It’s been two weeks since I landed here in the beautiful city of Prague to make my European debut as Donna Anna at the Estates Theatre. Since then I have:

(1) Lost my voice due to exhaustion and jet lag
(2) Panicked about having lost my voice
(3) Learned how to stay properly hydrated and mark in rehearsal
(4) Gotten my voice back (yay!)
(5) Staged all of my scenes in Don Giovanni
(6) Fallen in love with my character and with Prague in general

That’s a lot to go through in two weeks!  Our directors are the husband and wife team of Sherrill Milnes, the famous Verdi baritone, and his wife Maria Zouves, an accomplished soprano in her own right.  Together, they have been working assiduously with the entire cast, helping us really digest the words and get in touch with our respective characters.  We’ve been very fortunate to have access to large, high-ceiling rehearsal spaces in the Czech National Opera’s facilities, and we’ve even seen posters advertising our upcoming performances around the city! Everyone expects turnout to be very high for all 4 performances.

Don Giovanni Poster
Don Giovanni Poster

After the requisite music run-through with piano the first week, we immediately began working on understanding the libretto.  We did various exercises alone and in groups, all designed to help us discover the meaning of Lorenzo Da Ponte’s archaic Italian vernacular and bring it forward into modern English. This really helped me understand Donna Anna’s motivations, and it made it easier to interact more naturally with the other characters in group scenes.  It also helped me stay in character when I was onstage but not singing. Young singers have a habit of falling out of character as they are waiting to sing their next line, but this can be overcome if the you think about your character’s intentions at that point in the scene while you are waiting.  And to really understand those intentions, you need to truly understand what you are saying, and what everybody else is saying!

Maria and Sherrill have also been very strict with regards to Italian diction and pronunciation. Although everyone came prepared, Sherrill said we ALL need more consonants!  In order to be understood at the very back of the theater, a singer needs to make sure consonants are crisp and explosive; otherwise words sound indistinct and muddled. We Americans also tend to pronounce our vowels too far back, making them darker and more covered than Italian vowels, which are much brighter and very forward.  Another thing we all need to work on is not truncating vowels and jumping ahead to the next consonant. For example, in the word “questo,” a typical English speaker will say “ques-to,” assigning the “s” and the “t” to different syllables. However, a native Italian speaker will say “que-sto,” waiting to pronounce the consonant group “st” until the very last moment. There were many more such corrections throughout rehearsals, and we all worked hard to fix our own individual issues.

Prague…wow I love this city. Everything is amazingly beautiful, from the ornate buildings literally everywhere, to the cobblestone streets – also literally everywhere! There are street musicians at the most popular town squares, as well as farmer’s markets where you can get yummy fresh veggies and fruit, and there are gelato stands all over the places serving the most delicious gelato flavors ever. I wanna stay here forever!

Well, I’m off to bed, it’s been a loooong day. Hopefully I’ll find the time to write another update before the end! I will leave you with a handful of photos I’ve taken so far.

Wenceslas Square (Václavské náměstí)
Wenceslas Square (Václavské náměstí) with view of National Museum
Salmon Linguini with fresh Spinach and Lemon
Park Sign
Park Sign

Visitors may throw trash away, use videocameras, and steal suitcases…all other behavior is forbidden! :-)

Tomorrow I embark upon the largest and most ambitious journey of my fledgling operatic career: I fly halfway around the world to Prague, Czech Republic, to participate in a month-long opera festival for young artists. During this festival, I will be singing the role of Donna Anna in two performances of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, directed by legendary baritone Sherrill Milnes and presented at the Estates Theatre where Mozart himself conducted the premiere in 1787. I will also be covering (aka understudying) the title role in Puccini’s Suor Angelica as well as performing in the festival’s Gala Concert. (I’m also bringing my violin along in case I get a chance to play part of one of the other concerts!)

Each summer, there are tons of different opera workshops and training programs for aspiring opera singers like myself. However, many of them are closed to singers over the age of 32, and so I found myself eligible during last fall’s application season for only a handful, including the Prague Summer Nights Festival which thankfully has no age limit. (Seriously, thank you for not having an arbitrary age limit!!!)

The role of Donna Anna is one that I’ve been wanting to tackle since I successfully navigated Violetta in Verdi’s La Traviata last fall, and the Prague Summer Nights Festival was near the top of my list out of all the applications I submitted. I was also pleasantly surprised to see the festival’s artistic director, Dr. John Nardolillo, conducting the auditions himself instead of delegating this responsibility to someone else. This meant I was able to chat with him during my audition and share the details of my rather unique background, which usually does not come across very strongly on paper. I, in turn, came away with the impression that even though this was a brand new venture, the maestro had a clear sense of what he wanted to accomplish through the festival program, and that this was not just some pipe dream being thrown together haphazardly. And, as it turns out, the company in charge of logistics, Classical Movements, was also the same company behind the 2009 YouTube Symphony Orchestra in New York City! I was one of the 2nd violinists for that epic (and very well organized) experience, which culminated in a concert at Carnegie Hall under the baton of Michael Tilson Thomas.

At any rate, I went away from the audition with high hopes, and my hopes were rewarded with an offer to sing Donna Anna a little over a month later. I did my happy dance, accepted the offer, then went off to dig up my old Schirmer score. On the advice of a few friends in the business, I also picked up a Barenreiter score for reference.

And now here I am, less than 48 hours away from arriving in Prague, ready to make new friends, learn new things and be totally immersed in opera – after a full night’s sleep of course to take the edge off the jet lag.

Here’s to the magic of opera: may it be everpresent throughout the inaugural Prague Summer Nights Festival!