Thursday, January 19, 2006

An excursion to "Venice" via Wigmore Hall

If anyone has Martha Stewart’s private email address, could you please send it immediately? I desperately need her expert advice on how to pack into 2 suitcases (limit 25 kilos per each, thank you very much) a wardrobe and supplies for 4 months abroad, traveling from New York in the dead of winter, straight through to Barcelona in the almost full glory of summer, and including gowns for 3 different types of concerts, scores for 4 different operas, and a stack of copied music for a full recording as well as a separate recital. Martha? Anyone? I would also love to throw in just one or two of the novels I’ve been dying to get into. But, each one of those? That’s another half a kilo! Ouch. Help.

Well, I have 3 full days to address that problem when I get home, which gives me the time now to reflect on what has been a truly amazing period in London. I wrote last time of how much I adored working with “Mosh & Posh”, as they are affectionately referred to, and what a beautiful environment the Royal Opera house maintains, making it a true joy to sing there, so I won’t drivel on about it anymore. The one thing that came to my mind as I was finishing the run there is how valuable it is, I’m discovering, to sing a role over and over. If you had asked me how well I knew the role of Rosina after my Paris debut 4 years ago, I would have said “incredibly well. Inside and out.” And it would have been right to a certain degree. But there really is no substituting living in the shoes of a character over and over, and presenting it in vastly different approaches. (Especially when the shoes are such a fabulous fuchsia!) I find that now I have a much larger kaleidoscope of colors to choose from as Rosina, and those are colors that I have found simply by singing her in so many performances.

I sometimes am asked if I get bored singing this opera. The honest truth is that I do not, but that’s for several different reasons: first, I sing a wide variety of repertoire, so to return to Rosina feels like popping open a bottle of very fine champagne. Do you ever get tired of a great glass of bubbly? Perhaps only if you had it every night of the week, but because I can go sing Elisabetta in Maria Stuarda, and then maybe Sesto in Clemenza, there is a sense of joy to return to the impetuous Rosina. I am happy to say I still welcome it. The other reason is that I feel I grow with her through each performance. I find new things, try different phrasing, play against different casts (which can change my interpretation drastically, by the way!) and it feels wonderful to stand in front of an audience completely confident in this character. I truly think that is one of the most valuable lessons we ‘younger’ singers can take from the ‘golden age’ ones: to value the importance of role repetition. Call me a convert.

The other momentous event for me in London was my Wigmore Hall recital on Monday. It was my 3rd time singing on that breathtaking stage. The first time was as part of the Inaugural Song Competition back in 1997. (Not to repeat the same story over and over, but this was the competition where the head judge told me, rather matter-of-factly, that (and I’m quoting here)

“We just felt you had nothing to offer as an artist.”

Yes. That one hurt. But it taught me a lot, as I’ve said before, and I will certainly never forget it – it fuels me to always be certain I HAVE something to say, and that I LET myself offer it freely. But, I’m digressing.

The second time was for an evening recital just over 2 years ago. I was a complete unknown here in London then, and the fact that they sold any tickets at all was a bit of a miracle. However, it ended up being one of those truly memorable evenings on the stage, and the sense of returning to that incredible venue feeling a bit vindicated from the now infamous comment, well I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel damn good!

And so this past Monday I found myself in that same, familiar groove of that gorgeous Steinway, under the hallowed blue and gold dome, and this time, it was a complete sell-out. Finally I was able to bring out a program I had been formulating in my head for some time, and it felt simply marvelous to finally ‘give birth’ to it. It was an all-Venetian program, and it very nearly made me feel that amazing, hazy light of Venice on my face as if I were standing on a bridge overlooking the Grand Canal! The beautiful thing, again, thanks to technology, as that my parents woke up early, and while in their pajamas sipping their morning coffee, were able to tune into the live internet broadcast, and I was able to sing for them directly from the Wigmore Dome to the Flaherty kitchen table. How incredible!

I was reminded again in a very passionate way of how much I love to sing a recital. It’s such a challenge to stand there completely alone and deliver a song simply as yourself – no costumes, no scenery, no colleagues to play off of, and no time to recover. There is nothing to rely on but yourself and the music. How glorious! And how very SCARY! In the first of the Reynaldo Hahn songs I sang (which are all strophic) I’m not at all sure that I sang any of the right words, but I kept going and still tried to deliver the ‘feeling’ of the piece as best I could. But when that happens, the panic that sets in as a performer is INDESCRIBABLE! It feels as if one second of time becomes an HOUR, and that you’ll never find your way out of the dark tunnel. But we have to continue to perform as if everything is exactly as it should be – and then we have to pick up and go on to the next song! It really is the most vulnerable feeling. But I managed to get back on track and to genuinely enjoy every Venetian moment of it.

One special note: I will never forget during the first encore (Cara Speme), seeing numerous people wiping tears from their eyes. I only caught it peripherally, but it was unmistakable, and I wish I could describe the feeling of what it is like as a singer to FEEL that you are touching the audience. I wrote a few, journals ago, about the ‘dialogue’ between the stage and the public that I rely upon so much as a singer – I need the feedback of the audience to let me know that I’m reaching you. And in this case, it moved me to tears and I thank everyone there for being so involved in the journey with me. I will never forget it.

So now I have to do the hard part, which is say goodbye to a period that has been very special and remarkable for me; goodbye to a fabulous city, to great friends, a wonderful public, and to wonderful memories. I have to pack all of those up as well and stow them safely away. Happily they don’t take up much room, or add too many kilos, but I’d never travel without each of them.

(Photos: The breathtaking "Wigmore Dome", which envelopes and caresses the sound from the Wigmore Stage giving it the most sublime acoustic; the equally famous Savoy Hotel, where a cold bottle of Champagne was popped at the end of the recital in celebration!)

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