Thursday, May 28, 2009

Slouching towards Troy--Thursday, May 28, 2009


What becomes an opera singer most on his day off from seemingly endless rehearsals? An audition. The aforementioned audition for the new opera based on the Trojan War has arrived, and after so much Verdi-derived skull-duggery, I'm wearily trying to wind my way up to impersonating divinity--I understand there's some gods on the dramatis personae, but chances are, as a bass, if I'm cast it'll be as some gruff grody soldier.

Might I mention that I haven't heard jack from the Rape of Lucretia people, after writing a nice little essay and everything? I simply don't have the time; Lucretia is going to have to meet her unfortunate fate some other time as far as I'm concerned......which is probably just as well.

So tired....

Friday, May 22, 2009

Directionally Challenged--Friday, May 22, 2009


All is not well in the kingdom of Ballo.....

.....but far be it from me to be so indiscreet as to drop any details. Suffice it to say that the musical direction is not lacking in any respect--it is exacting, dramatic and stylistically informed, full of the kind of insights one really has to pick up on the job with a knowledgeable conductor.

It occurred to me at my last rehearsal (almost definitely while standing around somewhere center stage right, trying to "act with my face", for lack of a better dramatic pastime) that, vocally, I would probably make more headway in the future as Tom instead of Sam, seeing as it is a much role. Sam is nice (except for those F's--but Tom has the same ones for some reason), but if I ever decide to do this opera again on a larger stage, chances are Tom will be found to be more suitable for me than Sam.

It seems that I have to costume myself for this production, so the perpetual question still applies in this case--What the hell am I going to wear?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

LIVE! Sitzprobe Smackdown--Sunday, May 17, 2009



Orchestra rehearsals excite and terrify me. I'm still wildly excited at the thrilling prospect of singing over an entire orchestra that is playing, at various moments, for my voice alone. I'm also still completely terrified that during one of those rather long soprano and tenor stretches I'll start daydreaming about lying in bed, eating bonbons and watching the Real Housewives of New York City reunion on "mute" while listening to the Callas Mexico City Aida, and just as I'm lipsync-ing that crazy long high E-flat at the end of Gloria all'Egitto--

I will suddenly hear utter silence....!

Thirty stone-faced instrumentalists, one irate conductor, all of the double-cast principles and the better part of the chorus are staring at someone behind me. Oh no...they're staring at me.......I can't figure out why.....wait...

I've just missed my entrance. And then I fall over and have a stroke.

As you can imagine, this NEVER happens. Reality-Anthony pays far, far more attention to his operatic surroundings than "paranoid imagination-Anthony" does, but the fear of the latter beautifully supports the hyper-attention of the former.

98.7% of Ballo's sitzprobe went off without a hitch. Our conspicuously able assistant director, Mr. Chu, had to pull some strings (ahem-ahem) to get things running smoothly, but overall everything with thrillingly rendered by the orchestra.

I hastily scribbled down my impressions at various parts of the rehearsal, which were as follows:

2:25pm--Looks like the other Sam is not going to be at this rehearsal, which means that for one rehearsal SAM IS MINE!!! To quote my Act 2 solo ensemble entrance, "Ha Ha Ha! Oh how delightful...."

2:37pm--Orchestra warming up. Various solo instrumental parts of the opera popping out here and they're well-played and in-tempo (!!!). Promising. A tenor is warming up loudly somewhere. Isn't there always?

2:47pm--First Sam/Tom entrances over. Voice feels thick, intractable and foggy. Thank you, seasonal allergies. 2pm is still morning for bass voices, BTW.

3:05pm--Act I Scene 1 finale just finished. Orchestra played quickly and brilliantly. Voice feels a bit better, though unsure whether my three high F's came out because everyone was screaming at the top of their lungs on the same note. Oh well.

3:13pm--Act I Scene 2. Ulricas (Ulriche?) just finished their entrance. BIG difference between Slavic female mezzo and American counter-tenor timbres, needless to say. Their vibratos are engaged in a vocal Cold War.

3:57pm--Just missed an entrance by a beat. That little noodly flute thingy in the orchestra was for me? Yikes.

4:28pm--One chance with the orchestra. Two sopranos. Two vibratos. Too many high notes. One bad idea?

4:40pm--Very end of opera went by like a bat out of hell. Unsure whether my mouth made pitches and words at that speed.

5:36pm--It just so happens that we won't have time to go over the second half of the second act, which, of course, is my big moment. F%€k. S#!t. Stupid soprano and tenor bits.

5:47pm--Verdi's brilliant and all, but I haven't eaten all day and I will starve and die much faster than these opera folks.


Back to staging rehearsals this afternoon. (grumble)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

ANNOUNCING: Brooklyn Repertory Opera's "A Masked Ball"



BROOKLYN REPERTORY OPERA presents Giuseppe Verdi's masterpiece "A Masked Ball" (Un Ballo in Maschera), a fully-staged production with orchestra and chorus in the historic Lyceum Theatre in Park Slope, Brooklyn

Anthony Russell, bass, will be playing the role of Samuel, a scheming courtier bent on assassinating the King of Sweden for personal reasons you will have to find out yourself by attending.

