So now that I am on a much needed Spring Break, I am beginning to focus solely on the monumental task ahead of me: preparing my Master's Degree Recital. Today I spent all afternoon working the rhythm and text of my Spanish set, and learned two of the five pieces I have remaining. This is one of the most important parts of my two years of study here at the Eastman School of Music. For those friends of mine who have already completed theirs, I congratulate you...and glare at you with envy! For those like me whose recitals are still to come, hang in there guys, we can do this!
I've worked carefully with my teacher to create a program of music and poetry that inspires me, challenges me, and is satisfying to sing and perform. I knew I wanted a chamber work on my recital that featured cello, so Professor Cowdrick suggested Lori Laitman's song set, Daughters, for mezzo-soprano, violin, cello and piano. I knew I wanted some lesser-performed French melodies - so I'm doing a set of Duparc songs, concluding with "La Vague et la Cloche", almost never performed by women. I'll also be doing Montsalvage's Canciones Negras, in addition to a set of songs I've handpicked myself: 4 songs by different composers, all set to the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke. Peter Lieberson, Paul Hindemith, Felix Wolfes, and Mary Howe all made the list. 75 percent of my recital features art songs composed in the 20th Century. If you were to tell me that two years ago, I'd never have believed you.
To send us on our breaks with a bit of vocal wisdom, my voice teacher sent the whole studio an email with this fantastic, short interview with mezzo-soprano, Stephanie Blythe (embedded below, or here), on the importance of art song. I think it is so important for young singers to hear this message, especially coming from a performer that is most often associated with the dramatic opera repertoire, and not art song. While Blythe admits that it is more and more difficult (if not impossible) to create a career solely based on recital, art song has been unfortunately given the "short shrift." I agree with her that this is a shame, both for singers and for audiences everywhere. As she notes in the interview, art song is a deeply personal, intimate art form, and can inform you as an opera singer. Creating an inner subtext as a performer, and then conveying that as a story that will touch the audience is a profound experience. She quotes the great soprano Martina Arroyo in the interview, saying: "In art song, you're not relying on props or costumes or sets. It's you, some music, and a piano." To some singers that sounds like a nightmare, but to me, that sounds exciting. I love the work and preparation that goes into a recital - analyzing the poetry, drawing inspirations from visual art to the text, translating, researching the poet and the composer, creating subtext, finding the thread that links the songs in a set together, singing in multiple languages on the same program... the list goes on and on!
What I liked most that Blythe said: in art song the singer is "painting a world that is accessible to an audience." I've often felt like performing is very much like painting: that we are creating an image or a scene before the audience's eyes, unfolding as the song or set goes on without any actual set or scenery to help portray the idea. It requires a beautiful sense of imagination, which is why I think I find it easy to connect to. I think it is important as a young singer not to approach this career with "opera blinders" on. There is SO much music out there to be performed. I have no doubt that the more experience we can have on stage in a recital setting, the more prepared and versatile we will be on the opera stage.
If you're in town, my degree recital is on Friday, April 19th, at 9pm in Hatch Hall! See you there...