February 20, 2011

Pink, Glorious Pink!

I went to the children's opera of Cinderella today with Ava and her friend and there was an incredible amount of pink on the stage and in a moment of letting the brilliant tones of pink overtake my eyes, I was reminded of how fantastic this colour really is. Under the bright stage lights, the fancy gowns, the ornate throne, the palace wallpaper shimmered in different rosy tones and brought me back to another favourite movie of mine that celebrates this colour - Funny Face with Audrey Hepburn and Frank Sinatra. Pink is a colour that you either love or hate and for me it is all love. I can only imagine that those that hate this colour are really just rebelling against the femininity it traditionally represents.

My favourite tone of pink is the Fifties pink - a warm version with just enough yellow in it. It is of course softer than red but holds the same liveliness and makes you think of all things happy, sweet, luscious, and healthy (think rosy cheeks). In the movie Funny Face the fashion trendsetters decide to be done with drab black and launch pink as the in colour. They go full force in celebrating pink's representation of life and passion and claim that everything looks better in pink. Here are some great shots from the movie - a few non pink ones that are just too glamourous not to share.

February 18, 2011

My Muji World

I have been a fan of these Muji city blocks for awhile now. They sit beautifully in my studio, representing some of the great cities around the world, my all time favourite New York City, London, Paris and Tokyo. Each city comes in a great canvas bag, all purchased at the Moma store in Soho, NYC. If there was a Muji set for Victoria I propose it would include a sea airplane, the gates to Chinatown, the parliament buildings, the Empress Hotel, boats, the BC Museum, and a totem pole. Muji has accomplished it's beauty with minimalism, natural and simple. These blocks are dear to me partially because of the design aesthetic but mostly because they represent my life's greatest passion, travel and adventure.

February 13, 2011

Red Lanterns & Blossoms

I love, love, love this building! It is one of my favourite in Victoria. It is an old Chinese school that sits just outside the main gate to Chinatown. These are the little gems that are to be discovered in this city, contributing to it's character.

February 8, 2011

Dreaming of summer

Creating an image that evokes my yearning for summer during these dreary February days has been most enjoyable. As my eyes feast upon the brilliant colours, I feel soothed, nourished and replenished. Of course the original painting is much more appealing than the scanned image - an artist's frustration. I like to paint without a sketch so that I can spontaneously choose what comes next. I fell in love with these Japanese paints, half gouache, half acrylic, that spread so effortlessly onto my canvas. I dream of my pattern printed onto cotton and made into a pretty garden party dress. With a cocktail in hand, I mingle with the party guests, laughing, the sun on my back, and breathing in the sweetness of summer.

February 6, 2011

What's your secret, Anne Grimm?

Dutch Soprano, Anne (pronounced ah-na) Grimm studied in Amsterdam and London and is internationally sought after for her beautiful voice which truly melts your heart. Anne tours throughout the year performing in Europe and North America as well as teaches voice at the University of Victoria.

I first met Anne at Willows beach here in Victoria with her two gorgeous daughters. Anne was a gem sitting amongst the sea shells with her sparkly blue eyes, glowing demeanor, endearing Dutch accent and great sense of humour. I am still amazed at how humble Anne is. I have witnessed her transform from her mom world into a glamourous, sparkling gown on stage with the Victoria Symphony. Her heavenly voice and stage presence puts you into a relaxed mode, as if you have treated yourself to an hour of floating on a pink fluffy cloud.

It has been said in the Amsterdam press that Anne is greatly missed in her home town since she married a Canadian. When she returns, they celebrate. Performances of Anne includes touring through Europe with the Orchestra of the 18th century, Handel's Rinaldo in France, and touring with the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra at European festivals including Salzburg. Anne often performs the classics of Handel, Bach and Mozart but she also experiments with some more avant garde repetoires and she is featured on many recordings.

At what point did you decide to become an opera singer? Was it a childhood dream?
No, I really didn’t dream about being an opera singer. I loved singing and dancing like so many girls. I played the violin and was always active in musical things. When it came to choosing what to study after high school, music was an exciting choice and I went to the conservatory for violin. It was there that somebody asked me to apply for singing. I did and was accepted in the voice program. But I remember my very first singing lesson there. The student before me was everything I did not want to be, a typical image of the classical opera singer in a way that wasn’t mine. During my studies I joined a close harmony group of three singers with a band. I earned my rent with that group and had tons of fun. It stopped when the classical gigs started to come in. I honestly can say that I slowly slid into it.

When you look out into the audience, do you see individual people or is it a black hole?
Depending on the performance, Opera mostly presents a black hole. It’s all about what’s going on on stage. In a song recital or concert I like to interact more with the public and look at faces. It can be very nice and inspiring to see some response in the audience. But it all depends on the venue. Lights on stage can be so bright that you simply don’t see a thing.

What is your favorite part about being an opera singer?
The music, singing all this beautiful music, interacting with the instruments and interacting with the other singers. The diversity of different artforms coming together. Being in it with a whole cast and crew and putting your best foot forward to achieve something special.

