Saturday, December 26, 2009

Resonance, Part II

Smorg, a reader of mine, asked an extremely intriguing question regarding my last post and I feel that the answer deserves its own post. He asked,

"Do you think it is scarier now to sing emotionally loaded duets today when you may also have to also act the romance of it out on the stage while singing than in the pre-Callas days when the singers didn't have to act much and could just put everything in the voice? Or perhaps the other way around (the acting is making it easier?)?"

This question would most likely elicit a plethora of answers depending on who you're talking to, but here's my personal view on it.

I know that, for me, every element of performance works together and as you add more elements, the performance experience gets more intense. For example, simply singing an aria is intense, but when I really allow myself to get into the emotion of it, another dimension is added and it is more intense than just simply singing. But that's obvious. Now, add another person to the mix and it gets even more intense. They don't even necessarily have to be singing -- if someone is there to work off of, the experience is immediately different. And when that other person starts singing, it's a totally new game.

So to answer the question, I find that physicality in addition to singing makes the experience of performance more intense. Also, I think this is due to the fact that when I'm physically involved, my singing is more emotive and "in the moment." I've found that when I'm acting out a scene, there are things that come into my singing that I can't replicate when I'm just standing there singing. It's usually spontaneous and a result of my acting or of my current physical situation or of something that my scene partner has done.

I don't think that acting necessarily makes the singing "easier," but it does effect it. If my singing partner is physically involved, that changes my singing as well. So I personally think it is scarier to sing "emotionally loaded" duets with the physical acting because the experience in general is more intense and when things are more intense, they are obviously more scary. It's not the physicality itself that is scary, but rather the increased intensity of the emotional and musical experience as a result of the added physical acting.

Smorg, I hope that answers your question! I love being stirred to think through these things. What a fun occupation this opera spiel is!

Friday, December 18, 2009


I'm beginning to believe that there is something incredibly intimate about singing opera with someone.

Anyone who has performed in tandem with other people knows how intensely you have to depend on your song/scene partners. It's a strange bond that you make with them because you depend on them, and they depend on you, for the success of the performance. So when I sing opera with someone, this is already there and I feel that it's very intense because the voice is so unpredictable and opera is so difficult that it's easy for things to go wrong.

Then there's a connection on the physical level because you have to be physically close in a scene. Boundaries that exist in normal life are broken rather quickly, especially with my opera director. When I joined the opera last year, I lost all sense of personal space. We joked about it, but it's real.

But you can say that about straight acting or musical theater. There is another element that is specific to operatic singing. When you're singing correctly, it's loud and it's intense. When another singer is singing really close (or sometimes not even that close), my face bones vibrate. My sternum resonates. The music is so intense that it makes my entire body respond.

So imagine doing a scene with someone -- first of all they're pretending to be your lover, they're usually saving you from some horrid fate, you're depending on them for the success of the scene and you know they're depending on you, and they're singing right into your face and your very bones are reacting. And to top it all off, the said scene partner is usually singing something passionate (this is opera after all). Isn't it normal to feel a special connection with them? I mean, how could you sing something like the Dorabella-Guglielmo duet from Mozart's Cosi fan tutte and not be effected? (I am SO afraid of singing that duet -- it is one of the sexiest pieces of music that I've ever heard. But that's another story.)

Life never ceases to surprise me. I'm continually intrigued by its nuances and hidden idiosyncrasies. And music -- the greatest nuance of life -- never stops making my heart pound.