3: Urbania, Pesaro, La Chiesa dei Morti, e La Storia di Urbania


Part of me finds it hard to believe that I've only been in Italy for 2 weeks, and yet much is still so new that I feel like I arrived at Fuimicino an hour ago. My language is improving every day, and my adventures in understanding this culture continue.

One of these cross cultural ideas that is all over the world is...the man cave. The man cave meaning a room, building, shed, whatever, that is full of guy stuff. Monday afternoon I did a load of laundry, and the washer is located in the garage, below the apartment building. There are about three types of things in this garage: the washer, dead computer parts, and Francesco's beloved motorcycle. Merlino even has a water bowl there. And that's about it. It's not important, I know, but it made me laugh.

Another cultural idea is the Sunday afternoon game or event. In America, this is football. In Italy, at least during the summer, it's Formula 1 racing. I think every male in Italy follows it. Francesco watched it at the apartment. Every cafe or bar you walked past had the race on, and there was a huge crowd around the TV. They love it. The cafe I'm sitting in just turned on a large projector screen with the race, actually. I guess I'll watch while I write? I can honstly say this is the first motorcycle race I've ever watched.

Suprises abound here everyday. Tuesday night, Cate and I walked down to the piazza after dinner. This is called "la passegiatta", meaning a walk with no particular purpose. When we arrived in the piazza, we found that a bunch of children's games had been set up, and that many families were there. Cate teaches English to small children, so we hung around and wached what was going on. We saw a few of her students and their families and talked with them. We also ran into Giovanni and Benvenuto, two older men we talk to often. If you go to the piazza almost anytime of the day, you're bound to find the older men of Urbania just sitting around and talking. They love to talk, and that's how we got to know these two. They're very nice and interesting to talk to. Benvenuto is especially funny, and enjoys picking on Cate and I, but also helping us with our Italian.

For some reason my laptop won't pick up the internet signal in the apartment, so I come down to the cafe to work. In Italy, cafes are called bars, but they are more like coffee shops that sell some alcohol. Anyways, what amuses me the most about the bars the choice of music played. Sure, I've heard some Italian pop music, but I've also heard things like Michael Jackson, ABBA, the Ghostbusters theme, "I'm too sexy". Believe me, sitting down to sip some Italian coffee to the unmistakable chords of Thriller is a slightly out-of-body experience.

Wednesday afternoon I had some free time and decided to go the Chiesa dei Morti (Churtch of the Dead). Back in the 1500s, when Urbania was still called Casteldurante, people who couldn't afford a proper burrial were burried under the church. In about 1804, some of these bodies were discovered in a perfectly mummified condition. This was due to a certain mushroom that dehydrated the bodies, slowing decomposition. About 15 of these bodies are on display at the church. I arrived just after a tour group had left, so it was just me, Giovanni the tour guide, and the mummies. It took about 10 seconds for me to get over the initial creepyness of being in a room with a bunch of corpses, which are all in a room close to the entrance of the church. Giovanni explained (in Italian, which is why I'm a little fuzzy on some of the exact names, dates, and other details)how the bodies were discovered, how the mummification process with the mushrooms works, and how each of the people died. This, in my opiion, was the most interesting part. There was a woman who had died of polio, another from a C-section gone wrong, a theif who had been hanged, a young man who had been stabbed in a fight (and Giovanni showed me the dehydrated heart. You can see where he was stabbed and all of the blood vessels), a young woman who suffered from Down syndrom, and a priest who had died from bad cholestoral. The most morbid of the corpses, though, was that of a man who had been burried alive. This man had gone into a coma; he felt cold, his heartbeat could not be heard, and he didn't respond. Thinking he was dead, he was burried. However, he woke up and suffocated. You can see from his expanded and uplifted ribcage that he was trying to get air, and the capularies all over his body burst.
I wondered as I looked at each body what these people were like during their lives, how they lived, what their personalities were, and that I am walking on the same streets they did, seeing the same hills, and speaking (or attempting) to speak the same language. I often think the same thing when practicing at the old school or rehearsing at the museo. The old school seems to be an old house, and I wonder who lived there, what it looked like 200 or more years ago, and what they were like. Its strange to think I'm practicing in a room where someone may have died, or where that same person might have been born. Did a child learn to walk in this room? Did a young man talk to the neighbors from the window? Did a married couple fight here? And its the same in the Grand Bishop Room where we rehearse in the Museo. What the did the Bishop think when he looked into the fireplace? Who came to visit him in this room?

I had two more lessons with Gary this week, and each time I work with him, we make more progress. I'm starting to see just how much excess tension I have in my body, and trying to get rid of it. The biggest problem with my body tension is that it isn't obvious; most of the time I can't feel it, and its hard to see. He also suggested some new repertoire for me, and roles that I should learn. Two that he suggested that really excited me were Der Komponist and Octavian, especially Octavian. The soprano I'm singing with in the Cosi scene is working on the Presentation of the Rose, and Gary suggested I learn it too, because our voices go so well together. Oh man do I want to sing Octavian! My second lesson this week was almost entirly devoted to one passage in my aria from Idomeneo, trying to figure out why it just wasn't working. We worked for a good 20 minutes on the different places the vowels are, and finally got it together.

