Hello to you all!
Next Saturday, one night only, I will be singing in a FREE workshop performance of a new concert in development called “Walk the Line.”
Cue your thoughts: Johnny Cash? Concert in development? Workshop? What ARE you talking about???
Allow me to explain.
While I love Johnny Cash (Ring of Fire, anyone?) the line I am musically walking is one that ventures to and fro the worlds of Musical Theater and Opera as we stereo-typically know them.
Together with three musical comrades (Jeff, of course, tenor Van-Anthoney Hall who you will remember from an opera we sang together last spring, and pianist Ben Blozan) I am working on a full length touring concert that seamlessly blends Musical Theater into Opera in a way that fans on both sides of the line find that they can actually embrace and enjoy. This concert has evolved over many glasses of wine and seemingly insignificant conversations – about how we have felt labeled the more training we have received, about how good music is good music, and how good singers are good singers, no matter the style.
This may come as a surprise, but opera fans can be snobby. And musical theater fans can be insipid. As an opera singer who was first inspired to perform by none other than Phantom of the Opera, I delight in both and often find myself defending the other to each camp. There are nuggets in each genre that the other won’t detest. I know it! I don’t love all musical theater. Heck, I don’t even love all opera! But something important I can understand is that the same way my voice isn’t meant for all opera, it isn’t meant for all musical theater. But it is meant for some, and not just what I find in the “Musical Theater for Classical Singers” songbook I have sitting on my shelf.
In a tiny nutshell that leaves a lot out- once upon a time, opera singers walked across the street, literally, to perform opera one night and musical theater the next. Musical theater writing evolved and less vocally and musically trained singers became the standard in musicals, and the great divide widened even greater. There is this idea that opera singers can’t act. I admit that less training is put into the acting of singers, but what an awful label to have been slapped on opera singers. Then of course there is dancing… if it isn’t a waltz, minuet or fandango, most opera singers are a bit out of luck. Not all, but, most. In opera, trained dancers do the virtuoso dancing. The rest of us move our feet the way we are told to.
This brief and dirty history aside, I am excited to say that some of this cross over is happening here and there. Opera sensation Bryn Terfel in Sweeny Todd, musical theater darling Kelli O’Hara in The Merry Widow… lines are blurring again if even just a little. Hooray! But, there are strong opinions, and resistance, and people who just don’t want to hear “that kind of singer” in “that kind of show.” Eh, so be it.
At the end of the day, I am a singer. A classically trained, musically proficient singer. I have been paid to sing opera. I have been paid to sing musical theater. Heck, I was even paid to sing country at a wedding once! But as my most recent voice teacher definitively stated, unsolicited and out of no where, “You, my dear, are an opera singer.” Why, thank you very much! Can we make a t-shirt with your quote?
I have invested a lot of time and money on training over the years to become one. I hone my craft daily. And I don’t doubt it… any more, ha ha ha. But it has always been funny to me that nearly every stage director I have worked with over the years has said to me “Wow, you can actually act, and not just for an opera singer.” I defy anyone who says I can’t do both, or who doesn’t consider me as being capable of both. Does that mean actors can’t sing? Well, that is a whole other conversation not for today… we all have our strengths and need to know what to stick with. My point, is that acting is not reserved for musical theater performers. And good singing isn’t just done by opera singers.
Back to our concert next week!
We say it is a workshop performance, and Part One at that, because we are focusing just on musical theater selections this time around and see what really works in the grand vision we have for this final concert. We will use our music sometimes, this music is new to us, and that is what workshops are for. In general, though, we are going to open our mouths and sing the way it comes out – not opera, not musical theater. We are just singing. We are just acting. We are just having fun. It is going to be informal and we want you to come and spend an hour with us doing what we love.
Part Two will be all opera – and possibly all American opera. There is this whole other crazy idea that if an opera wasn’t written by a dead Italian, or someone French or German whose training is traced back to a dead Italian, then it isn’t “really opera.” Oh, these funny ideas. Keep an eye out for a fall concert date for that one. The complete “Walk the Line” will blur lines between the two concerts. The best from Part One and Part Two, or perhaps new music, will become the final touring concert, ready to go by next spring.
Rather than sing for ourselves as we work the details out, we are going to sing for you. Well, those of you who can come! It is free, but we are taking donations that night for a little something else I have up my sleeve. Come and find out what!
All I will say is this – opera, and booze, and bars.