Dame Kiri: honoring the legacy.
Tonight, as I was doing the dishes in my ever-warming fifth-floor walk-up in New York City, a song began to play on my iTunes shuffle.
It was "One Hand, One Heart" as sung by Kiri Te Kanawa and José Carreras from the 1985 studio recording conducted by Bernstein himself. (Many of you may be familiar with the documentary film made about the making of this recording-- for many of us it was a consummate first glimpse behind the scenes of the music world).
Bright-yellow gloved, and covered in soap suds, I stopped.
The music was stabbing me in the heart.
I folded over and listened to them sing...
and I cried.
It sent me back a year-- to Al on the subway/on the streets/in a hundred voice lessons/in the shower, pouring and pouring over the Marias of the past-- Carol Lawrence, Marni Nixon, Josefina Scaglione, and Tinuke Olafimihan, trying to glean any musical understanding I could. But particularly from Dame Kiri's flawless, totally inaudible breathing, the shimmer of her high notes, and the effortlessness of her phrasing.
Once upon a time, almost exactly a year ago, there was a day when I was riding the subway up to Julliard for a voice lesson. The very same 1985 studio cast recording of "One Hand, One Heart," had come up onto my iPod, and I fell apart on the 1 train. I just surrendered to the music, allowing the tears fall down my face moved by the truth and beauty of it all as a few thoughts aburptly struck me:
•I was conscious of the fact that I was making my way up to sing along the very streets where the 1961 movie version of West Side Story had been filmed.
•I was conscious that only a few months before, I had made my way to this very place to audition for Michael Tilson Thomas.
•I was aware that Bernstein's own breaths and gestures and feelings were in that moment, ringing in my ears...
•I could not believe that of all the sopranos on earth, Michael Tilson Thomas--one of the greatest minds in music--had chosen me. I could not believe what he was giving me the chance to be a part of.
•I would not doubt his judgement, nor would I allow myself to let anyone down.
It was in that moment on the train that I vowed to profoundly honor this role, and this legacy.
I endeavored (and continue to endeavor) every single day to deserve it.
You know, whoever you are, no matter where or how publicly you work on your art, we all must remember that art is, at its core, a service industry.
It is simply not about us, the artist, our ego and its agenda.
It is about the story.
It is about the truth.
It is about finding within the text and music and silences in-between, what makes us the same.
It is about serving the character,
and in serving them, doing everything in our power to get out of our own way so that their story can be truthfully told.
I know that there are probably thousands of better singers than I. Some of them are the people I grew up admiring. Some of them are my friends. Some of them were in the cast of West Side Story with me! Some are distant phantoms I will never know or meet but I admire from afar. Many are singing beautifully in the shower in Iowa or New Zealand or Latvia. For many weeks before I reached San Francisco I allowed myself to be bogged down by those "better singers," in awe of their tone, legato, and breath control, and frankly, their life of training which I had truly only just begun.
One day in rehearsal it hit me very simply: I cannot be them.
There is only one them.
Just as there is only one Alexandra Silber.
This is not about comparison.
This is not at all about my voice, my high notes, legato or breath control.
In fact, this isn't about me or about singing at all.
This is about Maria.
And I knew in my soul, that I had a great deal to say about her.
I knew Maria in my bone marrow.
I had the ability to let Maria use my vessel to tell her story of love, courage, hope and strength.
I had the capacity to choose Maria's story over Alexandra's fears and insecurities.
And if I could find the strength to focus on Maria, rather than focusing on
the magnitude of this opportunity,
the artistic company I am keeping, or
the enormous legacy I am joining...
...then I would be just fine. Because Maria would be served, and with that purity of intention in mind, I trusted that the rest would fall into place...
Back in the kitchen standing over the dishes, as the final chords of Te Kanawa and Carreras came to a close, I realized something...
I realized that one day, there existed the possibility that the next inheritor of this great legacy, that future Marias-to-be, that people might be sitting on the 1 train bursting into tears with...me.
With Cheyenne, and MTT, and I.
And thanks to a chance encounter on iTunes shuffle, I saw it fully: this was the legacy.
Not my name on a roster of Marias on a Wikepedia page.
No. This moment of profound, connected-to-the-core, deep musical feeling alone in my kitchen.
Or on the 1 train...
None shall part us now.