Sunday, June 6, 2010


We moved into the Palais Garnier, the original Paris Opera House, yesterday to start our on-stage rehearsals for "La Donna del Lago", and that burst of excitement of being in such a VERY special theater took hold of me once again, making me giggle and gasp with wonder at all the glitz and gold and gilded centimeters around me. A few of the cast members hadn't yet performed in this theater and I said, "Have you seen the foyer yet???" Astonished that they hadn't scrambled into the hallways on the very first break, I immediately said, "Come with me! YOU HAVE TO SEE THIS!" Seeing their reactions: priceless!

Now, I'll admit - this is the part that gets a little boastful, but I can't help it. You haven't seen the Garnier unless you can wander those famed marble staircases in utter silence: no tourists around, just you and your wonder as you marvel and take in the vastness of it all. That is a definite job perk - and I treasure it and cannot get enough of it!

The House that Garnier Built

I still pinch myself when I realize this is where I come to work. As I was leaving the opera house after a long day of staging, I stopped to take a few moments to capture a bit of it with my camera, and it struck me that the modern day world rushes past, in all its fervor and technology and mass transportation, and I often wonder if they know of the magic that can transpire inside those imposing walls of granite and marble. Do they know that for YEARS music has been transporting humanity and bringing beauty and provoking questions before them, trying to help them open their hearts to new levels of understanding? Do they know that cultures are explored and united on that humble stage - which means that true peace actually exists in real time for those fleeting moments? That risks are taken and truths probed so that we might just advance a little bit as human beings? That we might feel a little bit less alone and isolated? Ah, indeed, it is a magical place. And I have to say that this particular building in all it's over-done glory actually seems to capture the glory and reverence that music and the arts deserve.


Across the front of the house are busts of famous composers from Beethoven to Mozart to Halevy (hey, this is Paris - that's cool!), and the first one on the left is none other than Rossini, himself. I love the fact that I'm singing my second of his compositions on a stage that bears such beautiful witness to his legacy. It truly inspires awe!

Not every opera production we participate in is easy-going and hassle free. (I have a dear friend in the business who sometimes says "Honey, sometimes we just have to take the check and die a little inside.") Happily, those instances are very rare, for if they were the rule, I could never, ever do this career. But it does happen occasionally, for a vast variety of reasons, and I find that in those moments I need to go deep inside and find inspiration from somewhere within when it isn't coming from the usual sources, and then work hard on remembering how grateful I am to do what I do, and how amazing it is to share it with so many of you who value music and the theater greatly in your lives. No, not every production will be to your liking, but you keep coming back for the magic, the mystery, the truth...

Which leads me to this video! I just discovered it today, and the timing was perfect for me. I have a long week ahead (tech week - the week leading up to opening night - is notoriously difficult and tension-filled and stressful, which may be one reason a number of singers are not at their best on opening night: they're recovering from a hellishly long tech week!), and need to be in great form for opening night and then for my recital 2 nights later! So I'm doing my best to be rested, rejuvenated and in a good mental place as we go forward - this video was a great find for me, and spoke to me deeply about why I do what I do:

I get angry with myself when I forget this most fundamental aspect of WHY we need music/theater/arts, and when I let a multitude of other factors (including myself, sometimes!) stand in my way of expressing this freely. I think the hardest work an actor/musician/performer must face is stripping away all the things that keep him/her from being free to express truth. That can be insecurity, fear, lack of preparation, ego, lack of humility - it can be a million different things. But more than the actual DOING of something, I think it's the stripping away of those things that keep one from being free which inhibits singers/actors more than anything. It's why I think being a performer requires an enormous amount of self-discovery and a willingness to look at the obstacles in themselves that inhibit this freedom of expression, and then to try to do the work to bring them crashing down.

Ah yes - that's the key! I've got it ALL figured out, so the rest must be all downhill for me, right?!?! Ah, no - sadly, it's not that easy, and is ALWAYS a work in progress, one that I get to continually agree to face as I try to grow and learn. I know that I'm not the only singer to say, "Why must this career be so hard sometimes?" - but that's when I come back and think that it's not a bad thing that we have to earn our way onto the stage and to fight for what our ideals are. No - that can be a wonderfully empowering thing, and it helps us to clarify WHY we do this and what we wish to achieve through our music.