Friday evening I went to la centra for a gelato (Nutella gelato might just be the most wonderful thing I've ever had. omg) and ran into Amanda, one of the other mezzos in the program. We talked for a bit with Benvenuto, who was sitting with Luciano, a friend of his. After Benvenuto left, we continued talking with Luciano, who told us some of the history of Urbania. We went on a short architechtural tour of Urbania, and he showed us where the moat used to be, which buildings were destoryed in the WWII bombing of Urbania, the houses of the nobility, and where the city gates used to be. He pointed to one of the streets in Urbania and said (in Italian), "See that street? It's older than your country." This town has been around since around 1050, and has gone through many changes; from a summer home for the Duke of Urbino to a functioning town, from Casteldurante to Urbania, from the capital of ceramics to the capital of jeans (All the jeans in Italy are made here, including those for Armani and Dolce e Gabbana). It made me appreciate the history of Urbania much more and made me more interested in the history.

On Saturday, the students from our program took a day trip to Pesaro, which is about 50K from Urbania. Pesaro is the birthplace of Rossini, and even though he moved away when he was 4, it's the Rossini capital. Rossini died a very rich man, and dontaed much of his money for a oepra house and conservatory in Pesao. In fact, his money is still running the conservatory. Alberto Zedda, who is perhaps THE Rossini expert of this age, started a summer Rossini opera festival in 1980. He also started a 2-week intensive Rossini program for young singers. Lonfranco, our conductor for L'Elisir D'Amore, is Zedda's assistant, and invited us to observe a masterclass Zedda was giving, hence the trip to Pesaro.

The young singers in this program prepare as many arias and roles in a single Rossini opera as is possible; for example, if Il Barbiere di Siviglia was being studied, a baritone in the program would learn all of the baritone roles. In these masterclasses, Zedda will point to any given singer and say, "You. Sing such-and-such an aria", and the singer just does it. He's not a man you mess with, and you never want him to tell you something 3 times. At one point, he hit the table he was sitting at and shouted "Piu leggere! Piu leggere!" to an Italian bass-baritone named Marcello. The 15 or so singers in this program were from all over the world; many from Italy, 1 Russian, 2 Armenians, 1 American, 1 French and so on. I loved listening to the different singers, hearing how each sang a given aria differently, and the peculiarities of each voice. One of the Armenians, a bass-baritone, told me during the break that he could tell I was a mezzo because of my cheecks. I actually have no idea what that is supposed to mean.

After the masterclass we were free to do as we pleased in Pesaro. Amanda, Eric, Andrew, and I had dinner at a restaurant by the beach; it was pausa time and nothing was open. But it was a fabulous dinner; eggplant ravioli with a mozzarella, basil, and tomato sause, some red wine, and chocolate mousse (I splurged). Most of us had brought swimsuits, but it was a little chilly to swim (which was fine with us since it we had had scalding weather in Urbania all week). Instead, we walked in the surf of the Adriatic and waved across the water to Croatia.

We also took a tour through Rossini's birthplace in Pesaro. Most of the museum is pictures and drawings of important Rossini singers of ages past. These included Patti, Melibran, and Falcon (for whom the fach Falcon soprano is named). But I stood in the room where Rossini was born, which was exciting and at the same time slightly odd. The only bizzare thing in the house was the photo of Rossini's friends standing around his coffin, holding handkercheifs over their noses because of the smell. Poverino. :(

As I mentioned before, Pesaro is Rossini-land, and every major Rossini singer has been there. Tenor Juan Diego Florez has a house in Pesaro, and Lonfranco told us he's there now rehearsing fo the opera festival. Of course we all had a freak-out when he told us this, especially our tenors. But there were no sightings of Florez by anyone in our group. Our tenors were very dissapointed.

The bus did not take us directly from Pesaro to Urbania, and we had to switch buses in Urbino. We had an hour inbetween buses and decided to walk around. Urbino is basicly a college town, but also the home of Raffaello (Raphael). It's very hilly but quite beautiful, and I wish we had more time there. Going up the first hilly street we saw, we came across the Catheral. A wedding must have taken place that day, because crushed flower petals and rice littered the steps. The cathedral is huge and very white. This is a town I definetly want to come back to, especially to see the different Raffaello art exhibits there. Because where else can I see such things?

I took this photo in Urbino at the top of a street overlooking the hills outside of town. Perhaps this alone can tell you why I'm so in love with this country.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Italy 2: La Luce del Sole


I can honestly say that I have fallen in love with this beautiful country in the week I've been here. The culteral differences fascinate me, and I just can't get over how beautiful Urbania is!

Italian classes and music lessons began this week. Most of our rehearsals are in a museum, which was formally the Bishop's Palace. Our rehearsal room is covered with paintings of preists, bishops, cardinals, and popes. In the center of the palace is a small giardino, and a breeze is usually passing through, which is good, because it is quite hot here. On Tuesday, one of the other students and I were waiting in the giardino for our staging rehearsal, and two older ladies came in to have a look around. They began speaking to me and asking where I was from, and what I was doing in Urbania. I said that we were both music students from America. As soon as I menionted opera, the Italian lady picked up her videocamera and asked us to sing. We politly turned her down, but she recorded us speaking. She then told us she is from Verona, where there is a large outdoor opera arena, and gave me her phone number, telling me to call her if I'm ever there.

But these spontanious conversations with Italians are not unusual. As I was walking back to the apartment on Sunday evening, a woman, probaly in her late 70s, began talking to me out of her window. I wasn't able to understand most of what she said, but I did pick up something along the lines of "Oh, you poor girl walking all by yourself! Do you live far from here? Have you had dinner?". I told her I don't understand much Italian, and that this is my first time in Italy. She smiled, and then proceeded to talk some more. Like I said before, I didn't understand most of what she said, but I loved talking with her.

This is my room in Francesco and Leonarda's apartment.

