Friday, August 27, 2010

The End of a Few Things and Life Lessons From Sarastro

As this new semester begins, I look toward the future and how I will very likely not be at BYU and will be off serving a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That is one of the most exciting things to think about. This is also going to be the last time that I will sing in a BYU choir for two years, which I'm sure I will miss terribly. This semester, BYU will also see something that has never and likely will never again be seen, namely me singing a role typically associated with a basso profundo. With plenty of low Fs, the role of Sarastro has plenty of pitfalls for someone who is really a baritone, like me. However, I seem to do it well enough at the moment that no one is particularly afraid for me. I do get the feeling though, that the second I step off the stage at my last performance, I will magically turn into a baritone. It's like God has been holding my voice in the basement for just long enough to do this role and as soon as it's over, it's over. I'm plenty thankful for this role though. It's certainly not a role that any other opera company in the world would give me and I get to experience something that many baritones don't come across very often: a role that's neither comic relief nor the villain. There's a lot to be learned from the benevolent leader Sarastro. He rules with absolute power and yet he lets truth (Wahrheit), charity (Wohltätigkeit), and goodness (Tugend) guide his actions. All people and especially leaders should try to be like this great leader. Could I have have hoped for a better role to be my last before serving my mission? I don't think so.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Wine, women, and song. And then there was Bach and Jesus.

Today I had a little extra time on my hands and so I decided to listen to some good old opera choruses. It started with a little hankering to listen to the Hunter's chorus from Der Freischütz. I love how powerful that and many other German opera choruses sound. Naturally this led me to seek a great recording of Steuermann laß die Wacht from Der Fliegende Holländer. The orchestration in Wagner operas never ceases to amaze me. From there I moved on to a little lighter fare with the Soldier's choruses from both Il Trovatore and Faust. Both are favorites of mine. Naturally, I also listened to the Anvil chorus since I was already in the whole Trovatore mode. I finished up with a great rendition of the Pilgrim's chorus from Tannhäuser. It was such a peaceful song compared to all the others that I listened to. After listening to that, I really wanted to listen to some sacred music and so I turned the King of sacred music: J. S. Bach.
With a good while of just Bach's St. Matthew Passion, I was just feeling so grateful for music but also for Jesus Christ and all that he went through for me so that I could be here and not only enjoying this music but also understand the meaning of the text and the sacrifice that Jesus made. I love to give my testimony through song and whether the piece is by Bach or Sally DeFord, I can show people my understanding of the gospel and also the love of God. Music just makes me so happy!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Rolando Villazon's Eyebrows

So the other day, my sister and I sat down and watched an opera on DVD. Obviously, this is not the first time that this has happened and isn't the last time, but this one was definitely a different experience. Anyone who has seen the La boheme directed by Robert Dornhelm will understand. It's not often that an opera movie comes along that is high-budget and fully cinematic. That is exactly what Mr. Dornhelm attempted and succeeded at bringing to pass in his very own Boheme. However, this does present a bit of a problem. Operas are often best left on the stage but I guess, if one opera was made for the movies, it would have to Puccini's grand masterpiece.

Now let me explain my thoughts on the movie. First of all, I must admit that it was a gorgeous production. The scenes were definitely rich with color and a good amount dirt where it was required. You really do feel like the artists are living in little hole in the wall apartment. You can also really feel the camaraderie between the poor bohemians Rodolfo, Marcello, Schaunard, and Colline. All the roles were well sung, especially on the parts of Rodolfo, played by the capable Rolando Villazon, and Mimi, sung by opera's very own Russian cover girl Anna Netrebko. I have to admit that they do make a pretty couple on-screen. Sometimes Rolando's eyebrows get a little on the distracting side. They are very large and sometimes take on a life of their own, but it is something I've grown to accept of the many great singers who have that issue. Another strange issue that you run into with movies of operas is the insistence of many directors to include parts where the singers are quite obviously not singing and yet the singing continues in the background. All I know is that one minute Rodolfo and Mimi are singing to each other and the next, they are swinging each other around in the snow and someone is singing and it's not them. I don't mean to pick too much on Rolando, but he is just so ripe for it. His mouth is definitely interesting to watch when he sings. He sometimes loses his lips and it's kinda interesting. I was pleasantly surprised by the movie as a whole and I do recommend it to anyone out there that might be looking for a more in-home introduction to opera. You can watch the trailer for the movie here. I know there was nothing about baritones in this post, but the world won't come to an end......or will it?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Greatest Notes for Baritone

