Tag Archives: BASOTI

Acting with Robert Weinapple

BASOTI was the best re-introduction to the singing world I could have experienced.  With a 10 AM to 10 PM schedule, close contact with other singers, talking (and singing) shop, daily opportunities to get on stage, it was boot camp.   And one thing that BASOTI emphasized (as well as my own San Diego teacher in addition to the faculty at my new school) was acting.  As I have heard repeatedly over the past 3 months: the park-and-bark approach is out.  Now we singers are expected to show up with some new tricks in addition to a pretty voice.  So here are my notes from Acting with Robert Weinapple:

As Robert put it, singing is in the details, in use of evocative language, and in raising the stakes.  One of the first things he pointed out was the singer’s fear of losing technical control over vocal production, which invariably distances us from our character’s emotions and, therefore, undercuts our acting.  If we are thinking about our vocal technique, we are in our heads, and we are fully committed to the character and the events unfolding.  He swore he would prove to us that surrendering to the emotions would help our singing rather than harm it.  So keep reading to find out how he did it…

Accessing Emotions.  To act, you need to access the emotions of your character.  There is the school of thought that requires you to draw upon your personal memories and experiences for emotional materials.  This can be quite effective because you really did feel that way at some point for some reason.  For example, when you need to be sad, you think back to the day your friend passed away – and by recalling that experience, you are able to portray genuine sadness.

The issues with this approach?

  1. The original memory may lose it’s effectiveness as you access it repeatedly and become less sensitive.
  2. There is also the unfortunate side-effect of “cheapening” significant points in your life.
  3. How genuine are the emotions of your character if they are in actuality someone else’s emotions (yours)?

Back Story.  Robert proposed an alternative approach to accessing emotions: the use of back story.  What is back story? It’s a detailed, years-long history.  It includes the events, the other people in our character’s lives, the dominoes leading up to this particular moment. It’s full of challenges that build our character’s character.  Isn’t that a beautiful idea?  Just as we are the product of the ins and outs, the good and bad of our lives, so our the characters we portray.  The character doesn’t just show up on paper fully formed and functional; they are more likely to be disfunctional and struggling with who they are and who they want to be.  The back story is more than a summary of who the character is or what has been happening in the opera so far.

Sometimes reading the libretto or the play/poem which inspired the opera gives us enough back story to work with.  Sometimes not.  Robert then blew my mind be taking back story to the next level: if you aren’t feeling the given information, create an original back story that is rich enough in detail to bring you on board emotionally.

To make this point, Robert had me do the following exercise with a scene partner, another soprano in the program:

We both volunteered to sing arias for the class.  She sang Manon’s “Adieu, notre petite table” from Manon, and I sang Isabelle’s “Robert, toi que j’aime” from Robert le diable.  Here’s Natalie Dessay singing Manon and Anna Mofo singing Isabelle.

Setting the Scene.  After we sang, Robert gave us characters and a scene to play.  Be forewarned that the following is a lengthy recounting – I wavered between giving a short summary or all the juicy details.  In the end, the juicy details won out because to do otherwise would completely circumvent Robert’s point.  My scene partner’s character had fallen in love with a woman at the age of 19, and the two of them were very happy together for 10 years.  Then her lover was diagnosed with breast cancer, which was aggressive and advanced.  In the ensuing months of doctors hospitals, and treatments, she had had a difficult time coping with her lover’s condition.  She did not handle it gracefully.  She would often disappear from the hospital, leaving her lover alone and in pain.  She was filled with guilt that she was so weak, but she didn’t have the strength to do otherwise.  When her lover finally passed away, it was as if her life was over and she would never feel anything again.  After many months existing as an empty shell, she met my character.  Our relationship started slowly because she hadn’t recovered from her loss yet.  I knew what she had been through with her previous lover and how it had impacted her.  I was the type of person who believed anything was possible, and I carried a sense of hope and positivity no matter what issues I faced.  I was incredibly strong and patient, and I knew this was the person I was meant to be with.  After several months, she was finally ready to move on from her past and take another chance at life and love again.

That was our elaborate, detailed, rich back story.  These two characters have nothing to do with the actual Manon and the actual Isabelle. Robert made all of this up on the spot after hearing our arias once.

He then proceeded to give us a scene: after many happy years together as a couple, I am diagnosed with cancer.  With chemotherapy the cancer goes into remission, but we both know it could come back at any time.  Every month I go to the hospital for testing, and waiting for the results is agony.  It’s been three months of good test results, and I have just had my fourth test done.

