Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Ribbon - By Amanda Villegas

Something Lauren said last night in the Level 1 class prompted me to post this picture. We were exploring the exercise of everything in the room being a perfect part of an art installation, that every line and piece of green tape or sound or smell was purposeful and meant to be exactly as it was. After this exercise Lauren talked about how often we do not really examine or take in our sets on stage. She said we may not notice that piece of green tape on the wall but the director did and it was put there for a very specific reason. It was thought about and chosen to be in exactly the place it is. The conversation prompted me to post this because it reminded me of what Lauren was saying. (This is the only picture I have that shows the detailing on Donna Elvira's costume, so please excuse the hellions :) ) The ribbon trim on the dress is a nice detail but it hardly seems that it could have been mulled over for hours and considered so carefully but it was! 4-5 different types of trim, wider, thinner, one black stripe, two, ruched, flat... All of this was considered and tested by 3 costume designers before the ribbon that was chosen was added to the costume. They weighed the pros and cons of what was most aesthetically pleasing versus historically accurate. Just when the costuming students thought they had it right they had to try again. So, the next time I consider a costume, or a set, or a character I will think about how important all of the seemingly insignificant details are because as we discussed last night it all matters and is all there for a reason! The good, bad, and the ugly it is all there for a reason.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Lauren Flanigan - The landscape of language....

Hey Everyone,

This is in response to some of the emails I got from you guys after the last class. They were full of great questions and observations and, I thought, worthy of class discussion and not individual emails.

One of the hardest concepts to embrace in any collaborative relationship is that change and challenges to our way of thinking and delivering information implies criticism. That asking us to consider other approaches to material implies that something we are doing is wrong and needs change. In fact, what is being asked is for us to consider challenging long held beliefs and assumptions and come to our conclusions differently. 

To visualize not just the scene but the words that make up the scene is another step in the process. I want you to consider becoming active listeners and responders. To use Maggie's word 'languish' as an example: a quick look up of the word and we get faint, feeble, and ill as examples of the definition from the Old English. So we have to ask ourselves, what was I like before that was the antithesis of these words? What did I look like, sound like? What did I do when I was vital, alive, energetic, and healthy? How am I different now and what does that look like? Why would I describe myself using this word and not the thousands of others available to me? I know that I have an intellectual understanding of what this word means and what it means in the scheme of the scene and the aria but what is my visceral understanding? Am I repulsed by having to characterize myself in this manner? Ashamed? How has or has my outward appearance changed? What compromises have I had to make? How many excuses or lies have I told because I find myself faint, feeble, and ill? How have I justified this to those I live with and what has been their reactions?

It's not about what am I not doing to make my point - the conversation is always - how can I make my point differently? How can I make it more viscerally? Urgently? Poignantly? Comically? and so on........

The same gestures which accompany a discussion of sports cannot be the same gestures which accompany an outpouring of emotion over failure to secure the hand of a loved one. The words we use to describe those situations are different. 

The words we sing/use create different visual landscapes for the listener. What is ours? Do we have one? If not, why not?

More later........Lauren

Friday, October 17, 2008

Learning by doing by Heather M. Meyer

Almost two weeks ago, I returned from a recent engagement at Baltimore's Opera Vivente a completely different performer. I learned many things from this particular gig, but two in particular really stuck in my mind. It was my first Donna Elvira, a role I had been equally relishing and dreading, for many varied reasons. Like Amanda, I had always primarily thought of her as an angry, scorned woman, no matter how in depth I had researched her character. I knew she had an "every woman" quality about her, but it always seemed difficult to find until I actually brought her to life.
It wasn't until the first staging rehearsal of "Mi tradi" that I had that epiphany. And I do mean, "that epiphany," because I actually remember saying exactly that to the director at the time. I had been doing the aria for a few years as an audition piece and had always started it out strong and angry, with a huge sense of scorned betrayal. During this rehearsal, it was suggested that I start it out a little quieter and let it build, not only through the recitative, but through the aria as well. (for the life of me, I can't remember who exactly suggested it, but it worked, so thank you). How did it make me feel to really, truly start it with the knowledge that Don Ottavio wanted to kill Giovanni? Just by using that feeling, I was able to build through the recit, start quiet again through the beginning of the aria section and make every repeat of the theme sound different. It was as if I was singing a completely different piece! I was floored, to say the least. And, Donna Elvira felt more real to me than she had ever felt before. Needless to say, from then on, it informed my character in every scene. Throughout our run of four performances, I hope and trust that I was able to bring her to life as much as I think she should have been.
My second "epiphany" of sorts, which Amanda and I both talked about a few days ago over coffee was this: I knew that I came back a different singer and was pretty sure I knew why it was, but it wasn't until she and I discussed our mutual role experiences that I really understood the full extent of what I had learned. By the third show, I hit a place somewhere between calm relaxation before I went on and the adrenaline rush. I was initially afraid that I wasn't pumped enough to bring the stamina needed or the character needed. Once I got on stage, however, I felt myself thinking like her, but also thinking like myself (in a relaxed state) so that I was consciously able to momentarily stop for a technical check-in when it was necessary. It was that fine line between being too character-engrossed that you lose the vocal technique and too vocally engrossed that you become "the posing opera singer." Honestly, the biggest place it helped was when I knew I needed to take an extra big breath to get through a long phrase (of which Elvira has MANY). Overall, I'd say it made me realize how much I was learning from this incredible role.

