A young(ish) opera singer's random thoughts and observations.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

This is not a review

I've been watching a lot more opera in the last year than usual, both live and on DVD. The reason I didn't use to do it was that I find it very difficult to turn off my overly critical, cynical mind. It's not that I can't appreciate a good performance of opera, I'm just very easily put off by small things.

It's not even about the singing, though I admit that these days I go to operas mostly to listen to how 'real life' singing differs from 'college' singing, and then have a think about why it is different, which does mean a lot of listening out for technique and tricks of the trade (after all, I want to know what I'll hopefully be getting myself into). However most of the 'buts' I have nagging away at my mind after performances are usually to do with productions not being able to keep me in the world they create. Oddly enough, a cracked note by a singer doesn't necessarily destroy the reality the character's in (unless the singer then flags it up by becoming defensive). My pet hates are more trivial things like not looking at the person you're singing to (OK, you can do it if there's a reason for averting your gaze, but if it's just because you're focused on yourself or the conductor, it breaks the reality of the drama), bad fights, costumes or props that stick out of a design, rickety sets, etc. Small things that don't seem to bother most people I just can't seem to be able to ignore.

Which brings me to today's dress rehearsal. Innovatively designed (with projected backdrops and even 'frontdrops', a cinematic curtain, but quite understated and minimal use of set pieces in favour of a clever symbolic use of space), yet traditionally set, well sung, well played, well paced, in general a great show. But what hit me, was that although it was a rehearsal, and it was not absolutely perfect in terms of minor things like lighting cues, surtitles, etc; none of those little things mattered! The world created on stage was so carefully maintained throughout, the performers so committed to it, that I finally had an experience of 'switching off' my brain and just being taken in by it all. I'm not even a big fan of the composer! It was wonderful to see a production that took so much care to keep the magic going, that you never even thought it was odd that the boys had the snow from Act III in their flat in Act IV. We just thought: 'oh! times are not good, the poor lads have to sweep the snow from their floor!' and it was a fact of life.

I don't know if it's just a question of attention to detail, or inspired design, or commitment, but transporting cynics to a different, credible world in the way this production managed to do it will be my new benchmark for operatic performances. And for myself as a singer I acknowledge that a lot of responsibility for that will be on my shoulders, and as Martin Lloyd Evans and David Gowland said at the BYO workshops: technique, voice, acting; they're only a means to that ultimate end!

Thursday, 24 May 2012

No escape...

I hate auditions. I have mentioned it more than once on here, but now I have a new reason to hate them: even when I have none coming up, when I've got so much other stuff going on... I can't get away from auditions!

The reason for this is simple: college won't let me, and to be honest, they're right. This week I had a couple of sessions with Donald Maxwell (for anyone who doesn't know who he is, google him, his biography on his agent's website is a hilarious read, just scrolling down endlessly through roles he's sung at the best opera houses in the world), which my head of department said to use not just for singing, but also to pick his brain about my future (no, he's not clairvoyant, but apparently we have similar voice-types). So I did, and we chatted about roles that would be worth looking at, and then inevitably: auditions!

I sang him what I'd been auditioning with in the past 7 months (Largo al factotum, Pierrot's Tanzlied) as well as a new addition to my rep that I had just wanted to look at to have a go at Britten: Tarquinius' aria. Turns out the only thing Donald would recommend I keep in my audition portfolio was the Britten!

Before you jump to the most logical conclusion, no, I am not awful at the other 2 arias! However, as Donald said: they could do with being a bit more effortless. I can get through them fine, sing them in succession, multiple times a day, perform them in concerts, I enjoy singing them! But he has a point, they're not quite as effortless as I'd like them to be 100% of the time. He heard me on an average day, however I hadn't sung them in ages, so call it a 5-6/10 performance. The problem is, auditions pile on the stress, so getting above a 7-8/10 when on form is a good result.

Yes, Figaro and Fritz are roles I could sing, I should keep singing the arias (I haven't even been singing them for a year yet, after all, and some things come with time), but for auditions one wants something foolproof. Something you can sing on your worst day at 7am having rolled off your bed still drunk. BUT they can't be easy! They have to show off what you can do best! Ummm... help?

Donald's advice was to try some pieces that display similar characteristics to the Rossini and Korngold, but down one notch on the difficulty scale. Oddly enough, the Tarquinius can in many ways replace the Pierrot, and (apparently) shows off something that Donald thinks I am very good at: singing in English. Yay! Not only will I be the best opera-singer/whitewater-kayaker hybrid in the UK (I think I already am, though I'm not particularly great at either ;) ), but I may be the only Polish singer who develops a reputation as a specialist in singing English operatic repertoire*. After all, that is what Scottish Opera hired me for!

Armed with Donald's suggestions for new arias to look at, along with tips on how to work at making the ones I already have seem more effortless, I now have 6 months to come up with a winning formula. Shame I'm so busy...

* If anyone can think of a person who beats me in either category, please let me know by calling: 0800-SHATTERMYDREAMS