Performances are on Sunday, June 7 at 3:30pm and Friday, June 12. There are other performances of the opera, about which you can find out here, but seeing as I'm not singing at those other performances, I can't imagine why you'd want to attend those as well as mine except out of a great love for Verdi.

Tickets are $20 for general admission and $10 for students and seniors. Seating is general.

The Brooklyn Lyceum is located at the 227 Fourth Ave., Brooklyn, New York on the corner of Fourth Ave. and Union Street. It is immediately across the street from the Union Street Station on the Brooklyn-bound M and R trains.

"A Masked Ball" is sung in English, minimally set and in modern dress; Brooklyn Repertory Opera is a small opera company that exists primarily to bring great musical drama to Brooklyn and to provide a chance for young up-and-coming singers (not unlike myself) to make their voices heard.

A link to Brooklyn Repertory Opera's decidedly minimalist website is here.

A link to Wikipedia's article on Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera (including a synopsis) is here.

Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Stand by Me--Thursday, May 14, 2009


I am by no means an ideal salesclerk; I am by turns arch, indifferent, impatient, haughty and preoccupied, highly reluctant to stoop and vigilant for signs of presumption of my abject servitude, upon which I pour a withering yet polite scorn. My best customer service always stems from a boredom so abysmal I 'm willing to try being The Best Sales Clerk Ever as an acting exercise. I possess a perpetually louche slump that comes from occasional despair and standing for 7+ hours a day.

It's like working with Baudelaire, really.

Opera is a heady antidote to all this--ask for some customer service and I'll plot your assassination for the better part of three acts. Yet, as I was reminded by last couple of staging rehearsals, in the world of opera there is still a lot of standing around to be done. I haven't sat in a chair onstage since 2007, and that was while singing Don Alfonso in Cosi fan tutte. In consideration of that particularly horrendous situation, I'd gladly give up a lifetime's worth of onstage chairs.

Our rehearsal of the camp-fest Ulrica Scene from Ballo (Act I Scene 2) was brightened by the addition of a conspicuously able assistant conductor and an assistant director who acquitted himself admirably of his rowdy-chorus-scene traffic cop duties.

Me, the other Sam and our sidekick, Tom, stood stage left and looked vaguely threatening and suspicious while a tenor pretending to be a sailor sang an ersatz sailor song, a mezzo and a countertenor simultaneously prophesied the tenor's death, a coloratura soprano pretending to be a boy interjected occasionally with above-the-staff yipping, and a bass-baritone who was really a sailor started yapping about how the fake sailor is really a king. Cue tenor singing anthem to his own greatness in unison with the coloratura yipper, motley crew of peasants praising king to the counterpoint of evil Sam and Tom complaining about aforementioned peasants and.......scene! Ballo is one of Verdi's more circus-like operas, which must be why I love it so much.

Sitzprobe this Saturday (!!!)--Callas has just gone on to join the angels in Maria Callas Remebered, so nothing stands in the way complete submission to G. Schirmer score brain saturation....

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Callas takes the A train--Tuesday, May 12, 2009


No joke: the first staging rehearsal was a hot flaming mess.

This stark fact, if nothing else, has been an inducement to get this thing branded into my brain so I can do such devilishly difficult things as walk in a single direction and sing at the same time, look at the object of my bass-clef bawling and, well, act......

So, who the hell am I in this thing, besides one of two voices holding down the lower end of Verdi's operatic ensemble Chinese plate-balancing tricks? The curtain rises on the first act and in thirty seconds flat my character has already begun singing "Murdermurderdeathdeathkillkill." I'm not sure I have the mustachioes for that kind of diabolique, but I have to give it a shot.

Forthright, well-thought-out and dynamic direction (it's Verdi, for fach's sake!) will help immensely, and I've only had one rehearsal...................so I will wait and see.

In other news, The Boyfriend (he of the unending support and ruddy, Semitic good-looks) has gifted me Maria Callas Remembered by Nadia Stancioff and I simply can't put it down, to the occasional detriment of score-memorizing. So many fascinating facts--Maria Callas lived in Washington Heights, literally one A-train stop after mine!!! It seriously makes me not hate hate hate the Heights as much as I did the page before I read this information...but really, she's not alive and living there today (more's the pity), so needless to say, I d o n o t l o v e W a s h i n g t o n H e i g h t s.

I'm going to take this brief moment right now and try to imagine Callas's reading of such lines as "Murdermurderdeathdeathkillkill."

Sunday, May 10, 2009

"Enterprising Savoyards" UPDATE--Sunday, May 10, 2009


Village Light Opera Group's own Robert Dewar was just apprised me that, indeed, VLOG's Pinafore is going to be........

.......in outer space, where no one can hear you sing a low G.

Set faces on stun.

