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Layering

I know I’ve spoken of this many times before, but I do love the process that constitutes my “job”. It is one of constant searching, insistent discovery and persistent flexibility, among many other things. Every time you take the stage, you have the opportunity to discover anew a multitude of things: how would the boy Octavian, playing the girl Mariandel, handle a fan? How does the anger and confusion shift in the Act 1 duet with the Marshallin each night ~ for one night my “Wie sie befielt, Bichette” is laced with profound sadness and adolescent tears, and then next night I find my anger and deep rejection poisoning the simple phrase with a cold streak? How does Octavian negotiate the bomb that Sophie absorbs as she realizes that he was the Marschallin’s lover ~ for one night my sympathy and responsibility outweigh the shame and regret I feel the next?

These questions and “answers” swing back and forth on a wild pendulum ride, often radically from show to show, and I find that if I can manage to stay open and flexible, within a well-established idea of the character, I can adapt to a variety of situations or impromptu realizations. When you’re lucky, you share the stage with colleagues that will play the game with you, and as a result the performance is vibrant and alive with listening and giving. Some of the risks pay off, and some don’t (I can usually sense it immediately) but that’s a chance I’m willing to take to find that magical moment of spontaneity.

The end result is hopefully one of continually layering these realizations and insights into the character so that you flesh out more and more some nugget of truth within the story. The Maestro actually confessed to me during the big orchestra rehearsal of the final week that he was pleased to see me starting to “butch it up”, because he was worried I wouldn’t be masculine enough. But as I thought about that, I could only reply, “Good – see, we need our time to layer our interpretations, and to grow into them!” And I found that to be true until the final glorious cut-off of the final duet of the final performance. It never stopped morphing for me, and I hope that I will always welcome that when on stage. But for my rehearsal process here, it was a matter of aligning, slowly, the text with the music with the blocking with the character with the walk with the swagger with the intention – one building block at a time.

Mariandel works her country charms on the Baron Ochs of Franz Hawlata

This idea of layering was also driven home during 2 master classes I had the pleasure to give here to aspiring young singers at the Conservatory here in Madrid. I found myself talking a mile a minute with ideas and thoughts, but the overall theme emerged to encompass the idea of FLEXIBILITY and LAYERING. We need to add one thing at a time, as singers: we start with learning a solid, bankable technique, and then slowly and diligently begin to add the musicality, the phrasing, the text, the sub-text, the expression, the individuality, the simplicity, the complexity, and hopefully even a spot of joy and enthusiasm. If we’re busy doing all of those things, chances are we stop focusing on how nervous we are and, God forbid, “what we SOUND like!!” (I’m rather anti the idea of singers being preoccupied with making SOUND – nothing bores me more.)

Flexibility was the other emerging theme, and it started simply as an anthem to find the ways, constantly, to keep the voice flexible (vocalize those nasty coloratura passages at different tempi, different dynamics, with different rhythms and with different phrasing, so the voice can never develop a “groove” – a singular way in which it works!). But it also took flight in the idea of staying flexible in your musicality and your theatrical sense – always remaining open to new ideas.

Here I was, in the midst of sorting out the mammoth role of Octavian, in front of young students who are dreaming of a career on the big stage, and we all are still working on the same issues, even if at perhaps different levels. But it proves my point that the process is never complete!

For my final little bit before my Christmas Vacation (of 2 days!) kicks into full gear, and courtesy of a 6-hour layover at the Newark Airport where there has been nothing to do but eat Fritos in the Continental Lounge (don’t judge!), I am more than happy to offer a little Holiday Gift to ya’ll – the best fans in the operatic kingdom! I had a crazy whim to do a little “behind the scenes” peek during the final show last night in Madrid. The final shows are notoriously the most relaxed and free, and I was certainly in a happy place knowing that I was flying home soon, so with the help of my wonderful cast and crew and a few other volunteers, we put together a little mini-film for you. It is completely improvised, but I had a lot of fun thinking to share a tiny bit of my backstage world with you. I do hope you’ll enjoy it!

