Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Sound of Music: An Unexpected Review

I woke up yesterday morning and was surprised to see that I had 15 new iMessages. Surprising as it may seem, I can normally make it through a night in Russia with considerably less textual activity. When I looked more closely, I realized I had been included on a group conversation that consisted of 2 unidentified numbers. Given my country hopping, the switching of phones, and plain old life, I may have missed transferring a contact or two. But two who ended up in the same chain? Unlikely. I found the following conversation to be highly entertaining:

- Okay...what do you think?

- Sorry...but I am really having trouble with it...Carrie's acting is pretty bad and I really miss the kids. scene with My Favorite Things. Why did they give that scene to Mother Superior? Hope I can make it through the production.

(SR: Who is Carrie? Maybe a daughter?? High school musical, likely.)

- I'm struggling too! Did not like Carries singing on lonely goatherd at all. The other actors with musical theater experience are doing well, however.

(SR: Note to self---reference lonely goatherd in messages as often as possible. Yes and yes.)

- can really tell the difference.

- I am such a purist when it comes to the sound of music...I just can't get past the changes!

(SR: I really had no idea that the Sound of Music Purist Society was alive and well. Noted.)

- Me too...interestingly I am reading an interview with the directors and they claim that there are absolutely no changes from the Broadway production.

(SR: This punctuation is really keeping me on the Note to self: don't overuse the ellipses.)

- Audra McDonald did well on Climb Evry Mountain...a glimmer of hope!

(SR: Of course she did. Have you ever heard her sing??)

- Yes...climb Every Mt. Was one bright moment. The romance between Captain and Maria is pretty unbelievable.

(SR: Let's not get too crazy optimistic here....and what...does...unbelievable mean in this context?)

- yes I don't believe it for as second!! Couldn't finish the show...too much for me. Here's hoping Carrie Underwood will find her head voice someday!

(SR: Answer to the above. And I have to know at least one of these people. They just threw in that head voice comment as if they knew what they were talking about. Which we at least pretend to in my profession.)

- Rhonda went to bed a half hour ago and I have been doing dishes...couldn't take it any more. Too bad I was really hoping it would be good. Looking forward to seeing you Saturday evening!

(SR: Rhonda? I take it back. Do I even know a single Rhonda? Nope. And I'm not sure Saturday evening is on. Just for the record.)

Being in the field of music making, it took only a quick login to the almighty Facebook to decipher what had been the root of this conversation, a live broadcast of the Sound of Music with Carrie Underwood. And of course there were many opinions to be had on the subject. Mine? Even not having seen it, I consider myself thoroughly entertained.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Giving Thanks...for Moscow!

It's a little after 11 pm, another batch of dough for this week's second round of pies is refrigerating as we speak, and I'm feeling calm, tired, and grateful, crashed on the couch. I joined in on Thanksgiving Round 1 after work (this will be the first of does that happen in Russia?!) and my stomach would happily decree it a success. My primary endeavor was the pie. Pecan, pumpkin, and chocolate cream. Moscow poses some difficulties to the American baker, but on the whole I was satisfied with the product.

Being away from home on a very American holiday (no one that I've talked to here really understands what this one's even about) normally makes one a bit nostalgic for home, family, and whatnot. And while I would always love to be spending time with my family, I have to say that most of my feelings of gratitude today were focused on Moscow. Here's a few of those thoughts in no particular order.

I'm grateful for Moscow evenings. For city lights and for stillness that is all the more poignant after a day spent in a city of 15 million+.
I'm grateful for Russian. The language and the relationships that speaking has allowed me to develop. It's a challenging but stunningly beautiful language, which you may not believe if you haven't had the chance to listen to it closely.

I'm grateful for the work which brought me here. And the patience that trying to do my job in Moscow is helping me develop. There are aspects of working here which drive me crazy. Every. Day.
But how I love my colleagues and getting to work with such amazing singers!
Two of my lovely sopranos!
I'm grateful for who I've become in Moscow. In leaving the known behind, redefining self,
expectations, and my world, I've grown into a more preferable version of self.

I'm grateful for the foreign. And for the fight to find the familiar. Hunting through multiple grocery stores to try and find a turkey and finally locating and purchasing two 3.2 kilo babies. Which then half to be hauled back through the metro, a bus, and up a significant number of stairs. There is never a dull moment in daily living.

