I adore the magnificent many-headed monster that is opera. It’s a beautiful and messy example of how a hastily assembled group of opinionated people can somehow manage to work as a team to create a functional (and sometimes magnificent) thing in a short time. But while it can be exciting being a cog in a big fancy wheel, it means that opera singers so very rarely have the chance to enjoy a holistic, integrated musical experience. Do you crave the opportunity to create an entire world rather than a small part of it? Then, my friend, indulge in song.
I hate the word “recital.” I have to default to it periodically, for it’s the only accurate scientific shorthand description we have for this intimate thing that is a singer and a pianist, creating small worlds in sound. The unflattering connotations of “recital” aren’t really negative, they’re just pale and dry. Sins of omission, actually. To “recite” means to repeat things from memory. And that does no justice to the magic that can happen.
My two recent song experiences were from opposite sides of the footlights.
First, I had the privilege of playing a beautiful and crazily varied group of songs for a quartet of former WTOC singers. I should’ve blogged about it at the time, but there were no minutes left in those days. As always, when I get a chance to be a musician again, I discover things about the world that I had forgot existed. So enamored am I with these performing opportunities that I sometimes believe that their power and intensity only exist onstage – that the audience, while appreciative, can’t possible take away the same sense of discovery and renewal that I experience while making the music.
But then, a few days later, I sat in Row N of a theatre, on the receiving end of an evening of song. And in 90 minutes, I saw the world through different eyes and ears. I was inspired and angered and soothed and energized.
It’s all about story, folks. The power of unadorned, honestly told story.
It’s why I adore singer-songwriters, and I think we should take a page from their books. Yes, they write their own material, and the autobiographical nature of it gives their listeners intimate and immediate traction with their stories. But I daresay that a classically trained singer who has completely internalized a song written by someone else can bring the same intimacy and immediacy to her listeners. And should.
Some opera singers have personalities and souls primarily tooled for the big stage and the sprawling experience. And they are happy there. But if you need more, spend time with song. At best, it will only pay a few of your bills, but that’s not why you do it. It is neither frivolous or indulgent, for if engaged in honestly, it will make you a better singer, actor, person.
In the meantime, let’s come up with a word that does this storytelling justice.