Friday, August 24, 2012

From Weakness to Strength: The Elina Garanca Paradox

The first two times I saw Elina Garanca perform live, she was singing the devilishly difficult heroines of Rossini at the Met.  She commanded the stage with her acting and her singing, her voice seemingly perfect in all things.  Her coloratura was flawless and I could only gape in awe.

When I met her at the stage door after La Cenerentola, I complimented her on her coloratura.  She shook her head and said, "No, my coloratura is no good.  It is so difficult for me.  It takes much work."  Taken aback, I insisted that it was perfect and that I could only hope to sing like that one day.  I complimented her overall performance and she thanked me before signing my program and moving on.

I couldn't stop thinking about what she had said.  When I got home, I went online and listened to some interviews with her.  Over and over again, she said how difficult coloratura was for her: that it didn't come naturally and she had to painstakingly learn it and work it to perfection.  I couldn't understand this - it seemed like an insolvable paradox to me.  So I stored the story away in my brain and went about my life.

I remembered this story yesterday when I got an email from Ms. Wong, the composer I had worked with this summer.  She mentioned twice how she loved how smooth my voice was in the recording.  This struck me because I have always struggled with keeping a smooth line in my singing.  Like Elina Garanca's coloratura, smooth singing is my "weakness."  It is the thing that I work painstakingly to improve.  My music is covered with notes like "keep this even" and "smooth" and "line" and (as my old teacher liked to say) "no sausages."  But here is an outsider pointing out my one weakness and labeling it a strength.  Everything clicked and I unraveled the Elina Garanca paradox: hard work and perseverance can transform any weakness into a strength.

It's amazing and liberating to think that anything we see as a struggle, as an inherent weakness, can be beaten into something that lifts us up.  We are not bound by the things that we struggle with - they can be overcome.  The negative can become the positive.

So the next time I feel like I'm cursed by this crippling weakness in my personality or in my singing or in my life, I'll just remember the Elina Garanca paradox and push through, because I know that I can make that weakness into something that shines.

1 comment:

JSU said...

It's interesting -- the German poet Friedrich Hölderlin had similar thoughts about poetry. In a famous letter to his friend (Casimir Ulrich Bölendorff, 1801/12/4), he wrote:

"It sounds paradoxical. But I say it again and offer it for your reflection and use: a peculiarly native quality becomes less salient as the cultivation of the mind proceeds. Therefore the Greeks are in less degree masters of holy pathos, because it was innate in them, whereas they excel, on the other hand, in the gift for representing things, from Homer onward, because this extraordinary man had the profundity and greatness of soul to acquire for his Apollinian realm the occidental Junonian restraint, and thus truly to make the alien his own. [...] With us, the opposite is the case."