One of my favorite things to do in Urbania is walk around the downtown area, or la centra. This is the oldest part of the city, with narrow winding cobblestone streets, open windows, and ceramic rooftops. Because most people don't have air conditioning, the windows are always open, and you can hear families and friends taking. If you go during la pausa (siesta), you can hear people cleaning up the plates and dishes from lunch. In the evening, half of Urbania is in the piazza just enjoying life. Of course, old men are always in the piazza doing whatever old men do. And you can usually spot a father taking a bike ride with his child. Italian children are simply adorable; they're spirited and curious, and talk non-stop.

Few of the students in my program are living with Italian families, and I'm very glad I'm one of them. Francesco and Leonarda only speak Italian, and it has helped me start to learn the language very quickly. For the majority, I can understand them, and they understand me. And they know I haven't studied Italian before, and that I've never been here before. They're very kind, especially when I can't figure out the door; it's hard to unlock, and I've only been able to do it about twice. On Monday I had to ask the neighbor to help me out. I knocked on the door. "Che e?" ("Who is it?"). Not exactly sure what to say, I waited until he came to the door. "Buon giorno. Io sono studenta, e io vivo con Francesco e Leonarda. Ho bisogno auito con la porta." (Hello, I'm a student, and I live with Francesco and Leonarda. I need help with the door.) But I think I've finally figured it out. =)

While in Urbania, I'm studying voice with Gary Ledet. We get two 45 minute lessons each week with our teacher, in addition to other coachings. We're focusing on my coloratura, as well as addressing body tension issues. We discovered that I carry a huge amount of tension in my neck, which I couldn't feel, but may be a big factor in issues I have with placement, intonation, and ease in my higher register. Issues with tension and trying ton control everything in my voice are not something new, and anyone who has worked with me knows this. I tened to have trouble letting go, not only with my voice, but with emotions and other things. I need to learn to trust myself, and this isn't something that will come overnight. I sang "Parto, me tu ben mio", perhaps my favorite aria, during my first lesson, and he liked what I did with the piece.

About 7 of the students in my program are singing with the choir of St. Cristophoro for a conert they're doing late in the month. John, one of our tenors and our Nemorino, will be the soloist, and any of the students were invited to sing with the choir. St. Cristophoro is a gorgeous cathedral, and the sound just hovers inside the dome. Carlo, the director, speaks only Italian, which makes rehearsals interesting, but fun at the same time. But I'm learning to overcome the language barrier with hand signs, intonation, and lots of "Mi scusi". This is the Catterdale.

Wednesday was Francesco's birthday. I never thought that finding a birthday card would be difficult, but it was. To begin with, I forgot the word for birthday. I could remember it in German, Russian, and French, but non in italiano. I went to the local grocery store, pharmacy, and Smoll (kind of like CVS without the pharmacy), but none there. I also looked downtown, and finally asked a clerk where I could find one. When I found the store she told me to go to, none of the cards seemed fit. But I finaly settled for one with flowers. But what do you get a man you're father's age you harldy know in a new country for his birthday? What do Italian men do or like? No idea. So I finally settled on some little baked goods from the shop down the street. He was happy, so I guess I wasn't an epic fail at gift shopping.

On Thursday Leonarda recieved the sad news that her 102-year-old aunt passed away. She was talking about it with a friend (or relative?) yesterday, but I wasn't able to understand a lot of what was said. I was able to understand that her aunt had passed away, and how old she was, but that was about it. However, that night she said, "Non piango. Sono contenta per lei. A desso lei reste in pace." ("I'm not crying. I'm happy for her. Now she's resting in peace." She seems to be doing well though, but said her cousin is having a difficult time. Cate told me on Friday that while at 102 it isn't exactly sad, it reminds you of the other people you have lost, and that's what makes it a stressful and sad time. But now, Leonarda and her family seem to be at peace and are happy.

Thursday nights in Urbania mean "Giovediamoci", which is sort of like a city-wide festa. There are bands playing, shops are open, restaurants serve discounted drinks, and everyone, and I mean everyone, is there. You see young couples, groups of friends, families, the old men that have been in the piazza since morning (I'm not kidding. They only go home to eat and sleep), students, teenagers, and everyone else you can imagine. It goes late into the night, but it isn't a wild or out-of-controll event. Italians, though they love their wine, don't seem to drink to excess very often. It isn't a part of their culture, and it makes me sad to see that many of the other students in my program don't understand that, and act as if they were in America. I'm trying to blend in with the locals (although as a blonde with my figure in Italy, that's difficult), and I hope that my actions prove me to be a good ambassador for my homeland. Italians think Americans are loud, wild, drunken, party animals. I hope to prove them wrong.

But the idea of Giovediamoci, that everyone of all ages comes together to simply have a good time in the fresh air, is something that wouldn't fly in the States. Since coming to Italy, I've noticed that there is a definate generational divide in the States, and a weak sense of a community, be it a family, ethnicity, religion, city, or nation, that involved all ages. Of course there are differences in generations everywhere, but I think Americans tend to overcategorize our people, placing the generations into strict molds that determine what we should think, and how we should behave.

And now I'll get off my soap box.

And this is Merlino, Francesco and Leonarda's dog. He likes to go out on the balcony and growl at things, and also barks if the doorbell rings. But his one and only love is Francesco. Merlino greets no one at the door but him, and usually jumps in circles and runs around. He follows Francesco all over the house and sit under the table by his chair at dinner. Merlino is also a fan of lounging on the tile floor when it's hot, and likes to chase his tail. When I came back to the apartment on Friday afternoon, I caught him on the couch. I'm not sure if he's really allowed to sleep on the couch, but he jumped off soon after I snapped this photo of him.

