Last night B and I went to the final dress rehearsal of Aida, and I can not tell you what an incredible revelation it was for me.
There is a lot of talk around NYC and around the blogosphere these days about traditions in opera and new productions and the vices and virtues of each. I don’t really want to weigh in on that aspect (especially considering that much of the buzz is centered around my current place of employment), but last night was my first real exposure to “grand opera,” and it was amazing.
It sounds strange to say this about an opera that boasted 200 extras and five horses and ballet dancers and lavish costumes, but there was something so pure about what I saw on stage last night. The singing was spectacular! The principal artists used their voices and talents to serve the music, and in the end I was moved to tears. People started applauding before the curtain closed or the music ended, but I could only sit there, stunned by how I was feeling.
I felt like I had really seen “an opera.” Not a movie, or even a play. The music - and , therefore, the singing - was the most important thing on that stage last night. As someone who came to opera through my love of theater, I’m embarrassed to say that I think I forget that sometimes.
This is not to say there was no acting last night; far from it! But the singers’ energies were so focused. They weren’t flailing about onstage trying to show us how upset or happy they were; they just sang. They had a quietness of body* that I find elusive at times.
I worry that with a part like Marguerite, a character who is tormented by the devil while praying in church and who sings an intense trio (at the end of the night) after losing her mind, my body will get so wrapped up in the emotion of the moment that my singing is impaired. I need to remember what I saw last night, and how moved I was by the end of it. The music will move the audience, will make them feel tense and scared and relieved and sad. I am merely a vessel.
This reminds me of what a coach said to me years ago at Tanglewood: “I want you to be a singer who dances, not a dancer who sings.” With the projects I have on the docket this season, maybe it’s time I start shifting from an actor who sings to a singer who acts. A slight difference, to be sure, but after what I experienced last night, I think it is paramount.
So, how to do it? Stay tuned...
*Some people call this “stand and sing.” After what I saw and heard last night, I no longer think S&S is an entirely bad thing...