Do you get to choose your gowns and jewellery or are you provided with a wardrobe? Is it fun to be all fancy?
In opera there are costume designers, set designers and a director. They will decide on everything-outfit, accessories, makeup. They can make you as ugly or beautiful as they want! I’ve had some pretty outrageous outfits and hairdo’s. Not always flattering. Sometimes costumes that made going to the washroom impossible, wigs that are top heavy so you don’t want to shake your head too much etc… In concert it is up to me. Although I always try to adapt to the occasion, it’s fun to have a chance to make yourself look as good as possible and change from tired mum into performer.

Do you sing other styles of music as well?
Oh yes! I love singing jazzie stuff, musical theater, cabaret, pop. Getting out of the classical frame and experiment how far you can stretch the voice. Just having fun instead of work, although the goal is to have fun while working! But my love for singing comes in many forms.

Do you sing opera in the shower?
No! I used to sing in the shower a lot but never opera. These days showers have become shorter and more efficient. Only when I’m stressing out about learning something by heart will I take my notes everywhere I go.

Where is your favourite place to perform and why?
I’ve been to surprisingly wonderful and interesting places when I least expected it. Gigs can turn out so different from how they are presented to you in the first place. Of course Paris, Berlin, London, Rome are thrilling and exciting cities. But I’ve found myself on a Spanish Island with a group of wonderful people having the time of my life making music together too. A big highlight was performing in Athens at the Acropolis under the moon. That was magical.

Are audiences different in North America vs Europe?
In the big scheme of things, no. There are always people in the audience that are more appreciative then others. But Europe is so filled with opportunities to enjoy art, concerts and opera’s. The public has so much choice. It allows them to be critical. But no performance or audience is ever the same.

Do you have any funny stage moments to share?
Many! So much can go wrong and turn out hilarious. The hardest part is wanting to laugh when you really need to sing. I’ve been looking at my partner who’s helmet was slowly sinking over his eyes while he was singing. My line was coming up, but really I was nowhere. I’ve also been inspired to grab the bars on the window of the room I was locked in on stage, only to find that the bars came right off. To hold those fake things in my hands and having to keep singing was hilarious! The best or worst was probably a stage kiss that was supposed to be a stage kiss (fake kiss) but suddenly there was this tongue in my mouth! Sorry to put it so boldly, but oh my, to keep it all straight in front of the audience.

Do opera singers have to stick to a specific repertoire or is it quite varied?
It can be as varied as your instrument can handle. In my case, I will never sing Wagner or other heavy repertoire, I have a typical Mozart, Handel, Bach voice. But there is a lot of variety that fits in that frame. I’ve done a lot of contemporary music, early music and art song as well and there is lots of opera repertoire for my voice type. I do think that the singer who finds his particular niche has the best chance of success. There is repertoire that makes you shine and other repertoire that you sing because they ask you to.

How is it like to have a husband that is also a world renown opera singer?
Ha! You are very flattering with “world renown”. I think what suits us better is “hard working musicians” that have been lucky enough to sing in many exciting place. But yes, I’m definitely married to a tenor and tenors can be challenging! But I’m lucky. It is good, it is inspiring and it is also comforting. We understand each other. We have the same troubles and excitements. The music business is hard and very competitive. It is both difficult and helpful to be in it together. Singing means traveling and that became complicated once we had two daughters. Our move to Victoria had everything to do with finding some regularity through a job at UVic. in the voice department. I’m one of the voice teachers there and Ben is head of the department. The UVic. term still allows us to perform whenever we can, but it gives us a base to stay in one place for our kids. We exchange a lot about our students, our experiences and our gigs. But it means I’m far from my scene in Europe. You can’t have it all.

Any new ventures or shows you want to tell us about?
That is always the exciting part, new chances, new opportunities, exploring new repertoire. There is something coming up in Seattle with a group I worked with in Europe. Very exciting. Here in Victoria both Ben and I will sing in a Bach/Handel concert with the Victoria Philharmonic choir. The interesting part is that it’s conducted by Ben’s brother. All in the family. I just did a wonderful program in the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam at Christmas time and I’m trying to get that group over here. I would love to bring some of my world from there to here and have the best of both.

February 3, 2011

Accepting the room with a view

Room with a View (Merchant Ivory, 1985) is one of my all time favourite films for it brims with humour as Miss Lucy Honeychurch, a young woman in 1908 who is full of passion yet holds it reserved embarks on a journey to Florence and discovers love. Upon seeing Lucy play the piano in the pensione lobby, Mr Beebe announces "If Miss Honeychurch ever takes to live as she plays... it will be very exciting for both us and for her." Lucy "Mother doesn't like me playing Beethoven. She says I'm peevish afterwards." Mr Beebe "Naturally, one would be stirred up."

The movie begins with a desire, a proposal and an awkward acceptance. Lucy's chaperone Charlotte declares that their room is not
what they had expected "We were to see the Arno, south rooms with a view. Instead of which we have north rooms without a view" The accommodating Mr Emerson and his handsome son George kindly offer their room which has a view only to completely embarrass Charlotte and cause a fuss. Mr Emerson "Women like looking at a view. Men don't. It's obvious they should have the rooms. These niceties go against common sense! Every kind of sense. I don't care what I see outside. My vision is within. Here is where the birds sing and where the sky is blue." Charlotte "What an impossible person!" And so after much carfuffle, the view is accepted and the room is theirs.

Kind gestures, offers to help, and complements can make us squirm and in our stubbornness they can be difficult to accept. The next time I am so kindly offered a room with a view I will graciously accept it with no carfuffle at all!