On the way home!

I am very early for my flight from Vienna to Zurich, and the airport has free wireless, so I figured I’d kill some time by writing about the end of my program. My battery is going to die soon, though, so I don’t know how much I will get done before I have to stop.

These past few days have been very busy.  On Wednesday morning, I had my last lied class with Joelle Bouffa. I worked on Von Ewiger Liebe by Brahms. I was so excited to sing it because it’s a beautiful song and it went really well in my lesson the day before. I warmed up when I got there that morning, but then I didn’t sing until last, so I sat for two hours before opening my mouth. I wound up being very disappointed, because I just felt like I couldn’t control any sound that was coming out of my mouth. Everything was off- my breathing, my registration, my resonance- I was not happy. But Joelle gave me a lot to work with and I tried to just brush it off. It wasn’t horrible, but I wanted to sing the song well. It was also SO HOT on Wednesday- another day of 90 degrees. After lied class we went to our last diction class. Walter Moore had every read their own pieces to practice resonant diction. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to get to everyone so I did not read, but it was good to listen to everyone else. After that we had our usual German class, and then we all ran over to the Staatsoper to see Lucia di Lamermoor! Standing room tickets are only 3 or 4 euro, and you can see and hear very well. We had all been looking forward to this performance, because it was supposed to be Diana Damrau, and it was opening night. Unfortunately, she cancelled her appearance because she’s having a baby or something, but the girl who sang Lucia wound up being an American making her Viennese debut! So that was exciting. She was very good and sounded much younger than Damrau, so it actually made the portrayal of Lucia’s madness much more disturbing (I think). The tenor singing Edgardo was fantastic. For me, he was definitely the best one in the opera. Afterwards, a few of us went over to the famous Sacher hotel for a late dinner. The food was very good, but the waiter seemed annoyed with us. We also ate outside even though it was raining, because it was so nice to feel the temperature break a little bit from 90 degrees. We had the hotel’s famous Sachertorte, and it was yummy, but nothing extraordinary. The Imperialtorte, which we had the previous week, was much better. We took a taxi home for once because it was really pouring out. 

On Thursday morning, I had my last coaching with Sholto. We worked on Botschaft, because we were going to be performing it on Friday, but I also worked more on Von Ewiger Liebe and Rastlose Liebe. I felt much better about this coaching than the previous one. He really seemed to like what I was doing with Rastlose Liebe, and gave me some good suggestions. After my coaching, I took off by myself to find the Natural History Museum. I knew it was by Stephansplatz, but for some reason I couldn’t remember how to get there from the city center. I wandered around for a long time, getting frustrated (it was another very hot day), until finally I saw horse carriages and followed the road that they were coming from (I knew the museum was by the riding school). I found where I needed to be, and I was very proud of my cleverness. The museum itself was beautiful, although the one in New York is a lot better. There were some things in the Vienna museum that I’m glad I saw, including a tiny prehistoric sculpture of a woman that was discovered in a town we passed by during our lunch on the Danube on Saturday. It was cool to have heard a story and then see the actual artifact. After the museum I trekked back over to German class for our last grammar class with Verena. She was really our favorite, as she was very sweet and animated with us. As soon as class was over, I went shoe shopping with my roommates. I almost bought a pair of rhinestone flipflops. I really wanted them, but I just don’t have any money, so they had to stay there :(. Then I went back over to the Museum Quartier to see the Art History Museum. It sits directly across from the Natural History Museum- they are partner buildings. The first thing I did in this museum was to go to the top floor and look at the walls that had been painted by Gustav Klimt. He is Vienna’s most treasured artist, and I hadn’t seen any of his work yet. After that I just kind of walked around and quickly looked at everything, stopping if I saw anything interesting. Since it is an art history museum, there weren’t that many painters that I recognized, with the exception of Albrecht Durer’s Adam and Eve paintings (which I of course recognized from the opening of Desperate Housewives :P). Before leaving, I bought a poster to bring back with me (my only souvenir), and then I returned home and collapsed. 