I'm grateful for the cold. And the snow! Who would have thought I could pen those sentences?!? I have to say though, snow transforms a city into something magical. And an evening walk in the cold...but still breathable!...air is romantically refreshing.
The list could go on, but I'll leave it at that. Let it be known though that on this American
holiday, this American girl is grateful for Russia. For Moscow. 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

All about Georgia! And not the state...

Life in Moscow has it's ups and downs. But after a fantastic dinner at one of my all time favorite restaurants, Хачапури, I found myself completely in love with this city yet again. Apparently food is the best way to inspire such emotions within me...

Funnily enough, though, the real source of said love is not even Russian. It comes from one of our neighboring countries to the south, which is now near the top of my list of countries to visit: Georgia! While there are many reasons for wanting to visit, I feel no shame in saying that my love for their food is primary among those. If you haven't tried Georgian food and live anywhere near a city that offers it (Brooklyn friends!!!)...go! Eat! Be blissfully happy! Fall in love with food all over again!

Here would be my list of loves:
Pkhali. This version is spinach but I've had an eggplant variation as well. Fabulous. What is it? A vegetarian delight: spinach, walnut, and spices galore! A recipe I might actually attempt on my own...
Eggplant rolls filled with a garlic-walnut paste. Oddly enough I'm normally not a walnut fan. But in this context...yes please!
This is the dish for which my beloved restaurant is named: khachapuri. Georgian cheese pizza. There are different variations of this that is shaped like a boat and has an egg in the middle...but this version is my favorite. Why? LOTS of cheese!
In my excitement, I may have dived in a bit too enthusiastically and ruined the beauty of this photo op. But please meet khinkali, another Georgian staple and personal favorite. You can get these large dumplings filled with a number of things...potato and cheese, mushroom, salmon, and meat. I opted for the latter. There are a number of sauces to choose from, but I always opt for the side of sour cream. It's the Russian coming out in me I suppose.
The key to eating these is the handle pictured's designed to be held, so dive in and get a bit messy. (I generally use a spoon in the opposite hand for assistance. And to make for easy sour cream distribution.)

My goal over the next 4 weeks? Be able to make all these dishes on my own. My relationship with Georgian food is one I'm determined to keep intact, no matter the distance!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Relationship Status: It's Complicated

Fear not. This post will not be spent trying to explain the complexities of my dating life. Or hilarities, depending on the date. And my level of optimism...But today's relationship is one I've spent a great deal of time analyzing and evaluating. And I think it's time for some input. So here goes!

Technology.  You may have heard of it?

I've generally been a fan. But I have to see, moving to Russia changed our relationship. I picked up a new Russian phone and number and opted for the least expensive option...a cell that was functional for calls and texts. And even has a calculator feature as a bonus! My new gadget was affectionately referred to by my friends as the "iPhone 7." It may not have controlled the speed of the metro or foretold the future, as we jokingly claimed, but my baby Nokia got/gets the job done. And frankly didn't even have to be used all that often.

Enter separation from phone.

Phones nowadays often mean Internet. The iPhone 7 did not, however talented she may have been. In our office in the theater, there was a computer where I could access the Internet or (post-Christmas and my iPad!) wifi, but I maybe popped my head in there once at the beginning of the day and once at the end. When I was home in the evenings and the Internet was functioning, I was admittedly very attached to Skype, email and the blogosphere. It felt like I was able to access a fraction of my other life that didn't really even exist in Moscow.

On the whole though? Add significantly increased Internet separation.

I just spent a little over four months Stateside... a new fancy phone...Internet and all...and discovered: I love technology! I love being connected, easy to access, and constantly informed by Google as to the meaning of all things. BUT while I loved receiving all of the information, I really didn't care to be participating in it. I've become a person who doesn't like to answer her phone (alright, that wasn't really new), finds responding to texts often ridiculously annoying, and can easily delay email responses for days. Clearly blogging was nowhere in the picture.

For someone who is her own business, these are not the best of reactions to the medium that is the source or all employment/income. 

