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Perspective!


Taken out of context, as we all know, things can carry very different meanings! I just snapped this photo from my window in GLORIOUS Santa Monica, CA, and found it very funny that, framed simply as it is, one could make countless different assumptions. If I had taken the photo in a landscape (vertical) direction, you would have found the bride’s groom and photographer about 20 feet to her right, waiting to finish their photo shoot. However, as it is, I love the possibility for imagining what her story might be.

I think as a singer, imagination is one of the most important tools you can utilize. Being able to imagine a character’s backstory, or the off-stage conversation she may have just had with the baritone, are enormously important to fleshing out any kind of character. (What happened during Fiordiligi and Ferrando’s “walk” just after Gugliemo has seduced Dorabella? What ever did Donna Anna and Don Ottavio speak about before Giovanni burst into their lives? What was Mimi doing just before coming to knock on that creaky door?) The more specific a singer can be in their vision of the character, the more real he or she will be to the audience.

In “Una voce poco fa”, usually no one is on stage with Rosina, and yet, isn’t it feasible that she might want to take a peak into the next room to make SURE Berta isn’t lurking? Wouldn’t that help suggest the “danger” she is surrounded by in that claustrophobic house? That’s something a director most likely would never point out, but if your imagination is activated, you might think about certain details like that – details that help make the scene become multi-dimensional. If you can truly place yourself into this character’s room, your imagination can begin to feed you an infinite number of plausible things to play.

We had a lovely opening for our Barber here in LA. (Thank you to James Taylor and the LA TIMES for giving me such a lovely profile to announce the opening of the production!)

(Photo © Lawrence K. Ho for the LA Times)

Yes, I’ve now done a number of “Barbers”, but I think it is my willingness to engage my imagination that keeps it feeling fresh and alive to me. This show carries it’s own set of challenges, because the emphasis lies with the visual aspect of “Seville”, incorporating lots of (wonderful!) dancers filling the space and lots of comedic bits that could sit simply on the surface of the show. I found that I had to dig in and rely on my imagination to help me fill in some of the blanks of this production, and in the end, it begins to feel very much alive to me, because of that. Sometimes I wish the directors could help me find those details that I crave, but in the end, if I’ve had to struggle to find them myself, ultimately I suppose they will be more authentic.

**Singers – I encourage you all to really engage your imagination whenever possible! Ask LOADS of questions about the articulation the composer gave you (why a staccato? why a diminuendo here and not a measure later?) If you can supply the subtext to all those various elements, you will be miles ahead in the game!

And while I don’t want to brag, I have to say that being in LA in December does NOT hurt the ol’ psyche at all! The sun is shining, the ocean steady and strong, and my inner child is partaking of the big playground of life here! Yesterday found me roller-skating on the boardwalk, playing beach volleyball with some of my fellow castmates, and finishing with a killer California-style yoga class, where I’m astonished that I can walk at all today!!! (They do NOT mess around with yoga here in sunny CA!) Thanksgiving found me doing cartwheels on the sand – and my inner 12-year old has never been happier! (And for anyone who may be tempted to tell me to be careful on those roller-skates, I promise I’m well padded!)


As a final salute to the importance of perspective, I attended a thrilling concert last weekend of the LA PHIL, with the electric Gustavo Dudamel at the helm, performing all California-related works from the last 15 years, including a premiere by John Adams. Meeting Mr. Adams afterwards, he asked me what I was doing in LA, and I simply said, “Ah, Barber over at the Pavillion.” “Barber?” he responded, “Which one – Vanessa?”

See? It’s all a matter of context and perspective, folks. If we can get that, world peace can’t be THAT far behind, can it?

PS — in case anyone has 5 hours to kill tonight (!) Jim Svejda of KUSC 91.5 in LA (the renowned host of the nationally syndicated Record Shelf) will be doing a 5 (!) hour show on yours-truly, including clips from a number of my recordings, interviews, etc. It can be streamed live on their web site. I had a ball speaking with him, as he is an incredible fount of knowledge, but it should give a very interesting insight into the variety of recordings I’ve been so lucky to participate in!!!

