Summertime, it’s a time to enjoy family and friends. When we think of summer we think of long days spent at the beach, BBQs, vacations, and enjoying every bit of the summer sun and good weather that we can.
The summer can be a quiet time for singers. There are plenty of worldwide summer music festivals and summer young artist programs, but for singers who haven’t landed a festival or who aren’t participating in a young artist program it can be a dauntingly quiet period as they look forward towards the Fall and the next audition period.
I like to keep busy and to keep moving forward, so a quiet summer can make me feel restless. I had my plans to visit family, but I was still looking for some artistic inspiration. A trip to Cologne in early June gave me the solution.
I have been working with Professor Stephan Wehr, Hochschule für Musik und Tanz in Cologne, since I first moved to Germany in the fall of 2012. His love for opera is infectious, so it isn’t hard to believe that he would come up with some inspirational options. He was doing a master class for a week in the summer with German opera director and intendant, Michael Hampe, in Montepulciano, Italy, would I be interested? Let me think, a week in Italy working on music?
It sounded perfect to me, I could view it as a working vacation, and who doesn’t love the idea of spending part of their summer in beautiful Tuscany? I quickly started to look into the details of the program. There are a series of summer master classes that take place at the Palazzo Ricci every summer. The Palazzo Ricci is run in part with the Hochschule für Musik und Tanz in Cologne. So yes, that means that you are in Italy doing a master class run by people who speak German. Of course, they all speak English and Italian too, but it was just a funny side note for me that I was in Italy speaking more German than Italian (or sometimes German when I wanted to speak Italian….I call this “Language Brain.”).
There are multiple courses offered every year, and participants can pick and choose what they are interested in. The courses range from singing and acting to piano and violin, so there is something for everyone. The course I was taking with Stephan Wehr and Michael Hampe focused on acting in opera. Hampe encouraged us to be music detectives. Our actions and motivations come from the page, from the music, because the music is our character. So with that point in mind, the singing actor must be ahead of the music, because they are the ones whose actions and emotions are inspiring what happens in the score. This might sound like a basic point, and it was true, all of Michael Hampe’s insight and advice was simple and straightforward, but it is easy for performers to get hung up on the idea of “performing” and “showing you that they are feeling something,” instead of just simply being in the moment. It’s also easy for singers to ignore the clear musical clues being left for them, focusing instead on where they need to move around on stage and when their next entrance is. Real performing is more than accurately hitting your marks on stage and singing the right notes at the right time. It isn’t about an artistic or political concept, or posing about stage mugging to the audience to show how you feel. Real performing should be about bringing life to the page the composer wrote and taking the audience along for a ride where they come away feeling something. That’s where the risk is, the risk is in trying to be as truthfully in the moment as you can. It’s about being genuine and being honest. That might sound simple, but it is hard.
Clearly, I came away from this week being inspired. Having a lot of thoughts about opera, acting, what I like, what I don’t like, and how to become a better performer. I think I will always be striving for that, I think I will always want to improve, but I think that’s part of being an artist, wanting to grow.
So that’s my summer, family and friends, beach and BBQ, but also music and Mozart, drama and inspiration.