And the technological disenchantment hasn't really come to an end. Don't get me wrong, I'm still VERY appreciative for the connectedness. I think it's just the excess that seems to create a constant sense of overload. That, I'm not handling very well. Being in Russia taught me a lot about the  necessity of relationship investments that provide a healthy return. It felt like the technological equivalent of one of my juice fasts being here...a serious cleanse that revitalizes and reminds you what's really important for your well being. And my technological time when it was limited felt focused and meaningful. Maybe? Here's where you can insert your diagnoses.

I love technology. But I really don't right now. Solve that one. 

I'm hoping for a dose of insight from Russia Round 3!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Back to the Big Theater

Today was my first day back in Moscow. And the first (from what I've gathered) snow of the season. The Motherland was either trying to get even with me for being away too long, or else attempting to give me an authentic welcome back. And nothing seems authentically Russian quite like snow.

Despite a healthy dose of jet lag and the early signs of a cold (my inferior sinuses are always outraged when I decide to fly internationally), it looked and felt great to be back.

What I loved most about my first day back? First, the language. It didn't flow as smoothly as it once did, but spending a day in Russian felt so invigorating. Stepping into this country and into another language almost feels as if I'm able to take on a different identity. Or at least unlock a part of me that can only exist on a small scale in the States. 

Second? The routine. I love returning to a theater where I know how things work...or how they don't on occasion. I loved popping into the cafeteria for a piroshki and some cucumber salad as I did on many a day last year. I know this city, this metro, and some of the personalities that you're bound to meet in a day. When I was purchasing my metro pass and the cashier decided to give me grief about not having the exact change, I may have even smiled inwardly. While outwardly giving her a little dose of attitude in return. It's just the open communication that exists in these parts.

Mostly, I loved getting back to work. Not only do I absolutely love my job, but I love the people that I've developed  relationships with because of my job. And seeing my Moscow family made me feel right at home. 

An added love? Being back to my blog. And getting updated on reading yours! I can't begin to give you all of the updates that come along with a 4-month absence, but I imagine some of them will work there way into this sphere eventually. For now, I'm going to continue the battle with jet lag. By going to sleep.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Behind the Scenes at the Bolshoi: Part 1

Once upon a time, I decided to enter a blogging contest for expats based on the theme "Working Abroad." You see, I think I have a pretty fantastic job and decided it was worth sharing a few of the details. Apparently it didn't make the contest cut, however, so instead you get exclusive reading rights here! Enjoy!!!

Putting my experience at the Bolshoi Theatre into words seems impossible. I could describe the magic of a holiday evening spent mesmerized by Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, captivated by the exquisite movements of the Russian ballerinas. Or perhaps reminisce about the first Russian opera I saw in the exquisitely renovated theatre, The Tsar’s Bride.  But while those evenings spent at the Bolshoi will always be vivid in my memory, they are only the beginning of my story.

You see, unlike most Americans who spend an evening at the Bolshoi, I work here.   
I’m a pianist/vocal coach and while I enjoy every evening spent in our theatre, the real show (and sometimes the real drama) takes place behind the scenes. Where exactly? I spent the first month of my employment trying to figure that out.

What the public sees of the Bolshoi Theatre is only the beginning. Two stages, an administrative building, 6 stolovayas (cafeterias), an atrium, more confusingly-placed elevators than I’ve managed to count, and enough rehearsal spaces and offices to house an insane number of employees, which include a ballet company, opera ensemble, chorus, orchestras (yes, plural!), security guards, custodial staff and the ever-powerful babushkas who fiercely guard the keys to said rooms—ALL of this is connected with an intricate maze of tunnels that seems nearly as perplexing as the Russian language itself.  

My first week trying to make it to my coachings with singers involved more than one conversation that went something like this:

-       Aleksey, I’m so sorry that I’m late. I’m in the theater…somewhere. I should be there soon. (This was the English version in my head. I cringe to think of what actually came across in Russian at that point.)
-       Where are you now?
-       Somewhere near the atrium???
-       Should I come get you?
-       No, no. I’m sure I’ll be right there.

Twenty minutes later I’ve finally found my way back to the centrally located atrium where I bashfully wait to be found and led to work. Even though I’m already “at work.” I quickly learned this conversation was best modified to “Come find me please!” Much less Russian and no venturing unaided into the Russian matrix.