14 Comments

  1. Irishrover said…

    Um, this broadcast looks interesting, I have to find out when it will be streamed for us Europeans :)

    I read the last review about the SF Barber in the LA Times, this production looks awesome. I always wondered how you can find something different every time you're embodying Rosina. Something that makes you willing to find her again and play with her one more. She's definitely one of your signature roles. But I do hope you'll sing Handel more often (ok, biased view, I just listen to your Elmira, and Notte cara is simply breathtaking).

    Enjoy LA ^^(and the sun! It's RAINING all day over here!)

  2. [Lilith] said…

    It's always such a delight to read about the work you have done before we get to see you!

    I've been emailing Iain Bell for a couple of months now (he's such a sweet cute adorable GENIUS) and I am really into the composer view of the piece, so it is great to know about the singer's perspective too.

    You look super tan in that picture! Are you or I've been tricked by the lighting/make-up?

    Can't wait to see you in January (the Irishrover will be staying at my place and we will see you together :D)!

    All my love,

    Irene

  3. marcillac said…

    Its always fascinating to learn about how you approach you're performances and I'm sure you know how much the result is appreciated. It is obviously the case that star singers get associated with certain roles and are subject to considerable pressure to undertake them at multiple venues in short periods of times. A commentor on one of your posts last year expressed dismay at the number of Rosina's on you schedule. I wrote at the time that I did not begrudge anyone the desire and the opportunity to see her and yet as fans we must appreciate how difficult it must be to prevent boredom from setting in and maintaining a measure of vitality when one sings a role 15 to 20 times in a year, and does so for a number of years. A generic blandness, sometimes bordering on and even crossing into unprofessionalism can set in. Most of us who've been lucky enough to attend a significant number of opera performances have all encountered the phenomenon. In a way its understandable – most of us have at least some tasks at work that its very difficult to get excited about and while singing leading roles in operas is obviously a lot more interesting than what the rest of us do but it must still be difficult to sustain the level of interest required to generate genuinely exciting performance. For this reason I worry when a favorite singer goes around singing the same role dozens of times and am concerned that they will either drop it or be unable to give truly satisfying performances. Having had the great fortune to hear you Rosina 5 times I can attest that it was thrilling in each case and the appreciation of this result is enhanced by learning how you approach her (it obviously helps that you can actually sing her so well).

    On this point I would also note the work of your London costar Feruccio Furlanetto. As an example, I heard his Figaro in three separate runs the earliest of which was just about exactly 10 years ago. By that point he must have been singing the role for more than 20 years and and must have been approaching (if he had not by that point easily exceeded) 200 performances. Yet his superbly sung Figaro was as or more funny, dynamic and generally magnificent than any I have heard from basses who had undertaken the role a tiny fraction of the times that he had. In that brief period from late 1999 to early 2000 I had also heard Gerald Finley (in Paris in the Strehler production in which I believe you mentioned you sang with him several years later), D'Arcangelo and Terfel (the previous year – talk about an embarrassment of riches – the rest of the cast were pretty good as well). It is really rather astonishing that Maestro Furlanetto was able to stand out in such company, especially in view of the fact that at that stage he had sung the role more times than the other three gentleman combined. The more I learn about you approach the more I'm convinced that whatever role you become associated with you'll also be able to give thrilling performances as often as you want to sing it.

    Enjoy the rest of your time in L.A. and happy Rosinaing.

  4. Irishrover said…

    The Irishrover happens to be quite a super tramp. Travelling all around the world for opera (when money allow it!) :D

    I wish I could be in LA and attend to one of the performance of the Barbiere, it seems so lovely, and you're so great as Rosina.

    An I don't know what I was thinking about in the last post, I was talking about LA, and not SF, of course (and occasional typing mistakes, anywaaaay)

    Hope you'll soon post something about your award, it must have been quite an event! Especially when you had to fly back quite early after the end of the show!

    Take care :)

  5. HairMan said…

    Love the picture of the bride on the shoreline – when you talk about using your imagination to think about the lives of your characters to keep things fresh it reminds me of a documentary / interview I saw on the great director John Sayles as he talked with Mark Cousins in Scene by Scene (unfortunately no You Tube footage exists and the BBC prefer not to release their genuinely interesting programmes on DVD).

