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in my own words

Thursday
Aug272015

Guardian Angels

Hello friends!

 

It has been nearly two years since I last blogged, and I have finally gathered the strength and attention span to sit down and share a little bit about what’s being going on in my life and career in the last few years.

 

I won’t lie to you friends, some years are harder than others. Nearly three years ago, my beloved Grandma passed away. She was my favorite person, and I still haven’t fully reconciled the fact that I am enjoying some of the most wonderful times in my career, and my grandma isn’t here to share them with me. Of course, I feel her with me but it’s just not the same. I wasn’t able to be with her at the end of her life, and I had to endure her funeral via FaceTime, but I am grateful for the technology that allowed me to at least be there in that way. 

 

On March 24, 2015 I got a call that I will never forget. My dear friend Maria, her baby boy Felix and her partner Sascha had been killed on their German Wings flight from Barcelona to Dusseldorf. The days and weeks that followed became a deeper and more horrible nightmare when it was discovered that it wasn't a mechanical malfunction but a suicidal copilot that had deliberately driven the plane into the side of the mountain, murdering all of those aboard. Tragedies like this will never ever make sense. As a Virgo, I look for a reason and something to help me figure out who, what, why, where, when and how. Those questions cannot and will not be answered for me when it comes to this situation. I miss her every day. This young woman, full of light and laughter, who had a stunningly beautiful voice and a fierce love for her family was taken away from this world in an instant. I cannot understand it or pack it away neatly.  I will never comprehend why she and her family were killed.  I will never be on a plane without thinking about Maria and her dear family.  It is simply and horrifically something that is now a part of my life.  

 

The past three years also held new life and new experiences. My sister gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, and my two nieces are growing into such incredible young ladies. I’ve fallen in and out of love, I’ve gathered more air miles than I thought anyone could, and I’ve seen parts of the world that I’ve dreamed about since I was a child. My dearest friends have gotten married, had babies and have conquered the world with their successes. In these past three years, I’ve had some of the most amazing performing experiences that I could ever imagine. Singing Elisabeth at the Proms, Sieglinde with Zubin Mehta in Valencia, Donald Runnicles in Berlin (one of the best nights of my life), with Johannes Debus in Atom Egoyan's iconic production in Toronto, my NYC debut recital, my first Four Last Songs with Marcus Stenz,  my first Immolation Scene and my first Siegfried Brünnhilde, my first commercial recording (all with the wonderful Paul Daniels), my first Peter Grimes, my first (and only if I have anything to say about it) Fledermaus, Eglantine in Euryanthe, my debut with Oper Frankfurt and many other amazing and utterly unreal gigs. I have been incredibly fortunate.  

 

I suppose that one of the reasons it’s been difficult to write a blog recently is that I definitely suffer from survivor's guilt. My Grandma is gone, and she was the only person in my family who truly understood me and what I wanted to do with my life. I couldn’t be there for her when she needed me, yet I also know she would not have wanted me to miss the production I was working on at the time. She would have yelled at me if I had gone back to Spokane and missed out on singing. She gave me the gift of music and I know she would have been furious with me if I had canceled things for her. It doesn’t change the fact that I feel incredibly guilty and sad. What gave me the right to enjoy a career full of wonderful things while Maria’s entire family was taken away in a moment. How is it fair? The answer is that it’s just not. It is not fair at all. However, the only way I can figure out how to go on is to just keep singing. That is the only way I know how to honor them and their memory. Maria and my Grandma were two of the most genuine, loving, and fiercest women I have ever known. It would be an insult to them and their memory if I had curled up in a ball and refused to go outside. I must continue to love and live and celebrate and do dangerous and exciting things because there are those that can't anymore.

 

I used to think that opera singers had a life full of sparkles and mascara. In reality, we are human like everyone else and we suffer and enjoy the same kinds of moments that everyone else does. I am thankful for that. I am thankful that I am here and alive and that I get to share these thoughts and my singing with the world. It’s a responsibility I do not take as lightly as I perhaps once did. I am also thankful that I have at least two guardian angels watching over me telling me to keep singing, to keep trying, and to keep going. I will not disappoint you, ladies.

Sunday
Sep292013

Remembering Frances Dorothy Hunter Anderson

I haven't written a blog in a long while. So many things have happened. So many things have changed. The biggest thing that has happened in my life in the past year is the passing of my grandma, Frances Dorothy Hunter Anderson. I don't even know where to begin talking about this woman and I certainly don't know how to begin living without her on this earth.

 

 

My grandma was my everything. She was my confidant, my teacher, my mentor, my baking buddy and my music. We started our musical journey together when I was four. Apparently (so the story goes) I heard her practicing piano and I went up to her and said:

"Grandma, I want to learn. Teach me."

She said "No, Heidi. You're too young."

I said "Try me."

Pushy? Tenacious? Feisty? Yeah. That sounds about right. 