At this point, Robert asked me to wait outside the door so he could talk with my scene partner separately.  I have no idea what they discussed.  After a few minutes, she and I switched places, and Robert gave me some additional information about the scene, information that my scene partner did not have: the test results are good.  My stage directions were to enter the scene as if I just got home and then share the news with my partner.

We improvised dialogue, and I told my partner the test results were fine and I was fine.  I suggested a celebratory dinner, and she said she couldn’t deal with the constant fear anymore and she was leaving me.  Then she sang “Adieu, notre petite table.” Then I sang “Robert, toi que j’aime.”

Now, Robert always asked us two questions, “What is the song about, with a little “a’?” and “What is the song About, with a big “A”?”  The about is the given circumstances, the literal explanation of what is happening in the plot, information provided to us by the composer, author, librettist.  The About is the added circumstances, the interpretation of the literal explanation, a character’s moment of self-discovery or struggle, an idea bigger than the boundaries of the scene or the opera.  To help make this distinction:

“Adieu, notre petite table” is about Manon making the decision to leave her lover, des Grieux, ato become de Brétigny’s mistress instead.  She says goodbye to the little table in the apartment she shared with des Grieux.  At the same time, this aria is About leaving even if it’s painful and letting go even while you want to hold on.

“Robert, toi que j’aime” is about Isabelle pleading with Robert not to abduct her.  She asks for mercy and tries to remind Robert of the love he had for her.  This aria is also About fighting for your life and appealing to someone’s sense of humanity.

Here are partial translations that gives a sense of the arias:

Manon:

I am nothing but weakness and fragility! In spite of myself, I feel the flowing of my tears.  Before these obliterated dreams! Will the future have the charms  of those beautiful days already passed? Goodbye, our little table At which we met so often! Goodbye, our little table, yet so large for us! One thinks that it’s unimaginable, so small a space…when we’re embracing… Goodbye, our little table! The same glass was ours, each of us, when it was drunk from, there searched one set of lips for the other… Ah! Poor friend that loved me! Goodbye!

Isabelle:

Robert, you who I love and who received my time, you see my fear! Mercy, mercy for yourself, and mercy for me! Mercy for yourself! What? your heart breaks the sweetest oaths? You showed me favor, I am at your knees, at your knees! O my dear, my most dear, you who I love, you see my fear! Mercy, mercy for yourself, and mercy for me!

The Results.  The combination of the music and Robert’s back story worked – I was a crying, dripping emotional fountain.  It wasn’t just tears; I’m talking about full-on weeping, a nose that didn’t stop running, and all sorts of gunk in my throat – terrible conditions for singing.  Except my singing wasn’t terrible.  In fact, my singing was better during the scene than when I sang the aria the first time in class. My middle voice was fuller, and I had less tension throughout my body even though the emotional tension was high.

How did this happen?  Well, the first thing is preparation.  I knew my music, and the accumulated hours of practicing this piece gave me a foundation to default to when my brain was occupied with more dramatic matters.  Second, I got out of my own way.  Instead of judging myself, I was watching my scene partner to see if my attempts at changing her mind were working.  Third, the aria was a living thing, a symbol of the highly charged situation we were picking a path through.  It wasn’t presentational; it was real.

Keeping it Real.  I wasn’t just begging because the text said so and because I knew that’s what Isabelle was supposed to do in this scene.  I was begging because I knew how much I would lose if I failed.  The point wasn’t to show how afraid or how tender I could be, which meant I threw out all the pretending, posturing, and stereotyping we all fall victim to at some point or another.  Humans are very good at catching fakers.  At one point, our survival depended on whether we could tell someone was lying to us to steal our food or to kill us.  Acting is essentially a type of lying – convincing people that we’re feeling one way when in reality we’re not.  This is why day-time drama can be painful to watch – because we know when someone is acting.  So, to be a good actor, acting can’t be the focus of the performance.  Showing or demonstrating emotion can’t be the focus of the performance.  In our scene, the focus was the juxtaposition between my character’s determination and my partner’s uncertainty.  The emotions were a by-product of our commitment to the back story. 

Raising the Stakes.  The detailed history raised the stakes, making our decisions and actions in that moment carry bigger consequences, more powerful symbolism, and more insightful revelations about our characters.  If the stakes are low, it matters less what our characters do in the scene.  And if we don’t even care about the stakes, then why would the audience care?

