Addio, Aida!

Ciao amici!

    I have just returned home from a trip to NYC and all of its winter wonder. There was much snow and tiramisu to be had, but that’s for another post. I went to NYC to see our main Soprano Bae Sondra Radvanovsky in Aida at the Metropolitan Opera.

    The performance I saw was the first of three with Sondra as Aida, these three performances being the last of the Sonja Frisell production, which premiered in 1988,  before the production is officially retired. A beautiful behemoth of a production, this Aida is the epitome of grand opera. I spent the entire four hours in wide-eyed wonderment.

    If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I tend to book my vacations around Sondra’s performance schedule. I booked this trip as an early birthday to myself and, as I am a great gift giver, I got myself a front row seat. I was so close I could have read the orchestra’s scores instead of the surtitles!  This was my first time seeing Aida and I am so glad to have gotten such a good seat for this because it was an EXPERIENCE. The sets! The costumes!! The horses onstage!!! This production is everything that opera should be. Magnificent, beautiful, and intricate- all while serving the story and the music. Being in the front row, I had to try to keep my reactions to myself, but I was clutching the pearls and gasping nonstop throughout the show.

As I mentioned, I chose to see Aida for Sondra Radvanovsky and I was not disappointed in my decision. I have seen Sondra in five different operas and I am constantly amazed at how she is able to navigate different styles of music and vastly different characters so well. Her Aida was simply phenomenal. Her voice is perfect for the role, taking us from unbelievably beautiful pianissimo notes to the most gloriously large sound you’ve ever felt wash over you in your life, and she sailed through the Verdi lines with apparent ease. You have not lived until you’ve heard Sondra sing Verdi live. Another reason I really love watching Sondra perform is that she acts with nuance and intelligence. Proud and furious, submissive and heartbroken, torn yet decisive- her Aida traversed the spectrum of human emotion in just a few short hours. Also, Sondra did all of this while having two cracked ribs. Like… WHAT??? #SuperSoprano

The men of the opera were wonderful as well. Jorge De Leon sang Radames strongly, and acted the ups and downs of the character most nobly. Solomon Howard made for a hulking, intimidating presence as the king. Quinn Kelsey was an intense Amonasro and, I won’t lie, I hated him for making Aida choose between Radames and her family’s love (what a guilt trip, bringing up her dead mother) but opera will be opera, so what can I say? The man made me feel something so he did his job and he did it well. Olesya Petrova sang Amneris beautifully and sincerely. Never once did her actions seem petulant or contrived. Her Amneris seemed like a woman in love and, because it’s opera, made poor choice in the name of love. I had forgotten that Placido Domingo was conducting until he was right in front of my face so that was quite a delightful surprise.

I didn’t know what to expect when I went to see Aida. The opera had never appealed to me before and I only went to see it because Sondra Radvanovsky was in it (she could be singing the phonebook and I’d pay to see it, but I digress), but I walked out of that theatre in love. Aida is a beautiful, grandiose example of everything opera can be. The conflict was intense and realistic, the deaths justified (will I ever see Sondra in an opera where she doesn’t die at the end?), and the music beyond compare. I am so grateful to have been able to see this production before its retirement, and with such a cast! The curtain call was rambunctious and enthusiastic. Sondra was showered with flowers (as she should be) and I broke my rule of only going “WOOOOOOOO!!!'“ for Kelli O’Hara. It was a joyful, beautiful moment of time and I am so glad to have witnessed it.

After the show, I went backstage to see Sondra and, of course, she was a delight. Such a kind and funny lady behind all of that hard work and ability. A queen (or princess, in this opera). Follow her on Twitter, instagram, or around opera house worldwide!

“You look SO tired.” - Sondra

“You look SO tired.” - Sondra

NEW CAMERA KLAXON!

Hello friends!!

    I am so very excited to say that I have recently upgraded my gear from the Canon 5D Mark II to the Canon 5D Mark IV! I have wanted this camera ever since it was released and I am so glad to finally have it. It might have cost more than my first car (which was a piece of crap but that’s not the point) but totally worth it!

   Of course, as soon as it arrived I had to test it out on myself and I’ve been carrying it with me EVERY WHERE in case I might get a few photos (I also might have done a mild amount of trespassing to get photos of cows and yes, that is an alligator, but one does what one must for one’s craft). I’m heading to NYC next week and am excited to put it to work with a few shoots I’ve got lined up and some photo adventuring around the city. I’ll be posting photos from the trip so until then, here are a few I’ve taken since I got it!

Addio!

Eine Kleine Hansel und Gretel!

Hi friends!

Recently I took rehearsal photos and footage for Hansel and Gretel at Opera Orlando- and that made it to the news! Here’s the segment from Channel 6 and some photos from the rehearsal!

Our Homegirl Floria Tosca at the Metropolitan Opera

I recently saw the Met production of Tosca, starring my main Soprano Bae Sondra Radvanovsky and Joseph Calleja. Tosca is my most favourite opera and I love our homegirl Floria Tosca with a burning passion. Because I am a ho for Tosca, I spend a fair amount of time studying the opera and thinking about the character of Tosca because she was a strong woman who, though she could not change her circumstances in life, lived and died on her own terms (see my 3am character analysis of her on Twitter here). Because of my boundless love for Tosca, it was incredibly exciting to get to see my favourite soprano as Tosca.

