GET OFFA MY LAWN! (Or, A Cranky Lady Rants.)

I’m about to rant.

I’m not going to cloak it in edu-speak or niceties, because it’s my opinion, and if this is indeed my tiny corner of the internet, I should be able to speak my mind here. If you’re not in the mood, please dig through the archives or visit one of these fabulous sites.

The things that I love about opera, this crazy art form that I’ve dedicated my professional life to, are all related to communication…the ways that the human voice can communicate such beautiful words AND add startling, heartbreaking subtext by coloring the tone, changing the articulation…through sheer intention. The amount of information that can be conveyed is infinite and powerful. It’s transcendent. The music speaks to me, but it’s the addition of text that breaks my heart. I suppose it’s the reason that I gravitated to singing more strongly than to the violin or piano…I love words. But I also love the way a skilled singer can take a phrase, a scene, a role, and create something new and vibrant and relevant through their interpretation…seeing a situation through someone else’s lens is powerful, and I think the clearest way to see similarities and differences in oneself.

But these beautiful lines, this rich subtext, the conflict has to be communicated. And to successfully communicate, there need to be two parties involved: the speaker and the listener. The listener, in this case the audience, need to free themselves of distraction (i.e. no texting during the show, running through the to-do list, or firing off the random email from the seats), and be willing to spend a good chunk of time listening. They need to  suspend disbelief (in dragons, true love, the wrath of the gods, et cetera ad nauseam) and be receptive to the crux of each of these stories: the relationships therein.

The performer’s responsibilities are to create a believable, multi-dimensional character: to tell that character’s story: to believe the story 100%. They also must create two types of relationships: those onstage that facilitate the telling of the story, and those with the audience that creates the space for the telling of that story.

Part of that audience relationship is made up of those nit-picky things like vocal technique and knowing your music: because let’s face it, if those pieces aren’t in place, the story you’re telling isn't  “I’m in love with a man who walked away from me and our child and now my life is not worth living,” or “Because you’ve killed my lover I’m going to throw myself off the nearest bridge/tower/parapet,” but rather “holy CRAP I’m totally unprepared and uncomfortable.” 

BIG difference in subtext, that.

And yes, a beautiful tone is included in that nit-picky list. The voice has to be lovely and secure. It has to be big/focused/resonant enough to reach me in the hall while maintaining that special quality.

But as a performer, you cannot stand and phonate at me, and expect me to listen to your story. When you yell at me, with nothing below a mezzo-forte, when you trot out unconnected stock gestures (Raise left arm and look hopeful! Clasp hands and look concerned!) without having made a connection to me, you lose me. When your eyes skate over the room like it’s an ice rink, until I can’t tell where your focus is, I soon stop trying. (Is the heroine you’re singing to stage left or stage right? Or maybe floating over my head? Or is she pinned under your shoes?) When your anguished face and your ecstatic face look the same, the lack of both context and subtext is apparent immediately. And please know that Every Single Time you close your eyes onstage you sever our connection. It’s the easiest way for you to tell me that you’re really talking to yourself, and not to me. That I’m not integral to your music making.

(And if that’s in fact the case? You don’t need to sing onstage…your shower should do you just fine.)

If you are hoping that the sheer beauty of your voice will make you a career, I’d like to persuade you, in this era of hi-def video simulcasts and close camera angles, to invest in acting classes and a gym membership. Sign up for dance classes if you feel trapped in your body...no one's expecting you to be Baryshnikov, we just want you to look comfortably in control of your appendages. At all times.

Or you could always just resign yourself to bitching about the system and how it’s stacked against you.
Your choice.

Tell me a story.

I'm a typical audience member. I rushed to the opera house after a busy day at work, grabbed a bite at the concession stand, and sit here now, ready to experience someone else’s life. I want beauty and passion and strife. I want to laugh. I want to be moved to tears.

I am here, listening to you.

Tell me a story.


Comments

grahamophone said…
Ha! Spot on! But what most captured my eye at first was your Bikram Choudury quote. Perhaps you'd like my blog entry "Bielmann, Bikram and Me." Kind of the same ilk, perhaps, as this post. Well said!
Rahree said…
Thanks! Read the most recent post of your blog (am in transit), and am looking forward to giving it some more attention: great writing and a nice thoughtful perspective!

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