This tied neatly into Hector Correa’s advice to me for the Die Zauberflöte scene where she attempts to kill herself, which I’ll never forget: Make Pamina strong and brave, don’t play her as a pathetic character.  If she’s pathetic, the audience won’t care whether she lives or dies.  Make her strong so all the little girls watching the opera look to her as a role model.  BAM – that has changed the way I approach my characters.  No matter how sad, desperate, or weak a character may seem, find the strength in them.  Make the audience question assumptions andsee the character in a new way.   Give the audience, with its worldliness and cynicism, something novel and hopeful to latch onto.

Lessons Learned.  Don’t cut corners – this goes for musical preparation, an understanding of the given circumstances (about), an interpretation of the added circumstances (About), the creation of a rich back story if the one provided doesn’t raise the stakes for you, and focusing on the stakes being played out rather than your presentation of the emotions.  Yes, there’s a line that singers can cross where they cease to function as singers, but Robert’s exercise proved the line is much, much further away than we generally believe.

Changing my Met 5

When I first auditioned for and then signed my contract for BASOTI, my main expectation was to learn new music and have some more performance experience.  By default, I would also pick up some professional polish as I attended rehearsals and collaborated with conductors, pianists, directors, and other singers.  A few days into the program, after the first few masterclasses, audition workshop, and acting class, it became apparent that I could do more than just bulk-up my resume over the course of BASOTI.

Through a combination of singing, getting feedback, and hearing from experienced professionals their take on auditioning, I’ve decided to change my line up for the Met Auditions:

  • “Robert, toi que j’aime” from Meyerbeer’s Robert le Diable instead of “Deh, vieni, non tardar” – I sang “”Robert, toi que j’aime” for one of the BASOTI aria concerts, and the audience (including fellow BASOTI singers and faculty members) really liked it.  It’s a relatively unknown aria, but several people commented that I pulled it off even though they’d never heard it done before.  The rest of my list is more familiar, so “Robert” can be my one quirky, huh?-inducing selecting.  Also, the faculty said to pick repertoire so you show off what you do better than others (an obvious point but not always laid out in such blunt terms) and to start with a piece that lets you show off right away – which was not something I’d thought about.  With “Robert”, I get a chance to show off long bel canto lines and floating high notes.  My initial plan was to start with Manon’s “Obéissons quand leur voix appelle” because it’s got such great energy, but now I’m wondering if I should take a huge chance and open with an non-standard piece.  Will discuss this with a teacher…
  • “Ach, ich fühl’s” from Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte instead of “Mein herr Marquis” –  since I axed “Deh, vieni, non tardar,” I needed to replace one of my other arias with a Mozart piece.  Apparently it is very important to include a Mozart or Handel in your set; I knew they were good to have, but I didn’t realize it was more of a necessity until I talked to BASOTI singers and teachers.  My set already had plenty of Romantic representation, so I sacrificed “Mein herr Marquis.”  With “Ach, ich fühl’s” I still hit all four major languages with the added bonus of bringing something different to an aria that lots of sopranos sing.   After singing a Pamina scene for BASOTI, I have some very strong ideas about who Pamina is and how I’d want to sing her.  The challenges here are 1) keeping the forward flow despite a tempo that could be described as slow or even plodding, and 2) creating a compelling character despite obviously sad music and very little physical movement.  Can’t wait to start working on it!

The rest of the set would remain:

  • “I am the wife of Mao Tse-dong” from Adam’s Nixon in China
  • “Oh! quante volte” from Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi
  • “Obéissons quand leur voix appelle” from Massenet’s Manon

So much music to work on!!!!  These five and all the stuff listed on the “In the Works” page (which I updated today!).  I love it!  Just wish I had more time.  At least the 12 hours of driving down one state and into another are done.  Now I just need to drive around Tempe to find a place to live.

