Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Google Translate locks horns with Lorenzo Da Ponte

Isn't Google Translate a fantastic thing?

Using it on La ci darem, the Don Giovanni & Zerlina duet this is what it churned out:

Original: "andiam andiam mio bene, a ristorar le pene..."

True (accepted) meaning: "let's go, let's go my dear to heal the pain..."

Google Translate translation: "let us go let us go my own good, to restore his penis..."

It seems that Lorenzo Da Ponte was playing with his audience here, and the double entendre will quite likely have been intentional. His humour was apparently just as vulgar and scatological as Wolfgang's. Time to revisit Cosi, Don Giovanni, and Le Nozze di Figaro to look for more?

And meanwhile, well, let's be happy that Google Translate is so incredibly insightful!

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Haydn - The Seasons

So, for my latest singing adventure I sang the bass solo last night in a performance of Autumn and Winter from Haydn's Seasons in Abingdon near Oxford.

What a strange and interesting work The Seasons is. Quite unlike standard oratorio repertoire. It is a challenging sing because of the huge amount of solo singing for the soprano (Jane), tenor (Lucas) and bass (Simon). Yes, the soloists really do have these twee character names.

It is considered one of Haydn's greater works, and was for that matter, one of the last works he wrote in old age. The work is based on the long poem "The Seasons" by the englishman James Thomson, forst published in 1730.

The work does seem to engender a love/hate response in musicians when asked about it. In between rousing choruses we have recits, arias, and duets for the soloists, which vary from the sublime to the run-of-the-mill.

The music really does straddle the classical and romantic eras. There is a lot of fugal writing, canons, and counterpoint in places, pointing to Bach and Handel. But the tonal shifts are very bold too, and along with the very bold tone painting point forward into the romantic era. Beethoven's proximity can also be felt strongly, especially the Pastoral Symphony, which shares common ground in it's nature thematicism.

I especially enjoyed the Hunting aria "Behold, along the dewy grass", which is a challenging but fun sing, with wonderful tone painting and effects. The two octave descending leaps on "...from the towering heights" are amongst the most bold in any baritone/bass repertoire.

Fasten your seatbelts!!!!

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Panofka - 24 Vocalizzi, Op. 81

The last couple of weeks I've revisited Panofka's 24 Vocalizzi, Op.81.
They are a series of vocalises which work on all aspects of voice production, with an emphasis on breath control and coloratura.

Panofka was regarded as one of the great 19th Century voice teachers, and he had a background as a violinist and composer too.

That much misunderstood term Bel Canto is the name of the game here, but as well as being florid, these are also very vigorous and demanding exercises. They are for intermediate to advanced students of voice only, as their technical demands will be far too great for beginners.

My experience with them, and I'm still only on the first few, is that they are like lubricant for the voice. My way of working with them is of singing each one through once on all the different vowels (only doing three or four of them on any one day). I also emphasise the dynamic markings which are essential. Any clown could sing them through fortissimo all the way through, but the effectiveness of these hangs on an absolute command of dynamic variation.

They help the voice to get the perfect balance of light and dark; smoothness and rondeur in the voice increases, and I find that they expose any flaws in vocal production mercilessly!

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

ENO Opera Works

So, this autumn I have embarked upon a year on English National Opera's Opera Works professional development course. At this point in my career I feel that it is a very good step for me.

I have been singing lots of roles the last few years, since coming back to London from Sweden, but they have all been with small and medium size companies. On the one hand, I now have a huge amount of experience of stage work, and have tackled many of the main roles for my fach (plus quite a few which are probably too heavy for my voice). But because the financial situation for most of these smaller companies is precarious to say the least, I have had to, especially in the last year, work myself into the ground. And this isn't good for my morale and enjoyment of what I do in the long run.

This year already, I have performed around 150 times (including events and opera restaurant evenings). This is a huge amount of singing for an operatic voice. Although if I was a musical theatre singer it would be quite normal. The issue is that opera singing is uniquely demanding and requires a focus of skill, interpretation, technique and energy quite unlike any other form of singing.

So, to get by financially I have been undertaking this huge workload. I also have found it frustrating to be "hitting a brick wall" in terms of moving up to bigger companies. I know I have what it takes, and know that with a little tweak here and there I could easily be singing for the larger companies. My vocal technique is solid and improving all the time with the help of my teacher Robert Dean. And working with larger companies means that it becomes easier to hit the right balance between work and rest. Obviously you get better pay for what you do!

So, I decided that a course like this would be ideal. It is an introduction for me to the people and productions at one of the UK's premier opera houses. It gives me access to top coaching and to workshop sessions with great acting coaches and directors. And it gives ENO a chance to get to know who I am, as I get to know more about who they are.

As it is only part-time (one long weekend per month, a monthly coaching, attendance of ENO dress rehearsals, and some other events) it gives me a chance to do some freelance jobs this year in parallel, although I am doing far less than I may have done. You have to commit to attending the whole course. And as you are investing in it it would be silly not to. It seems a great opportunity to maximise my musical and dramatic potential!