Monthly Archives: October 2012

Excuse me, who ordered the severed head?

Last week, when I suggested several operas for Halloween viewing, I left one out.

My Halloween costume this year was as the obsessive, hyper-sexualized, bloodthirsty title character of Strauss’s bloody one act.

Check out this video of the finale from the Met’s 2008 production of Salome staring the fabulous, if a little bit crazy, Finnish soprano Karita Mattila.

And some people still think opera is “stuffy.”


Six Operas for Halloween

Oh October!  There’s a chill in the air, there’s pumpkin spice in your coffee, and movie theaters are filled with ghosts and gore.  I love spooky stories as Halloween approaches.  This time of year, you might find me reading 19th century gothic novels, or watching the 1963 classic The Haunting (With the lights on, I might add.  I’m not that hardcore.), or you might find me in the opera house.

If you’re surprised to learn that opera can make for the perfect Halloween spookfest, then you probably don’t know much about opera.  Here are my top six operas for All Hallows Eve.

6.  I Pagliacci

What makes it scary?  Two words:  murderous clown.  This is the climactic final scene where Canio murders his adulterous wife Nedda while the audience of their comedia performance looks on in horror.

5.  Mefistofele

What makes it scary? Off the top of my head, I can think of at least three operatic renditions of the Faust legend, but not all of them deserve the Halloween treatment.  Gounod’s Faust reads as a morality play more than anything. If you’re looking for devilish fun, go for the version that titled itself after the Devil himself.

4.  Un Ballo in Maschera

What makes it scary?  A witch, a murder conspiracy, and a costume party make this Verdi classic perfect for Halloween.

3.  Lucia di Lammermoor

What makes it scary?  This bel canto masterpiece is one of my all time favorite operas.  The famous mad scene takes place on the title character’s wedding night, shortly after she’s chopped her poor, unsuspecting bridegroom to pieces.  Now, I’m all for finding new and inventive ways to stage classic operas, but when it comes to Lucia, if there’s not a blood-spattered wedding dress, yer doin’ it wrong.

2.  The Medium

What makes it scary?  The story of  a fraud medium who begins to hear the voices of what seem to be real spirits causing her to question her own sanity.  This opera is an example of the very scariest kind of story, in my opinion, one where the audience isn’t quite sure if the spook was real or just a figment of the characters’ imagination.

1.  The Turn of the Screw

What makes it scary?  Based on the novel by Henry James, Benjamin Britten’s Turn of the Screw is the ultimate operatic ghost story, with a haunted house, creepy nursery rhymes, and a pair of malevolent spirits.  I would argue that this is the spookiest opera of all time.

Things that Happened Yesterday

This is a wee bit self-indulgent, but hear me out.  (Or don’t, I’m not the boss of you.)

i had a lovely day yesterday, most of which I spent refreshing the hit counter for this blog every sixty seconds, while I watched comments come in on Facebook and Twitter.  My gawd, is there anything a performer likes more than attention?  (Hint:  yes, there is, and it rhymes with malcohol.)

Highlights of the day included being told by my Aunt Cat that I should be a Unitarian minister, and a twitter follower who created the hashtag #iammartin.

After sending him the link, I was rather pleased to see Christopher Gillett, an actual working opera singer, and author of Who’s My Bottom?, the book that I refer to as Opera’s answer to Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, issue the following tweet:

If you’re at all interested in what life is like for a working-stiff opera singer (as opposed to an opera star), you should check out his blog.

Also, I was just tickled by this:

Thanks to everyone who read my little meditation on not quite living your dream.  And if you came back today to see what else I have to say, double thank you!

How a Fictional Pilot Taught Me to Feel Better About Myself

This is an essay I wrote a while back, but since I couldn’t figure out what to do with it, I’ve decided to publish it here.  Enjoy!

If you ask me what I do, I’ll tell you that I’m an opera singer, but actually, I’m an office receptionist who spends a disproportionate part of her pitiful income on voice lessons, opera scores, accompanist fees, and transportation to and from rehearsals for local, community-produced opera companies.

Some of the drives to rehearsals are over an hour long (If you want to sing badly enough, you’re willing to expand the definition of “local”), so I’m always looking for something new to listen to in the car.  I recently happened upon a wonderfully silly little radio sitcom from the BBC called Cabin Pressure*, which I got from iTunes with the last few bucks I had left over after squandering the rest of my paycheck on all that singer stuff.  But downloading the show was cheaper  and way more enjoyable than sitting in a therapist’s office talking about my Feelings, and it seems to have yielded the same result.

It’s a comedy about the shenanigans of MJN Airways, its two pilots, owner, and only flight attendant; an underdog story that manages to get its listeners rooting hard for the endearingly pathetic losers that are its characters.  MJN is always, as its owner Carolyn says, at the brink of bankruptcy.  The flight attendant, Arthur, is an unwaveringly optimistic moron whose cheeriness falters only in the presence of his unloving father.  The usually swaggering first officer is heartbroken when his wife has an affair.

But it was the plight of Captain Martin that changed the way I see myself. Continue reading

A Study in Ultra Small-Scale Voter Demographics

This is my home town, Lincoln, Virginia:


Well, “town” is a bit of an overstatement.  The great fount of knowledge that is Wikipedia describes it this way:

Lincoln is an historic unincorporated village in the Loudoun Valley of Loudoun County, Virginia, located approximately 1.5 miles (2.4 km) south of Purcellville. It was established as the community of Goose Creek during the 1750s by Quaker settlers and renamed Lincoln after the president shortly after his election.

