Saturday, January 23, 2010

Good planning!

Note to self: touring in Spain in the middle of January = brilliant idea!

(Ditto for that whole "December in Los Angeles" thing!)

Yes, I've officially kicked off my Tour D'Amore and so far so good. We began in Madrid, which is always such a lovely place to spend some time. The people are so warm and welcoming, the food unbelievably wonderful ("Mas jamon, por favor!"), and the richness of that Spanish culture I love so much abounds on every street corner.

The opening of a new recital is always nerve-wracking, as I've mentioned, but the reward of bringing all the months of hard work and preparation to fruition gives real reason to celebrate. In Madrid it was interesting, because it is quite a cultivated audience: they love their traditional lieder recital, and at first hint of bad decorum, they immediately hush the offending member and absolute concentration is duly and immediately restored. They know what they are listening for, and it's up to the performer to deliver. I'm not entirely convinced that my choice of program was exactly to their liking, but truth be told, I can only ever really offer the things that I think I will do well, and this will never please everyone. But it's always a privilege to sing on that stage, one replete with such history and such a devoted audience, and I was incredibly honored to be invited.

Stopping next at the Grand Canary Island to sing in Telde was another story entirely!

The venue was hardly that of the grand Teatro Zarzuela in elegant Madrid; instead, this was a 250-seat charming, but run-down church hiding in the most narrow of winding streets, musty of smell with one community toilet, and tickets were free! As I started my first set, people were still wandering in, photos were being snapped, and the eager audience was determined to clap after each song; to say it was mass confusion would be a bit of an exaggeration, but only by a bit.

But a funny thing about this relaxed, demonstrative, slightly unruly public: I LOVED them! The close proximity really turned this into a salon recital, with feedback immediate and genuine, no barriers, no artificiality, and genuine communication.

One thing I've realized about this recital (again, it's nearly impossible to know how a recital will come across until you actually put it in front of the public for the first time), is that it is quite an intimate affair. There isn't a lot of pomp and circumstance, very little "flash". It is probably the furthest in mood from "Furore" that I could find, which was intentional on my part, as I hope that versatility will always be welcome in my endeavors. But there is a more internal and intimate character to this recital, at least from my point of view, and I found that having the luxury of singing that to 250 people in such close, charming quarters was a true gift.

They were unbelievably generous in their response and it is an evening I won't soon forget.

Nor will I forget the next night:

Dudamel = magic. Pure. And. Simple.

I see in him an enthusiasm and a JOY for making music that is all too rare on the podium in these days. I see passion and detail and generosity. It was incredibly inspiring to watch his concert in the stunning Alfredo Kraus Auditorium with his Goteborg Symphony. Yes, the world premiere was raw and thrilling (truly!), the Rach 4 with Leif Ove Andsnes impressive, and the Sibelius rocked my world - but the MAGICAL moment came in their first encore. It wasn't announced, and I wasn't familiar with it, but it was a slow, lyrical, slowly unfolding rhapsody of lush melody first caressed by the strings, and then slowly taken over by the winds. As it inevitably crawled to it's hushed finish, he whispered an invitation for the final cut off with his left hand, and then - held it suspended there. It must have been for a full 30 seconds. Maybe it was 5 minutes. It could have been an hour, but regardless, not a sound was uttered in the hall, and no one even thought to begin applauding. Instead, what I felt was an immense and powerful concentration of energy and silence - the silence carrying almost more weight than the music had just seconds before, and he held us captive. It was entrancing, hypnotic and magic. Prayer, for whatever that may mean to different people, prayer happened in that moment.

Ah, the power of music. And the power of silence. Simple bliss.

I'm currently in Barcelona, ready for the "intimate" Liceu!! Well, ok, it's not so intimate, but I'll do my best to shore up the masses to take this little internal journey with me! I'm so looking forward to being back on that beautiful stage and enjoying my all-too-short a stay here!

Hasta luego, Amigos!

