Monday, September 7, 2009

I'm no superman

Today something happened that I found dreadfully embarrassing, and I thought about not writing about it on the blog. But then I realized that the reason I write this blog is to be as honest as possible about what it's really like to have a career as an opera singer, and today was about as honest as it gets.

I had a staging rehearsal in the morning where we went through my two arias. It went fine, and I only have one staging moment left that I'm still trying to decide on the best option for breath and stamina purposes, but that I will work out in the next couple of weeks on my own. I also met the conductor who is conducting my performances for the first time, and we agreed to meet after the staging rehearsal to discuss the cadenza at the end of the second aria.

The staging rehearsal ended up finishing early, so we had a little extra time to go through some things musically. I hadn't brought my score, but amazingly, the conductor was able to play all of it from memory on the piano(!!!)!!! We started going through a few different parts, worked on the cadenza, and then started working on my first aria Una voce poco fa. I started singing through the aria, and he asked me to repeat one of my ornaments, and then said he didn't like the harmonics of it. I started to work on other options with him a little, and then to my surprise, I started to feel a lump in my throat and tears stinging my eyes. Concerned, the conductor asked me what was wrong, and I couldn't stop myself - I started to cry. I was just as surprised as he was, and I kept apologizing, saying how embarrassed I was, and how this doesn't usually happen to me. And it really doesn't - the last time I remember crying during a rehearsal - well - I actually can't remember the last time, so it must have been a really long time ago. There have been times when I've cried after rehearsals, in the privacy of my room, but I really can't recall crying during a rehearsal or a lesson or coaching any time in recent memory. I tried to compose myself, and the conductor was incredibly sweet and understanding - but I just couldn't, and since it was almost time to end, we decided to pick things up tomorrow. I was so confused by the incident, I have been thinking about it all day.

The thing that was weird was that he wasn't being mean or aggressive with me, which people certainly sometimes can be - quite the opposite - he was being really nice. He wasn't asking me to do something really crazy or impossible, and he wasn't criticizing me or telling me what I was doing wasn't good. And yet, I just lost it. I think I haven't really been allowing myself to physically acknowledge how stressful I find this situation, and maybe if I had just come in, rehearsed for a few days and done a performance, I wouldn't have had time to even feel stress, I just would have been running on pure adrenaline. However, I've had time to assess the situation, see that there are things that frighten me, and think about how badly I want to do a good job. And I've had just enough rehearsals so that I feel like I need to do what everyone expects of me and get everything right. One of my problems in life is that I am very hard on myself - I have the only child perfectionist syndrome that causes me to expect perfection from myself at all times, and feel extremely disappointed when one i isn't dotted or t isn't crossed. In one sense, it makes me a very responsible artist, because I take what I do very seriously, and have this inner need to always do my best. But in another sense I can cause myself a lot of stress and upset when I chastise myself for anything that is less than what I deem as perfect. Today, my desire to do everything that everyone wants perfectly just built up such a pressure inside of me, that I guess the damn literally burst. And it obviously needed to because I cried all the way home on the subway, I cried on the phone to my parents, I took a nap, and then cried on the phone to my best friend. All triggered by an incident that was frankly not particularly upsetting. But sometimes a person just needs to cry.

The funny thing about singing is that it can be really stressful, but without fail, the more you stress in a performance, the worse you sing. I find that sometimes I build these releases into my rehearsal processes, and it helps me be rid of the stress by the performance. I see this in other singers too - I call it the Susanna factor because for some reason, I always notice that the sopranos playing Susanna in Marriage of Figaro each seem to have one mental breakdown per production. Susanna is a really long, really stressful role, with zillions of things to remember and do all night long. But Susanna doesn't really get all the glory of some of the more glamourous soprano roles (the opera is called the Marriage of Figaro - even though it's about the Marriage of Figaro AND Susanna -but that doesn't have quite the same ring to it), and the Susannas always seem to have one day where they get really upset about something, or they get really sick, or they just plain freak out. But then in every Marriage I've done, the Susannas have all been absolutely magnificent for all the performances. They just had to go through the freak out to get it out of their systems and to get to the good stuff.

So I had my own little Susanna factor moment today, and while I am completely embarrassed that the poor conductor had to witness it, I'm just going to accept that it was just some steam escaping from my kettle, and let it be. And thank god I have supportive people in my life - and even a blog - to help me work it out, put me back on my feet, and start another day tomorrow.

5 comments:

ken said...

You poor kid. I don't know if you saw my post on the 6th, but opera does bring out the perfectionist. Hang in there. Hquessave a glass of wine.

Natalie said...

Hey Jennifer, hang on in there. You're doing an amazing job, by yourself, in public, in a strange city under stressful conditions. It's not surprising it got to you. I remember after a big day at work bursting into tears at my Italian teacher because I couldn't "get" the subjunctive. Now that's lame...!

pat said...

Crying is important even to Superman (or woman). Emotional tears are triggered by either pain, loss, stress or self realization. When the emotions are activated, the nervous system stimulates the cranial nerve, the brain sends signals to the neurotransmitters to the tear gland, the lacrimal gland. This gland releases excess amounts of chemicals and stress hormones, thus returning us to a normal stable state. The body takes care of itself, we are a miracle. (I actually looked this up.) Cheers to tears.

notesonapage said...

Brava. Thanks for sharing (as always). You have turned an embarrassing situation into an uplifting one! Keep on keepin' on.

*all dressed up and everywhere to go* said...

love your honesty