Words like “lucky”, “fortunate” or “blessed”, although often uttered by myself, tend to make me quite nervous. I suppose I worry that it creates a hierarchy of sorts, or sets me apart in some cloying way. But yet I keep returning to them religiously in a way I’m sure borders on the tiresome. I closed the first leg of the “Drama Queens” tour this week, and I find myself trying still to digest exactly what transpired, and those three words refuse to give up lodging in my thoughts.
I had been given the remarkable opportunity to record (in 2012!) a very personal work of mostly obscure 16th and 17th century arias, having lain long dormant on sleepy, dusty shelves, and certainly belonging to the unexamined, oft-alluded to category of “boring”. (I mean, Cesti…!!) And yet there I was in Berlin and Hannover and Vienna and Kansas City breathing life into these latent phrases, with rare exception, for the first time in most of the listeners’ lives (Piangerò perhaps to be excluded), and by simple observation, they seemed to be spellbound.
We all know how a thrilling, resounding explosion of applause can ignite a concert hall, but I think I can safely say that it is the hushed, still, immobile moments that thrill us performers the most. The slow, internal, lamenting gems of this program (Lasciami piangere, Madre diletta abracciami) completely unknown in modern times until now, have worked their magic on those listening to them for the first time as the charged electric atmosphere of the hall, whether in New York or Bremen, seemingly gripped every person in attendance, amping up our intensity from the stage even more. It was magic.
But magic also happens when we rip into the Orlandini or Handel “dance numbers” and smiles are contagiously spread over the attendees, and shoulders are bopping, heads are beating – people caught up in the euphoria of the pulse, the melody, the centuries old sentiment.
That was the dream for me ~ sensing that time simply didn’t exist; feeling in a most tangible way that a real, discernable connection was happening: connection via the centuries, across gender, politics and geography, via incorporeal sound waves. Here I was, singing music written by men my elder by hundreds of years, with text penned by equally ancient strangers, but which could have been extracted from my personal journal from past years, and here I was on some of the greatest stages of the world, laying myself bare in front of total strangers. That concept, made incarnate in these concerts, continues to blow my mind. I sincerely don’t know how to explain it, but it’s the very essence of why I do what I do. I believe utterly in that indefinable, enigmatic power of music to transform people. I’ve seen it first hand, I’ve experienced it as a grateful audience member, and I’ve heard countless stories from people whose lives have changed because of such a musical experience.
To call myself fortunate for being a part of this mystical chain reaction is something I simply cannot avoid. (It would also seem somehow ungrateful to not use that expression.) But also because this tour involved creating true chamber music with extraordinary musicians all around. In a setting with 14 instrumentalists, all concentrated on music of the highest emotional content, each one is called on to play the role of soloist each expected to make a generous contribution to the musical outcome. It’s THRILLING to stand in among them and hear them taking risks, responding to the emotional fever, allowing themselves the freedom to express without question! Each concert grew in freedom and joy, and that sense of keeping each moment ALIVE and PRESENT taught me tremendous lessons. It also is one of the most thrilling aspects of what a musician can do ~ to create something larger than their own self with the help and inspiration of others.
Sadly, a rather brutal schedule keeps me from socializing too much, or indulging in the beautiful sights and sounds of these amazing cities that host us. There are interviews to do, CDs to sign, planes/trains/buses to catch, REST to be had, and all focus must remain on being in perfect shape for the concert every other day. It is ruthless, exhausting, but so utterly uplifting. We all arrive at the concert hall after rugged travel, little sleep and half-open eyes, and we think “Where will we find the energy?” And then the downbeat happens – and we are electrified. Once again – the power of the music transforms! But it is a schedule I know I can’t maintain constantly (how do those performers, constantly on tour, do it?!?!)
The schedule will resume in Lisbon in February, and I’ll be counting down the days until I can revisit Octavia, Orontea, Berenice, Cleopatra – what astonishingly beautiful women, full of confusion, fear, strength, vulnerability and power. This is one of THOSE projects I know that will stay with me for a very long time.
Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for me to lose my head …