Thursday, October 28, 2010

It's pronounced 'cahndy'

          Today at work, employees are bringing their kids in for the 4th Annual "Halloween Kids' Happy Hour". (Happy Hour continues for the adults later on after work). I am looking forward to seeing the little ones, most of whom are under the age of 4, toddling around in their costumes. They will be travelling from desk to desk, trick-or-treating and for this we will be given some candy to pass out. I had to tell operations though that they had best not leave me in charge of a bag of candy. This is because with regards to candy, unlike most other things in my life, I have no self control. Restaurant desserts rarely entice me. I am not a fiend for cake or baked goods. I have eaten enough leftover wedding cake from my parents' restaurant to never be tempted by a bakery cake. Give me a good chocolate bar or a bagful of gummy candy any day.

          When I received gifts of candy in college, I would ask my roommates to please hide them in their rooms someplace. Each evening after dinner I would be allotted one chocolate covered cherry or three Hershey Kisses. Left to my own devices, I would eat an entire bag or box and feel surprisingly very little guilt.

          This is surely hereditary. As a first time trick-or-treater, in my blissful ignorance I left my Halloween candy out on the dining room table for a day and a half before I discovered that my stash was diminishing. In an incident that has now become infamous, I came into the kitchen crying that I had "lost my treats". It was at this point that my mother had to tell me that I had not lost them, but that my father had eaten them. That's right. He could not even keep himself from eating his toddler's candy. He still refers to it as 'the first loss of innocence'.

          For this reason, we have not been a family that keeps a lot of candy or dessert in the house. My mother has made a small career of hiding these rare sweets from my father. My personal favorite was the time we heard him yell from the freezer: "Who put this big fish in front of the ice cream?!" (He has been known to eat an entire half gallon in one sitting). Even in recent years he has told me to keep my holiday gifts of candy hidden in my room someplace because he knows he will not go looking in there. If you do not know my father, you are probably picturing an obese man. It is only because of his exercise and hiking regime that he manages to stay trim.

          For me, it is hard to know if it is pure heredity or if there is also this little thing of mystique and deprivation involved. My mother was convinced that not giving us a taste of candy would be the solution to the problem. For several years on Easter we were given stuffed bunnies and plastic Easter eggs instead of candy. One year I received a rocking chair. The first year my mom put white chocolate bunnies in our baskets my brother asked if it was soap. As a chocolate lover, my father was ashamed, but reportedly, I knew just what to do with it and immediately bit off its ear. A babysitter of mine only recently divulged that one time she gave me a piece of chocolate while my parents were away. After one bite I said "Reenie, what is this? It's gooooood."

          And it's been downhill ever since. My mother also would not let me eat fruit roll-ups as a child because "they are bad for your teeth". In sixth grade I paid a girl in my class 25 cents every day for the single fruit roll-up that her parents packed in her lunch. She made bank because I was a desperate addict in need of a fix. When I went off to college, my first inclination was not to go out and get a bunch of booze but to buy an enormous case of fruit roll-ups. When I was an exchange student in England as a teenager I managed to survive on chocolate bars alone since nothing my host-mother prepared was edible. On my semester abroad in Rome, many times my roommates would watch me run screaming from the apartment to buy candy because it was 7:45 and the tabacchis were about to close. Nutella? I eat it plain with a spoon.

          So this morning, when they came and passed out bags of treats for the kids, my co-worker took my share and put them in her drawer out of my reach.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

La Stupenda

          Dame Joan Sutherland passed away this week at the age of 83. My first exposure to her singing was when my great- aunt Josephine was staying with us while my parents were away for the weekend.

          Aunt Jo was a rabid opera fan. She even claimed that we were descendants of Richard Wagner because her mother, (my German great-grandmother), had both the maiden name Wagner as well as "Cosima Wagner's nose". Very few members of this side of the family avoided this particular genetic trait. If you ever heard them in a round of "Happy Birthday", however, you might disagree with her assumption about our famous lineage.

          At any rate, what she lacked in musical ear, Aunt Jo made up for in musical enthusiasm. One of the activities she had planned for our weekend was a viewing her video of Sutherland and Pavarotti in Lucia di Lammermoor at the Met, (which was coincidentally filmed on November 9th, 1982, the day I was born). Why Lucia occurred to my Aunt Jo as a logical opera choice for a 12 and 14 year old, I am not sure. Perhaps she thought the violent spectacle a selling point. I think she was right. For those who don't know the plot, Lucia, a young Scottish woman, is forbidden to marry her lover because he comes from a rival family. She is forced to marry another man and on her wedding night, murders him in a fit of madness, comes downstairs where the wedding ball is still taking place, and sings the aria featured here. I recall upon my first viewing being quite stunned at the blood on her nightgown contrasted with her bird-like embellishments.

          I have since sung in the chorus of the opera and I still find the drama compelling. I am usually more interested in studying composers over singers, but no one I have ever heard has sung with such a rich sound and facilitated the extreme high notes with such ease and perfection. It was because of Joan Sutherland that Lucia di Lammermoor was even revived outside of Europe. In 1959 when she sang her US premiere in the opera, it was rarely being performed.

