Sunday, May 6, 2012

Sunday Read: First-Person - Mezzo-soprano Allyson McHardy

Moving into the theatre and other things on my To Do list.
Every day I experience the give and take of this career I've chosen.  This experience is weighing heavily on the give side of the balance.
by Allyson McHardy, mezzo-soprano
Last week we moved into the theatre with our production of Handel's Semele at the Canadian Opera Company. This is the moment when the final run through in the rehearsal hall is done and we are on the stage, ready for the technical elements, costumes, wigs and the orchestra.  
Until a few short years ago this was not something we looked forward to in Toronto.  I remember the excitement in Paris of moving our Mozart into the Palais Garnier.  And in San Francisco moving into the The War Memorial Opera House, one of the finest in North America.  If you followed the advice of the music staff to "sing up and out" you really cannot go wrong.  We now have the same experience with our wonderful new opera house at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. most valued commodity, the privacy that the big stage affords me...

Many good things come with the theatre from the banal to the sublime.  A shorter commute on the TTC, a room of one's own with a piano, an orchestra, four ridiculously fabulous costumes thanks to the brilliant Han Feng, and my most valued commodity, the privacy that the big stage affords me: room finally to go to those places dramatically and vocally you just can't when people are a few feet in front of you.  There are a lot of little things to sort out, a giant blow up doll, Sumo wrestlers, a 450-year-old Ming Dynasty temple. Then the big stuff that can make or break a show, shoes that are too big, a snap on one of my corsets that won't stay done up, and that blessed cadenza. 
I'll avoid giving you a play by play of the week.  Just a few moments worth mentioning.  
Theatre sets do carry energy sometimes.

First moment with the temple.  I felt somehow I needed to say hello to it.  You know, introduce myself.  Theatre sets do carry energy sometimes.  Often it’s the mould from where they are stored.  This is different.  Zhang Huan actually thought about how the singers would feel!  How this artefact would affect us, affect out singing, our story telling.  Thanks for that!  It seemed that day the temple was really quite indifferent to me.  I have since found that it gives up its secrets slowly.  Quietly, in the last days it has offered itself to me sparingly when I needed to make sense of a particular moment in the drama.  I must stay open to this communication.  I look forward to more gifts.
Hilarity induced by a bit of vertigo.  Damn that's close to the edge of the orchestra pit!  My colleague and I have one of Juno and Iris' best scenes in a very narrow corridor at the front of the stage.  Great spot for singing but wow it’s close to the edge.  It takes time to know your limits especially when you can't see.  Remember the privacy of the big stage?  Part of that is due to the fact that we really can't see you, our audience, because the light is shining in our eyes.  As my daughter would say, I seriously needed to "shake my sillies out".   We got through the scene after cracking up several times.  It's not the first time I've done that in my career and I haven't been sacked for it yet.  Keep laughing. It's all part of the process. (cont'd)
Karl Forster's photo of the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie
production of Semele (2009)
This is not an ACDC kind of moment however. Maybe just garden variety Hard Rock is the place to look.

Spent last night looking for inspiration on Youtube.  Juno is, to use the word again, outrageous.   In the big space of the theatre I needed to find something to pump up the volume on her.  Some contemporary reference to feed her with. The real stuff is in place with her already.  The hurt, the betrayal, the indignation.  We need to build on that foundation.  Zhang Huan, in his wisdom, has included in this production just how ridiculous some of these situations are.  It's just plain funny sometimes.  I had a vocal coach tell me once she was certain Handel himself was laughing when he wrote the famous aria “Hence, Iris Hence Away.”  As you may have heard, I find heavy metal music useful.  This is not an ACDC kind of moment however. Maybe just garden variety Hard Rock is the place to look.  Perhaps David Lee Roth in the video for "Jump" by Van Halen.  No, he's much too jubliant.  Carol Burnett is a bit of a go-to girl for me in these moments.  But again she is too, well... jubilant.  It needs a sinister, comic book, cartoony thing I think.   The search continues…
I'm feeling good about the show. Every day I experience the give and take of this career I've chosen.  This experience is weighing heavily on the give side of the balance.  I love that moment when the orchestra starts to play the overture of any Handel opera and I feel my heart expand to its fullest capacity.  I feel the timeless human emotions from 1743 reaching through the score to me in 2012.  I feel the gods embedded in that temple slowly rousing, much like Somnus, to greet and confront us. I hear the glittering vocalism of my colleagues in contrast to the profoundly elemental  sound of our Tibetan singer.  I am reminded that creative juices flow from many different fruits. 
My job at this point is to trust the world that this production has been born into.  To jump once again on that time travelling, culture melding giant of a human circus that is opera.

What fun!!  
See you at the opera.

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