Learning words again. Today, this is driving me absolutely up the wall. I am irritated beyond belief that the phrase I have been dinning into my brain all morning will not stick properly!
And in case you think I haven't been trying properly, well let me explain what the process has been so far. This is for a Tchaikovsky opera, in the original language. I was lucky enough to study Russian back in the day, so I at least have the advantage of being able to read the language, and recognising many words. I also have a pretty good idea of pronunciation. However there are many archaic words here which I haven't come across before, and of course singing pronunciation differs slightly from the spoken word.
So the first step was to make sure I understood every word I was to be singing, and those of everyone else in the scenes my character is in. Laborious work with a dictionary, but essential. Next was to screw down exactly how each word in my role should be pronounced, with the help of a CD produced especially for us by a Russian coach. As an accented language, it is tremendously important to understand where the stress is in each word, as the vowels change drastically according to whether they are stressed or not, and how far from the main stress they are.
Next was to have an initial coaching with the Russian coach (with two of the repetiteurs who will be taking the musical rehearsals attending and taking notes). This sharpened up a few details; a rounder vowel here, a harder consonant there... and unearthed a complete tongue-twister which I hadn't actually noticed was difficult until the coach remarked upon it, after which I tripped over it helplessly and repeatedly (have to laugh at how the mind works, sometimes). All duly noted down in my score.
And now the grunt work. I generally choose to work from the end of the score backwards, so that my brain is always moving towards something about which is it surer. Each sentence, each phrase within a sentence, each repeat, has to be drilled into my brain with a thoroughness that would surprise many people who see singers as fly-by-night non-musicians. It's not enough just to remember it. It has to be so well-absorbed as to be automatic. There are times for every singer on stage when your brain goes totally blank. You simply have to be able to trust that once you open your mouth, the right words will come out (often leaving you thinking in a slightly amused fashion, ah THAT's what I was trying to remember!). Knowing the meaning of the words is essential, but this learning must also be the sort of rote repetition that sticks the sounds of the words into a deep place in your brain. THIS is what I've been doing today.
Some people are better at this than others. I'm not bad, I reckon, but I have a tendency to overthink which can mean I worry about whether I will remember the next phrase, generally a self-fulfilling prophecy... so I HAVE to drill every word, every phrase, every cue in with military precision.
Hence spending an entire morning on ONE damned phrase which is a bit of a beast to pronounce and in which two particular consonants (in a previously unfamiliar word) appear desperate to swap themselves around.
They will NOT get the better of me! Luckily, in this age of miniaturised bluetooth handsets, someone walking around town appearing to speak to themselves is not regarded as automatically crazy :-)
(The photo is of the single glorious blazing hour when the Rhine suddenly caught fire and dragons swooped through the burning clouds; the only light and colour we've had here all year!)