This past week was all about revisiting Vodnik and seeing how much of the role was still rattling around in my brain (and in my voice). Some excellent coaching from our fearless leader definitely helped knock some of the cobwebs off! Surprisingly it has come back to me rather quickly, even though I haven’t sung the role or really even looked at it since last July/August. This is not the first time I’ve revisited a role, but it is definitely the first time I’ve done so with a role of this size. Most of the time I’m revisiting some supporting role–those are usually rather small and not full of any real juicy vocal or dramatic moments. These characters don’t get the big dramatic death scenes or the heart-rending love duets, but you definitely need them to tell you when it’s time for dinner (among other things)! They generally serve to drive the plot along from some moment, so in reality they can be quite important, if a little thin on the character development.
Some highlights of my comprimario roles: The Officer (Barber of Seville), The Official Registrar (Madama Butterfly), The Court Usher (Rigoletto), Flora’s Servant (La Traviata)...some I’ve done multiple times. Slightly larger, of course, is the ever-popular Antonio (Le nozze di Figaro), the troublesome gardener who may or may not be drunk most of the time (depends who you ask). These roles are sometimes confined to just one word (Official Registrar, I’m looking at you), and they can often be more stressful than you might expect–you have one shot to get it right, and you have a lot to remember leading up to your shining moment in the spotlight!
Having now had the opportunity to revisit both small and larger roles, I definitely prefer revisiting the latter. I am discovering some wonderful new ideas about Vodnik this time around. Last year I was really focused on getting the Czech as solid as I could and trying to do justice to Dvorak’s heavenly music. The drama was there, but it definitely had some stiff competition in my brain! Side note: this role is really a dream to sing–it is beautifully written, and it just feels great to come back to it after some time away! This year I feel like I can focus more on the story I am telling, the dramatic beats going on in a scene, and all of the tiny musical inflections that I may not have fully grasped before.
There is a growth process that happens over time after you put a song or a role away for a bit after learning it. This isn’t the first time I’ve noticed this (I tell my students this all the time), but I am truly experiencing it in real time now. Without even thinking about it, some of these ideas and colors are there, and it feels like I am making new little discoveries every day. This isn’t so surprising to me–I definitely fall into the “re-reader” camp when it comes to books. If I like a book, I will keep it and reread it multiple times. Every read reveals something new, or some new perspective, and it doesn’t lessen my enjoyment of the book at all to know what will happen. It feels very much the same revisiting this role–like I’m picking up a favorite book after some time away and diving into the world again fresh eyes.
The performances are coming up next week, so we are now heading into some group rehearsals. Aside from the musical and dramatic work, there are many other considerations to iron out: working with tracks, when to use headphones, when to turn on the camera, how to interact with said camera, finding virtual background images...all things I never thought I’d have to worry about! And of course...figuring out what my makeup plan will be this year! Last year’s blue and green theme was great, but I am thinking I’ll mix it up this year and perhaps try something different for each performance. It’s the little things in life, you know?
The home stretch is nigh–this week will be a busy one, no doubt! But really, it’s nice to BE busy with singing, and I am reminded why I love this process. Even in a weird virtual format that is not terribly similar to the real deal, the preparation work is familiar, and Rusalka is an incredibly rewarding opera to perform. I can’t wait to put all of the pieces together and hear everyone in the different casts! Since I’m single-cast, I get to sing with EVERYONE! Production week, here we come!
As I said a few weeks ago, learning an opera role is an adventure, and it is definitely a challenge. Alberich is proving to be every bit the challenge I expected–Wagner is not easy, folks! So many words, so many chromatic passages, odd leaps...it is definitely a full-time job right now working through it! But it’s also really satisfying to have such a challenge, especially on the end of a year without really doing much performing to speak of. So here I am, minding my own business, learning this difficult role, when I get an offer to revisit another role while still prepping this one.
Last summer I sang Vodnik for the first time in Rusalka (basically the operatic version of The Little Mermaid, and Vodnik is her father..so King Triton). Luckily it’s with the same program I did last summer (and the same program for which I am preparing Das Rheingold now). That being said, it is still a bit of a daunting prospect adding this back into the mix. This role is truly wonderful to sing, so on the one hand I am thrilled to get to explore it again and see how my characterization may have deepened with time. On the other hand, it’s a very short timetable to bring it back up to scratch (especially the Czech language!), and I’m having to balance it with Alberich as well as my summer teaching load.
So...of course I said yes.
Will this be a challenge? Yes. Will I be worried about all of it? Yes. Is it a quick turnaround between start and finish? Yes. But it’s also an opportunity to delve back into a role I love, a role that I had no idea I’d be able to sing again so soon. It gives me a chance to have some extra artistic fulfillment and fun, so it is worth the extra work and the stress.
This is often a dilemma artists face in their careers. It’s always a balancing act, and you almost always have multiple projects going on at the same time. The real trick is to be able to weigh each project and say either yes or no at the right time. I have certainly gotten myself into situations where I was overworked and barely hanging on, simply because I didn’t say no when I should have. And I honestly did consider whether or not this was going to be one of those times. But in this case, I didn’t have the nagging feeling of unease or worry that normally tells me to say no. I was just excited to get to do this role again, and also excited to be asked!
So here goes a really busy 2 weeks. The center ring show under the big top: watch me juggle summer lessons, a church job, book club, Dungeons and Dragons, reviewing one opera role while still learning another, and putting a virtual opera on its feet in 2 weeks with little advance preparation. It’ll be a bit of a circus, but I think it’ll be a fun one–off we go!