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Friday, February 24, 2006

GETTING RENEE

I've never been a Renee Fleming fan, call me crazy, but I've always needed more bite from my sopranos.

It takes a lot these days to get this fat middle aged fella out of his barcolunger after 7 p.m. and away from reruns of Law and Order and my favorite pizza. Last night Miss Fleming was in town. Because I couldn't go and hear Renee with the Columbus Symphony last night I crashed the rehearsal on Wednesday.

"All I can say is WOW!"

What struck me on record as bland and pretty is in person intelligent and gorgeous.
You could die from this voice.
She did the Strauss 4 Last Songs and you wonder why the fuck he didn't write four more? (He wrote one more 'Malven' for Maria Jeritza, another hottie, but I digress)

Anyway, Fleming sat on stage with her bottle of water and let fly with some of the most gorgeous middle voice singing in "Beim schlafengehen" I've ever heard.
Then she does, get this! the trash arias from "Adriana Lecouvreur".
The musicians among you will say "What the fuck the Adriana Lecouvruer" but its actually "WHO the fuck is Adriana Lecouvreur" and if you have to ask...and no, Renee ain't Tebadli though she is as beautful, and she gets all chesty and intense at e finito and sings the low passages of the Strauss with a fully supported tone. No forcing. Always beautiful. I surrender I capitulate I'm done It's over at last I'm ready to board the Renee Express.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

DICHTERLIEBE DIARY 13

If you're just tuning in, check the archives for Dichterliebe Diary 1, etc.
It's cheaper than Xanax.

Today Ben announced that we need to schedule an actual date to have at least a run through in front of an audience.

I said, who do we hate enough? He said it's only twenty minutes and I'll make a cake.
But its still a few weeks off thanks be to God.
At today's rehearsal we did the entire work straight through.
We'll need to do this several times per week, or at least I will--for the stamina.
Rule #1 don't jump a two foot wall before you can jump a one foot wall.
In my case, my tummy gets in the way of my looking at my feet so the height of the wall doesn't matter but you get my drift.
The gift of this cycle remains with me. Everytime I turn a page I'm astonished and thrilled all over again. Ben is good at micro details.
Hold that note three beats, as Schumann wrote. This is not the palce to get artsy.
I play a chord on the second beat dissonant with what you are doing and we have to bring that out. Stop putting umlauts on every vowel except the ones that have umlauts.

For myself, I notice that my German often has a faux French or Italain accent.
I was pretty shocked when stoped at the first word: "IM wunderschoenen monnat Mai...
since I was singing "EEM wunderschoenen..." Other great words like 'stumm' and 'fluss'get the same treatment. About the only accent I can't muster, besides German is Boston Irish, and you'd think at least that I'd get right.

I was looking for an experience from which to learn and grow and boy have I found one. An honest and lengthy study of the lied forces introspection and self examination, in addition to developing musicianship. Since I am often asked to help young singers I'm getting a real idea of what I ask them to do, how difficult and exhausting it is, and how they need to be loved a bit more.
The problem is still to do the music and text as written while being a musician, linguist, actor interpreter and techniian. Sometimes I can manage one or two together, but no more so far. It is an exhausting challenge, and I suspect even the greatest artists, when they finally felt they were getting it right, had sung themselves out!

But its a helluva great way to go!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

TOUCHSTONE PERFORMANCES

My cyber buddy Steve up in Cleveland-never met him-trades CDs with me of favorite broadcast performances. Recently he sent me a 1937 broadcast of "Lohengrin" from the Met in New York, with Kirsten Flagstad and the Belgian tenor Rene Maison. We were both trying to come up with performances we heard live or on record that really stayed with us.

My love for opera was nurtured by the Met broadcasts, so my earliest memories were heard not seen. Chief among them was the Norma broadcast in 1970 with Joan Sutherland, Marilyn Horne and Carlo Bergonzi (my favorite tenor).
I have this on CD and need to be in the right mood, but thirty six years later I can still kvell to those voices. Yes, I'd like a firmer conductor, and yes I'd like a bit more bite in the attacks, but if you want it "like buttah" this is it.
I will never forget -at 13!-hearing this broadcast live and am grateful to still be able to enjoy it.

The March 30, 1940 broadcast of "Die Walkure", with Marjorie Lawrence, Lotte Lehmann and Lauritz Melchior was way even before my time, but to me the excitement leaps through the speakers two generations later. All of the artists are completly "into" their roles. Lehmann's ecstasy in Act I and her fear and hysteria throughout the opera are riveting...nearly X rated. Melchior sings the music with a wonderful, arrongant disdain for the composer's markings, but he is immensely moving in the Todesverkundingen scene. Marjorie Lawrence was 31 for this broadcast. A few months later she would contract polio and spend the rest of her life, she died in 1979 in a wheelchair. She is a fearless, radiant Valkyre.

