The adventure of Galeano Salas aboard the MS Europa. The International Stella Maris Vocal Competition.
In November our Opera Studio member Galeano Salas was invited to a special adventure: The International Stella Maris Vocal Competition aboard the MS Europa. Several opera houses around the world nominate a singer from their opera studio to compete on a cruise ship. The other young artists were from the Salzburger Festspiele, the Royal Opera House, Frankfurt Oper, San Francisco Opera, Semperoper Dresden and Bayerische Staatsoper. In this log book he recorded his experiences and little adventures from two weeks at sea:
Opernstudio-Tagebuch (6): Der Sänger und das Meer (englisch)
The adventure of Galeano Salas aboard the MS Europa. The International Stella Maris Vocal Competition.
Day One: Bilbao. Arriving at the airport in Bilbao I boarded a bus with some of the other passengers and off we went on a day trip of Bilbao. It was very awkward at first. I was a bit unsure of how to behave seeing as how I was a passenger, but also an employee. I didn’t know if I was allowed to mingle with the guests or if that behavior would be frowned upon. Seeing as how I hadn’t boarded the ship yet, these were things I wanted to address. I was also a bit worried about my roommate situation. That can always get a little bit tricky especially during a singing competition. Different singers like to do different things before a performance and tensions can get pretty high.
Nearing the end of the day we embarked upon the MS Europa. Our luggage was already waiting in our cabin and I met my roommate Efrain Solis, a baritone from California. He had just flown in from California and had not slept in almost 48 hours. I did my best to keep him awake for a bit longer and made him promise not to sleep until 9 or 10pm. In my opinion, that is the best way to minimize jetlag. It wasn’t long before we met our singing neighbors across the hall, two more tenors as well as the ladies two doors down (both sopranos). This completed our party of six. For the next two weeks we would be spending a lot of time together as friends, colleagues and most importantly competitors.
Day two: At Sea.
We had a quick meet and greet the evening before. There we were introduced to the Jury members and the entertainment director aboard the MS Europa. Some things were explained about the competition. Most importantly that there would be three rounds: opera, oratorio and lieder. Each round would be voted on by the audience and jury. Immediately after, the contestants would be ranked from first to third place. Lastly, the contestants are to pick their first piece and the jury will then select the second piece from the remaining four pieces in each category.
We spent the rest of the day exploring the ship, enjoying the food, the lounging areas and entertainment on board. The best part for me was the daily waffle hour from 15:00-17:00. So good!!
Day three: Porto
I had a rehearsal in the Club Belvedere, a small performance space and lounge of the ship where you can listen to live music and enjoy a drink in the evenings, and then ran to catch a bus. I missed the last shuttle bus going into Porto and decided I would take a local bus instead. It was not the best idea as I don't speak Portuguese or know the routes, but I was able to see some less touristic parts of town and eventually found my way to the downtown area. One of the things I love to do when I visit someplace new is eat the local street food. I walk to any little place with a local vibe and a few people and order something I’ve never heard of before. This time I got a strange cheese and ham sandwich pressed into a sort of Philo dough.
Day four: Lisbon.
Competition begins! We saw Lisbon by day – probably my favorite city on the trip – and had the first round of the competition in the evening. I selected Una furtiva lagrima and the judges selected Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön von Die Zauberflöte. At first I wished for a different Aria from the jury because I thought my other pieces would help to show a greater dramatic variety. After some time I started to see Die Zauberflöte as an opportunity to show a heartfelt character and my German. At the end of the evening the judges and audience voted. I was voted first place with both the jury and the audience.
Day five: At Sea.
The day began with a rehearsal for the oratorio round. This happened in the Club Belvedere again around noon. I selected Agnus Dei by Georges Bizet and the jury selected Gratias agimus tibi by Puccini. Walking around the ship I noticed people started to take a much bigger interest in me and my colleagues. Most of them would smile, or whisper as we walked past, but one thing was very clear - our days of walking around the ship unnoticed were over. It was interesting to see such a variety of people. There was a big golfing component to the trip so many of the gentlemen came with their golf clubs. There were others who came to the Stella Maris competition every year. We even got to meet a couple who won their trip on the cruise in a raffle!
Day six: Seville.
