Friday, December 07, 2007

I Got the Music in Me

Opera is a funny, funny thing.

Everyone has their own preconceived notions of what opera is and how many hours of life it will suck out of you before its over. It's loud, it's boring, it's contrived, it's in a foreign language. You name it, opera has heard it all. And to be fair, all of it can be true. Sometimes.
  • Opera is the place where women can wear pants and assume a male character that happens to be written for the female voice. Which, long ago, would have been performed by a male singer (impersonating a female singer who is dressed up like a male) in a female range -- sometimes made possible by mad skills, other times by illegal do-it-yourself medical procedures.
  • Opera is the place where you can are about to die from some life-sapping disease, but before you go, you'll sing a gangbuster six-minute aria, complete with full ornamentation on the repeat.
  • Opera is the place where a three-hundred pound singer can actually suffer from consumption. Except that in this case, consumption doesn't mean what you think it does.
  • Opera is the place where staging often revolves around stationary pieces of furniture. As in -- stand by the chair and don't move...just sing.
  • Opera is the place where, if there is to be any dancers, then somebody better go out and hire some, because we don't do both.
  • Opera is the original grand spectacle. Sure, landing a helicopter on stage for Miss Saigon might be impressive, but people, Aida has ELEPHANTS!
While there is a certain undeniable and almost perverse fun in what I call pulling up your Opera boots and buying into the whole facade of this particular musical genre, increasingly I find it's less about the voice and more about the story. Don't get me wrong -- the voice is critically important. But I'm assuming at this point whomever is opera-tizing can sing, and quite well at that. Vocally, there are always money moments to be had, and as any singer knows, you had better be able to cover that check when it comes due.

At some point, though, bellowing for bellowing's sake becomes an empty affair. The power of the story isn't found in really, really loud notes, or really, really high notes. The power of the story comes from within.

Tonight I found myself tonight taking off my Opera boots. I was a poor peasant woman who wore brown, brown and brown. I was frustrated with my lot in life. I was worried. I was harried. I was impatient. I was jealous. In short -- I was human. And when music was layered over this real human existence, there was no need for Opera boots. So I let myself be worried and harried and impatient and jealous. I let myself be human, which meant not all the notes were really, really loud, or really, really high, or really, really pretty. Life isn't always a highly polished, beautiful spinning bel canto sort of affair. Why should the singing be any different?

The result was far more interesting and rewarding to me as a singer. I chose to let the story have top billing and dictate how the singing should go. My costume tonight may have been Rhapsody on a theme of drab, but musically, the palate was a vibrant rainbow, full of every emotion and sound I could muster. No, there were no Opera boots tonight. Just a handy pair of slip-on sandals by the door for those money moments.

It was just right.


Anonymous said...

I am always amused by a plus-sized consumptive Mimi for about 30 seconds and then I get sucked into the whole thing and totally buy it. I'm a sentimental fool. I missed "Amahl" AGAIN, but it was too cold and my throat was scratchy and I collapsed in a heap. Perhaps I have consumption.

Anonymous said...

Dirt colors am wonderful.

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad to have been there. You were great, and seemed to be having a good time. And I think you mentored little Amahl in ways that will last her whole life.
The Boy.

ps - my Elf Name is Snappy Sugarsnacks.

Anonymous said...

It's not the high notes that move me, it's the story. I wish I could have been there, sounds like a heck of a performance.