It is with great excitement (and a little jet lag) that I write to you this month from across the pond. That’s right – this month’s edition of A Day in the Life comes from the verdant land that Purcell, Britten and Handel called home! In fact, the latter is the precise reason I am here. However, before I begin discussing my plans in any detail, I would like to give a follow up to last month’s entry.
As those who have been following along are aware, I applied to the prestigious London Handel Society Singing Competition earlier this year with the hope of singing in this month’s semifinals. I am sorry to report that the recording I submitted did not put me through to the semifinals. The recording process was rushed and I did not submit my best work. And that is that. This is the real deal, folks! As I mentioned in my introductory blog, I intend to share my successes and failures.
And now, on to the good stuff! Over the past two months I’ve given you little teasers about my Orlando Project, but I haven’t gone into much depth. I have developed this trip to England to study Handel’s autograph manuscript of his opera Orlando, as well as to coach the role with renowned singers and Baroque specialists. My ultimate goal is to perform a concert version of the opera in Philadelphia next January.
The wheels began turning in my head last summer, when I first thought of mounting my own small opera production. My academic years have been good for many things, but not so much for operatic roles. Every time I suggest that the school take on a Baroque opera I get the same response: “Well that would be great for you, but we simply do not have the singers for Baroque repertoire here.” I have always found this absurd, but that is a topic for another time. Still, my thought was that learning and performing a role would be a good thing even if I had to cast myself!
In early autumn I became aware of both a new student grant opportunity at my University and the upcoming London Handel Society Singing Competition. I had recently returned from a stay at Christ Church, Oxford where my church choir spent a week as choir in residence. I was invigorated by all of the possibilities that the UK music scene seemed to present and was quite anxious to return. As with much of Europe, England seems to embrace Baroque music as part of the mainstream. Also, coming from a place where my voice has at times been viewed as an anomaly, it was refreshing to visit a country where countertenors are simply another fach. This no doubt springs from England’s choral tradition and the subsequent rise to fame of twentieth century countertenor pioneers like Alfred Deller and James Bowman.
These things all merged into a project that has become quite dear to me. I went through many revisions of a grant proposal to help fund my trip. My initial proposal was not accepted, as it did not include enough detail about the performance I was planning. A note on proposals: One can never include too much detail, whether it is within the budget or the agenda. I resubmitted and received partial funding, due to budgetary limits within the music school. Luckily, I have friends who live in Cambridge. This has saved me quite a bit of money that I would have spent on a hotel. Cambridge is only an hour train ride from London and has quite a lively early music scene itself. This brings me to another note about proposals: Wherever possible, and without shorting yourself, show that you have attempted to trim your budget. Funding organizations want to see that your project is most important. Five star hotels and maximum per diem for meals however pleasant, are not necessities.
Finally I’d like to mention the coachings I’ve scheduled while I am here. Without dropping names, I will mention that I am working with an Early Music diva and a well-known countertenor while I’m here. I’ll also be auditioning for a certain choirmaster at a college in Cambridge that you may have heard of… I say these things not to make myself appear important – Lord knows none of these people had ever heard of me before I contacted their agents. The point is that I did contact them, and they responded. Many famous classical musicians are quite receptive to a polite and professional email sent via their management. Of course, as with any other chance we take, we must be prepared for disappointment. We won’t always receive a response and at times it may only be a brief message from the agent that so-and-so is simply too busy performing to give lessons. Still, this tactic has served me well thus far, and I hope to glean as much from these experiences as possible.
I hope you’ll check in next month as I share some of my research experiences as well as an interview with Sarah Bardwell, director of the Handel House Museum in London.