Friday, May 29, 2009

Figgy pudding for your soul (?)

Yesterday was a full day.  Meet and Greet, sing-though of the whole opera, and then an evening staging session for Susanna and I.  I feel like I've been here for a week already.  

It is gorgeous here in Vermont.  I've never been here before and the scenery is breathtaking.  It was been rainy, so the mist on the mountains combined with the green pastures looks like something out of a movie.  Did I mention there is no cell phone service here?  Thank goodness for wifi and Skype.  

The cast all are top notch, and the maestro is adelight to work with.  This is such a different piece every time you do it.  Different tempi, different line readings, different phrasings- I felt like I was re-learning this piece from scratch listening to my colleagues yesterday, and that I had to step up my game just to keep up.  That's a good feeling.  

On the technique front, I'm glad to report that despite feeling a little residual throat nastiness, I made it through the whole show with no problems and felt really good about the vocalism.  Usually by the end I'm ready to cash in my chips, but I still felt pretty fresh.  I even threw in a tasteless cadenza up to a high G in "Non piĆ¹ andrai."  I think I'm back on the right track in how I'm thinking about singing this role.  Concentrate on quality of sound, not quantity.  Beauty, not steel.  Be the ball, Danny.

We staged the first scene through "Se vuol ballare" last night.  It's easy to do a paint by numbers staging of Figaro, but what is difficult is finding all the moment-to-moment, um, moments.  There is so much that happens in that first scene.  Introduce the characters, set up the idea of the wedding and the new room, find out about the Count's designs on Susanna, have a marital dispute, and come up with a scheme to turn the tables on the count.  

The transitions (as usual) are the tricky bits.  How do go from nice-guy Figaro to the ranting, jealous rager full of doubts and suspicions, and then go back again?  I've always seen Figaro as the alternative to Count, so I hesitate to fly off the handle as he does again and again later in the show.  But it is clear that the Big Fig is hot-headed and certainly not a pushover.  So how do you play that?  I'll let you know if I figure it out. 

Susanna and I had a costume fitting and photo shoot this morning.  I know I said that this blog was going to be about me and my experiences, not about my colleagues, but I just want to say that this is the most handsome, most comfortable, and best-fitting costume I've ever had as Figaro.  I want to buy it and take it with my everywhere.  The designer is a genius- her name is Robina D'Arcy Fox.  

Thanks for reading.  In my next entry I'll discuss how Beaumarchais' running guns to the U.S. during the Revolutionary War fits into my interpretation of the Act II finale.  No I won't.  


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Here I Go Again On My Own

I am sitting in the Detroit Int'l Airport, having just walked through the trippy, flashback-inducing light tunnel to find my connecting flight, having tried in vain to connect to the the internet on my BlackBerry, and having refused to pay the ridiculous $7.95 Boingo fee to connect to the airport wireless.  So I'm typing this on a Sticky Note on my Mac, knowing full well that I'll have to retype the damn thing into Blogspot, because for some reason, it won't allow me to cut and paste test into a new post.

Please excuse the ranting and raving.  I often find myself out of sorts on a travel day, and today is no different.  I've come to the conclusion that I shouldn't write any emails, make any calls, or say anything to anyone on a travel day (that should probably extend to making blog posts), because I am probably going to overreact to everything, and will no doubt regret any thoughtless complaints I make.  Today's grumblings are amplified by the fact that I am coming off a fantastic staycation with my family in the Twin Cities- so I have vacation brain on top of travel attitude, and am finding that the combo can be mildly unpleasant.  Sitting on the runway in St. Paul and having my leather shoulder bag fall apart didn't help matters any, but on the plus side I narrowly escaped paying an overweight baggage fee, coming in at exactly 50 lbs.  After all the brats and beer this weekend, It's amazing I didn't have to pay an overweight passenger fee, but seriously, folks...

It's been awhile since my last posting, and I'm sure my readership of one wants to know how my mucus situation has progressed.  I went to an allergist, and the test confirmed that I am allergic to Birch pollen and nothing else.  It makes sense now that the phlegm hit me so soon after getting back to MN, as it was the peak of the Birch pollen season (this is terribly fascinating, no?).  She also told me that the reason it escalated into such a nasty and lingering cough is because I am having a recurrence of asthma, which I haven't had since I was about two.  Apparently, allergies can trigger it.  So now I'm en route to Vermont with a whole cadre of different pills, elixirs, and inhalants (looks like I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue!), hoping that I can get through the first rehearsal without coughing up a lung on one of my castmates.  I normally don't take any medications (whiskey not included), so this will be interesting.