Oratorio Round! It was a long day in Seville. I can honestly say I overdid it as a tourist that day. My feet hurt, I had been drinking water all day, but when I returned to the ship my face was flushed and my voice very dry. I quickly showered got ready and drank a lot of apple juice and water for the next three hours before the performance. Luckily by show time I was feeling much more like myself. This was the most difficult round for me. Most oratorio arias consist of the same two religious sentences repeated several times. It's difficult to truly find a genuine meaning and interpretation to each moment, but I did my best. Again the judges and audience voted. Everyone sang really beautifully and many people sang incredibly difficult coloratura so I felt sure I would not receive the same recognition as last time. We went to a bar and awaited the announcement from the audience and for the jury. After some time, we were told to go look at the score board. Once again, the audience and jury decided to put me in first place. I felt honored and also very nervous for the final round.
Day seven: Seville.
On this day I went to the Cathedral, la plaza de Toros, Plaza España and bought a few souvenirs for my wife. Later in the day I met with Wilhelm Sinkovicz to work on my German pronunciation and interpretation as I was to sing Ein Traum by Grieg (my choice) and Zueignung by Strauss (jury choice). After that I had my rehearsal with the great Mr. Stephen Ralls. For me this was the most difficult rehearsal. I was having trouble finding the interpretation I wanted in Zueignung. It's a strophic piece and on a German ship it is my responsibility to have complete ownership of the text and interpretation. I went out with some of my colleagues and we found ourselves in a wonderful international food festival. We decided to stay for a few hours to enjoy music, food and each other's company. There is a video somewhere of me dancing in Plaza España and running around with street food in hand. Needless to say it was a lovely evening. At the end of the day we returned aboard the MS Europa and I switched cabins as my roommate Efrain had been very ill.
At Sea. Final round: Lieder. I spent my day trying to sleep and drinking a lot of fluids as I had also started to feel ill. I think the change of cabins came a bit too late. I waited to start singing until the last moment. My voice was feeling a bit thin, but I sounded normal. The time to sing arrived and I truly felt like the odds were against me. Having been placed first in every category before I felt there would a lot of pressure for me to fail. Sometimes being on top and knowing it can be detrimental for your psyche. I knew this would be the most difficult and discerning round. I did my best to stay calm and to keep my illness from getting in my voice as I sang. I had a couple of indications that I was not in top form, but I was incredibly relieved to have finished the final round in the competition. I do remember the rocking of the ship was a bit stronger that evening. I could actually feel the ship sway under me while I sang.
Malaga. I woke up feeling worse, but still managed to take advantage of the day. We planned a final concert with the other contestants and had a long rehearsal in the morning. The concert would take place the next evening as a final show before the judges announced the results and prizes of the competition. I only had four hours in Malaga, but I made the most of it. It has a beautiful modern port, with an art gallery, a shopping area and many restaurants.
I also went into town and saw City Hall, the cathedral and the castle up on a hill. The castle was especially hard with my cold. I'm in good shape, not great shape, but good enough to walk up all the steps of the Odeonsplatz U-Bahn escalator. Well climbing up this hill was one of the more difficult things I remember doing. By the end of the day I was worn out and decided to skip dinner and head straight to bed.
At sea. The day of the Final Concert and announcement of awards. I sounded like a baritone when I awoke. Luckily I didn't have much to sing, but it was still important that I sound mostly like myself on the final evening of the competition. Everyone wanted to know the results. I had befriended the ship's Jazz Band and dancers who were excited to see who would win which prize. I lay in my balcony and took in the sun for a lot of the day. I took vitamins, and envisioned I was healthy, but it was no use. I would have to sing sick and would need to find a way around the stuffy muted sound coming out of my mouth. I warmed up a lot and made sure to go up some steps right before singing. Somehow that helps me open my sinuses for a minute or two. The staff knew I was sick, but luckily no one else noticed that I sounded sick.
We sang a final ensemble of Granada in Spanish and German, then proceeded to sit near the edge of the stage. The captain of the ship came to greet us and spoke about the history of the competition and his own history with singing. It was a story he had told me two days prior at dinner. He and I ended up sitting together for a delightful dinner since no other tables were available. It turned out he and his wife had attended one of the Bayerische Staatsoper’s Festspiel-Nacht a few years ago. He said he had never seen or heard anything like it before and it really made a lasting impression on him. I made sure to invite him to come again this year ;). I was very nervous and time seemed to pass very slowly while the captain was speaking. I think we were all eager to see who winners were, especially after having to wait for two days after the Lieder round.
