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  • Writer's picturekatherinelerner

Viel Glück

WARNING: LONG POST WITH TONAL SHIFTS 😂 So, 2019 is almost over. Where was I at this time last year? Yes, here in Linz, but in a completely different place. Emotionally exhausted from the recent drawn-out death of the-cat-of-my-life Mushu, and from my job being in jeopardy, but soldiering on (what else can you do?). I bought a New Years totem from one of the many little stalls set up on the Landstraße -- a small ceramic square that managed to include almost all the Austrian symbols of the New Year -- a pig, a ladybug, a four leaf clover, and a small drawing of a scroll where someone had painted, in simple black capitals, VIEL GLÜCK. Funny that in German, Glück can mean both happiness and luck. Which in a way, makes sense, since they can be so intertwined with one other. I watched the midnight fireworks alone on our little balcony, a cup of champagne in hand, and as the sky flashed in color, and the long bare tree branches flickered in the bursts of light, I wished myself and my little fragile family, both happiness and luck for whatever lay ahead.

In January, I debuted the role of Klytämnestra, the broken, haunted, angry queen. I fell in love with the angular, terrifying, mysterious music, and its perfect union with the lyrics of Hofmannsthal, the gruesome images and ruminations. They dressed me in a desperately revealing white evening gown, heavy gold jewelry, bloodshot eyes, and ghoulishly red lips. I remembered again what it was like to passionately love what you are doing, or, put another way, the extreme joy of doing something extremely. I kept my job.

A few days before the New Year, Leo began to walk. It's funny to think that something so second-nature was at one point so deliberate and ungainly. But every month, of course, his gait grew steadier. Now, he careens around the apartment at full speed, his feet almost bouncing off the herringbone. "No, no, no" he admonishes with a knowing grin in your direction. But this is actually the invitation to chase him.

In this year, more and more of him has been revealed. A highly energetic boy who loves to be manhandled, yet who grows easily overwhelmed in social situations. A huge maker of messes, but also someone bothered by them. An inquisitive explorer who wants to understand how everything works. A lover of the outdoors, water, digging, "helping" Mama bake, and currently, firetrucks. And most lovely of all, an individual with a silly sense of humor and a hugely active and idiosyncratic imagination.

The spring brought another opera, a stressful family trip to Gründlsee, and more of the day to day that characterizes our life in Linz -- trips to the Hauptbahnhof to watch the trains go by, the hillside playground in Bauernberg, the Volksgarten, the "beach" at the Donau. A sense of integration into our small community here. Pancakes, failed gardening attempts, and a new (old) dining table.

And then, our lovely cat Mia dead of a failing heart, and shortly after, six weeks of summer in America. The first surreal day or two when the familiar is wrapped in a certain dream-like shimmer, and then the ease of of slipping into our old life as if we never left it. Speaking in English! Driving in a car! American culture and heavy air-conditioning. The explosive beauty of the East Coast in the summer -- the light-dappled waves of the harbor, the salty, briny smell, the shores strewn with jingleshells, clamshells, tiny pebbles. Seagulls overhead, and more delicate marsh-birds. Mornings of tall cups of iced -to-go coffee and swimming, fresh tomatoes and corn from the farm-stand, the sounds of cicadas and crickets in the evenings. And of course family. I live each moment both for now and the future, holding it tight like my New Years totem to ward off future loneliness. Both experiencing and "recording" the first swim in the harbor with Leo, my mom, James, and Molly. His second birthday celebration and all the faces that sang to him. The way my mom's side-yard flooded with the hose until it was a pool deep enough to swim in. Leo, in his element, running through the arches of hydrangeas. Leo, running down the hill holding hands with his young cousin. And then when it's all over, the leaving is so painful. You feel that a ghostly part of you will always dwell there, and that you are ripping yourself in two to leave it, you are literally splitting yourself apart. But for now, you don't have the choice.

I came back for something amazing, my first "female lead" in a show, Fidès in Le prophète. I've done some large roles since I started working at Linz, but what I premiered in September was my largest. She basically doesn't stop singing the entire fourth and fifth act, and there's a scena with coloratura to boot. It was at times super stressful to have so much responsibility, but ultimately it was exciting, exhilarating, amazing! My very own window into normal soprano/tenor life. I'll never forget the moment I came out for my bow on opening night. I may never have such a high again. I will always treasure it.

What being here and singing in Linz has showed me is what I'm capable of. In a nutshell, the roles in the Dramatic Mezzo fach are HARD. I've come to accept that it's a normal part of the cycle here that I get a role, look at the music and think "oh shit!" then I work on it; I get into my voice by repetition and practice, like any athlete, and by the end of the process, lo and behold I can sing it! The roles have been quite varied in their particular challenges, but by the end of the process, I've been able to do work I'm largely proud of. The past three years have helped me take myself out of any box I've put myself in and to have faith in the process. And for that, I'm incredibly thankful.

My New Year's resolution for this year is to try to live as much as I can in the current moment. I wasn't accepted for a Met audition this year. They wanted a pre-screening video and I couldn't provide one (long story) but there's no knowing if I would have got an audition even if that was the case. It's not hard to feel a bit crushed and professionally jealous. Maybe I should shoot higher in a public forum, but honestly, I would have been thrilled over the moon to understudy the 3rd Flower Pot from the Left. Of course, there are always things could be improved (I'm an expert at focusing on my flaws and failings, no worries there), but in the important ways I feel that I am at the height of my powers right now. I don't think I've ever had this much control over my instrument, and there's this amazing feeling of potency in the ability to use your voice exactly how you want. 2019 has, no doubt, been the year of my best singing, a culmination of years of effort and striving. I also feel more and more confident and experienced as a performer. And so in the face of that, I feel frustrated and stymied that I haven't gotten any traction for guest work. At the same time, I see so many incredibly talented friends in America with no work to speak of, whether from bad luck, timing, or because the industry there is shriveling, and I am fiercely, intensely grateful for my position in the Landestheater Linz ensemble.

When I accepted the position, I had no idea what it would be like. It was my incredible happiness/luck/Glück to find out that Linz had an amazing top-notch orchestra, a beautiful new theater, and a GMD and Intendent who had a really exciting vision for the theater and what it could do. I've had so many opportunities to learn, to grow, to be stretch myself, so many fabulous artistic opportunities that I wouldn't have had elsewhere. In short, I've gotten to do what I love to do for a living at a very high artistic level. And so, I am going to continue to try to make peace with my past. I may never sing in America again, I may never sing at the Met. I may never have that cinematic arc of redemption I'm seeking. And it's human to hold these seemingly contradictory feelings of frustration and gratitude in my heart. But as much as possible, I'm going to focus on my personal successes and what is good. So, I'm going to take the space to savor Fidès and Azucena and Kundry, and hopefully sing the hell out of them because this is a season of opportunity like no other, and I'll probably never have another like it again.

Happy New Year! Guten Rutsch!

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