Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Fairytales can come true, it can happen to you...


Whew! I've been out of communication for a while, haven't I? It's been a whirlwind since the new year, with my trip to New York and a Quintimacy concert and rehearsals and more rehearsals (and yet more rehearsals)...

It's my day off and I'm attending to all the domestic duties I've neglected while rehearsing for an upcoming production of Cendrillon, Massenet's sparkling rendition of the Cinderella fairy tale. I've scrubbed the kitchen sink and counters, the bathroom sink, the toilet, and hubby has filled the washing machine with hot water and vinegar to try and eliminate the residue it's leaving on the supposedly clean laundry. I'm about to head up to scour the shower tiles and tub. Am I the only one who sees the irony here?

I have been invited to return as a guest artist to my alma mater, the Glenn Gould School at the Royal Conservatory of Music (one of the foremost musical training programs in Canada), to perform a leading role in the first opera to be presented in the new acoustically perfect and exquisitely designed Koerner Hall. If you're in the GTA, come hear this magical work performed by the bright new generation of up and coming singers with conductor Uri Mayer and the Royal Conservatory Orchestra, on Saturday, March 20 at 7:30 pm, Sunday, March 21 at 2:00 pm, Tuesday, March 23 at 11:00 am and Thursday, March 25 at 7:30 pm.

Cendrillon (Cinderella) by Jules Massenet (1842-1912) is a re-telling of the familiar story. The Cinderella theme may have originated in classical antiquity, with the story of Rhodopis by the Greek Historian Strabo. The tale was written down in China during the year 830 by Tuan Ch'eng Shih who referred to it then as an old story. Of the most commonly read versions, a somewhat barbaric one by the Brothers Grimm and a more refined one by the upper class seventeenth century French writer Charles Perrault, the composer and his librettist Henri Cain (1859-1937) chose the latter. Massenet's rendition is a wonderfully constructed piece of musical theatre, where the sublime romanticism of the forlorn lovers is juxtaposed against the ethereally magical scenes of the fairy godmother and the outrageous shenanigans of the step-mother and her daughters.

We are deep into dress rehearsals - and it’s so much FUN! I am playing the wicked step-mother, which works for me very well vocally and temperamentally. It's also the perfect balance (and antidote) to the darker material I've been working in for most of the last year and a half: several amazing V-day shows (The Vagina Monologues and Any One of Us) a brilliant but harrowing opera about the holocaust (And the Rat Laughed), and the intensity of the Wagner arias I worked up for a recent vocal competition in New York.

Side note: I'm a hybrid creature - something of a vocal chameleon, possibly a closet soprano, probably zwischen-fach: this means my voice doesn't fall neatly into a category or 'fach'. I have a fine higher register, as well as a rich lower one, and I am operatically well-suited to zwischen-fach repertoire (that is, actual soprano roles which are occasionally taken by mezzos and vice versa) as well as the Verdi and Wagner mezzo roles, which often require the same range as the soprano, but not the same tessitura. Here's an easy analogy: the elevator goes to all the same floors, but the approach to the penthouse is a little different and while we love to visit, we prefer not to live there! It seemed that everyone who heard me had their own opinion about my fach and for years I was subjected to a tug of war between those in the soprano camp and those cheering for the mezzo team. Temperamentally, though, I am definitely much better suited to the mezzo repertoire. These roles are only rarely the heroines; rather usually we play the spoilers - witches, bitches, hags and whores, with the occasional mother, good or bad, thrown in for variety. This makes for much more interesting character fodder for my taste - not to mention the inherent therapeutic cathartic potential ;)

Now, don't get me wrong. I love to sing profoundly dramatic rep (whether mezzo or soprano). I adore the great sweeping Verdi and Wagner roles for their vibrant or lush textures, as well as Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti for their fluidity and fioritura. Alas, Mozart and Puccini did not write much for the mezzo-soprano, though I had a blast in recent years singing Ciesca in Puccini's Gianni Schicchi and Marcellina in Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro - both brilliant comedy shows with some very tight ensemble writing (in the Puccini, I even got to sing some fabulous High C's!). In addition, I am one of those freak singers who loves contemporary repertoire - passionately. But I have to admit that for stage work I wouldn't be bored doing comedy for the rest of my life. It’s ultimately the most gratifying for me.

Comedy is actually harder to do than the romantic or dramatic stuff. The timing and nuance of every action has to be so precise, in the exact musical place to be funny, and you have to play it all just as believably as drama. You don't get up and act funny. You have to be truly as committed to achieving your character's goal as you would be in a dramatic context. Good comedy comes out of good writing: the dialogue and the circumstances create incongruous scenarios and motivate absurd behaviour, and the less aware your character is of all that, the more hilarious the audience finds it all. Of course, there are physical expressions and actions that are funny, but they all have to come out of a genuine intention to get what your character wants in the scene.

Want to see a good example? Come to Cendrillon and I'll be happy to provide it!

Well, I'd better go finish my own chores then practise. Got places to go, people to sing with. Rehearsals to knit through.

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