Friday, September 7, 2012

Simple straight-forward singing

This post is dedicated to simple and beautiful singing. Examples are relatively easy songs and arias sung well with not too much interpretation. If sung according to the score there really is not much more to do.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The mind is your best friend and worst enemy in singing and performing

So, I have been gone for a while because I went to another country to study with a teacher. This teacher was new to me and boasts a high reputation, as some of the students are singing in the world's leading opera houses. 
It was a great experience for me, since I discovered once again how important it is to trust yourself and follow your instincts when it comes to singing. I took one lesson with this teacher, was asked to stay and watch 2 other voice students after the lesson. At this point I must add that the teacher was not at all interested in my voice. All that was requested of me was to execute some very different exercises. I felt like I couldn't impress, no, I had to be impressed by this retired songbird.
So, without having sung my presence at the next two lessons was requested. I think this is where the 2 big mistakes lie.
1. If a person comes from far away to study with you, let them at least sing their voice a little.
2. One shouldn't try to show off with one's students, if one doesn't really know who one is dealing with. 

Anyway...I stayed, listened, and was shocked. These students were singing their guts out in a grotesque "loud or bust" fashion. I am a firm believer of building the voice with special exercises and sometimes singing an aria even louder than required, just to get the evenness and power in the voice. But this was ridiculous. Not only were my ears ringing in an uncomfortable pain zone but the arias were literally butchered to death. I was so baffled and even felt bad for one of the singers, as her voice might have had some special beauty to it, besides being a remarkable instrument. But the screaming killed any sprout of musicianship. I must say the whole ex-career "I used to be a hot shot" environment did. Yuck!

Of course I cancelled the rest of my booked lessons and was stuck in the place I was staying, since booking a new flight was financially out of the question. This was extremely good for me. Forced vacation is what I called it. I really decompressed and thought about many things.

One thing is how much LOVE has to be involved in singing. I really felt like one builds up a love and trust relationship with one's instrument. I am working on that. The whole week I didn't get to practice much and did some psychological work instead. Trusting an instrument like trusting the keys of a piano... It is a whole different attitude. Building up a relationship of trust, that the instrument will work and that I know how to play it.
Another thing is the whole issue (see, now even this term is dubious) of FEAR. 
I figure this instinct is the one that transcended into emotional territory, only to make us despise it. 
Fear can't help that it's there. Once, as we were animal-near creatures, fear was a great tool in keeping out of physical trouble. Without the instinct of fear, we as a species might not have survived. 
But the tricky part is when fear emigrates to emotional territory. We fear abstract things that in turn feel very real to us, like shame, embarrassment, emotional weakness, emotional nakedness.
So I decided to embrace fear as a part of me and of humanity.

The results of this week of meditation is that I sing much better :) It's true. I trust my voice and I think of fear as apart of everything now, keeping me out of trouble and showing me what emotional challenges I have not yet conquered in this lifetime.

I listened and especially watched Cecilia Bartoli during this week. Her voice couldn't be more different from mine. But it's so extremely inspiring how she plays her instrument, trusts it, and lets her emotions and musicianship flow. And she is very intelligent. This is from her Sacrificium DVD (youtube).

So my advice to all of you battling with performing hang-ups: Do a week of forced vacation and THINK!!!

Who ever said singers don't need a brain? The brain is very useful when you use it in a positive way. It has the ability to analyze what is going on emotionally and to set you free. Turn it around and it can seduce you into negative thoughts and consequently emotions.
I love my brain and will from now on train it more strictly to be a positive tool in this life. If negative thoughts creep up I will try to be tolerant toward them, knowing that they don't posess the power of growth and change but not beating myself up about having them.

Singing -

Sunday, May 15, 2011

"WOTAN" or rather "Die Walküre": Last night's HD live broadcast from the MET

Oh goodness, oh goodness. I had a hard time falling asleep after this! What joy, what excitement. When you go somewhere, expecting more than you want to admit and receiving more than you expected...

Before I get into details let me say that everyone, to my great joy and satisfaction, was in excellent voice.