In the meantime, I would love to quote the fabulous Jeanne-Michelle Charbonnet via one of her social networking sites and wish EACH and EVERY ONE of you a VERY “Happy Everything and a Merry Always”. Yeah. I like that!

CHEERS!
Your Yankeediva

16 Comments

  1. Geneil Perkins said…

    I just want to thank you for the time you put into your blog. This post was wonderful and I enjoyed reading it and watching your videos were SO much fun! I am a voice performance student and I really struggle with being flexible and taking risks–and being a performer is all about taking risks! This post really helped me and gave me a whole new perspective. Thank you for all that you do! Have a fantastic Holiday!

  2. Christian A. said…

    Could you post up some of your masterclasses? Would love to see them added to the wonderful collections on Youtube with other artists! Thx!

  3. Zsolt said…

    Thank you very much for the faboulos and interesting and funny 2 new videos. Enjoyed very much!

    And merry christmas for you and for your family.

    Hope to see you somewhen in 2011.

  4. Annie said…

    Wonderful as usual. 6 hours in Newark? Wish we in Weehawken had known! You could have come by and enjoyed our tree and coffee and cookies instead of Fritos at the Continental lounge…though the image is pretty classy.

    Have a Merry Christmas, and enjoy your two days off!

    peace,

    Annie

  5. Jean Mulford said…

    Loved your video! There’s nothing like the atmosphere backstage!

    We’re really looking forward to your visit to Wichita, and seeing you in Le Comte d’Ory!

    Merry, merry Christmas!

    with love, Jean and Bill

  6. E ZERVAC said…

    Thoroughly enjoyed the videos – thank you so much!

  7. Klassikfan said…

    Merry Christmas – and enjoy your “big” holidays!!
    It has been so much fun to watch your two Rosenkavalier videos!!

  8. Benton Lockey said…

    Hi I just dropped by and loved to say you to have a Merry Xmas. Let all your wishes work turn true for you and your family and lets hope the next period be prosperous for all us. Merry Christmastime

  9. THM said…

    The only thing better than hearing you sing is both hearing you sing and reading your account of what is happening on the inside. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Darío said…

    December 22. 8.oo p.m. .Teatro Real. Madrid .Joyce is Octavian. We love you, Bravisimaaaaa!!!

  11. Jakob said…

    thank you for these wonderful videos – and happy xmas to you!!
    greetings from coold berlin, jakob

  12. Dana said…

    You had to smoke a cigarette while singing? A real cigarette? With nicotine? Is that legal? Thankfully there were only 8 cigarettes, plus a couple (I assume) during the rehearsals.

    Your enthusiasm and energy are so inspiring; thank you so much for all the insights into your work and life. I really admire your dedication and willingness to share your experiences with us, even after a long flight and during a long layover, in less than ideal conditions. I want to be like you: so positive, radiant and passionate.

    Very merry holidays to you and your loved ones.

  13. Anthi said…

    I don’t know where to begin. Well, your blog is awsome and helpful for young opera singers!
    I wathced your videos and read your text and I felt even more passionate about opera singing and performing! Thanks for the tips and keep going, keep singing and keep posting! 😉

    I had watched you at Opera Garnier in Idomeneo (2006). It’s been years, but back then you didn’t have that blog I guess. So, after 4 years, accept my congratulations for that performance! It was the first opera I had ever watched in an opera house! It was really motivating for me for continiuing my singing studies!

    Thank you for inspiring us! Million wishes for you and your dear ones!

  14. Gustavo Lanfranchi said…

    Wow! This was amazing. I just watched the first video, going to watch the second next… And it’s really exciting! Congrats, Joyce.

  15. Virginia said…

    Hola Joyce!!
    I do not know if you remember me, but i was one of the fortunate to attend a of your classes at school singers of madrid (eats slice). Thank Wanted so much that you have given me not only at the level artistico but also (and most important) to personal level.I have read about when lost to your father. I lost to the mio two months ago and i am in a moment that you can well understand.I hope that we find ourselves again and if i have opportunity to attend again at your classes without doubt the hare.
    Muchas gracias de todo corazón. Eres fantástica.

