in which my brain bids 2018 a relieved goodbye

Happy end of 2018, friends.

It’s been a hard one for many of us. For me and my work, there have been moments of almost unbearable intensity, both good and bad, and stretches that were entirely business-as-usual. Typically, the latter periods bring stability and groundedness, but sometimes this year they did the opposite, which was to wind me up so much with feelings of banality and wheel-spinning that I occasionally wanted to quit everything and hide under the bedcovers for a month or two and emerge only when I had cried out all the feelings and knew what I wanted—which, needless to say, never happened; so I kept going, didn’t quit, cried on the train sometimes, and always did my job creditably, I think, even when I was seething inside. Finally, I’ve had a week or two over the holidays to hide out in the house and truly rest, taking a real break from work for the first time in a year or more—knitting, watching movies, listening to podcasts, cooking, enjoying the company of a few close people, and finally, remarkably, enjoying my own company—and that, simply, turns out to have been the main thing I needed. I’ve been sleeping through the nights instead of awake for hours with anxiety or disorientation. Early this morning, I excitedly texted a menu idea to a friend with whom I’m celebrating tonight, and got back the following response: “I’m glad that after having a turbulent year, the thing you’re thinking about lying awake at night is food and friends.”

A year ago today, the above photo was taken in France. I was a few weeks into the life-changing time in Clermont-Ferrand, the production that has most defined the year for me and shown me the direction I want to go. (Even though I don’t completely know what I want, I’ve learned that I want at least this: doing a lower volume of work at a higher level, not burning out, and being paid better for higher-quality preparation.) The photo looks idyllic, doesn’t it? It was a gorgeous, sunny New Year’s Eve with recent snow, my husband was visiting, and a generous member of the opera chorus took us up to hike the Puy de Dome. It was spectacular. When the photo popped back into my feed this morning, my first feeling was nostalgia for that moment, for those weeks. It seemed like a simpler, less confusing time.

But then I began to remember some of the feelings from that time that I’d forgotten about, or pushed away. READ MORE

Coconuts and connection

While lying in a hot bath one chilly November morning in Seattle, trying to soothe my jet-lagged body before a concert and catching up on back issues of the New Yorker, I read the following:

“What are you doing? I don’t mean what are you doing with your life, or in general, but what are you doing right now? The answer, in one respect, is simple enough: you’re reading this magazine. Obviously. From a certain economic perspective, however, you’re doing something else, something you don’t realize, something with a sneaky motive that you aren’t admitting to yourself: you are signaling. You are sending signals about the kind of person you are, or want to be. What’s that you say—you’re reading this in the bath, or on your phone in bed, or otherwise in private? Well, the same argument applies. You are acquiring the tools for a ‘fitness display.’ … Fitness displays ‘can be used to woo mates, of course, but they also serve other purposes like attracting allies or intimidating rivals.’ So there you go: that’s what you’re doing, there in the bath with the magazine. Your rivals are right to feel intimidated.” (John Lanchester)

Intimidated! I burst out laughing and sank deeper into the water, and my eyes rested on my chipping toenail polish: a saturated, dramatic dark blue, most of which was already worn away. The blue might be a signal, too, it occurred to me (rivals, feel intimidated!), and the lack of maintenance yet another (I’ve had too much on my mind since the summer to think about my toes).READ MORE

What it takes to make an album

Almost as soon as I came back from my epic 2018 summer of travel and work, before I had time to learn where the light switches were in my new house or to recover from jet lag, I plunged straight into a completely full-on project that’s been consuming me every since: the making of the first Damask album. I’ve been involved in other people’s recordings before, and I’ve recorded short sessions of demo material for myself, Damask, and other groups; but this is a full-length commercially available album with full creative control, made to showcase our work, and it’s one of the most absorbing, satisfying, time-consuming, and expensive projects I’ve ever personally undertaken. The learning curve has been steep and the work load has been heavy. It has given me huge respect for everyone who is still involved in recorded sound and for all the greats who came before—the artists but also all the other hundreds of people who work unbelievably hard to make this sort of project happen. Now that we’re preparing for the album’s release, I finally wanted to write something to describe the whole experience up to now. I had NO idea what was truly involved, and I was blindsided by many aspects of it (in mostly good and some bad ways); I am SO SO SO incredibly excited for the end result, but also would love for the process to be more transparent, as I have realized how many misconceptions exist about recordings, how they get made, and what they represent to both artists and listeners. So, off we go!READ MORE

Gubaidulina with the New European Ensemble

In early October I sang on several concerts honoring the composer Sofia Gubaidulina with the New European Ensemble. I first encountered her magisterial Hommage à T. S. Eliot at West Cork Chamber Music Festival several years ago; I couldn’t believe the sheer force of the music and the sympathy of the text setting. It was a huge pleasure to revisit the piece with these stellar players, and we got an excellent review in the NRC:

“In Hommage à T.S. Eliot (1987) liet sopraan Katharine Dain de volle reikwijdte van haar stem horen: quasi-spreekgezang en met lucht omklede fluisteringen in de laagte, via expressief uitgespuugde lettergrepen, tot vlammend hoge uithalen.”

