“On the wings of love…”

That’s a wrap! Well, nearly a wrap – tomorrow we must finish up the Act 1 finale duet and a few stray recits, but for all intents and purposes, my Ariodante is officially “in the can”! I must say, it feels WONDERFUL!! It was quite an accomplishment and thrill, to say the very least, to work on this iconic role 2 years ago and bring him to the stage for my first time. Spending time in his shoes (or boots, as it were) was an exhilarating journey for me and I relished every moment. Much time has passed, a lot of life has transpired, and I’ve been given the chance to revisit him and put him under the microscope, having the luxury of spending time with each phrase, playing with the colors and making different character choices with each take. It has been a tremendous learning experience for me, and I count myself ridiculously fortunate to have had such an opportunity!

Today was my final aria – the monstrously difficult “Con l’ali di costanza” with its nearly unsingable, endless phrases. It is the most instrumental of all arias I have sung – as if he had composed this for oboe rather than voice! Handel’s original version for Carastini relentlessly asks for note after note to come forth in sometimes very disjointed positioning (that’s the instrumental part), all riding on the text of “Con l’ali di costanza…’ (“On the wings of constancy”), which implies that the pervasive color should be that of air, light, fleeting, soaring, not a care in the world! Well, I have a LOT of cares when singing this fiendishly difficult piece. It’s funny – you ask nearly any singer who has sung this role, and I would put a lot of money on each of them identifying this piece as a veritable nightmare. (Same goes for Idamante’s opening aria in Idomeneo – it is the bane of our existence as mezzos.)

Now, mysteriously, after the opening, Handel quickly devised a shorter version of the same aria which, while still posing technical problems, is markedly more approachable – mainly because the offending passages were reduced by several measures. It would seem that Carastini had lungs of titanium, and the rest of us poor mortals must compensate!

We have done the full version here. Upon waking this morning, I was ready for the challenge mentally, even if my body was sounding the alarm of being tired. Singing this aria with a slightly compromised breath support system is not an option!! So I steeled myself, rested up a bit in the afternoon, and gave it my best shot!

In preparing this dense but brilliant aria, I had to work on the various elements in isolation. Much of the work was purely technical: very slow passage work to insure accurate pitches; very elaborate rhythmic work to enable facility and speed; lots of breathing exercises to give life to the long phrases; and then trying to throw all the technical challenges out the window and simply let the voice FLY. I won’t profess to say that I’m 100% happy with the results – I’d love to have flown a bit more fleetly, accurately and easily, but I am very happy that I made it to the end in one piece!!!

The conductor and crew were also very happy as well, so I will trust their ears to say that “we got it” and Ariodante flies on the wings of love to start this opera out! All of that having been said, it is a RUSH to sing, and when we finished the complete take, I am sure I felt what marathon runners feel – that flood of endorphins pulse through the body. Then I had a big plate of pasta with red wine, and my day felt complete!

No pictures to post today – I was a bit too tired from yesterday’s marathon session, and my concentration was all on singing today. Also, while I can’t quite respond to each of the wonderful comments and questions from you all for the moment, I did want to address Chris, who mentioned being a bit disillusioned about the recording process, imagining that perhaps a recording session such as this consists of the singers going through the entire piece and voila, we have a finished project. Instead, with the different edits and takes, it somehow might seem like we’re cheating just a bit. I understand this. And there is a big discussion to be had about the merits of live recording vs. studio recordings. But I, for one, think there is place for both.

But I would like speak to this particular project (and the others I have worked on with Alan, as well as my solo discs), and that is that we get one chance to lay down our version of Ariodante. ONE shot to create something that will outlive us all. He puts a tremendous amount of research into the style and performing habits of the day, and the desire of submitting the culmination of that work onto a disc means he wants his very best vision to arrive on your shelf. We performers are hardly predictable machines. Every single time we sing a role it is different. No matter how proficient we are, we make mistakes. We sing out of tune. We have a low-energy day and the performance somehow falls flat. This is live performance. But for the amount of work that goes into preparing an opera, and knowing that it will be preserved for posterity, and many people will look to it to define the work itself, it is important to present as polished and theatrical version as possible. Making several takes and correcting small passages allows us the luxury of truly creating a cohesive, as-near-ideal-as-possible interpretation.

