Tuesday, September 9, 2008

What a rush!

Well. I made it. I've survived! And not only that, but I've had a complete blast! A slightly neurotic, high-pressured blast, but definitely a blast!

Lift off
Where to begin? I believe that the key to my survival in the past week lay in a full-on attack of mental "conditioning" and vocal "pacing". I've dabbled a tiny bit in the methodology and ideas behind sports psychiatry/mental imaging, etc - which likely requires a separate entry unto itself - but I'm convinced that mental preparation is, at this stage of the game, far more important than the technical work that can be done. I had a very clear plan of what I needed to accomplish in the final brutal week of rehearsals, which consisted of 2 sessions a day, one with orchestra - one simply "staging", no days off in-between, extra costume fittings, little sleep, a public final dress rehearsal the night before my recital with 24 hours to recuperate, and then BAM: opening night broadcast live across the world!

I set a plan to sing the orchestra rehearsals full-out, concentrating 100% on the vocal and musical aspects of the character, and then "marking" (singing very lightly, if at all) the piano/stage rehearsals, concentrating 100% on the character and her subtext and those fabulous, undetectable details. When a rehearsal period is as condensed as this was, it means making the most of every single moment of the rehearsal process - bringing all your ideas to the table and simply going for it without fear of failure.

Now I don't mean to make this sound overly-heroic; I'm not a brain surgeon, for crying out loud. But I don't know that I've ever faced quite such a tall working order before, and because I love London, and love these two venues, I wanted both events to be very special - and to be in a healthy, rested position in order to give it my all.

The Wigmore Hall Dome/DetailHappily, I stuck to my game plan for the rehearsal week, which is NOT an easy thing to do. Panic can easily set in during a rehearsal in which you've decided to mark - the inner dialogue can quickly digress into the cancerous, "But you haven't sung this aria on the stage in costume before, I know you're tired, but you had better sing out and MAKE SURE that 'you have it'!" And faced with the fact that you in SUCH a gorgeous, intimate theater, and the music is just SO - my God, it's Giovanni! - amazing, it's terribly tempting to just throw in the conservative towel and wail away. But I cranked up the discipline factor, shut my mouth, and forced myself to trust the work I had done previously, ignoring the pesky inner demons. The tricky thing is, with a brand new role, you can't be SURE that you've prepared enough - you have to trust and hope!!

Dress rehearsal. Friday night. I had already warned "Sir Maestro", the astonishingly energetic Sir Charles Mackerras, that I would not be singing the entire rehearsal. I new what my trouble spots had been, and I assured him I would sing those out (the places I was getting behind or ahead, flat or sharp, sloppy or lazy!), and of course, I would sing most of the arias. The rest, I marked. (Talk about a bizarre sensation - the house is full of people, and I'm not singing? That was a new one for me!) But it was a very deliberate strategy - the final dress is a REHEARSAL, not a performance and I rehearsed in what I hoped would be the optimal way to achieve a good opening night.

Wigmore Recital. Saturday night. Fingers crossed as I eek out the first vocalizes of the day. It feels fresh. Immediately I can relax, because fresh is good - fresh means I don't have to worry, fresh means I didn't over-stretch myself in the previous week, fresh means I can just SING and ENJOY. Now comes the pay-off, I hope! As is always the case, there is an expectant air hovering over the hallowed Wigmore Hall - especially tonight, considering it is the opening of the season. I meet my pianist, David, and we rehearse the program we know quite well - revisiting tempi, moods, those few rough spots. We're both relaxed and THRILLED to be under the amazing dome that somehow demands nothing less than excellence, but is loving enough to cushion every risk you dare take.

Wigmore Hall - in anticipationThe audience arrives, giving birth to the palpable energy I was feeling earlier, and we start our dialogue; song after song, I relish the words and the melodies of these pieces I love, soaking in the moment, and feeling deep gratitude for the network of friends (both old and new) who have opted to share in the evening with us. This was one of those nights I will not forget - one of those nights that we singers long for and hope for, and when they come, we TREASURE them.

My apartment. Sunday. I don't leave it. I am a zombie. "Where did I put the remote control?"