We then began our musical journey together. Every day after school, grandma would pick me up and we would have piano lessons. She tried her best to get me to pay attention to theory (God bless her) and we would have marathon lessons. Only if I was good would she allow "dessert", which meant duets. We would play for hours and hours together. She would always give me the melody. When I started voice lessons at the age of 14, grandma played for me. She would allow my teacher and I to have 30 minutes of warming up and technical exercises and then she would come in and play my songs (which we had rehearsed together.) Of course, during all of this we talked about everything.

Life. Love. Friends. Boys. Religion.

 

My grandma was and is the wisest person I have ever met. She was simple, clear, had a well thought out answer for everything. She also believed strongly in cookies. Basically, she was perfect. When I moved away from home to go to university on the other side of the continent (something she encouraged and supported wholeheartedly) she came with me, along with my grandpa and my mom. I will never forget my grandma's cry when she said goodbye. It broke my heart. She never looked back. She knew that I had to go in order to achieve my dreams. We wrote each other emails every day of my four years of undergrad. Every single day. There was no bigger cheerleader than my grandma. I would always come home during any break I had and we would resume our little club of two. I did notice that grandma started to change a bit- her memory started slipping and it got progressively harder to communicate with her.

 

Soon the diagnosis of dementia came, followed by Alzheimer's, which is just too cruel a disease for words. I didn't get home as much as I would have liked to and I will always feel guilty for that. My mom and her dedication to my grandma was absolutely stunning and a true example of love and devotion. Last November she took a turn for the worse. We all knew she was going soon. I was in Berlin working on a show. I knew I could withdraw and go home. Selfishly I have never wanted anything more. I wanted it for me, but I knew grandma wouldn't have been happy. She would have, in fact, been disappointed in me- a fate worse than anything. (She told me once that she was disappointed and it took me months and many tears to recover.) I knew when she went. I felt it across the ocean. It felt like my heart was being torn from my body- and in a way it was. I was happy for her to be freed from her body which was no longer hers. I knew she was out of pain and suffering. This was a blessing. But I was so sad for me. Thanks to my amazing sister, I was able to see the funeral via FaceTime and was able to celebrate my grandma in the only way I could at the time. 

I miss her absolutely every day. She is still in my dreams. I wonder what she would say whenever I have to make any important decision. This world doesn't seem right without her, yet it keeps on spinning. She was always so proud of me and the music that she gave me. I just hope and pray that she is looking down on me, is proud of me and knows how much she is loved.

– heidi

Sunday
Oct142012

Spring Recap

After the Met Ring Cycles ended spring went in to high gear with some wonderful, incredible events. 

I had always been slated to go to the Deutsche Oper in April to sing Helmwige in two performances of Walküre.  However, as I was walking to dinner with a couple of friends, I received an email that would change that. “Our Sieglinde has withdrawn. How do you feel about singing her instead?”

Yes. The answer is yes. Of course there were nerves involved. I’m a Virgo. I like being in control of situations and this was most certainly not in control. However, Nike’s slogan always comes to mind in situations like this.  “Just do it.”  

So I did.  

One of my favorite roles in one of my favorite houses with Maestro Runnicles conducting, Torsten Kerl as Siegmund, Greer Grimsley as Wotan, Catherine Foster as Brünnhilde, Daniele Sindram as Fricka and Atilla Jun as Hunding. Boy was I a lucky lady.  

Also – I got to wear Julia Varady’s apron and Violeta Urmana’s costumes. I can say that I felt pretty dang special.

After the whirlwind that Walküre was, I headed back to Karlsruhe to stage and sing my first Marschallin in Rosenkavalier. We had less than two weeks to go from start to performance and with any piece that can prove difficult. With Rosenkavalier, it seemed impossible. I am pleased to report that we did it! Yay! “Die zeit, die ist ein sonderbar Ding.”. Any time that I can sing Strauss I am a happy lady, and this was no exception.

In the middle of the run of Rosenkavalier, I was able to escape to Jackson Hole, Wyoming for a week and sing in the Grand Teton Music Festival. Jackson Hole is an incredibly beautiful place — raw, natural and just heavenly. Once again, Walküre was on the menu. Once again, Maestro Runnicles was at the helm and once again, I counted myself as the luckiest soprano around.  Stuart Skelton was an amazing Siegmund (so wonderful to be reunited with him after singing my first Sieglinde with him in 2009!) and Donnie Ray Albert was an incredible Wotan. The orchestra at Jackson Hole was something incredibly special. Made up of members of the top orchestras in the US, it is like a summer band camp for adults. They were incredible and played with such amazing sound. I really hope to be able to work with them again.

Photo by Ashley Wilkerson

After that, I went back to Germany to finish the run of Rosenkavalier and sing some Beethoven 9ths.

Then vacation!! I took my first ever, real vacation this year. Hawaii. For ten days. Worth every penny.

There may have been diet coke involved.

I then went to Texas to visit my gorgeous sister and my beautiful nieces.  They are really the loves of my life.