And finally...the food. Oh. My. God. The food. I thought I was a good cook until I came here. My housing deal gives me breakfast and either lunch or dinner everyday. My breakfast usually is some good coffee and cereal with yogurt. For dinner, Leonarda usually makes some sort of a pasta dish; vermicelli with pesto, spaghetti with seafood, penne with shrimp and zucchini. That in itself would be more than enough, but then she brings out some sort of meat and a veggie for fruit. I go to rehearsal every night feeling extremely full. And I'm totally OK with that.

More next week!

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Italy 1: La Prima

I'm currently sitting in my host family's living room, watching a Norwegian film dubbed in Italian.

Here's the low-down of my journey so far:

Atto 1: Chicago to Heathrow: Cracked Glass and Socks
To my suprise, O'Hare Airport was not the center of chaos that I thought it would be. Still, I was a bit of a mess as I got ready to say good-bye to my parents and go through security. Anyone that knows me knows that homesickness has been one of the biggest stumbling blocks of my life, and that at times it has nearly undone me. Given my past with homesickness, traveling half-way across the world scared me, especially travelling alone and flying for the first time. But it proved to be an adventure.
Security at O'Hare was slightly paniced, but painless. Lucky for me, I had a nice American couple and a kind gentleman from India to help me out. I had already put my shoes, laptop, and carry-on bag on the conveyer belt when the gaurd told me to remove my jacket and money belt. Seeing the freaked-out look on my face, the Indian man let me put them with his shoes; I could have gotten another bin, but I had no idea that was an option. But once I got through security with no other problems, I went on to my gate. It was too early to board, so I had a little time to read and get ready. But my nerves prevented me from being able to concentrate on Tolstoy, so I resorted to the USA Today special publication on Michael Jackson I bought. Don't judge me. It was totally worth it.
My flight from Chicago to Heathrow was about 8 hours. I had a window seat, but I kept the window shade down during take-off so I wouldn't fall ill. I sat next to a young English man and another man; I don't know where he was from, but his passport was in a language I couldn't recognize. Maybe the Baltics? He didn't say a word the whole flight, so I ended up listening to the radiologist from North Dakota sitting behind me talk to the people sitting next to him. He was wearing American flag pants and talked about how he likes to wear them and make the Brits he golfs with nervous. And we wonder why people think Americans are obnoxious.
My friend Lisa was right about British Airways food; it's quite good. I have no other airline food to compare it too, but it seemed fine to me. Since I had forgotten to take any medication that would help me sleep, I had a little wine. Of course, my plastic glass was cracked, and half of the Bordeaux eneded up on me. My book got most of it though, and my mother's blazer that I was wearing didn't get stained.
I was going to listen to music while I tried to sleep, but the opera station was playing some 20th Century English opera. Britten? I'm not sure, but it's not good for falling asleep. I didn't sleep well, but who does on an airplane? But I woke up as the sun was rising above Ireland. By then my body was beginning to feel tense and I was ready to get out of that plane. It was then that I discovered that in the pack with the sleep mast, there were a pair of Birtih Airway socks.
We landed at Heathrow about an hour later and took a shuttle from the plane to Terminal 5. Heathrow is a center of insanity. I stood for a few mintues in one of the hallways, not really knowing where to go, but finally just followed the crowd up to security.
Heathrow security was a near disaster. It's proceedures are slightly different than those at O'Hare; you can leave your sheos on, but they want your carry-on liquids taken out of the bag. The security person was beginning to be a little impatient with me as I pulled out the items, but I managed. As I was about ready to walk off, I noticed my laptop bag was feeling unusually light. Just then, I heard a notice on the PA system "We have a laptop at security". I picked up my things and went back, hoping that no one had taken it. It took a while to get anyone's attention, but I got my laptop back. yay!
Heathrow Airport, as I said before, is crazy. It feels more like a shopping mall with an airport thrown into it. The signs obvisously are a wonderful help, but if I could change one thing about the place it would be this; tell passangers from which gate they are departing sooner. Some flights from Terminal 5 require a short shuttle ride to the gates, but you don't find this out until a certain time (I don't remember exactly how long before the flight). Since I had a short layover, I was concerned about time. But then again, I'm freakishly paranoid about being late, so this is no suprise, and I was there in pleanty of time.