The Royal Opera House. Monday night. Am I ready? Did I prepare well enough? Can I do this?("Please GOD, don't fall down again like you did in the previous two dress rehearsals!!!") Time to eek out the first few notes again: and....? and....? I feel good! The voice still feels fresh (which also tells me that I'm not over-singing this role, which was a fear of mine at the start.) And then of course, there is the normal chaos in the dressing rooms for an opening night, only amplified 100-fold because it's the opening night of the season, it's a live broadcast, and everyone's adrenalin is pumping like crazy: in comes the sound girl with the microphones (two microscopic things which I wear under my wig - the second one just in case the first one konks out!), the wardrobe lady with a newly altered dress that I hope fits better, the wig lady with my new wig that I haven't really had a chance to adjust to, "Sir Maestro" double checking that I was, indeed, marking in the final dress rehearsal and not just undersinging in the trio wrecking the balance we worked so hard to find, the Assistant Conductor to remind me of the text mistakes I made, some press folks with last minute requests, and the proper administrative folks making the rounds to be sure none of their cast is freaking out too much. Forget the quiet warm-up and final moments to concentrate! I had to rely on a simple folk singer under my window, to relax me to his dulcet strains of familiar Beatle's tunes!

SoloHe's been there every night of the previous week, just like us, and strangely enough, it was exactly the thing I needed to calm me down: "Well he's doing it! He's been out there every night with no rest - what's the big deal?" So I warmed up, took a bunch of deep breaths and went out to find that Don! Of course, I was completely over-loaded on adrenalin and the whole first aria was way out of synch w/ "Sir Maestro", but then I calmed down and just let it play out - I can nail the aria the next time. But there was a good energy on the stage, a GREAT energy from the audience ("Welcome, Sun readers!"), and for the umpteenth time in centuries, Don Giovanni faced death squarely in the eyes, refused to atone, and met his firey death.

THANK YOU to every single person who has cheered me on during this marathon, who have sent such kind remarks, and for my wonderful colleagues and staff who made such a fabulous evening possible! Now I feel like I can settle down and simply PLAY!

I did want to say one other big thank you to a fellow blogger and brilliant writer, Steve Smith for this. It left me a bit speechless, I must say!

Must hurry on back to Seville, now....


Michael said...

Dear Joyce - I was in the Wigmore audience on Saturday and it was indeed a magnificent and very special occasion. Thank you so much for giving us such pleasure. I'm looking forward to your Elvira later this month. I love your blog too!
All the best, Michael

Papagena said...

I wrote this before, but I tell you again: you were incredible. I'm so happy you found the way to make it, it was an amazing performance! Never had Elvira moved me so much as she did last night.

Congratulations on this great debut!

Vianant said...

I could not come to Covent Garden to experience live this Don Giovanni, but I did enjoy so much in the cinema (in Barcelona). Yours, was a great portrait of Donna Elvira, and, of course, it will still get greater. Congratulations!!!

Sibyl said...

Oh such big congratulations! I have been so thrilled to follow your progress since I saw you in Barbiere at SFO. I remember thinking "she's the Real Thing," then, and how truly you are. Thank you also for the insight into your process, which is fascinating. Brava!

Mei said...

This is another proof of your resilience, well done...!

See you soon...

mjw4849 said...

Can't wait to see you, both in this and in Barber.
Glad it's all going well :) Michael

Hariclea said...

Wednesday night!!! Don Giovanni, again :-) It is sooo addictive!!!
My first time hearing you live in an opera house!! You know in Wigmore, I felt the walls were too tight, that they were going to burst from the energy of your voice and singing. I am so glad that the generous walls of ROH somehow expanded to embrace you very graciously tonight!
I noticed no such thing as nerves on Monday, but if anyone should compare, tonight’s was indeed even better! The Ah, chi mi dice mai was just as strong a statement, but had a touch more sweetness to the vindication, we not only smiled with Elvira, we also felt for her from the very first moment. And the In quali eccessi…ahhhhhhh, every time I hear it I love it more. It is my favourite one from Elvira! It is so complex and so touching! And to anyone who couldn’t hear you tonight, Joyce absolutely mesmerised the 2200 strong audience!! They wouldn’t stop giggling and laughing for a minute during the performance, except for this aria!!! Hardly a breath was heard, and the applause at the end said it all!!!

Finally, on Friday I’ll get to see and hear it well! Tonight I almost dropped from the amphitheatre on the innocent heads of the unlucky ones below in futile attempts to get close and see more of the interaction (at least this suicide would have alleviated the pain in my knees..ahhh the suffering one has to endure for art’s sake!)

