Where I grew up in Virginia there is a place called Wolf Trap, which is the country's only national park devoted to the performing arts. It's there because a lady who owned the land donated it to the government and helped build some performance spaces that are, in my opinion, the best venues around. There is a gorgeous outdoor pavilion for the summer/fall, and an equally enchanting intimate barn complex for the wetter, colder times of year. I grew up attending Peter, Paul and Mary's annual summer concerts there and have strong memories of a Bill Cosby show, Mary Chapin-Carpenter, and several John McCutcheon shows in the barns. As I got older, I saw more memorable shows: Tracy Chapman, Eddie From Ohio, Carole King.
If you know me personally, or if you just know my music, it's obvious how much of an impact these experiences have had on me. Wolf Trap is one of those places where people drive two or three hours for a show, and I lived about five miles from it.
So you can imagine my happiness when I discovered a Wolf Trap Blog! It's run by a woman named Kim Pensinger Witman, and is devoted to reporting on the Wolf Trap Opera Company. Now, I've never seen an opera, not at Wolf Trap or anywhere, but I sure studied them a lot in college. When we lived in Paris I declined to join the others to see an opera in the Jardin du Luxembourg- I just didn't feel like going. It'll happen one day, I'm sure.
Ms. Witman addresses several different things in the blog that I can appreciate, but my most favorite part (b/c of its relevance) are the audition notes. It seems that she's taken her reactions from what appears to be many, many auditions and posted them for all the world to read. They remain anonymous, of course, but boy, are they enlightening.
Now, I don't pretend to have the skills of an opera singer. But, having never taken voice lessons, or really even spoken of vocal chords as an instrument, something in her remarks hit a profound chord with me (pun intended). People pay attention to things that I think pop music critics and musicians often ignore. What's more, they (she, in this case) comeup with useful critiques that are at once metaphorical, practical, and poetic. Here's a few of my favorites:
-This is so obviously effortful; visually and audibly apparent
-There’s a significant flutter and it’s not always under control; there are some go-for-broke moments that end up being variable in pitch and placement
-Steely top. With a bit of a wobble. It’s not pretty per se, but interesting.
-He works very hard, but the performance doesn’t fully take off. My response is one of respect, but not one of wanting to hire him
-Trouble expressing different characters/ideas, it all sounds the same.
-Doesn’t sing a single clear vowel
-She seems either nervous or lost or sad; or all of the above
-He’s good, but his inventiveness doesn’t sustain him through this whole long scene
-Making good musical sense of the Stravinsky; the courage to invest in the phrasing, find the core of the intentions behind them
-You can see and hear her executing everything she’s been taught, but it’s so hard to believe any of it
-He doesn’t fully trust his equipment yet. But this is still one of the best renditions I have heard