14 September, 2007

great minds think alike?

Take note- I said that I'd talk about straight theater and acting in opera BEFORE the Metblog's most recent entry (today) that has an interview with N. Dessay about how she approaches her roles, and her dramatic acting techniques, and her wanting to prove that opera singers are actors.

Find that interview here.

From someone who has watched many of her performances on DVD, Youtube, video,and anywhere else I can get it (oh yea, and LIVE), Dessay is, to me, a consummate stage actress. Both delivering lines to an audience and allowing the natural action-reaction of a moment, occasion, scene, to unfold.

In opera staging rehearsals and master classes there is often talk of extending the action. Extending the emotion--because the actual words or music are repetitive (bel canto), OR it is a moment of freeze that is purely emotive, and stands outside of time.
And it should take that long, or those many "actions"- whether they are stock or not- for the character to express what it truly feels.

Oh, let's throw out an example that Dessay is working on now- Lucia.
Is she mad from the start?
Is there a hint of madness?
Is she a victim of circumstance in terms of women's positions in her era?
How can she sing her first act aria and be so excited/afraid, then be so enraptured in a love duet, get crushed in the sextet, and turn to such madness in the third act?

Many singers would take each of these scenes and sing and act them to the fullest emotion, not really thinking about connecting them to the other musical pieces. If you just make each one a pretty picture/scene, the audience very easily understands the one or two emotions you convey in each scene.

But no. What is SO much more interesting to watch and to act/sing, is the evolution. The small hints of instability in the first act aria- the hysteria mixed with terror. The extremes to which she takes the solemnity of a vow--the love duet that may be the final farewell in her mind, and how that sets her up for the lashing out at Enrico, the sextet and the mad scene.

It's so much more riveting when you see how, slowly, the entire character takes shape.And yes, that may mean a more "refined" first aria and first duet. It means you're not going to take the extreme choice of just playing/acting "happy, more happy, oh my gosh, it's unbelievable that I'm so happy" How did I GET so happy? Won't my brother be happy that I'm happy? I hope nothing happens to stop this happiness.'

etc. etc.

I think from seeing a recent performance of theater at a very, well, famous, theater, that actors are trained to concentrate more on the evolution of the entire piece, which singers are trained (as they are vocally), to approach the piece in segments, to master them vocally and dramatically, and then somehow to make the recits in between "make sense".

And it's not being lazy. It's really just how we are taught. Master the big famous arias, tackle the love duets, make sure the recits are solid, and then put together the ensembles and the rest of the role. It's very fragmented when you take it into lessons or coachings, and ever since my own lessons and coachings began to involve more role study than singing through arias and art songs, I have made sure to do things in order. To let the evolution of the entire show influence how I'm doing the coaching that day, and what pieces I'm working on in the coaching.

It's too easy to just warm up and then sing the mad scene.
As Dessay said, the hardest part of that piece is the Act II low duet with her brother.
So why not start at the very beginning? And if you only have an hour, start with that duet and then sing the mad scene.

In my approach to characters over the past few years I have definitely tried to think of the arc of drama instead of perfecting the little gems within. Of course, that too- but to make it more dramatically viable I think the first way should always win out. I'm left cold or unmoved by so many "moving" performances, because of the lack of continuity. Don't just sell me the aria.
Sell me the whole thing. Sell me so much that for an evening I can be transported to whatever time and place you are living this piece in and the piece lives in you.

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