Category Archives: Opera

In Tune, BBC Radio 3

2 days ago, I had the delight of being a guest performer on BBC Radio 3’s program, In Tune. Suzy Klein interviewed me (she is so easy to talk with!), and I also performed live 3 pieces, accompanied by the marvelous Andy Smith. You can listen to the whole things or just snippets on their website:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b050xp4x

Note: this clip will be taken down in 27 days, so listen soon!

London!

First thing I noticed about London: it’s super well-connected!

Wifi everywhere. SIM cards easily obtainable. Lots of public transportation (some of it even provides free wifi).

Second thing I noticed: it feels disturbingly cold. It’s not cold enough to be snowing, but the cold gets down underneath my jacket and scarf, and makes me shiver.

I’m here to sing my very first  UK performance: Traviata, with English National Opera. I’ve performed Violetta before, but always in Italian. Many singers don’t like changing languages, but I find it particularly refreshing. I like having an instant, visceral connection to the text in my mother tongue. And while some singers dislike that the new translation changes musical inflection, I respond that this is a good thing- a new way to understand a masterpiece that was written 150 years ago.

While in the area, I intend to do some more networking for video game sound too. I’m really excited by all of the development meet-ups I’ve been finding online, and also for the global game jam coming up. And hopefully some of this will be combined with opera in a couple of projects that I can’t officially announce just yet…

Orchestration- on your computer

After studying an overview of the technologies available to today’s musician with Berklee Online, I decided that I wanted to be able to make my orchestral compositions sound somewhat real without having to record a live orchestra. Also- I wanted to be able to plug the notes of an aria accompaniment into Logic, sing on top of it, and have a viable YouTube video. So, I enrolled in Orchestration with Berklee Online.

Yes, I’ve studied instruments and classical orchestration before- several times. But I never learned how to apply it to MIDI projects. I purchased the EastWest Gold Library of orchestral samples, and learned how to apply them to musical notation, until an almost realistic recreation of a live orchestra is heard. This is so amazing! I hadn’t fully realized the power of technology, and the implications that it will have in classical music, until I took this course.

Here’s what I mocked-up for my final project: (note- this isn’t perfect, yet. There’s still ORCH2, and a life ahead for learning)

Audi Concert, Germany

Sometimes it’s hard to believe that people pay me just to enjoy my life and sing.

A few months ago, I was asked by Maestro Benjamin Shwartz to do a concert of “American Ditties” in Ingolstadt, Germany, as part of a summer concert series present by Audi. These ditties ended up including things like Summertime & I Got Rhythm (Gershwin), I Feel Pretty (Bernstein), and What Good Would the Moon Be? (Weill). Of course I said yes! And it was so much fun. And easy to sing, and just FUN.

The setting was in a vast lawn amidst a beautiful garden, beside the Danube river. There was a huge outdoor stage, constructed for the event, and an equally huge sound system. 30,000 people showed up on the grass that night, and I got to serenade each and every one. :-D

Big plus: there was a ten minute, very fancy firework show afterwards.
Big plus #2: I got to test an Audi A8 for a day. Boo-yeah.

Here’s a clip that I used as inspiration for this concert, and stole a lot from:

Sing for Siteman

This fundraising concert was organized by the talented Carol Wong, whose playing is always a standard of excellence. The program had stars and young artists from the Opera Theatre of St. Louis, and each was featured in 2 songs of their choosing. I really enjoyed being able to pick any two songs that I wanted, and chose “Joy”, by Ricky Ian Gordon, and “What Wealth of Rapture”, by Rachmaninov.

The concert was outstanding! Each person shined in a different way, and I was so impressed with how Carol put together all of these different songs to form a cohesive program. We raised $53,000 altogether for the Siteman Cancer Center, which will aid in research. I feel grateful to be able to sing for a good cause. :-)

Siteman Funny Pose

OTSL + Isaac Mizrahi+ Flute

“Soprano Elizabeth Zharoff’s Pamina was well sung and affectingly acted.”
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 2014

When I learned that Isaac Mizrahi was going to be directing me in the upcoming Flute production at Opera Theatre of St. Louis, I most definitely did do a double-check in the mirror. And decided that I’ve been exercising and eating quite well for the past couple of years- and it shows.

I want to take a paragraph to express how much I love the Opera Theatre of St. Louis. I was Gerdine Young Artist with them for 3 summers, and returned in the lead role of Flute this year. They’ve also brought me back for concerts and special events. Not only are they a joy to work with, but they also break the boundaries between singers and the audience more than any other company I’ve ever seen. The audience is seated close enough to feel our loving spit, and we’re encouraged to mingle after every performance at a candlelit outdoor reception. At the end of the summer, I knew almost all of the regulars by name- and I also liked them all. I think this audience/artist relationship is the largest reason OTSL is so successful.