For example, in the beginning of a week like this, I’m nervous. I am a bit jet lagged. Perhaps I’m just in a bad mood! It might take several repetitions of the opening aria to #1: help me relax, and #2: help the orchestra get used to my phrasing, where I breathe, and my character. Perhaps I will hear something new in the orchestra that I hadn’t heard before and that will inspire a different reading in me for the next take. Perhaps we simply get richer in our interpretation with each reading, which is quite often the case. We get the LUXURY of reading the phrases differently – perhaps one time in the cadenza, my Ariodante feels weak, and in the next reading I want to try it where he is instead furious! We take both options, and in the end the producer and conductor will have the luxury to see what works best in that particular dramatic context.

It’s not all just about trying to find some sort of elusive, sterile perfection. It’s about creating something that is vibrant and alive and involves all the players’ very best contributions. It’s absolutely another beast from performing a piece live on the stage, but this has it’s place, as well. I am certain that technically speaking, my singing on the final edit of this version will be far better than what I could do with the role live on stage, and I was able to take different risks in our beautiful setting here than I might dare to take on the stage – and this will give a certain kind of result. On the other hand, we all know that the electricity of a live performance will never, ever be replaced by something that comes through your loud speakers – squeaky, out of tune notes and all!! (That, my friends, by the way, is due completely to YOUR presence in the theater. It is you, the public, that charge us to be bigger than life and energize our performances!!)

But I believe both have absolute merit, and believe me, I’m more than honored to be a participant in the recording of another of Handel’s masterpieces! I don’t think any musician involved in this process thinks we’re cheating, or that we’re replacing a live performance. We’re making a recording, an archive, a tiny fingerprint of how we see this opera today. I guarantee you, if we held a reunion in 10 years of these singers and orchestra members and re-recorded this work, the result would be entirely different, and not only because a wobble or two had come into play!! This is my vision of Ariodante today. Next year, I’m sure it would be different, but how fabulous to be able to take a snapshot such as this, in this moment in time, and toss it over to you for your analysis and critique and, hopefully, your ENJOYMENT!!

It has been an honor to sing this music, and whenever it arrives, I can only hope it will bring endless amounts of enjoyment for you. That is the intent with which it was recorded!

From Lonigo, wish me safe travels for the next few weeks as I try to navigate this crazy winter weather Europe is having!!!

22 Responses to ““On the wings of love…””

  1. January 8, 2010 at 1:40 am
    Chris

    I emailed Palacio to ask if Florez also "tidied up", or however you want to put it, his CDs when he made them. His reply was "Nobody prefers to do only one time a piece recording…." So you are in very good company.

  2. January 8, 2010 at 5:31 am
    SUNNY SOPRANO

    Joyce,

    Congrats on your completion! That must feel so great to not only check it off your LONG list of to-dos, but to add to your LONG list of accomplishments! I can't wait for it to be released :)

    I wish you the safest travels, and tell the pilots that they have precious cargo on board with them!

    -Gaby

  3. January 8, 2010 at 2:14 pm
    Irishrover

    Gosh, don't talk about the weather, we're FREEZING! Never saw so much snow everywhere every day!

    Nice to hear it's finished! Now we'll have to wait a li'l bit -wait, no, a WHOLE YEAR!!!- and then we'll be able to listen to your Ariodante. Can't wait!

    Now some Italian and Spanish jewels are waiting for you -and for us :)

    Take care!

  4. January 8, 2010 at 4:52 pm
    Mr. Classical Guy

    There is no reason to make excuses for the way that music is recorded (or movies filmed for that matter) a recording should never be considered a live event. It is a portrait subject to corrections, edits and in some artist's cases pro-tools. It is not a document of a live performance but a interpretation, as you say, of every nuance. note and phrase.

    I personally love this daily recap of your activites in the studio. I think that many of your fans do as well. I can't remember any other artist on their blogs who go into this detail as you do. I wish more would normally it's Showed up then went out after. Or just left (name a city) where I recorded (name a work) then went to (name some non-musical activity).

    This is very educational for those not in the music business and very interesting to those in it.

    I hope that you never tire. of this.

