Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Broken Heart and Raspy Voice: The California Fires

I am so so heartbroken for all the people who have lost their homes this month in the California fires. The flames were visible from my parents' neighborhood, 45 miles south of the fire in Paradise. My heart ached as I drove up to the MAXED OUT Butte County Fairgrounds Evacuation Center. I pray and pray that the firefighters can extinguish the remaining flames and return safely to their families, despite many losing homes themselves.

Singers, we all know that the smoke is bad, but did you know that the pollutants and smoke in the air is the equivalent of smoking 8 to 10 cigarettes (if you're outside without a mask all day). Scary!

Please, please, please care for your bodies and voices. Know that if you become ill, you're unable to help others, and many will need help in the weeks to come. Here are some tips on keeping the voice healthy:

I will keep praying for safety. Take care of yourselves, little singers, and I'll have more to talk about soon!

~ Liesl

Monday, September 17, 2018


Okay, everyone. Deep breath. Here I go!

I'm starting a VLOG. This has been something I’ve been toying with for a while and I’m excited to introduce it. I’m not sure how much of a regular thing this will be at this point, but I would love to hear what you all would like to see on a Vlog channel! Thank you for supporting my projects!

First post is on Stage Fright!

Friday, September 14, 2018

Reclaiming Soprano Role: Antonia

Tomorrow I have an audition. I'm auditioning for a role I've already played. I know that I can't go in and sing her the same way I did before. It was draining. It was sad and a little painful at the time. I want it to be powerful. I want my audition to be honest. Most people end up doing roles a few times, and if I can get this: Great! I can't wait to do it again! If not, I have been able to reclaim something from my own past and turn it around for the positive.

But I'm looking forward to revisiting this character. Even if it's for the one aria at the audition, I am happy to find her again.

In my first experience with Antonia in Tales of Hoffmann I found her to be physically weak (part of the story line) and that, for me at that time, became a sad, lifeless creature with adolescent depression issues and clingy attachment to Hoffmann. Guess what. I don't think that was the right way to go. Admittedly, I was still going through adolescent attitudes myself (even though I was 25 and in grad school). Exploring her then was emotionally taxing, and I feel like my lens on life at that time was narrow. Antonia has a very special place in my heart for many reasons. I want to reclaim her for the woman I am today.

Now, as I find her, I see that she did experience great pain from losing her mother, and she was heavily manipulated by the men in her life. The father, the boyfriend, and the villain. When did Antonia get to be herself? She loved music, and she was forbidden to sing because this would kill her (And now this story reminds me a lot of Coco!). In the end she decides that music is her only desire, her only wish - you could interpret this as the villain, "Doctor Miracle" casting his spell on her to kill her as revenge on Hoffmann, or we could look at this as defiance from Antonia. Against Hoffmann's wish, against her father's wish: She. Sings.

Who accepts her for who she is? Not the men. Each man wants her to be something different: the father wants a quiet and demure daughter, the boyfriend wants a sweet little wife, the villain wants a starlette (and revenge or something?). None of this is what she wants. She then sees her mother. Her mother encouraged her to be herself. To sing and make music and be free of the expectations of their society. Of course, Antonia is physically weak, so she does die, but hey... at least she truly LIVED for a little while.

Regarding the Mother: Today, as women, we are working so hard to reclaim ourselves and to push away expectations that have been put on us by society. We turn to the women who got us here to thank them, to take examples from their past work to drive us toward equality. Any dream we have should be valid. Whether a stay at home mom, corporate woman, or full time musician, we need to thank and value the women who paved our way. We are driven to the women in our lives to help us find ourselves.