PS - thank you to the lovely Suzanne for alerting me that on January 28 at 2:00 (London time) the BBC Radio 3 will be broadcasting the "Béatrice et Bénédict" I sang in from Paris last year with the DIVINE Sir Colin Davis conducting. Sure you can tune in to listen to me, but it's definitely worth it to hear his conducting of the final duet of Act 1. C'EST PARADIS!!!!!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Music heals

I'm currently watching a streaming video from the United States (and London) of a telethon raising money for Haiti. They have shown clips of the beautiful people of Haiti gathering in streets and singing.


How humbling and uplifting.

I'm pretty sure that every Dollar/Euro/Pound will make a difference.

Let's do what we can - which is usually more than we tend to believe.

Click here to donate and help rebuild a nation.

Monday, January 18, 2010

"That's Amore!!"

Tonight's the night! I debut a new recital program here in Madrid at the Teatro de la Zarzuela, and I'm terribly nervous and wonderfully excited! The task of getting nearly 2 hours worth of music up and running in front of a hungry public without the benefit of stage techs and dress rehearsals as we have in the world of opera feels a bit daunting at this moment, especially since nearly all the music is brand new for me. But then the prospect of singing these wonderful songs and sharing an evening of divine music with that beloved public reminds me of how very fortunate I am!!

Just over a year ago I was sat in various dressing rooms at the MET sifting through piles and piles of music, trying to sort out an interesting, cohesive, inspired program for this tour. (Talk about daunting!) What began to take shape was an exploration of over 3 Centuries of Italian Canzone, primarily focused on love: love celebrated, rejected, mourned, exhilerated, and perhaps ultimately laughed at. I have tried to find a good balance of sincerity, enlightenment, humor, and celebration, and we'll see tonight if I found the right combination!

There are several reasons I have enjoyed working so hard on this program. The first is that I think it really represents much of who I am as an artist: I have a heavy concentration of Italian repertoire under my belt, with Italian perhaps being my best foreign language (although my atrocious grammar must surely give me away!). Secondly, I have a passion for all things "ancient" and all things "new", having built a career on music from Handel to Heggie, so it feels appropriate to bring so many centuries of music to the stage in one night. And perhaps most of all, I'm madly in love with an Italian, myself, and it's rather fun to celebrate his country and his culture's take on this thing called "love".

**I believe the recital will be broadcast on Spanish radio on the 21st - I'll post details later here, if it happens!

Off to revel in "Amor"!!!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

"On the wings of love..."

That's a wrap! Well, nearly a wrap - tomorrow we must finish up the Act 1 finale duet and a few stray recits, but for all intents and purposes, my Ariodante is officially "in the can"! I must say, it feels WONDERFUL!! It was quite an accomplishment and thrill, to say the very least, to work on this iconic role 2 years ago and bring him to the stage for my first time. Spending time in his shoes (or boots, as it were) was an exhilarating journey for me and I relished every moment. Much time has passed, a lot of life has transpired, and I've been given the chance to revisit him and put him under the microscope, having the luxury of spending time with each phrase, playing with the colors and making different character choices with each take. It has been a tremendous learning experience for me, and I count myself ridiculously fortunate to have had such an opportunity!

Today was my final aria - the monstrously difficult "Con l'ali di costanza" with its nearly unsingable, endless phrases. It is the most instrumental of all arias I have sung - as if he had composed this for oboe rather than voice! Handel's original version for Carastini relentlessly asks for note after note to come forth in sometimes very disjointed positioning (that's the instrumental part), all riding on the text of "Con l'ali di costanza...' ("On the wings of constancy"), which implies that the pervasive color should be that of air, light, fleeting, soaring, not a care in the world! Well, I have a LOT of cares when singing this fiendishly difficult piece. It's funny - you ask nearly any singer who has sung this role, and I would put a lot of money on each of them identifying this piece as a veritable nightmare. (Same goes for Idamante's opening aria in Idomeneo - it is the bane of our existence as mezzos.)