    He talked about his approach to storytelling. For him the most obvious story isn't always the most interesting – so perhaps the next Rosina you get to do perhaps you can imagine that maybe she and Basilio were once an item…

  6. FleurduMay said…

    Your posts are such a delight!
    It is a good idea what you were saying about imagination..I will take that into account.
    Have a beautiful day:)

  7. Chris said…

    How many stagings of the "Barber" have you sung in during the last, say, three or four years? This is the "Madrid" one, is it not? Then there was the London one and the New York one, different from that. Any others? I suppose singers are loath to say that they prefer one above the others, but I can't help but think they do have favorites. (Meaning I won't ask you to reveal yours unless you want to. LOL)

  8. Jakob said…

    Joyce, it is always great to get your experiences, thoughts and feelings. I just wanted to repeat that it is always a joy to read your blog. I check it every day to find out what´s new…

  9. Raisa said…

    Joyce, when I looked at the beautiful picture of the bride,and read about making different assumptions, I remembered a story my mom used to read to me when I was young.
    I think it was Norwegian…
    There was a little girl who lived with her father, a fisherman,in a village, not far from the sea. He liked to make wooden toys and she would sell them on the market. One day he made a beautiful little ship with red sails. On her way to the market, she met a stranger , who told her that one day a prince would come for her on a ship with red sails and take her away to his land, but in order for this to happen she had to believe in it completely,with all her heart and wait at the seashore every day. And so she did. Every single day.

    Years passed, and she grew up to be a beautiful girl. One day while she was sleeping in a dune, a young noble man saw her and fell in love with her. He went to the village and inquired about her, but the villagers told him that this was their "crazy girl" waiting for her prince on a ship with red sails. To him however, it did not sound crazy at all, because he was in love. He bought a ship with sails made from the best red silk he could get. Next morning, when the girl went out to the seashore again, she saw it – the ship with red sails- and a handsome young man onboard. She ran into the water to greet him and he said:"Come with me! I came to take you to my land where we will be happy forever!"
    In the story the girl was not wearing a wedding dress of course, but let's use our imagination… She could have worn white though, right?

  10. operasiren said…

    Hello! I am an avid reader of your blog and have been waiting for an opportunity to see you live! Well, I missed you by less than a week in both Vienna and Barcelona, but here I am in LA auditioning for Santa Fe and I find you were singing tonight!
    What a show! I love your down-to-earth Rosina and the way your voice fills even the Dorothy Chandler. What a cast!

    Congratulations and I look forward to hearing you again!
    Melanie

  11. steve49w said…

    Jim is the best. What a great show. And you can hear stuff fomr the past that you never thought that you would hear (usually from his collection) and new artists.

    And I LOOOVE ELLAY! In n Out Burgers Double Double with Grilled Onions & Cheese. Heaven on a bun.

    Ask them about the secret menu!

  12. John Marcher said…

    Your Adams anecdote is priceless!

  13. Alixkovich said…

    Speaking of the Irishrover, she's staying at Irene (Lilith)'s to come and see you in Barcelona, and a week later whe will be staying where I live (I can't say at my place since I'm just a 14-year-old bambina and I still live with my parents ^^) to come and see you here in Brussels (and I'll be there too!)^^

    Bye!
    Alix

    P.S. I recentrly bought your CD and ABSOLUTELY ADORED it!! And, as we say in French "je l'écoute en boucle" ^^

    P.P.S. This video may not interest you but let's try and see if you like it ^^
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jPaI1PaKseo

  14. Chris said…

    I am tempted to think that DiDonato/Florez may come to be viewed as a combination of greatness for Rossini on a par with Flagstad/Melchior for Wagner. A legendary paring.

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We need you to remind us what empathy is by taking us deep into the hearts of those who are, God forbid, different than us – so that we can recapture the hope of not only living in peace with each other, but THRIVING together in a vibrant way where each of us grows in wonder and joy.

~ Joyce DiDonato