I remember the early scenes in “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back”! Luke’s training began physically and then he had to go beyond it. The Jedi training is a metaphor for many things and its broad appeal reaches the classical art of operatic singing as well. Before giving in to the automatic nature of the voice, the body which houses it and which it is must be in good order. The physical part of the training is itself arduous and is an accomplishment, but vocalization is a natural and automatic experience and in the greatest singers we hear that the voice works organically from an innate efficiency that is more complete than conscious manipulations. Whether it is the “Self 1 and Self 2” duality explored in The Inner Game of Tennis, or the metaphor of The Force in Star Wars or the constant directive from coaches and teachers to “let go,” in the end, there must be a surrender! A surrender to an energy that feels often impalpable yet present.
In the end, we must surrender many times. Surrender to a need for strength and therefore physical training, then a surrender to the inner mechanisms of the brain that can gauge the balance we seek better than we can by direct influence of muscle systems. We merely need to know what we want and commit to it. Beyond the physical coordination of the voice, we must surrender to that energy that connects us one to all the others, such that our communication to our audience occurs at a level that goes beyond understanding of either words or music, a level of communication that is more complete than the apparent boundaries of stage and public of performer and audience…
For that expression to be inspired, we must also surrender the trappings of the business of singing in order to experience the communion that is the art of singing. Before the artist confronts an audience, s/he must have confronted herself/himself and the art itself.
Unfortunately, the training of opera singers begins, from its first steps, marred by a need to please schools, most of which exist for themselves and not for the growth of the singer’s art, then by Young Artist Programs that for the most part exist to utilize the youngsters as cheap labor, then agents who for the most part exist to make their own living and finally to theaters who are more interested in their own survival and relevance to a changing world rather than the art that originally inspired the singer.
In short, the singer who becomes worthy to the system is the singer who develops in spite of it! To become truly exceptional, the singer must be sure to remain unmarred. Most singers will get lost along the way. Hopefully, at some point they will find true guidance and reconnect to the source of their limitless potential before they are seduced by short-lived opportunities that they brand success. By the Dark Side, if you will.
The seduction of early and quick success was always there and there are countless stories of those who took the easy route and never fulfilled their limitless potential. It used to be that there were enough teachers around to help a student see the folly of quick success. Now it is considered folly to seek self-fulfillment, to seek enlightenment, to seek wisdom, to seek (God forbid) patience.
Yoga studios and Tai Chi schools and meditation classes are booming, because human beings instinctively feel that they will burn out with the acceleration of the world unless they find a means to commune with the inner pace of life. Theater was once a place where one went to decelerate and commune at a pace more conducive the progress of life. More often than not, theater does not achieve the pace of life because its practitioners have lost touch with the pace of living, or the timing of true human emotions.
We are “arrested” by the pace of great theater, music and art because in the presence of meaningful Art, our psyche is made to consider the intricacies that bring the precision of the moment, giving a relative sense of the stoppage of time. We think we experience stillness in a moment of great artistic expression because it causes our psyche to consider the world around us in a manner much more present than we experience in the rapid course of every day life.
Don’t we value the craftsmanship of a beautiful piece of jewelry or of a luxury automobile or a magnificent sculpture? Would it not be worthwhile to quietly develop a young artist for the sake of being a great artist, separate from the trappings of the field they are to enter? Wouldn’t the field then be subject to them as opposed to they being subject to it? Did the world of Opera revolve around Maria Callas or did she revolve around it? Indeed it revolved around her as long as she was a viable artist with a unique appeal. Most singers never get to the point of being discovered as a unique artistic element because from the beginning they have learned to compromise themselves to fit into its ineloquent structures.
In the last half century, we have seen the business system of Opera become dominant over the art of opera. The business used to exist to promote the development of some unique artistic spirit, indeed a fire that many moths wanted to get close to. Now the business is the fire and the singers and conductors and musicians and designers become compromised moths drunken for a fire that ultimately burns them out.