Now, mysteriously, after the opening, Handel quickly devised a shorter version of the same aria which, while still posing technical problems, is markedly more approachable - mainly because the offending passages were reduced by several measures. It would seem that Carastini had lungs of titanium, and the rest of us poor mortals must compensate!

We have done the full version here. Upon waking this morning, I was ready for the challenge mentally, even if my body was sounding the alarm of being tired. Singing this aria with a slightly compromised breath support system is not an option!! So I steeled myself, rested up a bit in the afternoon, and gave it my best shot!

In preparing this dense but brilliant aria, I had to work on the various elements in isolation. Much of the work was purely technical: very slow passage work to insure accurate pitches; very elaborate rhythmic work to enable facility and speed; lots of breathing exercises to give life to the long phrases; and then trying to throw all the technical challenges out the window and simply let the voice FLY. I won't profess to say that I'm 100% happy with the results - I'd love to have flown a bit more fleetly, accurately and easily, but I am very happy that I made it to the end in one piece!!!

The conductor and crew were also very happy as well, so I will trust their ears to say that "we got it" and Ariodante flies on the wings of love to start this opera out! All of that having been said, it is a RUSH to sing, and when we finished the complete take, I am sure I felt what marathon runners feel - that flood of endorphins pulse through the body. Then I had a big plate of pasta with red wine, and my day felt complete!

No pictures to post today - I was a bit too tired from yesterday's marathon session, and my concentration was all on singing today. Also, while I can't quite respond to each of the wonderful comments and questions from you all for the moment, I did want to address Chris, who mentioned being a bit disillusioned about the recording process, imagining that perhaps a recording session such as this consists of the singers going through the entire piece and voila, we have a finished project. Instead, with the different edits and takes, it somehow might seem like we're cheating just a bit. I understand this. And there is a big discussion to be had about the merits of live recording vs. studio recordings. But I, for one, think there is place for both.

But I would like speak to this particular project (and the others I have worked on with Alan, as well as my solo discs), and that is that we get one chance to lay down our version of Ariodante. ONE shot to create something that will outlive us all. He puts a tremendous amount of research into the style and performing habits of the day, and the desire of submitting the culmination of that work onto a disc means he wants his very best vision to arrive on your shelf. We performers are hardly predictable machines. Every single time we sing a role it is different. No matter how proficient we are, we make mistakes. We sing out of tune. We have a low-energy day and the performance somehow falls flat. This is live performance. But for the amount of work that goes into preparing an opera, and knowing that it will be preserved for posterity, and many people will look to it to define the work itself, it is important to present as polished and theatrical version as possible. Making several takes and correcting small passages allows us the luxury of truly creating a cohesive, as-near-ideal-as-possible interpretation.

For example, in the beginning of a week like this, I'm nervous. I am a bit jet lagged. Perhaps I'm just in a bad mood! It might take several repetitions of the opening aria to #1: help me relax, and #2: help the orchestra get used to my phrasing, where I breathe, and my character. Perhaps I will hear something new in the orchestra that I hadn't heard before and that will inspire a different reading in me for the next take. Perhaps we simply get richer in our interpretation with each reading, which is quite often the case. We get the LUXURY of reading the phrases differently - perhaps one time in the cadenza, my Ariodante feels weak, and in the next reading I want to try it where he is instead furious! We take both options, and in the end the producer and conductor will have the luxury to see what works best in that particular dramatic context.

It's not all just about trying to find some sort of elusive, sterile perfection. It's about creating something that is vibrant and alive and involves all the players' very best contributions. It's absolutely another beast from performing a piece live on the stage, but this has it's place, as well. I am certain that technically speaking, my singing on the final edit of this version will be far better than what I could do with the role live on stage, and I was able to take different risks in our beautiful setting here than I might dare to take on the stage - and this will give a certain kind of result. On the other hand, we all know that the electricity of a live performance will never, ever be replaced by something that comes through your loud speakers - squeaky, out of tune notes and all!! (That, my friends, by the way, is due completely to YOUR presence in the theater. It is you, the public, that charge us to be bigger than life and energize our performances!!)