    SW

  5. January 8, 2010 at 5:00 pm
    Gi

    And now the long wait for the CD to come out. I'm listening to your live Con l'ali di costanza… on YouTube, and I understand what a difficult piece it is. I hope Alan gave you a little more time to breathe.

    Travel safely, rest, have fun, and take care.

  6. January 8, 2010 at 5:42 pm
    Spencer Lang

    I have to say, I've been reading this blog for a while, and these last posts have given me a wonderful insight to the recording process. As a young singer, I've always been intrigued, puzzled, and even concerned by the idea of recording; of forever having that ONE representation of your capabilities, your musicianship, and even your inherent vocal quality.

    After reading these last few posts on your Ariodante escapades, I am FAR more at ease about the prospect. Seeing how much fun you clearly have had with these sessions, how close you've become with your comrades, and how satisfied you are with the results, it makes me even more excited to pursue my musical career.

    Long story short, this is my favorite blog to read; seeing that you've made a new post inevitably brings a smile to my face. Looking forward to the next!

    ~Spencer

  7. January 8, 2010 at 5:46 pm
    Alixkovich

    On her CD of Airs d'opéras italiens, Natalie Dessay said they recorded the arias exactly the same way you are doing it…Then I guess it's a common thing :-P

    And yes, Gooooooooood LUCK for the travels in Europe! Here in Brussels there's a storm coming this week-end!

    Two to four days between your recitals isn't really a lot…and if the airports/railway stations (I don't know…:-P) are closed it may be…problematic don't you think? :-S

    Bye!
    Alix

    P.S. Just curious…if Friday 29 after school I decide to go for a walk in Brussels center and to visit la Monnaie, is there any chance I could find you there? ;-P

  8. January 8, 2010 at 7:30 pm
    Gerald

    CONGRATULATIONS, Joyce, on the coming to therm of another exciting, important haendelian project! I guess everybody here is dying to hear the result (let's hope they will be a concert tour before the CD is released…), since you have kept us SO captivated this week sharing you most intimate thoughts on the piece and the whole process of recording. Thank you once more for taking so much time sharing so much with us. Good luck indeed for the coming weeks. Fingers crossed so that you make it safe and sound unto Brussels at the end of the month!

  9. January 8, 2010 at 11:36 pm
    Jose Antonio

    Thanks for sharing the recording of Ariodante with us. It has been really interesting.
    I can´t wait to hear you again in Madrid. The program seems very captivating.
    This year the lied cycle in Teatro de la Zarzuela is full of wonderfull singers and pianists: Anne Sofie Von Otter, Gerald Finley, Christian Gerhaher, Matthias Goerne, Bernarda Fink and In Bostridge.
    My best wishes for the new year.

  10. January 8, 2010 at 11:52 pm
    smurashige

    Thanks for writing this blog! It's great to read about your experiences, your work, travel, and such, and you continue to offer so much insight into music-making. I also really enjoy your photography. It's a wonder that you manage to make time to share your thoughts with us; it's an inspiration! I can't wait for the Ariodante recording! Cheers!
    Stanley

  11. January 9, 2010 at 1:03 am
    Raisa

    Dear Joyce:
    Congratulations on the completion of Ariodante and thank you once again for your wonderful posts about it. I can't wait to listen to it!
    Have a great and, most importantly, safe trip to Europe!

  12. January 9, 2010 at 2:01 am
    AnnaO

    Dear Joyce,

    Thank you for the detailed insight into this recording. It's so fascinating to read about! And I'm really impressed by the thoughtfulness, detail and coherence of these daily posts which you composed after long days of Ariodante-ing!

    Don't worry; there is no need for the disclaimer! One of the many beautiful things about music is that it is open to interpretation by musicians and listeners alike. So everyone probably hears it differently, but with the amount of care and dedication you've put into your interpretation, it's bound to be AWESOME!

    Congrats, and safe travels!

    Anna :)

  13. January 9, 2010 at 2:17 am
    Sibyl

    Oh you rock so very, very much. It is such a HUGE privilege to get an insider peek into how a recording is done and your process of creation! I don't think I would call the tweaking on a studio recording "cheating": it seems to me the equivalent of a novelist or poet revising and revising to get just the right shade of meaning in a phrase. What you want to hear warts and all unedited is a live, in-performance recording, just as in the same way you wouldn't expect a writer to edit/revise a letter or email. Like you say, each illuminates different things and has its own place.

