Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Voices That Have Gone, Part 6: The Two Sopranos

In my yeoman’s days as a singer in New York City, I had a friend whom I loved and admired. We were very close, but we could never be best friends, because we were both sopranos, and such a thing simply could not be. We performed together once in a production of Figaro (she sang the Countess, I sang Susanna), and later in a concert with the group I had formed to present specialized repertoires. That latter gig was a stressful one for both of us. She was on her way to the venue when she realized she’d forgotten her gown. She went back to get it, and ended up warming up and doing her makeup in a cab on her way to the concert hall. She was also recovering from an ailment that caused her serious vocal distress. In an important segment of the concert, an extended duet cantata by Rossini, she found herself unable to continue singing. Although at that point I was pretty upset with her, I summoned all the love I could muster in myself and poured it out in her direction. Amazingly, she was able to recover her voice and finish the piece. I remember taking her hand at the end, during the piano postlude. In my dressing room afterwards I made a mental vow never to perform with her again. But she told me a few days later, in tears, that the power of the love she had felt from me had made the concert one of the greatest musical experiences of her life.

Right around that time, my former obsessive, driving ambition for success as a singer had started to crumble. My first marriage had ended, and at the same time I had switched fachs and begun singing the lyric mezzo-soprano repertoire. Although theoretically I might have gotten more work as a mezzo, where the field was not as crowded, I asked my manager not to send me on any more auditions. I simply couldn’t stomach continuing along the path that I believed, because of my ambition for it, had led my whole life astray. But I was very slow in learnng the lesson my friend provided during that fraught moment in Rossini: that the love with which we sing, and the love with which we regard our friends, is the better part.

My friend got married and started a family soon after, and I went to graduate school. She later moved across the country, and we have not been in touch for some time. I’ve been dreaming about her for the past few nights, though; I feel as if she is speaking to me in my dreams. She was always an incredibly tender and wise person, and in my dreams I have been able to experience her tenderness and wisdom. In spite of the real disappointments and frustrations in both of our lives and careers, she is someone I wish I could be more like.


soprannie said...

Ah, diva darling, your post brought back memories of a different time. A time when I had endless ambition and vocal confidence. When my singing was my only child and my truest love. It was also a time when I had a boyfriend recovering from a catastrophic head injury; a temp job I despised; just enough money for cat food, new shoes & voice lessons; and the illusion that I was invincible.

The reported recital had registered in my brain in two ways. The first: the funny performance/audition story. Others include my friend L who packed up her life and went to Germany for an audition tour, and promptly lost all her music on the train to Frankfurt. I spent my night in New York (her morning in Frankfurt) at my temp job photocopying music and faxing it to her. Or my friend C who forgot her heels and had to do a concert barefoot (instead of in her snow boots). I have another friend who stopped singing in the middle of the second round of a prestigious competition to shout at the auditors, "are you listening?!?!? Are you even f--ing listening?!?!" Really. He did that. I tell my forgotten dress story to friends with all the details -- the realization, on the subway, that I have forgotten my outfit, the running to the theater to tell you (remember when we didn't have cellphones?), and of course the hilarious (or tragic) cab ride back from brooklyn, trying to discretely change my clothes and put on mascara in a speeding taxi. "Ahmed! Don't look!" "OK, just dress fast and tell me where to turn!" I managed to get a very nice and respectful New York cabbie who was also new on the job, and got us hopelessly lost, although he did drive very fast.

I read your blog post, and was forced to remember past all the details to the sorrow of letting down a friend, of disappointing a colleague. That memory brought back all the memories of hardship and heartbreak of being a young singer; the sacrifice, the constant disappointment and desperate hopes. But, mostly, when I think of that recital, I remember the sheer physical and spiritual pleasure of making music with a friend. I rank that pleasure up with the other suprise pleasures of life -- late night newborn nursings, sitting silently on a rock in the wilderness, ice cream and Stephen Colbert with my mate.

We did work together again, you and I, remember? We made a recording, and we laughed and drank wine afterwards, but mostly, we made wonderful, transcendent music.

Pentimento said...

soprannie, your comment brought tears to my eyes. I want you to write a guest post for this blog about -- well, all of that. Will you? Please? And please include the time you had to beg for change to get home from your temp job. It reminds me of the summer I had a temp job in an office with a coffeemaker, and I thought that if I bought a single-serving cup of Haagen-Dasz ice cream at the deli every day for $.99, I could have a delicious and nutritious drink every day by mixing it with the free office coffee and wouldn't have to buy breakfast. I don't know why I thought it would be nutritious (or even delicious, for that matter).

And you are right, we performed together again. I still remember singing "O voce so-o-o-o-o-ave" in beautiful thirds with you in the fall of 2001. I mentioned that mental promise I made in the dressing room only to show what a fool I used to be (I say "used to be" with more hope than conviction). And I think I've let down my friends (including you) in many various ways and far more than you ever could have in that one silly gig.

Andy said...

that the love with which we sing, and the love with which we regard our friends, is the better part heart still hasn't given up, I don't think. I sing every single day. I mean, I don't warm up and practice like I used to -- ever -- but I sing. I am always singing to myself. Now that my new life is settling in (a home, a job, furniture) maybe it's time to start exploring a way to at least do something recreationally with it.

Pentimento said...

Oy, it took me so long to learn WHY to sing. I'm still learning. I try to think about Saint Cecilia, who, as her hagiography puts it in the medieval text The Golden Legend, "sang in her heart to her Lord alone." I think if all my singing can be for God, then it will be true singing, even if no one else ever hears it.