‘Es gibt zwei-und-fuenfzig Staaten in der USA’ ‘Nein.’ ‘Wie weisst du das?’ ‘Ich komme aus der USA…’
Posted on 14 August, 2011
For Americans and Europeans alike, let’s quick have a little history and geography lesson. According to the wonders of Wikipedia, there are, indeed, FIFTY/fuenzig/cinquante/limapuluh in the United States of a America. You might be curious to name all of them, so in that case, read this. On the American flag, there are thirteen stripes for the thirteen original colonies, and then there are fifty stars on the flag. Puerto Rico is NOT an American state. Washington DC is also NOT an American state.
So moral of this story is, should you care to win multiple beers off Austrian Men (danke, Wolfie, Robert, und Sandy), it’s safe to bet on how many states are in the USA.
Coming back from Vienna to Salzburg was like something out of Inception where you’re snapped out of one dream back into another dream. So in the Salzburger dream state, music hit hard and fast.
In opera scenes rehearsal, we were all off music and onto staging. In lessons, we were working on repertoire for the final concert. Since I was in opera scenes, I didn’t have to have a solo piece for the final concert. This freed up time to work on a lot of technique with Prof. Wise. Specifically, we worked on legato line i.e. “breaking Liz of her baroque technique tendencies and staying on the breath 24/7,” sotto voce, and freeing up my high C and higher. As Pat Wise and coach Thomas Enman pointed out to me, there ain’t no question that I have the range. But it’s matter of releasing everything and staying on the breath. My motivation to improve technique was driven further after a six-page cut to one opera scene and the reassignment of a final note in the other (both decisions understandable and out of my control–no qualms with anyone but myself!). Prof. Wise helped tremendously with learning the line the register changes in Roselinda’s part. She also worked a lot with me on Apres une Reve and pushed me to feel what it’s like to end a piece still having air to spare–it’s an incredible feeling.
The only thing I can think to compare a singer being on the breath and using it efficiently is a potter at the wheel. Having also done this art as well, let me tell you, balancing and molding a large mound of clay upwards and elegantly is no easy feat. But one the clay is centered (just like when the voice is on the breath), the artist has infinite liberty to shape the clay up and down, wider or narrower, creating shapes and designs all by finessed feeling at the fingertips. And so a singer feels and sculpts her breath to create the colors and timbres that build a (no pun intended) breath-taking piece of music.
My coaching with Tom Enman was super, too. Because of all the opera scene rehearsals, I had missed a ton of masterclass and could only be there for snippets at a time before going to warmup or go to rehearsal. I had heard a snippet of his English diction masterclass, and I was eager for his feedback on the English in Die Fledermaus. Consistency of the vowel sounds and using the mouth “efficiently” were his big points. This came up especially with my French, as well. Who wants to chew French diction? ew. Not me. Pass the merlot, bitte baby.
This week I also (finally!) got to put my festspiele tickets to work. On Tuesday, I got to see the incredible Mitsuko Uchida live in concert. I had heard her play some piece or other on NPR’s Performance Today, but never had I heard her live. At the start of the concert, we had standing tickets far, far above from the stage at Haus fuer Mozart. Truly, we had a bird’s eye view of everything. The look from above gave us an interesting perspective, though, because when she started her program (all Schubert), we could see and feel the electricity of her hands across the Steinway’s keys. During intermission, a friend of mine got ambitious and had counted seats in the front so that we could see and hear Schubert’s Sonata in B flat Major up close and personal. I somewhat half-heartedly said sure, why don’t we try and move up past the ushers. Somehow, God and every other musical figure was smiling upon us because we got past the ushers, we had center seats in the third row, and we were enveloped in the lusciousness of Uchida’s playing. Definitely a moment I will never forget. There is a moment in that Sonata where the line just seems to be an out-of-body experience and one can simply meditate on Schubert’s melody.
One of the wonderful things about the Festspiele is that every night, they have a giant screening of an opera. Sometimes it’s current, sometimes it’s old. Nevertheless, it’s usually always a good production, and people turn up in masses to watch. As one of my voice studio mates and I discovered, you can’t really deter a passionate Austrian opera-goer. No really, it doesn’t matter if there is severe lightening and thunder and everything else is being buffeted around you, when you here Rolando Villazon singing in the 2008 Salzburger Festspeile production of Romeo et Juliette, really, how could you leave? And so we toughed out the weather, with ice cream and ponchos provided by ORF, and enjoyed us some opera–with a hundred plus other opera fanatics.
ORF (Österreichischer Rundfunk) is a wonderful thing here in Austria. It’s the equivalent of NPR, except more powerful and with way better funding/resources to make culture and opera more accessible to the public. They are the ones that are responsible for the giant screenings by the Dom, and they also regularly broadcast operas, ballet, and philharmonic productions on TV with primetime coverage–not like obscure night or daylight hours. So one can catch the afternoon Fussballspiele and then flip channels to see Renee Fleming. Cool, oder?
