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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2 responses to “Bastien und Bastienne

  1. Dear Joyce, Ida and I send you our best for your success in Bastien und Bastienne, and thank you for your fascinating account of the story of your voice as you mastered this Mozart role. Bill

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