  16. Annette said…

    Thank you so much for these videos — it’s so much fun to look behind the scenes, and it makes me want to see this opera again so badly! So thank you, and I wish you all the best for the New Year!

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Well, if it’s not a “Two Widows” Reunion!!!!! @operabrandon, what a joy to share the stage with you again after tw%#*y years! And here I am again, a W2BW! (Widow To Be Wooed) Bonus points for anyone who actually attended our *historic* performances in Smetna’s underperformed opera way back in 1998 in #Chautauqua!!! #Chautauqua2Carthage #Smetna2Berlioz #HappilyEverAfter2TotalDestruction

I could not be happier or more excited that our wonderful album of Les Troyens has been named “Recording of the Year” at tonight’s Gramophone Award ceremony. Thank you to the visionary and magical music-making of John Nelson, my fabulous cast members and to @warner_classics for in believing in this project. It has been a pleasure and an extreme privilege to be a part of it. THANK YOU!!! Viva Les Troyens and viva #Berlioz.

Tune in to Great Performances | PBS to watch @metopera #Cendrillon broadcast at 12PM ET today! ✨👠👸 Photo: Paola Kudacki / Met Opera #greatperformancespbs

What a perfect, beautiful, timely moment to embrace a fairy tale: don’t miss the Metropolitan Opera's heralded production of “Cendrillon” on @PBS Great Performances! Bask in the beautiful French melodies of Massenet. Laugh at the charming staging. Marvel at the gorgeous costumes. Revel in the soaring vocal lines of our brilliant cast. I’ve spent over 20 treasured years with Cinderella, and I’d love to share this final trip to the palace with you! @metopera @alice.coote @sblythe327 @sop_kathleen_kim #laurentnaouri @metoperachorus @metorchestra #bertranddebilly #laurentpelly

Happy Friday, everyone! I wanted to start the weekend with something special that I hope you’ll enjoy! In celebration of the release of my new album “Into the fire” featuring Jake Heggie’s profound song cycle about Camille Claudel, I created this playlist featuring some of my favorite tracks of Jake’s music. 🎧 Link in bio. He is not only a dear friend, he also captures human emotions so beautifully in this writing and I am always stunned by his sheer abundance of music ideas, languages and styles. I have been fortunate enough to sing a lot of his music throughout my career and I have so many beautiful memories of each and every one of his works I performed. I will never forget the profound impact on everyone in the cast and in the audience for each performance of “Dead Man Walking” and the wonderful humanity and insight into the life of a performer in “Great Scott”. Jake’s songs are part of almost every recital I give and I hope to be able to share how special his music is, via this playlist I created for all of you! @warner_classics @applemusic

I’m in LOVE with performing #Berlioz with @monteverdi_choir_orchestras (#ORR). Add into the mix performing at the @bbc_proms and I’m positively done. My personal recommendation is that you tune in tonight for a rousing listen on @bbcradio3!!! #colormelucky #tragicdeathxtwo #berliozrocksmyworld

Thank you #Hamburg and the stunning @elbphilharmonie for such a warm welcome last night. Congratulations on the start of another stunning season. An even warmer debt of gratitude for the stunning Orchestre Révolutionaire et Romantique and Sir John Eliot Gardiner for divine, powerful music making. Cléopâtre has never suffered such a brutal death!! Look out, #London: you’re next!! @bbc_proms

Hello from Hamburg! I am thrilled to start the 2018/19 season with two concerts conducted by the legendary Sir John Eliot Gardiner​ and his Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, tonight at @elbphilharmonie Hamburg and on September 5 at the @bbc_proms in London. I will sing Didon’s death scene from Les Troyens and La mort de Cléopâtre. The next two months are all about #Berlioz for me and I could not be more excited to sing this gorgeous music. 📻 Our concert at the @royalalberthall on September 5 will also receive a live broadcast on @bbcradio3. I hope you all had a spectacular summer. I am very excited to start this new season and I look forward to seeing you at one of my performances! Photo: @chrissingerme

#shattered #glass #beautyinthebroken #geometry #viennaairport #timetofly #aspsawait @bbc_proms #hereicome #queencleo #speakingofshattered ...... 😎💋😎

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~ Joyce DiDonato