   My friend Phil and I saw the November 2nd performance and were fortunate to sit very close to the stage- don’t you love when you’re close enough to see all of the sweat and spit flying?. This was his second opera (he saw our two stars in Norma with me the season before) and I loved getting to share my favourite opera with someone for the first time. We waited for those glorious opening chords and immediately were transported into Tosca’s world as they sounded.

     I love when you can laugh during the first act because you’re going to be sobbing the second two acts. The Sacristan always brings some laughs, but here it was Sondra and Joseph Calleja who really delivered the laughs in the first act. The singers filled the music with life, even when they weren't singing (hashtag acting) and had a beautiful camaraderie on stage together. There wasn’t the foreshadowing that sometimes happen when singers play the end from the beginning. Act one was well balanced between the drama of the circumstances and the lightheartedness and love of Tosca and Cavaradossi.

    Act two, however, was an anxiety attack waiting to happen. From the moment the curtain went up it was tense and the danger was palpable. Claudio Sgura was spectacular as Scarpia. His over-attentive politeness in the first act sharply contrasted his brutal behaviour in the second act. He really made you hate him (an excellent sign that you’ve played a villain well is getting booed at curtain call, which he was) and his tall stature made him seem especially posing as he manhandled Tosca (rude) throughout the second act. Sondra was spectacular as Tosca. This is no surprise, this is the fourth opera I’ve seen her in and she is always spectacular, but her Tosca is beyond words, really. Both her acting and singing is so fully and brilliantly brought to life, it grabs you by the face and doesn’t let you go until the curtain has dropped. It wasn’t until the monstrous applause sounded at the end of Vissi d’arte that I realised I’d been holding my breath for the last minute of the aria and, after the last 20 minutes of the act, my Apple Watch told me to breathe to release stress. It was VERY INTENSE, OKAY???

     Act three brought hope back into my heart for Tosca and Cavaradossi and then just as quickly crushed it into the dirt and shattered my heart into a thousand pieces. This Tosca allowed us to laugh and to breathe for a moment while the lovers rejoiced over the idea that they would be able to escape this and to leave the country, thanks to Scarpia’s letter of safe passage for Tosca and her companion. This moment of brevity and love made the finale ever so more heartbreaking as Tosca realised that her Mario had actually been killed (were the sobs we heard from Tosca or from me? The world may never know). You know it’s coming and it is still overwhelmingly tragic. You barely have a moment to process this tragedy before Scarpia’s men come to arrest Tosca and she makes her final proclamation of “O Scarpia, avanti a Dio!” and leaps to her death (which I find very interesting to ponder as she is such a devout Catholic and that is the unforgivable sin to Catholics, but I digress). The ending of Tosca is so hard-hitting and fast that you are left a bit breathless when the last note has played out.

    The curtain call was rambunctious and exuberant praise for the singers. I WOOOO’D a lot (you’re welcome to everyone in front of me). The crowd seemed overwhelmingly pleased with the magnificence they’d just witnessed, as they should have been. A stunningly beautiful production with remarkable singing from its cast- this Tosca was one for the ages. It is a pity that it is not being given an HD broadcast, as I would love to see it again and again.

On my way to hitting 1k

Hello friends!

If you follow me on social media, you are probably aware of the fact that I’ve been walking/running quite a bit in the last 12 weeks. Eight hundred miles, to be exact. My goal is to hit 1,000 by November 1st, exactly 16 weeks after I started keeping track. A lot of people have asked me about this so I thought I would write a blog post and share more about it.

“Why in heaven’s name are you doing this?” you might ask. Well, it’s pretty simple: I want to see if I can. I am the type of person that likes to see just how much I can do and I really like when goals have tangible benchmarks. I am able to see my progress one step at a time (I mean, literally, every step is one step closer to my goal) during this and it’s kept me motivated, even when I am sore (and I am always sore). Also, there was a time in my life when, due to spine injuries from a car accident, I wasn’t allowed to do more than walk slowly so I am thrilled that my body has been able to carry me through this.

I started this while I was in Europe in July. I was staying in London with my friend Sarah, who walks a lot very day as well, and we decided to walk 15 miles around London my first full day in London. I had only slept about 4 hours in three days because of jet lag and I was exhausted, but it was such a fun way to see the city. We left the flat at 6am and walked until probably 2pm, when I finally wilted at lunch and we had to go back so I could nap. That was the day that started it all. The rest of my time in London and Paris I averaged 10-12 miles a day. I actually hit 100 miles in 10 days while walking to Trafalgar Square with Sarah.

After two weeks in London and Paris, I went to Wales for another week. I walked every day there as well. It wasn’t as far, but it was very steep, hilly terrain and I managed to climb a mountain while I was at it! Though I didn’t maintain the high mileage, I maintained the habit of walking every day, which was the important part.

When I got back from Europe, I kept up the walking. I’m always sad when I come home from a trip, so the walking helped me with how much I missed Europe and the people there. Near my house is a trail that was an old railroad track that’s been paved into a running/biking trail. I can walk to it from my house, which makes it super easy to get in walks and runs, as I don’t have to drive anywhere. I started logging a lot of miles, just walking on the trail. After a week or two, I started to add in a few running intervals every walk. Short distances, maybe .10-.25 of a mile at a time. Before my car accident, I would run 4-5 miles a day and I really missed being able to run. Every time I had previously tried to run again, I would end up in a lot of pain and have to quit, so I think the solid month of just walking a lot really helped to prepare my spine and body to start running. I have noticed that my posture has improved and I get a lot less neck and back pain- a definite plus!