BASOTI numbers

The past four weeks kept me so busy that I did not blog as I BASOTI’d.  Here is a quick numbers-based summary as I find time (in between apartment hunting) to review and reflect on the notes I took during workshops, masterclasses, and meetings:

  • Weeks in program: 4
  • Scenes performed: 3
  • Masterclasses sung: 1
  • Masterclasses attended: 4
  • Voice lessons: 5
  • Coachings: 5
  • Hours rehearsed: no idea
  • Rehearsals crashed: 3
  • Conductors worked with: 4
  • Stage directors worked with: 2
  • Singers sung with not counting chorus: 10
  • Average hours of sleep per night: 7
  • New pieces added to to-do list: 5
  • Voluntary/additional solo singing opportunities taken: 6
  • Colds: 0
  • Grown-up beverages: 1
  • Fast-food meals: 0
  • Bus rides: many
  • Cars rides: 2
  • Scary interactions with homeless: 1
  • Days off: 1
  • Restaurants: 12
  • Coffee/tea shops: 4
  • Pages of notes taken: 12
  • Times I used my laptop: 4
  • Moments of doubt: 5
  • AH-HAH and YES days: 23
  • New friends made that I’ll stalk check-up on on facebook: 14

No rest for the wicked.

… Or is there no rest for the weary?

Despite my lack if Internet-presence over the past few weeks, yes, I’m still alive! The 12-hour days, a clunky laptop, and fear of exceeding my phone’s data plan kept me quiet. The iPad suddenly seemed so sleek and convenient, but I’ll do my best to fight the urge.

BASOTI came to a close just yesterday, and I’ve had a grand total of 24 hours with my family before taking the next step in my adventurous journey.

Part of my brain is reeling from the fact that BASOTI is actually over, and part of it is still mulling over new ideas and information. I took copious notes, and will type-up and organize them to be posted here.

But first, I need a few hours of sleep before heading out to Arizona tomorrow morning. I’ll make a brief one-night stop in San Diego along the way, but I’m trying to beat a couple of clocks: school starts in mid-August, and I’d like to find and move into an apartment by then. Also, I don’t want to pay for another month of storage. And while I look for an apartment, I’m house- and dog-sitting for a friend… So I better make it to her place for before she heads to Alaska!

More BASOTI-related musings to come! And hopefully very ecstatic posts about the drive being safe and fun, and apartments being beautiful and easy to obtain.

Singing The Tempest and Relearning How to Breathe

Well, my wardrobe is not exactly prepared for a summer in San Francisco.  BASOTI warned us it would be “chilly” – they should’ve gone with “downright cold” and “as windy as Chicago.”  I was a little too optimistic packing dresses and flowing summery tops, and now I wish the luggage space had been used for sweaters and coats!

The Tempest.  Yesterday was the first music rehearsal for my scene from Lee Hoiby’s The Tempest.  This opera was written in 1986, and the libretto is based on Shakespeare’s play.  Hoiby uses a combination of old and new to great effect.  The lyrics are from another century; the themes are very real to a present day audience.  Traditional harmonies are organized into clear structures and patterns; a few bars later, voices are woven together in a free exchange and exploring a less obvious tonality.  A phrase starts off with unusual leaps and steps to create musical tension before moving to a shiver-inducing resolution.  Of my three scenes, this scene contained, without contest, the most challenging music to learn because I could not always predict where the vocal or instrumental line would go.

The first half of the scene has Ferdinand and Miranda (me!) in a duet.  They begin with shy, round-about expressions of concerns for each others’ well-being, which evolve into declarations of love and hopes for marriage.  Propero, Miranda’s father, is the orchestrator of this affair, and he calls three goddesses to bless the couple.  The three goddesses, Iris, Ceres, and Juno, then sing unending blessings and bounty onto Ferdinand and Miranda’s lives together.  The second half is structurally and harmonically very different from the first, which gives the scene such depth.

The music rehearsal went more smoothly than I think most had anticipated.  The fact that the opera is in English made it easy to memorize, but I find it difficult to keep the core of my voice engaged in this language.  After some reflection, I think the issue is approaching the beginnings of each phrase from below rather than above.  Coming from below suggests a lack of preparation; I know what note to aim for, but I am leaping up without a foundation in place to help get me there.  Coming from above means a well-executed inhalation acts as a springboard to create the energy needed to start singing on the right pitch.  Too many years of listening to pop music has lead me to associate singing in English with a lax initiation of the voice.  Just listen to all those pop singers scooping their way up to their notes and putting so much air into their sound.  It’s emotional and expressive, but it’s not a good way for The Tempest to be sung.

Breathing.  Apparently, my concept of breathing has been wrong this entire time!  Or it may be more accurate for my to say my conscious concept of breathing has been incomplete.  There have definitely been times in lessons and competitions were my breath clicked into place and none of my phrases felt like a breath-holding contest.  But most of my performance anxiety stems from not knowing what kind of tone I will produce when I’m feeling nervous.  The simple solution would be for me to never get nervous, but that may not ever happen so I need a way to improve the consistency of my tone instead.

