By Laura Albers (Ring Cycle Concertmaster)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

I have been a member of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra for 10 year and my first complete Ring cycle this summer is an experience that I will remember forever. My usual chair is Associate Concertmaster, and due to an unfortunate accident, Kay Stern, our Concertmaster, is unable to play the summer season. When I received the official call I’d be moving over to sit Concertmaster a week before rehearsals began, I was glad for the serious preparation I’d done. Below is an excerpt from my Laura’s Training on the Go fitness blog. I wrote this post well into Wagner preparation when I realized that my practicing had become my main physical workout each day.
“On Monday I decided that I needed to begin treating my preparation for this summer’s Ring Cycle as I would any other endurance event. Each practice session would have a specific goal and I would begin and end with stretching. Each day I would do my “drills.” My final goal is to be able to sit through rehearsals and play performances without hurting (and, of course, hitting the correct notes). Wagner stands out for me because even though I love it, it’s really strenuous and lasts a long time. Hmmm…sounds like a triathlon.
Let’s compare: timings for the operas are approximately 2:35, 4:30, 4:50, 5:15 = just over 17 hours. The Vineman took me 14:20, which is shorter than the Ring Cycle but an Ironman is raced in one day with no breaks. The operas will be on separate days with intermissions. I can get through both races and operas, but not without proper training. My first off-season from the opera I joined Team in Training and barely touched my violin for several months. I had never in my life put my violin down for such a long time and when I picked it up again and dove back into 7 hour-a-day rehearsals, I paid for it. Everything hurt and my technique had suffered. I should have known better; I would never decide, after sitting on the couch for 6 months, to race a half ironman!
I’ve taken the past several days off from outdoor workouts, as I sort through the latest back pain. Foam roll-outs help relieve the discomfort and my acupuncture appointment this week really helped. I continue to explore different bodywork options and as I play my violin, I’m being really conscious of position and posture. I take frequent “shake-out” breaks and dance around my tiny practice room to loosen up.” 4/8/11
Obviously in the pit, there isn’t room for dance breaks, but the challenge remains to keep my lower back loose and comfortable while sitting for long stretches as my instrument portrays the emotions and intensity of the music. My habit in previous years of racing in the morning and performing opera in the afternoon now serves me in that even as my physical body exhausts, I have the ability to remain mentally sharp (no easy task at hour 5!). My “training” prepared me well to play Wagner’s Ring Cycle; however, nothing could have prepared me for the pure excitement and adrenaline rush I experience every time our incredible orchestra begins one of these spectacular works of genius. Watching Maestro Runnicles on the podium as he inspires magical sounds from every corner of the pit hypnotizes me and I look forward to every second of the journey!