My first time with Antonia, all I wanted was to make a man happy. Ridiculous. I am the source of my happiness. I now share a life with someone and am not GIVING my life away to someone. I am planning my wedding, and while some aspects will be traditional, I hate the idea of "giving a girl away" - sorry but that's bull crap. I am my own person, not an item to be bought. I am so glad the world is changed from Antonia's time. When you give away too many pieces of yourself, as Antonia did, you have nothing left to survive on. Maybe she knew that. Too much was taken from her and by society's expectations of her, and she lost the battle to the world. We hear this story too often, of those who take their own lives because they can no longer find their own way (sadly, this is too true in those who are transgendered). Perhaps Antonia wanted to end her life, as some women did in the 19th Century to have control of something (because it was apparently some kind of weird trend - article here). It is time to let people sing their own songs. I am ready to let Antonia sing her own song.

Edit: I had a great audition. I wasn't offered Antonia, but WAS offered a fabulous role in another opera that has a ton of life in her. No stage-dying for me this season! Will announce when I know more. :)

Monday, August 20, 2018

Leonard Bernstein at 100

Leonard Bernstein at 100
A Celebration of the Life and Music of Leonard Bernstein

Leonard Bernstein – Born: August 25, 1918. Died: October 14, 1990.

Leonard Bernstein was a facet of the American music scene through most of the twentieth century. He was a pianist, composer, conductor and activist. He made many recordings while conducting the New York Philharmonic and has been awarded 16 Grammys. His Young People’s Concerts broadcast onto television, inspiring a generation of young music lovers. He composed a wide range of repertoire, from piano and orchestral works, to Broadway shows and operas, as well as choral pieces. Throughout his life he remained an advocate for the performing arts and an activist for social justice. 

Bernstein was born Louis Bernstein in Lawrence, Massachusetts, and changed his name to Leonard at age 15. Most of his friends simply called him “Lenny.” He attended Harvard University from 1935-1939. Afterward, he attended the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, a prestigious pre-professional music academy where he studied with Randall Thompson and Fritz Reiner, among others. Upon finishing his studies at Curtis, he moved to New York City with Betty Comden and Adolph Green, who would go on to become the lyricists of some of his musicals and songs including Wonderful Town and the art song, So Pretty. 

He was passionate about the state of affairs in the United States, and many of his works represent his political leanings in some way. He rarely shied away from expressing his opinion and actively participated in controversial politics of his time, from addressing American prejudices in West Side Story, to meeting up to march in Montgomery, Alabama with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Bernstein was raised Jewish, and though not conventionally religious, he incorporated much of his background into many of his musical works, exploring traditionally Hebrew musical motifs. He was also interested in uplifting the music of predominantly African American and Latino cultures, and represented this aesthetic in his pieces, as well as exploring these academically at Harvard, writing a thesis called “The Absorption of Race Elements into American Music” – which is available to read in his book, Findings.

Most Americans probably best knew about Leonard Bernstein through his television broadcasts and audio recordings of his conducting orchestras. From 1943 to 1969 he served as conductor of the New York Philharmonic. Bernstein also broke into the European music scene and was the first American to conduct at La Scala in Milan, with soprano Maria Callas as his leading lady. Bernstein was an unofficial cultural ambassador for the United States and respected the world over. Bernstein was featured on an extensive number of recordings: from his time at the New York Philharmonic to performances with Vienna State Opera, he conducted some of the finest pieces of classical music in the repertoire. He was well-known for his interpretation of Mahler symphonies, and remains a prime example for today’s conductors. 

With the influence of television in the American household, Bernstein strived to educate the general public about classical music with his Young People’s Concerts for CBS. In 1954, he gave lectures on Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony on Omnibus, an arts program broadcast on CBS, which launched the Young People’s series in 1958, televising concerts at Lincoln Center for the first time. These programs ran until 1972 and inspired a generation of music lovers, featuring performers and musicians such as Aaron Copland, Seiji Osawa, and Christa Ludwig. 

Bernstein’s third Broadway musical, West Side Story, was greatly admired by audiences and made into a feature film – which won 10 Academy Awards – in 1961. This work took the well-known tale of Romeo and Juliet and moved it to modern day New York City. The story of Tony and Maria is tragic, but gave America a message of hope for race relations during a time of great conflict, with a plea from a girl singing on the street (from lyricist Stephen Sondheim) “Someday, Somewhere, Somehow… There’s a place for us.”