Yesterday, Friday, was my last day in the program. We had our last conversational German class in the morning, because we had dress rehearsal in the afternoon. After class everyone went to our favorite Biergarten for lunch, and then headed over to the Schubert Geburthaus (the house in which he was born) for rehearsal. We ran through our pieces once with our pianists, and then headed home to get ready. The concert itself went really, really well. I felt that everyone sang the best they had in the entire time of our program. I sang Botschaft and got really into my performance, and everything felt great with my voice. Mr. Eley told me I did a personal best. And we actually had a crowd! We were afraid no one would be there, but a lot of our friends from ActiLingua, and I think a few people that were passing by the Geburthaus came in to hear us. It was a great experience. Afterwards we went to an area cafe (and passed by the house in which Schubert wrote Erlkonig on the way) for a final party. The waiter was the nicest we had had in Vienna. He was very bright and cheery. Finally, most of us made our way back to the Residenz with the intention of drinking all the alcohol that was left in our fridge, but by the time we got there we were so tired that we pretty much just sat around talking for a bit before going to bed. I had to say goodbye to most people then, as they were all leaving super early in the morning. 

And, today, I woke up and packed. It was a little strange because the hotel moved some boys into the other bedroom of our apartment before Alexandria and I were out, but I’m pretty chill so it didn’t matter. I checked out, waited for a taxi that my friend and I had ordered that didn’t wind up coming, ordered another taxi, made my way through the airport check-in and security, and now here I am. I have one stop in Zurich before getting to Newark, and I should be home around 9 pm (which will feel like 3 am)! See you in the States!


The Prater and more singing adventures in Vienna

Ok, quick update about the beginning of my week. Not much exciting happened until yesterday, so I’m sorry if this is boring!

On Sunday, I woke up pretty late because I had been out until 4:30 in the morning. By the time I got up everyone was out doing their own thing, but that was ok because I had already planned to go to the Prater and figured I’d be by myself anyway. The Prater is a big amusement park by the Danube. It’s not as big as say, Six Flags, but there’s definitely a lot to do. There are a lot of rides and games, a planetarium, a Madame Tussaud’s wax museum, a park, and the famous Riesenrad. The Riesenrad is a big ferris wheel from which you can see the entire city of Vienna. I’m usually really scared of ferris wheels, but I decided to go on this one because it was important. Also, you are in a big enclosed car with about 10 other people and you can walk around to see different sides of the city. I did get a little squeemish at the top but for the most part it was no problem. It was very cool to see the city from that perspective. I didn’t go on any other rides at the Prater because most of them were similar to rides we have in the States, but I did walk around the whole park to see all of what was there. They do have one ride which is an enormous tower with swings that spin around it. The tower is much higher than anything I’ve seen in Vienna, except for Stephansdom. If you are a thrill seeker I’m sure the ride is awesome, but it is just really not for me. Another interesting ride at the Prater is the carousel, which is basically made of real horses that are attached to a big ring and pull people around in carriages. At first I thought it was cool, but when I stood and watched it I decided that it definitely wasn’t. The poor horses had to trot quickly to keep up with the ride, and I’m sure they were not very happy! After I was done at the Prater I went home because I was still tired and it was the beginning of a huge heat wave.

On Monday, I started my week of lied classes with Joelle Boufa. She is a coach here in Vienna. I believe she said she was born in South Africa, grew up in France, and then moved here to work. I sang Schubert’s Rastlose Liebe in class. She has a very different coaching approach than the other teachers here, which I was a little bit unprepared for, but which ultimately gave me a lot of things to work with. Basically everyone sang their song once, and then she made us start from the beginning and slowly work through it, with her stopping us about every bar or two to correct something or offer direction. Whereas the other coaches here have been talking about emotional connection, she really worked at the music and the text to bring about communication. It was a little bit exhausting but definitely worth it. After that we had diction with Professor Moore, and he talked a lot about performance etiquette (which I’m not really sure is related to diction but it was interesting anyway). One thing he said that I thought was interesting was to never bring water on stage with you. I have seen a couple of singers have water tables on stage during their recitals, and I always thought it was distracting and awkward when they paused between songs to take a drink, and he said that it was being rude to the audience. Hmm! I skipped German class because I was very tired and was starting to get a headache (the temperature outside was in the 80s, which is very hot for Europe). I felt a little bit bad but I basically slept for the whole three hours everyone was in class and felt much better afterwards. That night we had a masterclass with Bernd Froelich, who works here in Vienna as an opera and early music singer, voice teacher, and orchestra member. He actually got his master’s degree from Westminster in the 90s, from the same program I am in now. I wasn’t singing in class, but it was interesting to hear what he was suggesting to other singers from a pedagogical point of view. It was also nice to hear about his career, because he has always kind of done a little bit of everything- proof that you can make it work as a musician. 

