Monday, 28 July 2014

The Cinderella Diaries - Part 2

So much has happened since I first arrived in Ferreira do Zêzere. Time has flown by, and we're now into the second week of staging for La Cenerentola.

The past week has been intense, to say the least.  It all began bright and early on the first day with a musical rehearsal.

The first sing-through of an opera is always a bit rough.  It takes time to get used to the other singers, to understand each other's voices and musicalities and really gel together.  And of course you want to make a good impression on the director, the conductor, and the other singers.  So at first everyone feels a bit stiff and shy.

"Wait... you want me to sing it now??"

But once the initial nerves wore off, it didn't take us long to warm to each other and really bond as an opera family.  Rossini's operas call for a lot of energy and humour.  Luckily this is something our cast has in spades.   We're a lively bunch of singers with an even livelier director, and our rehearsals have been full of belly laughs.

One thing we bonded over immediately is our astonishingly bad sense of direction.  One night after a couple of glasses of wine, I realised I had no idea how to find my way home in the dark.  My stepsisters had already left, and the women are staying in a different place than the men.  So my male colleagues, being chivalrous, decided they would help me find my way.  The only problem was that they were even worse at navigating than I was (and trust me, I'm really really bad).  Before we knew it we were hopelessly lost.  We finally gave up after an hour or so of wandering aimlessly around the Portuguese countryside.  It was almost midnight and after all, I didn't want to turn into a pumpkin.  So we headed back to the men's house and I slept on their couch.  We've got on like a house on fire ever since.

As for my stepsisters, they're as lovely offstage as they’re nasty onstage.  It's hard to pretend to be afraid of them when I know they're so sweet in real life.  Every minute they're not abusing me they're helping me up and apologising profusely for their fictional abuse.

Between the long hours of rehearsal, we like chat and relax together as we enjoy the delicious local coffee, the mouth-watering fresh fruit, and of course, my favourite Portuguese pastry, Pasteis de Nata.

The Best.

Since the first day, our staging rehearsals have moved ahead at warp speed.  Every day the director sets a goal for how many pages we'll get through, and come hell or high water we get through those pages.  Thankfully I feel very secure by now with my music.  My character, however, is another story.

Rossini's Cenerentola is a bit different from the Cinderella most of us know.  First of all she has an evil stepfather instead of a stepmother, and it's a servant of the prince instead of a fairy godmother who helps her go to the ball.  But more importantly, there are no helpful mice or magical wands to help Cenerentola find her prince.  She has to get by with her own spirit and determination.  And she doesn't accidentally leave behind a glass slipper.  She intentionally gives the prince one of her bracelets.  She tells him to come and find her.

So she's a unique kind of heroine.  On the one hand she's a victim of circumstance.  She's constantly bullied and belittled by her stepfather and stepsisters.  But on the other hand she's very strong.  She doesn't let anyone crush her spirit.  She insists on singing while she does her chores, even when her stepsisters try to stop her.  She still dreams of finding love, and even plucks up the courage to ask if she can go to the ball.  And when she arrives at the ball, she doesn't just let the prince make all the moves.  She sets her own terms: take this bracelet, come and find me.  Learn who I am before loving me.

Rossini's Cenerentola may be sweet, but she's certainly not passive.  As her feisty coloratura passages imply, she has fire in her belly.  She isn't a wet blanket or a timid little mouse.  She's a real protagonist.

The audience has to be on Cenerentola's side.  They have to want her to win.  So from the very beginning, even as she stays in the background cleaning, she has to shine with a certain kind of charisma.

Which is easier said than done.  How do I stand out as the star when I'm wearing rags and my two silly sisters are preening like peacocks in the foreground?  Even under the most ideal of circumstances, I'm not used to being the centre of attention.  How do I create my own spotlight without seeming to try?

Kid, you gotta have star quality!

I guess you could say that my diva skills are a bit rusty these days.  Since moving to Germany, I've mostly been getting work in choirs.  It's been at least six months since I've performed as a soloist, and at least a year since I've performed in an opera.

So as we began staging this week, I kept blending into the background.  Again and again my director would point out that I was turning away from the audience, or hiding behind a chair.  I didn't even realise I was doing it!  I was just so accustomed to shrinking back, being a secondary character in someone else's story.

"Oops... was I doing it again?"

One day after rehearsal, the pianist was telling me I had to give more onstage.  And I launched into a very familiar story.  I'm not a stage animal, I told him.  Acting doesn't come naturally to me.  I'm an introvert.  Despite my year at the opera studio, I still have so little experience onstage.  Other singers my age have done so many more roles.

The pianist listened to my excuses patiently.  Then gave me a puzzled look.  You're not such an introvert, he said.  Offstage, you're one of the most lively singers in our cast.  Why can't you bring that personality with you onto the stage?


I was flabbergasted.  I had never thought of myself as lively or having a big personality.  But once I really thought about it, I had to admit that I've come out of my shell a lot in the last few years.  Yes, I am still an introvert in my own way – I still need some quiet and solitude to recharge.  But when I want to, I can be the life of the party.

So maybe it's time now to move past the old "introverted" label.  Time to embrace a new role, and take on the spotlight.

"Non piu mesta accanto al fuoco staro sola a gorgheggiar.."

With five days left until opening night, and the whole second act still to stage, we've got our work cut out for us.  The next week will either make or break me.  So it's time to step up now.  It's time to get up from the fireplace and let my inner diva shine.

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