About a week after I got back home, I decided to go back and count up how many miles I had done since I went to Europe (my Apple Watch tracks everything, it’s the real MVP of this journey) and realised I was only about 30 miles away from hitting 300 miles. It became my goal, to hit 300 miles in 5 weeks. Since then I have been HOOKED. After I hit 300 miles, I decided to go for 500 miles. After 500 miles, why not 1,000? And that’s how I got to where I am right now, over 800 miles and 3 different pairs of running shoes into it.

500 miles- yay!

500 miles- yay!

    I post a lot about the miles on social media because I find it helps motivate me a bit more and keep me accountable (and, natürlich, it’s always nice when people cheer you on) and I’ve had a number of people ask me how I’m doing what I’m doing and why.

   For the how: I found what works for me. I don’t like running on a treadmill or in a gym, it’s boring and I always feel self-conscious. Getting outside and on the trail lets me be outside in nature and away from people for awhile. I’m the kind of person that needs alone time if I’ve been dealing with people all day, so going outside for a run is really nice for me. I also pick music that I really like. Sometimes I’ll listen to opera because I need the sweet soothing sound of a Soprano Bae to satisfy my soul; if I’m upset, it’s the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (don’t judge me, I really like choirs); but mostly it’s upbeat musical theatre. I love Jessica Vosk’s album Wild and Free as well as the cast recording for Hamilton (if anyone needs a someone to play a founding father for the first act only, I am available). I also started doing two-a-days. Now, it’s not for everyone and I don’t do them every day, but I’ve found that running in the morning gives me more energy at work, running in the evening burns off stress, and running twice in a day helps me log a fair amount of miles even with time constraints. A fun thing that I’ve started to do is to do one long walk a week on Sundays where I listen to a complete opera and see how far I can go. The first four weeks I did #WalkingWithWagner where each Sunday I would listen to one of the operas from the Ring Cycle until I had walked the complete cycle. Now, to be fair, choosing Wagner was probably not the best choice (because I really don’t like his music), but I couldn’t help myself because of the alliteration (pronounced “valking vith Vagner” for full effect). It was really, really, reallllllllllyyy hard and it felt like it lasted ages some days, but I managed through. I’d take a hydration backpack, energy chews, and a protein bar and set out on my merry way. I found it to be a really good motivator, as I got to listen to operas, log miles, and feel a sense of accomplishment each time I completed one. I am now onto my second composer and it’s called #PrancingWithPuccini. I’ve done a full length opera and one of the operas from Il Trittico the past three weeks and will do two full operas next week. I have to say, I really love Puccini so this one has gone by much easier and with faster running times!

     I’d like to say that all of this has not come easily. I have hurt in every joint and muscle of my body, I’ve felt like I was going to throw up while running, I am constantly exhausted, and epsom salts have become my best friend. Waking up at 5am and going to bed at 10pm is not the most fun thing and sometimes I feel like I do nothing but go to work, run, sleep, and repeat. But that’s okay. It’s okay to have periods where you’re working on yourself to better yourself and where you experience growing pains and have to sacrifice things now for the long term. That’s just life, my friends. A few things that have helped me are Larabars (not sponsored, I just love them) in the morning before I run so I don’t feel nauseous, a good preworkout, and spending the money on anti-blister socks. I use Balega anti-blister and I promise, they’ll change your life (again, not sponsored, I am just very passionate about these socks). The important thing is not whether each day is the best you’ve ever done, but that each day you do the best that you can do on that day. The perseverance is what’s going to take you places.

       Another very important thing is that you have a few very lovely friends who let you complain when you are tired and sore, encourage you and cheer you on, tell you to wear sunscreen, and give you the recipe to their protein powder pancakes. It makes all of the difference  

      The point of all of that is to say this: find what works for you and makes you feel good about yourself and be consistent. Beyond that, just put on your shoes, take some water, go outside, and GO. That’s all you have to do! You’ll figure it out as you go.

 

Just under 56 miles for the whole Ring Cycle!

Now for the why: Why not? Why not push to see what you’re capable of doing? Why not do what is good for you (even though sometimes it really sucks) and will be beneficial? I’ve found that my posture, my breathing, my singing, my eating habits, and my general state of being is much improved from all of the walking and running. It lets me feel like I’ve accomplished something and that there is a goal to shoot for. I feel a little aimless and get discouraged if I don’t have a specific, measurable goal to work towards, so this has been really beneficial at getting me to be more diligent. Plus, I really like doing it, so there is that! Also, I have lost about 25lbs along the way. I didn’t start doing this just to lose weight, but it has made me feel a lot healthier and better, so it’s been worth it for that. Here are two photos of me wearing the same shirt. One is about six months before I started walking and the other is me now. It’s been crazy to see the changes taking place and how all of my clothes fit differently.

Well, I think I’ve covered most of the way up to 800. I really just wanted to share it because I’ve had a lot of people ask me about what I’m doing and I hope this answers it. I’ll keep you all updated for the rest of the way. If you’re looking to get started on some sort of fitness thing for yourself- go for it! But remember: start small, set achievable goals, find what works for you, drink lots of water, and be kind to yourself.

