04 December 2006

Anna Russell

My first and favorite Valkyrie

The passing of Anna Russell in October, 2006, completely escaped my attention; I learned of it only weeks later. The news shouldn’t have come as a surprise — she was ninety-four — but when I’d corresponded with her only a few years ago, she was busy with books and other projects, and it was clear from a brief conversation with her daughter that, really, Mother was a handful.

I grew up listening to her albums, even before I'd started going to the opera or had much idea what she was talking about. She was just funny. Only after I started attending operas and concerts on a regular basis, and meeting professional singers, did I realize that Miss Russell was not making this up, you know. Every single thing she said turned out to be gospel truth.

By now, I’ve heard dozens of “singers who can’t count,” and who consider themselves endowed with “such magnificent voices that they cannot be bothered with correct tempi.” In contemporary operas, I’ve heard singers whose tone-deafness I suspected. In Emma Kirkby, I first encountered “the pure-white, or nymphs-and-shepherds style” of English soprano. A few bel canto specialists have confirmed Miss Russell’s assertion that “the only people who really enjoy coloratura singing are other coloratura sopranos.” German Lieder are frequently sung, just as Miss Russell promised, by people “with one or two rather loud notes at either end of the scale, and nothing much in between”; these folks do on occasion seem to be trying to make a noise loud enough “to kill a canary.”

It’s because of Miss Russell that I can never attend a Wagner opera without fighting back laughter. Miss Russell’s “Introduction to the Ring Cycle” is likely her most celebrated and enduring work, in which she’d sing all the roles while explaining the plot. That plot is of course ludicrous, although it’s considered unforgivable ever to say so. Thus the “Introduction” was my ruin. I had memorized the entire monologue before I ever saw the Ring, and true to Miss Russell’s word, those four operas are the funniest ever written. By happy chance, I had tickets in standing room for my first Ring, so that I could make a quick break for the exit if any offended purists came at me.

I met her once, in Providence, following one of her farewell performances. Though the “Introduction” was no longer part of her repertory — “very competitive singing” being by that time beyond her reach — she did perform another masterpiece, “How to Write Your Own Gilbert & Sullivan Operetta.” In it, she identifies the Savoyard formula and applies it to a piece of her own invention, in which she again sings all the roles, this time wearing funny hats. Many of her lyrics are as good as Gilbert’s (“Things would be so different / If they were not as they are!” and “It’s very, very funny / To have lots and lots of money / And be horrible to those with none,” for example), and through years of listening, I’d memorized all of them, too.

Yet nothing could prepare me for the pleasure of seeing her in performance: her timing, her mugging, her infectious giddy fun in the stateliest music. It was like discovering that a character out of a favorite storybook was a real person, and afterward, I wanted to hug her. I settled for meeting her. She received me in her dressing room, autographed a poster for me (where did that thing wind up, anyway?), and introduced me to several friends who'd come to visit her. Then she whisked me out the door. If I didn't have the poster as proof, I'd think I'd dreamed it all. Come to mention it, now that I can’t find the poster, maybe I did dream it.

About three years ago, I had the great good fortune to interview her — by letter — for an article in Opera News, and during our correspondence I did tell her that I think of her every time I go to the concert hall. Of all the work I did for the magazine during three years there, I’m proudest of that interview, though it was merely a quick little paragraph in a survey of singers. Sadly, I was out of the office one morning when Miss Russell telephoned me: she'd grown quite deaf, and our receptionist's Puerto Rican accent is nearly incomprehensible even to other Spanish-speakers. I'm told it was an animated exchange.

Her obituary in the Times noted that it’s unlikely that a classical-music comedienne could enjoy such a successful career today, when music education is largely extinct. Even the late Victor Borge — her only rival — used to reach out to the unenlightened by sprinkling his act with non-musical jokes (“Audible Punctuation,” most notably) and slapstick, which Miss Russell used but sparingly. When she sang, she could depend upon a significant proportion of her audience knowing at least a little about the targets of her satire. And it’s true, her material gets funnier the more familiar one is with her subject.

Yet for me, Anna Russell’s comedy was part of my musical education — the foundation on which I built my later studies of “real” music and developed much of my taste and my appreciation for what the voice can (and can’t) do. Without conventional music education, I might not have gone much farther, but she gave me a helluva good start.

I remain grateful for every feisty minute she shared with me, and find myself singing, "Come back, and make me misera-bullllllllll again."