"Enterprising" Savoyards; "Movin' on Up" in the UWS--Sunday, May 10, 2009




I'd been dying (somewhat) to know what the Village Light Opera Group's next G&S opera would be, ostensibly to find out if there would be (in the best Christine Ebersole-as-Caterina Cavalieri-in- Amadeus-style) a part for meeee--having so recently performed Pooh-Bah with them in their last Mikado--and I have not been disappointed; Pinafore it is. How nice it would be to sing Bill Bobstay again, that lowest of low (range-wise, mind you) comprimario sailors upon the Pinafore....wait...what is this??? Starship Pinafore?!?!

Will I be making my return to the G&S stage in prosthetic ears? Watch this space; live long and prosper (?).

Meanwhile, on Planet Earth, I attended a New York Chamber Players concert last night, which was held at an immense church in the UWS eerily reminiscent of the sanctuary where post-nuclear apocalypse mankind worshiped the atom bomb in Return to the Planet of the Apes (again with the SciFi?).

I did not attend free of ulterior motives: My friend Bryn Jimenez was singing two arias on the program and I was terribly curious to find out how dramatic-soprano-Bryn would stack up to my memories of free-wheeling-mezzo-Bryn, which was who she was when I last heard her sing. This kind of a willful fach-reassignment surgery will always be curious to me, as I have always been a bass and become more and more bass-like as each moment passes...

The verdict is good: in two selections (C. Floyd and Menotti), she exhibited a plummy, direct lower range (put to good use dramatically in the Menotti), a secure, at times, thrilling upper extension (an utter necessity in the Floyd) and pianissimi for days (always nice in any case). Time's flight is not stealing your youth, honey.

There were two other vocalists on the program, one who masterfully handled a group of sprawling Berg songs and another whose performance was decidedly less.....felicitous than the aforementioned performers. It seems to me a deliberate provocation to sing something like "I Got Rhythm" when one is...perhaps...not in....possession, really....of....the secondary subject.....(that being,"rhythm").....of........the song.

There; I said it.

Today is my first staging rehearsal for Ballo. My assassination weapon of choice? A messily annotated score...

Friday, May 8, 2009

Sushi rolls/Opera roles/Gender roles???--Friday, May 8, 2009



I went out for sushi and drinks in the East Village with my good (formerly-mezzo-now- dramatic-soprano) friend Bryn, during which we unloaded our mutual singerangst (Ger.) for around the same amount of time it takes to perform a Wagner opera. We then regaled each other at a speakeasy with impressions of the importunate singing we used to encounter while singing at Jarvis Conservatory's monthly operatic open-mike nite extravaganza "Opera Night". Needless to say, a good time was had by all (except, perhaps anyone in hearing distance; our impressions were really good, which is to say, really bad).

The final casting decisions for Brooklyn Repertory Opera's doubled-casted production of Verdi's Ballo have been announced and I am generally pleased with my casting lot, save for the fact that the other cast has an unusually large-and-rich-voiced countertenor Ulrica (or "Ulrich" , as he has been styled), which would have been highly novel to have for the "WTF" factor. No offense to the mezzo Ulricas of the world, my low-voiced sisters-in-arms; you know I adore you...........look! a counter-tenor!

It is a true testament to my innate laziness that now I have completed musical rehearsals I look askance upon my Ballo score; it is a true testament to the excessively short amount of rehearsal time we have for this production (6 weeks!) that if I don't start now the Sam in this evening's production of Ballo will be sung by fillintheblank--.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

In my end is my beginning--Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Tonight was my last musical rehearsal for Brooklyn Repertory Opera's production of Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera, in which I am impersonating a potential regicide (Samuel). I have to say it is somewhat of a relief; about three quarters of the notes that flew out of my mouth at these rehearsals were honestly heard, learned, memorized and recited, the other ones being lightly hemmed and hawed approximations of pitch garnered from--where? The other bass; the orchestra's music; the soprano's music; the other soprano's music; dog whistles, subterranean train rumblings...and yet I repeatedly managed to pull together something that sounded reasonably like Verdi without getting yelled at by the conductor, so I'm calling this a major win for Anthony.

Time for me to actually learn the music....

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Asssassination makes me sleepy--Tuesday, May 5, 2009

I woke up this morning nestled up to the little keyboard I had dutifully practiced sections of Un Ballo in Maschera on last night during commercial breaks of the Daily and Colbert Report shows;
something about chromatic lines set to text about and assassination and murder make me want to go to sleep.

A local upcoming production of an opera (on a classical subject by a British composer) has requested that I submit a 500-words-or-less essay stating what I would bring to their musical collaboration before I am considered for a role, a task which frankly makes me think of certain four-lettered words at least 500 times. The sad part is that I will probably write and submit an essay anyway.

An audition for yet another opera, also on a classical subject (the Trojan War) is in the offing later this month but my brain is presently crammed so full of Verdi...

Is it problematic that I'm double-cast for a Ballo and still don't know which performances are mine in spite of the fact that opening night is less than a month away...?