Saturday, August 25, 2012

My Brunch with Greatness

Photo credit:  Markku Pilhaja
Saturday I had the joy of brunching with two of my absolute favorite divas, Jennifer Rowley and Kristi Bulot. Astute readers will recall my borderline creepy fascination with Jen, from her surprise debut at Caramoor in Maria di Rohan to her recent Verdi Requiem performances. (They might also find this recent profile, which she inexplicably gave to another blogger, fascinating.) Oh, and by the way, she's making her Covent Garden debut in December in Mr. Meyerbeer's Robert le Diable, and also covering Desdemona at the Met in March.

Of Kristi's recent triumph in Opera Manhattan's Suor Angelica, blogger Lucy Barnes wrote in Opera Obsession:

The Suor Angelica of Kristi Bulot grabbed my attention with her first notes, and gave a vocally and dramatically compelling performance. Bulot portrayed Angelica as a passionate visionary, unremittingly intense in expression. In Bulot's coloring of her voice, in her use of text, in her body language, it was clear that the constant work of renunciation is the determinant factor in Angelica's experience and actions....when I sobbed during Senza Mamma, I don't think I was alone. Bulot has a strikingly lush Puccini soprano, from strong gravi to brilliant top notes which she was capable of bringing to pianissimo.
'nuff said.

Kristi Bulot
For reasons known only to God and their therapists, both ladies seem somewhat fond of me, so we had a lovely time. Upon learning that Kristi is a finalist for a place in Chicago Lyric Opera's Ryan Opera Center Ensemble, Jen took an endearing interest in Kristi's upcoming final auditions in Chicago, imparting a tremendous amount of wisdom about the opera business, things she says she wishes someone had taught her when she was starting out.

Most important lesson of all: Lead with your long suit. The greater the risk, the greater the reward. As someone of my acquaintance with a crude mouth would say, put your balls on the table. Start with something that will make them take notice, something that shows passion. They want to see passion -- or balls -- first, and subtlety later. That takes confidence, and if there is ever a time to throw yourself into a role, it's in convincing a table full of impresarios that you believe with all your heart that you are exactly the singer they want.

Jen had lots of stories from her own experience about committing fully and winning because of it. Her confidence -- as well as obviously having the goods to back it up* -- have more often than not given her successful results from auditions. Jen exudes confidence and sure-footedness that comes from falling down occasionally but getting up always. Some of them she shared in the profile for that other blogger -- stories where she gave 100% -- "I'm-a sing this!" -- and it made all the difference in the world. It changed her life.

Please allow me to make some observations. The international singers who are called great are not great because of technical proficiency. Once you reach a certain level, everyone is good enough. Rather, it's about passion, about risk taking, about charisma -- that's where the magic is. It's true of so many singers of the 20th century's "Golden Age" and of many who are singing today. I've written before of a certain European soprano whose singing on recordings sounds like fingernails on a chalkboard to me, but who took my breath away when I saw her live. It's happened more than once.

These life and career lessons that aren't usually taught in music school are common themes in discussions with rising singers I'm privileged to meet. I've reported it in several singer profiles, in my recent post sharing wisdom from the audition master class at Opera Breve Vocal Institute, and in posts from my dear friend Jeff Nytch, whose career now is in preparing university music students for the business of music. Knowing where I fell down in my own early career aspirations, and seeing many young people make mistakes, I hope this is useful as well as entertaining. (Now would be a good time to tell me it's both.)

*The goods, as I've observed and been told by successful people:

  1. Do the work.  Be ready. 
  2. Know yourself. 
  3. Know your instrument. 
  4. Know your capabilities.
  5. Grow a pair. 
  6. Did I mention doing the work?

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