Act 1

The music is so thrilling, that it surprises me every time. I was awestruck by the visual effects for the forest, which dissolved into one big silvery tree trunk, the majestic ash tree, in which Nothung, the trusty sword, is wedged.
I really enjoyed Jonas Kaufmann's ever so slightly cocky approach to this scene. When he (Siegmund) meets Sieglinde (Eva-Maria Westbroek), he doesn't try to hide his feelings. He is already on the way to seducing her. i.e. when she passes him the horn with Met, of which she drank, he turns it around, so as to touch with his lips the same place her lips touched. This was an effective gag. Sieglinde (played very convincingly) has been waiting for someone to come and change her life. She is very curious about the stranger and instantly feels more connected to him than any other. Eva-Maria gave a wonderful performance of Sieglinde in this stage. Also her shuddering at Hunding's stifling presence was more than convincing.
Hunding, sung and played by Hans-Peter König, was a great dynamic element to this scene. Usually I find Hunding bothersome (which he is) and want him to go to sleep already, so we can get on with the rest. But this Hunding was entertaining, intimidating with his gestures to keep Sieglinde constrained-the sort of man that any woman (or man) watching would loathe.
Oh, yes, I haven't got to the singing part yet. The singing was great! My favorite of this act was Kaufmann, since his noble line, which steadily carries through to the end, his sculpting of phrases and building of intensity add so much shape and nuance to the role. Hunding had an adequate, potent sound, if a bit barrelful and undguided at times, maybe adding moreso to his unattractive demeanor.
Eva-Maria Westbroek was at her best here, considering we didn't get to hear her goods on opening night. She sang with power and authority, sorrow and hope. I'm not sure how well the two voices of the twins worked together, but each had their beauty and strength. The chemistry was there, adding credibility to their evoked passion. Somehow the "arias" weren't the highlight of this performance, not discrediting them, it's just that the throughcomposed nature of this music lived seamlessly, which is as it should be.

Act 2

Now this is where I wasn't sure what to expect! And yes, I did find the greeting ceremony of Wotan and Brünnhilde a little over the top, what with all the hugs, spearkpoking and giggles involved, but Bryn Terfel singing Wotan had dropped his Baby Huey act from Das Rheingold and showed great poise and wisdom in his portrayal. Deborah Voigt's Brünnhilde, even with her American pronunciation of "Fricka" and "Vater" etc., was more secure and consistent.
This is a long and shifting act.
Fricka had matured into the "pantswearing" wife and was very threatening. I understood Wotan, who didn't want to cross her. As already stated after listening to the opening, Stephanie Blythe sings with incredible vocal line and rocksolid technique. The little moving she did was in its own way quite effective.
It was when Brünnhilde returns to listen to the deepest wishes her father reluctantly relates to her that Bryn Terfel started to steal the show. This tendency (I think) continued through to the end.
Siegmund and Sieglinde's elopement scene was maybe the weakest of the opera. Somehow Sieglinde's desperacy and Siegmund's determination to batter their foe didn't quite work together. The scene was too static for these elements to stir properly. Instead the scene slightly toppled into the likes of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" or "The Rocky Horror Picture Show", when Janet yells "stoooioooiooop". Eva-Maria was holding her hands to her ears, crazed by undefined noises and Jonas Kaufmann disappeared in the shadows of the woods, handling his sword like a new toy, playing Robin Hood around the Christmas tree.
He was more like the cliché male who didn't understand why the woman was having a fit and she was having a fit, not understanding why he remained so calm. Anyway...the somewhat failed scene didn't seem to break the magic spell on an overall scale.
When Sieglinde was calmly slumbering and Brünnhilde appeared to the doomed hero, the energy shifted again. Kaufmann's 2ft. drool is now eternalized on HD film! This little mishap was the 2nd and worst of its nature last night. Even though we felt for him and were slightly grossed out (judging from the gasps in the cinema audience) I don't think anyone really cared or resented him for it. It happens.
His inquiry about finding Sieglinde in Walhalla was heart wrenching. I believed that he wouldn't go anywhere without her. But somehow the scene leading to him wanting to kill her if anyone else must touch her wasn't built up right. For a newcomer to the opera this action would have been completely illogical. Anyway...The battle between him and Hunding wasn't electrifying enough until Bryn stepped back in. I found myself feeling relieved when he has back on scene, as if the dynamics were balanced again. Hopefully he didn't hurt Voigt as he shoved the Siegmund supporting Brünnhilde aside with one swipe of his bear paw.
The element of time and space was a bit confusing. Brünnhilde escapes with Sieglinde, albeit Wotan's wrath menacing at an armlength. Bryn, as this was his night, left you excitedly anticipating the last act.

