Who is ready for my first ever VLOG??
I took you guys with me for an entire day filled with work, grocery shopping, cooking, and rehearsal, and it was so much fun! Plus, it's cool to have a record of my entire day to look back on. Is this what you expected an opera singer's day to look like? Let me know in the comments below!
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Since becoming an opera singer, I have noticed that many people have a real misunderstanding of what opera entails.
Well, I'm here to bust 5 opera myths and teach you why opera is more relatable than you might think. If you guys like this video, let me know in the comments and I'll bust some more myths - there are quite a few misconceptions about opera!
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Widmung means Dedication.
This art song by Robert Schumann, with poetry by Friedrich Rückert, is one of the most beautiful love songs ever written. Schumann wrote this for his wife, Clara, for their wedding day and expressed all of his joy and love for her through his music. The poetry is beautiful and describes love in its highest form - the music then raises the words above themselves and into another realm. Listen for the word "schmerz" which means "pain," and how Schumann illustrates it musically.
What's your favorite love song, opera or not? Let me know in the comments below!
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Who's ready for another Opera Spotlight Podcast?
I am so excited to be doing another one of these. I think they are so helpful at getting yourself acquainted with an opera before listening, watching, or seeing it live! I hope you enjoy these opera spotlights as much as I do. Take a listen! And here's the transcript for those who would like to read it:
Hello beautiful ladies and gents and welcome to Classically Abby. Today we will be doing an opera spotlight on Puccini’s La bohème, or The Bohemians. Now, the first thing I’d like to clear up right off the bat is that La bohème is in Italian, not French. The original novel and play, Scènes de la vie de bohème, were written in French by the author Henri Murger, however the libretto for Puccini’s opera was written in Italian by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa. Together, they used his stories as a basis for the opera, although much of Acts II and III are of the librettists own invention. I chose La bohème because the characters are so incredibly well-drawn through both the libretto and the musical writing. You can’t help but fall in love with the motley crew, despite the fact that they are somewhat morally questionable, and Puccini lovingly sets every word, allowing the audience to see into the hearts of each and every person onstage.
La bohème was written in 1896, It was the subject of tension, as another composer, Ruggiero Leoncavallo, composer of Pagliacci, had also begun work on a work of the same name. When Leoncavallo found out that Puccini was writing his own version, he asked him to cease and desist, claiming he had rights to the story, despite the fact that La bohème was in the public domain. Puccini refused, having had no knowledge that Leoncavallo had begun composing around the same time, and is quoted as saying, “Let him compose. I will compose. The audience will decide.” It seems audiences did decide, as Leoncavallo’s remains mostly forgotten and Puccini’s version is one of the most frequently performed operas in the world.
We’ll be listening to the 1973 recording of La bohème featuring Mirella Freni, Luciano Pavarotti, and Elizabeth Harwood, and conducted by Herbert von Karajan. As well, I’ll be including my rendition of Si, Mi Chiamano Mimi that I recorded for my YouTube channel. Feel free to head over and watch it. I chose the 1973 recording for a few reasons. This is truly the master recording of this incredible opera. Mirella Freni is a wonderful Mimi and she sings her with such tenderness. And Pavarotti sings with so much joy, just as Rodolfo should. As well, Herbert von Karajan is one of the best conductors of the 20th century and he guides the orchestra with masterful precision.
Now let’s talk about the plot and hear some music! To follow along and hear the full recording, head over to my Spotify and follow the Opera Spotlight: La bohème playlist.
You’ll notice that the opera begins without an overture – only about 20 seconds of scene-setting music, comically loud. The curtain rises on the scene and we immediately know where we are. It’s a dilapidated room on Christmas eve, the top floor of an old building. In it, we see a young man painting, Marcello, and another gazing out the window. They complain about the cold – they are poor artists and unable to afford anything to heat themselves with. The man looking out the window, Rodolfo, writes plays but decides to burn his manuscript for warmth. What should be a sad and depressing moment is played for laughs.
In come the two other artistic friends, Colline, the philosopher, and Schaunard, the musician. They carry food and wine, and Schaunard explains his good fortune – he was hired by an old man to play his violin to the man’s pet parrot until it died. As the men set the table, excited to fill their bellies, Schaunard stops them and tells them to save the food – they are going to celebrate by going out to eat at Café Momus!
All of a sudden, a knock rings out on their door. Benoit, their landlord, is here to collect their rent! They ply him with wine, ask him of his amorous adventures, and wait for him to reveal – that he’s married! Feigning moral indignation, they shoo him out of their apartment and keep the rent money for themselves, planning to spend it out on the town that night.
