Madrid: do you want paella with that?
Posted on 9 April, 2012
After having perhaps one of the top three most idiotic accidents in my life, the rest of my flight was uneventful, and I woke up only once to see the snowy peaks of the alps.
Vicodin: the assist that every traveler wished she had on international flights to help ease the time change.
Arriving at the airport in Madrid, I received some pretty fantastic news—I was accepted to both CoOPERATIVE and BASOTI, two of my other potential summer programs. My parents and I had a lot of on-going heartfelt conversations (despite the time difference) about my options and what was a good (and financially feasible) plan. Ultimately, I decided to stick with my plan of attending SongFest in June, and then attend CoOPERAtive in July.
It was a little weird making summer plans at the beginning of March, particularly as the weather in Madrid already felt like summer; every day had a high of at least 70 degrees F. Beware—or, “bewirey,” as a group of Spaniards told me before we broke down the language barrier a bit—the temperatures do drop drastically at night, and you will sorely regret not hauling that jacket with you throughout the day when it’s nighttime and you realize you’re about to spend the next six hours in the freezing cold.
I made this chilling discovery when my voice prof and I left for the music school where she currently sings, after I dropped my luggage off at the apartment and very quickly threw on a clean dress. The music school used to be a small palace at some point, so it is filled with antiquity and grandeur. The practice rooms themselves are far, far nicer anything I’ve ever worked in before.
A friend of my prof made a very charming tour guide showing us around the school, and then I attended a studio recital at the school’s theatre. Take a look around—a pretty darn impressive place to sing for undergrads. Acoustics were pretty good, too, thanks to wood floors. The recital had a mix of students, though the program progressed least to most advanced. There were some students who had a lovely color and timbre but technical issues; others, frankly I could have done without hearing. Vocal pedagogy in the States is so much different in Europe. And frankly, if you have a good sound, most opera houses could give a flip as to whether or not your technique was good, provided it was a sound that brought in the money.
Afterwards, we went out for an early dinner at 9:30PM. Yes, an early dinner. Most people don’t eat dinner until around 11PM. The culture in Spain is unlike any European culture I’ve experienced before. Nobody is really up and moving until noon. The day proceeds to build momentum from there. By 11PM at night, everyone is out and discussing dinner. AdrianaLia and I didn’t discuss so much as look down an alley and say, “oh look, a Cuban restaurant!” and proceed to indulge in a pitcher of sangria, a plate full of plantains, and delicious pork and beef.
The next morning I woke up at a reasonable (by Spanish standards) 10:30AM so that I could see some of the city before voice lessons. AdrianaLia lives very centrally in Madrid right by Teatro Real. Near the Teatro is the Puerta del Sol which is a very busy place for tourists and locals alike, as it is filled with shopping and a wide variety of food. When looking around the city from the center of the Plaza, it’s hard to know where to look first. Everything about Madrid is grandiose and demands attention. In a lot of ways, Madrid is like the unedited version of Wien. It’s like the Spaniards said, well Austria’s nice, but now let’s make Madrid FIERCE. The buildings are massive, and each looks like there is some fantastical history behind it. And when one goes inside, there is no end to the detail from stained glass to rich fabrics to ornate wood-working.
The metro system is fairly easy to navigate, particularly in comparison to some of the more complicated metros in Germany. One can access the metro at Plaza del Sol (which is a central hub for train switches) or directly at the Opera house. For my time in Madrid, I used the metro to get to my voice lessons because it was faster and also to save my poor feet.
An open letter to all those women and men who fancy themselves fancier in heels: All the women in Madrid wear heels every day–and they work ‘em across the sidewalks, cobblestones, gravel roads, and up and down slick marble steps. Should you want to attempt this feat with your feet, let me caution that you will need an endless supply of bandaids, heavy-duty gel-cushions, and decent arch support from the get-go.
I brought ONE pair of heeled boots with me–my trusty Fryes (as seen here with Sir Woolliam). Those boots are the prettiest, sturdiest, best-fitting boots I could ask for, but even they made my feet sore after several hours of walking! I learned this my first day when I went strolling through the picturesque Parque del Retiro.
Retiro is the largest public park in Madrid, and frankly it’s the largest park I’ve ever been to. It is so big that there is a giant public fountain and lake, and one can rent a row boat and go out on the lake. Another Wien comparison–I was very much reminded of Schoenbrunn which is a day trip (even a two-day trip!) in and of itself. There is even a glass palace, just like Schoenbrunn. Peek inside the glass palace.
These comparisons shouldn’t be too surprising considering the Hapsburg Dynasty. Anyone remember that? K. Brief history lesson. The Hapsburg Dynasty existed in both Spain and Austria. Back in the 16th century, Ferdinand I was the bro of Charles V of Spain. Charlie told Ferdi, yo I got this little ol’ place called Austria. It’s kinda quaint. Want it? And so Ferdi took it. And this meant Ferdi got the Holy Roman Empire when Charlie died. Ferdi’s son was Maximilian II, and he became the next Holy Roman Emperor, AND he built Schoenbrunn. How cool is that, y’all?
