February 10, 2015

And the answer is: practice, practice, practice!

It may seem like I've dropped off the face of the planet, but I'm still here, and I'm still singing. In fact, I have a few things coming up that I wanted to share. The biggest one is that I will be making my Carnegie Hall debut in June! I'll be the soprano soloist in Mozart's Requiem, performing with the Masterworks Festival Chorus and the New York City Chamber Orchestra conducted by Joe Miller (the head conductor at Westminster Choir College). And the best part is, my husband was hired for the same gig as the bass soloist!

In two weeks, I'm singing another oratorio, Poulenc's Gloria, with my old high school choir. They are doing a joint concert with another high school and asked me to be the soprano soloist. I'll be backed up by about 125 students, some of which are in my private studio. It's a beautiful piece, and I think it's going to be a lot of fun.

In March, I'm singing the third of a series of three recitals with Laura Ward's Lyric Fest in Philadelphia. The first two were last October. The recital, "Vienna, City of Song," includes songs by composers who lived and worked in Vienna. I share the program with a mezzo and a baritone. I love the repertoire that I was assigned. I have all the weird, more modern stuff, which I love (Strauss, Wolf, Schönberg, Berg, Webern, Marx, and one lovely Schubert piece). The first two recitals were very well received. Our last recital will be at the Woodmere Art Museum - I don't know if we'll be singing amongst the art or what, but I'm really looking forward to singing all this great music again.

I was also hired for another Queen of the Night (yay!) at Salt Marsh Opera in May. I thought I was auditioning for a full production of The Magic Flute, but it turns out that it's only an hour long. We'll performing it in various schools in Connecticut and Rhode Island for over 5000 kids over the course of a week. I'm only going to be in CT for two weeks, so it's a pretty quick gig, which is great for my teaching schedule.

Now, in case you were interested, here's about a quick recap of the last 2+ years.

Last time I blogged, I was finishing up my directing debut in Houston. I really loved how the show turned out and I had a few audience members come up to me to tell me that it was the best directed show they'd seen at Opera in the Heights. I also had a lot of comments about how much fun the chorus was to watch (since all they ever did in the past was stand in one place and sing, and I made them *gasp* move). Directing was fun and very rewarding, but was an incredible amount of work, and I'm not sure if it's something I want to do again any time soon. I think I'll just stick with singing for now.

In January and February 2013, I covered (understudied) the crazy modern role of the Maid in Thomas Adès' Powder Her Face with New York City Opera. I sang the role during my doctorate at USC but learning it a second time was much less stressful, and I was able to just relax and have fun with it. Our cover cast was so full of talent and I loved all of our rehearsals. If only we could have had a performance! Spending so much time in NY and hanging out with the other covers was a great experience, but sitting and watching the real cast for hours every day made for a very sore butt (we called it "cover butt"). I am really hoping that another company does this opera and hires me for it, because I love singing the Maid and I would like another opportunity to perform it.

After NYCO, Hal and I finally got to perform together, as Sarastro and Queen of the Night at Opera Birmingham. We were never on stage at the same time except for curtain call, but at least we were in the same opera! I knew a couple of other singers in the cast from young artist programs that I had attended, and it was really neat to catch up with them and hear them sing again after so many years! The production itself was really strange, but the audiences (including my parents and my in-laws) seemed to really enjoy it. The thing with The Magic Flute is that it pretty much never makes sense no matter how you do it. It was supposed to have a 70s feel, but some of the characters were from other decades or were modeled after specific people, and when I asked what the idea for my character was, the director just said: "You're just the Queen of the Night." So that's what I was.

Last spring, Hal and I performed with the Central Jersey Choral Society as Raphael/Adam and Gabriel/Eve in Haydn's Creation. A friend that I went to Westminster with conducts the group, and Hal and I thought that it would be nice to help him out by singing the solos (and how could we turn down a chance to be Adam and Eve together?). For the first time ever, the group had a string quartet instead of just a piano for accompaniment, and we were the first professional soloists they've used. It turns out that now that they know what it's like to work with professionals, they've been able to increase their budget so that they can continue to offer such high level performances in the future. If you'd like to hear me sing one of my solos, "With Verdure Clad," take a listen on my website at http://www.ericamillersoprano.com/page11/page1/recordings.html.

I think that about takes care of it! Hope everyone is doing well. I'll try to keep this blog up to date a little more often from now on. Just a reminder, if you are ever looking for details about my performances, please visit my website at www.EricaMillerSoprano.com.

September 17, 2012


Today is our first day off since I've been in Houston directing Rossini's Otello, or Faux-tello as we've started calling it since it's not very related to the original Shakespeare. The whole opera would be staged right now, but one of the comprimario singers was away at a wedding this weekend, so I have to block him in during our first run-through tomorrow night. Also, one of the chorus women has not been to any of the rehearsals yet, so hopefully she'll figure out what's going on during the run-through with some help from her fellow chorus members.

Staging this opera has been a blast. My singers are all incredible to work with, and they've taken the basic forms that I've given them and added so much wonderful characterization and intention to them. They are also all really great singers, so getting to listen to them during this rehearsal process has been such a joy.

