Tuesday, 3 May 2011

There is a nightmare, familiar in detail to all opera singers, and in broad outline surely to performers of whatever ilk the world over, whereby you stand on stage frozen in the basilisk glare of the conductor, whose baton is raised expectantly for your entrance.  Your brain is a total blank, you haven't a CLUE what you're meant to be singing, and you break out in a cold sweat as eternity beckons.

Well, I've been there for real several times this week and I can attest that it really isn't pleasant.  Only on the rehearsal stage, thank goodness, but that's bad enough.  I'm something of a perfectionist by nature and am always prepared to put the work in so that by the time stage rehearsals start, I know the music pretty much backwards.  Setting scenes generally knocks the occasional phrase out of kilter, but one can forge on secure in the knowledge that it will soon gel again.  

What's more, on those few occasions when my mind has gone blank on stage, I have usually been able to breathe calmly whilst thinking (with conscious humour), ho hum, wonder what comes next?, and the muscle memory has thankfully kicked in to leave me thinking, mid-phrase, aha, THAT's what I was meant to sing! 

One of the things this modern opera has taught me, however, is that the way my brain learns is strongly related to the sense of the WORDS I am singing.  I string things together based on responding to other characters, on the emotional surges generated by the orchestra, generally supplying my own subtexts to link disparate thoughts if there are none given in the sung text.  Pretty effective, on the whole - except of course in this case.  Lots and lots of repeated and broken fragments.  Especially in my big scene.  As far as theatre is concerned, this is tremendously effective - hell, it's a MAD scene; expecting it to make sense would naturally be a dead end.  

But for a perfectionist to be in such a state of uncertainty and doubt, especially when you feel that a good deal of the overall responsibility for the opera is on your shoulders, is not a particularly comfortable state in which to live.  I will admit to the odd bout of tears brought on by the stress of it all.  Mind you, the irrationality is certainly not confined to me.  My Macbeth, who is astoundingly wonderful, was seen to actually jump around for joy (he's a very stable sort of person; this is well out of character) on singing Saturday's performance of another opera, shrieking, oh my god, listen, there are CHORDS in the orchestra, and a BEAT, woohoooooo!!  (And this is not the sort of opera where you normally sit back and luxuriate in the music...)

Ha.  Yes.  This aspect of the German system seriously doesn't help, and makes you realise why prompters are necessary (we haven't had one for this modern opera until now, which seems utterly mad but was something to do with politics.  Fingers crossed one will magically appear from this point forward...) - over a four-day period I have played in three separate productions, with rehearsals for the forthcoming opera in between.  Three and a half languages.  Totally different styles... I saw a badge on sale in a shop last weekend which said something along the lines of, Oh dear, my brain is full.  I would have bought it but had forgotten to stock up on cash...

Still, it's spring, and in such a beautiful place I can't help but rejoice in the season.  Flowers are releasing the most glorious scents everywhere (particularly notable are a patch of wild roses on my cycle ride to work by the river, which mix with the smell of hot sand to make an unforgettable perfume, and the unexpected ambush from above of previously-unnoticed white acacia blossom), and to top it all, and make all the stress worthwhile, I am currently honoured to be quartered near a nightingale.  The first time I heard it, I was belting back on the bike, exhausted and ready for bed, and all I thought was, oh what the heck is that silly insomniac blackbird doing awake at this time?  It was only later that I thought, oh hang on, it really is actually NIGHT, and the sound was coming from low in the bushes... I checked via Google, and sure enough, it is a nightingale.  I can hear it clearly if I open my balcony door.  Truly, it is a sound to nourish the soul.

(Even if, as a singer, I am blasted well jealous of its tonality and rhythm just at the moment...)


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