After a somewhat brisk stroll through the park, I hurried via metro to get to my first voice lesson. There are some very nice practice rooms for rent in Madrid! I managed to snag one near Moncloa with a baby grand piano, full length mirror, and hard wood floors for twelve euros an hour (two hours a day over three days= 72 euros. Even converted to USD, this is a better deal than what I have found in the States, especially given the quality of everything). The first day with AdrianaLia, we covered some of my older rep, as I was still jet-lagged and recovering from a very heavy month of singing in February. We focused mostly on diction, and I now have a cheat-sheet of Spanish diction aligned with composer, style of piece, and/or regional dialect. It was a lot to take in, but I was able to really clean up my De Falla and Rodrigo pieces; I now want to take one (or two) to Songfest and get some master class feed-back.
So much singing had made both me and AdrianaLia hungry (food is a really common theme in Madrid), so we went next door to a small restaurant/bar. As it was 6PM, we ate with everybody’s grandparents in Madrid. There I had my first encounter with paella. What is paella? Delish rice with saffron and seafood medley. Fresh seafood is easy to come by and fairly cheap, and we also indulged in some calamari (possibly my favorite food ever). We also had Chorizo which is very salty and savory–in my opinion it needs some kind of starch with it like rice.
A long walk home (in heels, of course) on top of all that food meant a sound night of sleep–too much sleep. It was a bit of a mad dash to make it to my next voice lesson in the morning. In day two of lessons, we worked on new songs from De Falla and from Obradors. Obradors wrote some pretty darn beautiful stuff, like this little ditty I worked on
Note: Everyone should listen to and love Diana Damrau.
The lesson then called for a shopping excursion, since I had nothing to carry my books around in–the accident before I left for Spain side-tracked me… so I bought a new Purificación García handbag. I realize I have always been a “stuff-the-wallet-in-a-boot” kind of gal, but the soft supple Spanish leather so beautifully crafted and in a perfect shade of blue? AND the fact I got 15% off thanks to my American passport? Why not? It also looks stunning with my Pikeur breeches when I’m out at the barn being fancy with opera scores and grooming ponies on the same day.
Ladies, take note: El Corte Ingles is an incredible store. Go there should you want to buy any European designer items.
With new purse in hand, I went to visit the Palacio Real for the rest of the afternoon. Like Schoenbrunn, it really does require several hours to see the whole thing. Unfortunately, no pictures were allowed (although for anyone who lives near me, I do have a guidebook that has some stunning photos of all the rooms). Judging just from the front, though, I think you can get an idea for how extravagant the palace is.
I think perhaps my favorite part of the tour was seeing the music room that displayed some stunning examples of Stradivarius with ornate detail. According to the guide, they are still loaned out on active performance today. My second favorite part, hands down, was the armory. One can see all the armor both equines and humans adorned for battle, and it was a lot. Hard to believe a person or horse could move with so much metal on their backs! All the armor was clearly custom-made to the individual–easy to separate the men from the boys, literally.
The Basilico, which is directly across from the Palacio was closed for the afternoon, so I took a brief siesta at the apartment before AdrianaLia and I headed out for the night. We did plenty of window-browsing and shopping, and I took care of some birthday/bribe/offering shopping. Just in case anyone thought original football jerseys were cheaper in Europe, they aren’t. However, the hand-painted fans are stunning, and the jewelry from Toledo (should you not get to Toledo) is a good price. We wandered through Plaza Mayor before coming to el mercado del San Miguel.
While I enjoyed all the other food eaten so far, this is by far the most delicious, best-priced food in Madrid. You can easily eat a different meal every night for two weeks. The set-up is like a market with a standing bar; there is some seating, but don’t expect to get it. Food is sold tapas-style, so you can get as much or as little as you want, and it is a lot of fun to sample everything. Everything is fresh, and what you see is what you get. A caveat, though, if you can’t deal with crowds and loud noise, this may not be the place for you.
Since we didn’t get home until 3AM (I’d worked up some stamina over the last few days to stay out late), it was a difficult morning to be up and vocalizing by 9AM for my last lesson. We reviewed everything learned from Rodrigo, De Falla, and Obradors, once again paying specific attention to diction. All in all, I had four new pieces and three refined ones. Not too shabby for a few days workshop. Spanish rep is not something covered all that often in the States. I was very lucky to be exposed to it as an undergrad and to have a teacher fluent in both the language and the song repertoire. For those who want to hear more Spanish art song, let me recommend Victoria de los Angeles who is a famed 20th century soprano; she sang a very large amount of Spanish art song. For singers I strongly recommend to explore Spanish rep for themselves! There truly is something for everyone, and that Spanish “flare” can make an incredible encore or competition piece.