  14. January 9, 2010 at 9:53 am
    Jakob

    Everybody who deals with recorded music knows that a recording is another matter as a live performance – so one should not be surprised by the fact that musicians actually use the opportunity to make their performances perfect. And so, you can satisfy the listener. Even live recordings are reedited afterwards mostly and still their spirit isn't gone! The work in the recording studio is a gift for the listeners and we should be glad thet moderntechniques allow such perfectionism!
    And Joyce, good luck with your journey… Berlin looks like Stavangar at the moment ;;;)))

  15. January 9, 2010 at 1:36 pm
    William V. Madison

    This has been a thoroughly absorbing account — not only about the recording process, but also about the music.

    I hasten to add that there's another important reason to justify the "multi-take" approach to an audio recording: you're trying to convey a three-dimensional interpretation into a microphone. We can't see the dramatic interpretation, the gestures, stance, and facial expression that you bring to this music in performance onstage (even the concert stage).

    For some listeners, the recording will be all they ever know of your interpretation, whether because they were never in the right town when you were singing Ariodante, or because, by the year 2174, you probably will have retired the role.

    All the more reason to experiment and to polish, to find and to capture the sonic interpretation that best reflects the three-dimensional.

    Because I've attended so many of your stage performances — and because you're such an expressive artist — I never hear your recordings without also being able to "see" you and the character you're portraying.

    Am I psyched about this recording? Yeah. Just a bit.

  16. January 9, 2010 at 2:48 pm
    Mei

    I guess the weather will improve next week…

    I hope a couple of days at the Canary Islands will compensate all this freezing weather… ;-)

  17. January 10, 2010 at 12:22 am
    Sarah

    I have a CD with some Ariodante excerpts, including this particular aria, and it's great to play in the car when I'm trying to get revved up for work (Doppo Notte works the same way – but best to skip Scherza for this purpose!). I thought it was pretty intense in always being forward-moving, and now I see why from your post. The role has such jewels in this opera.

    And, apropos of absolutely nothing regarding this post, I just saw the Met HD broadcast of "Der Rosenkavalier" and I think I just got the STRAUSS CLICK that you mentioned here many posts ago!

  18. January 10, 2010 at 11:33 pm
    Gunter

    Hello Joyce:I see where you are off to the sunny and ever pleasant islas canarias. Chockful of tourists, this time of year, a sold-out house almost a given.It's a quick flight over to Tenerife, much more photogenic than Gran Canaria with El Teide, Spain;s tallest mountain and lovely Puerto de la Cruz-a real jewel. A great place to buy a home for retirement,too- before the dollar loses anymore of its value.Had a look into the furure last night when my daughter called me to the computer and showed me a video of Lady Ga-Ga doing Bad Romance- 92 million hits!Can you believe this? Makes you wonder how much longer classical music will survive. Maybe a new Dark Age is coming-give it another twenty years or so.On this cheery note I bid you adieu-have some fun in the sun.

  19. January 14, 2010 at 4:47 pm
    Scazza

    Joyce, thank you so much for these accounts.

    Chris, your comments are interesting. Joyce's account of the recording process is very accurate for all artists, not just for her. On the great Callas recordings they would do a phrase tens of times to get what was perfoect to them. You should read some accounts of these Di Stefano/Callas/Serafin recording sessions. Joyce is very eloquent in expressing her artistic intentions, the higher goal, but the process is the same for everyone.

  20. January 17, 2010 at 3:29 am
    Jacob's grandmom

    Dear Joyce,

    Belated Happy New Year, and thanks for your blog, which gives such wonderful insights into making music.
    See you soon in Chicago!
    –Patricia Brauner

  21. January 19, 2010 at 5:12 am
    Robert Lee

    I love your singing of this aria, Miss DiDonato! Simply wonderful! And, by the way, I know the score and those little trills on the last bit of the last run in the A section are killer! I haven't heard them done so precisely by any other Ariodante of our time! Will you be doing another Ariodante hopefully in the near future? I know you're doing La Donna del Lago and a few other things, but I don't see much Baroque in store soon… maybe it's in the works?

Leave a Reply