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Process

Greetings from Sunny Madrid! There really are few things better in life than having sunshine during the long winter months! The chill approaches, but it’s welcome when accompanied by such crystal clear blue skies! The mood stays elevated, the chill somehow feels a bit less shocking, and how the days fly by! Just like sand through an hourglass …

So I have a small confession to make, in that my camera has been quite neglected of late! Poor thing. The schedule here is rather unrelenting when attempting to mount this mammoth opera, and since Octavian is nearly all the time on the stage, that means I’m nearly all the time in rehearsal ~ and actually occupied with rehearsing, unable to make use of my telephoto lenses! So in trying to think of an accompanying photos for this post I was at a complete loss! So I thought, “The passing of time weighs heavy on my mind in these days”, so here you go: Joyce at 4 years of age!

But it’s also more than that! One of the things I love most about my profession is finishing a long, tremendously productive week of rehearsal and going out with the colorful, exuberant people who make up an opera theater. Last night we went for delicious tapas and vino tinto – and there we were, 2 stage managers, the director and his assistant, the costume maker, the production manager, and myself. It was a fabulously motley crew and we had the most wonderful discussion about WHY we love opera, what INSPIRES us, why being backstage has such magic and potency, how we found ourselves in this crazy world all together in Madrid, and in the end it was obvious that each of us came to the table from very different backgrounds, with wildly different paths, and yet we are all joined by a passion and love for the POSSIBILITY to touch a single person during the course of a single show.

I know that I am the one who attracts the spotlight on the stage, and so it’s easy for the audience to be seduced into thinking I am doing all the work, but I know that you would be fascinated to hear the stories of the people who thrive behind the scenes and carry the same passion, singing along with the Marschallin as she talks about making light of the hardships of life. Seeing tears in their eyes as we finish Act 1 in a musty old rehearsal room is priceless.

(See, if I had more time/energy, I would have captured photos of them and inserted them HERE!!! But I’ll take a rain check and be sure to snap them later!)

We have finished a thrilling week of rehearsals and have left the rehearsal room for the stage, which we will see tomorrow for the first time. One of the topics of discussion last night was about the “truth” of rehearsals vs. the “truth” of performances. One of the assistants was commenting that he loves the process of rehearsal so much and is often disappointed by the performances, because they somehow feel less raw and spontaneous. Here are my thoughts:

In the rehearsal room, IDEALLY, a very safe environment emerges in which a tapestry for risk taking and discovery is laid out. This is not always the case, and when the rehearsal doesn’t feel “safe”, for whatever reason, it’s radical in how it can inhibit the performers and keep us from giving everything we have, or, even worse, keep us from finding that inspiration that helps us to find and unlock the depths in ourselves we didn’t even know existed. (This is what the great directors and conductors do!) This negativity can come from an intolerant director, a dismissive conductor, or a colleague who single-handed, pulls all of the energy in the room down into a miserable abyss. Happily, this is much more the exception than the rule I have found, but without question some atmospheres create abundantly more space to grow, and THIS is one of THOSE! (yes!)

We have the luxury of TIME – time to ask questions, time to repeat with a different color or intention, time to dare to go quite far and then find a balance that is manageable. A great amount of our time has been spent sitting around asking questions:

“But why exactly does the Marschallin come to the tavern in Act 3? What’s her REAL motivation?”

“How can Octavian ultimately stand by and say nothing as he witnesses Sophie being manhandled by Ochs in their first meeting? How deeply is Sophie affected by this near-violence, and how does Octavian feel, watching so helplessly?”

“How can we find various levels for Mariandel so that Octavian can safely express his rage at this monster without giving himself away?”

And so while the “honesty” in the rehearsal room can be quite raw, creating an intimacy that is nearly impossible to replicate in front of 2500 people, the truth that comes from interacting with an audience is unmistakable. So I make the argument that both are completely valid and true, but oh so very different.

In the rehearsal room we can flesh out details, and yet in the performance we can only offer one reading! For example, thinking of the details, I realized in running the top of Act 3 yesterday that if I start off the first “Es is ja …” at the start of the drunk scene quite properly and demurely, I can show a very big range of when the wine hits “her” and build a very credible drunk scene – over 3 vocal phrases, mind you! I’m quite sure the first time I did it, I went straight for “sloppy drunk” and now I realize, it has to be built up artfully in order to be convincing.

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It’s an astonishing scene and as an actor, I do believe it’s the most blissfully challenging of all operatic scenes for me: I am a woman playing a young man who is playing a country-bumpkin girl who is letting herself be seduced by a repugnant, repulsive creature who is about to marry the girl I love. The young man, Octavian, is trying to subdue his disgust and anger while skillfully unfolding a plot to put the monster, Ochs, straight into the most compromising position possible. At the same time, there are countless little jabs here and there that the young man can launch towards the old man, which means relishing the almost perverse enjoyment of seeing Ochs humiliate himself, and yet all the while it’s still a very dangerous situation because he cannot afford to be caught before the trap comes to full completion. Not to mention that as he continues with the ruse, he is able to draw very poignant reference to the harsh words of “wisdom” that he suffered just the day before at the hands of the Marschallin, paraphrasing in a quite crude but mightily true way that we are all like the wind, and in the end we are all (hiccup) alone!

It’s about a 12 minute scene. The amount of genius crammed into those 12 minutes astonishes me to no end. But let it be said, EVERY scene of this opera is that way for me, and I have had the enormous privilege of delving into each one of them in depth and searching more and more for the humanity of this fantastic character. But the beauty unfolds completely organically because Strauss gave it to us in every single measure of the piece. It’s a work of staggering genius and I am completely blown away that I get to do this!

The first time you undertake such a mammoth piece, it’s all about getting it up on its feet, and now comes the time that you can add the seasoning, let it simmer, and let all those glorious, delicious details work their magic on you! It’s pure bliss for me. And it’s about PLAY, hence the other reason for referencing my 4-year old self above, eh hem. When I’m in my zone as a performer, I feel like I’m PLAYING. The more work I can do to break down the walls of insecurity or worry or self-consciousness, and be like a 4-year old girl playing dress up in the mirror not giving a rat’s you-know-what about what anyone else thinks, the more successful I am at conveying the music, emotion and character. We are taught and systematically learn how to break ourselves down along the way with doubts and worries and expectations and disappointments, and I’m finding that the more I can kick those ridiculous and utterly useless qualities to the curb, the easier things can become. Besides, I LIKE to play! Basta!

Will do my best to get more pics soon, because there is NO way I’m posting high school pics! 😉

17 Aug

Ready for the wicked....!!!!!! https://t.co/y5Op9N3JdS

17 Aug

Thank you so much, James! https://t.co/zOhrUiIZ8F

16 Aug

On now....!!!! The future is BRIGHT!!! https://t.co/NqwqBCCxWe

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There will always be more freedom to acquire and more truth to uncover.

~ Joyce DiDonato