Blier’s Blog: March 12, 2012 / NYFOS@Caramoor

caramoor vocal artists.Drama, drama, drama, every day. But I wouldn’t change it for the world. Friday I was irritable. We had a donor event at night and it put a little roadblock in our process. The cast circled their wagons, protected what they had, didn’t take too many risks, saved their voices, worried about memory. The 30-minute show went fine, and afterwards we got the usual kinds of questions: “You guys are so good at those popular songs. Why aren’t you on Broadway?!” It’s a lovely compliment, but really…what would these beautiful artists sing on Broadway these days? Spider Man? Rock of Ages? Jersey Boys? Book of Mormon? Don’t get me started. I behaved pretty well until Eugene blurted out (incorrectly) that José Carreras had created the role of Tony in West Side Story on Broadway. I heard a strangled yawp come out of me that doesn’t usually emerge in public. (The first Tony was Larry Kert, who could actually speak English, in case you are coming up blank.)

But Saturday was a day of grace. We did a workthrough of the show and all four singers plunged in to do the final lock-and-load, running a Dustbuster over the French diction, tweaking the musical details, and rolling with Michael’s and my good cop/bad cop duo as we laid down the law about matters of singing and acting. If the four of them were treading water on Friday, they swam the English Channel on Saturday. I was very proud of everyone.

But I was even prouder on Sunday when they sang the Caramoor performance. Everyone was in great voice, the hall was packed—a full house in Westchester for French art song!—and I felt blessed. Meredith is like a muse to me—she inspires beauty with her charismatic sound and classy phrasing. Kristin merges good taste with take-no-hostages brass, a patrician walk on the wild side. Brent has sweetness, sensitivity, squillo, and smarts in such abundance that he’s like a Teuscher truffle that got into Mensa. And Eugene? 100% animal and 100% artist, a singer who can be pelvic and exalted at the same time.

Today we had our dress rehearsal in Merkin, which sounded cavernous and echoey after a week in Caramoor’s Music Room, and the piano had all the delicacy of the F Train. We’ll all be ready for it tomorrow—it always takes a day to adjust but Merkin is ultimately a great place to make (and hear) music. We had a visit from royalty: jazz legend Bucky Pizzarelli, who’s playing in the NYFOS’s gala on April 2, was so fascinated by what he saw on our website that he stopped by to hear some of the show. I was very nervous playing Irving Berlin in front of him, but I think Kristin and I passed muster. “You weren’t playing what was on the page!” he exclaimed. (“Duh!” I thought…I mean, I don’t have any idea what’s on the page.) “It was great! Both of you!”

What a relief. Tuesday night should be a blast.

Blier’s Blog: March 8, 2012 / NYFOS@Caramoor

Thursday is always a critical day up at Caramoor. The free-wheeling exploration period is just about to end and everyone feels the pressure. It’s not quite as innocent to forget lyrics or smudge a passage on the piano. After all, tomorrow we’re doing a part of the concert for some donors, Saturday is dress rehearsal, Sunday is a performance in Katonah, and Tuesday is the Big Apple. Every singer and pianist knows the feeling: time to get your act together.

Caramoor cast pictureWe had a visit from our guest teacher today: baritone William Sharp, one of my closest colleagues and someone I’ve performed and recorded with for over thirty years. Bill is also very close to Michael Barrett, and it was like a reunion of dogs who’d grown up in the same kennel. Bill and I were finishing each other’s sentences. I would be thinking, “This song needs…” just as Bill was saying exactly what was in my mind. It’s always delicate to rehearse in front of an “outsider,” but Bill is not that. He was just an insider who was having his first (and only) day with us. He was so positive with everyone, unfailingly helpful—and, like his name, sharp. He is not afraid to say, “I loved it. Let’s fix the one spot that bothered me.” A perfect Thursday visitor.

