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Yesterday I had my very last voice lesson with Madame.

I haven’t mentioned her in a while, but that’s really only because I haven’t had a voice lesson since June, since I sang my final exam program and bid adieu to the Schola. Truth to tell, when I got back from Buxton I knew I was pretty much done (I’ve even decided not to go to Dijon as originally planned, because I simply have nothing left in me), but it was important to me to have some closure and get my technique re-aligned. To borrow a turn of phrase from Mrs. Bennet, a great voice lesson would set me up forever!

So I went. It took over an hour to get there, because the Schola is closed and Madame lives in Gretz, on the RER E, a train I have never taken in nearly a year of living in Paris. But it was worth it, because we had an excellent lesson. I had pretty much forgotten about timbre and not splatting high notes (too much operetta, methinks!), so we did that, and then we worked on “Oh quante volte,” which is this:

It’s unbelievably difficult, and exposed, and nervewracking, and not to toot my own horn or anything, but I sing it awfully well. Obviously it’s not easy, but this is an aria that came naturally when I started learning it a couple of months ago. I always forget, when I haven’t sung opera in a while, that I can sing softly and with finesse without much effort–it’s the loud stuff that gives me trouble. I’ll be the first to admit that I sounded pretty great yesterday.

And yet…

…every time I sing opera I hear my college choir director’s voice in my head saying, “You, sir, are a frrrrraud!” (He would probably never have said that to me specifically, but it was one of his favorite lines to trot out when the choir wasn’t paying attention to style or we were singing Bach like it was Verdi.) I feel like it must be obvious to people I’m singing for that my heart isn’t in it at all. And you’d think it would be simple enough to say, “My heart isn’t in this at all, I’m going to move on and do what I love to do.” Which would be operetta, musical theater, and baroque stuff.

I can’t shake the opera thing, somehow. Maybe it’s because I want to know if I could actually hack it as an opera singer, and you’ll never know how high the sycamore grows if you cut it down, as they say. Maybe it’s the American conservatory scene, and the expectation that if you have what it takes to be a professional singer, you’ll go into opera. Maybe a little bit of both, combined with a pretty well-developed sense of obligation. My sense of duty, if you will.

I remember once my college voice teacher told me that I was too talented to teach elementary school music. I don’t have any yen whatsoever to teach elementary school music, but my thought at the time was, well, what if that’s what I wanted to do? Who says that because my voice likes opera, I have to sing opera? I’m decidedly more than just a voice box, and if my heart doesn’t like opera and my brain isn’t particularly interested in it, shouldn’t that mean something? When I think about the things I’ve most enjoyed singing, none of them turn out to be opera: my head goes to Gilbert and Sullivan, high school musicals, Baroque Music Ensemble in college, Music of the Baroque in Chicago, singing rounds with Hallie and Daniella on Chanukah in Paris this year. And yet none of that seems to count when compared to what I apparently think other people are going to say when I tell them that I want to pursue musical theater or early music. It doesn’t seem to matter (matter matter matter matter) to anybody else that opera doesn’t thrill me. Sure, I have my dream roles (still would love to sing Susanna, and the Princess in L’Enfant et les Sortilèges), but the thought of playing, say, Amalia Balash in She Loves Me, or doing Music Man again, makes me no end of happy.

So I have a new plan. The plan is to improve my voice and my technique to the point where I am not limited by default. I don’t want to go into musical theater because I don’t have the vocal chops to sing opera; I want to be able to choose for myself. I want to be able to sing whatever makes me happy and interests me, without worrying about whether or not I can do it. If that turns out to be opera at some point down the line, I don’t want to find myself unable to go down that path.

I want to be happy, and I want to be the best singer I can possibly be. It’s like the end of Center Stage. Our young heroine, Jodi Sawyer, isn’t very turned out and doesn’t have great feet, but she gets accepted to the American Ballet Academy because she has a special something (and a very, very personal flare). She gets, ahem, noticed by Cooper Nielsen, a famous dancer who wants to start his own company where ballet will be less stuffy and less formal, and in the end he offers Jodi a position as a principal dancer. Anyway, where it gets interesting is in the big final scene (which I have referenced at least once before), when Jodi realizes that what she wanted–to be a member of the corps de ballet at American Ballet Theatre–is no longer what she wants, no longer what will fulfill her. As she tells Donna Murphy and Peter Gallagher, she doesn’t want to spend the rest of her life waving a rose around in the back of the chorus. She’s going to go be fabulous dancing in a company that will showcase her particular talents instead of trying to downplay her faults and flaws.

Wow, for a pretty awful teeny-bopper ballet movie, Center Stage continues to offer pearls of wisdom. And let’s be real, that final dance sequence will never stop being completely fabulous.


P.S. The title of the entry is from a great Mary Chapin Carpenter song. Enjoy!