But I believe both have absolute merit, and believe me, I'm more than honored to be a participant in the recording of another of Handel's masterpieces! I don't think any musician involved in this process thinks we're cheating, or that we're replacing a live performance. We're making a recording, an archive, a tiny fingerprint of how we see this opera today. I guarantee you, if we held a reunion in 10 years of these singers and orchestra members and re-recorded this work, the result would be entirely different, and not only because a wobble or two had come into play!! This is my vision of Ariodante today. Next year, I'm sure it would be different, but how fabulous to be able to take a snapshot such as this, in this moment in time, and toss it over to you for your analysis and critique and, hopefully, your ENJOYMENT!!

It has been an honor to sing this music, and whenever it arrives, I can only hope it will bring endless amounts of enjoyment for you. That is the intent with which it was recorded!

From Lonigo, wish me safe travels for the next few weeks as I try to navigate this crazy winter weather Europe is having!!!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Into the blind night

I'm exhausted. Spent. And oh yes, does it feel GOOD! Today was a rather brutal day in terms of recording: 3 arias were planned, and that's a lot for a single day, believe it or not. What results in 7 minutes of music on a disc likely takes 90 minutes of full-on singing to complete the picture. Normally we will invest in one full take of the piece, listen to the results (debating tempi, colors, ensemble, dynamics, etc), and then the real work begins, usually attacking one segment at a time, involving numerous repeats until the ideal result of musical perfection and high emotional impact show themselves in perfect unison! That's not a lot to ask, is it??? We're only trying to get perfect intonation from every single orchestra member, as well as from the singer, perfect unison between all the musicians - at the same time! - and on top of all the technical aspects, we're trying to create ART! Trying to find a genuine emotion that will transmit over loud speakers or headphones that actually MOVES the listener without the aid of costumes or theatrics is a very high challenge. We need to ignite your imagination so that you can enter into our story and travel along an emotional journey. And we get about 90 minutes to make that magic happen!

As I wrote yesterday, it truly is more of a sprint than a marathon, although after 90 minutes of "Scherza infida-ing", I certainly feel as if I've run a marathon!!

"Qui d'amor al suo linguaggio"

This is Ariodante's entrance arietta, and introduces us into a tranquil, simple place where a certain utopia seems to be on hand. Happily, it endures all of Act 1, until chaos naturally ensues as the curtain rises on Act 2. The trick, I think, is to honor his "larghetto" marking (which is always up for debate - too much "largo" and it drags, to much "ghetto" and it doesn't quite feel languid or romantic enough!) But I think the key comes in the decision to not give into the melancholy of the poetry ("the rivers are speaking the language of love..."), and to concentrate on a fresh quality that is still somehow vibrant and alive - not too self-indulgent. (Which, by the way is very hard for me to avoid - I LOVE indulging a great larghetto!) But after the drama of recording some of the later arias, it was wonderful to come back to the beginning - the calm before the storm, so to speak - and get Ariodante's footing firmly on the ground as he begins his journey. The surer his standing is, the farther the fall - and isn't that what we come to the theater for?

(On hand at the cembalo, once again, is the brilliant-as-ever Andrea Perugi. He has been on all my recordings with Alan Curtis, and due to his fine Tuscan background, is the go-to-guy for all things Italian. He points out when my "o's" are too closed, or "i's" not closed enough. He also has the greatest face on the planet. It always seems to emit a bit of sunshine, so even here in foggy Lunigo, he is a breath of fresh air.)

"Scherza infida"

Ah. The monster. The monument. The untouchable! This aria has such a hallowed air about it, that it falls into the category for me of "white glove treatment ONLY!" Don't dare take it down off the shelf unless you're wearing white gloves and close all the curtains! It's one of THOSE arias! And yet, I somehow have to roll up my sleeves and make it my own. I have to dare to sing those famous phrases and find a way to make it mine. I had the luxury of recording the aria on its own for my "Furore" disc, and that was one experience. This is another - another conductor, another band, another venue, and certainly I am a different kind of artist, with nearly 2 years having passed since I last recorded it. I was curious to see how it might have morphed along the way.