And I keep hoping every time that in the end he will not splash that wine on Elvira, it is just so cruel!! I love him up until that very last gesture, it is then that I truly want the flames upon him! Can’t do that to my Elvira!!!!

Chicago Usher said...

BRAVA - BRAVA - BRAVA, Diva ! ! !

So delighted to hear all went well, and specially interested to read about your week of mental discipline. Please, when you have time (10 years from now?!) do write more!

Muchos besos desde Chicago, where we face a Joyce-less season. :-(

oboeinsight.com said...

I absolutely love reading your blog, and I'm thrilled to read of your great success with Elvira in Don Giovanni. Congratulations!

I look forward to hearing and seeing you again when you come to our area. My husband and I were at Der Rosenkavalier when you were in San Francisco, and I was absolutely enthralled.


Operafan said...

SOOOOOOOO happy for you Dear Joyce!! You've made it, only the beginning of a tremendous season, your work and mental process is SOOOOOOO inspiring!! Take care:-))

Rachel Budde said...

You are SO right about mental preparation and how important it is in our field. Have you ever looked at guided meditation? I know it sounds little hippie stoner-ish, but it's really helped me with performance-related stress.

If you go to hypnosisdownloads.com and scroll down to the sports section, the "Mental toughness" one has been extremely helpful. Calms me down and gets me focused before an audition or a performance and is just generally beneficial.

Anyway, congrats on your role debut. I've heard from my little birdies across the Atlantic that you were wonderful.


marcillac said...

Warm and enthusiastic congratulations (does that sound too stuffy?)!!!!! You seem to have been, predictably, a smash. Even the curmudgeon at the Times was enthused. Enjoy the rest of the run.

marcillac said...

A serious nit to pick about the otherwise fascinating interview in Musical Criticism.

I do hope you don't actually hold the silly notion that reprising your Rosina several more times at the Met over the next 10 years would actually be "uninteresting". To be sure, not having experienced them yet, one would prefer to hear your Elvira and Octavian, preferably in multiple runs. On its own terms, however, I do hope you realize that your Rosina would me greeted by many with the greatest enthusiasm.

Certain portrayls by certain people just really cannot be repeated fequently enough. Two runs of the Countess by Renee Fleming was clearly too few. Furlanetto's Figaro in 4 separate runs was not one iota excessive. Your Rosina and I would imagine Elvira would seem to the sort of thing one would want to hear often.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately I couldn't see or listen to your Elvira, but the critique is unanimous - you and the Maestro were heads and shoulders above the rest of the (remarkable) cast; "The real star, though, is Joyce DiDonato, singing her first Elvira and nailing even the topmost notes.", says e.g. Guardian and I'm LOVING IT :)

Pops got slashed big time tho :(

CONGRATULATIONS and thanks for sharing with us your super-exciting run in London. I'm esp happy that you're being "disciplined" - I started to thing it was a bit too much and you might get to a dangerous zone, but no! BRAVA!

Anonymous said...

Thx for the link to "Night After Night" too.

Looking forward to your Beatrice & Benedict, AND esp the project with Peter Lieberson (his Neruda songs are IMHO the Vier Letzte Lieder of our time).

Take care! xoxo

Papagena said...

I said this before, but I tell you again: you were incredible. Congratulations!!! BRAVISSIMA!!!

Leah Partridge said...

JOyce! Once again you're a huge inspiration! Congratulations! I wanted you to know that when I get stressed....I am making my debut as Gilda at the Deutsche Oper tonight after only 3 rehearsals...haven't even seen the set...or done some of the staging....when I need a positive outlook I go to Yankee Diva and ask myself, WWJD? What would Joyce DiDonato do? Thanks once again!

Drammy said...

Glad to hear it was such a success!

Hariclea said...

Big thanks for an amazing week!!! I am envious of every single person sitting tomorrow in the Lindbury studio in conversation with you :-) Please do tell us all about it, if you can. Why has "beaming" not been invented yet???? Hope you all have a blast on Thursday! See you soon back in London and read you even sooner!

Gi said...

I came back from a few days in Italy to read about your success and joy, and could only have been happier if I had been at the theatre!
I hope you have a great closing night tomorrow :-)

Anonymous said...

The star of the show was the American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who sang Elvira with a style, sensitivity and bravura that outclassed everyone else on stage.