          For me, it wasn't until college that my voice teacher loaned me several rare recordings of Sutherland and I was hooked. I am aware that she is not exactly a consummate actress like Callas and that her diction suffered when she was coached by her husband for a more Italianate legato. For sheer beauty of tone and technical proficiency though she is impossible to beat. As one of my college professors said: "Sutherland is often criticized for sounding like she has marbles in her mouth... but I would put marbles in my mouth to sound like that." On top of that, she is kind of an underdog success story. In her autobiography she wrote of being a gawky and awkward young woman who bloomed into a world-renowned diva. She was also very involved in the founding of the Sydney Opera House, which the Times obituary neglected to mention, (but I shall not get carried away with my letters to the editor).

          This clip is of the mad scene from that Met recording in 1982. Dame Joan will be remembered for her stunning, ethereal and often breathtaking talent.

          So the bride wore red.

Friday, October 8, 2010

To the Editor of "Classical Singer" Magazine

Dear Editor:

          I was very disappointed with this month's "The $50 Week" installment about Boston. It appears Giovetti believes that New York is far superior, but if one were forced to spend any time in Boston, it might be acceptable. I am not sure just what she means by saying that Boston has less to offer than New York "in terms of pedestrian culture". Most consider Boston to be a very walkable city. If she means that you are less likely to run into exhibitionist hobos on the streets of Boston, then she is probably correct. As a proud Boston resident, I found the article biased and poorly researched.

          Giovetti expatiates on possible deals at a couple of tourist traps like The Barking Crab. If you are here for a tourist vacation you could instead catch some real local culture and get a bowl of very filling clam chowder for $5.95 at the Union Oyster House. It is the oldest restaurant in the U.S. and has a decidedly more authentic vibe. In general though, the article seemed geared toward singers who may either be auditioning or studying in Boston. Espresso Royale Cafe, Boloco or Woody's Pizza are all locally run businesses located near Symphony Hall and would be more accessible options for an inexpensive lunch. I doubt that anyone in New York would advise singers on a budget to dine in Times Square for the weekend.

          I would encourage any young singer to spend more than a weekend here though. Boston does offer a wealth of early music, (highlights neglected in the article include Boston Baroque and the Boston Early Music Festival). I appreciate Giovetti's mention of the very impressive seasons of Opera Boston and the BSO, but Boston also offers a rich community of opera companies for young singers, including Boston Opera Collaborative, MetroWest Opera, Opera Del West, Diva Day Foundation and OperaHub, as well as venues for new music such as Guerilla Opera, Juventas New Music Ensemble and Callithumpian Consort. New England Conservatory offers not only free student performances but First Mondays at Jordan Hall also feature faculty and other professional musicians. Offered the first Monday of every month during the school year, these are also all free.

          For a lower cost of living than New York, in a place that still sees a lot of auditions, both local and regional, Boston is a great supportive environment for the young singer. And for those YAP auditions that require New York travel, we are only a Fung-Wah away. Ms. Giovetti should save her disdain for more New York- centric publications.

Katrina Holden

Friday, October 1, 2010

You're a good man Charlie Brown.

          When I was about four years old I was a happy afternoon student at Cabbage Hill Nursery Hill. One day after my brother had been sent off to school, my mother had to run some sort of errand, leaving me with my father for the morning. I remember going into the kitchen and asking my dad what I would be wearing to school that day. Now, to explain another of my mother's idiosyncrasies, we kept clothing in the dishwasher. My mother does not believe in dishwashers. Yes, you read that correctly, she actually believes they do not get things "clean enough" and that washing 30 dishes after company is really no big deal compared to 300 at the restaurant. She takes such an active offense to dishwashers that she has actually since removed the one in our kitchen. At this point though, she used it to hold our underwear, undershirts, socks, etc. The bulk of our daily wear was actually kept in the bedrooms but it occurs to me that my dad probably did not know this fact, and is the possible reason he did not leave the kitchen all morning.

          When I asked what I would be wearing to school that day, Dad responded: "I don't know. Pick something out." I went to my room and decided that I would wear my light blue Snoopy sweatsuit. It featured Snoopy and Woodstock and it was my favorite. I brought my Snoopy sweatsuit out to the kitchen, knowing I had made a most excellent choice. I held it out to my dad proudly. "You can dress yourself. You're a big girl".

          Dress myself?! I have never dressed myself! Mom always dresses me! It was clear though that I was in fact a big girl and that my dad was going to sit there with his coffee reading his paper. I had best try. I remember distinctly that a fair amount of wriggling and writhing on the floor was necessary to get my sweatpants on. In between pleading glances up to my dad, still reading the paper, eventually success was mine. When we were leaving and my dad neglected to get out the hairbrush I considered myself lucky. I dreaded the daily procedure when my mom would flip my head over and go at the knots with the kind of swiftness she used to put out grease fires (yes, I've seen it happen a couple of times).

          When I arrived at school that afternoon, I noticed that everyone looked nice- nicer than usual. Julie was wearing a headband and Allegra was wearing a dress. Sitting in our circle, even the boys were primping their bowties. That was when Miss Ginny announced "Why does everyone look so nice today? It's picture day!"

          My nursery school "graduation" picture remains one of the more disheveled of my photographic history.