Well, I hesitate to divulge too much, and certainly, MY experience of what I put into the recording will be very different from the listener's experience of hearing it. But I can say that I felt quite a lot more "raw" this time, perhaps (dare I say!) a bit more violent with the utterances of disdain and indignation and threat towards Ginevra. I suppose having recorded nearly the whole opera now, the poison I felt creeping in during "Tu, preparati a morire" certainly bore a different kind of fruit in this rendition. Ariodante has just been primed by Polinesso to be jealous and agitated, and all it took was a tiny, brief glimpse of a veiled figure in the dark for him to assume that Ginevra has been unfaithful. Could it be possible that without Polinesso's influence, seeing the same thing, Ariodante could have laughed it off, knowing for certain Ginevra would never betray him? Did it really only take a small bit of sly insinuation? And yet, when he crosses the line, he crosses completely.

Being so immersed in the role in these days, I wasn't too seduced by the beauty of the aria (oh, how Handel tears my heart out with his beauty!), but I stayed deep in the text, trying diligently not to give into self-pity, and instead looking to heave the guilt onto Ginevra. The text is relentless in its condemnation of her, and I tried to stay with that more than I had done previously. I think, also, that Alan hears the orchestra as quite mocking and derisive, and not necessarily always beautiful. I found it very interesting to get into the mindset that Ariodante's pain is so very great in this moment, that he can't dare to let himself FEEL it too much - instead he needs to transfer it all onto the one he loved most in the world. He simply cannot bare to carry the burden himself.

Which makes the realization that he was completely wrong all the more tragic, bringing us to:

"Cieca Notte"

I might have mentioned that I find this to be the most important of Ariodante's arias. Now granted, when recording any one of them, I actually feel the same way - how could the opera exist without every single note of his??? But I do think this is the pinnacle of the opera for him, even if most people believe it peaks with "Scherza Infida," for understandable reasons. But this is actually the REAL challenge of Ariodante as a man: he finds out he completely misjudged Ginevra, and in fact betrayed HER with his quick, eager assumption. All of a sudden, all that relentless, wicked vengeance he directed at her is suddenly turned onto himself.

Again, Handel gives us jagged angles in the music - dotted rhythms, leaping intervals, and a dark, troubled color with both bassoons adding into the orchestral mix. Ariodante begins by blaming the "blind night", and the evil friend and traitor who set him up. It seems the entire A and B sections find him trying desperately to displace the blame - anywhere but on himself. But then, at least in my personal subtext, even though the text repeats, I think Ariodante starts to accept the blame himself. I see that HE, in fact - not the night, but he, himself, betrayed this "gran fe" ("great faith"). I think the only reason he can pick himself up and return to his people, is because he is not afraid to take the blame. He is not afraid to answer for his actions.

That assumption of responsibility is truly what makes Ariodante a hero - not his title, not his showy arias, but the fact that he drags himself back to life and faces the woman he loves, admitting his failing.

I tried to find that realization in the da capo, keeping all the mixture of emotion and exhaustion that overcomes him. But each time I come to that aria, I'm convinced it's a masterpiece, and it defines the character of Ariodante so completely. Ah, they ALL are! Who am I kidding????

**Let me also throw in one rather LARGE disclaimer at this point. I'm happy to share my personal approach and experience with this recording, HOWEVER, it must be said that even if I FEEL all these things and AIM to translate them onto disc, I may fail miserably!! I can imagine someone purchasing this disc (and 10 more as Christmas presents - hint, hint!), and then stumbling onto the blog and thinking, "That's not at ALL what comes across in this aria! Was she on drugs???" Perhaps one of the greatest surprises to fans out there might be to find out that what we as singers often BELIEVE we are communicating, often arrives to you, the listener, as something completely different. (Just try recording your outgoing voicemail message, and you'll see what I'm talking about: what you THINK you sound like and how you MEANT to say it, often are miles apart from the result you actually hear!) So, I just wish to release myself from any and all responsibility for your listening experience of this opera when it arrives on your shelf at home! I'm simply sharing my observations - what arrives, is out of my control!

