CLA France Blog: Theatrical Collaborations

After two weeks of intensive coachings, classes, and rehearsals, we finally had a full run-through of our scenes.  This was an exciting opportunity to appreciate each other’s collaborations.  The ensembles cover a wide variety of musical styles, from Massenet’s Thaïs to Yvain’s Ta Bouche.  In total, there are 19 ensembles, and each singer performs 3-4 numbers.  

It was special to observe my new friends come together vocally and dramatically.  One advantage to having so many different ensembles is that we get to hear many different combinations of voices.  I was surprised by how well some of the groups blended, and several ensembles blew me away.  It’s also delightful to watch everyone take on larger stage personalities.  The mélodie concert was full of authentically sensitive interpretation, but operatic ensembles allow the singer to embody a more dramatic persona.  I found the lighter and comedic ensembles to be the most refreshing, serving as a respite from opera’s tendency towards the serious.

An important step in preparing ensembles is the theatrical development.  While solo performances encourage nuanced intimacy, the addition of a scene partner multiplies a piece’s expressive possibilities.  This is particularly interesting for me since I trained as a director in my undergraduate studies.  Another participant, Shannon Delijani, and I offered to help with staging the scenes.  Shannon began studies as a stage director while singing at Mannes, and we were both eager to contribute our theatrical knowledge to these French scenes.

While Shannon and I both have directing experience, we’ve rarely worked in such an expedited process.  We divided the scenes Saturday night and needed to stage many of the scenes the next afternoon.  My directing professor in college often assigned devised compositions to complete in class.  He would enter class with a list of requirements and gave us a limited amount of time to create a coherent piece of theatre within the guidelines.  For context, an assignment may ask the directors to include the following elements (and more): a clear beginning and end, one action repeated five times, fifteen seconds of sustained gibberish, and the line “The moon is my love”.  These wacky assignments often filled me with anxiety.  Finally, I am thanking my professor for these challenges!  

Since there was a limited amount of time to work through every number musically, I decided to meet with some of the singers after dinner.  Tomorrow’s concert includes duets from Cendrillon (Massenet), Hamlet (Thomas), and Dédé (Lalo).  I enjoyed staging these numbers because the singers brought a depth of detailed thought on their own.  I was able to quickly establish a framework of movement-based imagery within which they could supplement their own choices and artistry.  It was especially interesting to work on the duets from Hamlet and Dédé because Fernando Cisneros, a baritone, sings in both.  While working on the duet between Hamlet and Ophelie, we explored the majestic underpinnings of the music and text.  This resulted in a dramatic, slightly overwrought character.  In contrast, the other duet is a tango that requires more subtlety and interplay between the characters.  I was pleased with how quickly the singers, Fernando and soprano Judith Duerr, assumed the duet’s seductive character, and we were able to work out some very dynamic physical moments.  My favorite is an exchange where Judith momentarily lures Fernando in to tango with her, only to brush him aside and dance away in the opposite direction.  Even though the directing work extended into my free evening, I had a lot of fun working with the inventive singers.  It was refreshing to flex my directing muscles, and I look forward to watching the ensembles in concert tomorrow night!