Thursday, May 30, 2013

Bloggy blog blogs

Got a couple more blogs for you to follow and/or just check out and/or disregard entirely.

First up- Double D-Vas a blog ' highlighting Divas and their Décolletage!  There are some really beautiful women in opera, after all...'  Amen!

Click for link

This blog is written by friends of the Bari-Chunk Meloni Grossi, Holly Hooters, and Moe TeBoté. Some of the initial Divas highlighted include: Isabel Leonard, Joyce El-Khoury, and Susanna Phillips. And there is no shortage of gorgeous women to be highlighted. Definitely worth the read...

Next up- Ramblings of a Bald Man. A blog that, well, is exactly what it sounds like. Friend of the Bari-Chunk, Alex Mansoori, jots down his random thoughts with his unique sense of humor. Good stuff.
Click for link



Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Death by Aria

Ah summer. The season of pools, grills, freshly mown grass, thunder stroms, and summer festivals. As I participate in one of the many summer programs, I find myself reflecting upon my time as a young artist. Many memories and emotions come to mind when I think of those times; friendships made, frustrations shared, alcohol consumed, but the main emotion that I have now is relief that I'm not a young artist any more.


Being a young artist is tough! Good lord, the things we do for this art form. Long hours, little pay, moderate respect, less than ideal living situations, and very high expectations. And why an outsider might find themselves asking? Why would we put ourselves through all that??? Well, the answer is obvious. We do it because, well, I really don't know. We do it because someone told us to do it, it's what all singers do, and because as artist we like to torture our souls.

Standard young artist housing

It's not all bad though. Having spent 9 summers in different young artist summer programs, I can say that some of them were the best summers of my life. Made great friends, had great times, and even occasionally, made some good music. (Also might have cut some years off my life due to the amount of alcohol I drank. In case you didn't know, opera singers can drink. I'm pretty sure opera singer's Native American name would be 'One Whose Liver Fears No Cocktail')


The most stressful part of any summer program is the 'Death by Aria' day. On this fateful day, whether it be at the beginning, or end of the summer, each young artist stands before their colleagues, teachers, music staff, donors, conductors, directors, principal artist, managers, heads of companies, parents, long lost cousins, random janitors and sings an aria for all to hear. It's stressful (not that any audition isn't slightly stressful, but this one sucks just a little bit more than the rest). You get all dressed up, you rehearse with the accompanist, and you wait your turn to take the stage, all the while wondering if your warmed up enough, or if you chose the right aria, or if your dress goes with your shoes, or if this audition could be your big break.  Talk about a stressful. And all for 2-7 minutes of singing.

Despite its depressing name, no one has ever died during said event. Well, none that I know of. It is, however, in my opinion, a form of mid evil torture. So much stress, so much worry, for so very little (if any) pay off for the singer. So why in the name of Jebus do companies make singers do this???

As I sat this year listening to a fresh group of young singers standing before God and all, singing their hearts out, I found a new appreciation for this daunting event. I found it highly entertaining. Mainly because I didn't have to do it, and I could enjoy the young artists suffering (Shaudenfraude, my true love), but also for positive reasons. I was able to hear some good singing, I was able to put face with arias, which helped me learn who people were faster (I'm really not good at learning people's names the old fashioned way), I was able to see a lot of the singers personality in both the performance and in how they handled themselves before and after the piece, I saw how they handled the stress, and selfishly, I was able to see what the people on 'the other side of the table' experience in auditions. That can only help me become a better auditioner. I'm guessing that's some of the reasons why companies do this to us. It's a quick (and painful) way to get to know us as singers and people.

All that being said doesn't help alleviate the stress of the young artist though. So, I guess I should give a bit of advice to the young singers. My advice- don't stress it. Having done several of these, and many, many, many more auditions on top of that, I can honestly tell you that stressing about it fixes nothing. It's actually detrimental. But I also know telling someone not to stress is like telling someone not to think of a pink elephant. Can't be done.

'Whats everybody staring at?'

So lets look at this logically. What is the worst that can happen? If you go up and crack a note, or mess up a word, or even, God forbid, have to stop, what's the worst that can happen to you? Well, no one died, so that's a plus. In fact, that's really the most important thing. You live to fight another day. Worst thing that will happen is that you wont get the job you were auditioning for, and when you think about it, isnt all that bad. Yes we want work, and yes we want to sing well, but all in all, there are much worse things that can happen. Thank God we're not doctors...

