April showers may bring May flowers, but far more importantly, April 1 is the official beginning of recital season. For those of you readers who are only tangentially aware of this particular season, simply imagine a shake ’n bake combination of wedding season and hunting season, i.e. formal wear, nervous small animals, a problematic [a] vowel, and five hundred people in orange vests with Browning BL-22s.
Recital-related stress tends to manifest itself in a variety of ways, depending on the singer. Some of the most common symptoms are hysterical crying, night sweats, food-related hallucinations (i.e. Pavarotti bathing in olive oil), and a neurotic urge to crawl around looking for high Cs in the carpet.
Some singers are better than others at hiding these symptoms of stress as the date of their recital looms ever nearer, but chances are, they still are teetering on the precipice of an operatic breakdown. The best test is pupil dilation: once those babies hit the size of quarters, it’s probably a good time to hit the singer over the head with your “Tännhauser” score…just to provide some perspective.
Surprisingly, I myself have been suffering from some unfortunate symptoms related to stress, particularly, an obsessive preoccupation with the term “recital.” As of this moment, I am still mulling over the fact that if you remove the letter “i,” you have a much more accurate description of the excremental nature of voice recitals.
But really, such overwhelming stress is completely unnecessary. If anything, huddling into a fetal position to escape the image of Pavarotti playing warship in Bertolli Extra Virgin is only going to distract from the more important preparations for your recital, such as watching fifty episodes of “West Wing” to solidify the emotion behind your Schubert set or calculating which pair of high-heels would be the most aero-dynamically supportive of the final high note in your Rossini aria.
Of course, mere will power isn’t enough for a singer to overcome their recital neuroses and focus on what really matters. But don’t worry, Lily is here to save the day, this time with a solution for every single recital concern you could possibly have.
Music: Unfortunately for many of us, you simply cannot put on a recital without singing at least fifty or sixty minutes of music. This, of course, means that you actually have to PICK fifty or sixty minutes of music.
The best thing to do is to pick a theme that really inspires you. Not some rainbow-sunshine theme like “Songs about Love” or “Voices of Women,” but something that truly expresses your inner sensibility. Two such examples: “Songs that Are So Bad They Make Me Want to Stab My Pianist With a Tuning Fork” and “Songs Written by Composers Who Were Addicted to Paste in the Third Grade and Then Changed Their First Name to Harold.”
Or my personal favorite: “Songs that William Wallace Would Have Sung if He Were an 18th Century French Opera Singer with Mommy Issues Instead of Mel Gibson in a Kilt.”
Memorization: Once you have selected a theme for your recital, you have to be sure to memorize each song in your program. Some people recommend writing out the lyrics on flashcards and quizzing yourself, while others suggest going on a strict starvation diet until you can repeat each phrase backward.
My suggestion is to scrap these tired memorization techniques and take advantage of the Chamber Music Loophole. This oh-so-helpful rule allows a singer to use a music stand for any and all chamber music pieces, thus ensuring that you don’t have to waste precious hours of the day on memorization.
And if your recital program doesn’t include any chamber music pieces? Trust me, Schubert and Strauss would surely have preferred their art songs performed with a tambourine obbligato.
Dress: The gown that you wear for your recital is far more crucial than anyone thinks. Not only does it give you an opportunity to look fabulous (and perhaps finally close the deal with that baritone), it also provides a helpful vocal safety net by ensuring that the audience will be so dazzled by the number of sequins on your bodice that they won’t even listen to the first three sets of your performance.
If the second half of your recital is just as problematic as the first, the halfway point might be a good time for a costume change (perhaps with twice as many sequins).
Audience: According to tradition, a voice recital isn’t much good if you don’t have an audience of at least 20-40 people. Parents, siblings, boyfriends (if more than one is invited, I highly recommend assigned seating), voice teachers, conservatory colleagues…their presence in the recital hall weighs heavily on a recitalist’s already dangerously heightened nerves.
As far as recitals are concerned, I am a proponent of the “less is more” mentality when it comes to the audience, simply to cut down on the possibility of multiple fainting fits backstage. By all means, invite friends, family, and teachers to your recital. Just be sure to tell them the wrong location.
So there you have it. If you know what to do, recitals are really no big deal.
For all of you singers who have recitals coming up, break a leg, toi toi toi, and in bocca al lupo!
And that reminds me…
Don’t forget to come to my recital on Tuesday, April 21st at 6:30pm…