With a whirlwind schedule taking her from Seattle to Hong Kong to NYC and back again, Lindsay Russell is heading full steam ahead toward a bright career in opera. I caught up with the effervescent coloratura soprano this week in New York City to catch up on life, music, and of course… food.
I found the petite, blonde soprano sitting amongst a sea of people at Columbus Circle’s Bouchon Bakery. “I think we might be better somewhere else?” hinted Lindsay politely before we headed to the Le Pain Qoutidien on 7th Ave “this is so much better!”
When talking about music Lindsay’s face immediately lights up; when it comes to other singers, the soprano admires the skilled pyrotechnics of those whose repertoire she is currently tackling. ”I go through singer phases, where I can’t listen to enough of them, but there are a few who have stood the test of time. I’ll pretty much always pick a Joan Sutherland recording over the others. I’m a big fan of Diana Damrau, and also love watching Natalie Dessay’s videos on youtube. Hmmm, I also love Edita Gruberova, Barbara Bonney, and Renata Scotto… I could go on but I won’t.”
Lindsay describes a recent trip to China for a concert with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra as one filled with pleasant surprises. “I am definitely not used to that kind of treatment!” laughs Lindsay. “Everything about it was so amazing, I just can’t believe how well they took care of me, from the work visa to transportation, they were just incredible.” Miss Russell was the only soloist invited for an 11-11-11 concert themed “2011- A Space Odyssey” with the HKPO. “The funny thing is, they already had the program selected for the concert, but wanted to include an aria from Haydn’s Il Mondo Della Luna and the Queen Of The Night arias from The Magic Flute…” The current Chief Executive Director of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra is none other than Michael MacLeod, the former General and Artistic Director of Glimmerglass Opera, where Lindsay made her debut as Laurie in Aaron Copland’s “The Tender Land”, which garnered her praise by Opera News and The New York Times. It was Michael MacLeod who suggested the talented singer make her debut in front of a crowd no less than 20,000 people.
About that. ”The actual concert was such a great experience and what a production! They managed to actually sync fireworks to go off while the Orchestra played Johan Strauss II’s The Blue Danube. I’ve never experienced anything like that! Also, its such a different culture… I was really surprised how many YOUNG people were there. Whole groups of teenagers just hanging out at the classical music concert like it was the cool thing to do. They were even asking for my autograph after, again, not something I’m used to!”
Miss Russell, a foodie in the making, also has no qualms over trying new and unusual things. “Oh, I’ll try anything once!” she exclaims. When discussing her favorite place to eat in New York City, Joe’s Shanghai in Chinatown, Lindsay loves to explain her initial thoughts and eventual love affair with the local eatery. “I really wanted to hate it there, because it’s just always so busy, but I can’t stay away! The food is so so good, I’m actually meeting my roommates there tonight for dinner. And FYI – the one in Chinatown is clearly superior to the one in midtown, and it’s also significantly cheaper. Plus, only in Chinatown do you get the experience of sharing your table with six other strangers. ” The Chinatown favorite features one of the soprano’s favorite eats. Soup Dumplings. The tasty treats almost always require a tutorial for newcomers, that is, unless you WANT to spill out all of the delicious filling.
When it comes to what composers the soprano loves singing, and those she wishes she could just get more of, the response is immediate and almost obvious. “Strauss! Once I conquer a Strauss piece, it is incredibly rewarding to sing. I just sang Zerbinetta for the first time in public this week, for an audition, and it was so much fun. I never tire of Mozart, which is good, because hopefully I’ll be singing that repertoire for the rest of my life. I also am completely obsessed with singing Bach. I wish someone would hire me to sing Bach all day long.”
Of her summers at Glimmerglass, Lindsay definitely has an abundance of great things to say about her time with the company. ”My last two summers there were a lot of fun. I love sitting on the back porch of the Otesaga Hotel, sipping a cocktail and eating snack mix in a wooden rocking chair. I love “wrong rep night,” where everyone in the program sings and performs the most inappropriate things we can imagine.
“Some of my truly favorite moments happened backstage” she continues. ”My first year there, I sang Laurie in the Tender Land, and at the end of every performance, Andrew Stenson, Mark Diamond and I had a big group hug right before we went on for bows.”