Thinking of the vast amount of glorious roles for baritone in the in the repertoire, there are many points where the singer gets to shine in all his glorious radiance. I want to list a few of these great moments just because they are so amazing. These notes are essentialy the equivalent of the tenor or soprano high Cs. It seems that it always requires some degree of risk to get the applause. That being said, all of these notes have the potential for great applause and also utter failure. The "great singers" however, have left us many wonderful recordings of how to completely own these notes and every singer could learn a thing or two from their examples. Let's begin.

Largo al factotum Lawrence Tibbett and Sherrill Milnes
This whole aria sits in such a high register, it's not surprising that people will clap at this song. Every baritone worth his salt learns this aria if for nothing else than the fact that it's such a fun song to sing. It is definitely the baritone's most well known aria, so there is a lot riding on a successful performance of it. If you don't really have the height in your voice, you can end up shouting the aria, and that wouldn't be good. One particular spot of the aria can make it or break it for the baritone. He has the option of throwing in a nice high A and it can be quite a thrilling moment. The example I have provided shows one example of a true to the score performance by Lawrence Tibbett and also a great performance by Sherrill Milnes, who does throw in all the extra high notes including a sustained A. It's glorious!

Scintille diamant
Robert Merrill
There are not many opportunities for the baritone to play such an evil person and also sing so beautifully. The money notes in this aria are high G#s. Oh! are they lovely. They can be quite dangerous, especially if you happen to be Bryn Terfel and just leave them completely exposed. However, I have provided a Robert Merrill example for you. He's a man who knows what he's doing.

Sherrill Milnes
This is probably one of my favorite arias ever! It is the pinnacle of performance for a baritone and takes a lot of ability to pull off well. The high A flat near the end and the G that follows it in the next phrase are sure to bring the house down when nailed by a great baritone and may even warrant a curtain call. It's just an amazing piece.

A few more

E gettata la mia sorte
(Optional high B flat at the very end) Sherrill again
All'erta marinar (A flat) Titta Ruffo, unaccompanied
Rigoletto ending (A flat) Cornell MacNeil, very dramatic

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Being A (Sick) Baritone and having some time to think

Anyone who is a singer knows exactly my feelings on this subject. Going to rehearsals and not feeling good about what you are producing is about the most frustrating thing in the world. However, with all the practice time you miss, you have the opportunity to think a little about the world, your art, and your relationships with others. I think that there are definitely some things that I need to fess up to.
I know that I have not been devoting enough time to actually working on the songs that my teacher has been giving me. I always seem to dislike the songs that he gives me and it takes me a long time to appreciate them the way that I should. I have been working on "O ruddier than the cherry" for several weeks now and do not have it completely memorized yet because I haven't spent the time really learning it. This is something that I struggle with but I'm going to change that and work most on the songs that my teacher gives me.
I have been spending an awful lot of time over the past month getting closer to someone. For the most part, it has been great, but there is a certain point where I have draw the line. The relationship that I have with this person is not a common one. This is a special friendship where I know that I can talk to this person about almost anything and we get along really well but it has been brought to my attention that we may be spending too much time together and not focusing on what we should be. In our cases, this is preparing for serving a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to those who are ready to hear. How can either of us do that to our ultimate best if we are looking back at all? Perhaps, there is a happy medium in our friendship that will allow us to still do our best but not become too attached over the next few months. I hope that this is true because I really do appreciate the relationship that we have.
Being sick for this time has given me the opportunity to look at what I really want for my life and I feel like making a list would help to put these things in order.
1. Serve an honorable mission for the Lord and return without any regrets having given my best for the full two years.
2. Return to my studies and progress in my ability to touch those around me with my talent of singing.
3. Go to the temple to be married for time and all eternity to someone that I love and could never get tired of, who has graciously accepted me for all of the things that I do that may be a little annoying.
4. Have a family that I can teach to love life, music, and (even more) the Lord.
I'm going to be working on these things for a long time but now that I have my priorities in order, I can have a better perspective on what I'm doing in my life. These past few days have been great for me and I plan on acting on all of the things that I have discovered during this time. I am so thankful for all of the things that I have been given, especially my voice and the opportunity that I have to share it with others. Maybe this is what "Being A Baritone" is all about.

