Friday, November 20, 2009

It's the most wonderful time of the year...., I'm not talking about Xmas -the season of light-up, inflatable Santas hooked up to an electric air pump, different colored 'luminarios' made of recycled plastic milk jugs, and the ubiquitous 'doorbuster' run-over-your-grandma-with-a-cart-to-get-to-the-tickle-me-Elmo shopping deals. I'm talking about auditions. Yes, friends, I'm hoping to extend the Year of Figaro. Heck, I'd take a week to 10 days of 3rd soap-boiler if it brought in a decent fee.

The very thought of auditioning fills me with dread. I was just looking at the website of an opera company I will be auditioning for this season- checking out the cast of their current show, and immediately I think, "how am I going to compete with [baritone x] for this part?" Granted, that is terrible line of thinking that will get me nowhere, but stay with me for a minute. [baritone x] is in their current show; he is more than capable than singing [role y] for them next season: QED. He will be hired instead of me.

The situation is complicated by the fact that in this economy I'm competing with people a level above me for the jobs I used to get. Everyone is scrambling to get work, and they are willing to work at smaller companies for smaller fees. Said smaller companies are thrilled to get those singers at those fees: QED. Those singers will be hired, not me.

Do you see a pattern forming here? I mean, other than me whining and making excuses, that is (or misusing: QED!)

You see the thing is, faithful readers, I'm not so good at auditioning. That sounds like a total cop-out, and it probably is. But the fact remains. It is not my strongest skill. I am great at what I do. I am fabulous at rehearsing. I will work my tail off with a director and a conductor to find what will work the best for a production. I am a great colleague, a decent singer, and a shameless stage whore. But walking into a crappy studio and cranking out arias, well, I am kind of sucky at that.

Here's what I wish.

A) Audition with the music staff of an opera company. Set it up like a coaching. Rehearse a section of music for 15 minutes, and then 'perform it.' Let the company see how you work and see if you're a good fit. This would allow a singer to break the ice a little bit. For pete's sake, at least it would give us a second chance at nailing the high note.

B) Set up remote auditioning. In this day and age, don't you think we could do an audition or two by Skype? Granted, I live in Minnesota so I have a vested interest in this. But even if I didn't, there are lots of audition seasons where I've been too busy working to audition (I'm not complaining about it, it's just the way it is). And isn't the sound on the built-in microphone/speakers on my Mac as good as friggin' NOLA studios? Cheesh.

C) Get hired based on your performances. OK, this happens. But it should happen more. People see what you can do on stage, in the moment, in context. Then they ask you to come sing for them in a little box of a studio, in a completely inauthentic environment, with a piano. ?!?!?

D) Just do what everyone wants to do, and have auditions at the bar. I mean come on, right? Sure that other guy can sing really clean coloratura, but can he tell you the difference between a K├Âlsch and an AltBier? Can he tell you when the Reinheitsgebot went into effect, or even what it is? Where are you priorities?

I know, I know, I know. Auditions are high-pressure situations by design. It separates the wheat from the chaff. After all, a performance is a high-pressure situation, no? Yes. But, cripes, at least you get to rehearse it for a month.

Before you start chastising me about why auditions need to happen the way they do (you know who you are, readership of one) and that I'm just making excuses, rest assured- you're right. I am. They do. I'm just nervous as H-E-Double-Hockeysticks. I only get to New York a few times a year, and I'm not fancy and high-falutin' so I feel like the cards are stacked agin' me sometimes. I love singing, and I'm singing the best I ever have. And I can rehearse the crap out of anything. I just need to bring that to lifeless box of an audition room. Then I'll have something. Plus, it wouldn't hurt if I lost 50 pounds. And had a microphone mounted on my hyoid bone.

See you at the doorbusters.


Friday, November 13, 2009

A year of Figaro, six weeks of Casanova

It has been a month since I wrote anything at all in this blog.

Every spare second I have had since I got home from the Barber at Skylight has been devoted to preparing the score for Dominick Argento's Casanova's Homecoming, which opens tomorrow night at the Ordway in St. Paul. I have a walk-on role (squeak and fart role, in the parlance of our time), but my main task is covering Casanova. MN Opera needed each role to have a cover because this opera is so rarely performed they can't just call someone up to perform it at the last minute should something happen to one of the cast. There were also several cast members who for one reason or another needed to miss a rehearsal, so to keep things moving along there was a crew of us who prepared the parts.

Let me start by saying this score is brilliant. The libretto is hilarious and incredibly clever. The music is lush and gorgeous in some parts, and very text driven in others. The recits are composed in such a way that they sound like dialogue. I realize how dumb that sounds- of course they sound like dialogue- they're recits, idiot! But seriously, you forget the characters are singing pitches and it just sounds like talking. Then they will launch into music that is at some turns heartbreaking, frantic, exciting, showy- there are nods to everyone from Stravinsky to Britten to Broadway. It will be a great night in the theatre.

Now let me say this. This score is hard. Really hard. I thought it was prohibitively hard when I was just learning it. Those recit sections I was talking about earlier take so much concentration the meaning of the phrases often gets lost as you are trying to swim your way through seemingly random pitch combinations. It takes a lot of repetition and time with the score just to get to a point where you feel comfortable enough with the pitches that you can sing the text with meaning. At least that's what it was like for me. And knowing that I would have to sing some rehearsals, I was petrified. This score kept me up at night. I would lie there thinking "1, 2, 'with dignity' 1, 2, 'with gallantry...'"

Once I got past the initial fear of this score (I was brought on board kind of late in the game and didn't have a ton of prep time), I began to enjoy it more and recognize the genius of the writing. Still, as I learned it, it was a piece of music that assaulted my artistry on every level. That's right- assaulted. Vocal technique, interval training, counting, delivery- every fundamental skill I've been working on for darn near two decades was challenged, chewed up, spit out, and left to rot on the hot pavement. It took sheer will and hours and hours of coaching (thanks to Jeremy and Mary Jo at MN Op!!!) to get past all the challenges inherent in this score.

But after all that, I have to say, it was worth it. And I'm only a cover and (God willing!!!) won't have to go on. It was totally worth it. This score is brilliant and it has rekindled my love of new music (not that new- it's the 25th anniversary of this opera). Casanova's arias are fantastic- definitely audition-worthy. And it's just great to be part of a living composer's work. There are far too few second productions of new operas. There is all kinds of hoopla around an opening, but then these poor pieces are left on the hot pavement along with all my mangled music skills. How are we ever going to have another Nozze di Figaro or Madame Butterfly if these new works don't get revived?

I hope a ton of people come to this show. The cast, orchestra and conductor are awesome and the production looks great. Hopefully this opera will get the life it deserves- it is first rate material, and even though I may have lost some sleep learning it, I think it is a masterpiece and am grateful for the experience.

Oh- why is this on a Figaro blog, you ask? Well, Figaro and Casanova aren't that different. Much like Beaumarchais (ipso facto Figaro), Casanova did many things (besides seduce women, which Beaumarchais did too!) - lawyer, priest, spy, musician. He went in and out of jail, and his finances ran the gamut. The real Casanova was also friends with Lorenzo Da Ponte, Mozart's librettist. I kind of think of the Casanova of this opera as an older Figaro. There is definitely a wistfulness about his character, an acknowledgement of the greatness of his past, and a realization of how much it has waned in his old age.

I also think of him as Obi-Wan Kenobi- and the piazza scene is kind of like the Cantina bar in Mos Eisley. But that's just me.

If you're in the Twin Cities, see this opera!