Show Off

I'm back in Berlin for the opera Antigone by Traetta at the Staatsoper, and I have severe jet-lag induced insomnia, so I figured I would make the most of it by writing down some of the thoughts percolating in my mind. Might as well be productive at 2:00 in the morning if you're not asleep, right?

We've begun musical rehearsals for this rarely performed opera, and since this is another Rene Jacobs project, I'm learning a great deal as we go. He's passionate about every single syllable that we sing, and his attention to detail makes the end product incredibly interesting, even riveting, where in another's hands it might be boring- as I've spoken about in past posts. 

The thing is, as opposed to last year, when we did Agrippina and I played the psychotic Nerone who runs around like a crazy person and sings lots of coloratura, this year I'm playing Ismene, Antigone's more rational and rather un-dramatic sister. And I'm the only character in the entire show who sings zero coloratura. Rene was explaining today that as Traetta was a composer in the enlightenment movement, he only used coloratura when it was necessary to express anger or madness, and since I'm relatively rational, I don't get any. 

And after singing the low and quite coloratura-less Bach last week and then beginning this project, I notice myself getting a little antsy. I'm not complaining about what I have to sing - the music is beautiful and meaningful, and there are many opportunities for me to work at creating something very special. However, I'm a singer, and I have an ego. And when I don't get to "show off" what I can do best, I start to feel a little ill at ease.

So how do we separate the ego from the artist? How do we find artistic fulfillment even when we aren't flexing our strongest muscles? Obviously I don't need to be singing high notes and fast runs to be artistically fulfilled. But I will admit that not getting any music that allows me to shine in the ways I'm used to is hard on my ego. But it's an excellent lesson in both humility and artistry. First of all, when you are stripped of your shiny parts, all that is left is what you have to contribute artistically, and you may even find yourself taking more emotional and musical risks, leading to a deeper connection with what you are singing about. It is also a great reminder that what we are doing as artists is much greater than us as individuals, and when we get too caught up in showing off what we are good at, it's very easy to lose sight of why we are making art in the first place. The famous phrase is true; there are no small parts, only small actors. 

So instead of being my small self, and letting my ego reign, I plan to use this opportunity to remind myself of why I'm doing this whole artist thing. It's because I have something to say, and I have a voice to say it with. The bottom line is that it doesn't matter what words you use, as long as you say them with conviction and make them your own. That's what being an artist is all about. 

Or maybe being an artist is all about screaming loud high notes. I don't know - I'm delirious with fatigue  - ask me again after I've gotten a full night's sleep.