On Tuesday, I had my third voice lesson with Mr. Eley. Everything went really well, and he has interesting ideas about keeping the body fluid and active while you are singing. This is something that I tend not to think about, but it really helps your voice to be free, so I am happy that I got to work with him. However, I am anxious to get back home to my voice teacher, Ms. Zorn, because we have really been on a fast track this year and I don’t want to fall off of it. It is just easier when you work with one person consistently because then you are both totally on the same page. This is not to say anything bad about Mr. Eley, though. He is a great teacher that I learned a lot from, but he is just not my regular voice teacher at home. After my lesson I had a coaching with Sholto. We worked a lot on Von Ewiger Liebe by Brahms, which I love love love love. He was trying really hard to get me to be expressive, and every time I thought I was doing it, he would say it wasn’t nearly enough. And I knew that to an extent, but this is an area I have always had to work on, and because I’m not very uncomfortable with it, after a certain amount of ineffective work my mind and emotions just shut off and say, nope! Usually I have to cry to get over feeling uncomfortable in these situations, but I didn’t want to do that with Sholto, so I basically told him I always have a problem in this area and would go home and work with my teacher on it. So I had a full morning of missing Ms. Zorn! After our coachings my roommate and I went out for a nice lunch, and then we had German class. After class I was pretty pooped, so I went home to just relax and watch some itunes. It was so hot- I was getting very tired of constantly being hot and sweaty, so I didn’t want to get grumpy by walking around more. 

Ok, going to bed now. More tomorrow, hopefully!

Vienna Week 2 (the last installment)

Finally, here is the account of the end of my second week here in Vienna.

On Friday morning I had my last lied class with Michael Pinkerton. I was sad about this because I really liked working with him, and I felt like he had great ways of getting singers to outwardly express emotion and character, which is an area that I always need work on. I sang Die Junge Nonne in class, and he spent a lot of time making me bring out my consonants in a strong way. It is a very dramatic song, but he pointed out that the singer’s registration, the accompaniment, and the pronunciation of the words themselves really do most of the dramatic work for the singer. He seemed happy with me and said that it was a good song for me, which made me happy because I really want to sing it. A lot of sopranos sing Schubert’s Gretchen am Spinnrade because it is a famous dramatic Schubert song for women, and I also sing that song, but Die Junge Nonne is nowhere near as overdone and is actually easier for me because it sits lower. After lied class we had diction and of course German. We had conversation class and spent a lot of time talking about things to buy at the supermarket. Then at 7 pm we had a masterclass with Norman Shetler! He is a world-renowned solo pianist and accompanist who has worked with people like Peter Schreier, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, and Thomas Quasthoff. So that in itself made for a very cool masterclass. I was one of the students who got to sing. I started with Botschaft, and then he wanted me to sing something else so I kind of reluctantly agreed to sing Die Junge Nonne (I hadn’t worked on it much in lessons or coachings, but I had just done some good work on it in lied class). Honestly I don’t really remember him giving me much direction, other than I need to pronounce my consonants a lot more. While working with some of the singers, he actually wound up pushing our pianist out of the way and playing the songs himself. Unfortunately, he didn’t do that with me. I feel like those singer’s got some different ideas about tempos and dynamics, but then again he flew through everything pretty quickly with them as well. After class we went out to dinner at a nearby Chinese restaurant with Norman Shetler. He is definitely a very interesting character, to say the least. I won’t say anything else about my opinion of him on a public forum…

On Saturday, we all got up super early because we were taking a trip to the Wachau, which is wine country, with our German school. Everyone met at the train station and we took a train to Melk. This was a really cute and charming town, with an enormous and beautiful monastery at the top of it. We walked up to the monastery and looked around the gardens before taking a tour. Everything was beautiful and seemed very informative, but unfortunately our tour guide only spoke German so I pretty much had no idea what he was saying. The best part about the monastery was going out to the balcony and looking over the whole town of Melk. It was probably around 90 degrees out, so we all were pretty hot by the time lunch time came. We took a boat to the Wachau, and while on the boat we had lunch and saw some pretty awesome scenery on the Danube river. The boat had a speaker system that explained everything we were looking at. We could also have some wine from the Wachau on the boat. It was nice to have a glass and go out in the open air on the back of the ship. Once we got to the Wachau, the real adventure began. Everyone in our group was expecting a sort of wine tasting trip, as we were going to wine country, but basically we got there and our leader from Actilingua led us up a mountain. Yes, actually a mountain. And he didn’t even say, ok we are going to climb this mountain because there are ruins at the top that we really need to see, he just kind of said we’d be walking uphill and took off. So about halfway up the mountain we realized what was really going on, and I was absolutely miserable. I do not hike or climb mountains, and I have no desire to. Plus it was SO hot and a lot of people in our group did not have proper climbing footwear on and were not mentally prepared to be climbing a mountain, like myself. After a lot of moaning and groaning and threatening to jump off the mountain, we finally made it to the top. Then I realized that you had to climb even more to get into the ruins, and I said nope, I will just look at them from here. The view really was beautiful from the top, especially since there are so many mountains in that area, but I didn’t feel that my miserable climb had been redeemed. I was still just mad that I had been tricked into climbing a mountain. But I sat with some friends at the top and got a little bit of a tan, so I guess that is something. After we trekked back down the mountain, we didn’t even do anything with the vineyards or the wine! We stopped in a restaurant for a lot of water and then walked to catch a bus. The bus took us to the train station and we took another train home. I was completely and totally exhausted, but after an hour or so most of the girls in the program decided to go out to a bar to meet some of the Icelandic people who had been on our trip with us. They were very nice and spoke English very well (which is good because most of us speak German very poorly). We all met at this huge screen set up by the river where literally hundreds of people were gathered to watch the football game, and then went to a huge bar nearby. It was really fun- there were a lot of people there but not too many, there was music, and everyone seemed to be in a better mood than they had been in that afternoon. We wound up staying out very late and basically walking back when the sky was light blue and birds were chirping. I was very tired but I still preferred that walk to the trek up the mountain!


