I think I really like third performances. The premiere is always nerve-wracking and scary, but also has a very concentrated energy and focus. The second performance is often the most difficult, because after all the energy and focus of the premiere, the second can get a little sleepy and uncentered. But usually by the third performance, we've all found our rhythm, are beginning to take more risks musically and dramatically, and are having more fun.
This was definitely the case with last night's performance # 3 of Agrippina (although the second one really wasn't bad - in fact, I sang better in #2 than in #1 I think). For me, I wasn't terribly nervous, and I was focused on getting a few things perfectly right that I felt I hadn't nailed yet. Performing is such a brain game, and I'm always happy when I get further along into the run, because my brain starts to function more like it does in rehearsals and less like it does during the first few performances. During rehearsals I'm absolutely focused on creating something in the moment, and I'm not editing myself. But for the first couple of performances I have to work really hard to get the voice out of my brain that starts telling me, "That note sucked. You look stupid right now. You're supposed to sing this phrase quietly, dummy." And if I make some sort of minor mistake, fuggetaboutit, my brain is running wild, chastising me and at the same time trying to get back on track.
But by the third performance, the voices in my head usually get quieter, and I start to relax into what I'm doing. I'm not even 100% sure someone would be able to tell the difference from the outside unless they knew me extremely well, but for me, the performance becomes much more enjoyable when I'm in the moment making discoveries at every turn. Last night, the maestro had given me a note that I needed to find more places to sing quietly in the first aria, so I was challenging myself to go against my desire to SHOW OFF MY VOICE AND HOW LOUD AND ROUND IT IS just because it's the beginning of the show, and instead, show moments of Nero's psychopathic rage that are boiling on the inside but haven't exploded yet. I was happy with how that went, and I continued to try to find moments like that throughout the show. But there was still one aria that I want to do better next time, and I will continue to think about how I'm going to make that happen. And it will probably involve a lot of singing in the shower - my favorite time for vocal experimentation.
The other fun thing about the third performance is that you start to have more fun with your colleagues. People throw curve-balls at you by changing slightly what they're doing, by approaching you with more intensity on a certain phrase, or walking way over stage left when you're used to them staying center. But these moments are so fabulous because you are reminded that what you are doing is a living art, and that each performance is it's own "masterpiece" (I'm putting that word in quotation marks, because we've all had nights at the opera which could only be described with the word "piece" if it were used in the sentence "piece of crap". This particular production, however, is a nightly masterpiece - and not even in quotations.). I'm actually sad that we only have 2 more performances because this is the kind of production and the kind of cast with whom I could probably perform a thousand times and still find everything interesting. But sadly, we have to say goodbye to this fantastic production in just a few days and go to other places where we will all probably be portraying far less sinister and crazy characters.
Ah, you psychopathic, matricidal teenage boy, I will miss you so.