It's funny how a building built over a century ago by complete strangers can still speak to one little singer in 2010, and inspire her to do her very best. Another example of the need for great art in our lives.


Klassikfan said...

Hi Joyce,
last year I was lucky enough to join a guided tour through the Palais Garnier, and I can understand perfectly well how you must feel when you are wandering on your own through this "palace"/palais of marble and gold. It is a very special theatre, not as "cosy" as the Royal Opera House in London, but...well I found it very impressive and almost inhibiting. Anyway, I'd love to attend "La Donna", but unfortunately it seems impossible to get a ticket for "your" dates. But as a lady at a box office once said to me: There is always a chance until the curtain goes up. Therefore, see you in Paris! ;-))

Chris said...

Not now of course, but maybe when you pen your memoirs you'll tell us the productions that have caused you to "die a little inside." That will be worth waiting for and it might help you sell more copies too.

Chris said...

Not now of course, but maybe when you pen your memoirs you'll tell us the productions that have caused you to "die a little inside." That will be worth waiting for and it might help you sell more copies too.

Georgios said...

I'm so glad to read your excitement about Palais Garnier! It must be one of the most atmospheric opera houses and one that has been depicted in the most beautiful paintings and drawings by Degas to incredible effect (and lots of other artists, but Degas was the one that picked on the novelty and more dark aspects of the house). And how laden it is with sculpture by Carpaux and the amazing ceiling by Chagall! It must be so incredible to work in such a jewelled building, excessive but yet sublime.
When I was studying architecture our tutor showed us a cross section of the Palais Garnier and we were all amazed by the detailing and how this palace of art was there to create a special occasion for the audience and a space worthy of the high minded spectacle on stage...planned to make a king out of every ticket holder... it's a palace after all ;-)
I'm delighted that you get to grace again that amazing stage. It must be so fascinating for you recreating Elena from scratch after only a few weeks after Geneva. Have a very successful week and keep us all posted! I envy the Parisians...we will have to wait till next year to see you grace Covent Garden (but it will be worth it).

Opera Cake said...

I still hope this long awaited production of La Donna will look and sound good. Just saying ;)

Next week will be a tough one for you, with 2 Elena's and the recital at TCE. So good luck, take care, keep cool, and --when you can-- try and enjoy this wonderful weather in Paris.

We're all very much looking forward to seeing you in both La Donna and in your Italian Melodies.


Opera Cake said...

And thanks for the clip! That also explains why so many extraordinary productions are nowadays so fiercely booed.
It's all good :)

Mr. Classical Guy said...

So when I look around at my desk in my cramped office I have to say I do take the check...

But if I could sing...


Larissa said...

I hope you showed them the fire places!
Love the blog dear. xoxo

Ysabel said...

The Garnier is a beautiful building, although it was widely despised when it was built (just like the Eiffel Tower!). I have to say, based on the portraits, that that is an extremely flattering bust of Rossini. =) Let us know if you hear from the Phantom living in the lake downstairs.

Mei said...

@Klassikfan, the box office lady is so right...

The ONP box office has a peculiar behavior and, now and then, are emerging tickets on line, so you must be patient and wait for the right dates... ;-)

In any case, France Musique will broadcast the performance later...

William V. Madison said...

Clearly, there's a problem here, one that lies with me: you keep telling the truth, and I keep listening, and yet time and again, I fail to make sounds quite the way that you do.


OperaMama said...

The arts exist to remind us of humankind's potential for (and realization of) good. The newspaper and history books firmly refute that. To live with this dichotomy, we poor normal folk MUST have our beautiful music shared by you wonderful souls (especially you!). On behalf of many, I thank you. When next in Paris, I will not forget to admire the beauty there. Heck, I love what I can find here in Chicago!

Emma said...

I just walked up to the national theatre yesterday. I wasnt sure if they still did operas there or not. Our tour guide said they only have ballet there now.
Anyway I was flabergasted by the color of the theatre against the night sky.

I have been telling all of my friends about the opera and how youre from Kansas City too.

btw I bought the DVD of il barbiere the other day when I was in Strasbourg!
Im excited to watch it

Thomas said...

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