You may call her sentimental, but don’t underestimate Lindsay’s preparedness on keeping a box of Kleenex nearby. “One of my favorite moments from last summer was during the first orchestra rehearsal for Annie Get Your Gun.” (The Francesca Zambello directed production starred operatic superstar Debbie Voigt.) “Most broadway orchestras are small – no more than twenty or so people – so hearing wonderful Glimmerglass Orchestra performing the overture brought me to tears.”
Currently, Miss Russell is spending the year as a young artist with Seattle Opera. And though the soprano admits that being away from loved ones can be difficult, its evident that living with two of her best friends, tenor Andrew Stenson and mezzo-soprano Sarah Larsen definitely helps. “There is rarely a dull moment in our house!”
And Seattle Opera itself? “I love the coaching staff! I’m learning so much from them, I feel like I should be paying them, and not the other way around! I also adore my colleagues. With a program this small (nine people), it could be a bad experience if we didn’t all get along. Luckily, everyone there is not only ridiculously talented, but also kind and humble.”
Miss Russell will be spending the 2012 summer season as an apprentice singer with the Santa Fe Opera covering the Fiakermilli in Strauss’s Arabella. You can watch Lindsay sing “I Could Have Danced All Night” from Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady by CLICKING HERE!
See – One of my favorite pastimes is going to the Museums. Living in NYC, you are surrounded by great Museums. With the suggested entrance fees being raised every year it can get to be a bit expensive, so I have found it helpful to know when each Museum has “free” days. I enjoy going to Museums to do research for roles I am learning, the restored historical rooms at the Metropolitan Museum of Art are very inspiring. I also have certain paintings I just must visit, such as Madame X. Brooklyn Museum of Art has free Saturdays, which include curator talks and live music. I would also suggest checking out the wine bar on the roof at the Met. Museum of Art. It has one of the most beautiful views on Central Park. http://gonyc.about.com/cs/museums/a/museumdeals.htm
Break the fast – Food in NYC can be expensive. Brunch is one of my favorite activities to do with friends. It can easily run you $30 if you to places like Alice’s Teacup (a favorite). For those weekends you want to splurge that is perfect, but if you are worried about your wallet (who isn’t these days) Whole foods is a great alternative. Last time I had breakfast there I had oatmeal from the bar which has tons of add-in options for free and hot tea for $3.00! I love to get breakfast (or any meal really) at the Wholefoods at Columbus Circle and then take it to Central Park.
Spa – Spa days are some of the best days! NYC has a lot of options when it comes to pampering. One of NYC best features if that you can be in any neighborhood and find a $20 mani/pedi place! If you are looking for more the internet is your bestfriend. Groupon tends to offer a lot of discounts, but one of the best sites is http://www.spaweek.com/deals/#Manhattan. You can always find great deals on this site. There are also twice annual (on in the fall and on in the spring) spa weeks where you can get just about anything for $50.
Shop – Macy’s… how I love thee! I always find what I need here. A lot of the time you can find the same clothes Saks, or some of the other more expensive dept. stores, carry for less here. Macy’s has crazy sales often. Last time I went to Macy’s I needed a lot of clothes because I was leaving for the summer and needed a lot of new things. I bought $975 worth of clothes for $400. I have found that Calvin Klein looks good on everyone. Also if you have a out of state drivers liscense you can go to the customer service desk and receive a 15% discount coupon for your entire purchase.
Tourist – When friends come to town it is fun to see the city, but friends are always coming to NYC and to go out and pay for tourist locations becomes too expensive. One of my favorite things to do with friends from out of town is pack a snack and take the Staten Island Ferry at sunset. The ferry is FREE and your friends can get great photos of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty.
Enjoy – The Metropolitan Opera has a free outdoor festival of HD broadcasts. Enjoy the past Hd videos free from Lincoln Center! This is made possible by the Metropolitan Opera Guild. http://www.metoperafamily.org/metopera/broadcast/hd_events_template.aspx?id=16260&hpgraphic
If you prefer live opera the Met offers $20 rush tickets to some shows.
The very best and cheapest thing in New York are the friendships you make. Those are truly priceless!