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28 October 2006

A Nice Time Was Had by All

Nice view: The Mediterranean, from the Promenade des Anglais.
The lovely thing about being Over Here is that when other people visit, I get an opportunity to see familiar sites through new eyes, and to explore new places. When Mark Dennis, a friend since freshman year at Brown, got some free time, he suggested we head to the south of France, and it turned out to be a terrific trip.

We made our headquarters in Nice, which I'd explored only briefly on my way to Cannes last year with Nate Goodman. Mark rented an apartment, which wound up being cheaper than two hotel rooms, and also gave us a kitchen. Mark is an accomplished chef and wanted to take advantage of local markets and specialties.

The Niçois coastline, viewed from Mont Alban

Located about ten minutes from the spectacular waterfront and the Promenade des Anglais (the Niçois boardwalk), the apartment was spacious, simply furnished, and in the kitchen, just passably — Mark had to do some improvising when it came time to cook. We found a great market, and by the third day most of the vendors knew us on sight, practically falling over themselves to ask how our previous purchases had fared and to tempt us with new items. In restaurants and wine shops, too, we got similarly royal treatment, as soon as it became clear that we really wanted to consume something other than hamburgers and Coca-Cola.

We quickly learned that the Niçois are not Parisian. For one thing, long exposure to the British, who began vacationing here as soon as Napoleon went into exile, has given many of the locals a good grasp of the English language. Moreover, the slower pace and gentler climate there seem to make people mellower, chattier, more outgoing in every way. On our first morning, I got into a long conversation with a woman waiting on the checkout line at the market — the kind of conversation I'd never have in Paris (or New York) — and throughout our stay, folks were uncommonly sociable. Mark was particularly struck by the beauty of the women, and yes, they sunbathe topless on the beach, right in the middle of town; but, alas, it seems a truth universally acknowledged that two single, middle-aged men shopping for food and wine must be gay.

The Marché aux Fleurs, in Vieux Nice

At the apartment, Mark prepared fish one night — braised daurade — and his own interpretation of coq au vin, using guinea hen instead of chicken. At other meals, we ate out, and highlights include the staggering cheese plate at a restaurant in Beaune, on the drive southward; Oliviera, in Nice, which features a different olive oil in every dish, including dessert (don't scoff — it was the best tiramisu I ever ate); and my first sea urchins, in Antibes (like something out of Star Trek, they're eaten so fresh they're still writhing). We didn't try the Niçois gnocchi, which are made with spinach and named merda di can — dog shit — but we did sample the pissaladière, fritures, bouillabaisse, and other regional delights. Mark guided us meticulously through the local wines, and he came up with a winning list — the names of which I didn't write down, though naturally Mark logged each and every one.

The weather was spectacular, and we even got in some beach time. The Mediterranean was chilly, but the water is so clear and blue that it's irresistible. Thus, we never quite made it up to Cimiez, the neighborhood that boasts important collections of Matisse and Chagall and what's supposed to be a terrific archaeological museum. "We're on vacation; we shouldn't pressure ourselves," I kept saying, while Mark said, "There's always next time." We made a day trip to Antibes, only to discover that the Picasso museum was closed: the medieval fortress in which it's housed is under renovation. So in this wonderland that's been home to so many painters, we didn't see much art.

The Villa et Jardins Ephrussi de Rothschild,
at Cap Ferrat

A more ambitious jaunt took us eastward along the Riviera. We visited the spectacular villa and gardens of one of the Rothschilds, on a promontory like the prow of a ship sailing into the Mediterranean. (Béatrice Eprhussi de Rothschild, the lady who built the place, even named it after a ship: the Ile de France.) The villa itself was crammed with Italian Renaissance and Louis XVI art and furnishings, and the gardens burgeoned with all the plant life you can imagine, arranged thematically. The "exotic" garden featured mostly cacti and yucca. The house and garden at Beynes look pretty plain now: I think it is better to be a Rothschild than to visit one.

Continuing the drive, we peered over the roadway at Monaco and agreed there was no reason to go there, since Grace Kelly wasn't going to greet us, then drove across the Italian border, so that Mark could make his first visit to Italy. After my recent trips to Spain and Germany, where I found my language skills rusty at best, I was delighted to find myself speaking Italian without serious accident. At a seaside café in Ventimiglia, we toasted Guido Organschi, who taught us to drink espresso; though he's lived most of his life in Connecticut, he remains Italy's foremost cultural ambassador, and he's been a true mentor to Mark and to me.