Act 3

What music! Too bad one felt uneasy about the Valkyries sliding down the machine. I was so scared that one of their feet would get caugth in the "reins". I liked the voices very much. Gerhilde (Kelly Cae Hogan) and ex-Freia Wendy Bryn Harmer as Ortlinde were the ones who stood out the most to me. I realized how big Wendy's voice is compared to the other Valkyries, which got me thinking about how big the whole main cast's voices must be, since when she was singing Freia, her voice did not stand out as being especially powerful.
 I just loooved how the "machine" turned into gigantic spread wings when Brünnhilde "came a riding", yielding Sieglinde on her pack. Here Brünnhilde and at first somewhat resigned and passive Sieglinde were very convincing in their emergency. I really liked how Eva-Maria Westbroek took the news of bearing Siegmund's child and immediately switched her energy.
As it was, Deborah Voigt's "Fort dann eile" was not exciting enough. It reminded me more of when Dorothy and her 3 friends decided that the only way they could get what they needed was to go see the great wizard. "Weeeeeeeeeeeeeee're off to see the wizard".
But on a more serious note, Eva-Maria's "O hehrstes Wunder" was beautiful, spiritually and vocally concentrated. I liked it. She really made her exiting mark with this last wonderful inflection.

Wotan is a scary thunderstorm of choler. The Valkyries shivering at his mercy made for a suspenseful scene. Brünnhilde seems bold even in her utterings. One actually feels sorry for her! Her knowing her father almost better than he is willing to admit comes through so comepletey in her mentioning that the Wälsung blood forges a new hero in Siegfried.
This is Deborah Voigt's best moment, when her sisters have left and it's just she and daddy-W.
Her singing here was at its best, more nuanced and heartfelt than the rest.
But Wotan, oh Wotan. Now I begin to understand, when I as a listener am weary, and Wotan has to just go on and on, managing soft passages as if it were the beginning of the opera. I am more than impressed, marveled and wonderstruck by Bryn Terfels artistry, stamina, and endurance. He is the best Wotan ever! How many start to shout and get vulgar, due to exhaustion? Although sweat was streaming down his forehead, his voice was soulful and guided, artistically and emotionally shaded until the very last moment. Even his movements remained smooth and strong. Chapeau! Chapeau! Chapeau!

Best boo-boos:

1. Jonas Kaufmann's 2nd drool
2. Jonas Kaufmann's 1st drool
3. Jonas Kaufmann's defiant hair band
4. Bryn trying to free the winged headpiece from Brünnhilde's double's wig

Best moments:
1. The whole opera!
2. Wotan's farewell to Brünnhilde 
3. Fricka sobbing with her head down and then sheepishly looking up when Wotan agrees to obey her
4. Wälsung! Wälsung!
5. Jonas drinking Eva's cudies
 Hope everyone enjoyed it as much as I did! 

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Leontyne Price about her marriage to the audience

This is an excerpt of a very interesting interview with Leontyne Price. She speaks openly about her life and career. Here she's talking about sacrifices that come with the profession but also the glories of it.
She doesn't want to emphasize the sacrifices, because each person is individual and the benefits are equally overwhelming. She calls the whole experience one great BALL. But for her a marriage with children wasn't part of the plan. She says that she would find it unfair or cruel to expect of one person all the wonderful things she gets out of music and the audience.

And here some final words of advice. Talking about daily routine, yoga, work and play time. She calls cancelling "the unpardonable sin". Speaking of her MET debut triumph (in Trovatore) with a 42 min. ovation, how that experience remains with her. She gets teary-eyed. She also very cutely admits to putting on the tape of that applause from time to time.
Finally she speaks of the galaxy of roles she learned in Europe before making her debut at the MET.