Finally Randall Cooper our entertainment manager aboard the ship walked out holding the first of many large diplomas. The first prize was awarded to, Mingjie Lei, a tenor representing the Salzburg festival, who won a concert in Vienna with repertoire of his choice. Then, Jennifer Davis was awarded a photo shoot and a social media coaching with Helga Machreich herself. This is a strange time in a competition for a competitor. You hope you might get something, but also feel insecure you may not. It could be a great thing that you haven't been mentioned as there even bigger prizes to come, or you won't be receiving anything. Sid McLauchlan, a recording engineer and producer of Deutsche Grammaphon stood up to announce his own award. Before announcing my name he looked at me and smiled. I was thrilled and walked up to receive the diploma. He's Canadian so I was able to freely express my gratitude for the award. (I've been awarded a 4-hour recording session at their headquarters in Berlin.) I hurried back and sat back down by my colleagues.
The captain stood up to present the final and most important award on the ship, the audience choice award. He spoke and kept glancing at the name before speaking a bit more. There really was a stillness in the room before he said "Galeano Salas." I ran up and shook his hand. Then Mr. Quasthoff, head of the jury came up to shake my hand and take a picture with me. I was truly overjoyed. We all went to the ship's bar and my fellow contestants decided they'd have a drink on my tab. One drink became many and no one felt bad about it. They knew I had plenty of money left in my drink voucher since I don't drink.
Day Eleven: Valencia.
I woke up unable to talk! I didn't know what had happened. I slept in and felt very sick, but being unable to speak was very rare for me. We received feedback from the Jury. I mostly listened and nodded. Many helpful things were said. I stepped out to see Valencia, but only lasted three hours. It was warm, but I felt cold. I didn't feel like myself, so I bought medicine and slept for the rest of the day. Day Twelve:Barcelona. I started to feel better and decided I would take one of those city bus tours. Take my advice and don't take them. It drives you to many important sites, but then it also drives you to other less important places. I think it would have been easier and almost cheaper for me to take a taxi or a metro all day instead. I loved seeing FC Barcelona stadium. The Museu Nacional d'art de Catalunya perched up on the hill was wonderful and there was also an anime convention going on. Sort of like ComicCon if you've ever heard of that, but essentially hundreds of people dress up like Pokemon, other video game favorites and cartoon characters. I didn't go into the convention itself, but I enjoyed walking through the costumed crowds of Barcelona. Dinners on the cruise were really fantastic. Each night had a different theme and on this night we had the famed pizza night. It did not disappoint. I definitely ate way more than I should have!
Day Thirteen: Marseille.
The night prior had been incredibly bumpy. I had trouble sleeping and when I woke up I realized why. The sea on the harbour was incredibly choppy, the weather felt like winter had frozen over and there was one of the strongest breezes I'd ever felt. Most of my friends decided to go out for an hour or so, but I didn't want to waste the day. I spent my day inside museums and Marseille Cathedral. I also bought a lot of soap :).
Day Fourteen: Nice.
My final day on the ship. I was off the ship by 9:30 and we were lucky to have short bus tour of Nice. We went to the olive trees situated by the Chagall Museum, the Monastery of St. Francis and the roman Cimiez bathhouse before heading to the airport.
Thus came the end of my travels and my adventure aboard the MS Europa. I started out with hesitation. With a lot of nerves at having to speak in German the whole time. Luckily, I found friendship with all my colleagues and had a wonderful roommate to help with the nerves. (Sending a big shout-out to Efrain Solis!) The waves were tricky and you never get used to singing with a cold, but it was an unforgettable trip and I’m very honored to have received these awards. I’ll make an effort to stay in touch with all the people I met on board. Several guests intend to see me this weekend in Lucia di Lammermoor as well as in my recital on Sunday, December 10th at 6pm in the Künstlerhaus. All the info can be found at www.staatsoper.de. See you there and thanks for reading!!