Bad auditions will happen. They happen to everyone. As Billy Joel said 'Mistakes are the only thing we can truly call our own.' So own yours, learn from them, and try not to repeat them. Pretty sure that's the basic sign of human intelligence.

'I said that? Must have been drunk...'

So, what can you learn from a bad audition? Basically the same thing as we can learn from a good audition. Maybe you realize that you needed more sleep the night before, or you shouldn't have had chipotle before you sang (mmmmmmm, chipotle), or that singing that new aria that wasn't quite ready yet was a mistake, or that you didn't warm up enough, or that you weren't on your breath, ect ect. These are fixable thing, things you as a singer and performer can work on and fix.
Possible Bari-Chunks sponsorship???

In my humble opinion, there is no such thing as perfection, and we can therefore learn from every audition, good or bad, to help better ourselves and our craft.  Learning to sing is a process, a very long process. One that we will work on for the rest of our lives. We might as well accept the fact that we will screw up from time to time. Sometimes, epically. But in the end, it's not that big of a deal. We can always do better next time. The plus side of auditioning is that there usually is a next time, and another chance...

So young artists out there being forced to sing in a 'Death by Aria' event, don't sweat it. It's a good thing, for you and for the people watching.

Kickin it old school

In keeping with the original purpose of Bari-Chunks, here are two amazing singers who deserve some recognition:

Todd Thomas
Renowned Verdi Baritone Todd Thomas has been praised for, well, amazing singing. All over the world. If you ever get a chance to see him do Rigoletto, or anything for that matter, run, do not walk, to see him. Not only does his voice cut deep into what ever room he's singing in, it pierces you. He committal to his character is a sight to be seen. 

Here's his Cortiganni (click photo for YouTube)

Um, I'd scream like a little girl if I saw this in a dark alley...

 He is currently sing Balstrode in Britten's Peter Grimes at Des Moines Metro Opera.

Next up:

Greer Grimsley

Wagnerian Bass-Baritone recently made his long awaited debut singing Wotan at the Metropolitan Opera. Nothing less than spectacular in all 3 shows, Greer has proven himself the leading Wotan in the operatic world. 

Heard he singing a little number from The Flying Dutchman, you can really get a sense of the power and beauty of this mans voice. (Click the picture for the YouTube)

One Wotan to rule them all...

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Rhoslyn Jones

I try to be funny. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes not. I try to be smart. I'm shooting 50/50 on that one too. Sometimes I try to be wise. My handicap on that is that I'm not wise. I've even tried to do all three of those together. Well, Babe Ruth struck out lots of times, and Michael Jordan was cut from his 8th grade basketball team, and I'm sure Albert Einstein was picked on for his hair... Point is, we can't all be perfect all the time.

But then there is Rhoslyn Jones.

Friend of the Bari-Chunk, she has seemed to nail the trifecta in her posting on the blog, Ms In The Biz, a blog dedicated '...Ms. In The Biz is the premium online destination for women in entertainment who are looking for a positive community that shares resources, imparts wisdom, and fosters success.' 

 In Roz's first two posts, entitled 'You Look like an Opera Singer,' and 'Hauling My Curvy Ass and Mono-Boob to Yoga,' Ms Jones inspires me, makes me think, and most definitely makes me laugh. I highly recommend the read. 

(Roz- hope you don't mind being posted on a site called Bari-chunks...)

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A Poem

A Poem by Don'tstoesky

Sometimes, I work with relics.

Not the Egyptian or Assyrian kind,
but old people who distinctly don’t mind
fucking up from time-to-time,
because they’ve resigned
from life, from the daily grind,
and lived so long they redefine mankind,

Sometimes, I like the relics. 

They drink vodka martinis as anesthetics;
part of a healthy diet of antiseptics,
fun-filled antics.

Antiques, they are, they know, they buy,
and I like that they fuck up time-to-time
in old bow ties, preaching artistic sublime,
planning a heist, the next Great American Crime,
and selling opera tix for nothing but a dime.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Um, what?

John Denver
John Denver
John Denver and opera fans alike have something to look forward to this summer.

On June 11, legendary music producer, Milt Okun along with composer Lee Holdridge are bringing some of the most famous names in opera to John Denver 's famous hit songs: "Great Voices Sing John Denver."