Singers always hear, “Don’t breathe with your chest, use your diaphragm, support, engage your core, fill your lungs, your ribcage should expand, breathe deep, let your belly hang out!” While none of this is wrong, these comment made me forget exactly where our lungs are located:

Location of the Lungs

Ah, our lungs!

Lungs are big; the extend all the way up into your upper chest and under our collar bones!  For so long I concentrated on keeping my upper chest and collar bones still, trying to fill the bottom half of my torso with air.  I let go of my pride and stopped sucking in my stomach.  When I took a deep breath, I imagined my rib cage expanding to the left and right sides, and even to the front above my stomach …  But what about the rest of my lungs?

Our Alexander Technician pointed out that our ribcage is a dynamic column that can expand in 360° and is subject to the laws of volume and pressure. When the ribcage expands, volume increases, internal pressure drops, and air rushes in to equalize the pressure.  Now I have no reason to worry about orchestrating a good inhalation because the lungs will naturally fill up the “right way.”

When I allowed this natural inhalation to take place, I feel the expansion from the bottom rib (a few inches above my hip bone) all the way up to the base of my neck (the area between my upper shoulder blades).  The muscles between my rips and attaching my ribs to my spine lengthen, which is an amazing feeling.  When was the last time you were aware of those muscles?  I’ve spend so long breathing low I forgot how to breathe wholly.

Of course, I am going to incorporate this into all my singing, but I am particularly curious to see how this changes my English pieces.

Breathing deeply and fully,

Joyce

Empowering Insight to Break the Nervous Cycle

Tonight, the lovely and impressive Patricia Wise led a master class as part of the BASOTI programming. I found out the day prior that I was singing in it – yikes – and decided to go with Giulietta’s “Oh! quante volte” because it had flowed so easily the past few times I worked on it. Ms. Wise complimented me on my Italian (which is amazing because I’ve never had a diction class; my first one will be here with BASOTI on Thursday!) and communication of setting and emotion (which I’ve worked hard on in order to set myself apart from the rest of the soprano population). I had to go first. Going first is great because you don’t lose the warmed-up feeling and can enjoy the rest of the show after your bit is done. Going first is less great when you can’t rely on someone else to set the tone for the evening – but someone’s gotta do it! It was my first public master class, and although Ms. Wise was friendly and not-threatening, the entire situation was intimidating.

Just this morning, we had an audition workshop with the magnetic Hector Corerra (he’s also directing an opera and several scenes, two of which are my Pamina and Miranda scenes). He shared inspiring words about staying in control in situations where we tend to become nervous: when we show up at the audition or the performance, we are the party, the main event. It’s not about the other singers or the panel; it’s about being well-prepared and confidently presenting your abilities to see if people have the good taste to like what you do! Go only if you can deliver what they are asking for (no one asks to bake the wedding cake if they don’t know how to bake or if they only know how to make one type of cake). Know the rules so you can break them intentionally. If you are knowledgeable and ready, none of their questions or expectations will throw you off. Since you are there on your own terms, then you’re the one in control. Don’t give your power away. What an amazing way to approach these situations, and I kept repeating this to myself leading up to the master class.

And what happened? There were no missing notes or words, and I was happy with my characterization and presentation. Yet, I couldn’t seem to get myself out of the unsettled, nervous feeling. I came in at all the right times, but my breath and, therefore, my voice were not fully engaged. The rounded warmth I’d enjoyed the past few weeks was missing – and I was aware of the breath issues but couldn’t find the reset button. I tried technical fixes: breathing lower in my ribcage, riding the breath through the intervals, keeping the vowels Italianate to prevent wasting the breath. I even tried non-technical things to get myself out of my head and into the character more: changing my gazing point, seeing Romeo (literally because the mezzo-soprano with who I’m singing the Romeo and Giulietta tomb scene was there tonight), focusing on the text. This second strategy helped me put on a good show, but it didn’t solve the breath issue. I wanted to sing with complete abandon, but I know I didn’t quite achieve that level of immersion: I recall thinking, “This isn’t working,” which means I was still in my head instead of Giulietta’s.