As all the friends leave, Rodolfo stays behind to finish something he’s writing before he plans to join them. Another, softer knock is heard on the door and when Rodolfo opens it, a young, pretty woman is standing there. Her candle has gone out and she doesn’t have another match to light it with. Rodolfo is immediately taken with her and helps light her candle, but she feels faint. After Rodolfo offers her some wine, she feels better, but she realizes she has lost her key. Depending on the production, it is unclear whether Mimi has lost her key on purpose to spend more time with this fetching young man, or it was actually an accident. But what isn’t an accident is Rodolfo finding the key and putting it in his pocket so she has to spend a bit more time with him. It’s an adorably sweet moment. When they are chatting, Puccini has the orchestra seem like it’s on tenterhooks – the beginning of love.
As they are looking for the key, Rodolfo touches Mimi’s hand and feels how cold it is. Thus begins one of the most famous arias in the repertoire and it is so absolutely sweet and indicative of young love that I had to share at least the beginning with you all! He tells of himself and tries to brag about what he does to impress her.
Mimi follows up with her own introduction, and the fact that Puccini wrote two of the most famous arias back to back is absolutely mind-blowing. This is an excerpt of my rendition.
The two young people realize they have fallen in love and sing together in a duet as they leave the apartment, ending the act.
Act II begins in the Latin Quarter that same evening. A crowd is out, and Rodolfo and Mimi appear and he buys her a little pink bonnet from a street vendor. As they sit down with their friends at Café Momus, Musetta, Marcello’s old flame, appears with her admirer, a rich man named Alcindoro. She misses Marcello and sings a seductive song to everyone in the square but directed specifically at her ex-boyfriend. It’s hilarious, one of my personal favorite arias to sing, and a scene stealer.
Despite the fact that she’s being so forward, Mimi notices that Musetta actually does love Marcello, and it isn’t just some ploy. To rid herself of Alcindoro, Musetta pretends that her foot is in horrible pain and she needs Alcindoro to go to a shoemaker. He leaves and she falls into Marcello’s arms.
The bill for the table arrives at Café Momus and Schaunard’s purse seems to have been stolen! Musetta’s brilliant solution? To put the whole tab on Alcindoro’s bill! The crew runs off and Alcindoro returns to see a huge bill before sinking into a chair in surprise as the curtain falls.
In Act III a few months have passed – it’s February and Mimi has a terrible cough. She has been looking for Marcello, for he has moved to a tavern for which he paints signs. After finding him, she confesses that her life with Rodolfo has been difficult because of his jealousy, and that he left her last night. Marcello shares that Rodolfo is asleep inside, but Rodolfo appears to speak with Marcello while Mimi hides.
After trying to convince Marcello that he has left Mimi because of her flirtatiousness, he actually reveals that he knows Mimi is sick with consumption, dying, and that he wants her to find a better, richer man to take care of her. When Marcello tries to stop Rodolfo so that he doesn’t hurt Mimi’s feelings, Mimi comes out from her hiding place, crying. Marcello leaves the two alone as he has heard Musetta’s giggles from inside the tavern and wants to confront her.
In this moment, Mimi tells Rodolfo that she will break up with him, sharing her love for him in this next aria. She speaks nostalgically, remembering the better times and telling him to keep the pink bonnet that he bought for her on Christmas Eve. Puccini beautifully weaves the original tune of her first aria through the beginning of this moment, nostalgically having her as well as the audience remember her first encounter with Rodolfo.
They realize that they love each other too much to break up before spring, when the world is beautiful and reborn. They agree to stay together for a bit longer, just as Marcello and Musetta are yelling at each other over her flirtatious nature – a dichotomy if ever there was one. This musical excerpt is a quartet that begins with a duet for Rodolfo and Mimi as they decide to stay together for just a few more months.
The last act raises on the same set as the first act, though this time it’s spring in the little apartment. Rodolfo and Marcello are working, quote unquote, however they are both really day dreaming about the women who have now gone. They both have seen Mimi and Musetta dressed like queens about town and they miss them terribly. After a rather comical scene with all four men as they set up their meager food as if it were a banquet, Musetta appears at the door.
Mimi has left her rich patron and was wandering the street, looking haggard. She asked Musetta to bring her to Rodolfo. They help her onto the bed. Musetta goes with Marcello to sell her earrings for medicine to help Mimi. Mimi mentions that her hands are cold, and, in this next excerpt, Colline sings to his old coat that he is going to sell so he can buy her a muff to keep her hands warm. The coat represents an old friend to him, and the beginning sounds like a funeral march if you listen carefully.
Schaunard leaves too to give the young couple some time together. She tells Rodolfo that her love for him is everything, and he shows that he kept the pink bonnet. She is delighted and they relive their first meeting together. It is so incredibly sad and nostalgic as they relive their first moments together musically, her trying to feel better as she is dying. Listen to this short excerpt, where Puccini has her repeat her line from her first aria, then again softer and in a lower key as if isn’t strong enough to repeat it.