I'm looking forward with great anticipation to this next experience in Figaroland.  A new cast, new cuts, new director & conductor, a new chance to sing this fantastic music and try to do it justice and abide by my ideals, vocal and otherwise.  After this vacation, I'm rested and ready to go, but having been laid up with the plague for the last few weeks, I haven't kept up much of a singing regimen.  I'm hoping to get back in shape within a few days, and that this stupid asthma will clear up so I can give it my all.  

I'm also excited to implement a few tweaks in my technique on this job (techtweak?).  As you may recall, in some of my previous rantings, I expressed some disappointment in parts of my singing on the last go-round.  Before the mucus brigade hit me full force, I worked on making some of the improvements I mentioned (i.e. supporting the middle voice, taking the 'edge' off the sound), made some small adjustments that I think will yield some big results.  I'll keep my readership of one posted about that.  For now, I'm just going to try to get through it.  

Vermont should be beautiful this time of year, all that snow....I was told that I should keep an eye out for General Waverly and the Haynes sisters while I'm there.  Do Vermonters (? Vermont-ites?) get annoyed by people identifying them with White Christmas, as Minnesotans do when people quote Fargo at us?  Then again, Bing Crosby didn't end up running Danny Kaye through a wood chipper at the end of the show.  That would put a nice twist on it, though, no?  Maybe it can be added to the theater version?

OK, I need to stop blogging on travel days.  I'm too deranged.

My little daughter summed up how I feel this morning when she refused to get out of her crib, shouting, "NO shoes! NO pants! NO shirt! MY nook!"  I feel your pain little miss pie.  I really do.


PS- As I retype this (like I said I would have to!), I'm struck by how petty my rantings sound.  Wow.  

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Insane in the Mucus Membrane

After reading the mushy ending to my last post, my readership of one mistook my initials for the word Aw, which he was thinking after reading said mushy ending.  That made me laugh out loud- it's a good thing my nomme de blog isn't Farley Unger! 

Well, since returning from Louisiana, I've been hit with some nasty allergies.  There's a lovely layer of mucus sitting on my cords, and every time I take a breath to sing, I end up hacking up a rainbow of phlegmy flavors.  Can you have a smoker's cough if you don't smoke?  

Anyhoo, I've been focusing on reviewing my Italian.  I'm really looking forward to singing Figaro in the original language.  Before my mucus attack hit, I got some good practice sessions in, and it feels great.  Especially since I am being mindful of how I sing in the middle voice (I'm calling this Operation: Don't Sing Like An Idiot), I'm really looking forward to round two of Figaro.  This bout with mucus is making me very impatient!

It's given me a little time to do some reading though.  Modes and Manners, Beaumarchais in Seville, The Opera News book of Figaro (hilarious- I found it at a used book store in Eugene, OR).   It's nice to have a refresher on the context of this opera, although every time I sit down to read I think of an old grad school friend who always chastised me when he saw me researching a role.  "Oh, look at you, reading the source material for next year's opera.  Looks like you'll land a nice big role in that one, huh?"  Ah well.  

Here's hoping this allergy crap is over soon.  Until then...

AW - F.U.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Figaro post-mortem, Acadiana

Hello, all.  A Year Of Figaro is now posting on Facebook as well as blogspot, so it's just a little easier to keep up with my madman rantings.  I'll have to start referring to my readership of one as my readership of three.  

Well, performance #2 of Figaro went pretty well, although it definitely felt like a second show.  None of us quite had the focus we had on opening night, and I started singing heavy again, particularly in "Non piu andrai" (rank amateur).  It was not a bad show by any means, and I think we all felt good about it in the end.  The professional cast all went to support the student cast on Sunday afternoon.  They all performed admirably- Bravi tutti!

WARNING - this is a long entry.  Read at your own risk!

