Saturday, December 5, 2009

Out of the frying pan and into the refiners fire

Last night marked my first time singing "The Messiah", the great oratorio by Handel that is performed hundreds, nay thousands of times each Christmas and Easter. Which is why everyone was asking me HOW can this be your FIRST MESSIAH? Well, as I think I mentioned in an earlier blog entry, I did sing a couple of the soprano solos in a sing-along Messiah in San Francisco, but it was only two of them, and I was 17 years old, so I'm not counting it. And the alto solos are so ridonculously low - they should really be called baritone solos frankly. But I was meant to be in Richmond, VA finally croaking out my first Messiah, and here's why.

I have two best friends, and one of them - Will Ferguson - is a tenor who hails from Richmond. He has sung many Messiahs all over (you may remember, oh loyal readers, this blog entry when I recounted a particularly embarrassing Hallelujah chorus (for me) when I was watching him sing a Messiah at Carnegie Hall). He has sung several Messiahs in Richmond alone, and so he knows the associate conductor for the Richmond Symphony, Erin Freeman. He was chatting with Erin some time ago about who she wanted to invite to sing the Messiah in Richmond this coming Christmas, and when it came to the discussion about the alto solos, she said she would like to invite this certain mezzo with whom she went to Boston University, but she wasn't sure if she'd be available or interested. "Who is it?" asked Will, and Erin replied, "Jennifer Rivera. Do you know her?" "Know her?? She's my best friend!!!" And he told her he was sure I would be interested, because he knew that I had always wanted to try singing the Messiah at least once in my life. And that is why I'm sure this was meant to be my first Messiah. They even kept in the tenor/alto duet which is often cut, so I got to hang out with my bestie AND sing a duet with him. Not bad for a job.

The performance last night probably went as well as I could have expected, considering the solos are about an octave lower than I normally sing. I mean that literally - if I was marking the Handel role I'm about to go sing in Berlin an octave below where it's written, I would be in about the same range as several of these solos. But I do love the music of The Messiah (If you need a good workout track, try "But who may abide" - once you get to the "refiner's fire" part, you'll WANT to run - also I have been known to run along with "Ev'ry Valley" before - that one just puts me in a chipper mood). My big challenge when I'm singing low is to 1.) not get too nervous and 2.) relax into the notes, and try not to push and squeeze them out in an attempt to make extra sound down there. I think I accomplished both of those things last night, so I really can't complain. I don't think I'll be making any recordings of the Messiah any time soon, but I could see myself singing it again, and maybe trying out some higher ornaments. I actually added a couple of ornaments during the performance that I hadn't sung in rehearsal, which is totally unlike me because I'm generally something of a coward about trying new things in performance, but I've been pushing myself to buck that trend, and actually allow myself some freedom to change things up in the performance. It's like walking on a tightrope - but as long as you get across, you feel great satisfaction.

On a side note, Will and I were models of professionalism during the performance, even though they sat us next to each other on the stage, and we tend to make each other laugh at inopportune moments (example: two years ago, Christmas Eve Mass in a Presbyterian Monastery, me: trying (unsuccessfully) to sight read the alto line in the hymns and carols, him: peeing his pants laughing and hissing "you....have....a master's music.....from JUILLIARD?!" People were definitely giving us the evil eyebrows). One exception to our excellent behavior was after the Hallelujah chorus, when he leaned over to me and whispered, "Got your pants buttoned up this time?" If you want to know what that's about you'll have to read the blog entry I mentioned and linked to up there in paragraph two - it's Halleluiarious. And yes, my need to constantly use Messiah word play for these titles and jokes is totally dorky. What do you want? The title of my blog is Trying to remain opera-tional. My being a dork isn't news. But my singing my first Messiah apparently is.


Kim said...

Your blog posts always make my day. :) You're too much.

Keep up the great work!!

Unknown said...

Jenny, your comments about the low range of the mezzo part gave me some insight into what was probably going on with the mezzo soloist at the performance I saw yesterday. She is an excellent singer - have seen her many times before, but she seemed to be struggling with the part - going from deep chest voice to head voice instead of smooth transition, etc.

Katypracht said...

Yep, those solos are very low. I think a little bourbon before MESSIAH is always a good choice! :) I'm glad to know it went well, and so happy you were able to sing with Will, too.