Both of these particularly poignant realizations came, I believe, from allowing myself to be open to different ideas and flexible enough to work with what I was given (which was actually quite a lot: an open-minded director, a supportive cast and a small, yet professionally run company). I am still amazed and elated that I have come back to New York and the stress of life here to realize that the act of paying a little more attention to my general awareness, my character research, and my relaxation is informing my singing more than ever, making it easier and easier to go into auditions as a confident, well-informed performer.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

E il mio marito... by Amanda Villegas

This photo is from a production of Don Giovanni in 2006. I am in gold as Elvira protecting her "Don"

Before this production I had done a few roles but none taught me as much about character and singing and stamina and pacing and... than Donna Elvira.

Before learning the entire role I used to think of her as an angry, shafted woman and while I still believe those are parts of her character, I feel that she is so human and her conflicting emotions are very real. Elvira is on stage more than any other female character and is often described as Giovanni's counterpart, or possibly even equal. That would explain why he actually married her and stayed with her for 3 days which is more than one could say for any of his other conquests. Due to the amount of time on stage and her most difficult aria coming at the end of the opera, this role is an amazing lesson in pacing and stamina as well as character development. Not only vocally but physically. For example, before we even made it to production I was in costume fittings for 7 hours! Talk about a lesson in stamina!

I will aways have a special place in my heart for Elvira and am so grateful to have had the opportunity to learn through her.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Great start to the blogging

Hey Gang,

Great start to the class blog. Start to talk about the character. What did you learn about the character? What do you know now that you didn't know before about that characters relationships, history, situation?

One of the photos of me posted on the right (red hair and leaning on a bed dressed in white) is of Lady Macbeth. Opera Company of Philadelphia production from 2003 (I think). Prior to this production I had always played her as very single minded and determined. The notion of a kill or be killed social and political hierarchy always prevailed in my thoughts. In previous productions the stage had always been completely bare for the letter reading, the aria and the duet with Macbeth which follows. I had also never been wigged in any other production before and my short (then red) hair made a terrific statement right away about femininity. I had also been costumed in steely grays and cold golds. In Philadelphia I had a softer and more immediate kind of girly look and then there was this huge comfortable bed. One day in rehearsal for this scene (which is Act I) the softness of the bed and it's size, the diaphanous cut of the gown and the wig helped the scene achieve a kind of privacy and intimacy of thought I had not considered in such detail. Suddenly I was able to consider vulnerability and uncertainty in the letter reading. I was able to find a softer Lady Macbeth. Round curves, sensuous movement, uncertainty, DISCOVERY. Before this it had been a scene of knowing and suspicion. Prophecy foretold and fulfilled. Could a soft gentler Lady find the means and the justification to commit the crimes to come? It was a risk but definitely a risk worth taking. xoxoxox Lauren

P.S. when you post - you have to sign your posts or it will look like I played all of those characters!!!

Out of Mind and into Body by Maeve Hoglund

This picture is the recent production of Tales of Hoffmann where I sang Antonia.

Right away when I look at this image I think of the moment during the second session when I stated the intention to get more in body and less in my mind. Specifically so I could free my instrument and let the internal movements of character drive me. Fortunately I was able to sing Antonia after having some months with Lauren and all the wonderful people in class who continue to push themselves outside their comfort zone and provide such a rich learning environment. Touching a piece of physical freedom proved to be quite the task for me and continues to be. But class by class I continued to challenge myself to let go of what I held in my mind as right and let my body lead. As I begun to experience this transition it supplied what I'd call an "ah ha" of sorts. That if I became comfortable with the internal workings of my character I could then make physical choices in every moment that informed myself, others I am working with and those who are watching. In turn, this familiarity I have strips away physical hesitancy and full realization of me as my character in each moment.