800 mile smile 😊

800 mile smile 😊

European Adventure: Part Deux

“Will travel for sopranos”

That’s basically my life motto. Whether it’s to NYC, Canada, or across the pond, I am ready to go wherever the call of sopranos takes me. This was the case for my short jaunt to Paris. When I realised I was going to be going to Europe for a few weeks, I immediately started looking at what Opera Baes were performing at the time. As soon as I saw that Sondra Radvanovsky was going to be singing at Opera Bastille in Paris, I bought tickets (and tweeted about it). How could I resist seeing an Opera Bae AND Paris?? Je ne pouvais pas.

I took the Eurostar from London to Paris. It was actually quite a bit more expensive than flying, but I’d never been on the train and gone under the channel before so I figured I’d take it at least this once. I got to St. Pancras quite early in the morning and it wasn’t too busy when I first arrived. I wandered about, got a coffee, and listened to a woman playing a piano in the station (A++ to her, it was beautiful). The train queues are crazy and long, but it was pretty painless getting through security and customs. I had the seat to myself on the trip over so I journaled and watched the English and French countryside roll by. Once I arrived, I went to the station bathroom and realised… you have to pay to use the bathroom (whaaaaat??). Thankfully, I had a few Euros on me so I was okay (always carry some local currency on you, for the love of god and bathrooms). I then set out towards my hotel, which was only about 4.5 kilometres away. I had started walking a lot with Sarah while I was in London, so I was determined to walk everywhere or use the Metro in Paris instead of taking any Ubers (this definitely does not have anything to do with the fact that Paris traffic scares me and I always feel like throwing up in Ubers, definitely not at all).

The walk to my hotel was really lovely and let me see some of the streets of Paris. It’s my firm belief that walking a city is the best way to see it and this was definitely true in Paris. I walked past the Place de la République and towards Place de la Bastille. I took a minute to be a nerd and look at Opera Bastille, where I would be going that night. Lovely.

I made my way to my hotel, which was just a few minutes away from Opera Bastille (my geographical knowledge of four major world cities revolves around where something is in relation to opera houses, don’t judge me). It also conveniently had three sex shops on the same street. I did not visit them but there is always next time. Anyway, I dropped my bags and set off with my camera to see Paris. My friend Fernando, who I went to college with, happens to be living in Paris so he met me at Place des Vosges (beautiful) and together we went to Maison de Victor Hugo (also beautiful).

Thankfully, Fernando’s French is much better than mine- the extent of my French is saying goodbye to small tables or lamenting how the pleasures of love last only a moment but the pain of love lasts a lifetime- so he was a great guide to have for my first few hours in the city. We hit a lot of things in a few short hours: Notre Dame, Shakespeare and Company, Sainte-Chapelle, Hôtel de Ville, and also a very old water fountain that I was sure I was going to get tetanus from after drinking out of it.

Fernando and I walked about six miles around Paris before he had to go to work and I had to get ready for the opera. I got ready in my very, very, very, very tiny bathroom (I think there must be a law in France that if you are taller than Napolean was, you’re not allowed to have a good time) and set off for Opera Bastille.

(Side note: there is a previous blog post containing all of my thoughts and feelings on the performance of Il Trovatore so I shall not go through all of that again, but here is the link for the blog post if you wish to read it.)

Once I got into the opera house, I went to buy a program, as one does, only to be told that my card was declined. Anxiously, I handed the employee a different card and that was also declined. Now, I am a worrier and I began to freak out that I was alone in Paris with no money (even though I knew I had plenty of money in my account) but, alas, the show must go on, program or no program. I went into the bathroom where I could not figure out how to use the sink (pro tip: it’s a little pump you have to push with your foot under the sink to get the water going) and had to awkwardly wait until someone else walked to a sink to see how to use it. It was embarrassing and I turned very red because of these stressful 15 minutes. Finally, I got to my seat. It was very warm and I was trying to not think about how I might be broke, but it was fine. I was about to see my main Soprano Bae sing Leonora in Il Trovatore. The performance was incredible (again, there is a blog post dedicated to it), Sondra got a bis, and the man in front of me proceeded to loudly hum D’amore sull’ali rosee BOTH times. What a time to be alive. After the show, I talked to Sondra (what a delightful human), I said I was “a ho for Tosca”, she gave me some of her flowers, and I walked three blocks in the wrong direction at midnight. Again, what a time to be alive.

The next day was Bastille Day! Such perfect timing for my trip to Paris. Fernando and I met up for brunch (it was the only time I ate out in Paris, sadly. I can’t eat gluten and I was nervous I wouldn’t be able to make sure the food was sans gluten). We went to Champs-Élysées, Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower (we couldn’t get too close because they were setting up for the concert and fireworks), the Grand and Petit Palais, and Ponte Alexandre III. It was magnificent to get to see these famous places in person, rather than just in photos.

We took a few hours to rest and then Fernando and I met back at Ponte Alexandre III to watch the Bastille Day fireworks. They were beautiful and magical, as was Paris in the dark, which we saw as we walked back to Bastille. Golden, glittery, and gorgeous. Fun story: after we parted ways, I was walking back to my hotel alone (this was about 1am) and some drunk French guy kept walking behind me so I turned to see what he was doing and he was putting his beer bottle in my back pack side pocket. It startled me so much that, without thinking, I grabbed the bottle while shouting some spicy words very loudly at him, threw the bottle at his feet, and walked in the opposite direction. I am not a confrontational person at ALL, so I was very shocked that I did that. Europe changed me.

