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Nuts and Bolts

This may be a bit boring for some of you, but some people have expressed interest in how I prepare my score for a role. Everyone does this in a different way. Some people highlight the words that they sing, for instance, while others highlight the notes (I'm a word girl myself). We almost all put tabs in the score, but some put them on the sides, some on the top (for me, it's the side). We all do various things and like different things. For me, there are a few very specific things that I do after buying a score, to help me prepare my role easier. (After making sure that I am purchasing the score that the company requests us to work from – in this case, a very specific English translation. Every publisher’s version of the score will be different in some way. There are certain publishers that we always use for certain composers. For instance, if you are singing a Mozart opera, you really want to be working from a score published by Barenreiter). The very first thing that I do is read through the entire score and take notes. You need to know if other characters are saying things about your character, that could help to inform your character choices. (And obviously, if you are not familiar with the story, you need to know what is happening!) After this, I highlight the words that I will be singing. Then comes the tabbing. I use different colored tabs for different sections of the score (though the colors change from score to score, depending on my mood at the time of tabbing). For instance, red tabs will be recit, blue will be arias, yellow will be duets, etc. After tabbing everything, I make my graph, which I then tape into the front cover of my score. Along the vertical side I break the music up into sections by page number (generally corresponding to my tabs). Across the top of the page, I put a variety of things. For Butterfly, this is what I went with: Spoken through, sung through, learned solid, coached, worked with Jean, listened to, memorized, staged, completely comfortable with. As I do all of these things, I check the boxes off so that I can see my progress, and where I need to focus my attention. I might not do this with a smaller role, but with a sizeable role, this helps me feel a bit less stressed out about the learning process. The last thing that I do before really zoning in on the music is a bit silly, but something that I rely on very much. I go through and I figure out the counting of all of my lines, putting little counting tick marks at top of each staff, so that I do not have to waste my time figuring out tricky counting sections in the practice room. I’m not a dumb musician; I’ve been playing the piano since I was in grade 2 (and took lessons into college). I know how to count. But this is something that for some reason I’ve come to rely on. I can’t remember when I started doing it, but I love it. While I am doing this, I also circle every key signature and time signature change. Eventually, I go through with a red pencil color in all of the dynamic markings. With Puccini, there are a lot of tempo markings that change (mostly sostenuto’s and rallentando’s (sostenuti? Rallentandi?). With these, as they are often only a few notes or bars long, I put a long squiggly line underneath my sung line, in order to show that I need to slow down. It’s interesting. When you listen to Puccini, the music sounds so free; you often wonder how the musicians all stay together. But when you look at his scores, you see that he has written in every possible little detail. Every dynamic change, every tempo change. For something that sounds incredibly free, it is actually just the opposite: controlled beauty. I’ve always loved this about Puccini. If there isn’t a dynamic marking in the vocal part, but there is in the reduced orchestra part, I will often make note of it in my vocal part, because it is likely that I should be following the same dynamic choice as the orchestra or the piano. There you have it! That is how I prepare my scores. It takes a few hours, but it is worth it. I also have to photo copy my entire part and put it into a binder for my teacher and my coach. I then, again, highlight everything that I sing for them, and also add in tabs that correspond to mine, but I make sure I write the page number on theirs and make their colors all the same color. Again, it takes a while, but it is very important! If the opera is in a language that I am not comfortable with, I also write in the IPA symbols (International Phonetic Alphabet – there is a symbol for every sound and every classical singer is familiar with what these symbols are). For example, when I was singing the title role of Rusalka, I had to teach myself the IPA symbols for Czech (by reading a very dry book literally called “Singing in Czech”, but it was fundamental in my success of the role). I had to figure out and put the whole score into IPA so that I knew what I was doing. By the time I was done, I didn’t even need to look at the IPA symbols that I had put in, because I was so familiar with the language by that point. It is also important to have a direct translation of the words. Often times, scores will have a poetic English translation underneath the original language. These are not good. In fact, I know of a few people who white out these poetic translations and put in the word for word translations. With something like Rusalka, again, I had to go through and translate the entire score (with the help of a native Czech speaker, it was a lot easier!). But with popular operas, we are lucky to have a linguist named Nico Castel in our midst. Castel has put together a lot of volumes of full libretti that have the original language, the IPA and the direct translation of the original language all in one beautiful place. The books are expensive, but often have six or seven full operas in them (if not more). They are also usually available at any music library. Nico has made our lives a lot easier in this way. Though if it is a language that I struggle with, I will still go through and write in the IPA and the direct translation. Even with Italian, a language that I am very comfortable with and have a very good working knowledge of, I still write in the direct translation. It is incredibly important to know what each exact word means. You do not want to be singing a line and put the emphasis on the word ‘but’ instead of ‘love’, for instance. Thankfully, with Madama Butterfly, we are singing it in English (even though it was originally written in Italian and truthfully, I find it much easier to sing in Italian than in English). But this cut down a lot of extra score preparation time and I am actually thankful for that. It is quite the ordeal. It will also be easier to memorize :) Looking forward to the next one. Xo. De.

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