Week 2, part 2

I’m going to have to write about this past week in installments, because I only have one more week left here and I’m running around trying to see as much as possible. Later I am going to venture out by myself to try and find the Prater and the Natural History Museum, but I wanted to write a quick update about some more of week 2.

I forgot to mention that on Tuesday after German class we went to the Mozarthaus! It is the apartment that Mozart lived in during his most successful time in Vienna when he wrote Le Nozze di Figaro (so I was in the room in which Mozart wrote that opera), plus the two floors above which make up the rest of the museum. The first two floors are a lot of information about him, and the coolest thing I saw was his death mask. I just stood there for a while thinking “I am staring at the face of Mozart”. It was weird looking at it and seeing what his face was like. Other than that, my favorite part of the museum was the part that was actually his old apartment. The museum has no way of knowing which rooms were actually used for what purpose, but they have made some pretty educated guesses. The most impressive thing is looking out the windows and thinking that you are seeing the same views that Mozart saw- the street and buildings outside are relatively unchanged. The room that was probably his bedroom had a very ornately decorated ceiling, so that was also surreal, seeing something that Mozart looked at every day. This museum might be my favorite thing I’ve seen so far in Vienna.

On Wednesday morning I had my second lied class with Michael Pinkerton, and I worked on Elfenlied. It was difficult at first because it does sit a little high for my voice and is supposed to be kind of quiet and squeaky, but Michael basically sped up my tempo 4 times and made me do things like singing as if I was a “smartass 5 year old girl”, which was easy for me to do :D. After lied class we started out second week of diction classes with Walter Moore. He got very excited talking to us about places to go see in Vienna and things to buy as souvenirs. We spent a lot of time talking about how to put the diction rules into practice while singing, and making every part of your performance appropriate to the work. After that we had German class (shocker), and then I went home and basically watched things on itunes until I fell asleep because I hadn’t gotten a lot of sleep the night before and all I wanted to do was curl up in bed.

On Thursday I had my first coaching with Sholto Kynoch, whom I had in lied class the first week of the program. We worked on Schubert’s Die Junge Nonne, which is this huge epic song that I was going to sing in lied class the next day. Sholto loves Schubert and knows a lot about him (he started the Oxford Lieder Festival), so it was a good day for me to start diving into the song. I knew that the song was about a young nun who was remembering a passionate love, but I thought that the ending was just that she realized she was now with God and didn’t need that part of her life anymore. But Sholto basically was like uhh, no… and explained to me that the nun had probably been forced into a convent because she was caught having an affair, and at the end she dies from delirium and heartbreak over the whole thing. So I said OH. It made the song a lot cooler to sing. After that I had a short voice lesson with Mr. Eley and then went to German class, where we had a test on grammar. That was scary, but I don’t need a grade for school so I just kind of let it roll off my back. After class I went to the Volksopera with two of my roommates to see Madame Pompadour! We got standing room tickets for 2 euros, and our spots were so good that we could actually sit down and see everything very well. The opera was very good (although the tenor had a few serious vocal cracks). It was a light opera with dialogue, and everything was in German. It was great to hear the reaction of the room full of German speakers to what was happening in the opera. It was very funny and the sets were gorgeous and very colorful. I’m so glad we got to go.

OK, I will write about the rest of the week at another time. I must go explore!