Atto 2: London to Rome: Mrs. Atticson and Jules
My flight to Rome was bout 2 hours and on a smaller plane. This plane actually might have been comfortable to sleep in. Oh well.
I was extremely fortunate to share this ride with two very interesting ladies. Mrs. Atticson (spelling?) is probably in her late 70s and was travelling with her companion, Jules, who is probably 40-50. Mrs. Atticson is a widow, and spoke a few times of her late husband, Percy. I don't know how she met Jules, or how they began travelling together. They were going to the Vatican, because Mrs. Atticson's sight is failing, and she watned to be able to see it while she still can. Because of her poor eyesight, I helped her with a few things like buckling her seatbelt and descirbing the scenery outside the plane window. She asked me about my travels, where I was from, and how I enjoyed flying so far. And she offered me great adive as well, telling me to hang on to my faith because it will carry me though tough times when I'm older. She also warned me about British coffee, "Oh, it's horrific!"
I was able to enjoy a wonderful view on this ride. We flew south of out the UK and into France, flying over Paris and into Italy. I was able to pick out Paris from 30,000 feet because of the Arc de Triumph and the roads going towards it, which, if I might add, looks amazing from above. Viewing landscape from above is fascinating, and each country has its own distince features. The Midwest, for example, is very square. England, on the other hand, is any shape it wants to be. Yes, there are squares, but I also noticed feilds shaped like triangles, and little towns that amophously grew out of one center. France is somewhere in the middle.
Fiumicino Airport is also chaos, but in a much different way than Heathrow. Again, I wasn't sure where to go, so I just followed everyone else and hoped they were going the same place I wanted to be. This turned out to work. But My freaking out began when my luggage appeared to not have come through. Altmost the entirety of my flight was waiting by the conveyer belt, but at first only about half of the luggage came. I had also tried to call home at this point to say I got there, but my phone wouldn't let the call go through. So there I was, standing in the stuffy airport with no luggage and no way to contact my parents, with no idea what to do. But eventualy the conveyer belt started up again, and the rest of the bags appeared. The phone stil didn't work.
When I came out of the terimal, about 50 people were standing there waiting for passangers. Many had signs, and I looked for my name or the name of my program, but neither were there. An Italian airport worker approached me and asked if I wanted a taxi, and I said, "No, grazie. Someone is supposed to pick me up, but I can't find her." "Che?" I was confused and flustered, he was confused, so I walked away when he started talking with someone else. I wandered around like this for about 45 minutes, called the program director, and still couldn't find my group. Finally, I started heading for another terminal, and someone stopped me. "Italian Operatic Experience?" they asked. My director had called the person meeting us. So, I finally was able to sit down and relax a little before the bus ride to Urbania.

Atto 3: Italia by Bus
The bus ride from Rome to Urbania lasted about 4 and 1/2 hours. I tend to enjoy raod trips, and this was by far one of the most interesting. Italy is a very green country; I noticed this first from my view from the plane, and even more so driving through the country. Trees are everywhere. We stopped at a truck stop about half-way to Urbania. Italian truck stops may be one of the most interesting things I've ever seen. This one sold pasta and fresh meat and cheese. There's something you'd never see in the States. But we continued on, and the motion sickness kicked in once we went through the mountains. I kept my eyes close from getting ill, but that meant I had to miss out on the beautiful scenery.

Atto 4: At home with Italians
Once we arrived at the bus stop, Roberto, one of the Scuola Italia instructors, was waiting for us with our housing assignments. We had the choice of either staying in an apartment with other students or living with a family. Suprisingly, only 2 students are staying with a family, and I am one of them. My host family is Franc esco and Leonarda, an Italian couple about my parents age. Cate, a student from New Zealand who has been here for about 3 months, is also living here. They also have a small and cute dog that adores Francesco, is fairly indifferent to Leonarda and Cate, and doens't know what to do about me. Francesco picked me up from the bus stop and drove me back to the apartment, which is about a block from Scuola Italia (which is wonderfu, because they told us that those living with families would probably have to walk 2 miles!). I had hardly put my things in my room when Leonarda brought me something to eat. While getting to know my Italian family, I realized that I know more Italian than I thought I did. Cate doesn't speak in English to me except for a few times, but it is nice to have someone in the apartment who knows English and can help me out. Cate and I took a passegiatta after I ate and walked around town. And, as my awkwardness is, the gelato I had melted all over the place. Great first impression, Lydia. But it was still a wonderful evening, and seeing people of all ages in the piazza is simply delightful.
I was happy to finally be able to sleep in a bed! This morning I had my first Italain coffee, which excelled my expectations. Coffee in America is very bitter, which is why I don't drink it all that often. But Italian coffee is very smooth and slightly creamy.
After unpacking and lunch, I took a walk around town. I found that my memory card didn't work in my camera, but found some American students taking a walk and we fixed the problem by me taking a memory card with smaller storage and the student paying me the difference. Shortly after that I had my first experience with Italian guys. There were 3 of them, Marco, Massimo, and Francesco. They asked me if I wanted to take their picture. I thought it was a slightly unusual question, but I said why not? I know I'm not the most worldly person, but I could see what was going on, so I went with it for a while. Marco asked me where I was going, and I said, the best that I could in Italian, nowhere in particular. He asked if they could accompany me, and I let them. Marco then asked after a bit if I wanted to go to the bar with them. Although it would have been interesting, I said no. I wasn't in the mood to have a drink, and the bar they were heading towards looked a little questionable. So they said ciao and went on their way. I came back to the apartment, put the key in the door, and it promply broke. Crap. So now I'm locked out, and I can't tell if Francesco and Leonarda are at home, and I don't want to shout to them from the ground. Eventually, I thought, somone has to come out of the building, and a teenager finally did. I showed him the key and said that I was livng with Francesco and Leonarda, and he let me in. They wern't upset with me, and said the keys are very old and it happens all the time.

That's all for now! I'll post photos when I have more than 2. Class starts tomorrow at 9:00 am.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Of Packing and Other Demons

One of the things few people know about me is that I detest packing. Really, I do. I never know what to take, what I will or won't need, and how to efficiently get it all in a suitcase. And I always forget something- my glasses, contact solution, extra batteries, or some other thing that has to be sent in the mail. I'm trying to pack fairly light for this trip, taking the clothes I'll need for my Elixer of Love chorus costumes (sun dress and a cocktail dress), the opera scenes and St. Christopher concert clothes, and of course, what I need to wear every day (uh, doiyey!) I'm bringing Tolstoy's Resurrection with me too, and my laptop and camera. And lots of batteries, because my camera uses them up like no one's business.

