Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Still Crazy After All These Years

Our final dress rehearsal for Marriage of Figaro is tonight. I'm about to open my 10th production of this opera, my 8th as the title character. This opera has been kicking around my consciousness for going on sixteen years now. For as many times as I've sung it, it still teaches me stuff about my singing. For what should be an 'easy sing' by now, it still presents vocal challenges.

I've ranted and gone on and on about how singing too heavy in the middle voice during the first two acts of Nozze have come back to haunt me in the last act. That is true, and I have made some changes to avoid that. But it still amazes me that there are moments of the Act II finale and especially the Act IV aria and duet with Susanna where D4 and Eb4 seem like high Z's. And this is after I sang 12 performances of Rossini's Figaro that was riddled with G's (not to mention Casanova's Homecoming- G's, Ab's, A's oh my! [sidebar: did you know that Casanova was pals with Lorenzo Da Ponte? Legend has it that he actually wrote part of the Don Giovanni libretto]).

I have lots of theories behind this- please let me speculate for a minute (even if you don't let me, I'm going to anyway- hey, it's my blog). The most compelling theory is that singing in a room with a piano just plain sounds and feels different than singing in a hall with an orchestra. I have worked out a lot of the technical aspects of this role in the practice room, many of them to my satisfaction. But execution in the studio and on stage are two different things, especially if I am listening to myself too much (a bad habit, but I'm guilty of it). It's a big signal to me that I need to focus on sensation more in the studio and try to recreate that on stage instead of listening.

Another theory: Muscle memory. This was one of the very first operas I ever learned and when I learned it I had lots of vocal issues. The body has a funny way of remembering stuff, and it is incredibly difficult to re-learn it.

The last theory: I'd like to think that the character choices I have made have crept into the way I sing this role. In the opera, Figaro goes through a bit of an evolution. He definitely has similarities to stock buffo characters, but Mozart gives him distinctly upper class music to sing. He is given accompanied recits- usually reserved for serious characters. When people claim that all the politics are taken out of the libretto of Figaro in Mozart's opera, I point them to the accompanied recits: The Big Fig is a buffo/servant singing serio/master music. There's your politics, people. But I digress. Fig needs to control his temper and suspicion, and govern his actions with his reason. It is only after he goes through this transformation that he is truly able to enter in an equal partnership with Susanna. As a singer, I need to govern my vocal choices with my reason and with what I know to be true about my voice, and not to give in to vocal fits of rage (i.e. yelling, pushing, singing too damn loud, etc). I fight the good fight- sometimes I win. Sometimes I don't. Who knows, maybe that creeps into the characterization. I hope it does, but I have a feeling I just sing too loud. I've got 12 performances to mess with it.

Basically, this is all a bunch of hullabaloo, because out of every role I've sung, this one probably fits me the best. I love it, and I hope I have many more years of Figaro ahead of me (I recently learned that Francesco Benucci, the guy who originated the role, was 41 when he first sang it). I am blessed to be in a great production of it with a wonderfully talented and generous group of friends.

Tonight is our final dress and our first crack at having an audience.


PS- Here is an article Tom Strini did about me. I'm proud to be an 11-year Skylight veteran!

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