The others return and present her with the medicine and the muff, and Mimi tells Rodolfo she’s just going to nap for a moment. But as they turn away, Musetta praying, Schaunard realizes that Mimi has already died. Rodolfo rushes to her bedside, crying Mimi, as the curtain falls.
And that’s the entirety of this incredibly moving, beautiful opera.
Now you have some context before going to a production of La bohème! Have you heard La bohème before? What’s your favorite Puccini opera? Let me know in the comments on my blog post and on YouTube. You can always follow me on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube at Classically Abby. And thanks for listening!
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I absolutely LOVE this song!
I know, I know - I'm Jewish and I'm even setting up Chanukah candles in this video while I'm singing about Christmas! But here's the thing: I can recognize great music. And this is great music. Plus, I can recognize how lovely Christmas is for those who celebrate it without having to celebrate it myself. So I thought I would record this to give everyone some festive cheer. I hope you have the happiest of holidays, and let me know in the comments below - what's your favorite Christmas song?
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Today would have been Maria Callas' 96th birthday, and in honor of that I thought I would share with you a playlist of her best recordings!
Maria Callas has always been one of my major inspirations when it comes to singing. She gave opera everything, and she was an incredible actress. Operatic singing goes hand in hand with intense emotion, but many times, a singer gets too caught up in "technique" and singing well. This makes for very boring opera, because the plot becomes secondary to the music, which is not the point at all. Maria Callas, on the other hand, was dedicated to her craft as a singer and an actress, and it shows even in her recordings. She used inflections in her singing that defined her as a singing actress.
Known as La Divina, Maria Callas was born in America to Greek parents. After her parents separated, Callas' mother moved her children back to Greece where Maria began to take singing lessons. There she improved dramatically and by the time she was 17, she was performing huge roles with the Greek National Opera. She was called a "dramatic soprano" which means a higher voice with a dark, heavy timbre. But when she was 26, while singing Brünnhilde in Die Walküre, she was asked to learn and sing the role of Elvira in I Puritani in just six days! Now, there's a big difference between Brünnhilde and Elvira. The first is Wagner; that means it's very loud, very intense singing. There isn't much finesse - it is a lot of blasting loud, high notes. Elvira, on the other hand, is considered bel canto, which means beautiful singing. In bel canto, you have to be very delicate with the voice as you move it around quickly through many notes. The two styles could not be more different. And Callas sang both beautifully to the astonishment of the audience! That changed the direction of her career.
And this is just the beginning of Callas' incredibly interesting story. I recommend reading a biography of her life. She may not have been the most well-balanced person, but she is fascinating. Just a quick note: as I've discussed before, opera was never meant to be recorded. Much of the time, what sounds weird on recordings sounds incredible in person and in an opera house. Also, keep in mind that these recordings were done in one take - there was no editing. Now, onto the music!
1. Habanera - I am pretty sure I have included this recording in two other playlists on this blog, and I have NO regrets. Despite the fact that Callas is not a mezzo-soprano and this part was theoretically written for a lower voice, she sings it so well and imbues the words with so much meaning that I had to include it. Callas lost forty pounds in the middle of her singing career and became one of the most beautiful women of her time. When she did, singing the role of Carmen seemed like an obvious choice. Listen to the way she uses chest voice (that thick heavy sound) in the bottom of her voice when she's warning the men around her to "prends garde à toi!" - "watch out!"
2. O rendetemi la speme - Remember that operatic role that Callas had six days to learn and that changed the direction of her career forever? This is the aria that she sang! In this aria from the opera I Puritani by Bellini, Elvira believes that her love has left her forever and she is losing her mind. Do you hear how Maria Callas has to caress the notes and the lines? This is not just singing loud. This is singing with finesse. This excerpt is taken from the recording of the opera as a whole, so you will hear the other characters in the scene with her observing her behavior!
3. Casta Diva - Another role that La Divina was known for was Norma, also a Bellini opera. Norma is a druid high priestess in Gaul who has broken her chaste vows and bore the Roman proconsul two children. Here, she prays to her goddess for peace between the Romans and the Gauls. Of course, Norma knows of her own sin and that she will never be able to take revenge against the man she loves and his people. Listen to the held high note that is broken into beats - Callas, makes that sound like a cry for help as she recognizes how she has betrayed her people and the gods.
4. Vissi d'arte - Perhaps the closest to real life, the role of Tosca and the words of this aria in many ways ring true for Callas herself. The title of the aria is literally "I lived for art," and if anything defines Callas better than that, I don't know what it is. She was music, and she put everything she was into her art. You can hear how close she is to this subject matter in her rendition of this aria.