My breath was better when Ms. Wise made suggestions and I sang again. I think most singers know the second time is usually smoother, as if we need the first take to get the nerves out of the way. Why can’t we make our first opportunity our best showing? I gave up some of my power and didn’t get it back right away. What a reminder that I have a long way to go still. But in the spirit of keeping my power, I’ll say I am still fabulous but needing a little more polish. I have a one-on-one voice lesson with Ms. Wise later this week. No audience, and now that I’ve already had a chance to interact with her, there better not be nerves. My voice can come out the way it’s supposed to, and I hope to gain more insight from her regarding breathing, space, and coloratura.

Much less nervous and ready to sing tomorrow,

Joyce

Du also bist mein Bräutigam?… When hearing voices saves a life

I made it to the Bay Area! In a way, I have traveled back in time: I’m living at home (albeit just for about two weeks) and eating my parents’ food (delicious !). I drive around this town and cannot associate any of the sites or sights with the anxiety I experienced just a week ago as an independent “grown up”, working, living on my own, running errands, and trying to avoid traffic. The past two days have consisted of eating, shopping, and spending time with my family. Summer is now synonymous with fun, sunshine, and singing. I truly feel like a college student again.

I got down with my Pamina scene to finalize the memorization. BASOTI starts in seven days, and my fear is having one of my scenes cut if I show up unprepared. It’s been a few years since I sang this in college; the notes are still there but the German needed some lovin’. Some people complain that German is harsh or ugly, but I find it remarkably satisfying to sing. Lovely vowels with an equal emphasis placed on the importance of crisp consonants. I thanked the English translation printed in the score for providing the big picture but scoffed at its in-authenticity, given the poetic license taken to make things rhyme. As always, I like having a literal translation, word for word. It’s quite embarrassing and awkward if my character completely miss the dramatic or emotional point of the scene.

A not-too-freely-altered-for-rhyming-purposes version is readily available online, but I like to painstakingly cobble my own translation together. Word by painstaking word (my fantasy: I’ll miraculously and organically learn a language using this method). Thank goodness for the internet. But I must invest in a huge library of dictionaries once I’m done with all this moving.

My feelings on Die Zauberflöte are mixed; beautiful music but the plot is quite ridiculous and goes off on too many tangents. I find the character development flat and the pacing of the story a draaaaag. Perhaps there is just a little too much good music here? I think Mozart needed a cold-hearted editor to slash a big X through a couple measures and improve the flow. Pamina has some gorgeous music though, and I wouldn’t want any of it cut. Her almost-suicide scene is quite powerful if sung with the madness the three spirits reference several times (Wahnsinn tobt ihr im Gehirne). In my opinion, the biggest disservice a singer can do to Pamina is to sing her as a wimp. No one likes a quitter, but Pamina’s flirtation with death makes sense in light of the betrayal she experiences from both her prince, Tamino, and her mother, the Queen of the Night. I love this scene because Pamina’s vocal line jumps between short and long phrasing. Her text is straightforward, but her music alternates between emphatic statements and uncertain fragments. She isn’t thinking clearly, she is a mess.

I may have included the link before, but here is a little refresher if you need it. Pamina’s outfit takes some getting used to, but it’s a beautifully detailed production, Paris Opera in 2000.

Some back-story: Pamina is in love with Prince Tamino, who has taken a vow of silence to demonstrate his worthiness. Unfortunately, Tamino failed to mention the point of this exercise to Pamina, and she misinterprets his silence to mean his feelings for her have disappeared (this is when she sings the deceptively simple but heart-wrenchingly bleak “Ach, ich fühl’s” in Act 2). In addition to this drama in her love-life, Pamina is having some issues in her relationship with her mother. Mama is a smidgen manipulative and sees an opportunity to rid herself of a long-standing rival, Sarastro. She gives Pamina a dagger and two options: A) kill Sarastro, or B) be disowned, destroyed, and damned (alright, so the translation for the last bit is more along the lines of “cursed” but I couldn’t pass up the alliteration opportunity).

The scene. Pamina is really too nice to act as an assassin, so she comes up with option C) use the dagger to commit suicide instead. In her first line, she addresses the dagger and asks if it is to be her groom since Tamino has abandoned her (Du also bist mein Bräutigam?). The score notes that Pamina “rushes” in, and her vocal line is broken into two phrases for a breathless and frantic quality. Her second sentence carves a beautiful legato line and ends on a ringing upward swing; she exclaims that the dagger will complete her grief (Durch dich vollend’ ich meinen Gram). In these 4.5 measures, Mozart paints Pamina as unstable and alternating between crazed mutterings and manic proclamations.