The next day I had an afternoon train back to London, so I decided to spend my last few hours at the Louvre and, man, I am so glad I did. I can't even express how overwhelming and awe-inspiring it is. I kept getting weepy as I saw all of the beauty that man is capable of creating. It’s difficult to fathom that we humans can create such beautiful works when we are also capable of creating so much pain and ugliness. It was very humbling. I spent about four hours in the Louvre, walked about five miles inside of it, and still only saw about half of the art. It is THAT big. Every time I thought, “There can’t possibly be any more..”, I would turn a corner and find yet another wing to wander through. I took so many photos that I can’t fit them all here, but here are some of my favourites. If I were made to choose my favourite piece that I saw, it would definitely be The Winged Victory of Samothrace. It took my breath away to walk up the stairs where it stood at the top, a beacon of beauty and hope. God, it was something. I cried. I really hope I get to go back to the Louvre some day soon and spend a whole day wandering in wonderment.

Sadly, after my four hours at the Louvre were up, I had to collect my suitcase, say “adieu, notre petite toilette”, and walk to the train station. While I was walking, the World Cup final was going on. Bars and restaurants were overflowing onto the streets, people in football jerseys were singing, and there was so much excitement all around. While waiting at the train station, you could hear shouts whenever France would score, and the station employees kept announcing the score. As I was waiting in queue to get on my train, France won. The station erupted with cheers and screams, an employee ran up and down the hall waving a French flag, and then everyone broke out into song. It was a thing to behold and I’m glad I got to experience it. My trip to Paris was a happy, wonderful trip and I am so glad that I will have these memories to daydream about until I return.

Adieu xx

Concept: Caresses

Hello friends!

Short post today, but wanted to share some photos I’ve done as of late. A few weeks ago I got to work with my dear friend Kidany to take concept photos for a play he is directing for his senior thesis. The play is Caresses by Sergi Belbel, and is comprised of ten short, seemingly unconnected scenes. Kidany’s concept is an “urban masquerade”, with masks and a grungy cityscape as the backdrop. We took the cast to downtown Ybor City to explore and shoot. Ybor is a lot of fun- lots of brick, colors, and architectural styles to play around with. We started on the street, hitting the streetcar station and a night club while it was still light. After the sun began to set, we went to a parking garage for more photos. I brought out my speed light to give a harsher, more contrasty vibe to the photos to fit Kidany’s “urban masquerade” aesthetic. I got a little creative and used a piece of transparent red plastic we found in the garage as a filter for some of the photos and really liked the effect. These photos are much more stylised than I normally do, but it was really fun to get out of a theatre space and onto the streets and I was really pleased with the results!

If you’re in the Tampa area and want to check out Caresses (for free!), check out the event’s Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1029280400576644/

European Adventure: Part 1

 

     I’m back in Florida now and thought I'd do a few blog posts on my time in Europe. It lets me remember all of the fun things I've done and share them with you! Now, let's start at the very beginning (a very fine place to start)...

     My grandma and I left on a Sunday evening and, after a two hour delay, started the eight hour flight over to the Motherland. I only slept about three hours on the flight because, apparently, 2am is the PERFECT time to serve people a meal, even when everyone is asleep. It’s fine. I wasn’t trying to get sleep anyway. When we landed, we were met at the gate by my grandma’s friends from Wales, with whom she’d be staying for the entire three week trip, and my friend Sarah, who I was staying with in London for two weeks. Sarah met me with an iced coffee in hand (because she is an excellent friend) and then off we went to the train. We sprang for business class (fancy) and then took a black taxi to her flat. I felt like Lindsey Lohan in the Parent Trap when she’s in London for the first time and staring out the window of the black taxi to see the sights.

     The thing that I immediately realised about England (and Europe in general) is that it is HOT. Now, I am from Florida so I laughed it off when Sarah told me they were experiencing a heat wave, but I did not realise what that actually was like being in Europe. In Florida, we have air conditioning EVERYWHERE. It’s a given that everywhere you go will be air conditioned, so there is always a reprieve from the oppressive heat and humidity that is outside. That is not so in Europe. NOT SO!! I have honestly never been as sweaty as I was during my time in London and Paris. I just had to embrace the fact that I would be perpetually sweaty and to not even try to attempt makeup, as it wasn’t worth the effort or the sweat. But I digress. After a quick shower and changing, Sarah and I headed over to the have dinner with my friend, Rebecca Caine (yes, that one) and her husband Tim. It was a delightful evening of gin, turkey burgers, trifle, and conversation. It was really wonderful to get to spend some time with them (and to see a Dora award in person- why is it a clown??). Also, Rebecca is the person who introduced me to opera so you can all blame her for why I am the way that I am. We stayed until it was clear that jet-lagged me needed to go to bed (it’s a good indication that I need sleep when I start referring to the Marschallin from Der Rosenkavalier as “Homegirl Princess Marie-Thérése von Werdenberg”) so Sarah and I headed back to her flat so I could get some sleep before our big plans for the next day..

