Sunday, March 14, 2010

outside looking in

I bet you thought I wasn't going to make today's quota being that it's 11:04 PM NYC time, but here I am for my daily blog entry.

So, yesterday I was in the shower singing una voce poco fa, and I started to notice that when I began to sing with emotion, my eyebrows were going crazy. (The crazy part is actually that I was in the shower noticing the movement of my eyebrows, but let's leave that for a minute so I can get to the point). It lead me to start thinking about our bodies and our faces, and what happens to them when we sing and act. Singing opera is SUCH a weird thing to be doing, it's not surprising that our bodies and faces can inadvertently contort when while we're in the act, but how much is too much? I love Cecilia Bartoli, I think she's a goddess, but I know some people criticize her for her facial acrobatics. When she does it, it really doesn't bother me, but when I do it and see it on video, I want to vomit on the screen and run screaming from the room. And in the last couple of videos I've had the chance to watch of myself, I have noticed that a few things were going on with my body and face that I had absolutely no idea were happening. Maybe nobody cares about these tiny details but me, but I do care, so I decided to do a little experiment.

I set up my webcam on the top of my piano yesterday, and sang una voce right into the camera several different times. I tried it once in the full acting mode and noticed my eyebrows were having a field day. I tried it once purposefully trying to emote without my eyebrows, and it looked a lot better. Then I tried singing it without the idea of emoting - just how I would practice if I were thinking about vocal technique and without any "feeling" and my face was very placid. I tried a couple more times, once focusing on a certain point on the wall, and once seeing some kind of images in my brain but imagining them in the air in front of me. I watched all the videos to see what was what.

Why all this fuss? Well, I think that the things we do physically that are unconscious can possibly take away from our ability to transmit our emotions out of our brains and into the audience. It's so easy to think you are emoting when you're actually only emoting for just you - maybe even with your eyes completely closed. Just because you're feeling it on the inside doesn't mean you are transmitting it to the outside, and that's a rather selfish way to perform. And I actually think that at the moments when I'm feeling things very deeply only on the inside is when my body and face do unconscious and unnecessary things. And I made this discovery by webcamming myself and seeing what was going on up close and personal with my errant eyebrows.

The funniest part of this whole story is that I wasn't exactly sure how to use the camera in my computer for anything other than chatting with my parents on skype, so I had to google "how to make a video using your webcam," and what I discovered is that most people who want to know how to do that are up to NO good. I can tell you that very few of them are seeing what their eyebrows are doing when they are singing an operatic aria.


Anonymous said...

okay you made me laugh out loud.

mamascarlatti said...

You are quite right to be aware of possible facial contortions getting in the way of conveying emotions. There are some singers I can't watch because of this - I recently saw a Clemenza DVD where I often had to look down when the Sesto sang because she looked like a beaver every time she was acting "despair". Maybe all singers should rehearse in front of a mirror?!

Liz said...

I had a bad night...heavy cold in the head and couldn't sleep. But your blog entry this morning cracked me up! Hilarious and truly funny. As they say in the movies.."Thanks. I needed that!"

(Bartolli drives me nuts with her contortions..definitely off-putting)

Anonymous said...

I noticed the same thing this last weekend; I look worried when I should be conveying love and my eyebrows have a life of their own when I sing coloratura...
It's such a strange experience to sing in front of a mirror because you have to assess what's going on outside while thinking about what you're doing inside... but surprise! when you actually start believing what you sing, the facial gestures do calm down.

Bartoli is weird to look at but there's so much honesty and passion and love in her singing how can one resist?

Unknown said...

Well, facial expression of singers is one thing, but I am always amazed by the different moves of solo violinist, from demonic to pure elegance ... Yesterday I've attended a concert with Patricia Kopatchinskaja (run to get her Beethoven concerto with Herreweghe), she was playing barfooted and heck, she should ask an additional fee as percussionist!

I personally don't care that much about the exteriors, a beautiful voice is what counts, but then not rarely I'd prefer operas as concertante. I love Signora Bartoli's warmth and passion - on and off stage - not so much her voice.