Grand Opera singers, photo by Kittiphong Klabprathum
Normally on this blog I try to offer practical words of singing wisdom and advice, but this week, having just left my home in Bangkok, Thailand, en route to our new home in Milan, I’m feeling a little too nostalgic to think about vocal technique. Just to warn you, this might be a theme since all of my singing textbooks and notes are currently in a ship crossing some ocean somewhere. Instead, as I look back on the dark and brilliant moments that made up my musical life here, here are a few singing memories from Thailand that will always make me smile…
Memorizing 3 folk songs in an obscure southern Italian dialect, then performing them in a café with accordion, drums and guitar. Wild dancing, followed by three people from Puglia approaching me speaking Italian. Best compliment ever!
Having only 24 hours notice to sing Morgen at a mysterious event, and being told neither when, what, nor where, but that a van would pick me up and take me there. Being brought to the city center, near the giant swing, and waiting on an outdoor stage with the orchestra as over two thousand people began crowding into the square, along with numerous TV cameras and government officials. Telling myself that getting nervous now was not an option.
At the dress rehearsal for Tosca, the tenor, who was supposed to be hiding onstage from Scarpia, lowered down into the trap door which got stuck. It took almost an hour to find a ladder to get him out. Needless to say, he was not pleased.
Friday afternoon German lieder class is over, and all of the boys are around the piano, singing Gretchen am Spinnrade in falsetto from memory.
The evening when we were supposed to sing for one of our sponsors’ fancy birthday party in a hotel, and he very kindly invited us to join his guests for a 5-course meal, after which so much eating and drinking we could hardly sing!
When we sang for a huge British embassy event for the Queen’s diamond jubilee at the Grand Hyatt, mingling with the distinguished guests, then finding out later that the friendly Indian man we were all joking around with was actually the British ambassador.
Talking to another ambassador from the same party and, when he saw the blank look on my face after saying he was from East Timor, asked me if I even knew where that was.
A beauty company asking me if I would sing for their new product launch, requesting (I quote) “La Vie en Rose and other opera arias.” Arriving and having my makeup done by a very butch-looking man in a government suit, who confesses that he used to be a showgirl.
The last song of my last concert in Bangkok: singing “Ich bin der welt abhanden gekommen” with architect Khun Amnad playing the Fazioli in his oriental salon, with some of my closest friends seated before me, and seeing afterward that K. Amnad’s eyes are welling with tears.
Singing French art songs into a microphone for a rough, gruff and yet surprisingly appreciative audience for a Burmese charity event at a local Thai bar.
Dressing up as a Thai waitress at a private event at the Sheraton and serving hors d’oeuvres for 10 minutes before breaking into song. My singing partner trying not to laugh as he sings “All I Ask of You” with me and notices that a mosquito has just bitten my forehead.
Our goodbye party, which culminated in some impromptu operatic arias and duets, as well as my tabla teacher Ustad Vasi and his two sons reciting an improvisational tabla beat (incorporating lessons that I had just learned, the musical equivalent of a wink).
Dressing in a blue sari with red bangles and playing Canon in D and the Trumpet voluntary on harp for my Bengladeshi friend’s wedding; first public performance with harp.
Going crazy trying to find songs that matched the rules of the Indian ragas we had chosen for our East-West harmonies concert, and finally giving up and writing them myself less than a week before show-time.
Spending days crafting the perfect year-long study proposal for a scholarship my university was offering to recent music graduates, feeling depressed when they write in their rejection letter, “We don’t believe that you are capable of accomplishing this plan.” Then realizing one year later, to my surprise, that I had done absolutely everything on my plan, even without the money, except for the month of study in Italy…
Singing the alto solo for Handel’s Messiah three years in a row (a total of 9 performances, plus dress rehearsals) and never once getting sick of hearing it. Realizing on one especially rainy performance day that I had forgotten to bring dress shoes. I almost had to go onstage wearing my crocs, when a choir member with my same shoe size saved me.
Walking groggily to breakfast in my pyjamas at our hotel in Cambodia, and having all the waitresses and staff line up at my table asking for photographs. I obliged but thought it was rather strange, until my father admitted later that he had surreptitiously given them all copies of my album.
There are so many more, especially all of the daily lessons, rehearsals and meetings which while not necessarily intriguing enough to make a story, were so important to me and filled my days.
A huge thanks to everyone who shared and created these memories with me, especially the everyday ones which are not on this list. You know who you are!