Sunday, October 23, 2011


More busy days following each other, and falling faster than the leaves. It's hard to believe that it's past the middle of October. I actually wrote the first half of this post around the 12th or so, thinking I'd finish it a few days later, and here it is already the 23rd.

A few weekends ago was Thanksgiving, a seemingly less-entrenched holiday than in the States but with the same general traditions and customs: turkey, stuffing, lots of different vegetables in rich autumnal colors, and a cornucopia of desserts. What are missing are the less-savory features of American Thanksgiving: the crazy shopping day, the sports games on television, even less marketing of food... The Communists planned a big dinner with five other adults and another child, plus us and the three of them, so Comrade MM was busy in the kitchen for days. Because they can't have gluten she has been experimenting over the past weeks with different pie crusts and finally found a very delicious alternative. It doesn't behave quite like the crusts I'm used to (those have much more elastic dough, whereas this crumbles a bit), but it bakes beautifully and has a pleasing nutty color and taste. I made my favorite flourless chocolate torte (from The Joy of Pastry, an excellent book given to me by my Aunt Karen when I was in junior high and still in much use. And if you follow the link you can see that it is now rather inexpensive on Amazon! Get a copy for yourself!). I make a few changes to the recipe and I've included it below in case you're interested. It's simple, reliable, and really delicious. Comrade M got her free-range turkey from the Italian butchers down a few blocks on Bloor Street, Vince Gasparro's Meat Market (retail & wholesale!). I went there a few weeks ago when Ryan was out of town to buy a few sausages and had a great time chatting with them in Italian. Vegetables came from Economy Fruit and the grocery store, and table decorations were provided by Mlle P and myself. Comrade MM's old dog, Millie, (both elderly and no longer hers full-time) came to visit too. So, overall, the house was full of people, activity, and good food. The only bummer was that I was rather sick and had a fever and my nose was running like a champion marathoner.

The first vocal master class happened last Friday too, with John Mac Master. This was for the (generally) younger students in the Performance Diploma Program. I wasn't sure what to expect from him, having spent a while looking at his somewhat imposing photograph and redacting his rather thorough bio, but so thoroughly enjoyed hearing and watching him work with the other singers. He was very generous with his time and delightfully funny and self-effacing, but most importantly he was able to work very effectively with them on technique problems. Most voice master classes seem to skirt these issues for fear of stepping on the toes of their usual teachers or frightening the singers, but he chose to focus on the most basic element, breathing/support, and talk about it effectively and clearly. Despite going through about a roll of toilet paper for my running nose and running a fever (I did my best to sequester myself to a deserted section of chairs in the back row; we're required to attend all master classes and I thought it would be bad form to miss the first one) I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I went up to thank him afterward and was tickled to discover that even he had noticed: he told me he'd been hoping I would sing because he could see my face and it was very expressive. (Which hopefully also means that he couldn't hear me honking away...)

So that was Friday the 7th. The following Friday we had auditions for the spring opera, coincidentally Cavalli's La Calisto. For those of you who somehow managed to escape hearing me talking about this opera for an entire year while I was writing my senior essay, this is an amazing work that (in my opinion, at any rate) provides an insightful commentary on the state of moral decrepitude in Venice at the middle of the 17th century. I first heard/saw the opera in my junior year when I was taking Professor ER's class on Cavalli and was entranced by both the audaciousness of the libretto and the beauty of the score. That led to a term paper about the work, which I further developed into my senior essay, and the rest is history. Or something. Though if I get a DMA, just think: an entire real thesis about Cavalli/Faustini's mythologically-themed operas. Yes. So exciting. So anyway, we had auditions; I sang that incredible recitative/lament/recitative bit from the end of Il Giasone about being hacked into little pieces and hoped that the panel would glean from that my (perhaps unreasonably) undying love for Cavalli in general, and for La Calisto in particular.

And then it was a busy weekend of concerts (Gidon Kremer and his trio playing wacko Russian music by everyone's favorite, Gubaidulina, and Louis Lortie tickling the ivories throughout the entirety of Liszt's Années de pèlerinage). (Oh, and Lortie gave a masterclass on Friday as well. I went, and really learned a lot. I must confess that I'm not a big Liszt fan, but Lortie's discussion of voicing and color helped me to appreciate the music and the importance of Liszt as a composer and artist.)

