The golden hue of silence
Dialogue. I love a great dialogue! And perhaps one thing that the general theater-going audience may not realize, is that there is a very real and palpable dialogue which occurs between the performers and the audience when I am on stage. Almost from the very first bars of music, and I can feel an energy between ‘you’ in the house and ‘us’ on the stage. For example, I’m currently performing in ‘La Cenerentola’ here at La Scala, and the dialogue feels as colorful and animated as you would expect from any proud, gesturing Italian. As the curtain rises on this production, and you hear the first chords of the overture (led masterfully by the incomparable Maestro Campanella), here is what happens: I am ‘pre-set’ in the house, invisible to the audience, and I’m making certain my stool is arranged properly, that the coffee grinder in just the right spot, that the bowl I hand over to the bass later on in the scene is set just so, I visit my ‘Tisbe’ stage left to wish her a great show, and then over to stage right to wish my long-time ‘Clorinda’ the very same, (which usually elicits a rash of jokes and laughter between us, as I call her the ‘Carol Burnett’ of the opera stage!), I high-five Roberto, the ASM (and major cheerleader), and then the final lip rolls to make sure the voice is moving fluidly as I hum along with the second violins… and then the applause for the overture erupts: the audience has spoken! Let the discourse begin! After the first chords of the overture, this is the second burst of adrenaline I eagerly await to let me know there is an audience here and that they’re ready to be carried away for a few hours. As soon as the curtain rises on our little house, there is an immediate energy which I can feel that you send across the orchestra and footlights and into our little scene on the stage. The show has begun.
For my opening night, the energy that was sent to us on the stage lit us up. It was infectious. The energy charged with dazzling electricity. It was the kind of dialogue that makes you sit on the edge of your chair and savor every word the other person shares with you. And so the evening went! I think as performers, often the best sound can be thunderous applause, which happily was in ample supply for the opening; but sometimes the sweetest sound is that of rapt silence which occasionally accompanies the softest passages, those most magical, suspended moments — these silences are the parts of the dialogue that tell us that you’re truly listening, and it causes us to focus our tone even more, to infuse each phrase with even more intensity and to send it to you in with a laser beam-like intention. This is my favorite kind of dialogue with you, the audience: It takes a huge 3,000 seat theater, full of busy technicians backstage, scurrying ushers in the lobby, and singers still warming up in their dressing rooms — and transforms it all into a tiny, intimate, magical space where we all tell a story.
I just love it.
And I truly love playing this role of Cenerentola. I’m beginning to see, only now, the real value of singing a role over and over, as the great singers of the past were afforded the luxury to do. I think I sang a very decent Cinderella my first time out (8 years ago in a Stern Grove production with Merola, IN ENGLISH!) however, there is simply no comparison to how I feel in her shoes now, after perhaps 50 performances or more of the role. If you’re a young singer and intend on undertaking some of the big roles, begin NOW to devour the role: not just vocally (PLEASE, not just vocally!), but really go into the text, into the musical language of the character, and give it a lot of time to season in your mind and heart. I feel very different this time out at La Scala, compared to 4 years ago, and I know that’s strictly due to experience on the stage. I’m so grateful to have the chance to revisit these particular shoes!
That having been said, American singers, a word of warning: get used to singing without air conditioning when you sing in Europe. Just accept it now. I’m still a little unclear as to why, exactly, it seems to be an epidemic among European Singers (whom I respect tremendously, let me be very clear!), that they are unable to sing when there is a hint of a whirl of an air conditioning unit located, perhaps, somewhere in the near vicinity of the city in which they are performing! And did I mention that July in Milan is as close to Dante’s Inferno as I ever want to get? If you’re taking part in a summer program (Glimmerglass, Chautauqua, Seagull, etc) and you’re dying in the heat — just smile and think of it as your training for your La Scala debut in the heat of an Italian Summer!
The bottom line is that I’m eternally grateful to the audience for being a part of such a wonderful dialogue. As I mentioned in an earlier post, it can sometimes prove a bit fatiguing to be up against the more unpleasant elements of this business, however, when I’m given the chance to truly engage and sing with all my heart, and when it is received so well on the other side of the footlights, well, it is just a tremendous gift to me.
GRAZIE MILLE, MILANO! GOOD NIGHT!
(Now time for me to settle in for a bit of Wimbledon watching and cheering Lance on to hopefully, his 7th Victory!)
(Photos: Magical curtain call, that coveted poster, with the brilliant Roberto de Candia as Dandini – a truly wonderful performer and PERSON!)