Posted a few years ago, but edited for brevity. The last part is better than the first part...
Over the years I've come to realize two things:
1) I love rehearsing much more than watching performances.
I find that I know much less than I once thought. In fact, the longer I
direct opera, coach singers, or teach, I find that the ratio of what I
thought I knew to what I don't know opens up exponentially.
recently (perhaps the last ten years or so), I've been working with,
and running up against, all sorts who behave as if they actually know it
all. Or at least they behave like they know quite a lot more than they
actually do. (Just to be clear, I'm referring to both professionals
Let me give you just one example:
The young singer who
thinks they are pretty savvy having spent the last few years focused on
opera so why should they be expected to sit around at a rehearsal and
watch others' work? What could they possibly learn from a colleague's
staging rehearsal? What would be the reason to sit in and listen to a
colleague's coaching? Why should they spend the time sitting around
during a part of the opera they are not even in? (God forbid someone might actually learn the entire opera as opposed to just their role!)
Here we go ---- There was a time, not too far back in the past, when us opera folk would actually go to rehearsals we were not called to in order to learn something.
That "something" is a -- SSHH -- it's a secret!
A big SECRET.
old timers seldom actually let others in on this secret, or what the
secret actually is because, truth be told, we can't really articulate it
in any way that won't sound like some old grey-bearded geezer going on:
"In my day, we walked uphill both ways through a blizzard in order to
learn our Mozart recitatives!"
But I will try to
articulate why attending rehearsals, for young singers, young pianists,
and young wanna-be directors/conductors is so very vitally important:
Learning happens through Observation, Reflection, and Insight.
Most young people (and I'm not talking about just students, I'm talking
about professional opera singers I've been working with recently)
attending rehearsals no longer observe the rehearsal they are in. They
arrive at their appointed time, take a seat, and open up their smart
phone. Then when it's getting close, they start to pay attention to
where the rehearsal process is in the opera, and then they pop up and
take part. Once done, they usually go back to their seats and check to
see what's trending. What these non-observers miss is, in a nutshell, THE POINT OF IT ALL.
Opera is about collaboration, it's a totally collaborative process (not
usually a democratic process, please don't confuse these two
notions...) and one that is built on interpersonal relationships.
Sometimes it's based on a look, a glance, a raised eyebrow, a lost cue
from a conductor, a missed breath, a flubbed passage from the rehearsal
pianist. It's a very elusive and hard-to-see process. One must be truly engaged in
the room to really get what's going on. One has to put down their
phones, their laptops, their books, and especially their opera scores
(look at your scores in a practice room please) and observe: listen with
your eyes and watch with your ears. Yes, I wrote that correctly.
Why did the rehearsal work the way it did? What makes that baritone so
damn good at taking staging? Why isn't the conductor hearing the
soprano's vibrato and adjusting their tempi? Why does the director
ignore the mezzo and berate the tenor? What makes the composer's
harmonic choices work so well at certain dramatic moments but not
others? What would I be doing if I were the singer/conductor/director?
You can not reflect without first observing your present moments in
front of you. Being ignorant of the present moments causes people to
gossip and make rather ridiculous leaps of faith in our business.
This is the great result of spending time in a rehearsal observing and
reflecting about the work, the process, and the people trying to
collaborate in the room. It can lead you to achieve at a much higher
level, can lead to greater understanding of a composer's other works,
and will make you a better human being. Down the road, it will allow you
to feel ownership of whatever you choose to do, be that teaching,
performing, directing, or producing.
Every time I get
myself into a rehearsal room I learn something new. Lots of somethings,
actually. If I could impart any kind of wisdom onto the next generation,
it would be to run to rehearsals with a renewed energy akin to a young
child running onto a playground or jumping into a pool on a hot summer's
day. This is our play time, this is our moment to connect with people
who love what we love. It's our time to dive into the consciousness of
the great composers and swim around in their amazing brains. It's a way
of playing with eternity, really. What could possibly be more
interesting on Facebook? What could possibly cause one to think that
their time was being wasted by having to sit and watch an hour's worth
of rehearsal? Our opera, the one we have chosen to live in, is never
performed for anyone. It's an operatic, collaborative life that we are
uniquely pursuing despite today's cultural, economic and social changes.
Don't turn away from that life. Realize that the rehearsal process is
an eternal, ongoing, never-ending "opera" that will always give back.
you're wanting to conduct, that's great. Go for it. Start small and
start humble. Make sure you spend the thousands of hours necessary to
begin to understand the repertoire, singers, singing, orchestras,
languages, style, and how to manage time and people. If you're wanting
to direct, get to the opera houses and watch. Get into rehearsals and
observe. Start directing scenes programs, create your own opportunities
to work with singers and start collaborating with them. Avoid dictating
your thoughts or thinking about the "piece". Think about the people
involved in the creation of the piece: first and foremost the composer!
If you're wanting to sing and perform opera, fabulous. Hie thee to a
rehearsal, one that you are not even involved in at all. Ask to be a
stage manager. Ask to be an assistant director. Play rehearsals. Listen
to live singing in opera houses. Get to rehearsals early and put down
your phone upon entering the room.
Oh -- and a few
final thoughts: There's no way to know it all. It'll never happen.
You'll never be ready either. So work hard in the practice room by
yourself. Be prepared. Then rush into that wondrous operatic playground
that is the rehearsal room and ENJOY!