And then all of that was followed by a busier week of classes (I sang in every single one, so lots of music to prepare), visitors (Ryan had a recital on Friday night and the composer of one of the pieces, Secrets of Antikythera, was staying with us), master classes (including one with Wendy Nielsen for the ADP voice students entailing individual coachings and then six of us singing in class, including me), recitals (Ryan's aforementioned), and trying not think about the audition results (which still hadn't been posted). The week came and went, I managed to prepare all of my music, I had an illuminating coaching with Wendy Nielsen (she's wonderful!), I made a lot of cookies for Ryan's recital, and finally it was Friday. There was only a minor disaster with the programs: misinformation had made it to the master class database and I'd prepared the wrong list. There were nine minutes to spare so a new set of programs were printed... good thing I was there... The master class was just as interesting as the coaching, and I was particularly impressed by Ms. Nielsen's ability to connect whatever technique point she was talking about with both the student singing and with the other students in attendance. Many of us have similar problems, of course, so she was able to help us fix the issues as we were working on them and also to use the other students with similar tendencies as further examples. Genius! Plus it's always incredibly gratifying to work with a teacher and feel like you're making progress, and to hear that progress so clearly exemplified by the other students as well. And in the middle of master class, right before I was supposed to sing, they posted the results of the opera auditions. And I'll be playing Calisto come March. I'm incredibly grateful for the opportunity and still a little floored that I really, truly, actually get to sing this music.

Ryan's recital was wonderful and went off without a hitch, and then he and the composer left for the States, magnetic resonators in tow, and flew on an airline that gave him lots of free cookies and beer (Ryan was very happy). And he'll be down there for the rest of the week recording the piece and we have the week off at school so I'm going to maybe actually see a bit of Toronto, instead of just shuttling back between home and school.

And last night I saw Thomas Cooley (yay for Yale and people I know!) and Russell Braun sing beautifully in a concert of Mahler's Kindertotenlieder and Das Lied von der Erde. And this afternoon I'm going to see a concert of Zarzuela music performed by, among others, my Spanish teacher.

Oh, and I almost forgot: Ryan and I made lasagna from scratch this past Wednesday (Ryan made the pasta and I did the assembly) and it was really quite delicious. He has some pictures on his phone so I'll have to get them from him later.

Finally: the promised recipe for the flourless chocolate torte with candied ginger

1/4 c. butter
1 lb semisweet chocolate, in pieces
1/4 c. heavy cream
2 tsp vanilla
5 large eggs, separated
pinch o' salt
~1/2 c brown sugar (or a little less, depending on the chocolate. You can also use white sugar; I just prefer brown)
1/4 c ground hazelnuts
1/4 c finely chopped candied ginger
confectioner's sugar/cocoa powder for decoration, should you wish to use it


With the oven preheated to 350ºC, grease/flour a springform pan

Melt the butter and chocolate on a double boiler. When melted, remove from heat and add the cream and vanilla (and stir).

Beat the egg whites and salt until they form soft peaks, and then add the sugar and beat until the whites form stiff peaks.

Lightly beat the egg yolks and then fold them into the beaten egg whites. Don't over-mix. Then add the chocolate mixture and again stir gently. Add the hazelnuts and ginger. Don't stir too much! Don't let it deflate!

Pour it into the pan and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until it is set. Let it cool before you do anything with it. And if you feel like it, make a stencil and dust with the sugar/cocoa powder to make an interesting design. Or just eat it.

Mlle P dancing, with a maple-leaf flourless chocolate torte in the foreground (and an experimental pumpkin pie that was truly delicious and which we ate for breakfast on Thanksgiving).

Next time I'll have to post my cookie recipes. I've added a rather good peanut butter one to my repertoire.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Challah for the Holidays


More bread!

I guess I spent the past year focusing on the whole wheat bread recipe I published a few entries ago, because I had forgotten about the surprisingly successful challah recipe that appears in Mr. Ciril "I want to scare off your pants" Hitz' book a few pages later. I decided to make some last Sunday after realizing we were low on bread and out of whole wheat flour (and I was too cold to go outside in the rain and chill to get some more) and despite killing the initial yeast in the sponge, having to add more, and letting it rise for far longer than suggested, it turned out rather delicious! Slightly more dense than the cotton-candyesque challah one can find, but still delicious and fluffy. So that's all to say that Mr. Hitz really won't fail you this time. And you don't have to have a weird steaming tray in your oven.

One begins with a sponge.
1 1/3 c flour
1/2 c 75ºF water
~6 tsp instant yeast

Mix it up and allow it to sit, covered and undisturbed, for a half hour.

At this point it might be good to set out the following ingredients so that everything is ready to go.

