#1 My journey with Klytaemnestra
This time last year, I had just returned home from two amazing and unforgettable weeks in New York City, and I was absolutely certain about two things:
1) I wanted to work with New York Dramatic Voices again
2) New York was in my blood, and I would be back
For the time being, that second point is on hold, but since everything shut down in the spring, I have worked with New York Dramatic Voices on and off throughout the year. When I saw that they had roles in Elektra on offer, for their intensive role study program, I knew I had to take this opportunity to work with them again. I also knew exactly which role I wanted to study. I sent my application, and it was accepted - I would be preparing the role of Klytaemnestra.
Was it fate that, in the first lockdown here in the UK, I actually bought a secondhand score of Elektra from a friend, with this role already marked and highlighted? I’d like to think so!
Now that we’re nearly at the end of this online role study experience, I wanted to share some of my experiences of preparing this role and taking part in this course. Enjoy my first installment below.
Consonance from Dissonance
Richard Strauss’s music is incredibly hard, dissonant, and difficult. At least, this is what I believed when I first opened this score and sat down at the piano. How I wished I had been able to start the learning process a year ago.
But, as it turns out, that is not Matt Lobaugh’s take on Strauss, and after these two weeks having Matt’s insight, I desperately want people learning this type of Strauss to know that there is a way through. It’s actually not about hacking through a ridiculously difficult hedge of accidentals, or throwing vowels and pitches into the void.
In every bar, phrase, and beat, there is logic, consonance, and so much beauty. It takes time to sit with the score at the piano and analyse everything that is going on, but once you do it becomes really clear how much consonance there is, and how much your line actually fits into the structure. The soundworld is unusual, and different to everything I’ve worked on before, but there is a process and a logic behind it.
And when Matt asked me to both play and sing a passage in my coaching, I can’t explain how grateful I was that I started learning the piano at the age of 4!
Working in this context, we used a set of pre-recorded backing tracks which Matt had prepared and which were shared with us ahead of the time. A lot of people would probably think that it was near impossible to work with a backing track when learning Strauss, or that it loses something of the spontaneity and artistry of collaborating live. Actually, I would have to argue that there are so many other benefits to working with a recording, particularly if you are coaching with the person who produced it.
Think of it this way; the backing track has been recorded at the speeds that you should be singing the piece at. If we were working live, we would start at a rehearsal speed, and work our way up. It could easily take us two weeks for me to get close to performance speed. As well as that, with his phenomenal expertise in this music, Matt would be able to bend the tempi around my preferences, or accommodate my late entries or miscounting, whilst I am still learning the part. He would work really hard to make me adhere to the tempi, and we would get to that point, but it would take time. With the backing track, I have to start from that position, as the track will not bend. Remember, when we’re back with a conductor and orchestra, we need to be absolutely able to sing the role according to their interpretation, and cannot expect our own tempi (or errors) to be accommodated.
I also have to be able to sing my entries without hearing the other voice in my scene. There is no Elektra here to sing her part (trust me, no one wants to hear my husband attempting that!) and with the latency across video calls, the coach cannot sing the line in, so I have to learn her part in my scene even more accurately than I probably would have. This is so important. Imagine then on stage, if the acoustic or positioning doesn’t let me hear Elektra on a particular line, I can be confident that I know where to come in. Working with this track will make me a better musician and will teach me this role so concretely and accurately, in a way I perhaps would not have been able to study it before.
Add on to all of that Matt’s immense expertise, and love of this work, and you have one of the most incredible learning opportunities. I know I will continue to use this type of preparation in the future, in addition to live coachings, as it is so valuable.