Thursday, 25 March 2010

Seldom if ever have I actually welcomed a revolting head cold, and my first feelings upon experiencing the familiar acid trickle that heralds the same, a couple of nights ago, were of frustration. I'm in the middle of
rather demanding rehearsals, for goodness' sake, I can't get ill now!

However after today's run-through, in which I acted whilst the conductor sang in my part, I realised that I could learn a lot from this, and indeed that it complemented what has been in effect a self-taught and compact masterclass in the wonders of opera as an art form.

When I first opened the score and started to study this role, I was firstly exhilarated that it used my voice in the way it wants to be set free, and was secondly rather dismayed that the character was so relentlessly forceful and negative. All attempts to vary that, to contrast the anger with vulnerability, were thwarted by close examination of the music itself, which demands a constant level of churning bile. Red and black are the limits of her vocal palette. I learned the role, and leaped into stage rehearsals wondering what would happen.

Immediately, I found that, more than for any character I have ever played, I am using my own current fears and anxieties; that I could allow myself to feel the natural insecurities of every woman of a certain age in our society and use these as the taproot of Herodias's blistering anger. Naked, I could not be more vulnerable; I am forced by the physicality of the stage and by striving for the honest expression of this music (inspired in this respect as always by Philip Langridge, and determined even more after his death to honour his memory by not giving in to the ever-present temptation to cheat!) to show my own weaknesses to the audience. I can't say it's an easy process. I suspect the rawness of such honesty, at least during the rehearsal process, is what has led colleagues to kindly ask in private whether I'm OK, and to worry about me actually falling over on stage, when it was always done for effect...

And then the cold stymied my voice and today I just acted. I found I had the freedom to think about what various bits of my body were doing, and concentrated on the physical tensions between my body and those of the other singers on stage; an interesting experience. However I missed very acutely the energy rush that the act of singing provides, and in doing so realised afresh just how powerful opera can be when the musical and acting aspects complement each other. The sum is infinitely greater than the parts. Add in the visual aspect; the set, the costumes, the lighting; and I have to say I am awestruck by the possibilities of the art form in which I am involved. How lucky I am!

Of course I am only grateful to this cold on the proviso that it clears off completely by Saturday at the latest, and leaves no lasting traces on my vocal cords...

There must be a parallel to be drawn between such musings and my continuing attempts at illumination. However any time I try, the results are worthy of the "Pseuds' Corner" bit in Private Eye, so I've just bunged up top my preliminary line drawing for a congrats-on-the-pregnancy card for my darling sister, and an oddly distorted view of the finished product.

Learning. Always learning.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! Thanks for sharing how you are learning from an uncomfortable situation! I hope you are much better now! I've often wondered, as you do, about performing these dark characters and emotions. In some ways as performers we are called to dedicate ourselves so strongly to the Light that when we portray darkness we know that we are only pointing toward the presence of light even as we portray it's lack...that's one of the reasons why I love opera, too: we get all of the force of all the emotions of life, but always in the context of Light because it's in the context of music...then we can be sure, as performers, that we are always free from danger (-; ...your colleagues will soon learn that you are safe and you know seems to me you may be teaching them a lot that they don't know (-;

    I love your drawings! Your sister is lucky!