I did hear a Rigoletto broadcast in 1968, with Robert Merrill, Carlo Bergonzi and Anna Moffo. This was my first Met broadcast. Bergonzi is the prince among tenors.
Merrill made me cry. Still does, God rest his soul.

Also broadcast, a Tristan und Isolde with Birgit Nilsson and Jess Thomas, back in 1971. My first Wagner.
The recent (2005) boradcat of Wozzeck was another high point for me. I listened to it on a five mile walk thorugh my neighborhood. Beethoven and Brhams strolled the Prater listneing to the birds. Me, I'm hoofing thorugh Columbus Ohio listening to Wozzeck. Go figure.

On stage, Sarah Caldwell's 1972 production of Prokofiev's War and Peace was a miracle; all of Russia on a postage stamp sized stage. Had there been a greater
orchestra and conductor it might have been too much to bear. Sarah is elderly and retired now. A book needs to be written about her astonishing productions. Beverly Sills as Violetta convinced you that this big hearty lady really was dying of consumption. Birgit Nilsson's Met comeback in 1979, all Wagner. I got the last standing room place. The guy took my $2(!) and slammed the box office window shut.
Nilsson began with Dich teure Halle-it twenty minutes for the audience to calm down BEFORE she began to sing-what is it A flat at 'du, teure HAL-le' faltered a bit then recovered and shook the walls.

Peter Sellars's moving production of Handel's Giulio Ceasare' set in the Beirut Hilton, with Casesar a Ronald Reagan lookalike.

I'm excited about where we are with opera today.
The recent successes of Margaret Garner-deliberatley written in a populist style,off putting to some-and An Ameicna Tragedy are comforting. Peter Lieberson is writing magnificent arts songs. So would you if you were married
to Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, and young tenor Juan Diego Florez has reminded us that singing should above all be a joyful act, for artists and audiences.

DICHTERLIEBE DIARY 12

Ben and I have begun working again, under the eye of a superb vocal technician who is taking us-me-through the twenty plus minute cylce note by note.
I'm not a micro detail oriented person at all, far from it.
I don't pick up socks, I leave underwear on the floor and drink out of the milk carton. Not good when you are trying to communicate the secret locked into music and German poetry. So being stopped every three notes is new to me. To my relief,I'm far from rattled by this. It seems a note by note approach is the way for me to go to embrace this work in a technical sense. "More space... Breathe lower.. Why are your larynx so high...you are getting too edgy..stop it...Oh your epiglottis is wrapped around your neck-I had look this one up...Then there's the b flats in the middle of the page. Piece cake note, right? Middle of the register, yes? No.
Get a good breath under those middle notes. Voices can be naturally weaker in the middle range and that is the heart and meat of any voice. Forget the high notes
(I don't have them anyway) and stop growling your low notes. Und so weiter.

But I finish these session with a stronger feeling throught. What I still can't do consistently is support the tone enough to give off a long line of decent sound.
It's usually "Aus meined tran--WHEEZE--nen SPREEsen-gapsp--etc.
Not away to sing of the flow of one's tears to the beloved.

I never had a flippant attitude when Ben and I took on this project last fall. (
(See the archives). But if you spend your time listening to recordings it all sounds much much easier than it ever is. They should publish Wunderlich's rehearsal tapes (they probably sound fantastic, sigh) I have not a natural vocie but a manufactured one, note by f----ing note. Thank God I don't really have talent as a singer, and that the passion for musick has an outlet in radio, writing, comedy and pre concert talks, or all of the above.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

DICHTERLIEBE DIARY 11

One of the reasons I haven't posted here in a month is that until last week I hadn't opened the score of Dichterliebe since pre Christmas. If you don't know what I'm rambling about, go seach the archives. I'm too beat and others too bored to go over it again. Ben and I did manage a rehearsal last week...I had no balance with the piano at all. By the fourth song I was either shouting or croaking. In voice lessons I'm taken up to High C, and you know what? A lot of it has ring, and juice and squillo! It's like there's a real vocie there.
My life as a singer, though, is firmly anchored in fanatasy-land. I can picture myself as Vickers or Domingo or Tamgano onstage as Otello but I open my eyes and there I am sweating like a pig on my new elliptical machine, reading sweaty back issues of Opera News. I tried to listen to cds. Do not do this. I nearly nodded off during a Parsifal...

Back to Dichterlibe. You know, this is music I respect and admire but do not love.
It's a bit like kissing your sister.
But if I had several weeks to do nothing else but dig into this score, and sing chunks of it every day, no doubt I'd be happier with it and making better progress.
Ben and I really have to work on balance. I have to apply the new techincal points I am learnig. A good sound is possible. But God, what you have to do to make music...I know exactly what the music is telling me but getting it outta my throat is a real struggle.

No one said it would be asy. Lieder ain't for wimps.