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August 3, 2018

Thoughts of the Week

I love opera. I love their sometimes cheesy daytime TV soap opera stories and contrasting beautiful, gorgeous music that goes along with it. I love the how incredible humans can be and what feats they can achieve because holy hell, singing opera is hard and these singers do make it look effortless. 

This week, I discovered the story of Rachele Gilmore, a soprano who was the understudy for Kathleen Kim at the Metropolitan Opera House in 2009. When Kim fell ill, Gilmore had four hours to get ready and go onstage to replace Kim in "Tales of Hoffman" by Jacques Offenbach. Gilmore succeeds and not only kills the aria she sings, but most people concluded that she sang the highest note ever sung in a Metropolitan Opera production at the time (an A-flat above high C).

Gilmore hadn't done it just because she had the chance to make it big that night. It was just the way she had always practiced it.

Gilmore answered questions online about the performance and what it was like for her.

"I was 28 at the time, living in Queens. It was 2 days before Christmas and my parents were in town visiting. I really did only have 4 hours notice and we all took a ride across the Triboro bridge in rush hour traffic to get me into the makeup chair in time. My parents actually got to see the performance, which was my MET debut, and is still is really special to me. Also, the reactions of the people in the chorus behind me, as I was told by several of them personally afterwards backstage, were actually genuine. It was a terrifying and thrilling night!"

Her performance is below. If you want to skip ahead to see the chorus behind her and audience react and gasp to her high notes, her reprise begins at 3:35. 

Some background on the aria she's singing: it's famously called The Doll's Aria. The singer is a doll in the opera that has to be wound up to sing and throughout the song, she loses steam and has to be wound up again to continue performing. The main character of the opera, Hoffman, is watching her and is completely unaware she is a doll, and ends up falling in love with her. 

At the end of her performance, the audience claps for so long that the actors onstage have to keep the show moving forward while the clapping goes on and on. You can see Gilmore is holding back emotion while the audience is cheering for over a minute. And imagine: she is 28 years old and has made her debut at the Met after it was doubtful she would ever make it onstage that season in her understudy role. She manages to do so in four hours time and she blows the audience away. 

It's a little moment and a big moment. It's something that happened and changed the course of Gilmore's life. It was extraordinary for everyone. The audience experienced her art and she made something beautiful in the sliver of chance and luck she had. How many moments like this happen and do we witness without really knowing? 

The Five Senses
What is a conductor actually doing onstage? Why are they all so different? James Gaffigan explains the art of conducting and the different styles of conductors throughout history.
I watched "Don't Talk to Irene" which was absolutely charming. There's a lot of movies about the high school weirdo growing into her own, but this one has a lot more dancing (and Geena Davis). It's available to watch on Amazon Prime for free. 
Hannah Gadsby sure does know how to combine art history and comedy. Here she talks about Botticelli's "Venus," its symbolism, and story. I also watched her Netflix comedy special "Nanette" which is hilarious, smart, and unexpected. 
A blog called Beautiful Song of the Week. I often look up meanings and interpretations of songs I listen to and happened upon this blog while doing so. Each week, in no particular order, the author posts a beautiful song and writes a little analysis of the song. The author also made a Spotify playlist of all the songs they've posted so far. 
I'm typically not a person who goes out of their way for mimes, but this video discusses the life of Marcel Marceau, probably the most famous mime in history. He rescued children from concentration camps during WWII, inspired Michael Jackson's moonwalk, and worked as a liaison officer in General George Patton's army. 

What I'm Reading
Books:

Circe by Madeline Miller"But in a solitary life, there are rare moments when another soul dips near yours, as stars once a year brush the earth. Such a constellation was he to me." A retelling of the life of Circe, the goddess of magic or nymph witch of Greek mythology. I've only just begun reading it but it seems to be a great summer read full of detail of the Greek mythological world and the people who roam in it. 

Articles:

The Most Honest Out-of-Office Message: The art of the out-of-office message and the stress and pressure of email. Is an out of office message telling senders their emails will be deleted prior to the date of the recipients return from vacation shocking? Why might that give some people such a visceral reaction? 

TS Eliot's The Waste Land Remains One of the Finest Reflections on Mental Illness Ever Written: I read The Waste Land for the first time in my American poetry class and it is a complicated, dark...well, wasteland. It is a reflection on WWI and its aftermath, especially in London, but can also be seen as a way into Eliot's mind. I love the end: "Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata. / Shantih shantih shantih."  Give. Compassion. Control. Peace.

Death is Real: Mount Eerie's Phil Elverum copes with Unspeakable Tragedy: "Death is real / Someone's there and then they're not / And it's not for singing about / It's not for making into art." Elverum's wife died from cancer four months after their daughter was born. The article is raw and intense, yet quiet: it's easy to imagine Elverum and his two-year-old daughter living quietly at home in their quirky town, just trying to live. He wrote a beautiful song Real Death from his album A Crow Looked at Me, inspired by his wife Geneviève's passing

Poem of the Week
Alexandra Kesick is the author of I Knew You Once and the forthcoming Deep Gentle Blue, published by Ghost City Press.
Copyright © 2018 Alexandra Kesick, All rights reserved.

Wanna chat?
alexandrakesick@gmail.com

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Alexandra Kesick · Harvard Business School · Boston, Massachusetts 02163 · USA

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