Sunday, June 27, 2010

Soccer vs. Opera: Go Germany!

“Happiness is when your tasks match your goals.” 
-Christine Graham
If you’re an opera singer anywhere else in the world, sporting events may go by unnoticed, but if you’re an opera singer (or anyone else for that matter) living in Germany, there’s no avoiding the World Cup*.
*That’s a big soccer** tournament involving qualifying teams from around the world.
**Soccer (football, Fußball) is the sport where you must propel a ball into the opposing team’s goal using any body part except your hands, the feet being the most efficient and widely used appendages, hence the name.
One would think soccer has nothing to do with opera, but one would have to think again. The rule book for calcio fiorentino, a precursor to soccer, was written in 1580 by Giovanni de’ Bardi, the same man who put on musical dramas (the precursor to opera) for the Medici court. In anticipation of this year’s World Cup, newly composed pieces inspired by football just premiered at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden.
In fact, it was on the operatic stage where yours truly was first confronted with the so-called “beautiful game”. Leading up to the last World Cup in 2006, a young soccer-enthusiast stage director entrusted me with his vision of turning my role, the otherwise coquettish Hannchen in Der Vetter aus Dingsda, into a tomboy. 
Until then, I’d never even touched a soccer ball, having only dabbled briefly with volleyball in high school, and even then I spent most of the games warming the bench. Needless to say, my work was cut out for me. The director wanted me to “juggle” the ball during a short monologue. I had to see to it that the bouncy thing didn’t end up skewered on a violin bow in the orchestra pit, or bonking a blue-haired operetta fanatic in the front row. My training began in November 2005 on the field, and before each rehearsal I annoyed the conductor with the thwack-thwacking sound of the ball hitting the wooden floor in the rehearsal room.
The production was a success. The ball never went into the pit, although once I almost scored a “goal” into the loggia. I continued to play soccer with my theater’s team, even going to the Bavarian Theater Championships and raising their previous standing from last place to fourth out of six teams. And although I don’t find much opportunity to do so nowadays, I still like to kick the ball around a bit.
If anything, learning to play soccer myself made it possible for me to understand and enjoy watching the game. Up until then, it was just some boring sport which went on for 90 minutes, sometimes resulting in no points at all - not exciting like pinball where you can score a gazillion points, or even basketball, where each team scores around 50 points by the end of the evening.
I’m sure my previous assessment of soccer is similar to the general consensus about opera - too long, boring, lots of bad acting. These are not the only traits that soccer and opera have in common.
• In soccer, goals are the goal. But even if there are no points scored, it can still be entertaining to watch if the rest of the game is played well -- not just the parts where the round thing goes into the square thing, or loud bits and high notes in opera. Like the modern philosopher Alan Watts said, if reaching the end of a composition were the point, the best conductors would be those who played the fastest, and composers would only write finales.

• Teamwork is the structure, but one striker usually kicks all the goals. In opera, one singer has to take the last bow, but his or her job is made a lot easier with supportive colleagues who facilitate victory.
• If someone fouls you, you writhe around and cry like a baby until someone important notices.
Today, by beating England, Germany has advanced one step closer to becoming Weltmeister, world champions of soccer, 2010. Germany has also done a very good job at setting a standard by providing governmental support for health care, education, opera theater and other “frivolous” endeavors. Today, Germany is a rather nice place to be. 

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Now, where did I put that Fach?

As you may have noticed by reading my last few blog entries (... I’ll give you a few minutes to go back and review ... Ready? ... No, seriously, take your time. ... Okay)...
As you may have noticed after having read my last few blog entries, I seem to be pondering my place in the operatic world. 
In this clique -- or any clique, for that matter -- I’ve always felt like I belonged on a peripheral level, but I’ve never been part of the inner circle. And as I ponder, I come to realize that this seems to be some sort of unconscious choice that I’ve made consistently throughout my life. It should come as no surprise, then, that I somehow chose to live in a foreign country, where only a small percentage can fully understand the articles in this blog or even begin to get my jokes, much less understand my need to put ice in my drinks. 
Of all countries, I had to choose Germany - the place where everything is (supposedly) so organized and has its proper place. And to do what? To sing opera, a genre which is structured around a system (invented by the Germans, by the way) called Fach. In addition to the 17 other translations for this word, in the opera business it’s usually interpreted as ‘category,’ but for all intents and purposes it just means ‘drawer.’ Take a chest of drawers, for example. A Kommode. Well, for someone who doesn’t seem to fit into any category, a Kommode is not very accommodating.
Nobody puts Baby in a drawer!
Many have tried, however. I had a singer colleague say to me once, “You know what your problem is?” No, but I bet you’re about to tell me. “Your voice is too pretty to be a soubrette and not ugly enough to be a dramatic coloratura.”  Thanks... I think.
Then, at an audition when I was done singing Konstanze’s first aria from Die Entführung aus dem Serail, one of the other sopranos said, “Like, wow, you’re like a full dramatic, eh? That’s cool.”
Yet another former colleague told me, “Your strengths lie in show tunes. You’re American, after all.” A-ha. Then, when I went to audition for Sally Bowles in Cabaret, I just had to laugh when they looked at me as if I’d just missed the last train to La Scala.
So, whenever anybody asks me what voice category I fall into, it’s all I can do not to scream, “How the FACH should I know?!?”
I have sung soubrette roles and coloratura roles (lyric, not yet dramatic). I have done musicals and operettas. I’ve sung modern music, I’ve sung early music, I’ve sung jazz. I’ve sung in chamber choirs and opera chorusses, done recitals and oratorios. I’ve even sung in a country band where my nickname was Miss Cellaneous. Go figure.
What with all this chaos in my life, is it any wonder that I feel compelled to at least get my apartment in order? That’s what I’ve been working on this week between learning a new role and preparing for auditions. Now I have all my German paperwork neatly sorted in four ring binders, eight hanging folders and a three-tiered letter tray, and my American documents in one envelope. Still, there are a few objects (not just paperwork) that need sorting and have no place to “live.” 
Luckily, I’ve always made sure to have a junk drawer in my home. Never have I attempted to organize the junk drawer. That would be a little too better-homes-and-gardens for me. In fact, the last time I moved, I boxed up the contents of the junk drawer and emptied them in its successor.
The junk drawer accommodates everything. It’s a beautiful mecca of organized chaos for valuable objects that defy definition. 
Eureka! I seem to have I discovered the Fach where I belong.