The album features artists such as Placido Domingo, Rod Gilfry, Daniel Montenegro, Shenyang, Danielle de Niese and Rene Pape, among others. The group is comprised of an international group of singers to fully embody who John Denver was — an international man. All the artists were given the option of which song they wished to sing and unbelievably no two artists chose the same song. As with many people, each of the artists had personal stories that went along with their song choice.

It was Milt Okun 's wife Rosemary Okun 's idea to have opera singers sing some of John's greatest hits. She mentioned this idea one night over dinner with a group of friends and "everyone sat there and looked at me," Rosemary recalled. However, she couldn't let it go. "My feeling was that we had to do it. I believed that we owed it to John. Milt and I had been lucky enough to have this wonderful singer and performer in our lives — lives that John enriched immeasurably. And it was a true partnership. John's life was in turn enriched by Milt's work- and maybe by my cooking."

There was no question in Milt's mind that in order to get the ball rolling he needed the good graces and support of Placido Domingo.

"The instant I mentioned the idea to Placido, he said yes. He and John had such a warm relationship. I remember the time when we were recording 'Perhaps Love' in 1981 with such fondness," Milt said. "They hit it off immediately and just loved working together."

They also collaborated with Elisa Justice, who co-produced the album. She worked closely with the agents in getting the singers that were requested on board, while coordinating their schedules to get them in the studio. Elisa also brought in singers that had not been thought of, adding enormous variety to the project.

With Placido leading the way, the CD was bound to have any singer that they wanted.  The result is a wonderful album comprised of opera stars of all voices and several generations. Thus, bringing their exceptional talents to John's work.

To see the track list, click here.

Great Voices Sing John Denver

Great Voices Sing John Denver

Some of the best voices in opera are singing John Denver's greatest hits
on a new album coming out June 11th