Just as she is about to stab herself, the three adorable spirits take action and tear the dagger from her (Ha! Unglückliche, halt ein!). She scoffs (Was?) at the idea that Tamino, the one has turned away from her, still loves her. The score does not explicitly say whether Pamina ignores or is unaware of the spirits prior to this moment, but I like to imagine that her mental breakdown is so encompassing that she does not hear or see the spirits until they physical intervene.

This is the point where Pamina’s madness runs out of steam. After three beats, she asks why Tamino will not speak to her, a question that is also broken into two musical phrases as if she does not have the strength to finish the thought in one breath (Warum sphracher … nicht mit mir?). The three spirits say they are forbidden to answer this question (Dieses müssen wir verschweigen) but can take Pamina to see Tamino and his faithfulness (doch wir wollen ihn dir zeigen, und du wirst mit Staunen sehn, daß er dir sein Herz geweiht.) They talk her out of the dagger-ing and into finishing the scene with a quartet of love’s triumph over its enemies. Pamina is so convinced that she breaks the rhythmic unity of the quartet and leads the spirits in the final page of music (verloren ist der Feinde Müh, die Götter selbsten schützen sie.). It is a complete transformation, and Pamina’s confidence in herself and the universe is restored.

I’m ready to do this! The three spirits better be ready too – I will probably go after someone with Pamina’s dagger if this scene is cut from the BASOTI line-up.

With a head full of German,

Joyce

In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit. – Albert Schweitzer

I’m the first person in my family to pursue a singing career, which is liberating and lonely at the same time. There’s no pressure to follow in someone’s super-successful footsteps, and I had the luxury of exploring my interests to pinpoint what I’d like to devote my life to. However, this exploration was a bumpy one, and in the midst of the various mini-crises and breakdowns there were times I wished someone with classical-singing street smarts could walk me through the process and warn me of both obvious and camouflaged pitfalls. My parents voiced similar concerns, knowing the connections and knowledge they had acquired through their careers would be of little help if I went in my own direction.

I’m old enough now to appreciate how they’ve let me go off on my own into unknown territory. If you’re a parent, an older sibling, or just someone’s good friend, you know the protective feeling of wanting your loved one to be safe, secure, and successful. What exactly went through my parents’ heads when they saw me struggling through various jobs? And when I started to take voice lessons again? And when I announced I was going to apply to graduate school for voice? Well, I’m not sure. But they gave me pep talks after rough competitions and congratulated me after each little hurdle.

In 12 days I will be leaving this city behind to mingle with singers who have not taken a four-year hiatus from studying music. I’m trading a steady paycheck for negative income (ah, student loans). I’m a soprano (there are too many of us!) and not even a rare Wagnerian soprano (enjoy the slow build or fast forward to 4:27). A lot of ladies are singing the same rep, which means I have to do it better best. I’m committing the next two years of my life to a tough field. As a professional tenor friend put it: there is no runner-up, you either book the job or you don’t. This isn’t an industry where second-tier performers can land a mid-level position. Which is why you better be best.

In the midst of all the late-starts and questionable odds, my parents have been remarkably cool about my decision to pursue a singing career. They might not know much about the business, but they’re with my each step of the way.

I’ve experienced a wave of love and support at a level that was completely unexpected. Three weeks ago I began a fundraising campaign to jump start this wild summer of music. My hope is to raise enough funds to cover the cost of the BASOTI program – a lofty, dreamy goal. After all, in such a big world who would be interested in my little campaign? Answer: family, relatives, co-workers, friends, and even high school friends I haven’t seen in almost 10 years.

In a time when opera houses are closing down and states are cutting funding for the arts, I have proof that music and passion and dreams are worthwhile. Through words, smiles, and actions, my supporters have urged me forward. I feel so lucky and so loved to experience such generosity and kindness.

Honor is such an old-fashioned concept, but in an age where we want things “in writing” and the only non-refundable purchases are cars and digital music, it is the right term to use here. I am honored that my friends and family believe in me despite the riskiness of pursuing music. They did not demand a demonstration of my skills or a legally-binding document before betting on me. I have never been more aware of or more appreciative of the good company I keep. A singer can go pretty far on pure determination, but we last longer and go further when we have others backing us up.

Thank you. I have no flowery phrases or elaborate metaphors. Just thank you, thank you, thank you.

Humbled, honored, and with a heart full of love,

Joyce