My first rehearsal with the chorus was very scary, because I've never directed a chorus before. I started with the first scene of the opera, which is just the chorus men. I was telling them what I had in mind, and that I wanted them to look like human beings instead of a "chorus" on stage. When I said something about them moving around during one part, one of the chorus men said, "I'm sorry, but you asked us to move when we're singing. Is that ok?" Enrique, the conductor, jumped right in and said, "Yes, we are going to be trying some new things this year. It's going to be ok to move and sing at the same time. I know you've never done that before, but we are always trying to improve things." I had to try so hard not to laugh! The chorus seemed pretty happy to actually move around a bit and not just stand there staring at the conductor.

When I had the full chorus for the first time, despite being prepared and knowing what I wanted, it was very difficult trying to fit them all on the stage. I had some basic talks with my set designer before I arrived, but when I saw the set for the first time I was totally shocked. The set design is going to be the same for all four opera this year, so I had no say in what it looked like. I was told that there would be two walls with doors in the back corners, and a balcony that would go into the baptistry at the back of the stage (it's a converted church). Turns out, the balcony is about 8'x8' and it protrudes onto the stage, with two huge pillars in the front, and the angled walls with doors come out of the pillars. All in all, about 1/3 of my stage is unusable. I had planned things out for a much larger space, and no balcony! I ended up having to move a few chorus members to the balcony, and find new places for the ones on the stage so they could all fit. Not as easy as it sounds!

The staging rehearsals have all gone very well. Most of what I came up with before arriving looks quite good on stage. Obviously, there have been some parts that I've had to redo, but most everything has gone as planned. I've also been pretty good at figuring out the correct amount of time that each scene needs to be staged, and I've done a very good job at not wasting the singers' or chorus members' time by calling them too early or having them sit around too long. As a singer, I've always been so annoyed when I have to sit at a rehearsal doing nothing, so I wanted to be as accurate as I could when I scheduled rehearsals. I'm very organized in general, so it wasn't too hard to figure out (not sure why it's so hard for other directors to do!).

Now that it's basically staged, I think the opera looks terrific. I'll be very surprised if the audiences aren't totally thrilled with the production and the singing. I'm sure they'll be a little confused when it comes to the story, since it's not very Otello-like, and it might take them a bit of time to get used to the modern costumes and concept, but I really don't think there's much they can complain about with this opera. And they're going to LOVE the murder scene at the end. I wasn't sure how it would look when I came up with it in my mind, but now that I've seen it on stage, it is really exciting. Desdemona is on the bed, Otello comes at her, she turns over to escape, he grabs her legs and pulls her down, gets on top of her, pulls her hair to get her head up, and slits her throat. Fun stuff!

I'm staying in a beautiful, year-old garage apartment three blocks from the theater. My host family also is letting me borrow an old car for my time here, which has made my life so much easier. My apartment has a couple perks besides the car - I have a DVR so I can record TV shows, which is really terrific, and they left some bbq ribs and brisket in the freezer that Byron made on the smoker (yes, I've been given permission to eat them!). I had some of the ribs and they are awesome. I'll probably start on the brisket this week. :-)

You know, I was so worried before I came here, but I have loved every bit of this job. Being the one in charge is something that I really enjoy, and even though rehearsals take a lot of energy, the time just flies by (so much that I keep forgetting to give the pianist breaks!). Next Saturday is the first dress rehearsal, and I can't wait to see it all in costume! I'll try to post some pictures once I have them so you can see what everything looks like.

August 25, 2012

Almost in Houston (again)

I am a week and a half away from my first rehearsal in Houston of Rossini's Otello, and I'm a combination of excited and nervous. I have been working on Otello like crazy the second half of the summer. When I've directed before, staging has always come easily for me. However, full length operas are a lot different than individual scenes and the 45-minute opera I directed at USC. There are so many repetitive sections (this is Rossini, after all), and it's hard figuring out what to do with all of them. I really want the opera to be interesting all the time, but I feel pretty limited at times! I think I have come up with a pretty good-looking opera - now I have to see it on stage with actual singers instead of my imagination.

In addition to the staging part, I've also come up with daily schedules, written synopses for the website and the program, sent introductory emails to the cast and chorus, and written a director's note for the program. And whenever I think everything's done, something else pops up (like singers emailing me with conflicts, ugh!). My next project is making an outline for what I'm going to say at our first cast meeting - I have to go through the detailed concept of the opera, character analyses, talk to the chorus about what I expect from them, and go through some basic cast rules and regulations (when to wear stage shoes, when to sing out, etc.). I haven't started my list yet, but I don't want to forget anything important.

Like I said, I'm excited but nervous. I think everything is going to be great, but I'm worried about singers with egos who don't want to do what I tell them, and staging taking too long and having to redo the entire schedule, and finding time to go to the grocery store and cook, among other things. I'm also worried about staging the chorus well (I've never worked with chorus before), and about whether my staging will look good at all and not be super boring. I'm excited because I don't think too many of my worries are going to come through, and I can't wait to step into the role of director at a real company. I will be sure to give updates if I have any energy left after rehearsing daily from noon-11pm. :-)

In other excellent news, I auditioned for New York City Opera for the cover of the Maid in Thomas Adès' 1995 opera, Powder Her Face. It's an extremely difficult leading role that I sang during my doctorate at USC with the composer conducting. I auditioned on a Friday, and was offered the cover the following Monday! At my audition, I started with Madame Mao's aria from Nixon in China, and the general manager of the company said "Wow!" the second I was finished singing. I wish all auditions were like that! I'm thrilled to get my foot in the door at NYCO since they do a lot of modern music, which I love to sing. I'll be rehearsing in January and February, with the shows in February.

But first, off to start a new adventure in Houston. I'll keep you posted!