Track List

Rhymes and Reasons  Danielle de NieseAustralian-born to parents of Sri Lankan and Dutch heritage, Danielle de Niese grew up in Los Angeles. The soprano has been captivating audiences since childhood, when she was a fixture of Los Angeles local television hosting a arts showcase for teenagers, for which she won an Emmy Award. Under an exclusive recording contract with Decca, her 2007 debut solo album Handel Arias and her recent Mozart Album were released to international acclaim.
This Old GuitarRod GilfryRod Gilfry, two-time Grammy nominee, singer and actor, has performed in all the world's music capitals. His most recent Grammy nomination was for his 2008 performance in the title role of Messiaen's monumental opera Saint François d'Assise in Amsterdam. Best-known as an opera singer, he is also an acclaimed recitalist and concert artist, and appears frequently in musical theater classics.
Leaving On A Jet Plane     Patricia RacettePatricia Racette is an American operatic soprano. She has been a regular performer at the San Francisco Opera since 1989, and the Metropolitan Opera since 1995. She is known for her strong, dramatic intensity. Her most recent performances of Madama Butterflyand Peter Grimes at the Metropolitan Opera were seen in HD in movie theaters across the world as part ofThe Met: Live in HD, with Madama Butterfly being one of the most successful broadcasts in the history of the series.
Sweet SurrenderThomas HampsonThomas Hampson is an American lyric baritone who is recognized as one of the world’s pre-eminent classical singers, having appeared in major opera houses and concert halls all over the world and outputting over 170 musical recordings.
The Eagle and The Hawk Zajick, Gilfry, MontenegroThis trio was handpicked to perform The Eagle and The Hawk by Lee Holdridge and Milt Okun.
“I felt the song would benefit from this more intense treatement,” Holdridge said. “Even back when John Denver and I performed it together, I felt that the song had an operatic grandeur to it. I felt it could be treated in a larger than life fashion. I actually mentioned that idea to John and he was very intrigued by the whole thing. I think he would have loved hearing this version.”
Goodbye Again Daniel MontenegroDaniel Montenegro, a Southern California native, has traveled the world performing on stages ranging from the Sydney Opera House in Australia to the Kodak Theater in Hollywood. The San Francisco Conservatory of Music graduate most recently made his San Francisco Opera debut as Roderigo in Verdi’s Otello. Daniel also appeared in the Sydney Festival as the Shepherd in Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex.
Sunshine On My Shoulders    Denyce GravesDenyce Graves is recognized worldwide as one of today’s most exciting vocal stars. Her career has taken her to the world's great opera houses and concert halls. Denyce has become particularly well known to operatic audiences for her portrayals of the title roles in Carmen and Samson et Dalila. In 1991 Denyce Graves received the Grand Prix Lyrique, awarded once every three years by the Association des amis de l’opéra de Monte-Carlo, and the Marian Anderson Award, presented to her by Miss Anderson.
Like A Sad Song       Dolora ZajickDolora Zajick is an internationally acclaimed rare voice with a true dramatic Verdi mezzo-soprano, typified by the composer's most famous and difficult mezzo-soprano roles, Azucena, Amneris and Eboli. Born in Oregon, but raised in Nevada, Dolora studied voice with Ted Puffer, former Artistic Director of the Nevada Opera. She has appeared in opera and in concert with some of the foremost conductors of today.
Shanghai Breezes
ShenyangShenyang is a Chinese bass-baritone singer and the son of two professional musicians. He did not start his singing career until he was 16 years old. He was inspired by German Lieder singer Hans Hotter while growing up. At 19 years old, Shenyang entered the Shanghai Conservatory of Music where he studied at the Zhou Xiaoyan International Opera Center. He also trained at the Metropolitan Opera and Juilliard School.
Fly Away    Stuart Skelton and Bárbara PadillaStuart Skelton is acknowledged as one of the finest heldentenors of his generation, being critically acclaimed for his outstanding musicianship, tonal beauty and intensely dramatic portrayals. Stuart has appeared in many of the world’s most celebrated opera houses including the Metropolitan Opera, Seatlle Opera, San Francisco Opera, English National Opera, Paris Opera, Bavarian State Opera, Hamburg State Opera, Berlin State Opera, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Dresden Semperoper, and the Vienna State Opera.
Bárbara Padilla is a Mexican-American operatic soprano. She was the runner-up on the fourth season ofAmerica's Got Talent. She is well known as a survivor of Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Follow Me      René PapeRené Pape, one of the world’s leading bass singers studied music in his native city of Dresden. While still a student, he made his  debut in 1988 at the Berliner Staatsoper and has been a member of that company ever since.
Per TeMatthew PolenzaniMatthew Polenzani is an American lyric tenor, born in Evanston, Illinois. He has appeared with the Metropolitan Opera of New York, the Seattle Opera, and other companies. He has also sung   with numerous symphony orchestras.
CalypsoNathan GunnNathan Gunn is an American operatic baritone born in Indiana. He has performed in many of the world’s well-known opera houses, including the Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Houston Grand Opera and the Seattle Opera, among others. Gunn was appointed a tenured professor of voice at the University of Illinois in the fall of 2007.
Perhaps Love  Plácido Domingo – Plácido Domingo Jr.
Plácido Domingo is a world-renowned singing actor in the history of opera. He is also a conductor and a major force as an opera administrator in his role as general director of two companies: LA Opera and Washington National Opera. His work has earned him 12 Grammy Awards, three of which are Latin Grammys.
Plácido Domingo, Jr is the son of Plácido Domingo and a Mexican singer, songwriter, composer, and record producer. In 2010, together with SonicProjects Records, Plácido Domingo, Jr made his international debut as a performer, collaborating with Grammy Award-winner producer/engineer Juan Cristóbal Losada.
Annie’s Song( All Cast)Domingo, de Niese, Hampson, Graves, Zajick, Gilfry, Montenegro, Racette, Yang, Skelton, Padilla, Polenzani, Gunn and Plácido Domingo, Jr.  
For YouMatthew PolenzaniMatthew Polenzani is an American lyric tenor, born in Evanston, Illinois. He has appeared with the Metropolitan Opera of New York, the Seattle Opera, and other companies. He has also sung   with numerous symphony orchestras.
Shanghai Breezes
ShenyangShenyang is a Chinese bass-baritone singer and the son of two professional musicians. He did not start his singing career until he was 16 years old. He was inspired by German Lieder singer Hans Hotter while growing up. At 19 years old, Shenyang entered the Shanghai Conservatory of Music where he studied at the Zhou Xiaoyan International Opera Center. He also trained at the Metropolitan Opera and Juilliard School.
Click to see the press 

How to speak to an opera singer

Talking to an opera singer can seem daunting, almost impossible.  But it's really not that difficult.  We know our profession is odd, and probably the last thing you expected to hear when you asked "What do you do for a living?"  Regardless, I have taken it on myself to coach you through this difficult task.  Consider it my civic duty.  The following are questions you should NEVER ask an opera singer.