Highlights: Eugene got on the hot core of his beautiful voice and rode it through Fauré’s “Les roses d’Ispahan”; Meredith coaxed and caressed her Poulenc song into submission; Kristin morphed into a haughty but vulnerable Chinese wife in her Roussel piece; Brent found both the charm and the cojones of his Roussel song. I gave a little lecture about not making what I call “Phony Faces of Motivation”—those little moues I see at auditions where singers pretend to show they’ve “just” thought of the next line of their aria by looking at a spot just to the left of their shoes (or the corner of the rehearsal room) and pensively pursing their lips before they sing again. Bad Opera Acting 101, and I’ve seen it on the rise recently. When I caught a tiny moment of “P. F. of M.” today I decided to nip it in the bud. I was rewarded with a short, hilarious demonstration, by Eugene, of his pantheon of Execrable Opera Stage Behavior.

…then back to work

Blier’s Blog: March 7, 2012 / NYFOS@Caramoor

“I can dance…and make romance,” sings Eugene Chan as he rehearses “The Boy from New York City.” I look over and this arty, refined guy is doing some major moves on the Caramoor floor. For one guilty moment I really wish I could still dance. I’d abduct Eugene to a disco (do they still have them?) in a nanosecond.

cast of the showI had begun the week thinking the group was a bit sedate, and that maybe the swingtime songs wouldn’t…swing. This cast is not sedate: they’re serious, elegant, and somewhat quiet at mealtimes. They don’t tell jokes, do imitations, or recite TV dialogue verbatim. But give them a chance to shake booty and booty is shaken. Hard. We have an encore by Charles Aznavour and I can’t believe where they’re taking it. Eugene belted his solo like a Gallic Louis Armstrong today, sinking to his knees as he put the moves on Meredith. I doubt we’ll keep the bit but none of us is going to forget it. Meredith later grabbed Brent’s butt. That, we’re keeping.

This is a cast of transformers. Kristin gets to play not one by two African-American women, singing “Harlem on My Mind” by Irving Berlin and “Mon histoire” by Milhaud. She seems fearless, and there is definitely a wild woman lurking until that proper Canadian veneer. She’s a passionate girl, an open channel. Blond, all-American Brent has the soul of a poet and a wicked sense of adventure onstage. He also seems to know how to be wry, romantic, and real in French. Was he paying attention in high school?

And it’s so rewarding to spend time with Meredith. I began working with her when she was a sophomore at Juilliard, and by now we’ve been onstage together a fair amount. She sings so freely that she inspires me to be my freest too. Today she asked to end rehearsal with Rodgers’ “A Tree in the Park” and it was definitely in Technicolor.

Blier’s Blog: March 6, 2012 / NYFOS@Caramoor

two vocal stars from CaramoorWe’re getting started up at Caramoor with this year’s Vocal Rising Stars residency. Every year has been so intense and so different, with a new program and a new group dynamic. This time we’re working on a French-American program that ranges, NYFOS-style, from Roussel and Poulenc to Rorem and Irving Berlin. The group numbers were really hot from the very first day, including a ridiculously good rendition of the finale, “The Boy From New York City.”

I didn’t know baritone Eugene Chan had a 60s backup singer living within him, but he does. (He’e also a fabulous interpreter of Poulenc.) Canadian mezzo Kristin Hoff sings American jazz with a kind of abandon I don’t associate with Canadian mezzos. She sounds like Diane Schuur without the glass-cutting rasp. Meredith Lustig floats the faux-raga “Un sapin isolé” by Maurice Delage perfectly, and breaks my heart with her rendition of “A Tree in the Park” by Rodgers and Hart. Brent Ryan has wit, charm, brains, and a killer high C; he’s nailing all his songs.
two more singers from CaramoorWe usually have a couple of live-wire, ringleader personalities every year, but this time the energy is more introverted and sweet. There doesn’t seem to be a lightning-rod in the bunch, just four serious, smart, hardworking people making art together. Rehearsing the Blitzstein quartet In Twos, Meredith said, “I just can’t hear the other singers well, I can’t feel the blend.” And I blurted out, “Well, maybe you should all just lie under the piano together, that’s the best place to hear everything.” She said, “Great, I’m game.” Me: “Really?” Meredith: “Yeah, really,” as she assumed the position. Soon everyone was lying under the piano and singing In Twos. The ensemble was vastly improved, and the spirit of the song was palpable. “So…how was that, Meredith?” I asked. “Somewhat better…” was her answer.