(“In Hommage à T. S. Eliot (1987) Katharine Dain let loose the full range of her voice: quasi-sprechstimme and airy whispering in the low range, syllables expressively spat out, to eviscerating, flaming highs.

My first Cunégonde

I’ve been singing the showpiece “Glitter and be gay” for years, but finally I got to sing the whole role of Cunégonde in Leonard Bernstein’s Candide in Banff. This role is a keeper; I had so much fun getting to know her, finding her unique physicality and voice, and being as much of a diva as possible. The Calgary Herald reviewed the whole show positively and had these kind words about my performance:

“Casting Katharine Dain’s dark-hued Cunégonde was the right choice for the outdoor performance. Dain has a faithful and solid tone throughout her entire range, and a mature, modulated coloration that is truly enviable. There has been a swing of late toward light lyric/soubrette-styled performances of the role the past 20 years, but Dain reminded us what the richer lyric coloratura fach ought truly to sound like in her tightly controlled performance of the epic cavatina/cabaletta Glitter and be gay. Bernstein’s parody of Marguerite’s “Ah! Je ris, de me voir si belle” in Gounod’s Faust, satirized the addiction to jewelry and Cunégonde’s incapacity to resist it. Dain pulled off the cynical, saucy line “If I’m not pure, at least my jewels are!” disturbingly well.”

Watch a video of the whole aria here.

Strength

“How much time we wasted, she wrote, believing that things came to us as gifts, through channels of wonder, in the form of signs, in the love of men, in the name of God, rather than seeing them for what they were: strengths that we dragged up from the nothingness of our own depths.” –Nicole Krauss, “Seeing Ershadi”

I encountered the above quote in the New Yorker while reading in the middle of the night in Rouen. I haven’t been sleeping well in 2018 (work, anxiety, jet lag), with many hours awake in the dark. So I was happy to read this lovely short story about a dancer, which beautifully articulated so many ambiguities and doubts so well: mostly, that careers in the arts are not usually the pure artistic journeys people think. They are hard work, occasionally successful, full of rejection even when things are going well, generally not paid much, full of humdrum days just like any other job. Intermittently they give huge highs—personal, artistic, social—that keep us going through the harder moments.

This one quote from the story—“strengths that we dragged up from the nothingness of our own depths”—hit me strongly and has stayed with me. When careers in music work out, I’m learning it’s usually because someone managed to find something particular about themselves and make it indispensable. It could be an especially beautiful sound, or quick musicianship, or an affinity with a certain repertoire, or unusual facility with language and text, or good stage ability, or striking physicality, or being rock-solid reliable, or something else or a combination. (This is in addition to all the other things you need for success–hard work, patience, and a huge amount of luck. Opportunities come so arbitrarily and we can’t control timing. When careers don’t work out or are slow to start, it absolutely doesn’t indicate a lack of talent or work, often just a lack of luck. There have been moments that I’ve felt very fortunate and also moments when I’ve cursed the universe as I compared my own trajectory to others’. But I do think that whenever it does work out, it’s because someone found their own particular strength or set of strengths and optimized it.)READ MORE

Praise for Konstanze in Massy

I was very happy to read the following review on Olyrix after our final Entführung of the season in Massy:

“Également lauréate du Concours international de chant de Clermont-Ferrand 2017, Katharine Dain est la révélation de cette soirée. Sa voix ample et soyeuse, ses phrasés souples et son timbre chaleureux se révèlent dès son premier air (“Ach ich liebte, war so glücklich“, acte I). Son interprétation subtile semble donner envie à l’Orchestre de l’Opéra de Massy (et au chef Dominique Rouits) de se surpasser.READ MORE

I am he who kisses his comrade

Today I want to write about love.

It’s 5:30 a.m. in Los Angeles, and I feel overwhelmingly, distractingly full of love. My computer clock says 14:30 Paris time. 36 hours ago I had an emotional final show, then said a lot of hard goodbyes, spent 11 hours on a plane (most of the time spent trying to memorize songs about love), landed last night, slept only a few hours, in my insomnia read the first chapter of a book about consciousness that—far from being drily scientific—made me overflow with love all the more, and am now trying to sort myself out for a recital I’ll sing tomorrow as the sky lightens outside my window overlooking Disney Hall. I haven’t written a blog post in a while, and I think it’s because I just haven’t had the time or mental space to process what’s been happening this year—it’s been such a big year and every potential post feels huge. But I’m not able to keep this down, and I think it’s something we all should feel freer to talk about.