1. 'Have you sung in Phantom of the Opera?' Yes, there's opera in the title, but it's not an opera. It's a musical. Big difference.  Soap operas aren't operas for the same reason.

Phantom of the Musical?  Not as catchy

2. 'Have you ever auditioned for American Idol?' Um, no. Pop singing is a whole other set of skills, just as rock collecting is not the same as geology. I don't think the judges would know what to do with an opera singer if they did. I personally would love to sing something for them, just to hear Randy Jackson say to me 'that's pitchy, dog.' (By the way, no except Randy Jackson says that. It's called being out of tune)
"That's pitchy, Dog."

"Your Nessun Dorma was the shit, but I couldn't understand a word you said."
3. 'Do you watch American Idol, or The Voice, or whatever?' Yes, just as I watch Family Guy, Game of Thrones, Modern Family, and the West Wing. For entertainment value. I'm not there taking notes of what what they performed or what the judges said to them so I can line up songs for my next album. I actually don't watch them anymore. I tried, but the judges are so incompetent! The fore-mentioned Randy Jackson being the worst, in my opinion.  But now they have Britney Spears. Yeah, that's who I'd want giving me advice. Unless it was advice on how to go crazy and shave my head. The Voice isn't bad, I like how they judge them on their actual instrument without looking at them at first. That's cool, then it just turns into American Idol. Anyway, I digress.
"You could use some work on your legato.  Most likely your breathe isn't quite hooked up."

4. 'Do you have a CD?' Not a lot of us do. You're probably assuming that since we sing, that like all the other singers you've heard of, we just make recordings. Some opera singers do. Some even have a lot of albums out there. But most of us don't. Not like its a bad thing, but it's expensive, and despite what you might have heard, we aren't all rich.

5. 'Have you sung at the Met?' That's probably the only opera house you know, and that's fine. It's a good one to know. But did you know there are over 250 other opera companies in the US alone? The Met is just one company. Granted, they have a much more public face than most other companies, but it's not a requirement for an opera singer to work there. Some of us have, some of us haven't. Trust me, that has no indication of good we are.

6. 'Do you know Pavarotti?' Um, he died. In 2007. Yes, he was probably the most famous singer of his generation. Yes he was ridiculously talented. No, we probably never worked with him. Some might have been lucky enough to, but few.
"I'm sorry, who are you?"

7. (This one isn't a question, but a statement people make in these situations) 'I really like Josh Groben/Charlotte Church/Andrea Bocelli/Il Divo.' I'm just gonna say this, they're not opera singers. They're cross over artists, which is fine. But it's not the same. I don't think most of them have been in a professional opera production in their lives (Bocelli was, but no one could hear him over the orchestra).  Saying that's like saying college football players are the same as pro football player. That might be a bit harsh, but this one bugs me. The reason I use that analogy is because they use microphones to sing. We don't. I have no problem with their voices. I have no problem with their careers (might be jealous of the money they're making). What I do have a problem with is them claiming to be something they aren't. It's like me saying I'm the President because I voted. Not the same
Still have no idea who this is

8. 'Do you have insurance for your voice?' I can't afford basic healthcare.

9. 'Have you done the opera with the metal underwear and horn on your head?' Never had to do that for an opera, just when bored on a Saturday night. (Damn you Wagner, we will fight that stereotype forever...)

10. 'Are there a lot of fat chicks in opera?' (This was actually asked of me) Yep. Lots of skinny ones too. Lots of medium ones, lots of pretty ones, ugly ones, sexy ones, funny ones, tall ones, short ones, black ones, white ones, old ones and young ones. There is no physical requirements to be a opera singer. Just like there probably isn't to do what ever you do. We're just people.
No fat chick here

11. 'Do you know my uncles next door neighbor from Utah? He was in an opera.' Yes I do. Please tell him I said hi. Yes this business is small (too small sometimes), but we don't know everyone in it. Assuming that is like if you told me you were a doctor and I asked if you knew Dr Kevorkian.

So here's my advice when ever you are forced to talk to one of us opera singers, just talk to us like we're normal people. Because we are. You don't have to impress us, you don't even have to try and relate to our work. We can carry on normal conversations about things out of our business. Chances are we don't want to talk about it.  Lets talk about politics, or food, or movies, or puppies.