Monday, August 9, 2010

The anatomy of anxiety

I've been thinking a lot about fear in the last few days, and why we get afraid of things. Mostly because with the dress rehearsal and the premiere of L'Olimpiade approaching here in Innsbruck, I knew I was gonna be getting nervous, and I was dreading it. I have started to dread not performing in general, but the opening performances of operas because I get the most uncomfortably nervous for those performances. And because I know I will have those kind of nerves, I start to get nervous about the fact that I'm going to be nervous, because I know that performing is more difficult and a lot less fun when I'm all jumpy and wacky with nerves. I'm at the point now where even when I'm nervous, I have ways of counteracting my anxiety when I'm on stage, and it doesn't have much of an outward affect on my performance, mostly just on how much I'm able to enjoy myself in the moment.

At last night's premiere of L'Olimpiade, I did a lot to counteract opening night jitters. During the overture I did all kinds of stretching and moving around to try to keep my body from feeling the tightening it feels when I get nervous. And when I got out on stage, I commanded my brain to slow down and take care with the words I was saying instead of running by them too quickly to experience anything. The opera begins for me with an extraordinarily long recitative where I sing for so many pages in italian that it's easy for me to feel overwhelmed. But I felt like I managed to keep my energy up while still being in the moment. When I got to my first aria, I had this dry mouth thing that happens only when you're nervous, but I was refusing to let myself get sucked into constantly swallowing and licking my lips, which actually just makes it worse. At one point my lips were totally sticking to my teeth, but I just said to my brain "this isn't going to affect your singing, actually" and it didn't. I kind of looked like one of those little dogs who have been snarling and just haven't put their teeth away yet, but at least I didn't have to interrupt a phrase just to lick my lips. As usual, I had calmed down considerably by my second entrance, and with the exception of a brain fart or two (which you really can't avoid in a five hour opera when you factor in nerves and excitement) the show went well and was very well received by the audience. I couldn't believe it when I made my entrance during the third act at 11:40 at night and the theater was still full of people! It was like a miracle!

Just two more performances until I am officially on VACATION! For me, a dream vacation means being in my own apartment and being able to drink as much wine as I want whenever I want without having to think about whether or not passing out in a drunken stupor is going to affect my ability to remember italian recitatives the next day. You know, maybe that was my problem all along - maybe passing out in a drunken stupor would have cemented the italian recitatives in my head much quicker - especially if I was drinking a Chianti or something. I'll have to remember that for next time. But beginning this friday, I can just get drunk for the fun of it.

*perhaps it is a slightly unfortunate juxtaposition for me to end a blog post entitled "the anatomy of anxiety" with a paragraph about passing out drunk. Please rest assured that I am neither crazy nor an alcoholic. I'm just tired of being so effing serious all the time in my blog! It's time to bring back the funny! Or at least the mildly amusing (if what you'd been reading before this was the Wall Street Journal).


Unknown said...

Well done, Jennie!
You said something on radio a while ago that I've thought about ever since: the ha-ha coloratura debate. I'd never heard the phrase "ha-ha" before, but it says it exactly right for me. I hate it. The guy sounds like someone is slapping him on the back or shaking him by the shoulders. Or he (sometimes she) just can't manage a true trill. I'd rather he not try. I like the way you sing 'em. Lovely and thrillingly.

Anonymous said...

Glad the show went well- we all knew it would! Hope when you get to vacation its as wonderful as you want it to be. Love reading your blog, and all about your adventures- gives us recreational singers a glimpse into a different echelon of music!

Violette said...

I don't know about the premiere, but the second performance was great!! If it hadn't been for the bus, I too would have stayed until the end of the opera. It doesn't seem long at all, time flies as you enjoy the opera. And seeing Miss Rivera on stage is totally worth going in a weird town in the middle of Austria... but if you can skip the weird town part, I guess it's even better!
Licida, please receive here the public applauses I wasn't able to give you for leaving early!

posa26 said...

Once again, your honesty is inspiring. I think so many singers can relate to these feelings - we are unique as musicians in that our instrument is our body, not an external piece of equipment, and so are very much affected by things often beyond our control. This was the perfect post for me to read today as tomorrow I leave Canada for France to embark on a singing adventure the likes of which I've never attempted before. Lots of anticipation, but yes, some nerves too! It's just so refreshing to hear from a seasoned professional that these feelings are sort of natural, and that we can do things to overcome them. Thank you!