The third day is the sweet spot. The pressure of the performance isn’t really upon us yet, the group numbers are on their feet (or, in one case, on its butt, since the cast is seated for it), the guest teacher hasn’t arrived, and it’s just the family, workin’ away on songs. Salient features of the day:
(1) We had a morning visit from about twenty students from a nearby high school, all of them members of their school chorus. They were amazingly attentive, asked a lot of good questions, and gently kicked all of us into performance mode. Sure, they were watching us rehearse, and we let them see us change keys, talk about vibrato, place vowels, fix problems. But inevitably you don’t rehearse the same way when you have an audience—you have to deliver the song, and that was a good boost to our energy. They also gave us an idea for a dance break in the Hoagy Carmichael piece that had been eluding us—it’s something called the Bernie…? Anyway, it comes from a movie, I think, it rang a bell with Miles and Theo, and it covered sixteen bars we’d been struggling with. I have found with high school students that a tiny, tiny touch of bad language and a soupçon of irreverence go a long way to earning their trust. I was all too happy to oblige.
(2) Both Olivia and Annie asked for a day of vocal rest. They have been struggling with some fatigue, and Annie is still getting over the same cold I just had. They devoted all their energies to the ensemble numbers, in which they sang lightly but acted with amazing commitment. Annie has to play a dowager in “A Bar in the Piccola Marina,” and she is already channeling Maggie Smith and Patricia Routledge. Today we got her to speak so she’s always straddling her register break—upper crust perfection, slightly crocked. Everyone’s great in that piece—Miles and Olivia as her very strait-laced children, and Theo double-cast as her boring (and soon dead) husband, and also her libidinous Italian boy-toy.
(3) With the girls pretty much on “mute,” Miles and Theo had breakthrough days. I gave Miles a pretty wide range of songs, from the gentle to the forceful, and he’s rising to the challenge quite beautifully. I always say that song is the great arena for expanding your vocal art, because you can safely go into uncharted waters in the span of a two-minute song. In his Grieg piece Miles is stepping into what I call his Helden-lyric voice, his big-boy sound, and it’s perfect for his juicy Scandinavian Stimme. And Theo is breaking through barriers, sinking into his music, his voice, and his art in the most moving way. The warmth and passion of his music is so satisfying.
(4) The cast decided they wanted to sing their a capella Stenhammar piece lying under the piano, just as we’d done two years ago rehearsing the Blitzstein quartet “In Twos.” They’d read about it and seen the picture on this blog, and they decided they needed to revive the tradition. This time we made sure Gabe Palacio, the photographer, was around to capture it. And I got a shot of Gabe on the floor with them as he took his pictures.
NEXT PERFORMANCE: PORTS OF CALL, an itinerary of song. Music of Bolcom, Weill, Rimsky-Korsakoff, Grieg, Coward, and others. Olivia Betzen, Annie Rosen, Miles Mykkanen, Theo Hoffman, with Michael Barrett and Steve Blier at the pianos. TUESDAY and WEDNESDAY March 18/19 at The National Opera Center (330 Seventh Avenue at 29th Street), 7 PM; opening performance SUNDAY March 16 at Caramoor, the Music Room, 4 PM. Under the auspices of the Schwab Vocal Rising Stars program.