He was friends with many in the artistic community and celebrities of the time, and was good friends with the Kennedys. He composed and conducted a fanfare for John F. Kennedy’s Inauguration in 1961. He was placed permanently on the White House guest list during Kennedy’s Presidency. Following John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, Bernstein conducted Mahler’s 2nd Symphony at the memorial at Madison Square Garden, and when Robert was assassinated in 1968, he conducted Mahler’s Fifth at his funeral. In 1971, at the request of Jaqueline Kennedy, Mass: A Theater Piece for Singers was premiered at the opening of the Kennedy Center for the Arts in Washington, DC. 

Bernstein used his position in the public eye to speak out against the injustices of the Vietnam war – a war with one in ten men returning with casualties and 300,000 fatalities. Bernstein had ongoing friction with President Richard Nixon over this and his participation in the Civil Rights movement. Bernstein had been questioned by the FBI in the 1950s as a result of accusations of communism, and by the time Nixon entered office the Vietnam war had erupted. Nixon feared Bernstein was pushing a message of peace and anti-war sentiments through his music and lyrics, especially in Mass. The FBI had compiled 700 pages of documents on Bernstein at the time, and a special investigation of the Latin text in Mass was investigated for “secret messages” it may have contained. Nixon did not attend the premier of this work in Washington DC, and claimed it was because it should be Jackie’s night to shine.Nixon, who was known to use profanity, had been heard calling Bernstein things like a “son of a bitch” on archival tapes. 

The United States White House played another important role in Bernstein’s life, becoming the backdrop for his musical, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, which explored race relations between blacks and whites living in the White House and beyond during the years leading up to the Civil War. This musical highlighted and analyzed atrocities against African Americans, but had an unfortunately short run on Broadway, closing after only 7 performances. The musical was later re-compiled and made into A White House Cantata. At the conclusion of the original show, the leading man playing the Presidents reveals that all he wants is to be proud of his country and to try and do the right thing.

This was not the first time Lenny caused conflict with authority and aggravated those in government. Because of the Red Scare, the fear of communist influence, in the 1950s, many artists, writers and musicians were blacklisted and interrogated by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Lillian Hellman, Dorothy Parker, Arthur Miller, Aaron Copland, and Leonard Bernstein were called into questioning, among others. HUAC, run by Senator McCarthy ended up becoming a caricature in Bernstein’s operetta, Candide, inspired by Voltaire’s novel, and reimagined with quippy lines by dramatist Lillian Hellman, poet Dorothy Parker, and music by Bernstein. 

The Cold War was a period of conflict both with Russia and Vietnam, as well as on the United States mainland. The US Government, in its need to drive out Communism also drove out the political leanings of artists, play writes, and musicians. In 1949 the Red Channels were released, blacklisting many Hollywood stars and other celebrities for being affiliated in some way with Communism. This was often a way for the government to avoid anyone speaking out against policies at the time, including Civil Rights issues, international relations, and the conflict in Vietnam.

Bernstein had a reputation for having homosexual relationships with men, not the least of which being purported communist and fellow composer, Aaron Copland. He became engaged to Felicia Montealegre Cohn, with whom he was good friends, and they were married in 1951. This curbed many of the allegations against him based on his sexuality. He was called into questioning by HUAC, though no evidence of Bernstein’s participation in Communism was found. He did take a hiatus from his conducting for a time being, living short term in Mexico at the time the lists of blacklisted celebrities were released. 

Among those blacklisted were Bernstein’s future collaborators for the libretto of Candide, lillian Hellman and Dorothy Parker. This story is of the illegitimate son of a baron who loses everything he has, faces his mortality multiple times, finds wealth, then loses that again and still wakes up with a smile on his face. Bernstein and his writers used this optimistic story as a lens on HUAC’s investigation activities, parodying Senator Joseph McCarthy’s “witch hunt” with ridiculous accusations and forcing the main characters to answer ridiculous questions.
Leonard Bernstein reflected American life in the McCarthy era in a theatrical way, a parody and sense of edgy humor, paired with music of a varied flavor, including syncopated rhythms, some Latin American musical styles, large orchestral score, and massive choral ensemble. He revised the libretto for Candide in 1973, removing some of the bits that were no longer relevant to the period (and unfortunately, a large amount of Hellman’s texts) and completed a final revision in 1989.