If one thing stuck out the most to me about this production of Magic Flute, it was the “doubling” that Isaac Mizrahi designed. I had a dancer-double Pamina, and my wig and make-up were designed to look just like her. Of course, she was tiny and, uh blonde. Tee-hee!

OTSLdoubles

How does opera really work?

After a number of rough business moments this past year, I’ve been faced with some serious questions about opera. It’s such a peculiar industry- essentially functioning as a non-profit in the United States, and sponsored by governments in most European countries, and yet the managers and opera house directors are artists are all working for a profit, because, heh- you have to make money to live.

Most artists gloss over this point, because they only aim to do best what they love: sing fricking beautiful music. But then at some point, they have a contract that goes haywire, and suddenly they are wondering how it all really works. So, after I encountered such a thing, I decided to go back to school, and take an online course on Music Business with Berklee School of Music online.

The 3 most valuable things I learned:
1) Opera in the states exists only because of donors. Not only do they love to hear it, they also pour their money and their lives into it, just so that artists can continue to create. Never, ever, ever, shun a donor.
2) The wider music business world is much more dynamic than opera. Classical music is in a sort of bubble, which technology is just beginning to chip away on.
3) An artist can be their own manager, but not necessarily their own agent. They need someone else to help them establish connections.

The most exciting things I learned:
4) Artists don’t need to be limited to just one area of the industry. If you like some sort of other music, do that too. Think of it as cross-training.
5) I like opera/electronica (like in The Fifth Element), and I want to and CAN make that.
6) I also like video games, and want to and CAN make their music TOO.

I still love and sing opera around the world, and will continue to post about it. But I’m going to post about all kinds of music now- and I hope you’ll read it, and listen to it, and love it as much as I do.

After 3 months of Music Business, my happiness level sky-rocketed. I feel more in control of my life than ever before, because I know better how to direct it.

How Musical Men See Women

Ana Maria Otamendi and I met in the summer of 2011 at Merola, with the San Francisco Opera. We worked on a few songs together there, and that sparked a collaboration which has been incredibly dear to me. I love her insightfulness and creativity, and her playing is magical.

So, we took this collaboration one step further, to putting on a concert about a subject she and I both found incredibly interesting: songs from the point of view of a woman, but composed by a man. We performed this 4-part program in Houston at the University of St. Thomas in February of 2014.

We designed the program to follow a woman through her progression in life, beginning with childhood, to first love, to marriage & children, late life, and then finally, death. We decided to not be barred by language or time period- just follow the theme. The program lasted nearly 2 hours, with Ana Maria guiding the audience with a thoughtful presentation before each part. We’ll try to cut it down if we do it again. :-)

There are many clips up on youtube, if you want to see the concert.

Im Zimmer (by Alban Berg):

Lucio Silla- Bordeaux, France

Holy. Geez. Goodness. I will never sing a more challenging role.

Giunia, in Lucio Silla. This is an early Mozart opera, written before he really knew how to write. The running melismatic notes just keep going- and they don’t stop for a singer to breath, because prepubescent Mozart knew how to write better for violins. Oh, and he threw in 4 humongous arias, three of which are ten minutes long.

To top it off: sing it in a corset. Really. Not kidding. Can’t breath? Okay, we’ll actually stage a part where you loosen the corset during your aria so that you can hit the high note at the end. … did I mention that I like challenges?

The difficulties this role presented drove me to become a better musician. I should shout out a huge thanks to my cast and Jane Glover, our conductor, who led us through an extraordinarily difficult work of music and theater. My costume was literally dripping from perspiration by the end.

Do check out more photos in the library- the shots and lighting were AMAZING.

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Philly Flute

Who wouldn’t want to be a princess? Who father throws a party in which a play is staged just for her? And then become a part of that play, and weave her way through an enormous hedge-maze and fog on-stage until she finds her one-true-love and prince, Tamino?

This production of the Magic Flute at Opera Philadelphia is my favorite. I may be biased because of the pink dress.

But I also might be biased because Philadelphia is a great house and city to sing in. The company works so smoothly, thanks to a fantastic staff. The opera house and the schools (including Curtis) are incredibly supportive of each other, and members from each always attend performances. And the musical staff always, always delivers excellence. I love working, singing, and being in Philly.

PhillyFlutePinkDress