- Do You Have A Friend That Embarrasses You? (fresh1027.radio.com)
- New York City: Metropolitan Museum of Art (alainsojourner.com)
- New York City Mothers Day City Guide (proflowers.com)
- Metropolitan Museum of Art renames Islamic exhibit, returns Mohammed images (creepingsharia.wordpress.com)
- ‘Heroic Africans’ at Metropolitan Museum of Art (africaunchained.blogspot.com)
Last Spring, I was out and about in Manhattan with my best friend Rachel, when, as usual, we decided that we were hungry. It was a Saturday evening, and we had a few hours to kill until Star Trek began at the AMC Loews Theatre. There was a cute little place on Columbus called Empire Szechuan that seemed fairly appealing, and with all my recent sushi intake, I had forgotten a childhood favorite… the Pu Pu Platter.
As we sat on the patio, Rachel indicated that a familiar looking woman was walking our way from the direction of Lincoln Center. I turned around briefly to spot a sharp featured blond woman wearing a disgustingly flamboyant pant suit that seemed to resemble burning leapord print.
“Who is she?” asked Rachel.
“Not sure… maybe you can get a closer look.”
When the woman finally came closer Rachel sported a brief aha look when the mystery woman pointed at Rachel and sharply spit out “DON’T” to my now disappointed friend.
“Wow” I said.
“That fucking real house hoe just scolded me!” exclaimed Rachel.
As it turned out, our mystery woman was Alex McCord van Kempen from The Real Housewives of New York City. Not only was her ensemble devastatingly ugly, but she was also with out her favorite accessory- mangina husband Simon.
Now, I understand completely when “celebrities” or whoever want to walk around in peace and enjoy a night out like everyone else, but seriously, when you’re a demi-celebrity like Alex, don’t expect anonymity when you’re out and about on a beautiful spring weekend in a place as heavily populated like Manhattan. If you’re that concerned… stay in Brooklyn.
“That was rude” I said.
“I wasn’t THAT obvious, I just couldn’t figure out who the hell she was” replied Rachel “I mean, we’re in Lincoln Center… she could have been an opera singer or whoever.”
“Maybe that’s where she was coming from.”
“Maybe… but that pisses me off” said Rachel.
“Because, you know on the show how they got ready for the Opening Night Gala at the Met, and they brag about how great it is to own a hotel in Manhattan so they don’t have to go to Brooklyn to get ready…”
“I mean they spend so much time talking about the fucking clothes they want to wear and how important it is to be seen, and to be viewed as cultured, but neither of them in all their grand little show of ‘the importance of being well-educated’ ever fucking mention the music!”
“NO! They can’t actually love it the way people like you and me do” replied Rachel “it pisses me off… almost more than it does that they want to write a parenting book when they can’t even get their kids into private school in Manhattan.”
“What’s the book going to be called?”
“Who knows” replied Rachel “Probably something like ‘How to teach your children useless phrases in Latin, French and Portuguese all while avoiding to teach your child in English what day of the week it is.”
“No… not harsh. You know, if that were Jill Zarin, she would have probably smiled or something.”
“God I love her” I replied “I love her and Bethenny Frankel…”
“Me too! At least they’re sort of experts at what they do- fabric, healthy cooking…” said Rachel “I doubt Alex even knows what the hell she’s listening to when she goes to the opera.”
“Umm… probably not, they just go so they can take a photograph, show the world they have some taste, and then disappear from the rest of the season whereas you and me were scrounging for seats like idiots outside at Fordham University to try to get to watch… again OUTSIDE.”
Rachel had a point. Renee Fleming had opened the 125th anniversary season at the Metropolitan, not with an opera, but with fully staged, fully orchestrated scenes from three different operas and was costumed by three different designers and was even given her own spread in Vogue for the event. It was indeed an unprecedented historical event, but one has to wonder whether or not Kanye, the Olson twins or even Alex McCord van Kempen were truly moved at all by Renee Fleming’s voice and prowess while singing some of the most heartfelt music by Verdi, Massenet and Strauss.
While we were eating, my mind went back to the night of the Metropolitan Opera‘s 125th anniversary gala. After act 1, my friends and I had decided to cross the street to buy a blanket at Bed, Bath and Beyond so that we could keep warm while watching the rest of the event. In the hustle and bustle that is Manhattan, I accidently collided with a woman in a gown who was leaving the event… she also looked familiar. I turned to my friend Megan, and before I could open my mouth, she said “that was Jane Fonda… photo op is over, she’s leaving.”