Bernstein composed a large body of music across several genres, and continued to do so until 1988. He conducted orchestras up until the month of his death, when he passed away from complications from lung cancer and emphysema in October of 1990.

Through exploring the works of this prolific composer, we can see the large influence of the world on his body of works. We can see how those years were challenging, but that Bernstein remained a champion of peace in difficult times. He uplifted the American spirit through his music. If we look closer at the heart of these texts and this music, we can see the world he dreamed of: A place where social justice isn’t something fought for, but the everyday reality. The world we should live in and make music so beautiful that there cannot be hate. To drive out the darkness with our music and our singing. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

In SUMMER........

Summer is here! It's almost as warm as I would like it to be! My classes are finished, grades submitted, show completed... I am excited to spend some time traveling with my mom, we just have a few more weeks before our trip.

I am incredibly happy with the work that went into The Secret Marriage. I have rarely spent time on a show that had terrifically nice people in it. Every person was a gem, and I am lucky to call them colleagues! I was honored and touched by the number of folks that came up from Half Moon Bay to watch! Blessed beyond belief that I can call these things my JOBS. How many people get to spend their days making music and bringing others joy? It is a great honor to be part of this world of classical singing.

I am not sure of the next chapter in my life just yet, but I will be doing lots of private voice teaching over summer, and preparing the next concert for Coastside Lutheran Church's 3rd ANNUAL summer concert series. These projects have meant so much to me, and I am so proud of the past two concerts. Although I don't know where to allocate donations yet, I am planning a fantastic concert program with music from Candide, Mass, West Side Story, and more! Be sure to check back for updates on that concert.

My next little project will be singing some Rodgers and Hammerstein with the Sutter Buttes Family Orchestra, so if you're in the Chico or Yuba City area, be sure to stop in and listen - June 15th at the Gridley Veteran's Memorial Building.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Summer is just around the corner!!

It's been a wild ride this year! I have loved teaching the students at Yuba College and I've had a great time performing like crazy! I just finished a concert with the college wind band singing three arias, two of which were TOTALLY out of my comfort zone, but I feel good about the end results. I'm relieved to be finished with that and Sing for America. They were both tons of fun! That being said: I am SO ready for it to be summer. I'm planning to travel with my mom, and have a couple smaller concerts lined up this summer... but there is so much to do between now and vacation time!

Secret Marriage rehearsals started on Monday and I'm so excited for this show. It's going to be an absolute riot! I'm sure audiences will be in love with the music as soon as they hear it. I have had to work hard to find the right balance in my voice for this role, but it's totally worth it for this music. It's somewhere between Mozart and Rossini in style and the silliness of all the characters just brings it to life perfectly.

I look forward to singing with the Sutter Buttes Family Orchestra in June, bringing you some selections from The Sound of Music. Then in August, we will do a Bernstein celebration at Coastside Lutheran. I need to determine the appropriate charity for this concert, but this now annual event has become a highlight of my work at Coastside. I am so excited to share this concert with friends and family.

I look forward to sharing clips, videos and photos of these various projects on Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat (Instagram - @operabarbie | Snapchat - @lieslmcp) - so be sure you're following me online for more current updates! Thank you all for reading! (COUNTDOWN TO SUMMER VACATION!!!)


Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Life's a Beach!

I have been incredibly busy these past few weeks and it just doesn't seem to let up much! I wanted to write a reflection on Sunday evening after a gig with Pocket Opera, but I was too exhausted and decided I would just chill for the night.

I am making an effort to write more and include people in my day to day life, mainly because I so rarely get to see my loved ones, and also so that I can get people to come to my performances -- If I don't tell you when they are, how can I expect an audience?

