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Musings on m
y life as a busy opera singer, voice teacher, photographer and mom - not necessarily in that order! I consider myself immensely fortunate to have carved out a way of doing all of these things which mean so much to me - it may sometimes get a little crazy, but it's always worth it. Welcome to the madhouse!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Too many divas and not enough staff....

I'm losing track of whether I'm living a double, triple, quadruple or other -ple life these days!  It's been pretty crazy - in a good way, I hasten to add, but crazy!

Last weekend was singing what may be my favorite work in the entire world: the Verdi Requiem.  I'm a fan of most of what Mr Joe Green gave us, but the Requiem is extra special (and especially for the mezzo).  The schedule this time out was very compressed and singing a massive work like this (the equivalent of a full opera, and then some!) four times in three days definitely demanded every ounce of stamina I posess,  but so worth every single moment. I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

This is the third time I've been privileged to sing this extraordinary piece, and each time I've discovered new things not only in the music, but in my own singing. I've found reserves of strength, stamina, colour and nuance I didn't know I had - could anything be more satisfying than that?  I only wish I could sing it more often. I once joked that if I sang nothing but the Verdi Requiem and 3rd Lady (in Mozart's Magic Flute) for the rest of my life, I could still feel musically fulfilled, but I'm not sure it's such a joke - it really is the most immensely satisfying music to sing.

In the midst of this, the Bearded Collie Specialty was in town (a "Specialty" is a dog show which only focuses on one breed, in this case, Beardies).  Not only did we want to head up to say hello to some old friends who we hadn't seen in way too long, but our breeder had heard through the Beardie grapevine that our boy was growing into himself as a rather handsome prospect, and she wanted to see him for herself with a view to possibly showing him. 

I have never been involved in the conformation dogshow world, and this boy was always intended to join us as a family member rather than a show dog. I had no idea how he'd react to all the hubbub of a show environment; he typically gets way overexcited around other dogs and new experiences (rather than fearful - he's absurdly confident) but even though he was interested in all that was going on around him, he was clearly in his element.   I shouldn't have been surprised - he's a real little showoff when he knows he's being admired,  and you can't take him for a walk down the street without somebody stopping to ooh and ahh over him.   But seeing him "switch on" the way he did made it no surprise to learn that he is indeed full of show potential, and that she does indeed want to take him for a spin in the ring.    I'm not sure if I'm bemused or terrified to have another performer in the family (hence the title of this post) - that makes all four of us!  Heaven help us the weekend we all have conflicting performances....

In the meantime, in yet another strand of our lives it is our daughter's 14th birthday (FOURTEENTH?!?!?), and as I write this we're in the midst of a big sleepover party.  It's been several days of battening down the hatches and baking cakes, but judging by the laughter coming from next door, it was worth it.   Singing Verdi is satisfying, all right, but so is the sound of girlie giggles coming from the next room, as well as a cold wet nose bumping my arm for some attention.  Some weeks you really do get to have it all.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Tables Turned

(Disclaimer: Mom, I adore you, and am grateful to you for everything you've ever done to educate me to this point, and for allowing me to continue to challenge things, to learn and to grow .... even when you vigorously disagree with my opinion!)

It's been typically busy (seems like it's seldom anything else these days, with both the pros and cons which come with it!), but my parents somehow managed to find a date when we could all go and see a splendid production of Sondheim's Into the Woods together.  We all enjoyed it immensely - my husband and I have long been fans of Sondheim's work in general, and particularly this show - it was a treat to take our daughter to a top-notch performance of a work she hadn't seen before,  and even my Sondheim-resistant parents agreed that perhaps they had been hasty in describing him as "tuneless" and "not their thing" as they loved absolutely every minute of the performance as much as we did (kudos to the piece and the production!).

Inevitably, our after-show discussion wound up comparing "new musicals" to "the old days" of Golden Age Broadway musicals, G&S and other styles with which they had grown up. Absolutely valid styles, but  now separate enough to have created their own niche under the "music theater" banner,  distinguishing them from the musical and vocal directions taken by more recent shows.

Curiously, what struck me most was that my opera-afficianado mother's main objection was, almost verbatim, exactly the kind of thing that non-classical-musicians think they won't like about opera.  She said, "Sondheim is very wordy - I only enjoyed it because I'd taken the time to read the script and listen to the music first".   Interesting, huh?   Pretty much exactly what any opera newbie is advised to do.  If you know the plot and are at least passingly familiar with the music before you go, your enjoyment will be great enhanced.  Why not apply that same logic to a show, particularly one by a composer known for complex word-play and emotionally-challenging themes?

The topic of mics also came up.  She is vigorously opposed to vocal amplification, but admitted that the cast's diction and vocal presence had been exemplary. She was still put off by the mics however and (once again comparing it to those iconic mid-20th-century musicals of her youth) argued that they could "only" achieve what they did with an electronic "cheat", that it was a "copout", that "opera singers don't need it, why should any properly trained voice?"

Applied to opera, it's a fair comment - the point of opera is to sing UNamplified.  For that matter, "light opera" and Gilbert & Sullivan, too, since the sound expected is far closer to Verdi than Hammerstein.  There's no doubt that the Golden Age musicals - having grown out of the "light opera" style - were still relying on acoustic "legit" vocal production for the most part.  BUT (and I don't know the exact date - anybody who does, please comment with that info!), you can be sure that musicals written after 1980 assumed that the performers would be amplified.   It is expected within that later style.  As soon as you accept that this is merely "different" rather than "bad", it's suddenly another matter completely. It's not "wrong", just.... different.

I grew up in a very "classical music" household. Where other kids were drooling over Donny Osmond, I was being introduced to Miguel Fleta and Jussi Bjoeling; I liked the singers and the music well enough so it was no hardship (and certainly gave me a wonderful foundation for a future career!), but it does mean that my musical perspective at home was always rather one-sided! My husband, on the other hand, is the most "pan-genre" musician imaginable (he is also entirely brilliant and has probably forgotten more about music than most of us will ever know); after 20 years of broadening my horizons he's still amazed at how much outside the classical canon I don't know (it's a bit of a running joke, in fact) but, as I heard myself defending microphones and alternate musical styles, I realised just how much I really have grown. 

Listening to my mom's arguments I was forced to admit to myself that some of those biases used to be my own, too.  But with that came a flash of understanding:  none of it actually matters.  We need to see music as just... MUSIC.   There are indeed differences between genres - significant ones - but even with that, the similarities of intention are, in fact, greater than the differences of execution.  Whether it's Purcell or the Beatles, Sondheim or Stockhausen, Verdi or Lady GaGA, the point of song - be it in an opera, a musical, or on the radio - is emotional communication through the power of the human voice. It can be done in myriad ways (and we may not actually like all of them, which is ok too) but the goals are the same, really: 

Share the emotion.  Tell the story.

The rest is details.