Rebecca and I

Rebecca and I

   Unfortunately, I only slept 2 1/2 hours because of jet lag. I woke up at 1:30am and waited until Sarah woke up around 4:30am. She made me protein powder pancakes (surprisingly tasty and gluten-free!) and we set off on our big walk around London. We walked from her flat to Tower Bridge, got coffee, and headed towards Westminster. As we approached Westminster, we noticed a TON of news crews gathered and a crowd in front of Westminster, so we joined the crowd to see what was going on. After a few minutes, a car pulled up to Westminster and out came Prince Charles and Camilla. Then, a few minutes later, another car pulled up and I noticed the flags. “IT’S THE QUEEN!!!” I shouted, whacking Sarah on the arm. And, indeed, it was the Queen of England. We watched her get out of the car and walk into Westminster (she is remarkably tiny) as everyone cheered. It was really crazy. Less than 24 hours in England and I had already seen the Queen! Salve Regina *crosses self*. We decided to walk over to Buckingham while we were already close so I could see the gates and the fountain but… as we turned the corner there was a PARADE. It turns out that it was the 100th anniversary celebration of the RAF and we happened to have remarkable timing. It was really cool to see the marching band, the members of the RAF, and men in kilts playing bagpipes marching down the streets by the palace. Once we got to Buckingham Palace it was INSANE. We had to push our way through crowds waving British flags and got yelled at by a security guard for walking on the grass (very Princess Diaries). Once we got out of the craziness of the palace, we walked more into the city and got lunch, where I promptly ran out of gas and felt like dying from lack of sleep. Since we had plans to see a show that night, we cut our walk short and took an uber back to her apartment so I could sleep. We had originally planned on doing the patented Sarah Deakin 30 Mile Walking Tour of London, but ended up only doing 15 miles that day. Lazy of us, I know.

 

      After I’d had a nap and shower, we headed off to the Royal Opera House to see Sir Bryn Terfel as Falstaff. We had great seats, thanks to Rebecca hooking us up with some staff offer tickets, and it was Sarah’s first opera. I adore getting to take people to see their first opera, so it was exciting to take Sarah to see Falstaff. It’s a roaringly funny opera (and not too long!) so it was the perfect introduction for her. The show was hilarious and fun, the cast brilliant, and the seats comfortable. One cannot ask for more from an opera house. At interval, I got a text that a lovely friend of mine (thanks, Maestro!) had gotten us on the backstage list so off we went to the stage door when the show was over. We were escorted downstairs and set loose to find Marie McLaughlin (who had brilliantly sung Meg). Eventually we found her room and had a lovely chat. On our way out we got lost several times, I recognised an opera critic by his hat, and we saw a bunch of Oliviers (the closest I will ever get to one). It was a wild time. Eventually, though, we found our way out and headed back to the flat for the night.

       On Wednesday, Sarah had to leave to go to Chichester for a work trip (where she fell out of a portaloo and tore a tendon, but more about that later), so I was by myself in London for a few days. I decided to take myself down to the Natural History Museum (I love a good museum). I spent awhile looking around (and sweating) and then walked around Hyde Park a bit. I saw the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain, the Italian Gardens, and a lot of parakeets. After that, I headed back to the flat early as that night was the World Cup match between England and Croatia, and I didn’t want to be caught up in that mess. I ordered a gluten-free pizza, watched terrible movies, and went to bed early. On Thursday, I got up and walked about four miles to the Tower of London and spent most of the day there. I’ve always loved English history, so it was very exciting to get to be in this place that held so much. I toured the White Hall, where all of the armor and weapons are stored. St. John’s Chapel in White Hall is gorgeous and almost 900 years old! Then I went into the prison part of the Tower, where Anne Boleyn was held prisoner before her execution (I might have played In separato carcere, the act one finale of Anna Bolena, as I walked around because of who I am as a person). After touring the Bloody Tower, I snuck in with a tour group led by a Beefeater to see The Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula, as you can’t see the chapel if you’re not escorted in by one of the Beefeaters. The chapel has about 2,000 bodies buried under its floors, including the body of Anne Boleyn. It was fascinating and sobering to hear the account of her imprisonment and execution while sitting in the chapel that is her final resting place. She wasn’t much older than I am, yet she died with dignity. According to the tour guide, she spoke calmly to the people there to see her execution, asked that God would have mercy on the pitiful soul of the executioner, and laid herself upon the block, praying all the while. It was said that she prayed on the block for about five minutes before the French swordsman brought the sword down upon her neck and that when the executioner lifted her severed head, her lips were still moving in prayer. Fun times in Tudor England.

    After leaving the Tower, I walked the four miles back to Sarah’s flat to pack for my morning train to Paris, the next part of my European adventure! I’ll write a post about visiting Paris itself but, for now, I’ll sign off. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the blog and seeing my photos. Check out my instagram @ashleycemrick if you want to see more!

 

 

Ps. Please enjoy a short video from my instagram series about things I learned in Europe

Holy Shit What: Il Trovatore at Opera Bastille

A slightly irreverent yet completely serious compilation of my thoughts on the production of Il Trovatore at Opera Bastille.

       An American in Paris? Oui, that was me. I’d made my way to the City of Lights to see the light of my life- opera. I’d come to London from Florida to stay with a friend and I was looking at what operas I could fit in my schedule. I remembered that Soprano Bae Sondra Radvanovsky was doing Il Trovatore in Paris at Opera Bastille and the run coincided with my trip to London. Then, somehow, my fingers slipped and I bought opera tickets, booked a hotel, and got train tickets totally on accident. Definitely on accident. So, after a few days of no sleep and walking all over London, I made my way over to Paris on the early train. I was lucky enough to have a friend living in Paris that could take me sight seeing for a few hours, so we walked about 6 miles around Paris before I had to get ready for the opera. I enjoyed the opera immensely and thought I would share some of my thoughts on it.