The day trips seemed like a breeze compared with the drive to and from Beynes, so much longer than we expected — ten hours, not including breaks for lunch and espresso — and our minivan wasn't easy to navigate, especially in the parking garages. Most of these seem to have been designed for Matchbox cars. Since I still haven't learned to shift, all the burden of the wheel fell upon Mark, but he bore up heroically. However, though map-reading is not my specialty, I managed to keep us from getting lost ... much ... so I feel I did contribute something to the success of the trip.

And thus let it be said that a Nice time was had by all.

The Vieux Port is used primarily by pleasure boats
— and ferries to Corsica.

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24 September 2006

Un certain air de Cologne

I am just back from Cologne, where I had my first glimpse of the Water of My Forefathers, namely the Rhine. With all those boats sputtering up and down, and not a Lorelei within earshot, the Rhine is a lot less romantic than Mr. Goethe or Mr. Heine (or Mr. Twain, for that matter) would have you believe, but it’s a nice river nonetheless.

I had terrific weather, and despite my last-minute anxieties, I found a great little hotel, cheap and located within easy walking distance to all the points of interest, yet on a quiet street.

The city was pretty much razed during World War II, after which they made a heroic effort to rebuild the older churches. These are as a result nice to look at from the outside, though dull on the inside. The Dom, the city cathedral, was spared most damage, and it is indeed impressive, a massive structure in slavish imitation of French Gothic. (The city's other early churches are in Romanesque design.) The rest of the city's architecture is post-War, neat and prosperous-looking, but nothing you'd actually travel to look at.

Smaller objects survived the war intact, and thus, though the streets are mostly empty of ancient monuments, the museums are chock-a-block full of artifacts. "Colonia" was a Roman capital, and the excellent archaeological museum is crammed with statuary, pottery, utensils, grave-markers, and a number of beautiful mosaics. One, the size of a tennis court, depicts scenes from the myths of Dionysus; another is marked with dozens of swastikas. They're backwards, but still — you think that Roman decorator knew something? Almost everything was excavated locally, with present-day street addresses provided.

In medieval times, Cologne was an important artistic center, and I found two museums with extensive collections of really exquisite paintings (a much softer, more naturalistic style than other Western Europeans were practicing, and unfamiliar to me), gorgeous Romanesque stonework and wonderfully carved and painted late-Gothic wooden statuary. Perhaps to atone for the Roman swastikas, and the Nazi ones yet to come, the city's mikva (ritual bath for Jewish women) was placed directly in front of the town hall, the High-Renaissance façade of which looks onto "Jewish Street."

(Only too late did I realize that I'd booked my German excursion for the High Holidays. No one else seemed to notice. L'shanah tovah, everybody.)

Later local innovations include Cologne Water — I didn't buy any, but you can smell it just walking past either of the two rival stores that claim to sell the authentic article (one is the Oldest, the other has the Original Recipe). The prize-winner, however, is Kölsch beer, which is served ceaselessly in small, skinny glasses.

I was unable to figure out when the Germans sleep, work or eat. There were few restaurants, and these were usually empty. The Kölners are ferocious shoppers, and they do enjoy a good pastry: a few citizens are delegated to help them pursue these activities. Mostly, however, they drink. They start filling the terraces and taverns to order a glass of beer around ten in the morning, and they're still at it sixteen hours later, when they order coffee.

I was startled by a) how much German I remembered, and b) how seldom I remembered it when I needed it. Halting, humming and hawing, I got by, but I was grateful that the Cologne folk are so patient. I made idiotic mistakes of accent, vocabulary and grammar that, though I heard them as they happened, I was unable to correct or prevent. It was like riding in a car that someone else was driving smack into a brick wall.

I did enjoy one small triumph: somebody asked if I were from Schwabia. I realize that the Schwabish accent is considered hopelessly backward and nearly unintelligible by most other Germans — but hey, it's within the border.

Otherwise, no strange adventures. I managed to fill my hours, and I do recommend the place, but anything longer than my three nights and two days would have been a struggle.