5. Caro nome - This is a beautiful aria from Verdi's Rigoletto in which a young ingenue named Gilda sings of her infatuation with a man who she met at church. This man, of course, happens to be the evil Duke who will end up ruining her and her father's lives, but this moment is a window into Gilda's innocent soul. It's fascinating to see how Callas portrays this musically because she herself was not an ingenue. She was a strong-willed woman with an ambitious drive. But Callas is a masterful actress, and she gets across Gilda's hope and young love. The fact that Callas can sing roles like this so cleanly and beautifully while also singing Tosca is an amazing feat.
6. Regnava nel silenzio - Here's another masterpiece of bel canto opera! This is from Lucia di Lammermoor by Donizetti, and this aria is an example of a mad scene in opera. At this point, Lucia has lost her mind and killed her new husband on their wedding night after she was forced to marry him while in love with another man. She comes down the stairs in a bloody wedding dress and sings this incredible aria imagining her true love is there with her. I love the way Maria Callas portrays this scene - she doesn't feel bad for herself, instead she is truly mad and is ecstatic that her love is there! Also, Callas is in great form here - her voice sounds beautiful and she sings cleanly throughout.
7. Je veux vivre - A little Romeo and Juliet, anyone? I love Juliet for Maria Callas because again, we are seeing her as a young girl totally excited about just being alive! And this is so different than so many of the heavier arias I've included here. You can hear the difference in how she chooses to sing it because she is such an incredible singing-actress.
8. Una voce poco fa - Last but not least is this gem. This is a hilarious aria from The Barber of Seville by Rossini - an opera more famously known for "Figaro, Figaro, Figaro!!!" In this aria, a young woman named Rosina is the ward of an old doctor who plans to marry her once she comes of age so he can take control of her large dowry. Rosina is already in love with a young man and plans to trick her guardian out of his nasty plans. In her introductory aria, she sings that she is sweet, kind, and polite unless you treat her poorly, in which case she'll turn into a VIPER! It's very funny, and Callas uses the tiniest word -"ma" or "but" - to change the meaning of everything that comes before it. Keep an ear out!
And that's it! I hope you enjoyed my round up of the best of Maria Callas in honor of her birthday. Tell me below - which of these arias was your favorite?
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Moving to Omaha has been a whirlwind, but let me tell you - one of the best parts is singing with Opera Omaha.
I am singing in their production of Madama Butterfly as Kate Pinkerton, Butterfly's rival. It's a small role but an important one, and sharing the stage with the rest of the amazing cast has been absolutely incredible. On my off-nights, though, I've been promoting the opera by singing some of Butterfly's music, including the aria above, "Un Bel Di." It's an interesting thing to have experience singing both characters - it has definitely given me an insight into each one more acutely.
Madama Butterfly tells the story of a young Japanese girl of fifteen who is sold in marriage to an American soldier. He intends nothing more than fling, but she gives up everything to be with him - her family, her religion, everything. Three years later, she has borne him a son and he has left, yet she refuses to believe that he is really gone. In this aria, Butterfly sings about what their reunion will be like.
As I was looking back at some of my old blog posts, I realized how similar this aria is to "Ain't it a Pretty Night!", another piece that I recorded in concert from the opera Susannah. Both selections are moving in retrospect because the audience knows the tragedy that is going to befall the heroine, but the character herself is still hopeful and happy. I think this is a trope in opera because it is so affecting - to see someone's dreams dashed is one thing, but to see their naivete before the crash is even worse. One difference between Butterfly and Susannah is that Butterfly sings this aria in the middle of the opera, whereas Susannah sings of her hope at the beginning. Why does this matter?
The reason is because we see Susannah's progression from being an innocent young girl into a jaded woman, whereas Butterfly retains her innocence until the very last moment, when she takes her own life. She is in denial that her husband will come back for the entirety of the opera, and Puccini makes this clear musically because he references the beginning of their love story even as there is tension in her telling of what she believes will happen.
I love this aria for so many reasons, but I won't go on and on about it. Have you heard this aria before? Have you seen this opera? Don't forget to get your tickets if you're in the Omaha area!
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Have you ever learned a piece of music?
There are a few steps worth taking in the process of learning a classical piece. I have a method that I use every time I learn a new song, aria, or opera that really helps me, so I thought I would share that method with you. Even if you’re not a musician, sometimes it can be interesting to hear about someone else’s field of expertise!
Check out my video to see the six steps I take to prepare my music, and let me know in the comments down below – what’s your method? If you’re not a musician, can you tell me your method for your area of expertise?
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Do you love folk songs?
Me too. And I've loved "Danny Boy" for as long as I can remember. When Jacob and I traveled to Ireland, I couldn't get this tune out of my head, so I thought I would share it with all of you. I hope you enjoy it!
Have you heard this song before? Have you ever been to Ireland? Do you have any Irish heritage? Leave it in the comments below!
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