     Let’s start with the set: I am not one who enjoys the modern, utilitarian look that a lot of European houses tend towards when doing a modernised production. They are usually dimly lit (I am willing to pay an extra five euros a ticket if it means we can turn on some lights, guys) with not a lot of set pieces or furnishings. This production, however, managed to avoid that. The stage had a series of coffin-sized holes in rows along the stage that varied between open holes, covered with slabs, or filled with blocks.It easily could have been a boring set design but the variety of ways in which they utilised the space really made it work to their advantage. Campfires for the soldiers burned in the holes as they were told the story of Count di Luna’s lost son; terrifying, glowing faces peered out of them as Azucena recounted her mother’s death and final cry of “Avenge me!”; and slabs covered the holes to create graves of fallen soldiers. The set was mobile and reactive, shaping the scene as it was happening and serviced the show very well.


      The directing of this production was brilliant, I have to say. Now, I only have the Met HD broadcast of Il Trovatore from 2011 with Sondra Radvanovsky, Marcelo Álvarez, and Dmitri Hvorostovsky as a visual comparison, but it was fascinating to watch what another director could do with a piece that I was very familiar with (I’ve watched the broadcast about five times, don’t judge me). I thought that the directing was much more sensitive and thoughtful, and that it gave a sense of purpose to the music instead of a stagnate “there is music here so we must sing, watch us”. Details given and choices made allowed the storytelling to be very active and captivating, and gave the sense that the doomed lovers were living and experiencing the atrocities of war that surrounded them, rather than existing in a parallel. A choice I loved was to have four soldiers executed onstage just before Leonora’s act four aria, D’amor sull’ali rosee,which created an environment that begged for the aria. It wasn’t just that Leonora was pining for her love locked in a tower, but she was grieving the tragedies of war and what it was taking from them. The song was truly a prayer, truly a heart-wrenching plea for desperately longed for relief, even if the relief was not for herself. The final few phrases echoed like sobs in the theatre, surrounding us in the heartbreak and grief that Leonora, and all of the characters, must have been experiencing. The seemingly unending applause and the bis that followed were certainly well deserved. A glorious moment that I could go on about, but apparently one must write about more than the soprano.


      As mentioned earlier, the only other production that I’ve seen is the 2011 Met production, though I have listened to others, so it was interesting to see the vast difference in characterisations of the two Leonoras by the same soprano, the radiant Sondra Radvanovsky (with whom I am completely unbiased and my fondness for her does not sway my opinions about her performance in any way. None whatsoever. Not at all.) In the 2011 Met production, Sondra played Leonora in a much more girlish way. Bright-eyed and impulsive, she made her decisions with almost excitement, regardless of consequences. The Leonora from this production is a far different character- mature and grounded- with an understanding of the world that she is living in. She doesn’t stay hidden away in a palace or tower somewhere- no, she is amongst the soldiers and the war. She has seen the horrors that the world contains and, armed with that knowledge, makes her decisions fully aware of what they will cost her. There is a strength to this Leonora that you cannot help but admire and cannot help but mourn for. I loved how resolutely she sang of her love for him and how she would not give him up in the first act and, let me just say, when Leonora grabbed Count di Luna’s face and kissed him to prove she was serious about trading herself for Manrico, I full on clutched the pearls and gasped. My apologies to the person sitting next to me.


      To say that the wonderfully nuanced acting was accompanied with spectacular singing would be an understatement. Sondra has sung this role many times and you can see how completely she owns the music. It’s one thing to hear a recording of her singing, but it is totally different to hear it live and to feel her voice surround you and fill the theatre. It’s overwhelming, really. You just sit there and think, “My god, that’s coming from an actual human being.” Also, her pianissimo notes cannot be outdone. Don’t argue with me, it’s science.


     Now, this opera is called Il Trovatore, so I should talk about our troubadour at some point. Marcelo Álvarez was intense and wonderful as Manrico- a man pulled in all directions by love, family, and war. His acting was passionate, as the role demands, and the chemistry between him and Sondra was obvious. Álvarez gave us the full gamut of emotion as Manrico: tenderness towards his mother, but despair at what she had done; love for Leonora, but fury for the betrayal he thought had occurred; and loathing for Count Di Luna, but fairness towards him when he spared his life; and his singing was beautiful and nuanced. I have to say, the utter despair he showed as Leonora died was gloriously tragic. Leonora was not the first to die in Manrico’s place, and it was if he couldn’t bear that guilt and gave up fighting. I might have cried. It’s fine.


         Azucena was fantastic. I loved how human she was. There wasn’t an attempt to make her scary or play up any stereotypes. She was a woman severely troubled by her past, but who loved her son. Ekaterina Semenchuk was phenomenal, both in voice and acting. I couldn’t help but feel chills as she sang her mother’s last words of, “Avenge me!” Also, her being shot at the end was really quite shocking and added yet another layer of feelings to the already ridiculous amount of feelings I had at the end of the opera. Željko Lučić made an imposing Count di Luna. Possessive and dangerous, he was man who was clearly used to getting what he wanted. There were many good moments with him, but there were also times were he felt a bit disconnected or inactive. He was very fine in voice, though, and brought the dramatic heft when needed.