This morning I did get information about my host family from the Scuola. I don't know who they are, but was told that they will be waiting for me at the bus station in Urbania. I'm very glad I chose to live with a host family instead of sharing an apartment with other students. My Italian is next to nonexistent, so trying to convey questions such as, "When do you want me to come home at night?" and "Do you have Internet?" might be a challenge. But a good one. :)

I still can't believe I'll be in Italy this week!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

1 week!

At this time next Saturday, my 4-hour bus ride from Rome to Urbania should be on its way.

Excitement? Yes.
Nerves? Yes again.
What still needs to be done?
1. PACK!
2. Make copies of the "Cosi fan Tutte" and "Falstaff" scenes
3. Makes copies of my arias
4. Refine "L'Elisir D'Amore" chorus music
5. Call a few people here and there

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Another reason I love Dostoevsky

Despite the darkness of tension of his novel "The Devils", Dostoevsky still manages to throw in some humor:

"Only Lyamshin had been there before, and he was telling everybody that the saint had ordered him to be driven out with a broom and had thrown two large boiled potatoes after him with his own hand."

Monday, May 18, 2009

Das Rheingold; the low-down

Yesterday, Lisa, her sister, and I went to the Indianapolis Opera to see their semi-staged performance of Wagner's Das Rheingold, the first opera of his Ring Cycle. I'd never been to Indy Opera before, and had no idea who was singing in the cast. And I wasn't sure what to expect from this performance.

And, as Wagner always does, I was blown away.

By far the most memorable singer of the opera was Greer Grimsley, who sang Wotan. Previous to seeing Rheingold yesterday, James Morris had been my only Wotan in live performance. And he set the bar extremely high. How high? Check it out here. You almost don't want to hear anyone else sing the role. So whenever I heard of anyone else singing Wotan, I was always a little skeptical, measuring the singer up to Morris.
I had heard wonderful things about Grimsley's voice, especially from his performances of Wotan in Seattle, so I was excited to get to hear him. And he blew me away! His voice cut easily over the orchestra, which was behind the singers. His performance was commanding, and his performance was magnetic. It's good to know that once Morris no longer sings Wotan, there's someone out there who can more than fill his shoes.

The performance was called a semi-staged concert version, but it didn't have that feeling. The "set" was various levels of scaffolding on the orchestra pit that were raised and lowered at the beginning and end of each scene. A screen was almost entirely lowered over the orchestra, showing images conveying each scene's setting; water for the Rhein, a mountain with a fortress for Valhalla, and a descent into a mine for Niebelheim. The only really cheesy moment with the screen was when Fafner killed his brother. A large metal pole-thing twirled across the screen, "hitting" Fasholt, and causing blood to appear on the screen. But the way in which the giants were depicted was very interesting; on either side of the stage were higher sets of scaffolding. Each bass stood on either scaffolding with a light projected on them, casting a large shadow on the screen. It was interesting and it worked well.

The singers were also semi-costumed. The Rheinmaidens wore flowing sparkly dresses, all different colors and teased Alberich (Richard Paul Fink, dressed in jeans, tennis shoes, a tuxedo shirt and vest) with transparent shawls. The gods were all in traditional "concert" attire, although Loge (Adam Klein, who sang wonderfully and acted delightfully) was dressed in a black suit with a bright orange shirt. And there were props too, which gave it more of a "fully-staged" feeling than anything; Wotan's Spear, the Rheingold, the Tarnhelm, and even the Ring itself.

And of course, that feeling of Wagner's music physically overwhelming you is unparalleled. You can't help but be taken in when you hear the giant's Leitmotiv the gods entrance into Valhalla at the end of the opera. One helluva show!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Beginning of summer

One week of summer has gone by, and so far I'm enjoying myself. So far, I have

-helped children learn to use a drop-spindle at a fiber arts festival
-seen my brother graduate from college. =)
-been to a spinning guild meeting
-finished reading The Count of Monte Cristo
-planned to go see Das Rheingold in Indy on Sunday with Lisa, her sister Laura, and Dan!


Monte Cristo took me all semester to read, and now I'm searching for something else to read. Dostoevsky?

Thursday, May 07, 2009

And...done

After one heck of a semester, I'm back at home and bouncing back from Bloomington. I've realized how much I've learned and grown in this semester, and when I look back on what I started with in January and what I've learned and accomplished in these 4 months, I'm a bit shocked. This semester, I...

-Made my operatic debut
-Covered another role
-Had a few "social" firsts
-Discovered that I'm a music theory nerd
-Started learning some "big girl" music (arias from The Rape of Lucretia, Semiramide, and Idomeneo, and my teacher gave me the okay to look at Mahler's Kindertotenlieder)
-Planned to go to Italy!!!
-Officially became an upper classman at IU
-Started planning my junior recital
-Had "the grad school talk" with my teacher, which sort of developed into...
-"The career talk"
-Decided to do an independent music theory study for the spring semester, studying the vocal works of Sergei Rachmaninoff

And of course there are many other experiences that have really changed me this semester, and while it was sometimes unpleasant, it's made me a better person. It's been a whilrwind of a semester, and it went by so fast.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Confusion

In theory, I should have all of my classes scheduled by now. But...there are always problems. This may involve me pleading with the Russian department about letting me be late to a class twice a week. This class conflicts for 10 minutes twice a week, and while my theory professor is ok with it, I have no word yet from the Russian department. In the words of my professor, "Well, you can go and beg on your knees and see what happens." But he said to not cry, because then he'd feel bad.