Ok, so the 1st installment of Figaro is done.  How was it?  Um....good?  This was a challenging production for me for many reasons, the first of which was getting this part back into my voice.  I sang Figaro most recently in 2007, but the last time I sang it auf English was in 2000!  I think I underestimated how long it was going to take to get this role back in a comfy zone for me.  Either that or there is so much baggage attached to the English version of this role because of how I sang it back then, and trying to reconcile muscle memory with new technique can be difficult.  As I mentioned in previous entries, I felt (especially at the dress) that I was singing way too heavily.  I should be able to sing Figaro without feeling so vocally tired.  It shouldn't cost me that much (it was a lot better during the performances, but still).  I sort of got insight into why more baritones don't sing both Figaros.  The tessitura sits very much in the middle voice, probably about C to C.  It's on the middle to low end for most lyric baritones.  Even for me (bar-basitone? who knows?), it can creep to the lower edge of where I typically like to sing.  It sounds like this should make Figaro an easy role to sing- you can go for pages without having to even worry about a not in the passaggio, let alone a truly high note.  However, since it's possible to get away with murder in the middle voice, I oversang a lot of the middle/low stuff in this role.  Why?  God knows? Probably in a severely misguided attempt to make a big sound (repugnant, no?).  I know, I know, amateur mistake.  In an effort to feel like I was present, I honked and snarled through a lot of the low stuff.  However, the upper middle/high stuff all seemed pretty good, and "Se vuol ballare" was probably the best I have ever sung it.  I think that's because I have to pay attention and sing those passages with care, and I can't get away with murder like I can with the low stuff.  

Another challenge was the sheer velocity at which we staged.  It was definitely instant opera, just add water.  I don't mind working fast, and this was my 5th Figaro, so I was able to fill in a lot of the moments, but we basically had just enough time to stage each scene and revisit it once before we started running the show.  This isn't a criticism of the company- just a fact.  It's tough to stage a big opera in that amount of time! The plus side of this was that I was only away from Rikki and Nikki for 2 1/2 weeks!

I don't mean to be ranting...Ok, yes I do.  I don't mean to be a negative nellie though.  There were also a lot of rewarding things about this first Figaro.  First of all, the music.  Damn. I never get tired of this opera.  The characters are so complex- we spent many hours (and many beers!) talking about who these people are and what they mean to us.  And I know that next month, that conversation will be different.  It will be different each time, because these are real, living people.  I love it. 

Doing this production in collaboration with a University was rewarding as well.  It was actually like Deja Vu.  The first time I sang Figaro it was in the Ruth & Thomas translation when I was a junior at UMD, a school not unlike ULL in size and skill level.  When these kids weren't rehearsing, they were building sets, doing makeup, or cleaning up the theatre.  It was cool and it really brought me back to the salad days, as they they say that?  Also, my first voice teacher, Paul Sahuc, grew up in Lafayette and it was a total trip to see his old stomping ground.  I feel like I have new insight into his whole persona!  

I would be remiss if I didn't also mention the food.  Boiled crawfish, etoufee, po' boys, beignets....OK, maybe it would have been better if we had been doing Falstaff.  These people know how to eat.  

I'm not trying to be overly critical of this experience at all. I'm just trying to be honest about what I did well and what could be better.  I think I sing and act this role well, but I've got some things to work on for next time;  Take the steel out of the voice, and sing smart.  Get the Italian back in the voice.  Get my butt on a treadmill and work off some of those beignets!  I look forward to it.  Next stop, Green Mountain Opera, Vermont.  

Oh this is cheesy, but what the hell.  I have been listening to The Hold Steady a lot lately.  They are my current favorite band.  Partly because some of them grew up in Minneapolis, but partly because they are just plain awesome.  Anyway, the lead singer, Craig Finn, always ends the show by saying, "There is SO MUCH JOY in what we do up here.  Thank you for sharing that joy with us." 

 I think of that speech every time I sing this music.  


Saturday, May 2, 2009

Figaro # 2 tonight.

Well, I followed my opening night schedule pretty much to the letter on Thursday.  The show went quite well- everyone in the cast bumped it up a notch and we had a very energetic performance.  I felt quite good about the way I sang it, having oversung the dress.  In a misguided effort to make an overly big sound, I used up a lot of my vocal resources in the first act and was tired for the rest of the show.  At opening, however, I managed to sing well within my means the whole night and was MUCH happier with the result.  I think I sang 'se vuol ballare' better than I ever have before, but there were still moments of 'non piu andrai' that were too heavy.   Hopefully I can keep the mojo for tonight's show.