7 X 7 = 49. This year I turn 49 and I have heard that we go through a sort of transformation every 7 years, or rather that we experience a certain level of existence for 7 years and graduate to another level. Whatever it is, it would seem to coincide with my journey to becoming a tenor…or better, a real singer. What do I mean? Was I a fake singer before? Certainly not! I was always admired for bringing a high level of artistry and interpretative honesty to my performances. Those things were enough such that many overlooked a certain vocal inferiority…Inferiority because I believed I was something I was not.
Vocal categories are interesting but sometimes limiting. Even now that I feel 100% tenor (that is I feel at home in the tenor tessitura in a way I never did as a baritone), my timbre has a lot of baritone in it. It is my vocal nature: Baritone fold thickness and tenor fold length. As I have written here often, paradox is a word that has come to define me, my voice, my teaching, etc…
Perhaps it is for that reason that Schubert and Müller’s Winterreise has been such an important piece of music in my life. I have never found the cycle difficult to sing. In a strange way, it always fit my spirit. It was fitting therefore that I made what I consider my official comeback to performance (yes I have done other small performances) with this great work. The final step to readiness is performance. One can have all the pieces ready, but singing in the studio is not the same as commanding an audience’s attention. Preparing a work like that places a performer square before his fears, aspirations and hopes. One must defy limitations to truly perform. For that reason I admire anyone who prepares to the best of his/her abilities and faces the public. Yet I am also critical! No less than I would be critical of myself!
This is not my finished voice, but I make no excuses for it here. The vocal product is pretty well developed…well enough to really perform this cycle in all of its complexities, taking bold chances whenever I felt up to it. Likewise I made some safe choices when I felt the voice was not always up to the perfect pianissimo or when the lower range fuzzes out a little, or when the heavier side of the voice dominates in the lower passaggio. But those moments were few and I never felt artistically distracted.
It was time to come out of the desert and it showed me that the process has been correct. Furthermore, this performance also opened my eyes to how little was left to work out technically and how crucial it is to take this to its logical end! Indeed there is no end! But there is a level of skill that is akin to a skilled tightrope-walker! The skill level must be extraordinarily high, yet the job of keeping once balance presents eternally changeable moving pieces that are inter-connected. One must be conscious and one must allow balance to occur.
I travel always with a copy of Poulenc’s Bleuet, the song that more than any symbolizes superior technical and interpretative achievements, precisely because I love the song and until recently never felt up to its challenges. This next period will be the Bleuet Period. It will be a time of refinement at the highest level and a time of intense enjoyment.
April 17 2015 will be the 7th anniversary of the day when I gave up all baritone repertoire to start training as a tenor. It will be interesting to see where I am by then, and where I will want to go afterward.
For now, I leave you with my performance of Franz Schubert’s and Wilhelm Müller’s Winterreise. I hope you enjoy viewing it as much as I enjoyed singing it.