Friday, May 14, 2010

We're going to the opera!!!!!

I love going to operas. They just seem to leave me feeling so good inside, whether it was a happy ending or not, I always feel like I've risen to a higher state of being. The opera house is just such a sacred place. However, there are a few things that are just so funny about going to operas.

Of course there's always the beloved intermission. It's supposed to give you the chance to go do something, maybe get some fresh air or (heaven forbid) if you need to go to use the restroom. Now that latter subject is an interesting one. Often times, people completely forget about going to the bathroom prior to the performance. This provides for one of the most pointless lines in history. The second that curtain goes down, the mad dash begins and half of the people in the opera house suddenly need to use the bathroom and about halfway through the intermission you realize that you probably won't be making it before that curtain rises again. Intermission is just such a magical time at the opera house.

Next, the people. People that go to operas are very diverse, but there's always some kind of quirk to their character. There are the really old people who look like they might have known Puccini in person. There's the grandma who brought along her two teenage granddaughters who you have to know will be texting through the whole performance. Of course, there's always your eccentric-looking middle-age man with the girl on his arm who looks like she's maybe a sophomore in college and is probably not his daughter. Then you get the young crowd of starving college students who bought the cheapest seats in the balcony with obstructed view who know everything (or think they do anyway) about the opera and want to feel like they're really cool because they are at an opera unlike their renegade friends who are out wreaking havoc on the weekend. This is the crowd I will find myself in tomorrow.

Lastly, you have to love going and finding your seat and then realizing that the tallest guy in the whole house is sitting in front of you and on top of that, everyone in your row seems to have long legs and you have to vault over them to make that all-important restroom trip previously mentioned. That's the problem with getting tickets near the center. The things we sacrifice for good viewing. Besides, you're just going to wait for intermission to go down and steal some seats down in the orchestra section anyway.

All of theses things contribute so much to why I love the opera. Beside the real reason for going (the OPERA), there are just so many things that make every trip great.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Great Singers

I feel like devoting this post to the baritones that I love and how their music affects my life as a performer. I am a firm believer in knowing the singers past and present in your specific voice type and how they sang or still sing while still finding your own voice to fit in with theirs. It is so important to be familiar with the great singers especially, of the past. So much can be learned by a student of voice of how to sing well by simply researching the old styles of singing. Singing seems to be progressing slowly away from Bel Canto and relying more on the pure presentation. All of my favorite singers are in some way both scholars of their art form but also could definitely be described as Bel Canto singers. Here are my top 5:
5: Hermann Prey
I rarely hear a performance by Hermann that I don't like. He is the definition of a singing actor. His characterizations come out even in recordings but he was well known for having a strong ability for acting. He performed many operas in German that made well known operas more accessible to the general populace. He has such an ease of production in his voice from high Gs all the way down to low Fs. He's just someone that you can listen to all day long.
4: Titta Ruffo
This is more than just a great voice. This is a tremendous intsrument. Titta Ruffo was certainly one of the finest Verdian singers of all time. If you can get past the many imperfections in the recording quality of his records, there is much to be learned. He has many of the finest recordings of Meyerbeer. He is simply a singer that one has to experience first hand. It is hard to explain the ability that Titta Ruffo possessed.
3: Thomas Hampson
This is a man who is truly a scholar. He always gives a well thought-out performance. He has recorded and performed every type of classical music in many languages. My favorite part about him however, is his love for the music of America. He has set out to record some of the lost favorites of the American musical tradition, especially the works of Stephen Foster, Aaron Copland and others who have shaped American music. Also, I could sit and listen to his voice all day long. He has taught me to love the American musical tradition.
2: Leonard Warren
Like Titta Ruffo, Leonard Warren is one of the greatest voices of all time. His huge voice was well suited to the great works of Verdi, but his voice was also well suited for the concert stage singing the songs of Tosti and Donaudi. His voice was definitely a gift from God which only comes along once in a long while. Unfortunately, he was taken from the world too soon singing of all things "Morrir una tremenda cosa". His recordings only remain to document the wonder of his great talent.
1: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
One of the greatest and most profoundly important singers of the 20th century. There is no denying the great contribution that he has made to the world of classical singing. He is the most prolific recording artist in history. That's easy to see since the Dieskau-graphy includes over 60 operatic roles and recordings of the complete songs of Schubert, Schumann, and Brahms. He also recorded under the direction of Karl Richter the complete cantatas and Passions of J.S. Bach. Almost every recording of Fischer-Dieskau shows an in-depth and well thought-out presentation of the music which he is singing. He remains the preeminent authority on the interpretation of German lieder. He has taught me to be a student of every aspect of songs. Everything from the melody to the accompaniment to the poetry must be taken into consideration. He is and will remain my favorite singer of all time with his enchanting ability to present music as the work of art that it is.
I hope that this can inspire some people to get out there and find their own favorites in their own field and to experience the work of the masters for themselves. It has certainly help me tremendously.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Practicing tonight