Ah, there! Now I can relax!

The wonderful part of this experience, in addition to the mystical music, is getting to create such art with magnificent people. Alan Curtis has devoted his life to the research and proliferation of Handel's music, and the legacy he is leaving behind is mind blowing.

(Ah, as another side note - he found ornaments for "Scherza infida" that were most likely written either BY Handel himself, or by a singer who worked with him extensively. I've implemented a few - including a rather unusual cadenza - but both Alan and I thought it would be interesting to include what perhaps might be the most authentic of variations. In truth, they are actually quite shocking to what a modern ear has become accustomed. I imagine it won't be to everyone's taste, but I do think it will be most interesting!)

So there is Alan, and there is his wonderful band of players, all who play simply for the joy of making music - certainly not for the big paycheck! So it feels as if we are a part of something very special here. Anyone who bemoans that there aren't any studio recordings of operas being made simply need to google Alan Curtis! I've lost track of how many he has contributed to the universe. Handel has certainly never enjoyed such a plethora of devotion!

Happily I have the morning off, and I plan on reveling in the extra hour or two of sleep it will bring. I'll need it, as we have saved the most difficult aria of all (technically speaking - not emotionally speaking!) for the last day, and it greets me tomorrow evening after a slew of dramatic recitatives in the afternoon. So many notes lay ahead for me tomorrow, I dutifully close my computer and call it a night.

"It's a night."

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

You call this mercy?

When the movie Forrest Gump arrived on the scene, I hurled myself on the "Life is like a box of chocolates" bandwagon and reveled in the film making as well as the simplicity of the story. But the scene that has stayed with me the longest is the "Captain Dan" moment when he hoisted his amputated, broken body up the sail boat in the midst of the raging thunderstorm and challenged God with "Is that all you got?" It was a stunning image, although certainly not the first time such confrontation had been employed for dramatic effect.

This morning as I was singing "Numi, lasciarmi vivere per darmi mille morti. È questa la pietà?", ("Gods, so this is your pity: you let me live only to die a thousand more deaths?") Captain Dan's defiant fist punching through the tempestuous air was my defining image of the morning.

Handel dares the most jagged of rhythmic gestures, over and over, creating violent angles and leaps, truly painting the portrait of a broken man, pulling himself back to shore with no will to live. Again, while some may find the repetitions of text baffling in these old baroque pieces, I find them astonishing for it really is how the human mind functions. I hope I'm not alone in this - but I do think we humans tend to endlessly repeat things to ourselves, searching for understanding and comprehension - especially in moments of despair. We simply work it over and over, grasping for illumination along the way.

As a singer, what a luxury it is to have the TIME to explore the depth of despair and outrage and confusion and vehemence and anger and exhaustion with the simple phrase, "This is how you show me pity?" In a 2 minute piece, that phrase is repeated 6 times. Not one of the utterances should be like the one before it, each needs a different question being asked, a reason to be repeated. Handel does some of the work for us, but we have to fill in the blanks. Ah - it's SO good!

We then did a few recitatives in the afternoon (that gives the orchestra a much needed break, except for the poor continue folks have to soldier on!). Those are a big challenge in a recording, because they are totally isolated from the dramatic arc of the piece that we can find on the stage during a performance. We literally are jumping from #9 to #37, and immediately it is up to us to create the atmosphere in the moment. Today that meant I had to sing of how I had reached the ultimate realms of happiness leading into "Con l'ali di costanza", followed IMMEDIATELY by the devastation that gives us "Scherza infida". Talk about a schizophrenic moment! But here is where having performed the role on stage comes in, as well as a certain amount of recording experience: I know how to navigate the dramatic pitfalls such as this a bit better, and can hopefully launch myself directly into the moment of the scene. It's a challenge to be sure, but also extremely rewarding, because it's like running a sprint at full-on speed, as opposed to running the marathon of a full opera!