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Win at the Armel Opera Competition

I enjoyed a recent success as a laureate of the Armel Opera Competition in Paris. Organized by the Armel Festival in Budapest, the competition grants roles in a production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni that will receive its premiere in 2019 in Cuenca, Ecuador and then travel to Budapest, where it will be broadcast live on ARTE Concert. I was chosen as Donna Anna, a role I have sung in concert and will be so happy to revisit in a full production with a very exciting team, including acclaimed Hungarian director Róbert Alföldi and German-Mexican conductor Michael Meissner.

Positive reception in Rouen

Our Rouen outing for Mozart’s Enlèvement (as I am now beginning to call it–Entführung, Abduction) has been widely praised, and I got some especially nice mentions this time.

“La soprano américaine  Katharine Dain ne déçoit pas les espérances que son « Marten aller Arten » au concours de Clermont-Ferrand avait fait naître. Avec son chant aérien aux aigus faciles et ses vocalises précises, elle remplit toutes les exigences vocales du rôle.” (“The American soprano Katharine Dain does not disappoint the hopes raised by her “Martern aller Arten” at the Clermont-Ferrand Competition. With precise vocalism and ease in the most precipitous heights, she satisfies every vocal challenge of the role.”) –Forum OpéraREAD MORE

Where’s the push?

“Where’s the push?” asks Victor the choreographer, repeatedly, in our short session on stage in Rouen today to address Konstanze’s physicality in the first aria. We’re trying to refine her vocabulary of movement, which means considering character, motivation, confidence, timing. We look for externalizations of her independence, her exhibitionism, her particular way of getting overwhelmed, her way of trying to pull herself together, her diva mannerisms. She is open and proud, so her chest and back don’t collapse—or if they do, it’s in a very deliberate way. She’s in control of herself, so her arms are never pinned to her sides. She reacts fluidly to situations, so her body is never rigid. She is protective of her body, so she takes physical cues from others but isn’t completely influenced by them. She leads, quite literally, from the heart.

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Cunégonde

I’m delighted to announce that I will sing Cunégonde in Leonard Bernstein’s Candide in Banff (British Columbia, Canada) in July 2018. This production and other performances are presented as part of an intensive residency titled Opera in the 21st Century at the Banff Centre for the Arts and Creativity, led by members of Against the Grain Theatre. More details forthcoming.

Raves for Konstanze in Avignon

I’ve just wrapped up my second stint of Konstanzes in Avignon, and the reviews are in:

“Katharine Dain, soprano américaine au lyrisme clair et pur, passe des tons les plus chauds aux notes les plus aigües avec une belle aisance, elle offre au personnage de Konstance toute la sincérité du rôle.” (“Katharine Dain, an American soprano of clear and pure lyricism, moves from the warmest tones to the highest notes with beautiful ease. She brings to the character of Konstanze all the sincerity the role requires.”) –Paroles d’Opéra

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Live broadcast of Schoenberg 2nd string quartet

My performance in Amsterdam’s first String Quartet Biennale festival of Schoenberg’s second string quartet with Cuarteto Quiroga (on a concert also featuring Cappella Amsterdam in a world premiere of José Maria Sánchez-Verdu) will be broadcast live on NPO Radio 4. On February 1st at 8:15 pm Netherlands time, tune in to hear a live stream of the concert.

Update: if you missed it, you can listen back here. The Schoenberg starts at 1:38:30.

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First reviews of Entführung

My first Konstanze in Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail (in January in Clermont-Ferrand, and touring afterwards to Avignon, Rouen, Massy, and Reims) is garnering excellent reviews. Forum Opera says: “hyper technicienne et flamboyante de passion vécue pour un ‘Martern alle Arten’ de haute volée. Cette autre lauréate du 25e Concours de Chant déploie une projection radieuse, qu’elle sublime dans un ‘Ach, ich liebte’ aux fins aigus vertigineux d’une noblesse désespérée qui n’a d’égal que l’admirable puissance dramatique du ‘Welcher Wechsel.'” (“An extreme technician, blazing with passion in a first-rate ‘Martern aller Arten.’ This laureate of the 25th International Competition projects a radiant presence, sublimated from the slimmest vertiginous heights of ‘Ach, ich liebte’ to a desperate nobility which nothing can equal but the admirable dramatic power of ‘Welcher Wechsel.'”)READ MORE