Winter is coming!

The canals are now sporting a layer of ice, and even though snowfall has been limited, it definitely feels like winter. The Neva river is not yet completely frozen over, but has jagged sheets of ice flowing along with the current. This morning as I was walking over the Blagoveshensky bridge, I watched a group of birds taking joy rides on the ice with what looked to me to be gleeful smiles.

Sketch of the Blagoveshensky bridge (thank you Google Image):

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When the canals and the Neva freeze over completely, I am told that the city authorities will break up the ice to discourage people from walking on it. 

I came across this historic image (1924) of a life-size chess game on Dvortsovaya Ploschad (Palace Square), which is the main central square of the city:

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I think about this picture every time I walk past the square…so much history here!

SWEDISH POP

Recently I took a quiz entitled “What is your true age?” on BuzzFeed, and was informed that I am 75 years old. I suspect this outcome has something to do with my love for opera, tea and cats.

To rebel against my results, I decided it was time to go to a rock concert. Here are my friends Andrei, Misha and Masha in the Ledovy Dvorets (Ice Palace) Stadium as we wait for the arrival of the Swedish pop rock duo, Roxette: 

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For those of you who don’t know the group, here is one of their more famous songs:

If I took the quiz again, I’m pretty sure my results would go down 20 years at least. So there, Buzzfeed. 

CONSERVATORY

Things are going well at the conservatory. I have even made friends with Mr. Rimsky-Korsakov…

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…even though he does not seem impressed. 

One of my favorite places in the conservatory is the library. You aren’t allowed to go browse the stacks yourself; instead, you look through a card catalogue and tell the lady behind the desk what you need and she fetches it. The shelves are packed, dusty, slightly crooked, and utterly charming:

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Things are continuing to go well with my teacher, Ms. Kondina. In addition to being a great singer, she is a wonderful person with a healthy supply of anecdotes, laughter, and zest for life:

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Anecdotes are an uber-Russian thing, and come up often in conversation..I have found myself doing the same, so I guess I must be adapting to my new habitat 😉 Some of Ms. Kondina’s favorite things to say in lessons:

“Дыхание до пяток!” (Breathe all the way down to your heels!)

“Голос веди ровно, мягко, красиво…в космос!” (Lead the sound evenly, gently, beautifully…into the cosmos!)

“ЗВУК ВПЕРЕД!!” (Lead the sound forward!)

THANKSGIVING

My American friend Frances and her family invited me for a beautiful Thanksgiving meal, which was deliciously prepared by the staff of their hotel. We had a wonderful time, and even though I missed my family, it was a memorable holiday with new friendships made!

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My stomach was pleasantly surprised at the familiar comfort foods…with the addition of parsley, dill, pickled mushrooms and cabbage, of course…because Russia. Turns out they all go well with turkey!

CONCERTS

My professor for art song class (“камерное пениe”), Maria Germanovna Ludko, is a whirlwind of an organizer and is always setting up performances for us (she is a National Artist of Russia and a local favorite–she has been performing since age 8! She is the head of the Art Song department at the conservatory and also has a Phd in musicology…you know, no big deal!). In November, we have had a few concerts, as well as community service recitals in a nursing home and in a support center for blind patients.

Maria Germanovna always introduces me as “our стажер (diploma student) from America,” so the audience knows where I am from and is always surprised that I don’t have an accent when I sing! After one of the concerts, a sweet Russian lady came up to me and talked about how political differences seem far away when you meet someone from another country in person, and even further away once you share music. Her comments were so touching to me, and I loved that her thinking was so in line with the Fulbright program and what it stands for. 

Here is a picture taken after a concert in the beautiful town of Pavlovsk, a few kilometers outside of St. Petersburg. Our group included singers from Mongolia, Malta, Germany, America and Russia…quite a bouquet:

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(Maria Germanovna is in the gold dress)

RUSSIAN TV:

In other news, there IS an American-idol-esque show in Russia for opera. It’s called “Bolshaya Opera”, and features superstar judges and aria extravaganzas that include crazy props and microphones and reverb and light shows and everything…

 …..and with that, I say good night and “Пока! До встречи!” (Until we meet again!)

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November is here!