I have so much gratitude in my heart after Sunday's mini-performance at the senior home in Daly City. I, of course, am grateful to be taking home paychecks from my singing, you know I have never "given up my daydream" -- but really, I was SO grateful for the joy that was brought to the residents. Peninsula Del Rey is a retirement home/community with residents who are pretty mobile, not so much a skilled nursing facility, but seeing how much they had fun at the performance made every minute of practice worth it. I loved meeting an older opera singer (with whom one of my friends studied some years ago), and hearing how much she just loved our group and that it was her favorite group to sing with - even compared to SF Opera! But she had fun! And THAT is why I make music. THAT is why I do what I can to bring in audiences and fundraising money for a company like Pocket Opera. Young artists, like myself, can earn money and the community is a better place at the end of the day because MUSIC MAKES PEOPLE HAPPY. And that counts for A LOT in today's world.

So, to all of you who have helped me make the world a better place, thank you. This is a gentle reminder to go out there and make the world happier, kinder, and more musical.


P.S. Sing For America donations are coming in, but I'd love to see my meter rise!! Small donations of $5 or $10 can really add up http://give.classy.org/pocketoperaSFA

P.P.S. Just started reading #GirlBoss and I absolutely LOVE it. And I'm aware that I am late to the game with this book. (Below is an affiliate link. It costs nothing for you and can help me earn a tiny bit) If you don't already use Kindle, Audible, or Overdrive (free!!!) apps, definitely check it out there! I'm thinking I better amp up my game with the workbook soon...

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Everyday Adventures

Hello readers and welcome to 2018!

I am so ashamed at the length of time I've let pass without writing about my goings-on. It's already March, I've already performed in two operas this year, and working on a third, plus some scenes, and a concert for April (okay, I'll let myself off the hook for not posting on here... but still). With the world in such disarray right now, it's good to be a musician. I turn to art to improve my life, to warm my soul, to experience humanity in a positive light. Today we have many fears, plenty of anger, and far too much stress. Music is our place to commune, to experience spirituality for some, to be part of a group for others, and for a few, to be in solitude and peace. I am so thankful to be part of that part of many people's lives, whether through the operas I perform in, the church music that I facilitate (but am eternally grateful to those who surround me to make this music actually happen), and the music I teach to others, from the very young to the very old.

Maria Callas, Source: Google Images
I want to take this time to inform you all of upcoming projects. I have already put a good deal of information out on my various social media accounts as well as my personal website.

March 30th - An outreach concert at Stanford Hospital with David Lewis and friends. We will perform various spring selections for the patients for the noon concert in the hospital atrium.

April 11th - Yuba Sutter Youth Chorus Performance. Music sung by the local kids from cultures around the world.

April 13th - Not only will I turn a WHOPPING 30 years old this day (I know, I should shut up...) but I will be singing Mutts in Mutts and Maribel again at St. Matthew's Episcopal, where I used to teach. Unfortunately, this is not open to the public, but I'm putting it on here anyway for my faculty friends.

April 15th - I am singing with Sing for America, a very cool concert with many singers, all raising funds for the charity near and dear to their hearts. Proceeds will go to the many non-profit organizations listed on their website. My page is listed below. There you can make donations, or simply read more about the project.


April 27th - Arias from Carmen with the Yuba College Concert Band in Linda, CA. More details will be available soon. 
May 20th & 27th - Cimarosa's Secret Marriage with Pocket Opera. This adorable show features myself as Carolina, Jonathan Smucker as my secret husband, Paolino, Larry Venza as my father Gernimo, and Autumn Allee as my sister, Elisetta. It should be a ton of fun and I hope you will come out to see it. www.pocketopera.org

Summer is uncharted territory right now, but I have begun plans for an August concert honoring the late, great Leonard Bernstein on his 100th Birthday! An amazing program will come to fruition soon, as I have already heard from a few of my regular volunteers!

Thank you all, and have a wonderful Spring season!!


A Busy Singer is a Happy Singer

The days tick on, and although it's January, Springtime is rolling in! Not just green trees and wild flowers, but the spring opera seaso...

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