I had an absolutely wonderful time in my first international voice competition in Spain, and I have to thank the Caballés and everyone there for that. When I arrived on the day of the competition, Isabel Caballé came up to me with kisses on both cheeks, and said to me "Welcome to Zaragoza!" She also said my name correctly(!), even though it's an unusual name. She truly went above and beyond in making me feel welcome there, as did the whole staff. Then, when I walked in for my rehearsal with the pianist, Ricardo Estrada, I was greeted with a big smile and "good morning!" We chatted a little bit about how that particular day, September 11, was a particularly charged one, both for Americans and Catalans. We then proceeded to rehearse Caro nome, and although I was nervous for the competition, I also knew that Ricardo would be there with me, which helped put my mind at ease.
I'm happy with how I did in the competition--I did exactly what I set out to do when I left for Spain, which was to fully show up and be seen. Any performance can be improved, but I also recognize that it was a huge achievement to have sung my first international singing competition. I didn't make the semis or finals, but I learned a lot by watching them (so much so, I'm only processing and writing down everything now!) Everything that I learned and that happened has set me up to put my best foot forward in the next competition I sing. I also got wonderful feedback while I was there, with both new and longtime colleagues praising my performance in the first round. The first round was also open to the audience, and the audience in Zaragoza is very warm and welcoming. I will always treasure the woman who stopped me on the tram on the way back to my hotel, who told me that my Caro nome was wonderful, kissing her fingers in appreciation. I will also treasure the colleague who, though she was taking several photos throughout the whole competition, told me she didn't want to take photos during my aria because the pianissimi were so quiet and controlled she didn't want to break the moment.
In a competition with 304 competitors from 58 countries, I think it is incredibly special that 2 of the 48 semifinalists were from Israel. Bravas to Tali Ketzef and Shahar Lavi! Also, a huge bravo to my friend César Torruella for making it to the semifinals as well!
At the final of the competition, Caballé herself came to watch. As soon as she entered the auditorium, the Sala Mozart at the Auditorio Palacio de Congresos, she received a standing ovation from the audience. She had an entrance the way I imagine the Queen of England to have--dignified and grand, and deservedly so. She then went on to sit in a special part of the hall, to listen to the finalists sing.
I had the privilege of seeing one of her public master classes as well, once the competition was over. I enjoyed the whole masterclass, and there are two moments in particular which stand out in my mind, which solidify for me how great Caballé is. The first was that she had all the students there do breathing exercises, holding their breath as long as they could while having weights on their abdomens. Most of them got to around 40 seconds. She then said that 40 seconds was nothing(!), and they should be able to hold it for two minutes. (She then cited Verdi's Simon Boccanegra as an example of an opera for which you need that kind of breath control.)
Wow. *Consider me humbled.*
Another moment which stood out to me was when she helped one of the singers there, the soprano Ioana Mitu. She asked Caballé about something--I couldn't hear what it was, and I suspect the rest of the audience couldn't either, but it was something she wanted her advice with. She went on to sing a glorious Jewel Song (from Gounod's Faust), and afterwards Caballé gave her reassurance, and embraced her in a motherly way. I was touched by her caring.
I not only found the competition and masterclass to be illuminating, but my trip to Spain, in general, as well! Next blog post coming up! :)