I had an interesting discussion about TV with my host mother when we had a “girls’ night” with rattlers (beer with limonade–actually a lot better than what one may think). In the US, we have no problem exposing our kids to violence. It’s not uncommon to see four year olds with toy guns pretending to be cowboys and shooting at imaginary enemies. By age eleven many kids have some kind of electronic gaming device with a handful of violent (albeit perhaps not bloody/gore-filled) games. Yet heaven forbid little Timmy sees an exposed breast, even in artwork. Here in Austria/Germany, the censoring is reversed. Nudity and sexuality are more openly expressed and accepted. German men have no problem stripping at the public lake to go for a swim–even with the lone Fussballspielerin; women get tan everywhere… both location-wise and physically…; little kids run around in their birthday suits. Warum nicht? There is no shame. However, violence–in particular exposure to children–is strictly regulated. The children are not even allowed to watch commercials that hint at violence. Actually not even many if any of the commercials have violent themes. Any visual media covering violence in the news is saved for after kids’ bedtime.
Apart from keeping up with German class, watching the news each night also significantly helped me keep up and better comprehend spoken German. Usually the news broadcasters are quick but very clear and articulate with their German, and there are also pictures from the news which helps. A lot of American TV shows like Sponge Bob, Gilmore Girls, and The Simpsons are broadcast in German. It’s a little strange at first, I must say. Sometimes the humor we have in the US doesn’t translate so well in German. Nevertheless, the American shows are extremely popular here! In particular Die Simpsons. Feel free to watch a little!
After a week of hard work and lots of singing, I did finally get adventurous and go out for a night in Salzburg. In some ways it reminds me of Danville because while the alcohol does flow, you have limited options of where you can go. Dancing is not too big. However, somewhat surprisingly, Irish pubs are. O’Mallys has been a huge hit with all of the participants here, especially for Thursday Karaoke nights (which I never attended because of pickup soccer. Take your pick, I did). Like I said earlier when in Bavaria, beer is served in large quantities and cheaply. It’s not uncommon to have two or three liters of beer for about ten euros (depending on where you go). By far the best, albeit most expensive beer I had was at the Augustiner Keller. It’s a nutty, full-flavored rich beer that tastes good with most anything. Thank you, parentals, for teaching me that should I choose to drink, I should drink the best stuff possible.
Sunday was by far the most musical day I could have asked for in Salzburg. To start off the day, the local community band went around in a tractor-pulled wagon playing “oom pa-pa” tunes at the crack of dawn. It was a rather startling wake-up call for me, I admit it. There should be some law about tuba playing before 8AM. Lisa and Laura loved it, of course, and at least the music made sure I was awake and wouldn’t be late for… wait for it… Renee Fleming‘s dress rehearsal with the Weiner Philharmoniker. Those from Centre may recall we had the pleasure of listening to Gustavo Dudamel and the Vienna Philharmonic at Centre College’s Norton Center for the Arts in conjunction with the World Equestrian Games held in Lexington, Kentucky. Side note–this was the first time WEG had ever been held outside a European nation. I never thought I would hear the Weiner Philharmoniker live twice in one year. Then to hear Renee Fleming live singing Strauss? Simply incredibly. She was only marking, but her voice was liquid gold. And she looked far better than when I had last seem photos of her in 2007. The Philharmoniker then played through Strauss’ Alpine Symphonie which I had never heard before then. Don’t know why I haven’t paid more attention to Strauss, but when I come back to the states, I’m going to listen to more.
After an incredible morning, one of the tenors from the program and I went and got schnitzel at St. Peter’s Stift keller (where last I had tried Knockerl) and then headed to back to Haus fuer Mozart to try and get one more ticket for Cosi. The original plan–I get a better ticket for Cosi than what I had, then give my old ticket to Andrew (the tenor I was with). What actually happened: I sweet-talked one of the scalpers, and with luck and time on our side, we got two 300 euro tickets for 40 euro each. The seats were incredible–center balcony in the second row. The production of Cosi Fan Tutte was an interesting take. At first, I wasn’t sure if I would like it simply because the overture and introduction of characters started off with Don Alfonso and Despina cast as dark angels, complete with wings. However, as the production went on, the wings disappeared, the singing was magnificent, and I could appreciate the ideas the dirigent (director) had. I liked especially that he had a clear vision of the ambiguous ending of the opera and that he went ahead and made some of his own definite decisions for Despina (who in other productions isn’t always given too much characterization). Check it out for yourself!
And I am sorry to say, there are no pictures for this week. Part of this is because–and a public apology to my father about this–I lost the charger for the camera batteries. I think I may have left it in Wien. So any more pictures I have, they have been taken on other people’s cameras but with my SD card. Apologies once again, Dad. I hope all the links in this entry make up for the lack of photos!