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12 July 2006

William V. Madison

Publication credits, professional history, and education



With Dan Rather (as uncredited collaborator/contributor)
  • The Camera Never Blinks Twice, 1994
  • Mark Sullivan’s Our Times, 1996
  • Deadlines & Datelines, 1999, a New York Times nonfiction best-seller (sole author of roughly half the essays included)
  • Introductions to several books, including From Slave to Statesman (Patricia Smith Prather), Holy War, Unholy Victory (Kurt Lohbeck), new edition of Due to Circumstances Beyond Our Control (Fred Friendly)
Two novels, The Dark Is My Delight and The Air of Truth (both pending sale), represented by Rob McQuilkin at Lipincott Massie McQuilkin, New York


For Opera News

  • “Reunion” profile of veteran baritone Gabriel Bacquier in Corsica
  • David Gockley interview, in connection with the fiftieth anniversary of Houston Grand Opera
  • Mark Adamo interview, in connection with his opera Little Women
  • Preview of Tobias Picker’s opera Thérèse Raquin at Dallas Opera
  • “Notes from the Road,” occasional series of interviews with artists regarding their favorite cities: Dolora Zajick, mezzo-soprano (Barcelona); Barbara Bonney, soprano (Salzburg); Carol Vaness, soprano (Paris); Thomas Allen (Prague); Andreas Scholl, countertenor (New York)
  • Season previews for 2001–02, 2002–03, including interviews with Susan Graham, mezzo-soprano; Renée Fleming, soprano; Rachel Portman, composer; many others
  • Ten-page “European Summer Festival Roundup,” 2002, 20003
  • Humor pieces: “Lettera da Ronkonkoma,” “Welcome to Opera World,” “Opera Aptitude Test” (Dec. 2005) “Mainly on the Train” (May 2006)
  • “Sound Bites,” short interview/profiles of young singers, including Juan Diego Flórez, Gordon Gietz, Shawn Mathey, tenors; Ana Maria Martinez, Jennifer Aylmer, sopranos; Christopher Schaldenbrand, baritone
  • News features, including “Russian Dressing,” regarding costuming for the Met’s War and Peace
  • Dozens of reviews of performances, books and recordings
For Opera Cues, Houston Grand Opera
  • Preview of a special, multi-disciplinary Romeo and Juliet event
  • Preview of Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette
  • Preview of Adamo’s Lysistrata
  • Interview with Béatrice Uria-Monzon, mezzo-soprano, regarding Carmen
For Playbill, Houston Grand Opera
  • Interview with Michael Kahn, stage director, regarding Lysistrata
  • Interview with Samuel Ramey, bass, regarding Boris Godunov
  • Preview of 2006–07 season
  • “Dreams Come True,” survey of fairy tales in opera
For the Kurt Weill Newsletter, New York
Contributor since 1984; citing here only the most recent work
  • Reviews of Here Lies Jenny (Off-Broadway, 2004), Les sept péchés capitaux (Paris, 2005), Threepenny Opera (Broadway, 2006); Weill Festival in Lyon, France (2006).
With Dan Rather (as uncredited collaborator)
  • Articles for the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Rolling Stone, American Heritage, TV Guide, many others
  • “Dan Rather Reporting,” weekly newspaper column distributed by King Features

CBS News
  • “Dan Rather Reporting,” daily radio broadcast. Principal contributing writer, 1989–99
  • Special Events coverage for television and radio, 1991–1999, including Election Nights 1992, 1994, 1996, 1998; Republican and Democrat Conventions, 1992, 1996; funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales (1997); first anniversary of Oklahoma City bombing (1995); Columbine High School shootings, Denver, CO (1999)
  • Documentaries, including Fiftieth Anniversaries of V-E and V-J Days (with Norman Schwarzkopf); interview/profile of Fidel Castro (1996)
ABC News
  • New Year’s Eve, 1999; correspondent Connie Chung, Las Vegas, NV
  • Office Manager/Assistant, Kurt Weill Foundation for Music, New York, 1984-86
  • Production Assistant, Broadway musical Rags, Rehearsals and Boston tryout through New York closing, 1986
  • Office Manager, Home Video Division, Esquire Magazine, New York, 1986-87
  • Secretary, Rather Office, CBS News, New York, 1987-88
  • Personal Assistant, Soprano Teresa Stratas, various times, 1989-91
  • Writer, Dan Rather Reporting, CBS Radio News, New York, 1989-1999
  • Speechwriter and Special Assistant, Rather Office, CBS News, New York, 1991-99
  • Producer, Dan Rather Reporting, CBS Radio News, New York, 1998-99
  • Producer, CBS News, New York, 1998-99
  • Freelance Associate Producer, Special Events, ABC News, New York, 1999
  • Freelance Assistant, ABC News Website, New York, 2000
  • Associate Editor, Opera News, New York, 2000-03