After a break and a lunch of pasta and potatoes, it was time for death. "Tu, preparati a morire!" After an entire first act blossoming forth with bliss and perfection and unadulterated joy, (not to mention killer introductory arias for all the cast) the drama starts full on within seconds of the start of act 2. Polinesso challenges the faithfulness of Ariodante's beloved Ginevra, and without thinking, Ariodante immediately defends her honor and constancy, and threatens to kill Polinesso.

But then! Handel begins a slow drip of poison! In the most chilling B section amidst the fury and vengeance of the A part, Handel introduces doubt. For the first time, Ariodante begins to play out what would happen SHOULD Ginevra be unfaithful to him - something he surely had never really given much thought to in the past - and he simply states, "desperately, I would die." But it's not quite that simple - Handel draws it out on a long, tense thread of wandering melismas for the voice, almost as if you can see and feel the poison of doubt entering Ariodante's veins. It's as if he is truly painting with the vocal line, demonstrating the venom seeping into the hero's blood.

From a purely vocal standpoint, this aria gives the singer the chance to do everything - firey coloratura in the start, violent aggression (always fun for me as a girl to live out that little fantasy!), and then hints at true despair and desolation with melting vocal lines of endless legato (hopefully!). It's quite a tour de force, I have to say - but is often over shadowed by his other big numbers. But I find it an immensely interesting psychological study. Ah, see? There I go again!!!

Tomorrow - Cieca Notte, which I actually dare to say is the most important aria he sings, and Scherza infida - that little ol' number! Best get a bit of rest!

Monday, January 4, 2010


...riodante, days 1 and 2

Where to begin? What a start to the new year! I have just commenced recording one of the greatest operas ever written, historic in its impact on the musical world of its day, and rather unsettling in modern times for its emotional scope as, once again, Handel seems able to crawl into the marrow of his characters and create such strong, frail, vulnerable and both painfully and jubilantly human roles.

First of all, we find ourselves in quiet, sleepy Lonigo for the recording, tucked away up on the hill in an old monastery, veiled by an almost retreat-like quality which I'm finding very conducive for the concentration needed for this role. The orchestra and (amazing!) soloists eat, sleep and dream here all together which breeds a wonderful atmosphere for unity and a singularity of purpose. This intensity is a good thing.

Lunch is at 1:00 and dinner at 8:00 (provided we've gotten all the right notes down in the daily recording session) and both sittings include the obligatory pasta as a first course, and some sort of meat with potatoes for the second. Imagine that - pasta AND potatoes for each course! I'm in carb heaven, and hope my waistline survives intact by the end of the week! But trust me, these arias take a lot of energy, so let's just agree that I'm actually burning it all off, shall we?!?!

I can't begin to express how fortunate I feel to be given the opportunity to record this music, but to say that it is daunting is a merciless understatement. I don't need to list for you all the iconic recordings/performances of this role that have come before me. Talk about intimidating! But as a general rule, I've tried most consciously never to compete with the beautiful voices that have sung the same notes and words as me before - I can't imagine anything more futile than trying to "one-up" a great artist or historic reading of a role. That's insanity. The best part of Handel is that his characters are so HUMAN and therefore, I hope, can stand up to many different interpretations. Do I hope mine will be an interesting addition to the catalogue of brilliant Ariodantes? Absolutely - otherwise I wouldn't dare to open my mouth, but I'm trying very hard in this week not to be tied to voices from the past and the fear of "measuring up".

This probably held true for today's aria more than any other: "Dopo Notte". Talk about a minefield of memories, notes, endless phrases and harmful assumptions!!

