I think that I have finally found an English-language aria that will work for me. I have been working on “Have Peace, Jo”, from Mark Adamo’s Little Women. This is Beth’s big aria, and those of you who have read the book (which should be all of you!) will remember that Beth is The One Who Dies. (Before you even ask, I can’t play Meg because Meg is a mezzo. All of the good Meg’s are mezzos – Falstaff, Little Women…that’s really it). Beth sings her aria on her deathbed, to her sister. Needless to say it is emotional stuff, and today I got a little weepy in the practice room when I got to her “I love you, Jo, so much…”. By a little weepy I mean I sobbed and couldn’t practice anymore.
It’s a singer cliché that “you have to go over the line in the practice room so that you don’t go over the line in performance”, and while that sounds nice, don’t be surprised if you see me vaulting over the line someday on the stage. There is a fair amount of music that I have a hard time singing. Most of it is in English, most of it is 20th or 21st century, and all of it is disgustingly beautiful. “Ain’t it a pretty night” and Knoxville: Summer of 1915 are the two biggest culprits.
I finally set out to learn Knoxville…for a competition last spring. The text is from A Death in the Family, by James Agee, and describes a summer evening spent with family. I find Barber to be so relentlessly gorgeous, and the text so moving, that I am moved to tears every few measures. When it came time to sing in competition, I held it together and sang well. I went immediately to the grocery store to pick up a few things after the competition, and found myself in the ‘Pastene’ aisle. I should know better to admit this, but everyone in my family loves Pastene products, and you can often find our kitchen table littered with yellow-labeled jars. Lupini beans in particular make me think of my father. Pretty bizarre, I know, but after holding it together for that competition, I sobbed in front of the lupini beans, wearing an audition dress, too much eyeliner, and a sparkly barrette.