Her words of advice to the young singer: "Know that it will be the best of you as an expression of who and what you are and...come on in, the water is so fine, that you won't believe it. That you can be the best you are as an artist and it's a wonderful way of expressing yourself as a human being. And you can also conquer...relate to life in general through it. It's a great instrument of your self expression. Indeed. And LOVE IT. 'Cause that means you love yourself. And you can certainly find out who you are, which is MOST important to everybody."

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Anja Harteros sings Strauss' Vier Letzte Lieder - Best performance on youtube in modern days

After having listened to so many performances on youtube I was stunned when I came upon this one by Anja Harteros. I have never seen such a sincere and beautiful performance. From the sound and interpretation to her facial expressions. I just adore these. Hopefully I can see her live soon (in Munich in the summer).
Enjoy!!!! and comment :)

Monday, May 2, 2011

Frei aber einsam - Brahms, his pact with Joachim - his gentle soul

FAE - "Frei aber einsam" was a pact that Brahms made with Joseph Joachim, his close friend, who was a violinist (also playing the viola). Of course it was a romantic idea of remaining free from the bonds of marriage and other social institutions that would jeopardize their artistry. But unfortunately, to Brahms' initial dismay, Joachim did meet the love of his life, an opera singer named Amalie Schneeweiss, and married her in 1863. Brahms for his part had taken their pact quite seriously. 

But, as it was, Joachim was tormented by jealousy and finally divorced Amalie, accusing her of adultery in 1884. This is when these two songs were written. Brahms apparently was one of few who defended Amalie. In writing these songs he might have wanted to remind Joachim of his loving wife's side to the story (having borne him 6 children). The 2nd piece, "Geistliches Wiegenlied" indeed starts with the viola and is reminiscent of the Christmas song "Joseph, Lieber Joseph Mein", playing its exact melody.

The 1st verse of the Christmas song:

Joseph, lieber Joseph mein,
hilf mir wiegen mein Kindelein,
Gott, der wird dein Lohner sein
im Himmelreich, der Jungfrau Sohn Maria.
Eia! Eia!

Perhaps Joachim was experimenting more with the viola at the time. In any case they were dedicated to him.

Here one of my favorite singers interpreting the songs 
with Wolfram Christ (viola) and Daniel Barenboim (piano).

Saturday, April 30, 2011

A tribute to Sylvia Sass

Sylvie, as her friends call her, was and in a way is still my teacher and friend.
Just listen (and look, since she's a beautiful woman). Her recordings of the Wesendonck Lieder are also extraordinary.
I participated in 2 masterclasses a few yrs. ago and worked with her intensively for 1 month.
 From left to right: Thierry Pillon (actor, director, and singer), Eric Herrero (wonderful tenor), Sylvia Sass, and me
She is the greatest musician I've ever known. Her technique didn't work for me at the time, but I'm beginning to understand what she meant. There are a lot of rumors concerning the "end" of her short career. I know the real reasons and the world can talk as much as it wants. She did write a few books, where she talks about everything, also about meeting Maria Callas. article Sylvia meets Maria Callas
A wonderful, magical person and a great, great artist.
 This is the recording which inspired me to contact her (besides her  Torino 1982 performance of Lady Macbeth on youtube)
This difficult aria from Verdi's "I Lombardi" is on there as well.

I own the DVD of her Bluebeard's Castle. It is exquisite. Unfortunately no clips are available online (at least not from where I am writing). 

Here's a recent video of her (no singing). She's talking about the masterclass.

Here in this extremely difficult piece by Erkel Ferenc from the opera Hunyadi Laszlo
Here her MET debut

Here singing "D'amor sull'ali rosee" from Trovatore (one of my favorite arias). Listen to her trills play with the strings. She's always right there with the instruments. It's unbelievable.

Doesn't this send shivers down your spine

Here I love her eyebrow lift as she reads the letter (and love the rest too). This is one of the best Lady Macbeth's, and I mean up there with Verrett and Callas.

And finally in an atypical role for her rep. She taught me about the verismo style.
How elegant and heartbreaking.

I think her dream though was to sing Wagner and Strauss. Her favorite music are the" Vier Letzte Lieder" She apparently was a great Salome.
Here rehearsing Salome. I got this from her myspace page.
Here as Salome (myspace)

Brünnhilde was one of her dream roles and that is where we found each other. God bless her!