I was privileged to travel to Los Angeles to stay on the beautiful campus of California State University Northridge with the OperaWorks faculty and students for a few days this summer. Ann Baltz made great use of our time together, setting up a morning seminar preceding group Yoga. After lunch we divided into group break-out sessions.
Yoga was a fantastic way to break up what can be fairly heavy topics. (While discussing how to create and maintain an artistic business plan, I often find that some of the attendees are busy contemplating even larger life questions: who am I, what am I doing with my life, where do I want to be in ten years?)
The seminar was the last seminar in a solid string, and so I felt very comfortable in directing a good discussion. The topics seemed to flow very naturally and I was impressed with a few attendees in particular, who brought a diversity of opinion and an outstanding intelligence to the dialogue. They really seemed to “own” the session and genuinely wrestle with the implications. Overall, all of the singers brought an earnest desire to dig into these questions and to arrive at their own conclusions. It was a delight to not have to spend any time trying to get the group psyched up and connected — they were ready to learn.
They brought that same energy to our group break-out sessions. We went around the room digging into each singer’s unique path in a little more depth. Each singer brought such candor and self-knowledge, and it was a delight for me to get to offer my perspective on opera companies, resumes, websites, branding and marketing. Some singers were very new to the scene, some were quite seasoned veterans looking to chart a new course. Some came from California schools and some came from the school of life. Several shared stories of great entrepreneurial spirit including very creative fundraisers to help them pay for their time at OperaWorks. They “owned it” start to finish.
In talking with the singers and with Ann, I discovered that “owning it” is more than just a coincidence among this group, it is core to what the OperaWorks method is all about. The students buzzed about the final touches they were putting on their show:
Each year at OperaWorks, the singers create an original production, from a mashup of arias and scenes that are relevant to each performer and fach-appropriate. To the traditionalist, this might sound non-boring, but it makes total sense when you break it down:
- Polish relevant, fach-appropriate arias / roles / scenes
- Create an intense sense of ownership and pride over the production
- Flesh out the sub-text and back-story, grounding your audition rep into a real situation
I bet many programs of this type struggle to fit all of the students into an opera, trying to balance the talents with the requirements of the show, often having to ask several singers to sing things that are not quite appropriate. And there is the question of gender balance in shows too. What to do with all of the women? Carmelites again?
Also, how much better do you sing when you actually care what you are singing about rather than feeling like a cog in a giant wheel?
I know I have experienced both sides of this “ownership” thing myself. I recall countless auditions feeling like I needed to get “Dies Bildnis” to sound just like Fritz Wunderlich, or I had failed. And so I ended up pursing some more obscure literature to present in auditions such as Gluck or Berlioz. Then I could feel like I was doing MY version of that aria, owning it start to finish. But that doesn’t quite work either, because most audition panelists prefer to hear things in the standard rep (and most humans enjoy hearing things they already know).
If I had only attended OperaWorks years ago I would have set Tamino in outer space and owned that aria start to finish, perhaps vividly connected to my lovely Pamina floating off to Mars in a space pod.
If you believe in the power of owning it, why not consider a few weeks in LA? Check out OperaWorks 2012 auditions.