Master of Fine Arts, Columbia University, New York, 1991
  • Degree in Creative Writing
  • Graduate teaching assistant, Logic & Rhetoric (Freshman composition), Department of English, 1990-91
  • Other fields of study included English literature and German language.
Bachelor of Arts, Brown University, Rhode Island, 1983
  • Degree with honors in English and American Literature
  • Senior thesis received the Feldman Prize for fiction.
  • Other fields of study included small-business management, theater, Renaissance studies, and studio art

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04 April 2006

Béatrice Uria-Monzon

As Bizet's (and Mérimée's) Carmen

I’ve never met Béatrice Uria-Monzon, but my sister-in-law is a fan, and I approached our telephone interview with more confidence than I might have mustered for a conversation with a singer I’ve heard only on television and recordings. Nevertheless, she’s a tough cookie, and this was the first interview I ever conducted entirely in French, muttering grateful prayers all the while to Carlene Klein, my high-school French teacher.

Mezzo-soprano Béatrice Uria-Monzon made her HGO debut as Carmen in 2000, and she returned to the Wortham Center in 2006 as Bizet’s Gypsy heartbreaker. This may have been Houston’s last chance to see her acclaimed interpretation.

“Unfortunately, it is getting difficult to keep finding something new, something fresh, in this part,” she admits. “I say ‘unfortunately,’ because I get a great many offers to sing Carmen, and I’ve begun to turn them down. I’m tired of this impression of not moving forward, and of people who won’t let me do the other things that I want to do.”

She sounds a bit like Carmen herself — a woman who, as Uria-Monzon describes her, “is a symbol of freedom.” The paradox she sees is that Carmen “has been made a prisoner of her image, which has become an archetype of the sensual ‘femme fatale’.”

Reached by telephone on a warm summer morning in her native Gascony, the singer explains. “I don’t agree when people sing her as a seductress, rubbing up against men. It’s exactly the opposite of what’s written in the text. There’s the mystery of love, not this seduction in the first degree. If it were like that, Carmen wouldn’t fascinate men. What fascinates them is that she gets away from them — the mystery of the woman who can’t be tamed, like the ‘oiseau rebelle’ she talks about. That’s what frightens men, and nevertheless fascinates them.”

“What bothers me is the image people have of this woman, the clichés,” she says. “People very often say, ‘Oh, she’s a bitch, she’s a whore, she’s evil’ — very, very exaggerated. But people haven’t really understood this woman, I believe.” She reserves special scorn for people who haven’t troubled to read the source material, a short novel by Prosper Mérimée, and at her urging I finally read the book.

Mérimée’s heroine is a wily survivor, easily the smartest character on view. Though Don José insists that “she always lied,” she’s most often honest; José hears only what he wants, and she divides her time between rescuing and running away from him. It’s hard to imagine a modern-day woman who’d put up with this guy. He’s priggish, jealous, needy, bad-tempered, and dull — and this is his side of the story. Most of the novel is José’s death-row confession to a narrator (Mérimée himself) whose direct interaction with Carmen is limited to a scene in which she steals his watch.

“It’s a very modern text,” says Uria-Monzon of both the novel and the opera, “and you can give many different interpretations to the same phrase. I remember a lady came up to me after a performance and said I’d made Carmen so tender in Act IV, and she didn’t understand. Yet it’s not written anywhere that she’s violent, and it’s not in the music. Why shouldn’t she be tender? Why not try it this way? I’m not saying mine is the only way to interpret it. But Carmen is dealing with a man she’s loved, and now he’s in complete despair, and she’s got to tell him she no longer loves him. Where is it written that she can’t be gentle with him?”

Uria-Monzon didn’t set out to become one of the world’s leading Carmens. When she was asked to audition for the role, in her first production at the Paris Opéra, in 1993, “I couldn’t say no — you don’t say no to the Bastille — but I had no ambition to sing this opera,” she remembers. “There are a lot of singers who say they’re dying to sing Carmen, even sopranos who know they’ll never sing it, and say they regret it. But I was afraid of the part, because it meant learning to let go — and really, this woman doesn’t resemble me at all, no matter what people think!” she laughs.

