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Writer's block or limited brain space?

I'm really not sure why I'm one of those people who either seems to write 4 posts in a week or none for a month. It's like I have creative spurts in various parts of my life, but can only focus on one at a time. Plus, because I'm so honest and like to tell the absolute truth about what's going on with me in my blog, I tend to avoid writing too much when either a) I'm gainfully unemployed ("Wow. That episode of the Mad Men last night was crazy, right?" Not good blog material), or b) when I have a project or event happening that for whatever reason I can't yet share with the public at large ("I'm busy learning a new aria for my big Met audition! Update; I didn't get it." Also poor blog material and just plain embarrassing (that is not a real example by the way - I haven't auditioned for the Met in a long time)). 

But comments will occassionally trickle in on old posts, and after reading things about how much people look forward to my entries, I'll kick my own butt and realize that even if I'm not feeling particularly writerly, I need to just put something down and stay connected with all the people who have bothered to follow me for all this time. I was having a coaching yesterday, and when the singer after me arrived at her coaching she said, "love your blog, by the way!" which reminded me I needed to get cracking. Then I saw that my last entry was over a month ago! Jenny Jenny Jenny!!!

I can't tell you everything that's happening and is in the works just yet, but I can tell you that at the moment I'm knee deep in memorizing a new role. I leave in about a week and a half for Europe - first Italy for a week, then on to Innsbruck, where I'll be singing the title role in "La Stellidaura Vendicante" by Francisco Provenzale. You've never heard of it, you say? Don't worry - few people have. It's one of those baroque operas that is rarely done, there is no recording in existence, and few people have even heard of the composer. But the Innsbruck Festival for Early Music loves to rediscover and reintroduce forgotten works from within the baroque repertory to the public, and present them in lovely productions with a fabulous baroque orchestra. 

At the Festival's Website you can find a bit of interesting information about the opera (along with a big picture of my face from a few headshots ago) and why the company has chosen it as their opera this summer. It's the earliest baroque opera I've sung thus far because it's pre 1700's, so I'm facing the challenges of making it exciting and visceral without the flashy arias I'm used to with Handel and even Pergolesi. But there is some achingly beautiful music with that complex simplicity that you only find in baroque music, along with a pretty awesome character who says things like "I'm going to avenge you with this sword because I've been wronged, I'm a woman, and I'm your lover!" before she runs off to try to kill someone who beat up her boyfriend. She's seriously badass - and all the way back in the 1600's! I'm used to avenging people with my sword when I play all those pants roles, but it will be very nice to be playing a strong woman instead of someone just lying around dying of lovesickeness or something. 

But that brings me back to the fact that I have to memorize this entire role that I had never even heard a note of before I received the score a couple of months ago. And it's not like I could listen to a couple of recordings to get a feel for the harmonies and the flow of the piece. Or read through an already translated libretto to get the ins and outs of the story. In fact my first introduction to the piece was a giant package I received from Innsbruck, which contained a photocopy of the manuscript. And let me tell you, I could NOT always read Provenzale's handwriting! 

Luckily, since then, they have put the whole score into the computer and I have learned it all and know what's happening in the story (thank god I have an excellent coach who can sight read a full score and can figure out the harmonies and stuff. She is absolutely indispensable to me when I learn these unknown baroque pieces). But I still need to get the whole thing memorized before I arrive. We do have nearly a week of musical rehearsals in Italy before moving on to begin the staging in Innsbruck, but I always have been and always will be an over preparer. Honestly, this doesn't come from my outstanding work ethic, but rather from my desire not to be horribly embarrassed. I'm totally serious. I have never understood how people arrive for the first musical rehearsal not knowing their music and don't die of shame right there. I would just melt into a puddle of goo on the floor beneath my music stand. So I learn my music, always. 

But that doesn't mean I don't spend the few weeks before I arrive banging my head against my music stand in the hopes the music will just GET IN THERE ALREADY DAMNIT!! There's that point where you know it, but when you try to look away from the score you are suddenly hopelessly lost, and you think - well, I may have memorized every single score for the past 15 years, but this is the one I just can't remember. My brain is officially full. There is apparently no more room. Then one day, miraculously, you just know it. I'm still waiting for that miraculous moment with this score - or at least with the third act. And I'm going to ignore those voices in my head telling me that there is only so much Italian recitative one person can hold in their brain and I'm officially at capacity, and keep cramming it in there until it sticks. 

And I get to go to a gorgeous town in Northern Italy for a week, followed by almost 5 weeks in Innsbruck, which is just such a special place. So that music is going to GET IN THERE so I can spend my free time when I arrive eating and climbing mountains and not pounding my head against any music stands. 

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Reader Comments (6)

Jennifer, thank you for this post! I really enjoy hearing about where everyone is singing especially as I'm getting back into the swing of things and going back to school. For a long time I've had people telling me that early and Baroque music sounds great in my voice but I haven't the first clue as to where to find workshops, competitions, opera companies, etc. that focus on those types of music. Do you have any suggestions/recommendations on where to start looking? I'm a high soprano and will be heading back for my masters in the fall so cramming music and rep into my brain is a BIG priority right. Best of luck with getting everything memorized!

June 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGiles

Very interesting article. I couldn't get your link to Innsbruck Festival to work, though. This link worked for me
I do wonder how you guys are able to memorize all that stuff, in whatever language. Pretty impressive I think. And then maybe not perform it for awhile and have to recall it maybe years later and in the meantime you've performed other operas in different languages. Do people with good voices sometimes not succeed because they can't handle all the memorization? Does it take a long time to learn an opera? Just curious.Thanks

June 22, 2012 | Unregistered Commenteranon

Dear Giles - The fact is, the early music scene in the U.S. is a challenge to get into - I actually haven't sung that much baroque music on this side of the pond with the exception of Music of the Baroque in Chicago. Boston has an excellent early music scene, but I guess you would just have to audition for all of the institutions separately. What usually happens is you work with a conductor who likes you and they rehire you, and they you find yourself in the circuit. That's what happened to me over in Europe. In terms of general companies and auditions, you can always have a baroque aria on your list, but most of the early music competitions that I'm aware of are in Europe - the Innsbruck Festival has one every summer - perhaps you could look into that? Good luck

Anon - thanks for the tip about the link - I fixed it. Some singers definitely have more trouble with memorization than others, although th staging process usually helps cement the words into your memory. However, when it comes to very wordy pieces, everyone is afraid of forgetting, and is usually going through their score in the dressing room before every performance just to be safe!

June 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJenny

I am glad you you are back! I just recently found your blog and find it very interesting. I love opera and listen as much as I can. It adds more to get some "inside information"! Unfortunately Innsbruck is not for me this time but I am fond of baroque music so would have been intersting.
I will keep track of you and read your blog!

June 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterOlgakatt

Jennifer, thank you for the response! I'm not opposed to singing in Europe so I'll definitely look into that, especially the Innsbruck Festival. I'll keep looking in the States too. I know there is an early music organization that has started in my state of residence (but on the opposite side) that may have more information about opportunities with other groups like them if not themselves. Thanks again!

June 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGiles

Ha! I love that De Marchi (according to Innsbrook's website) is playing the harosichord...a very obscure keyboard instrument, indeed. I believe it's a pre-cursor (one cursor to the left, to be exact) of the more commonly known harpsichord. Have a great time singing great music. In bocca al lupo!

July 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterIchSinge

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