I have been thinking about ways of learning, of appreciating music, of absorbing the meaning of a piece. There are, I believe, two main approaches. The first is instinctive, emotional, reacting to the tone and energy of the accompanying music; singers who learn like this look very puzzled when asked how they learn their music - once they've sung it a few times, it's obvious to them what goes where! The other approach is intellectual - counting beats, repetitions, rhythms, imposing order upon seeming chaos; singers who learn only like this tend to look blank only when asked what they do when emotion overtakes them at any given point.
If such things were given to us to choose, I would LOVE to be a totally instinctive singer. But we don't get to choose, and I'm not. I over-intellectualise as a matter of course, and whilst my reaction to the music in the practice room is sincerely emotional, I have seldom been able to lose myself wholly in the flow of things when performing. A snide little inner voice pops up now and again and asks how on earth I know what to sing next, and am I on the first repetition of a phrase or the second... and this is terrifying! (This once happened in the middle of a particularly repetitive Handel aria. I crashed and burned rather spectacularly, and I swore - NEVER AGAIN!).
This tendency of my brain to flip from one mode to the other means that, to feel anything like secure, I have to in effect double my safeguards. Belt and braces indeed. On the one hand, there is the need to minutely study note values, counting, working out where you can find the first note of a phrase, knowing what others are singing, knowing what the orchestra is up to in case the cue you were expecting to get from another singer doesn't happen... Hard work, yes, but if you're not a totally instinctive singer, able to trust your subconscious, utterly necessary.
On the other hand, for a truly worthwhile performance, technical knowledge alone is not enough. The emotional aspects of the piece have to be considered, explored, dived into, allowed to wash through your spirit; the aim is to understand on a sub-lingual level the feelings which inspire and animate that particular piece. With any luck, such study will lead to an absorption in the performance of the piece which carries you along to such an extent that the technicalities are irrelevant (or at least required only seldom).
Like a lot of aspects of singing, it's a question of balance. There is a constant and necessary tension in our art between light and dark (chiaroscuro), between nicely crisp consonants and legato (a smooth line joining all the words we sing, in effect), between vivid energy on stage and finding the right place to deliver the voice to best effect... oh, the list is endless.
I may be simply in the grip of bog-standard pre-concert panic, mind (useful in that it concentrates the mind wonderfully on what remains to be learned)... Should anyone be in the relevant cities, forthcoming concerts include the Ateneo de Madrid (23 September) and Palacio da Foz, Lisboa (Lisbon) on 22 October!