“I really had to go very far to find an interpretation that was honest,” she admits. “I had to free her first from myself. I tried not to listen to 36 different versions, and not to listen to what people think of Carmen, in their very limited ideas.” Though she respects her predecessors, especially Teresa Berganza and Julia Migenes-Johnson (whose film portrayal “made a big impression on me”), it was more important to find the character in “my experience, my voice, my body.”

She began by asking, “Where and how does this woman resemble me? Everybody’s had a love story — how would I live with this story, in the words of Mérimée and the music of Bizet? How does it speak to me? What Berganza or Crespin did, that’s interesting, obviously, but the reading one has for oneself, that’s the main thing.”

Clearly, Uria-Monzon brings a critical intelligence to Carmen, along with physical beauty, sizzling dramatic ability, and a sumptuous voice. But one other asset really sets her apart from other Carmens: a French passport.

Carmen is the most widely performed French opera in the world, yet since World War II, the only really notable French-born Carmens have been the great Régine Crespin, and Uria-Monzon herself. Nevertheless, Bizet’s Spanish Gypsy is quintessentially French, as the singer confirms.

‘What’s French about her is the music, and that’s where people tend to get the wrong ideas. Yes, she’s a Gypsy who lives in Spain, but musically, she’s completely French.

“I’ve spoken to a lot of Americans, and they’re often intimidated by French music,” she continues. “For them, what’s most difficult to understand is that you can’t do what’s not in the score. You have a great deal of freedom, and yet everything is written out. This music has a certain finesse. If there’s a rest, then you have to rest; you can’t ignore it. You have to sing the notes as they’re marked; it’s not like some Italian music, for example. I don’t know if I’m explaining it very well, even in French!”

“Very often people don’t understand the music, even French people, and in this opera, it’s an unusual blending of French music and Carmen’s character. Textual intelligence is very important in Bizet’s music: the words are very important. And Bizet really struggled to locate Carmen’s character, to reveal it musically. People forget that. They come to the opera with other ideas, and they get mixed up. In any case, Bizet’s music is very complex, but there’s a simplicity in the interpretation, and you can’t go beyond that, beyond what’s written. And that’s very difficult — simplicity is the most difficult thing!”

Still, she doesn’t find it entirely surprising that so few French singers are known for singing Carmen — or anything else. “It’s difficult to have a career here and to have a career abroad,” she says. “I don’t know what accounts for it, but the phenomenon does exist. You can be French and have a certain talent, but directors prefer, for whatever reason, to hire foreigners.”

She suggests that part of the trouble may lie in the French language itself, which doesn’t lend itself to singing on an operatic stage. “Singing in French can get too precious, too careful,” she observes, and the nasal n and throaty r sounds pose a challenge. Moreover, the French take their language très seriously; foreigners naturally are intimidated, “and even I, who was educated here and sing often in French, get criticized for my French diction!”

Her reception has been warmer lately, however. “Singing is a learning process. It’s like a sculptor, chipping away at a block of marble,” she says. (Coincidentally, her father is a visual artist.) “I started with my voice and gave it a form, and that’s allowed me to control it. I find an enormous pleasure in delivering the text because I know my voice better now, because I enjoy the language. If one masters the technique better, one has more color in the palette.”

Speaking of warm receptions, she’s looking forward to her return to Houston. “The people are very nice. And Houston does something every opera house should do. To welcome the singers, there’s a committee that takes care of them. The woman who came to pick me up at the airport has become a really close friend. Every singer has a host, and we’re invited out, and it’s really nice. It changes things. Usually it’s no fun – we’re all alone, in hotels, in cities we don’t know. And this is much nicer. Really, they should do this everywhere. ”

She also appreciates that there’s enough rehearsal time at HGO to do a thorough job, without getting bogged down. It’s not that way everywhere, she notes tartly.

And what were her impressions of Texas? “It’s so spread out! In the industrial areas, it’s quite surprising. I don’t speak English very well, so my contacts were ephemeral, which makes it harder to get a sense of the Texans. But I could see that you have to go to the United States to understand the Americans. You can’t stay in France and say, ‘They’re like this or like that.’ You have to go over there and see what they do. You can’t judge — you have to go over there. I find the Americans are amazing.”

A somewhat different version of this portrait appeared in Opera Cues, the magazine of Houston Grand Opera, edited by the wonderful Laura Chandler.

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