Saturday, May 22, 2010

Willy WonKA, Willy WonKA

I'm writing it like that because in the chorus of the first act finale, they sing his name a million times, in a very catchy tune with the accent on the last syllable. Someone asked me the other day how I was getting the songs from the movie out of my head, and I could honestly say that I don't remember how a single one of those songs goes, so catchy are the tunes from this opera.

I think this show is going to be really funny and really magical. I had very little concept of what it would be like from just learning my own part, but hearing the whole thing a couple of times through now in musical rehearsals, and seeing some of it up on it's feet, I have fallen a little in love with the whole thing. The idea of four bratty, spoiled children played by adults and one innocent, honest child played by a (fabulous) little boy is brilliant. And the director, Jim Robinson, is giving each character very specific personalities and personality traits - I have been given a comic affectation - I won't say what, because I think it will be funnier if it is a surprise - but let's just say it makes an already funny character a whole lot funnier.

It's very interesting taking a beloved children's story and an iconic movie and making it into an opera. Of course there is pressure to do it justice, but there are also a great many possibilities. In this version, one child is played by a countertenor, who sings a stuttering aria in the style of Handel, one child is a coloratura soprano who explodes with high fast notes when she's blowing up into a blueberry, one gluttonous child is played by a tenor who is asked to wail and swoop up to many sustained high notes while he's drowning in a river of chocolate, and one child (me) is written for a mezzo singing into the stratosphere of her range to denote her derangement.

One thing that's interesting about this project for me is that I don't get to do any beautiful singing that shows off "my voice." I put "my voice" in quotation marks because of course, you can hear my voice - I sing a lot of high B flats for example - but because the role is so heavy with character, it doesn't exactly shine the light on my vocal strengths. It couldn't - you wouldn't want to give a beautiful aria to such an ugly character! But as a singer, my ego is tested when I don't get the chance to "show my stuff" the way I'm used to. Instead, the role is a challenge musically, dramatically, and in having to find the balance between being outrageous but not overdoing the comedy. There are certainly plenty of things to keep my brain busy, and perhaps less pressure than if I were singing a standard lyric role. But it's funny for me to notice how much I get used to hearing certain types of praise, and how quickly my ego deflates when there are no opportunities to show off in the way that elicits that particular praise. But how ridiculous! There are so many challenges to singing opera - when you lack one, there are 10 other things to focus on and hone to the best of your ability. But it's interesting to see how easy it is for singers to define ourselves by our VOICE and our VOICE alone. Stripped of the opportunity to show our VOICE (in the ways we may be used to), we are forced to show our other strengths, making us slightly vulnerable, but allowing us huge opportunities for growth.

God - Opera is such a fantastic medium for telling a story. I'm sure I'm preaching to the choir here, but when I see a familiar story told in a new way, I get excited. I might even start doing an oompa loompa dance of joy - let's hope I get around to making a video blog of that one.


Unknown said...

And ain't Jim Robinson just dreamy? Those big blue eyes of his....

Anonymous said...

Another insightful and thought-provoking post. Interesting to think about how an artist is affected when they don't have a chance to "shine" they way they are used to. And food for thought for us all. I hope lots of singers are reading your blog, and I do hope you write a book one day. Meanwhile, can't wait to see the oompah-loompah dance!