Being ensconced in rehearsals for Der Rosenkavlier here in (SUNNY! ¡OLÉ!) Madrid, the emergence of a bit of melancholy is to be expected and forgiven, I think, for with all the emphasis in this particular opera on time and the passage of time, one’s thoughts can take flight towards a million different destinations, hanging on the different twists and turns your life has taken and wondering if the clock will continue to propel forward at warp speed, ever so exponentially.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not in a depressive state of mind – quite the opposite, actually, as I find myself in musical and theatrical heaven at the moment, but still, the mind does wander. Four years ago, while also in Madrid for Strauss, the phone call came to return home to my Father’s hospital bed where we said goodbye for the final time. “Four years?” I keep asking myself, “How in the WORLD is that possible?” And yet, no use arguing with reality: it simply is.
The last time I sang this glorious, immense role, just 6 months after my Dad’s death, I had in turn just left my Mother’s graveside to start rehearsals, and found my head fighting to comprehend my new-found, and certainly not-asked-for identity: an orphan. My performances, while undoubtedly therapeutic, were somehow sung in a state of numbness and disbelief. Hearing the words “Die zeit die ist ein sonderbar ding” (“Time is a strange thing”) certainly resonated, but they were also too raw and painful for me to internalize or digest.
So I come back to this beautiful, welcoming city and to this staggering work of genius (seriously, it is truly staggering in its scope and perfection!) with a heart that has worked hard to pick itself up and dust itself off a bit over these past years, and which has begun the process of living life with loss, but, and this is important: not in any less vibrant of a way. In fact, life feels richer and more vital than ever – but I have absolutely had to learn that challenging call along the way! The moments still flood over me where I miss my parents in an indescribably profound way (the recent Award Ceremonies, for example – how desperately I missed seeing their beaming, probably somewhat bewildered faces sitting out there in the seats!), but I have found a new level of experience in letting my performances, and more importantly my life, speak for itself, without requiring the affirmation of Dad’s “You did a good job, there, kiddo”, or without looking for that often elusive approval from Mom.
One of the many gifts they left with me in their departure was the lesson that everything – EVERYTHING – here is transient and nothing – absolutely NOTHING – is permanent. For me, this is anything but a fatalistic view of life – I instead find it incredibly liberating and freeing, and somehow it seems to take the perceived, but dangerously insistent pressure off of everything. We make mistakes and missteps, and then we get the fortuitous chance to learn from them and move forward – stronger and somehow more grounded. We lose people that we love desperately, but the joy and love and adventure we shared with them sustains us over time and propels us forward on our own adventure (provided that we nourished those relationships while we had the precious opportunity.)
Ah, see, opera/music – it is such a faithful teacher: in the first act, the Marschallin speaks of not being able to hold onto anything, how time drips through our fingers like sand in an hourglass. Octavian tries desperately to understand her, and yet it proves too elusive for him in that moment, which is certainly where I was the last time I sang this role ~ I’ll be curious to see what I take from it this time around! But as you can see, this is certainly the kind of piece that prompts deep introspection and attempts for meager comprehension! I think great art does just that – it makes you see things through a different prism each time you return to it, feeding you in the way you need in that precise moment.
Speaking of time passing – now please, no one crash down on the panic button here, OK? Promise me. OK. Thank you! So … speaking of time passing, I woke up last Sunday on the morning of my last matinee at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin after that glorious extra hour of sleep, and realized, completely out of the blue, that according to my calendar I had no more Rosina’s on the schedule after that afternoon’s performance. I looked and looked and just thought, “Well, that can’t be right!” But sure enough, my lovely Macbook confirmed it – for the next several (or more!) years, there are, indeed, no more Rosina’s lurking around.
I sat there rather dumbfounded for a moment, finding myself getting oddly emotional thinking, “Come on Joyce, it’s just a ROLE”, and then felt the urge to start quoting the Marschallin like crazy looking for signs of wrinkles on my temple, but then I said, “Well, and so it is!” It must be time!
I tried to remember all the places I have sung her:
Kentucky, Arizona, Tokyo, Paris (2x), Houston, San Francisco, Chicago, NY (2x), Wichita, Vienna, London (2x), Pesaro, Bologna, Los Angeles, Milan, Berlin…
I’m probably forgetting a city or two, but that’s pretty close, I think.
I’ve played her:
traditionally, trapped in a burka, as Sandra Dee, with a pet Kangaroo I named Betty, in a wheelchair, on a leash, in boxes, in polka dots, and most recently as a Commedia dell’Arte mime; I have been spanked endlessly, duct-taped, and have performed a strip-tease; I have stepped into productions premiered before I was born, and have created numerous new productions from scratch; I’ve sung with the greatest stars of the day, as well as with people just starting out, and with conductors who were fresh and inventive, but also the sad ones who were tired and bored, and in one early case, wildly incompetent.
It has been a riotous, astounding ride with her – one that may or may not continue – who knows? But I feel as if I have had the enormous privilege to grow up with her over the years, as if she has been a wonderful friend to me, giving me a chance to unexpectedly blossom and learn and branch out in every way imaginable. Ultimately, I wasn’t sad as I thought that perhaps this was the end of our journey together, because I was too busy being grateful for all I’ve learned from singing her, for all the places she has taken me to, not to mention all the amazing colleagues she has brought me together with. She has also brought me to the doorstep of these newer roles that I am growing into, and it feels as if the time is right to hand over the baton, so to speak.
I do have to say, however, that the final show in Berlin was a COMPLETE and ABSOLUTE blast, and if in the end it happens that it was my last, I absolutely could not have asked for anything more: it was the ideal cast – a cast of dear friends, and generous, astonishing colleagues who delight in their craft, and as a result we PLAYED together on stage – ah, it’s heaven on earth when that happens! And it was in front of a wonderfully enthusiastic crowd who seemed to relish the joy and magic of this music, letting themselves be carried away for an afternoon of laughter and good-humored fun – what else could one ask for?!?!
(For the record, it wasn’t a conscience decision of “No more Rosina’s for me!” It has simply evolved naturally over time, because I have a large musical appetite, and as I grow as a person and musician, it is natural that my schedule, in turn, reflects that. No worries, there are still loads of Elena’s and a few Cenerentola’s to come, and certainly I’ll meet up with her arias in concert every so often!! As I always say – one NEVER knows with life!)
Thinking about the probability of no more staged Rosina’s only emphasizes for me the reality that life is short, and we had better make every moment count. I know I’m “only talking about opera” here – I’m not talking about finding a cure for cancer, or a cure for ignorance, homophobia and bigotry (am I digressing?) – but this idea of the stage being a teacher to me comes to perfect fruition with this passing of the baton: I feel as if I made every single one of my Rosina’s count – from Kentucky to Wichita to Milan – giving my all in each show I did along the way, which leaves me free to march forward to the next adventure, because truly (cliché alert): Now, TRULY, is all that we have, and if we are alive and aware in this very moment, well, then it’s all good.
So there we are! As Der Marschallin says:
“Leicht muß man sein mit leichtem Herz und leichten Händen halten und nehmen, halten und lassen …”
“Light must we be, with light hearts and light hands to hold and to take hold, and to let go….”