It was a great place to grow up.  Rolling farmland, roamed by grazing horses, cattle, and, on one farm, sheep, surrounds the denser village which is home to the historic Quaker meeting house, Lincoln Elementary School, and the Abernathy & Spencer garden nursery.

I was there last weekend visiting with my mom, and she and I took a walk on a route we’ve always walked and simply call “The Loop.”  We walk down Foundry Road until it intersects with Taylor Road, and follow it back to Sands Road.  On this particular walk on this particular day, I noticed something.

You see, it’s an election year, and as people do in election year, the residents of Lincoln have proudly declared their allegiance to one party or the other.  No, not with coffee cups, but with lawn signs.

Now, it’s a pretty well-established fact that, as a general rule, populations of rural areas tend to tilt conservative, supporting the Republican party, while urban populations favor the more liberal Democrats.  Lincoln, Virginia is most decidedly rural, but on our walk last weekend I noticed a pattern in the political lawn signs displayed by the residents of Lincoln village, and its surrounding environs.

You see, when we were on the farthest outskirts, I saw a lot of these:


But when we got to the central village, it looked more like this:



With surprising consistency, the houses inside the dense, yet tiny, Lincoln Village had Obama signs, while the houses on larger parcels of land in the surrounding area displayed signs for Marie Antoinette Mitt Romney.

Lincoln, Virginia: a tiny little microcosm of voter demographics.

Art Heist!


I am totally jealous of the guys that ganked seven paitings from a museum in the Netherlands.

I love a good art heist, don’t you?  On my list of fantasy careers, sexy art thief falls somewhere between adventuring archaeologist (a la Indiana Jones) and professional laugher.

There’s just something about the combination of intellect, stealth, agility, and trickery that it takes to sneak seven(!) priceless works of art out of a facility that is doubtless furnished with state-of-the-art security that just makes me giddy.  No word yet on just how the ninjas pulled off their stunt, so I’m free to speculate about moles working as security guards, and replacing the originals with fakes, and an athletic woman, dressed in all black, kung fu-ing her way past the guards, perhaps to the tune of Donizetti’s Anna Bolena overture (all the best heists are underscored by Bel Canto orchestral music).

Of course, everyone knows that it’s basically impossible to sell high-profile stolen works of art, and that’s my favorite part.  I imagine that the badasses who orchestrate these stunts are really just rogue art lovers.  Some criminal mastermind was stroking his pomeranian while gazing at an empty space on his wall one afternoon and sighed, thinking, “the only thing that can complete this room is that stunning Picasso from the Kunsthal museum.”

Yes, it’s horribly selfish for someone to rob the public of the chance to enjoy these works, but it’s also just a tiny bit awesome.*


*But seriously, it’s horrible.

Can we please stop talking about singers and body image?

Yesterday, Classical Singer sent out an e-mail blast requesting responses to a “Health Survey.”  I opened the e-mail knowing that health is very important to singers, who are constantly worried about catching colds, managing reflux, and all kinds of other issues which can affect our singing.  Tenor Jonas Kaufmann recently made headlines when he said that he avoids shaking hands with his fans because eeew!  Germs!

But when I read the survey questions for the article that Classical Singer appears to be planning, I groaned:

– Has the desire to lose weight led you to make unhealthy choices
(i.e. binge/purge, starve yourself, over exercise, use diet pills,
laxatives, fad diets, extreme dieting, etc.)?
– If so, what measures did you take?
– Did those choices affect your singing? If so, how?
– Do you feel that pressures within the singing industry to look a
certain way contributed to your behavior? If so, how?
– Have you ever received treatment for an eating disorder?
– If so, what type of treatment? Was it helpful?

Really, Classical Singer?  Another article about singers with body image issues?  Surely I’m not the only person in Operaland who wants to claw her eyes out every time the whole Fat Singer/ Skinny Singer thing is brought up?

What I hate is that everyone wants to make it seem like this is a new problem for opera singers.  “In the age of HD telecasts, singers have to look the part,” headlines proclaim.  Admittedly, ever since Anna Netrebko first danced on a sofa in a now iconic little red dress, becoming the poster child for a new wave of young, hot opera singers in the 21st century!!!, the furor over body issues among singers has grown, but let’s not forget that sixty years ago Maria Callas was famously rumored to have swallowed a tapeworm in order to go from

Quite frankly, this isn’t a new issue for any woman anywhere, whether she’s a singer or a movie star or an accountant.  Women have always been pressured by society to conform to socially accepted standards of beauty, and they’ve always gone to extreme measures to do so.  Just ask any women’s studies major.

And, yes, it needs to stop.

But if I wanted to read yet another feature about a singer who lost huge amounts of weight, or struggled with anorexia, or was pressured to undergo gastric bypass surgery only to be told after she lost the weight that her singing just isn’t what it used to be, then I’d pick up last month’s issue of Classical Singer, or the one before that, or a recent issue of Opera News, or I’d read Norman Lebrecht’s obnoxious blog.

Now there is one article about singers and body image that I think may still need to be written.  I noticed in the last few weeks that some of my gay friends have been sharing links to articles about body image, eating disorders, etc. among gay men.  In light of the opera world’s “barihunk”  obsession, a piece about men who are going to extremes in order to look like Nathan Gunn or Keith Miller would be an interesting read.

Especially when you consider that women are so often told that they can’t be a believable MiMi if they don’t look like Mirella Freni, while, after a several generations of sitcoms have shown America that beautiful women always fall for fat slobs, Rodolfo so often still looks like Ramon Vargas.