We're having fun playing with French vocabulary here in Birmingham. Our maestro is a charming Frenchman from Toulouse whose love of Carmen is contagious. His face is as expressive as any character's should be, and he's not so stereotypically French as to discourage our butchering of his native tongue outside of the score. Some favorites of the week: "Michaela's aria was gorgeuse today", or "je don't know where we are manger-ing", or the ever popular "Maestro, vous voulez the poulet avec the buffalo sauce?" It's not exactly Mérimée but it's a welcome divertissement!
Truthfully, I'm not feeling particularly creative or interesting at the moment, despite the hours of fun with uvular "r"s and mixed vowels. I have a beautiful painter-friend who preaches the gospel of cross-discipline creativity, and I desperately need an altered view. The novel on my nightstand has been there for 3 months; can't seem to get through it. There's a bit of flamenco in the opera, but I'm not breaking a good sweat and my arms are awkward. I went to the Birmingham Botanical Gardens and Museum of Art, but it was for opera fundraisers, so my time wasn't exactly my own. I'm not bored with my work, I'm bored with myself! I feel so selfish and one-dimensional. On one hand, from a vocal standpoint I'm wonderfully productive and focused, and I trust my voice and my ability to deliver a great product. On the other hand, I need some outside inspiration to invite me in for a bit. I need a playdate! Any suggestions for a wandering minstrel in need of creative fuel? In the movie of my life that plays in my head, this would be the time when my grandmother, played by Maggie Smith of course, would tell me that I must take a lover. And I would gasp a scandalized gasp and my ribs would painfully press against my corset and I might need my smelling salts or a vacation in Italy.
Maybe language play is my lover du jour?? Whilst singing all this French, I've been meditating on a concept that collaborative pianist Warren Jones introduced to me this past January, called the "accent d'insistance". As I understand it, originally French music was born out of translating Italian or German songs into French, which led to some awkward syllabic emphases. In order to make the music sound more "French", the singer had to "insist" that the appropriate accent happen, even if it fell on a weak or unaccented musical beat. When I asked our French maestro about it he responded with "You've got me there; does it mean you have to work extra hard to get it right?" Great. Exactly. Good talk, Maestro.
Maybe this will help explain: Below is the beginning of the second verse of Carmen's Habanera. There are 2 strong beats per measure, the last note of the second measure is musically weak, but it's the first syllable of the word "surprendre" and therefore needs a little oomph - you insist that there be a slight accent where normally you would not have one. Same goes for the first syllable in the word "battit" - it falls on very short note, but needs just as much emphasis as the second syllable that gets twice as much musical time. I'm probably complicating matters, but in practice, it seems to me that it's not so much that you accent the weak beat, but that you remain steady and give the subdivided beats equal weight. Hmmm....the meditation continues.
I'm not sure if that makes any sense. I am sure that in my body, in my mouth, that translates to wrapping around every syllable and granting every vowel shape and consonant a moment of glory. And it feels good and fun and very far from boring. Like a lover.