The Bolshoi maze itself may not be enough to compete with stage antics, put in my opinion there are daily dramas that do. And no, I will not be talking about acid attacks. Although this is tangentially related….you see, post-acid I was often asked if I felt afraid as an American working at the Bolshoi. Answer: yes. Was it related to the acid? No.

I’m terrified of the key guardians.

In Soviet times everyone had to have a job. I’m assuming this is where some of the Russian systems originate, including that of “the keys.” (I feel like there should be music accompanying their mention). In the American opera world where I came from, doors to rehearsal spaces were either left unlocked, opened by stage management pre-rehearsals, or even by myself. Occasionally even with my very own key.  But I’m not in Kansas anymore, as a quick glance at the spidery alphabet on signs everywhere affirms, and here every room has a key that is carefully guarded in one of three offices. Often by at least three people. You give them your name, your room number, your signature, some blood, a pledge of your first-born child (maybe I mistranslated that one) and try to justify your very existence as they glare suspiciously at your clearly foreign name. But then they hand over the key and you can finally give a deep sigh of relief.  It seems like the terror is over.

But forget to return it, and it’s really only the beginning.

I don’t know that I can write this in a way that can truly communicate the seriousness of the key system, but the first time I found myself at home—about an hour away—with a theatre key in tow, I felt slightly sick. The second time was even worse. And the third? As I am still living to tell this story, you can assume it didn’t take place. Chided by colleagues, seriously cursed by the key guardians (I can only assume all that unintelligible Russian was foul language) and even slightly shunned by one singer for my stupidity, I came to understand the importance of a Russian system that I never mastered. After Round 2, my rehearsal space was shamefully (but much to my relief) always opened by custodial staff.

I could go on about the culture of the Bolshoi cafeterias, the tradition of greeting everyone you pass in the hallway, the ballerinas running around in sweat pants and slippers…not the ballet kind, but the massive, foot-warming kind…and opera singers testing out high notes in the elevators, heard from floors below. Horses waiting backstage for an entrance, neon-colored frog heads bobbing through the hallway, and the never-ending construction that seems to take place in the tunnels…it’s all part of the scenery for the stage of daily life at the Bolshoi. It might not be as glamorous as the first time I set foot in the theatre, and it definitely doesn’t feel as surreal as my first moment performing on stage, but it’s this daily life, with its details and dramas that will truly make this job unforgettable.  It’s life backstage. At the Bolshoi.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

She had me fooled...

Just when you think you know a girl, that she's finally quit giving you the cold shoulder and warmed up to you, she gives you this...
Oh, Moscow. I've been feeling like I'm back in Texas with the sporadic downpours...except that it's not really just sporadic. I'm pretty sure it's been raining for the entire week. While this makes adventuring in the form of sightseeing around Moscow a bit difficult, it has made for some new adventures: how to best make it to the metro in ballet flats. I think I secretly hoped if I didn't give in to my rain boots that nature would declare me victor. I lost. But in sacrificing my ballet slippers, I was able to offer a colleague a piggy back to save her from the lake near our home. She was shocked. Coming from a family of 10+ I didn't find anything out of the ordinary about it.  I was gifted an apple approximately the size of my head in reward for my heroic attempts (which really only resulted in a passing van stopping to drive us across the lake...I was spared more than about 10 seconds of piggy back).
A picture like this doesn't occur often, so it had to be documented. The abnormality: Where are the people?
Yesterday while the rain took a brief pause, I made it to the Bulgakov museum to learn a bit more about the author of Master and Margarita. I love books and had to document these shelves which I would love to transport to my home. I didn't think I could fit it into my bag however.

The museum had some interesting tidbits and if you're a die-hard Bulgakov fan, then absolutely go! Entrance to the apartment was free, although we were kicked out early due to a scheduled tour. It's alright--it gave us just enough time to make a pass by Patriarch Ponds before the rain started falling again. Was I once again in ballet flats? Absolutely.

While there's not much sunshine predicted in the immediate forecast, I'll be doing my best to fit in a few more museums before starting June's European Extravaganza! Thursday it's off to London where I'll be joined by my parents and sister on Sunday. Then it's stops in Paris, Florence, Rome, and Switzerland, with a return to Russia---sister in tow! I have a suspicion that I might need a post-vacation vacation, but I'm excited for the food and fun ahead!

In the meantime, working on staying dry! It's back to the rain boots
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