        All in all, I really and truly enjoyed this production. The spectacular orchestra and chorus, the set design, the performers, all of it (except maybe the portly gentleman in front of me who seemed to think he’d been hired to sing Leonora and hummed the entirety of D’amor sull’ali rosee and then thought the bis was done for him to reprise his performance [it was not]) worked together to create an intensely heartbreaking, nuanced show. It was the first opera I’d seen at Opera Bastille (and France!) and it was fascinating to experience a show in that house. The audience was quite raucous and it created an electric environment to see the opera in. Applause and bravos were immediate and passionate, the appreciation for the art form well felt. I am so glad I was able to see this production with this cast. If the run hadn’t already concluded, I’d tell you to run to Opera Bastille to see it!



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Opera Bastille

Opera Bastille

Sondra and I after the show. She is a gem.

Sondra and I after the show. She is a gem.

O Canada! 🇨🇦

Our home and (not so) native land!

   I just got back from a trip to our polite, maple-fuelled neighbors to the north and it was DELIGHTFUL. I had originally planned on just going for two days to see Anna Bolena at the Canadian Opera Company, but my grandma decided she wanted to go so we made a week of it. After our looooong trip up there (early flight with a layover and then another flight into Toronto) we finally got to our condo and were greeted with this view. Amazing, isn't it?? 

CN Tower - Toronto, Ontario

CN Tower - Toronto, Ontario

   The next morning we walked around the city, taking in the sights. We walked down to HTO Park, where we could stand by the water's edge, walked around the Rogers Centre, and saw the CN Tower. Afterwards, we went to the Canadian Opera Company for a backstage tour with my wonderful friend Karol, a front of house manager at the company. I loved getting to walk through backstage, see the stage from all of the different levels in the house, and watch as the stagehands got the stage ready for that evening's performance. The Four Seasons is a beautiful, airy facility that feels welcoming as soon as you walk in and the auditorium is GORGEOUS. I took photos, natürlich. 

   That evening, my grandma and I went back to the COC to see my most favourite soprano, Sondra Radvanovsky, in Anna Bolena. It was my first time seeing a show at the COC and my grandma's first opera ever! I thought the show was fabulous. Sondra was stunning, as I expected. You haven't truly lived until you've heard her voice wrap around you and fill an auditorium. She is an incredible actress on top of having the voice of a furious angel, and she brought Anna Bolena to life in a nuanced and heartbreaking way. Keri Alkema was a gorgeous Giovanna Seymour. I had never heard her sing before that performance and I was happily surprised at how beautifully rich her voice was. Her scenes with Sondra broke my heart. I'm sure there are still a few shattered pieces in my box seat. I left the performance a fan of hers. Christian Van Horn was an astonishing Enrico. Powerful and swaggering, his voice would make a nun give up her wimple.

   After the show, I went backstage to see Sondra. She showed everyone in sight my shirt, which had her as Anna Bolena on it! She is a wonderfully kind and warm person and it was an absolute delight to get to see her again. "Ashley from Twitter" and La Wowza, having a grand old time.

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   Thursday morning we took a ride on the streetcar to see a bit more of the town. My grandma really wanted to ride a streetcar, so off we went! After that, we went to Ripley's Aquarium. I wanted to be a marine biologist when I was little so aquariums are still some of my favourite places to go. Ripley's has a fantastic walkthrough tunnel and I snapped away. There's grandma with the jaws of a Megalodon!

   On Friday, we met up with the fabulous Karol of the North and took the ferry to Toronto Island. It was windy and chilly, but BEAUTIFUL. I would definitely recommend going to the island if you have the time. 

    After the ferry and a delicious lunch at The Loose Moose, we went to the Royal Ontario Museum. I LOVE MUSEUMS!!! I ran around the dinosaur exhibit shouting "FUN FACT" and sharing things I learned in my science class about the history of life last semester. I don't know how fun the facts were for everyone else, but I found them fun!  There was also an exhibit on medieval Europe and the artifacts were incredible. 

    Saturday was a rainy, grey day so my grandma and I went off to the indoor St. Lawrence Markets, where we bought souvenirs for our family. I bought myself local honey and a Canada water bottle (that just screams "I'M A SINGER!"). I love buying local honey whenever I travel. I have honey from all over the place! I wanted to get some cheese to take home but, sadly, I didn't think I could get it through customs. Boo. Formaggio è vita.

   For our final evening in Canada, we went back to the COC to see The Nightingale and Other Short Fables. It was SPECTACULAR. The shadow puppets, acrobats, and puppets were so innovative and visually stunning. Jane Archibald was lovely as the Nightingale. Prior to the show, we got to go into the VIP lounge. Very swank. The COC is a world class facility producing incredible work and I am so glad to have gotten to experience it fully. 

 

   We had to leave for the airport at 6am (gag) for an early morning flight. While sitting at the gate, I thought about how perfect the trip had been. I had gotten to see my favourite soprano sing a role I love (In separato carcere is my most favourite act one finale of opera and I got to see Sondra Radbaenovsky sing it live like wow, what a time to be alive) and got to chat with her after the show, I went to an aquarium and museum that I loved, and got to hang out with some really wonderful people in a really wonderful city. I am so grateful that my grandma and I were able to make the trip and all of those lovely memories. I usually travel in order to see singers and shows that I love and it always brings me so much happiness. This trip was no different, and I found a new city that I adore. I can't wait to go back to Toronto!

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