I know I’ve spoken of this many times before, but I do love the process that constitutes my “job”. It is one of constant searching, insistent discovery and persistent flexibility, among many other things. Every time you take the stage, you have the opportunity to discover anew a multitude of things: how would the boy Octavian, playing the girl Mariandel, handle a fan? How does the anger and confusion shift in the Act 1 duet with the Marshallin each night ~ for one night my “Wie sie befielt, Bichette” is laced with profound sadness and adolescent tears, and then next night I find my anger and deep rejection poisoning the simple phrase with a cold streak? How does Octavian negotiate the bomb that Sophie absorbs as she realizes that he was the Marschallin’s lover ~ for one night my sympathy and responsibility outweigh the shame and regret I feel the next?
These questions and “answers” swing back and forth on a wild pendulum ride, often radically from show to show, and I find that if I can manage to stay open and flexible, within a well-established idea of the character, I can adapt to a variety of situations or impromptu realizations. When you’re lucky, you share the stage with colleagues that will play the game with you, and as a result the performance is vibrant and alive with listening and giving. Some of the risks pay off, and some don’t (I can usually sense it immediately) but that’s a chance I’m willing to take to find that magical moment of spontaneity.
The end result is hopefully one of continually layering these realizations and insights into the character so that you flesh out more and more some nugget of truth within the story. The Maestro actually confessed to me during the big orchestra rehearsal of the final week that he was pleased to see me starting to “butch it up”, because he was worried I wouldn’t be masculine enough. But as I thought about that, I could only reply, “Good – see, we need our time to layer our interpretations, and to grow into them!” And I found that to be true until the final glorious cut-off of the final duet of the final performance. It never stopped morphing for me, and I hope that I will always welcome that when on stage. But for my rehearsal process here, it was a matter of aligning, slowly, the text with the music with the blocking with the character with the walk with the swagger with the intention – one building block at a time.
This idea of layering was also driven home during 2 master classes I had the pleasure to give here to aspiring young singers at the Conservatory here in Madrid. I found myself talking a mile a minute with ideas and thoughts, but the overall theme emerged to encompass the idea of FLEXIBILITY and LAYERING. We need to add one thing at a time, as singers: we start with learning a solid, bankable technique, and then slowly and diligently begin to add the musicality, the phrasing, the text, the sub-text, the expression, the individuality, the simplicity, the complexity, and hopefully even a spot of joy and enthusiasm. If we’re busy doing all of those things, chances are we stop focusing on how nervous we are and, God forbid, “what we SOUND like!!” (I’m rather anti the idea of singers being preoccupied with making SOUND – nothing bores me more.)
Flexibility was the other emerging theme, and it started simply as an anthem to find the ways, constantly, to keep the voice flexible (vocalize those nasty coloratura passages at different tempi, different dynamics, with different rhythms and with different phrasing, so the voice can never develop a “groove” – a singular way in which it works!). But it also took flight in the idea of staying flexible in your musicality and your theatrical sense – always remaining open to new ideas.
Here I was, in the midst of sorting out the mammoth role of Octavian, in front of young students who are dreaming of a career on the big stage, and we all are still working on the same issues, even if at perhaps different levels. But it proves my point that the process is never complete!
For my final little bit before my Christmas Vacation (of 2 days!) kicks into full gear, and courtesy of a 6-hour layover at the Newark Airport where there has been nothing to do but eat Fritos in the Continental Lounge (don’t judge!), I am more than happy to offer a little Holiday Gift to ya’ll – the best fans in the operatic kingdom! I had a crazy whim to do a little “behind the scenes” peek during the final show last night in Madrid. The final shows are notoriously the most relaxed and free, and I was certainly in a happy place knowing that I was flying home soon, so with the help of my wonderful cast and crew and a few other volunteers, we put together a little mini-film for you. It is completely improvised, but I had a lot of fun thinking to share a tiny bit of my backstage world with you. I do hope you’ll enjoy it!
In the meantime, I would love to quote the fabulous Jeanne-Michelle Charbonnet via one of her social networking sites and wish EACH and EVERY ONE of you a VERY “Happy Everything and a Merry Always”. Yeah. I like that!