Coming to Germany felt like a completely new experience. Although I have studied German at CMU, I don’t feel like I have the instincts to communicate in the language. I find it difficult to take German speakers seriously… the language is so different from the romance languages and I will admit that I have no immediate desire to learn the language of its own merit, although I know I will need to learn it eventually. A classic sentence I said while in a cafe in Weimar was, ‘Prendo le kleines.’ Three languages in one sentence – do you think I might be confused?
The culture here is also so much different, as I remember it being. No one would think of crossing the street without the little green Ampelmann (the guy in the light telling you to cross) appearing. It would actually be dangerous to do so – in France and Italy, motorists expect the unexpected will happen in terms of pedestrians, so they keep an eye out. Here, it seems all motorists care about are lights and signs.
However at Lyric Opera Studio Weimar we have our own little haven. The place is beautiful. We live in a big old 3-storey house which really feels like home, and in a second house in the back, we practise and do staging etc. In between the front and back house, there is a garden which is perfect for relaxing, studying, and partying. This program is smaller and just different than NUOVA, but I know that it will be amazing. The people are very nice and my roommates are fantastic – a Fiordiligi and a Dorabella.
I am quickly learning also that the faculty here is really world-class. In particular, we were able to work with Erkki Korhonen, a permanent figure in the opera world in Europe. His gentle way of coaching us and warm personality definitely makes you underestimate his importance in the music world, as he confessed to us that he is friends with Joan Sutherland and that he knows all the opera directors in Europe! What an amazing experience to work with such a person.
Another person we are working with is Carlos Montane, a tenor from Cuba who teaches at Indiana University. This has been an altogether different coaching experience for me, one that has stretched my perception of my voice and how to approach it. The way Carlos tells me to use my voice is the opposite of how I have always been told to use it, but I feel that I can take some of what he is teaching me and apply it to my own technique. I always knew these kinds of teachers were out there, but I hadn’t run into them… he tells me to darken my sound, to sing like a mezzo soprano. ‘Don’t worry,’ he says, ‘you’ll never be a mezzo, I’m not trying to make you into one.’ In the lesson he insists on a very dark sound, even in very high pieces like ‘Durch Zartlichkeit’. The fact is that singing like that helps me connect to my breath in a way I haven’t since last summer, and that it actually makes coluratura and high notes much much easier. The lessons are very intense, as he stands right in front of me and I sing at him for an hour, responding to his suggestions and body language. He tells me that this darker sound will help me to be perceived by the agents as more versatile, able to sing more roles. My fear is that I will be giving them the wrong impression, that I would be able to sing heavier roles that would not be good for me. I think the main thing I will take out of lessons with him is the connectedness to the breath, which makes my sound rounder but not darker.
Today we start staging for Cosi fan tutte and I am a little nervous, as it is my first time performing the role, and I know that my memorization will fall apart at first. But, as John Fanning said, ‘Everyone is an idiot the first time they sing a role.’ I am really looking forward to getting this show on the road!