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Amy Tan

Best-Selling Novelist

Amy Tan: I loved fairy tales when I was a kid. Grimm. The grimmer the better. I loved gruesome gothic tales and, in that respect, I liked Bible stories, because to me they were very gothic. It's very gothic to have a little boy killing a giant, somebody's head being served on a platter, dead people being raised out of the grave, things like that. Also, because the rhythms, the prose style of the Bible is, of course, very influential, has been very influential on many writers. So as stories, I loved fairy tales. Anything that had a degree of the fantastic. I suppose what some people would call today "magical realism."
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Amy Tan

Best-Selling Novelist

There was a lot of storytelling going on in our house: family stories, gossip, what happened to the people left behind in China. The gossip about people's character that went around as my aunt and my mother shelled peas on the dining table covered with newspaper. Overhearing things being said in Chinese that I wasn't supposed to understand -- which is the only reason I understand some Shanghainese and Mandarin. And being told there were certain books I couldn't read, which made me go out deliberately and find those books.
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Julie Taymor

Theater, Opera and Film Director

I met a Noh mask carver in Kyoto, and I was very impressed, when I went into his workshop, how he laid out his tools, how he laid out the wood and the carving tools, and the neatness, so that the act -- the sheer act of carving -- was an act of devotion. And you didn't go into just a messy studio and just slap-dash something together. The making of the mask, or the making of the puppet in Indonesia, the carving of the leather shadow puppet, is such a high art form that -- a wooden mask, you have to hold the head to north, and the south would be the bottom. How you put the masks in a box, how you treat them -- they are not merchandise. They are not just inanimate objects.
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Julie Taymor

Theater, Opera and Film Director

When people are there, and they're committed -- whether they're a performer who says, "I'm going to take the next 10 hours to put on my costume, it will take me that long, and as I do, I will eat this food and I will cleanse my body," whether -- you know, if you're a dancer, a Kathakali dancer from India putting on that 40 pounds of fabric -- it transforms who you are so that you can stay up all night and dance for 20 hours. As a regular Joe, you can't do that.
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Kiri Te Kanawa

Beloved Opera Singer

I'd actually done the Countess, which was very important. I've actually done it on stage, yes, with a director. Yes, I worked for several weeks in Santa Fe, which was a wonderful experience. I mean, it was very precious, that experience. I look back and always remember that glorious time. That gave me the strength to do the Covent Garden one. Because I'd done it. I'd been there. And yet, I was in a more superior production of course. Everything was just super-super-duper. It was really fantastic.
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Kiri Te Kanawa

Beloved Opera Singer

First of all, of course, you've got to know the music. You've got to know all the different things. And so the music came, of course, first with me. Then you had to know what you were doing, then you have to know what your colleagues were doing. You had to know what they were talking about and how they were moving around you. And then you have to make sure that your timing -- and your colleague was not, as they say, upstaged during what you were doing. So you had to sort of take your place in the jigsaw puzzle. And the jigsaw puzzle was doing your job within the job. But yet, always being part of the action and having the energy behind all you were doing. So you all live with the same mission, was to complete the story and tell it to the audience. That was my thing all the time. Make sure the audience knows what we're doing. Of course, you know, surtitles and subtitles have come out. And I think that's wonderful. Because the audience, if they don't speak the language, they're right in it with you. You say, "I understood every word!" And I think, "Yes. Of course, you did." That's fantastic.
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Kiri Te Kanawa

Beloved Opera Singer

I do remember the preparations every night, and during the dress rehearsal, that the pianist would come to my room and we'd go up, walk up two or three flights above the dressing room. And I'd literally sing that aria four times through. And then I'd be in costume. And I'd walk. I'd have my costume on. I was all ready. And from that point of work, singing it through three or four times, very softly -- never sing full voice -- I walked straight down to the stage, sit in position and I was ready. And that's how I did it. And I continued to do that for many years, every time I did Figaro.
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Kiri Te Kanawa

Beloved Opera Singer

Kiri Te Kanawa: When I was singing opera, the day was always either a singing lesson or seriously going down to the opera house, wherever I could go, and either working through with an accompanist -- certainly, if it was any Mozart, I'd go through all the recits (recitatives), every single recit -- because those were the ones that were always the trickiest -- and do the whole recit through on the day. Then I'd normally take a singing lesson. If I was in England, I'd take a singing lesson with my singing teacher, then I'd go home, I'd have lunch, then I'd go back into the theater. And that was it. An hour and a half to London and an hour and a half back. I did that twice on performance day. And that's why I never went out to dinners afterwards. I would just go straight home, because another hour and a half back in the car, and I just was ready for bed, because I'm a very early riser. I don't sleep very well, so I'm normally awake by at least 6:00 in the morning. So I don't need to have late nights. I don't enjoy them.
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Kiri Te Kanawa

Beloved Opera Singer

I've said to so many people, all you do is you breathe and you sing. Now, it's how you breathe and how you sing on top of that is what you have to learn to do. But it's no more difficult than that. And that's all I do is I breathe and I sing. But it's how I do it, and where I put the breath and how high I use the breath, and how low I use the breath, and where I would quickly snatch a breath in order to have just enough to complete the phrase. How I would support when I'm running out of air and to support the next two notes that I'll need at the end of the phrase to take the next breath. Now, how do I breathe out in order to breathe in? So it's all those sorts of things that is "breathe and sing." But it's the complexities of how to breathe and sing. And as I say to them time and time again, to breathe out is as important as to breathe in, because you take away the tension to breathe out. To breathe in, you build up the breath to put the notes on top of the air. Then I say it's a bit like a ping pong ball. But the water and the ping pong balls are sitting on the top. That's where you should be singing.
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