That’s a wrap! Well, nearly a wrap – tomorrow we must finish up the Act 1 finale duet and a few stray recits, but for all intents and purposes, my Ariodante is officially “in the can”! I must say, it feels WONDERFUL!! It was quite an accomplishment and thrill, to say the very least, to work on this iconic role 2 years ago and bring him to the stage for my first time. Spending time in his shoes (or boots, as it were) was an exhilarating journey for me and I relished every moment. Much time has passed, a lot of life has transpired, and I’ve been given the chance to revisit him and put him under the microscope, having the luxury of spending time with each phrase, playing with the colors and making different character choices with each take. It has been a tremendous learning experience for me, and I count myself ridiculously fortunate to have had such an opportunity!
Today was my final aria – the monstrously difficult “Con l’ali di costanza” with its nearly unsingable, endless phrases. It is the most instrumental of all arias I have sung – as if he had composed this for oboe rather than voice! Handel’s original version for Carastini relentlessly asks for note after note to come forth in sometimes very disjointed positioning (that’s the instrumental part), all riding on the text of “Con l’ali di costanza…’ (“On the wings of constancy”), which implies that the pervasive color should be that of air, light, fleeting, soaring, not a care in the world! Well, I have a LOT of cares when singing this fiendishly difficult piece. It’s funny – you ask nearly any singer who has sung this role, and I would put a lot of money on each of them identifying this piece as a veritable nightmare. (Same goes for Idamante’s opening aria in Idomeneo – it is the bane of our existence as mezzos.)
Now, mysteriously, after the opening, Handel quickly devised a shorter version of the same aria which, while still posing technical problems, is markedly more approachable – mainly because the offending passages were reduced by several measures. It would seem that Carastini had lungs of titanium, and the rest of us poor mortals must compensate!
We have done the full version here. Upon waking this morning, I was ready for the challenge mentally, even if my body was sounding the alarm of being tired. Singing this aria with a slightly compromised breath support system is not an option!! So I steeled myself, rested up a bit in the afternoon, and gave it my best shot!
In preparing this dense but brilliant aria, I had to work on the various elements in isolation. Much of the work was purely technical: very slow passage work to insure accurate pitches; very elaborate rhythmic work to enable facility and speed; lots of breathing exercises to give life to the long phrases; and then trying to throw all the technical challenges out the window and simply let the voice FLY. I won’t profess to say that I’m 100% happy with the results – I’d love to have flown a bit more fleetly, accurately and easily, but I am very happy that I made it to the end in one piece!!!
The conductor and crew were also very happy as well, so I will trust their ears to say that “we got it” and Ariodante flies on the wings of love to start this opera out! All of that having been said, it is a RUSH to sing, and when we finished the complete take, I am sure I felt what marathon runners feel – that flood of endorphins pulse through the body. Then I had a big plate of pasta with red wine, and my day felt complete!
No pictures to post today – I was a bit too tired from yesterday’s marathon session, and my concentration was all on singing today. Also, while I can’t quite respond to each of the wonderful comments and questions from you all for the moment, I did want to address Chris, who mentioned being a bit disillusioned about the recording process, imagining that perhaps a recording session such as this consists of the singers going through the entire piece and voila, we have a finished project. Instead, with the different edits and takes, it somehow might seem like we’re cheating just a bit. I understand this. And there is a big discussion to be had about the merits of live recording vs. studio recordings. But I, for one, think there is place for both.
But I would like speak to this particular project (and the others I have worked on with Alan, as well as my solo discs), and that is that we get one chance to lay down our version of Ariodante. ONE shot to create something that will outlive us all. He puts a tremendous amount of research into the style and performing habits of the day, and the desire of submitting the culmination of that work onto a disc means he wants his very best vision to arrive on your shelf. We performers are hardly predictable machines. Every single time we sing a role it is different. No matter how proficient we are, we make mistakes. We sing out of tune. We have a low-energy day and the performance somehow falls flat. This is live performance. But for the amount of work that goes into preparing an opera, and knowing that it will be preserved for posterity, and many people will look to it to define the work itself, it is important to present as polished and theatrical version as possible. Making several takes and correcting small passages allows us the luxury of truly creating a cohesive, as-near-ideal-as-possible interpretation.
For example, in the beginning of a week like this, I’m nervous. I am a bit jet lagged. Perhaps I’m just in a bad mood! It might take several repetitions of the opening aria to #1: help me relax, and #2: help the orchestra get used to my phrasing, where I breathe, and my character. Perhaps I will hear something new in the orchestra that I hadn’t heard before and that will inspire a different reading in me for the next take. Perhaps we simply get richer in our interpretation with each reading, which is quite often the case. We get the LUXURY of reading the phrases differently – perhaps one time in the cadenza, my Ariodante feels weak, and in the next reading I want to try it where he is instead furious! We take both options, and in the end the producer and conductor will have the luxury to see what works best in that particular dramatic context.
It’s not all just about trying to find some sort of elusive, sterile perfection. It’s about creating something that is vibrant and alive and involves all the players’ very best contributions. It’s absolutely another beast from performing a piece live on the stage, but this has it’s place, as well. I am certain that technically speaking, my singing on the final edit of this version will be far better than what I could do with the role live on stage, and I was able to take different risks in our beautiful setting here than I might dare to take on the stage – and this will give a certain kind of result. On the other hand, we all know that the electricity of a live performance will never, ever be replaced by something that comes through your loud speakers – squeaky, out of tune notes and all!! (That, my friends, by the way, is due completely to YOUR presence in the theater. It is you, the public, that charge us to be bigger than life and energize our performances!!)
But I believe both have absolute merit, and believe me, I’m more than honored to be a participant in the recording of another of Handel’s masterpieces! I don’t think any musician involved in this process thinks we’re cheating, or that we’re replacing a live performance. We’re making a recording, an archive, a tiny fingerprint of how we see this opera today. I guarantee you, if we held a reunion in 10 years of these singers and orchestra members and re-recorded this work, the result would be entirely different, and not only because a wobble or two had come into play!! This is my vision of Ariodante today. Next year, I’m sure it would be different, but how fabulous to be able to take a snapshot such as this, in this moment in time, and toss it over to you for your analysis and critique and, hopefully, your ENJOYMENT!!
It has been an honor to sing this music, and whenever it arrives, I can only hope it will bring endless amounts of enjoyment for you. That is the intent with which it was recorded!
From Lonigo, wish me safe travels for the next few weeks as I try to navigate this crazy winter weather Europe is having!!!