Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Gianni Schicchi Diary, part 1 and VOICES

Robert Merrill
Renata Tebaldi and Franco Corelli

I'm in love with voices. I heard a lot of fine ones last night. It was the first staging rehearsal. We were locked put of the venue for about 20 minutes, this while a local reporter was hovering on the steps, waiting with us. Once we got to work it was great. We had to make do in a very nice choir room (tonight's venue is not as nice I'm sorry to say)

We had a new addition tonight, the young man playing Gherardino. He was sweet and fun and he'll probably walk out off the show, God bless him.

I also met our Marco, a young man who had done the role before. He asked if I wanted to see how it was done in Kent and I said NO. Too abruptly probably. I was in the moment. But really, I need to figure it out for myself.

Licia Albanese: Take risks!
I had to REALLY approximate the playing area. Most of it will be IN the theater not on the bit of stage we have. There was a lot of positioning and running around last night. We had our wonderful rehearsal pianist, thank God and me pacing and yelling and positioning. Years ago at OSU a somewhat hippy dippy guest director asked me "Do you have a lot of experience working with young people?" Well, yes, since before you were born I thought. "You handle them too much. It makes them uncomfortable." I don't get off on handling people but y'all shoulda seen Frank Corsaro or many other great directors, who thought nothing of flinging people into the wings if it made a good affect. Jeez.

Some confusion reigned but all of the singers 'got' what I was trying to do quicker than I did. I'm deeply impressed by the talents and professionalism of these young people. Many have kids, responsibilities, day jobs, other gigs and here they are at 9 pm rehearsing another-unpaid=performance.

I had wanted Schicchi to be more Donald Trump, arrogant and cool and we'll get there if I can get past he beauty of GS's voice. Lauretta immediately got princess ' concept-that she's not such a nice girl. Rinuccio's gonna be whipped, if you know what I mean. We'll work harder on giving each of the relatives a specific characterization.  Zita's got it. Simone pretty much. Rinuccio great, well tone down the OSU football hero stance-and this boy knows how to sell the notes. Nella and La Ciesca I need to think about. No Jewish mother. Too clingy. No Irish mother, too aloof. Italian mother, eat but with a menacing undertone (mangia idiote!)  Nella,  at least rules the roost. Gherardo is a husband typical for 1299 and typical for today. Sweet, responsible and clueless.

I think we listen to singers differently today. Until the early 1960s one on one listening was less adulterated. IPODS, APPS (I had to ask tho years ago what the hell is an app) we didn't listen while doing something else. This appointment listening is endangered./ Tough for me since a lot of my producing involves 'appointment' style programming. We had radio, TV and film of course, but people were still used to hearing great singers-or any singers, either live or with most of their attention tuned to the performance. Years ago I knew a voice teacher with some fine students, but her mantra was "too big too big". She wanted an Elisabeth Schumann style delicacy in everything, which is  fine if you're Elisabeth Schumann, but it ain't gonna help you sing Verdi. Most of us view today's technology as a blessing.  A few of us see it as a barrier. We are more about the technology that enables us to listen than experiencing what we are hearing. That's part of the reason oldsters say "Oh there' no voices today. you should have heard Tebaldi." I did and she was glorious. Her generation of singers were monsters. They sang without fear, straight out, go-to-hell no shortcuts, filled with courage. Do singers today do the same? Yes! But the voices seem smaller and less characterful. Today's most famous soprano is a beautiful woman with a beautiful voice but to me she's dull. The gift three notes are gorgeous and twenty minutes later so are the last one. There's no risk.

Tebaldi, Del Monaco, Stignani, Merrill, Warren, Tucker, Callas all planted themselves on stage and sang and sang. They loved their own voices, the knew the texts and they cared about what they were doing. The audience sensed this. Many singers today are no different but we  hear them differently and they hear themselves differently--ears have been readjusted, diluted if you will, by smaller attention spans and technology


I tell singers today. Sing! Don' be afraid! Take risks! In an interview elsewhere on this blog, Licia Albanese told me, "I tell young singers make mistakes! Take risks and use the text!" This from Toscanini's Mimi and Violetta (still going strong today at 100) 

I also think some current teachers either distrust a student with a big voice or don't know what to do with it.
Because a huge voice in the current technology may be thought vulgar. (When the hell is opera not vulgar. Do you think the Count was trying to draw Susanna a picture?)  Don't forget. You are STILL singing primarily for the live audience.In a 3,000 seat house, less is not more. More is more.

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