Oy. Whoever told me they thought I should try blogging every day (Dad) may have had a higher estimation of my brain than is accurate. Trying to think of things to write about every day when I'm not in rehearsals OR a foreign country is really a challenge. I totally need to put my thinking cap on, and let's face it folks, I'm lazy by nature. Sure, I'm happy to blog when the fancy strikes me, but I'm not sure I have enough deep thoughts to put into the world every single day.
That being said, I remember some time ago I was reading Joyce DiDonato's blog, and she had written an interesting entry about different trouser roles that she had sung or would be singing, and how their characters differed. That was actually the one time I commented on her blog, begging her to pleeeeeeeease write an entry about the character of Rosina, because she is obviously THE expert and her Rosina is incredibly charming.
Well, I'm about to go sing my 275th Rosina (I'm exaggerating, but it seems like a lot) and it will be the first of three different Barbiere producitons I will sing this year. So tonight I'm going to put my thinking cap on about Rosina. I might have written some stuff on this subject last time I sang her, but I can't be bothered to go through my whole history and check, and unfortunately I never got into tagging my blog entries, so if you're one of the 3 people who read my blog before this year and I'm repeating myself, I apologize in advance.
Rosina is tricky. She can be really unlikeable in that same way that Norina (Don Pasquale) can be unlikeable if you aren't careful. It's a ridiculous double standard really, because it's so easy to apply the word BITCH to a strong woman and dismiss her. But it's just the way it goes, and I've both been in and seen many a Barber production where the Rosina comes out to bow, and even if she sang like a goddess, the audience is like......crickets.....crickets........ And then Figaro comes out to bow after her, and they're like "AAAAAAAAAAA!!! BRAVO FIGARO!!!! WE LOVE YOU AND YOUR CRAZY ANTICS!!!" It's depressing frankly.
So how to make the character of Rosina somebody that the audience cares about? I think it all sort of hinges on how you decide to perform Una Voce Poco Fa, her first aria. It's tricky, because it's basically Rosina's first real entrance, and the aria isn't exactly easy, and you're always nervous. But I think it's important to capture a few nuggets of her personality in that first scene; First; her girlish and genuine infatuation with the Count. That's something you can portray in the beginning of the aria. She can't seem too knowing or too grown up in that part - she should be like a love struck teenager, genuinely thunderstruck by this handsome dude that's been lurking outside her window singing her love songs. I choose to sing that first part rather simply. Then, of course, we have to see her cunning, and her willingness to manipulate. But in the fast part, instead of playing the "I become a viper" of the text as bitchy, insolent, and therefore un-charming, I think it's fun to play her sexy, womanly nature - to show the innocent crush of the beginning of the aria maturing into her demonstration of what she thinks it means to be an adult woman, in touch with her sensuality, vitality, and charm.
After Una Voce, I think her relationship with Figaro is another important aspect of her character. She's not just buddies with Figaro - most likely, the two of them would end up together if their social stations permitted. So the duet with him should remain extremely flirtatious and again, Rosina should be demonstrating her ability to charm the pants off anyone.
I know for a fact that one of the challenges for me in playing this role is that a) I'm an extremely strong woman from 2010, and it's very easy for me to play her too forcefully like, "Shut up you dumb men or I'll pull out my paddle and spank all of you," and b) I play pants roles so often, I can float out of the feminine and into the masculine way too easily. I was lucky enough to have one particular director, my friend Scott Parry, who was able to call me out on these things, and who really challenged me to go against my personal instincts and make her something other than what I was used to. And boy did I argue with him! After the first dress rehearsal when he told me I was still not feminine enough, I totally shouted in his face, "WELL, MAYBE YOU SHOULDN'T HAVE HIRED SOMEONE WHO IS 5'9" AND WHO PLAYS BOYS A LOT THEN." But I took the note, and by the time the opening rolled around, I seemed to have uncovered a new dimension of her character that I hadn't really been tapping into before. And when the review came out in the L.A. Times, Scott got to say, "Seeeeeeee? Maybe you won't yell at me next time I give you a note...." because it said:
"Mezzo-soprano Jennifer Rivera was a fascinating Rosina -- sufficiently opulent and agile in voice; wily, brainy and pert in manner but also carrying herself at times with a dignity that suggested the future Countess of the second "Figaro" play, "The Marriage of Figaro."
Which brings me to the third aspect of her character that Scott pointed out to me, and which I agree is very important; the fact that she becomes the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro. We all know that character well, and that she is so dignified and regal - and Rosina in Barber needs to suggest what will occur in her very near future. Which sucks, because then you have to acknowledge the fact that the Count, who is so sweet and into her during this opera, becomes the asshole baritone who is trying to get into the other soprano's pants during the entire next opera. Oh well, we'll always have the memories of when you were a tenor and were still nice. Which is probably one of the few times I will utter that sentence. Am I right people? I'm totally kidding - almost without fail, some of the nicest singers I have worked with have been the tenors playing Almaviva with me (Brian Stucki, John Tessier, Brian Downen - there aren't a lot of nicer singers than those guys really).
Okay, I've blathered on enough about her. Hopefully I can make the people in Portland, OR like me a little bit. Or maybe in the opposite direction, we'll do a production where I actually get to spank people or something. That could be fun too.