In speaking with Alan Curtis, the conductor and vision behind "Il complesso barocco", I knew that he would adamantly uphold the tempo marking Handel clearly gives to this piece: Andante. But I like to sing it Allegro - for some reason, the coloratura is much easier at a quicker tempo for me. Besides, every recording I've heard of it takes at least an Allegro approach. Isn't it what people expect? How to reconcile this?

Well, one thing that has always disturbed me about this approach is that Ariodante has just emerged from the true depths of despair. (Has hitting rock bottom ever been better illustrated than by Handel in the 2nd act?) And yet there is further to go: in the 3rd act, he realizes that HE is the betrayer and must now shoulder all the guilt that he tried without mercy to transfer to Ginevra (but more on that later...) How in the world can he go from the cavernous blackness of "Cieca notte" to unadulterated joy a few pages later? In fact, Handel gives him 2 very long beginning notes to find his footing (or voicing?) as he speaks about the night after the storm - he doesn't ask Ariodante to explode into a frenzy of ecstatic coloratura right from the start. It's slow brewing and pensive in a way. Ariodante can FEEL the pain he has endured, and is looking for a way back into the joy he had before his fall. I'm convinced he needs time to bring himself back. He needs a resurrection.

I felt strongly that I wanted to make the first part of the aria a bit of a struggle for him to articulate - the syncopation being about the battle to get back to the rapture he once knew, rather than immediate elation. But once he sings in the "B" section about what he has endured, and he truly realizes he has returned from the fire, he can than authentically own the joy of the sun returning. He has become a man. Now he can dance!

Maybe that's a bunch of psychological crap, but I'm afraid it's what Handel brings out in me!!! I'm hoping that Alan and I found the way with our tempi and temperament to make it a piece that contains the inner struggle that allowed Ariodante to overcome his despair: joy is very different when you have been through the fire.

On a lovely note, Mother Nature cooperated wonderfully and gave Lonigo the most beautiful dusting of snow in the afternoon - so I could actually imagine a "Dopo Notte" after the snow!

Snow on palm trees - is there anything more beautiful!

Yesterday was the first day of recording, and we did two of the duets between Ariodante and Ginevra. Why, oh WHY are triplets so bloody difficult to sing? You'd think 16th-notes would be so much more brutal, but no - triplets seem to work in only one tempo for the voice, no mercy! Oh, they are evil little buggers!! (Side note - I love those old vocalise books of Rossini, Marchesa, etc - and I'll be darned if they don't have buckets full of triplet exercises! Seems like they've always given singers nightmares!) But we had a very good take of the final duet, and again - maybe I'm crazy, but I think Handel is just off-the-charts genius: considering all that the two lovers have been through, perhaps "normal" 16th-note runs would have been too easy. Perhaps he liked that it would require a bit of a struggle to come back together, considering they are now both very different people! Perhaps I'm over-thinking it...!

We're off to a great start here and are working very hard to bring this opera to vivid life for ya'll! Sadly, you'll have to wait quite a while (these things aren't exact, but most likely into 2011!), but hopefully the work we're doing will be worth it!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Happy New Year!

Greetings from Lonigo, Italy where I am about to embark on another Handel recording with my long standing partners-in-crime, Alan Curtis, and his baroque band, Il complesso barocco. I've just dashed in from Baden Baden after a LOVELY New Year's Eve concert (realizing my dream to sing some of the great American songs of Gershwin and Porter and Arlen with orchestra!), after having dashed home for a few days to be buried in the biggest midwest blizzard ever to hit on Christmas Day, after having dashed in from London (via Los Angeles) for a very moving birthday concert for Julius Drake at the Wigmore Hall. Why do I feel that it's already May?

No - it's not! It's only January 2, and I'm late in wishing you each a most happy New Year. May your 2010 be filled with magic, and music, and love, and joy, and more bliss than you can possibly imagine.

And aside from this little photo from the thrilling fireworks display outside my hotel on New Year's Eve, I leave you with one little quote:

"We spend January 1 walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched. Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives... not looking for flaws, but for potential."

~Ellen Goodman

Happy New Year!