Tuesday, October 28, 2014
I celebrate myself
And what I assume you shall assume
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs
I loafe and invite my soul
I lean and loafe at my ease....observing a spear
of summer grass.
Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
You spend a master class hour with world number one diva Renee Fleming, and it gets you to thinking, about a lot of things.
About things like: what is this thing, charisma? Why do some people have so much, like Ms. Fleming, others little or none?
I think, in part, it is a function of human connectivity. The greater the "connectivity" to others, the greater the charisma. Metaphorically, it is a winking of the eye, a "we're in this together" feeling, conveyed to the receiver. A singular oneness that says, like the poet: "Every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you."
It is the opposite of "I'm so much better than you". Of separateness, aloofness. Of pride.
In opera, (and pop and jazz, for that matter), charisma is Renee Fleming. We attended her sold-out master class in Pick-Staiger Hall, October 27, 2014, along with 1,000 of our newest acquaintances. We all got a voice lesson; Ms. Fleming had the crowd doing vocal lessons along with her four students (AAAAAAAAAAA -- EEEEEEEEEEEEEE -------IIIIIIIIIIIII.....again! -- it's worth noting that most clinicians never do any such thing), suggested singing while doing pushups against the floor or wall and had her baritone student demonstrate, much to the delight of the audience, and finally, singing through straws for breath control. She talked about the place of Pilates and Yoga as foundation for vocal performance. She is a pert and pretty compendium of vocal savvy. After all, she is the number one girl singer in the world, did we mention that?
There are a gaggle of vocal coaches, especially in New York, where they make big dollars coaching opera stars and wannabe's. Ms. Fleming can do all that, and then put the product on the top stages of the world, which they can't.
But the lesson went beyond vocal tricks, and do's and don't, it was a lesson in humanity of the charismatic style. Of this kind of thing 'my atoms are your atoms -- mi atoms e su atoms?' that she manifested in everything she did.
For example, rather than ripping them, or damning them with faint praise, as some do, Ms. Fleming was spectacularly encouraging to her young hopefuls. She came over to them after the selection was sung. (Some clinicians maintain quite a distance.) She put her hand on their back or shoulder, while calling out the things they did best. "So few can sing Puccini's 'Chi il bel sogno' from La Rondine, but YOU CAN, I loved it" she said to a young singer, nervous at performing before the world number one and a packed concert hall.
Besides the support, Ms. Fleming was an expert, which has its own charisma, to be sure. The nerves? Ms. Fleming coached the young soprano on throat relaxation, and breathing, and breathing exercises, had her do some exercises onstage, and resing the aria, and magically brought her up a whole level within minutes. The nerves just melted away.
She coached the dramatic, she gave one singer "permission" to inhabit the character, and become him, instead of just singing the notes. To rant, rave, move, box, wave the arms -- to convey the meaning of the words:
Ah, per sempre...Bel sogno beato, Riccardo's aria from I Puritani
Ah, per sempre io te perdei, Oh! Forever I have lost you,
fior d'amore, o mia speranza; flower of Love, oh hope of mine;
Ah! La vita che m'avanza what's left of my Life
sarà piena di dolor! will be filled with pain!
Quando errai per anni ed anni When I wandered year after year
in poter della ventura, under the power of blind luck,
io sfidai sciagura e affanni I challenged calamities and cares
nella speme del tuo amor, in the hope of your Love,
io sfidai, ecc..
Bel sogno beato, Lovely blessed dream,
di pace e contento, of peace and contentment,
o cangia il mio fato, either change my fate
o cangia il mio cor. or change my heart.
Oh! Come è tormento Oh! What torment
nel dì del dolore, in that day of sorrow,
la dolce memoria the sweet memory
d'un tenero amor. of a tender Love.
Translation by Manuel A. Gutiérrez (firstname.lastname@example.org)
And then, there was the humor. Mixed with the constant patter and asides to the audience. (Some clinicians never acknowledge the audience at all.) Ms. Fleming did, but not as "audience," rather as "we're all friends here." And she backed it up with humor, just as you might when among friends. She was funny, very funny -- about every 60 or 90 seconds she had the room laughing. She has the chops of a Second City improv artist.
We could go on, but you get the picture. From me, here, just a grainy one, from a distance. You had to be there to really experience the whole thing in living color: the music, technique, conveyance, grace, beauty -- and the warm humor at no one's expense and for that one brief hour, to everyone's benefit. All in all, a great music lesson, to be sure, but a master's master class in humanity and with special focus on this thing, charisma.