Anyway, after a half hour, combine the following:
The sponge
3 2/3 c flour
1/3 c sugar (I always use brown sugar)
2 tsp salt
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp 70º water (have more on the ready)
3 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
4 tbsp oil (he calls for vegetable oil, I used olive oil)

Mix it up for a while. He says eight minutes on low speed with your dough hook and another 8 on a faster speed. I used my hands and had to add some extra water and was confused because the yeast wasn't working very well.

Anyway, after it's nicely mixed up, make sure your bowl is coated with a little oil and allow it to rise for 1.25 hours, or until doubled in size. If your yeast was dead like mine, you can always mix up some more instant yeast in some water, add it, and allow it to sit some more. Apparently this is forgiving bread.

After it has doubled, separate the dough into some smaller balls and let them rest for 20 minutes or so. Then, roll them into strands and braid them together. Be creative! Make it look pretty! Have fun! I've made this recipe a few times and have found that I tend to make a very large but compact loaf. I bet that it would work even better, though, and perhaps be lighter and fluffier, if it were slightly more spread. I'll try that next time. Or perhaps some smaller rolls... it makes a lot of bread...

Let it rest for another hour at room temperature, until it doubles again in size. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Before you put it in the oven, brush the loaf with a mixture of the egg whites and some milk and sprinkle with salt/sesame seeds/poppy seeds/other fun and delicious things.

And bake it until it looks pretty brown and puffy. It will probably be 20 to 30 minutes depending on the size of the loaf.

And there you go! It should emerge beautiful and resplendent and bedecked with little sesame seeds or poppy seeds or whatever you decided to put on top.

Just beware: it makes a lot of bread. See the pictures? Ryan and I haven't finished this loaf yet and I made it five days ago. If you're a single person, and particularly a single person who isn't carbo-loading for a marathon, you may want to halve the recipe. Or think of other uses... I KNOW! I need to make French toast!!! Just in time for Canadian Thanksgiving.

In other news, I have succumbed to the same cold that has had Comrade J in and out of bed for the past week it seems (perhaps not that long? but he has been rather ill). I'm trying to fight it off with goldenseal, spirulina, zinc, sage tea, and mental fortitude. However, my nose may have the better of me. We shall see!

And, in closing, an evil basement centipede (medium-sized):

(they get much larger)

Sunday, October 2, 2011

To Famous People: where are your short bios?

A short introductory note:

As part of my job, I compile biographies for the various visiting artists. These are used on our website (150 words) and also in our programs (we have about a page of space). I assumed that this would entail pulling said biographies off of the webpages of said famous visiting artists. But, surprisingly, not one of them had a short form biography! And I'm talking about seriously famous people. What gives?

So with that, read on...


I write you this blog post to PLEAD that you follow the advice of every single person I've ever heard talk about self-promotion and actually include a short bio on your website.

Now, if you're like me and have commitment fears and don't actually have a website then I guess you can pass for now. Though you should have a short bio rattling around on your computer somewhere... But if you're a famous person--say, one of the many famous people coming to our school to do master classes--PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE tell me where you're hiding your short-form bio!

The funny thing is, I know you all know you're supposed to have a short bio. People are always asking me for short bios. They need something small to fit in the CD jacket (that's right! forthcoming Etherea Christmas CD! to be reviewed in Opera News just in time for the holidays! More on that later in October, when it's actually released). They don't actually care about you that much. They want to have the wham and bang and recent stuff and they won't actually read about the past. So I know you're all writing them. I know they're somewhere. I know someone is using them. Why the heck aren't they on your website?

Yes, it's always really nice to know a lot of things about you, Mr./Miss/Ms./Mrs. famous musician. In fact, those personal details can really flesh you out as an individual and make me want to support you and enjoy your music even more. Though, Real Live Famous Person, that might not include your Maine Coon cat. I'm sure he's cute and fuzzy, and I like cats a whole lot, but even I think it's a little weird that he appears in your bio. But, for heaven's sake, when someone like me is writing a bio that will appear in your program for a public master class that you're teaching at a well-known school, I might just edit it down to a size so that only the part about your cat remains. I have that 150 word limit for the website, or that page limit for the program, and if you don't edit it down to a manageable size... who will? I can't include another page just to list the concert halls you appeared in on tour, unfortunately. The budget doesn't allow it! The trees are screaming in protest! And so poor hapless Lucy has to sit there with the delete key and try to figure out what actually matters. For some instruments that's easy, but sometimes (here's looking at you, wacky percussion/brass/harp players) I can't figure out what's what. And I might just take out that one detail that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy. Like your cat.

So do us all a favor: include a short bio on your website! And if the cat's really important, put him in your picture like these stellar examples:

Simon Carrington
John Cage
(actually he has two)
Frank Zappa
Even David Bowie!
And Bob Dylan!