At any rate, last weekend, I had the pleasure of making my debut as Madama Butterfly with the Imperial Symphony Orchestra. It was indeed a great experience! I sang really well and learned a lot. I learned a lot about what I can truly achieve and I learned that in the face of a sickness that laid me low, I could sing my heart out from the downbeat forward.
I had worked for months preparing for this role, doing my usual preparations…writing out all of my scenes (with pen and paper, which help my memory tremendously), translating that text word for word, writing a ‘working’ translation in my own words so that I truly get the meanings in my brain, speaking through the text for weeks before I sing one note, learning the music and fixing every problem I possibly can for myself before taking lessons and coachings, then going to my voice teacher, Mary Henderson Stucky in Cincinnati, and finally working with my coaching team here in NYC Thomas Bagwell and Tyson Deaton. I was saddened that on this particular role-learning journey I could not work with one of my favorite coaches, Neal Goren, but I know that he would have been proud of what I had done with the role.
Because Madama Butterfly is a young Japanese Geisha, I felt like I needed to also get movement coaching. I had seen Madama Butterfly a zillion times…well not a zillion times, truly…but many, many times and I loved how stylized the movement was in most of singing actors I’d seen. It’s one thing to see the movements but it’s another to ‘do’ them. So I contacted my friend, Larry Edelson, for recommendations and he led me to a fantastic young director, Keturah Stickann, who had just directed the show in Santa Barbara. What a great investment!!! She was so knowledgeable and we moved it! My hubby videotaped the session and I watched it over and over.
After months of prep, I was ready to bring Madama Butterfly to life, put her on her feet and sing my heart out.
I’m a living testament to the fact the preparation is everything! If I had not prepared this role in the manner in which I just wrote about, I would never have been able to pull off performing under such dire circumstances.
After about 5 days of rehearsals in Florida, I began to feel really ill. I got the chills one night at rehearsal and was totally wiped out. I went back to the hotel and went straight to bed after taking some over the counter meds. Ny-quil was my chosen remedy. I had already been taking emeren-C with acai in addition to some herbal crud begone tablets, but alas the crud won! I coughed that entire night!
I went to rehearsal the next day and really tried to be a ‘hero’ and not let on that I was not feeling well but the coughing kinda gave me away. By the end of the night, I started getting clammy, I was coughing, sneezing and felt like I’d been run over by a truck.
Greg Sale, our awesome producer, and his wife, Christina Sale, who sang Suzuki down to the ground, arranged for me to go see their doctor and alas, I found out that I had bronchitis and sinusitis. My vocal chords were not so happy with me either and I had a bit of laryngitis as well. My goodness!!! There were 4 days until the opening night and I prayed that I would be well enough to rock the house.
I did everything in my power to stay focused and get well. I spoke with the director, Michael Gieleta, and the conductor, Jim Caraher (two of the most giving and wonderful people ever) and we all decided that I would not attend the second piano dress rehearsal. We had two orchestra dress rehearsals coming up and we thought we’d be fine.
Harrumph…so I awakened the morning of the first orchestra dress and my chords would NOT go together. No sound. Just squeaks like a little mouse. I was almost in tears. Truly. But I pulled it together, called the stage manager, Deborah Jo Barrett (a true gem) and the director, Michael, and eeked out a couple of sentences. I decided that I would go to the rehearsal but I would not sing or mark. Yes, my dear friends, I mouthed my entire first orchestra dress! There were photos taken on that night, which was the first night with makeup and costumes and I honestly look like I am singing! I mouthed those words and put every bit of emotion I could muster into my role.
I did speak some of my lines in the Third Act so that Maestro would know where I was…it’s a lot of sustained stuff for the orchestra and they move when I go to certain portions of the text. My colleagues were so supportive!!! They all were glad to see me and said they thought I was doing the right thing.
Well I had to go, didn’t I? If I had missed that rehearsal, I would have had only one day in costume before the show! I needed those two orchestra dresses not just for the musical aspect of the show but also to negotiate the slippery bridge in Act One….chiiiile that thing just about killed me during the first piano dress! I needed to work with that long robe in Act One so that I didn’t trip on it and bite the dust, I needed to figure out how to time my first attempt at ‘suicide’ just right so that I could run down the stairs and pick up my ‘baby’ before Tu, Tu, piccolo Iddio…etc.
I survived that night and felt pretty confident going into the second orchestra rehearsal, which was the next night. I rested the entirety of the next day and slowly warmed my voice up with humming and some tricks I learned from a great ENT, Wendy LeBorgne…sliding ‘buzzes’, drinking very cold water to shock the chords, no caffeine cuz it swells the chords, and I also warmed my body up with some stretches and jumping jacks to get the blood pumping. I was ‘ret’ to sing that orchestra dress. I did sing but opted out of the big high notes. Unbelievably, my soft high notes did not skip at all. Though I had some Mimi-esque moments, I was happy and felt like I would be fine for Saturday since I would have the whole of Friday to rest.
OPENING NIGHT!!!!! I was still coughing but felt strong. Strong in my soul, strong in my technique, strong in my preparation and strong in MY Madama Butterfly! I was not nervous in the least bit and felt like I would not just ‘get through’ this performance but that I would sing my heart out not matter what. I’d worked too hard to give less than all of me. 100%, baby. No matter what I was ready.
That night was like a wonderful dream that I will remember forever! My lovely friends Djordje Nesic and his husband Torrey Grobes flew from NYC to come see the show and my friends Mark Jones and Sandra McNiff, who had just come from a cruise to Jamaica that very morning, drove from Fort Lauderdale to see me perform.
My makeup was smashing (sprayed to perfection by Luandra), my costumes fit superbly due to the hard work of Camille who built my second costume in two days, my colleagues were on point and I left Adrienne offstage and emerged as Madama Butterfly!!!
Let’s be real…yes, things would have been a lot smoother and easier had I not been sick but I SAAAAAAAANG that role. As I write this, I get chills thinking of that glorious duet between me and Pinkerton…my boo, Stephen Mark Brown! So exhilarating.
I don’t recommend ‘singing sick’ to anyone…heck I would rather not have been in that position myself but I had 4 days before the show to allow those antibiotics…the shot (in a place that shall not be named) and the sweet, sweet Z-Pack to work…and I do not regret one moment of that performance on opening night.
I thank all of my friends, family, my lovely agent, Scott Levine, my teacher, coaches, and my hubby, Henry O’Neill who have been there for me throughout my entire experience with this role. A dream role and one I hope to sing again…preferably not when I’m filled to the brim with B.S.
Have a great day, All!
Photography by Tom Mack-Lakeland, Florida