So here's my first post of thoughts on being a baritone. Tonight I was practicing. The collection of songs was a little strange given, but I think some of it deserves attention. I started out with a gorgeous aria from Verdi's Attila. No, I'm not ready for the role of Ezio by any means, but the aria is really fun to sing. "Dagl'immortali vertici" is the name of the aria. It seems that no one records this aria. However, everyone LOVES the cabaletta that follows "E gettata la mia sorte" which is famous for the stunning ending which allows true Verdi baritones with a little courage and a whole lot of voice to throw in a huge high Bb and send the audience into a frenzy. Personally, I would probably completely kill the note, however baritones like Piero Cappuccilli and Sherrill Milnes have done it to great effect. But, back to the understated aria. I find it a great tool for learning how to ease up into a high F. This has always been a real issue for me to work through when I'm singing heavy operatic music. Granted, I don't have a terrible time hitting the high Fs in Trial by Jury that the Judge sings (a role which I am currently learning and will sing in the summer). However, there comes a time when a baritone must be able to sing a solid F, so I must prepare. There is a line which slides right up from an Eb up to an F on the word cadavere. When I first picked up this song, I thought, "That's not going to happen!" Much to my surprise, I got to the line and it worked up somewhat easily into that dreaded passaggio. With a little bit of vowel modification (always a must for a baritone in that range), it just got easier and easier. It always makes me happy when I can sing something and it just works, I think that everyone enjoys having that happen. Tonight witnessed a pretty good practice of that piece.
Now for a piece or two that definitely did not work very well. Both come from Mark Adamo's Little Women. Of course, this should be the first indication that something might just be wrong. First, IT'S MARK ADAMO and that means that there will be some really modern elements in the music. Examples: free meter, adding beats when there need to be more, and using eastern scales. Second, because it's a modern opera the baritones will sing with post Verdian influences such as being expected to sing up in the range of F and G for extended periods of time. After Verdi changed the baritone voice, composers seemed to think it acceptable to just go as high as they want for as long as they want. Something is wrong when a Marc Adamo baritone is singing in pretty much the same range as a Mozartian tenor. So, just in case any young baritone is reading this post, don't try to sing "There was a knight once" or "Kennst du das Land" unless you really have the technique up there.
I think that I've ranted long enough. I still love being a baritone, so frustration has not persuaded me against it yet. I'll continue to progress and ultimately live my life "Being a Baritone".

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Being A Baritone: An introduction

This seems to be my introduction to blogging, as it were. I don't know if I'll be able to somehow educate my readers, but it is my intent to give those who are not baritones an idea of what it's like to be one. These posts will try to express what goes through the mind of someone like me (an opera fanatic) and reassure beginning singers that they are not alone in their occasional frustration with their progress, or lack thereof. I hope that people can enjoy my comments and an occasional post of what I consider great singing.