(I wrote this last night, but couldn't post until I got back to my Starbucks internet connection. I'll write tomorrow about today's class and tonight's concert.)
I’m writing this sitting on the bed in “my room” at my grandparents’ house; it’s my room because I lived here for my last year at UGA. Being here, in this room, is just one of many bizarre experiences that I’ve had today! Being back here after five years away is so strange. I lived in Athens for four years, longer than I lived anywhere else (next to the five years we spent in Utah when I was in jr. high and high school). So there are lots of ghosts hiding here! Much has changed, but, more suprisingly, much is the same. I could find my way around (driving my cousin’s car) easily as if I’d left last week, and my favorite brunch place is still open! Unfortunately, they only serve brunch on the weekends, so I’ll have to miss out. My favorite coffee shop is closed, but the Athens landmark, The Grill, is still there, right across the street. Oh, and DePalma’s is still there! A favorite spot for a solo lunch (spinach fettucine with alfredo sauce) and dates with my future husband. So many memories here…
I spent a few hours with some UGA voice students this afternoon. They were all members of the Opera Ensemble, a group I think I actually helped form. (I know for sure that I was the “founding president,” whatever that means!) Now it’s a regular class, one that they register for, whereas in the beginning I think it was a club. They’re working on a small scenes program, and after about an hour of questions and answers and talking about life after college, I got to do a little coaching. Whenever I’m faced with that situation – coaching or teaching or directing – I’m always afraid that I’ll have nothing to say. I did my first “masterclass” with high school students about two years ago, and I was terrified! But as soon as they start to perform, I recognize what I have to offer that they need. Some need technical suggestions, others stagecraft tips, and I seem to know how to present a new idea in a way that is easily assimilated. There are a few quick fixes, but also fuel for future discoveries and new thoughts to take away and digest.
Today I heard two young singers perform the Papageno/Pamina duet from Die Zauberflöte. They told me that it was still in the early stages of staging and so they were still working on memorization. No problem. I was happy to work with them at that level, as I knew they’d be open for new ideas. I listened through the whole thing once, mentally making a list of areas and ideas that I wanted to come back to. The first thing was directly connected to memorization: I could tell that one of them was unclear as to the exact meaning of the German text. She admitted that she was still “memorizing the German,” and I told her that unless she knew the meaning of each word, all she was doing was memorizing sounds. And sounds don’t convey a story, words do. It’s tedious to sit down with a dictionary and translate something word for word, but unless you have a libretto tool like Nico’s books, it has to be done. She promised to spend some time in the library!
It was also fun to work with the two of them to create a relationship between their characters. The first time through, they were two students singing a duet with some cute choreography. Nice, but not telling a story. So we spent some time talking about the characters and how they would interact with each other. One of my favorite things about this duet is that is all about love and finding your true love, but it is sung by two characters who are not in love with each other. Two friends, in love with other people, dreaming of the day that they get to be “Mann und Weib!” It’s imperative to find a way to indicate to the audience that P&P are not lovers, and the easiest way is by demonstrating their class difference, for lack of a better term. Pamina is a princess, Papageno is a blue-collar man. How do they interact? How do they stand? What do they think of each other? If there is physical contact, i.e., standing arm in arm or holding hands, how do you show that it’s playful and not seriously romantic? Fun questions, and I think the two singers enjoyed thinking about the answers.
One stagecraft issue that we discussed is eye contact. I believe that a true connection, on- or offstage, is impossible without real eye contact. But eye contact on stage can feel very unnatural! So you often see a bunch of shifty-eyed performers on stage together, with no real connections anywhere to be found. Once I encouraged the two to really look at each other, their relationship became honest and inviting. All the students noticed, and hopefully took note! It was really wonderful to watch.
Any anxiety I felt about “teaching” in front of my teachers was nowhere to be found. I can honestly say that just as I feel a call to perform, and therefore am very comfortable in that role, so do I feel a call to teach. I feel very happy after this experience, knowing that when the day comes that I stop performing for a living (hopefully a long time from now), I will find a rewarding second career as a teacher. Or maybe even as a director on some level. Who knows?
Tomorrow, more students and more discoveries. Both theirs and mine.