In honor of the two-month-a-versary of my time in Russia, I have started a list of

~*Things I have had to Get Used to in Russia*~

  • Garderob/Гардероб: In most public institutions, there is a cloak room where you are expected to leave your coat, umbrella, etc. It’s very convenient, especially when I actually remember to retrieve all my belongings. What strikes me is the intensity with which people regard NOT leaving your coat in the garderob….the other day, I made the mistake of popping into the conservatory medical center without taking off my coat, and was immediately escorted out by the shocked medical personnel! Also, when I was attending a concert last week, I wanted to keep my coat on because I was cold, but the ushers didn’t allow me into the auditorium until I had given my coat up. Also, in many institutions, the cloakroom gives out mandatory covers for shoes to keep the floors clean:

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  • Russian Applause: I love the way that Russian audiences applaud. When the applause begins, there is the normal chaotic scattered clapping, but after a while, the whole audience settles into a collective rhythm as the bows continue. There is something very connected and organic about this…
  • Exact change: In Russia, the customer is not always right. The cashier ladies at all grocery stores seem to have a chronic lack of change, and sigh profoundly and mutter under their breath if you give them a large bill for your purchases. I live in perpetual fear of angry grocery lady clerks.
  • Purple hair: Purple would be the last color I would expect to see on an elderly lady, and yet here I have seen many dames sporting the hue. Perplexed, I asked my hairdresser about this, wondering if maybe they all bought a dye that went terribly wrong…in which case, they should stop buying it, haha. But she just laughed and answered that it’s been a trend since the Soviet times, and older women think the color is preferable to grey:   

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  • Cell Phones: The decorum for cell phone use is very different here. In a lesson, it’s perfectly normal for a professor to pause the lesson every time they get a call, or for a student to have their phone ring and leave the class to answer it. 
  • Herring: Herring…I still haven’t gotten used to the taste of herring… There is a popular dish here called “Селедка под шубой”, or “Herring under a fur coat,” where the herring is skillfully hidden under a blanket of vegetables and beets but then comes out in the bottom layer to surprise my unsuspecting tastebuds. I want so desperately to like it, but I guess it will take some more time: 

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SNOW!

The first snow of the year:

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PUSHKIN CONCERT

On October 25th, Miss Kondina’s students presented a recital of arias and arts songs set to texts of Alexander Pushkin, the beloved poet and literary icon. We sang at the Белый Зал/White Hall of the St. Petersburg Polytechnic University, a gorgeous space, with excellent acoustics:

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(<<I Remember the beautiful moment…>> Arias and Romances of A.S. Pushkin and his contemporaries)

INTERNATIONAL CONSERVATORY FESTIVAL WEEK:

The last week in October was the International Conservatory Festival Week, a weeklong series of concerts and events with musicians from all over the world:

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I sang the premiere of a new work with the St. Petersburg Conservatory Chamber Orchestra in a concert honoring the 450th year since the birth of Shakespeare. We performed a set of three songs called “Wedding Songs” (texts taken from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”), written by a member of the composition faculty, Ekaterina Ivanova-Blinova. The pieces were upbeat and fun to sing and featured three soloists: soprano, percussion and electric guitar. I can only describe the style as a mix of Tchaikovsky’s gorgeous string orchestrations with rhythmic and melodic elements of Elvis or the Beatles, complete with the electric guitar humming in the background. Hopefully I can get a recording! I was happy to sing in the Малый Зал/Small Hall named after Glazunov, especially since it will be closing for renovation sometime this school-year: 

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(Beautiful flowers given to me by the composer) 

ROMANSIADA 

This past weekend, I participated in an Art Song competition called “Romansiada” in Gatchina, which is about 50 kilometers outside St. Petersburg, and the home of the Gatchina Palace (commissioned by Catherine the Great for one of her favorites):

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It was fun to hear all of the Russian art song and folk repertoire sung by the contestants, including the famous “Дорогой Длинною”/”Those were the days”, which had the audience clapping and singing along. Here is a youtube rendition I found that reflects the Russian stage esthetic of sparkly lights and all that jazz: 

I sang Alabiev’s “Соловей” (The Nightingale) and Shishkin’s song “Слушайте, если хотите” (Listen, if you want) and was delighted to win 3rd prize. Here is a picture of my diploma, and also my friend Daria and myself after the performance: 

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McDONALDS

Last week I was walking home after a long day and felt a wave of homesickness, for which I then found the obvious remedy: 

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As I was sitting down, it struck me that the remedy didn’t really make sense, since I rarely eat Mickie D’s at home… but there you go. 

SHORTER DAYS

The days are continuing to get shorter! I am 99.9% a morning person but even for me it is getting difficult to wake up early: 

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Translation: Morning is whenever I wake up.