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.


  1. sounds like I was out of town to buy sausages.

  2. to be honest, that's exactly what I was doing. the whole recording project was a coverup so I could buy sausages. but it was so worth it...