A millionth look

Greetings from one of my favorite cities, Munich, Germany. It seems as if I’ve written often from this wonderful venue and I’m happy to return to this jewel of Bavaria once again. We finished up a fine run of “The Dream of Valentino” last Sunday in Minneapolis. I flew home for a few days and then made the long trip to Germany on Thursday with an overnight trip. Rehearsals quickly began on Friday and an orchestra rehearsal was already held this morning on “Salome”. That’s a lot to handle on jet lag and with your body just not quite functioning correctly after a long, dry flight. However, it’s all become part of the business for me and I’ve learned how to adjust to these feelings far more easily over the years.

As my voice is still not back down from 35,000 feet, I spent a lot of today’s orchestra rehearsal “marking” and not singing full out. I spent a lot of time reviewing the music and listening to the orchestra play this complex score. As most of you know, this opera has been a regular companion of mine for some time. I’ve lost track of how many performances as John the Baptist I’ve actually sung. I never tire of the role. I truly love this opera. I found it fascinating, today, to look so closely at the score, an old friend, during the rehearsal. You’d think, after all this time, that there would be little that surprised me about the piece, the orchestration, and just what Richard Strauss put down on paper. As I looked today, I realized more than ever that Strauss wrote more into one measure of music than many composers write into an entire piece. It is intricate and spell binding. On this, my “millionth” look at the opera, I was able to extricate more of these intricacies and observe the orchestra pulling the music off with aplomb. Wow, what a band they have here at the Bavarian State Opera. It was truly inspiring to see them working together and reproducing once again what Strauss wrote. This is my third visit to Munich just for this opera. I’ve sung other Strauss pieces as well as a lot of Wagner here. I’ve even sung some Mozart and Britten with the company. But, these Germanic masterpieces are just what the doctor prescribed. When this company undertakes Strauss or Wagner, something very special occurs. You can feel it from the first downbeat and throughout the score. I am blessed to get to sing this music so often here and I look forward to my returns in the coming months for “Der Fliegende Holländer” and “Tristan und Isolde”. I’ve sung both of these pieces here before but look forward to the new discoveries that will surely come with those revivals as well.

And this is a lesson for all students and professionals. Sometimes, you have to go back to the basics, to the analytical skills that we learn and possess, and relish the sheer joy of discovery in order to move your performances to the next level. Sometimes you have to have a new look at the text, the rhythmic patterns, the arc of the vocal line, the synchronization of the instruments, and the colors that the composer puts into a piece. You need to spend the time in rehearsal to discover not just your own part but just what the other characters are saying (go ahead, sing their parts as well) and realize what the orchestra is bringing to the piece--in these operas, they are a character as well. Incorporate that into your singing. You’ll be glad you did. Then, you truly have “Gesamtkunstwerk”.

The “Dream of Valentino” was a great experience. It was my first time with that score and, in many ways, we were just scratching the surface of what we might be able to do with the piece in a revival. If I ever sing it a million times, I’m sure I'll be finding new lessons in the score just like I am with “Salome” here in Munich. This is one of the fascinating things about being a performing artist. You can’t coast. You can’t just repeat performances. In order to keep things fresh and growing, you have to spend time with the scores--no matter how many times you’ve sung the piece. Then, you become a singing artist--I hope I become one someday.