But in the spring semester next year (if it works out), I'll be working one-on-one with this same theory professor in an independent study course. For my topic, I've chosen to look at Rachmaninoff's songs and see how the poets he chose to set influenced his style. Of course, his later works are hugely different from his earlier ones, and I'm looking to see what the trends of poetry, or the styles of the poets he chose, had to do with that change. This professor is a Rachmaninoff specialist and only here for two years, so I want to take advantage of the opportunity to work with him. I met with him on Tuesday to discuss my topic, and we should be finalizing everything before the end of the semester.

The last weekend of The Most Happy Fella is coming tomorrow, and on Saturday are auditions for the first two operas of the season here! Then two weeks of class, three days of finals, and I'm done!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Easter 2009


Yesterday marked my second Easter away from home. Normally, I would go home, since it's so close, but I'm currently in the chorus for The Most Happy Fella here, and this past weekend was our opening. So, I was in Bloomington and away from my family, something that has never been easy. But I think the show went very well, and the chorus had lots of fun in the green room with Catchphrase and card games. And I really like my vineyard worker dress.

But, like the Easter I spent at Interlochen, the holiday turned out to be very nice. I go to church here with some wonderful people who really care about the students here, and two of them were kind enough to invite me to their Easter dinner. Alison is a fantastic cook, and makes some of the most wonderful dishes I've ever had. The dinner party was make up of Alison and her husband Helmut, our choir director Jon, his friend Laura, Brandon (a tenor friend of mine and fellow church chorister), and myself. And as usual, Alison's cuisine was just to die for. We had an appetizer of puff pastry filled with a mixture of sauteed mushrooms, feta, basil, onion, and artichoke. The main course consisted of roasted broccoli, a grain called quinoa (the only grain that is by itself a complete protein!), a cucumber dish, and roasted lamb. For dessert, she made a tiramisu-like dish that was just wonderful; I think what made it different was that it was made with brandy, but I'm not sure. But it was so good! And of course, conversation at the Kaisers is always interesting. We talked about everything from Helmut's job at the cyclotron, where he splits atoms and does experiments with neutrons to the piracy in Somalia to our traffic mishaps. As I've said before, I'm so happy that I've found such wonderful, interesting, and caring people here in Bloomington, especially outside of the university.

The second half of my Easter consisted of going to recitals. Jerome, a baritone in my studio, had his senior recital in the evening. He's made so much progress in the past year, and I'm very proud of him. His Schubert set in particular was very good. He's a very good actor as well, and you can tell how much he enjoys performing. The most beautiful point was the pianissimo high note in "Silent Noon", which just blew me away! Unfortunately, I had to leave his recital a bit early to catch another one. Thomas, a bass-baritone that I go to church with, and who sang both Figaro and Nicolai's Falstaff here, gave his master's recital. I can honestly say it was one of the best recitals I've been to here. My favorite pieces were two songs from the cycle A Broken Arch, which tells the story of a man who has been betrayed by his wife, and kills her lover, his best friend, in a duel. The words of these songs were painfully beautiful, and he sang them beautifully. The highlight of the recital, however, was Claggart's aria from Billy Budd. This aria is fairly creepy, but, like most of Britten's music, psychological and insightful. Congrats to Jerome and Thomas!

But my Easter ended with another happy note. I'm participating in a program this summer called The Italian Operatic Experience, in Urbania, Italy. Yesterday, I received word on what I'll be singing during my 5 weeks there. I'll be in the chorus of L'Elisir d'Amore (no mezzo roles), and I will also be participating in the opera scenes program, singing Dorabella in Cosi fan Tutte, and Mistress Quickly in Falstaff! Quickly is actually a contralto role, and between that, Cornelia, and the bits of Carmen I've done, I'm beginning to wonder if I'm a pants mezzo, or more of a young dramatic mezzo. Hmm...we'll have to see what happens. =)

Three weeks remain in the semester, and finals week can't come soon enough. This semester has really wiped me out in many ways. I'm very much looking forward to being at home again and having some quiet time to myself. Not much longer!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Updates updates updates

Spring break has finally come! And now for some updates on what's been going on.

1. Closing night of Giulio Cesare came off with great success! All of the feedback I heard about the production as a whole, and my own performance, was very positive and gracious. As mentioned before, this was a bit overwhelming, but in a very good sense. I'm proud of my work in this show, and can't believe I as a part of this experience!
Some photos:

What I looked like as Nireno before they got rid of my wig. They said because I had the hat the entire show that there was no need for the wig.


With director Tom Diamond. He's brilliant, just amazingly brilliant, and I loved loved loved working with him. His methods really opened my mind to new ways of approaching acting, and I hope I have the opportunity to work with him again.

Backstage fun: Jacquie as Cleopatra and Dominic as Tolomeo. Dominic has worked in all sorts of art forms, from ballet, to musical theater, a role on All My Children, and now opera, and he's so so so so so good. And his high G is better than mine. Congratulations should go out to Jacquie not only for her beautiful performances, but also for her wedding yesterday!

With Cody, who sang Achilla in my cast. I've known Cody since my first semester at IU, and he's one of the nicest people I've met at this school. It was really a thrill and honor to be in a show with him. And you can now all see how short I am.

2. I'm going to Italy this summer! I'll be paricipating in The Italian Operatic Experience in Urbania, Italy during the month of July. I requested to live with an Italian family during my stay, and should find out at the end of the month what exactly I'll be singing there. I'm going to Italy!!!!

3. Driving back home was fun!

4. Friday's plans; Cavalleria Rusicana/Pagliacci at the Lyric Opera of Chicago! Mom and I are taking yet another trip up to Chicago for a girl's weekend complete with opera, shopping, good food, and everything else.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Soon to come...

