Monthly Archives: February 2014

Post-Bastienne

Last Sunday’s performance of Bastien und Bastienne went well! Baritone Boy sang in an earlier performance at the same venue, and so of course he stayed for the concert. Several of my friends from work also came out to cheer for me, and I loved having them there. My NYU family has been enthusiastic about my singing (they managed to find some YouTube videos of me), and their support has truly been humbling and encouraging.

I had a fantastic time singing with Grant Mech (Colas) and Nils Neubert (Bastien). Both gentlemen were very talented, and I’d say our group had excellent chemistry. Grant’s “Diggi, daggi” was a blast, and Nils and I had such fun during our duet. One of my favorite musical moments is the mini-figuette in the second half of the trio (at 40:44); ten regal, stately, grown-up, glorious seconds that really pop out from the rest of the opera.

What made it such a fun performance was that the three of us were doing more than just singing what was on the page. We were reflecting, thinking, feeling, emoting – all the things that turn a dry, correct performance into an entertaining one. Then there were a few times when I would be in the middle of doing just that, and suddenly a corner of my brain said, “Hold up, what words come next and when’s your entrance?” and my eyes would have to find my place on the page. For this concert performance we weren’t required to be off-book, a detail which, initially, is a relief since memorizing can be a pain/stressful. And while I knew my music well enough to not be buried in my score, I still found myself relying on the music a little more than I would have liked. If I have the opportunity to do something like this again, I think I’ll work to be at least 75% memorized even if it’s not a requirement.

Pei-wen Chen, our conductor and pianist, was fantastic to work with as well. She made several observations about phrasing, vowels, and articulation that I will be keeping in mind moving forward. Collaborating with her was a great experience. She was working with multiple casts, and I saw how she made suggestions based on each individual singers’ voice, personality, and preferences. I had added a small sprinkling of embellishments at cadence points that I hoped to get away with, and after my interest in Handel came up in conversation, Pei-wen then gave me a bunch more to spice things up while keeping it Mozartian and tasteful. The extra notes probably weren’t obvious as extra notes to those without a score, but having those little flourishes throughout was like finding secret bonuses in a video game.

This Bastienne was a great experience, and it has me fired up to do more Mozart. Pei-wen pointed out similarities between Bastienne and Susanna… so maybe there’s my answer to what Mozart role I should look at next!

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With Pei-wen Chen, conductor and pianist, post-concert. NOLA, 2014.

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Aside

IN THE WORKS @ February 23, 2014 Just finished singing Bastienne with New York Lyric Opera Theater, time to work on some rep! Presentation of the rose from Der Rosenkavalier “Silver Aria” from The Ballad of Baby Doe Green (Debussy) — have … Continue reading

Bastien und Bastienne

Tomorrow I’ll be singing my first full Mozart role! It may be a role from one-act opera that he wrote when he was a pre-teen, but it still counts!

Each of the little numbers Mozart has composed for this piece is a gem. I can just imagine a mini-Mozart sitting at a desk that dwarves him, his feet dangling from a too-high chair, scribbling away as these ideas come to him. Hear for yourself: a recording of the whole work is available here, with Dagmar Schellenberger as Bastienne, Ralph Eschrig as Bastien, and René Pape as Colas.

The story is simple: Bastien has left Bastienne for a fancier city girl, and Colas, the local pseudo-magician (I envision him as a slightly drunk Santa – I’m not the only one, am I?), helps bring the two lovers back together. The music seems simple, which is appropriate for these country folks, but there are nuances in the changing meter, shifting tempi, and the layers of emotions revealed phrase by phrase. As I was going through the text and writing in the translation, I was surprised at how infrequently Mozart allowed Bastienne, a heartbroken shepherdess, to descend into melodramatic moping and sighing. My sense is that Bastienne is fairly young, and as a country girl, not too sophisticated. However, Mozart writes music for her that is graceful, charming, and clever. Given how upset she must be (a teenager who has just been dumped by her boyfriend), she doesn’t spend too much time wallowing in minor keys. I find this pretty impressive.

Getting this music in my voice has been a bit of an experiment. By the time I knew the notes well enough that taking into my lesson made sense, my teacher was heading out of town for a month-plus of traveling and performing. Bastienne’s music isn’t flashy and virtuosic, but it has definitely challenged me in other ways. Many of the phrases dip into the lower end of my voice, and I sing quite a few notes below the staff. This is a pretty big deal for me because for a long time I considered anything below a B4 to be problematic in tone, resonance, and volume.

I’ve been working on my middle voice, and I actually added a predominantly middle-voice aria, “Piangerò, la sorte mia,” to my rep last year and felt really good about it. Since moving to NYC, I’ve been learning how to relax into my middle voice instead of trying to control it in my search for resonance. As a result, I think that part of my voice is getting stronger and fuller. Along with that, my teacher and Baritone Boy say that my overall sound is getting warmer… things are opening up, and I’ve started looking at music I previously thought to be unlikely/improbable. But I digress! Back to Bastienne: the performance is tomorrow. I’ve never sung in the space before, so I have no sense of how big or live or unfriendly it is. I will remind myself to focus on the sensations of breath flowing rather than fixating on whether it sounds good.

I’m excited for tomorrow, and I wonder what Mozart I’ll tackle next!

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