Let me tell you, my head was spinning with ideas far after I had finished my biscuits and gravy. After having spent much of the fall of 2009 in Paris, France studying with dramatic tenor Howard Haskin, Christopher returned to the United States and began preparing the role of Nadir in Les pêcheurs de perles with Center Stage Opera in March 2010. After a successful run with Center Stage Opera, Christopher is now preparing the roles: of Loge (Das Rheingold), Edgardo (Lucia di Lammermoor), and Peter Grimes (title role) as part of future considerations in London, Munich, and Paris in late summer and early fall 2010.
Christopher has had many experiences interacting with the international opera scene. There are quite a few ups and downs in the process and I couldn’t wait for him to share some insight here. Hopefully, I can twist his arm to give us a couple more posts – but here are a few things you should know. Take it away, Christopher…
First, I would like to completely dispel the myth that Europeans dislike American singers. That is false. Every European singer/musician I have met has greeted me with nothing, but the most warm sense of friendship. They do however, openly admit that there is a typical ‘American’ sound and stage decorum. At first, I didn’t get this and was actually insulted, but upon listening and observing fellow Americans on the same stage as me in Europe, whilst also listening to my European colleagues, I now have to admit that we do happen to have certain tendencies. These tendencies do make us stand out, for better and worse.
It is well-known that we are the most technically sounds singers in the world and also that we are often the loudest. While these are crucial skills to many American companies, they do not always parlay to the European stage. For instance, like many things American, our opera houses are supersized like a McDonald’s Value Meal. In Europe, you will never find houses as big as the Met. Take most of the houses where Wagner is sung in Germany…Here, the average house in many towns is about 1,000 people. This automatically makes Wagner a much more attainable goal for most singers (and other guys like Puccini, Verdi, and Leoncavallo).
This brings me to my next point; because houses are smaller and orchestras are trained to play more softly, such vocal heft is not of superior need. Instead, what is needed is grand artistry, great language skills within the opera, and impeccable musicianship. What European singers lack in technique, they more than make up for in these skills. This is where American singers can fall horridly short. European singers sing a broader realm of roles than we do in the US and you will often find yourself saying, “but I would never sing that in the US.” It is ok. In Europe, it is commonly asked to sing things significantly softer than you are accustomed. The orchestra and conductor will work with you to come to whatever dynamic level is needed to be successful and most effective in telling the story. As a result, the idea of total expression of the language becomes key.
Now, I come to my next crucial point: understanding what you are saying has no relationship to actually understanding the language. There is no replacing actual knowledge of language and its flow with diction courses and coaches telling you what words/syllables to stress. The greatest improvements I made in my musical line have happened in Europe as I have become more accustomed to each language in which I sing. As my language skills improve, I finally find myself looking at a score and more often having that, ‘a-ha’ moment when trying to figure out why a composer will set a text a certain way, as opposed to just doing what I had been told to do by some coach.
In closing, I would just say to all American singers interested in Europe…Languages, Artistry, and a Warm Smile are the keys to getting your start on the world’s original opera stage!
What experiences have you had auditioning in Europe? Tell me all about it in the comments below…