on ambiguity, Donna Anna, and growing up

Sometimes, when I was an undergraduate at Harvard, I’d walk through campus on a brooding overcast day and spot the towering steeple of Memorial Church (usually quite imposing, a striking white spire against the brilliant blue of a New England sky) receding into the muted light, its sharp contours softened and made less visible by the texture of the clouds behind. For some reason, I’d feel an unexplainable pang of satisfaction whenever the steeple was the same color as the sky.

What was it about that image of the gently receding spire that I liked so much? I’m still not sure. It’s a lofty wooden affair that always looks like it’s just gotten a fresh coat of white paint. The church itself is brick, dignified and columned and grand, and it anchors one of Harvard’s grassy quads. I’m looking at the church now as I sit on the massive stone steps of Widener library opposite. It’s a windy spring afternoon, and several banks of clouds have already scuttled across the sky; in a short period of watching, I’ve seen the steeple change moods several times according to its backdrop.


coming to light

… as heimlich [familiar, homelike, or surreptitious, secret] progresses through its shades of meaning, it eventually coincides with its opposite, unheimlich, which the German writer Schelling defined as “the name for everything that ought to have remained … hidden and secret, and has become visible.” … In the annals of etymology, where heimlich and unheimlich reveal themselves as one and the same, we find the secret to this very particular kind of anxiety, Freud tells us, which arises from the encounter not after all with something new and foreign but rather with something familiar and old from which the mind has been estranged by the process of repression. Something that ought to have been kept concealed, but that has nevertheless come to light.

-Nicole Krauss, Forest Dark

Y’all, it’s been a WINTER: ten weeks of intensity, of newness and of return, of hibernating and of shedding—of things long concealed or suppressed that have nevertheless come to light. I’ll elaborate, but first, here’s a summary of how that’s manifested in my work since the beginning of the year.

Right after the start of 2019, I went back to France—Reims, this time—for the last Konstanzes of the Clermont-Ferrand production of Entführung. It was so wonderful and so sad. I performed the opera both better (I can really sing the role now) and worse (as old habits clashed with new ideas and upswellings of feeling) than ever before. It was the end of many stories, the beginning of others, both a celebration of what the team has made and experienced together over the last year and a vulnerable bringing to light of new aspects. I’m deeply mourning it, and I’m also happy to take everything it’s given me into new projects, to move on.READ MORE

Entführung diaries: Memories

My year of Konstanze has ended. I’m sure I’ll revisit the role, but saying goodbye to her now, and to this unforgettable team and production, was so hard. I have spilled so much (virtual) ink here talking about the process, so I won’t do that any more; I’ll just leave some images here of one of the most absorbing, beautiful, challenging projects I’ve ever done, with thanks and kisses to everyone involved (including many not pictured) for the memories, the laughs, the wine, the probing moments, the hard questions, the gâteaux des rois, the walks, the hugs backstage, and the chance to grow so much–together and individually.


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


“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

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.


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.


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.


Entführung diaries: Voice

In Kyoto, / hearing the cuckoo, / I long for Kyoto. —Basho

I’ve been using my current production of Entführung as a lens for some musings on identity: how a character can change us, and then about some of the challenges of physicalizing such a piece of music. I’ve known there was a third post I needed to write, the most personal one (strange when the others were about love and body image!), and it’s taken some time for it to come. Now that it’s all out, I realize that it is 1. the longest (sorry!) and 2. the most importantthat is, it’s the most specific to my own experience; it’s the story that only I can tell. We open tomorrow night, and I’m glad to have verbalized these thoughts at last. It’s a rather vulnerable look at the intersection of identity and the voice itself.READ MORE

Entführung diaries: Body

“You have a good mind, a pretty face, a disciplined body that does what you tell it to. You have everything it takes to be a lovely woman except the one essential: an understanding heart. And without that you might just as well be made of bronze.” –The Philadelphia Story

Previously, in Katharine’s Epically Long Musings on Identity And Her First Entführung: some thoughts about the character of Konstanze and how she relates to (and is changing) my own identity. Today, I want to write about bodies.

The body can be a vehicle for music, for illness, for slight inebriation on delicious French wine, for pulses of the blood and hormones, for fatigue. The body can be a magnet for desire, for criticism, for violence, for love. As a singer, my body is my instrument: I can’t escape this identification of my body with my work, my self, my value, my effectiveness. Being a singer (or any kind of performer) has a lot in common with being an athlete–no matter what your gifts, you’re only as strong and stable as your body is, and this is complicated. This part of my identity has been both affirmed and challenged mightily in the last few weeks.READ MORE

Entführung diaries: Character

Since I arrived in Clermont-Ferrand to begin rehearsals on my first Konstanze (in Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail) in the second week of December, so much—in myself, in my singing, in my thinking—has shifted, or begun to shift. I couldn’t have asked for a more focused, attenuated, ambitious work process to bridge this change in the year and point the way forward. A lot of this focus has come from working on such a rich and challenging role, of course. Konstanze is changing me as much as I’m trying to shape her in rehearsal, and I feel so lucky to be here doing this piece in particular, and with this team. But this hasn’t been the only thing working on me.READ MORE


Gentle reader, if you’re laboring under the misconception that my job is glamorous and high-brow, let me set the record straight.

That picture up above? It’s me (already in concert makeup) and an internationally renowned pianist crawling around under a resoundingly mediocre rented grand piano an hour before our recital together, trying to identify the source of an annoying pedal-related squeak and WD-40 it out of existence. We only kind of managed, but in the meantime, the presenter, laughing uproariously, snapped this picture and declared he was going to use it in next year’s season brochure.


Aldeburgh wisdom

I’m back in gorgeous Aldeburgh for a Britten-Pears Young Artist Programme course on Strauss songs and arias. It’s a pretty wonderful way to spend a week–sleeping in absolute silence, waking up to sounds of gulls, working all day on subtleties of music and German with immensely skilled and generous people, making a quiet dinner, walking on a rocky beach, going to sleep. Yesterday, on our day off, we toured Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears’ beautiful brick house and studio and gardens and archive; standing in Britten’s composition studio, looking out at his apple trees which were his view when writing some of his late pieces, was very special.READ MORE