Now that Giulio Cesare has finished, I'll have a little more free time. I'm coming home for spring break today, and will post some of the details of closing weekend and such when I get home. That is, if the Internet at home will be nice and not slow.

I'm actually doing the driving back home this time, which is strange. The girl that was supposed to give me a ride broke her ankle and can't drive, so I'm driving her car back to Fort Wayne. I've never driven for this amount of time put together, so things could be interesting. Coffee will probably be needed.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Some thoughts after opening night


Opening night was all that I could have ever wanted and more. I always forget from show to show how much an audience gives you an extra burst of energy and often inspires a degree of spontaneity in performance. And I could feel that it was there, not only in me, but in my fellow cast members. The arias were sung especially well; I've never heard Andy (Cesare) sing "Va taccito" as well as he did last night, and the same goes for Cody (Achilla) in his aria, and Jacquie (Cleopatra) in her "Da Tempeste". Andy even threw in a low D at the end of "Quel torrente" just for kicks, and it was thrilling to be onstage with him; "Quel torrente" is meant to inspire Sesto and Nireno, and it wasn't hard to feel that way. I'm so proud of everyone not only in my cast, but in the other cast. I'm truly blessed to share the stage with such talented and wonderful people!

Another word about the whole team of Giulio Cesare. They've been so kind during the whole process, from the first meeting we had as a cast back in October to opening night. Their graciousness, generosity, and support have been well beyond what I could have asked for in a group of colleagues, and it means the world to me. I've known a few of them since my first days at IU, and it's been an honor to finally work with them in such detail. It's been a wonderful experience.

And really, this has been a full circle adventure for me. I remember when I was 13 and seeing my first live opera, Don Giovanni, at IU and thinking to myself, "I want to sing here someday." The thrill from that performance is something I remember even today, and it was matched by the happiness I felt last night. And I honestly never thought that I'd get here, but I'm happy that I was wrong.
The photo is of Maestro Wedow and myself after the performance. He's one of the most brilliant and creative people I've ever worked with, and has given me the chance to test my limits and open myself to new ideas.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Covering and Hovering


Opening night of "Giulio Cesare" is tonight! Consequently, we've been in dress rehearsals all week. And of course, half the cast wasn't feeling well. Everything seems to be fine now. But Wednesday was totally different. The Cornelia in that cast (tonight's cast) wasn't planning to sing any of her arias on Wednesday to save her voice. My cast had to be in the Green Room at 6 for notes from our director and were free to go after that. After I got my notes (one of which included lifting Achilla higher in his death scene so that he's in the light...basically putting his whole torso on my legs and chest)I found Maestro and asked he if wanted me to stay for anything. I wasn't sure if it was appropriate to ask if I could sing the arias, so I tried to be sneaky about it. At first he said he didn't need me for anything, but I must have given him a look or something, because then the lights in his eyes went on and he said, "Actually, do you want to sing the arias? That would be wonderful!"

And I did.

I think this was the biggest adrenaline rush of my life. I'd never sung totally solo with an orchestra before; I'd done two SATB quartets with orchestra before, but nothing this large or this intense. I hadn't rehearsed with them, and had only worked with Maestro once. So, when it came time for one of Cornelia's arias, I walked to the side of the stage and sang while the actual singer did the acting. I think for the most part it went well; I know for the first 5 or so measures of "Priva son" that I was behind, but I had trouble hearing the orchestra at first, and didn't realize how behind I was until Maestro and Marcello started motioning for me to speed it up. And for those of you who don't know the aria, the introduction is...one beat. Downbeat, sing. This is scary. But after I got in sync with the orchestra, I felt that it went very well. I won't lie, it was a bit awkward to walk onstage in my jeans, tennis shoes, and sweater and sing an aria from the side of the stage while everyone else was in full costume and makeup. But several of the people in attendance that evening complimented me on how I sang. And while the chances of me actually singing Cornelia in this run are extremely slim, I'm so glad I had this experience, especially because much of her music is very exposed and scary if you've never done it before. But now I know I can indeed do it!

For those of you interested in watching the performance but can't make it to Bloomington, here is the link to live streaming.
Streaming begins at 7:45 Eastern Time. I will be singing in the February 28th and March 6th casts.
And here is the link to the official website for the production.

The photo was taken on one of the dress rehearsals. I don't know who took it, but thank you whoever you are! This is my first scene in the opera. On a side note, the label inside my headdress says it's from the Met, from a production of "Aida". This may be the closest to the Met I ever get, but it still makes me feel cool.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Cesare Top 10, Week 2 of Staging

What's new with Cesare:

1. I have Cornelia memorized!
2. My Nireno costume was made for a man, so I'm sort of swimming in it. But it makes me look cool. And they're adjusting it.
3. Supporting a 6'4'' bass-baritone during his death scene isn't easy.
4. If I would end up singing a performance of Cornelia, I would get felt up by 4 different guys.
5. Tolomeo's death scene is going to rock, hardcore.
6. My Italian, according to our coach, is getting better each time!!
7. Being slap happy with previously bass-baritone, diction coach, and another mezzo is quite fun.
8. I'm performing in the inside cast (the "Remus", as in Romulus and Remus, cast), which performs on February 28 and March 6. If you can't see it live, catch it on the live streaming over the Internet. More details to come.
9. Maestro is one of the most amazing people I've ever worked with. Actually, this whole cast and production team is just brilliant!
10. I can't wait for this show!