Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Czech? Check.

My first duty at the Met next season is probably my most difficult: covering Jano the shepherd boy in Jenufa. Written by Leos Janacek, this will be my first experience with the Czech language. I have taken a look at the score, and, wow, lots of words on lots of little notes… Rather daunting!

Since Nico Castel doesn’t (yet?) have a libretto book for Janacek’s operas, I knew I’d have to suss out another source for my initial help with the language. Fortunately, the woman who will be coaching this opera at the Met was on the SFO staff last summer and stopped by this week for a visit. How convenient! I finally saw her yesterday, and she was ready for me. She had heard through the grapevine that I would be covering, and seemed happy for my success and happy to help out. I asked her what resources I should look for to help me prepare, and she offered her services: for a very reasonable fee, she will speak the text onto a tape, give me a word-for-word translation, and write out the IPA (phonetic alphabet). On another tape, she will “plunk out” my melody lines, while singing or speaking the text, I believe, and then play it again with the orchestral reduction underneath. For the entire role! Fantastic. Granted, this is a smallish role, but Jano is a chatterbox! Lots and lots of words in a language I don’t know… I have a feeling that this will be a worthwhile investment.

I’ll write some more in the fall about covering and what it means, how I’ll prepare for it, etc.. But I thought this language study deserved an early mention. Lots of “armchair work” to be done before I sit down at the keyboard!


Anonymous said...

When Deane and I were in Santiago, Chile, we met the college buddy of our horn teacher, Eddie Brown. Eddie's the first horn player in the orchestra there, and he invited us to sit in on an early rehearsal of Jenufa. (It was a wind/brass sectional.) A few weeks later, after we had taken a boat to the southern end of the country, we saw one of the final performances. It was rather mind boggling to hear an opera in Czech while attempting to keep up with the plot with Spanish subtitles. I wish I could say I remember Jano the Shepherd Boy, but alas!

ACB said...

Hey there, Anon! Funny, this isn't the post I thought you might comment on... I'll give you one guess which one it was! =] How's the lip?

JMW said...

Wow she is awesome...what a big help she is!

Maury D'annato said...

Czech is not too horrendous in terms of pronunciation. It has fewer truly murderous consonant clusters than Russian or Polish, it seems to me.

Incidentally, has anyone informed you of a rather amusing coincidence? :)

Ariadne said...

Hey, I couldn't post my comment 'cause Maury was posting at the same time! (hi Maurevich moi!)

Okay, so may I offer a linguistic tip for learning the Czech? (Warning: Singer Talk!)

Find someone who *speaks* Czech, natively I mean, and ask him or her to read the text onto a recording device so you can play it back.

I've found that esp. with the Slavic composers the inflection of the whole spoken phrase can really help us singers shape the musical phrase and catch some potentially tricky things like vowel modification.

Did you know that there are specific [actually numbered!] "intonation patterns" (IK-1, IK-2 etc etc) in Russian, for instance, which, due to the fact that the placement of the words in the sentence can affect the meaning, in additon to the declension of the nouns?

So say, in Shostakovich and Mussorgsky and Tchaikovsky, etc., knowing how to *speak the phrase as a native speaker does* really helps you not only memorize it & sing it properly, but it also helps massively with the meaning & understanding of the text.

Hope this helps! (ps We all agree, Jenufa *rocks*!)

fachingnuts said...

Definitely check out the Tim Cheek book for Czech and Russian diction(Singing in Czech) - he coached at Michigan when we did Cunning Little Vixen a few years ago and is slowly turning out volumes of Janacek libretti. He's fluent, his wife is native Czech, and the book is very clear.

Kristin Ditlow said...

Hey! Congrats on this great post (sorry I haven't been in touch). I got off the plane today having been playing and working for a bit of this summer in Prague and Brandys-nad-Labem, CR. I am excited for this opportunity for you ... yes yes yes, check the "Cheek" books, and watch that the different voiced consonants have gradations of soft and hard attacks, etc. The piece is hard, but worth the calories. - Kristin Ditlow

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