My sister couldn’t be any more beautiful.

After that, I had planned on going to San Francisco for some study time, but received a call from my manager saying that the soprano one in Aspen’s Mahler Eight had withdrawn and he was wondering if I could learn and sing it. Again, Nike. It is such a monumental and incredible piece and I was so happy to have been able to be a part of it. It was also very special in that seven of the eight soloists were doing the piece for the first time, as was Maestro Spano. What an amazing experience and one that I will definitely treasure for the rest of my life.

The ladies of the Mahler 8. Sasha Cooke, Meredith Arwady, Amber Wagner, Heidi Melton and Esther Heideman.

Symphony of a thousand. (Or in this case 549. Whoa.)

And that takes me up to today. Rested. Relaxed and getting ready to start the 2012/2013 season next week.  Die zeit, die ist ein sonderbar Ding indeed.

— heidi

Wednesday
Sep192012

The New RING

I have to admit, being part of the new Metropolitan Opera Ring Cycle was a pretty cool gig. ;-) I feel that this particular blog entry needs a bullet point list of reasons why it was awesome.

(Heidi Melton, Betsy Bishop and Maria Radnor)

  • Wagner at the Met. Enough said.
  • Getting to explore and live in NYC for a few months. Winter in NYC is gorgeous.
  • Being on a postcard. Not gonna lie.
  • Amazing, awesome, kind, talented, booty-kicking colleagues.
  • Working with geniuses like Robert LePage
  • Being a part of the Met HD in movies and having my sweet nieces be able to see Aunty Heidi in the movie theaters. It made me feel that the little ladies were better able to understand why I have to go so long between visits.
  • Making some life long friends.
  • Did I mention Wagner? 

I am one heck of a lucky lady. Can’t wait to go back next year!

Amazing ladies: Maria Radnor and Karen Cargill at Chelsea Market.

— heidi

Wednesday
Sep122012

Mein lieber Fußball Feld??

What does a singer do when they have absolutely no idea how to make a production make sense to them??

This was a question I was forced to answer when I sang my first Lohengrin this spring.

I realize that Lohengrin lends itself to crazy, concept-y ideas more than most and was completely prepared (or so I thought) to be bombarded with quirkiness. That was, until I went to the concept meeting and was faced with singing Lohengrin in a soccer stadium. So, I started thinking right away... I suppose I can see Elsa as a cheerleader. Perhaps Ortrud is the vicious cheer coach! Lohengrin is obviously Captain of the Soccer team... however, I soon found out I was sorely mistaken.

Through the rehearsal period, I came to understand that this was actually a fairly standard production—gowns and all—just to be set on a soccer field. The wedding night to take place on an awards podium covered by the Polish flag. Confusion set in. I was at least hopeful that this would give me a chance to act for my life. However, when I was repeatedly told to "bleib still" for most of the action, confusion gave way to panic. I didn't want to "park and bark." I just didn't understand it all!

Up until this point in my career, I have never had a production that I just "didn't get." I have worked with directors in the past that perhaps I didn't see eye to eye with completely, but I had always before been able to be convinced. As the rehearsal process went along, I knew I wasn't going to be able to be convinced but I was determined to still attempt to convince the audience. I started seeking outside help.

In this particular case, I sought out an amazing woman, a former ballerina, who could help me find some fluidity and grace in an otherwise static environment. She was incredible and really helped to boost my confidence, come opening night, that I was effectively articulating what I needed to. She's an angel.

Then there is another friend—who I look up to greatly—she's kind, lovely, ridiculously talented and perhaps the nicest person ever. I wrote her a letter asking her if she had ever had an experience like this—she wrote me back and gave me some of the best advice I've ever received: try your hardest to find a middle ground—to make the part your own, even through the constraints—find a way to make it make sense to you. And if, after you've exhausted all possibilities, you still can't make it work, take the paycheck and die a little on the inside.

Of course this made me giggle—I had gotten myself wrapped up in a never-ending tornado of obsession over this. Sometimes (especially for me) the lines of work and life get blurred. This had become my LIFE. I was obsessed. But as one of my dearest friends says to me quite often "Heidi, you're singing. You're not solving world hunger. Figure it out." I'm a big fan of tough love. I just needed to be reminded that the world wouldn't end if I didn't have the most artistically edifying production of Lohengrin.

 

So, I'm thankful for this production. I'm thankful it forced me to think outside the box for ways to get my point across. I'm thankful that I was able to find a middle ground with a director without understanding or agreeing with things (ahhhh, growth). I'm incredibly thankful for an awesome, supportive cast. And I'm thankful to once again be reminded that singing is my job—an awesome job and one that I love dearly—but a job nonetheless.

Just like I believe in the separation of church and state, I believe also in the separation of job and Heidi. We can be two separate things that work well together, but I don't have to lose myself in it. And yes, I'm going to need reminding again and again and again...

— heidi