No Song is Safe From Us

No Song Is Safe From Us - The NYFOS Blog
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In a week-long residency Tuesday’s rehearsal has a very particular vibe. The Monday honeymoon, the thrill of meeting for the first time, is over.  Our first guest teacher, Albert Carbonell, lit up the room yesterday, but today we were left on our own to pull this show together. We don’t yet feel the pressure of a performance nipping at our heels, so no one is freaking out about memorization. In short, a low-key day, time for Michael and me to watch and listen—and figure out what everyone most needs from us. 

Sometimes I find that the simplest directives get the best results. Soprano Elaine Daiber and tenor Terrence Chin-Loy were singing a duet from Lehár’s Giuditta. Viennese operetta style is not taught in conservatories these days, and when pieces like Die Fledermaus and The Merry Widow do get done they are mostly performed like waltz-heavy American musical comedies. The echt style remains foreign to most of the current generation—the subtle way to stay in tempo without hitting the beats, with a jackhammer,  launch the phrases so that they soar, and take liberties sparingly but at just the right moments. 

The couple in the Giuditta duet are having a torrid affair. Elaine and Terrence were (with good reason) still glued to their scores, and probably trying to please me. Their voices didn’t yet evoke the sound of lovers in heat. After a while working on some of the vocal and musical details I wanted them to do in a particular way, I told them, “The main thing is you need to be singing together. Together! The voices twine the way their bodies twine.” It was such a doofus comment that I felt a little abashed making it. It’s a duet. Of course they’re singing together. 

But the result was magic. Suddenly the libidinous sensuality was there, the phrases overlapped and dovetailed, and the musical temperature rose. Both of them sing so freely. It seems they can do anything—and it’s easy to get them to do the right thing. 

Everyone, in fact—pianist Shawn Chang, baritone Thomas West, and mezzo-soprano Siena Miller—gave me some real musical joy today as they worked over their songs. Elaine and Terrence are the stone carvers, bashing away to get at the treasure inside. Thomas and Siena are the sculptors, bending the clay to their will. Oh wait—maybe I got that backwards? 

What is beyond doubt is that I got exhausted at tea-time. During the last song before our mid-afternoon break I could feel myself drooping. I sent everyone else in for tea, grabbed a pillow, and took a nap in my wheelchair. I had neither eaten nor slept particularly well in the last hours, and everything hit me like a ton of bricks at 4 PM. When I awoke 30 minutes later, I had no idea where I was for a few seconds. “Wasn’t that scary?” asked Shawn Chang. “No, I answered, “I actually liked it.” 

Tomorrow we get our second guest teacher, the divine Bénédicte Jourdois. I shall not be sleeping through that, I guarantee you. 

Steven Blier

Called “the coolest dude in town” by Opera News, master collaborative pianist and coach Steven Blier is the co-founder and artistic director of New York Festival of Song. Here on No Song is Safe From Us, Steven blogs about the NYFOS Emerging Artist residencies, writes the engaging and erudite program notes for our Mainstage concerts, and contributes frequently to Song of the Day.

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