Sunday, March 28, 2010

Rossini meets Bach

Before our last concert of the St. John, one of my colleagues (who is also a close friend) came to my dressing room to say hello, saw my suitcase, rolled his eyes and said, "oh…you're one of those singers…" He was disappointed that I wasn't going to hang around for the evening and go out on the town to celebrate with him and his partner. But after so little time in my new apartment and being surprised to be spending an unexpected extra week in Chicago, I had decided to run right home straight after our last matinee. I made that choice for two reasons – firstly, because I was anxious to have some time to enjoy sitting on my new couch, and, secondly, because I knew that I had to get to work on my next two upcoming projects.

While being back at the CSO was an incredible, fun, and exciting opportunity, I lost a bit of time in terms of preparing for the two huge projects that are on next on my docket – St. Matthew and Il barbiere di Siviglia. While I have done Barber before – I haven't even looked at the score since 2003, and (as I posted the other day) this St. Matthew Evangelist will be my first. To make matters even more stressful, three days after my first performance of the St. Matthew Evangelist, rehearsals begin for Barbiere in Portland, leaving me just enough time to fly home, unpack, then repack, and fly off to Portland. So, while I have been trying to enjoy some time at home these last three weeks, I have been forced to keep my nose to the grindstone, so to speak. The morning after I returned home, sheer panic set in, and I dove directly into a daily routine with an intensity and total immersion that I rarely experience outside of my summers at Marlboro.

This process has quite literally felt like burning a candle at both ends – Rossini and Bach are two very different, almost opposite musical forces to contend with. Rossini is all about virtuosity, flexibility, and bel canto technique, the needs of the voice dictating the musical line and phrasing. Bach sits on the opposite end of that spectrum, requiring the singer to treat his (or her) voice like an instrument. Rossini requires ego, bravado, and showmanship. Bach has no room for such qualities, demanding humility, meditation, and selflessness. The one thing that both do require is a lot of practice.

As I settled into my working rhythm, my initial panic gradually gave way to enjoyment, and I started to notice that burning this musical candle at both ends was, much to my surprise, yielding numerous positive and unexpected results. Almost immediately, I found that rather than feeling like I was juggling two voices, my work with one composer would inform my work with the other. I discovered I didn't need to feel quite so rushed in Bach. I discovered that I could stand to be a lot more precise and clean in my approach to Rossini. I also discovered things that were non-musical, as well. One day, writing my morning pages, pondering my fraught and nerve-wracked relationship with Rossini, I found myself posing the question: Am I anxious that I won't live up to the music or am I more scared of what my colleagues and the audience might think? Considering an answer, I realized that whenever I feel nervous about Bach, it is because I am afraid I won't be able to do justice to the music. Disturbingly, I also became aware that my nerves about Rossini did not stem from the same source. Identifying that fear was incredibly liberating, and also allowed me to finally open up and take some huge strides forward with Mr. Rossini, as I applied my more Bach-ian psychological approach to practicing his music.

Normally, it's difficult to be this disciplined when I am at home – at times it can be exhausting, and it can be easy to feel blocked. But these past few weeks, I've really enjoyed myself and felt myself enjoying singing in a way that I haven't in a long time. It's been three weeks in which I feel there have been countless discoveries and technical growth spurts, making me very excited for the weeks to come.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Beautiful post, and bravo to you for asking your Rossini-nervousness vs Bach-nervousness question, and for finding the right answer. All artists, and in fact all humans, would do well to ask themselves the same thing. Like many people, I've also been immersed in the Passions lately (isn't it cool how people around the globe can be connected through music at a time like this?) and am sure that listening to, studying, or singing Bach can help us all live up to the high standard of the kind of life he sets forth for us in his music. Your post is one moving example of that. Best of luck to you.