When you were a little girl, did you ever imagine yourself as one of the evil stepsisters when you were watching Cinderella? No? Me neither.
But a year ago, I was presented with that exact opportunity. I was given the chance to sing the incredible role of Thisbé, a woman who is totally self-absorbed, totally obsessed with becoming a princess, and has no truly redeeming qualities.
Let me tell you - that is a dream role.
I've played the ingenue before, and that is more tricky. Being a totally innocent and naive character can be hard because you have to convince the audience that it makes sense why you would fall into bad circumstances. But when you're making the circumstances yourself as the "evil" character? That's when the real fun starts.
Thisbé's big scene is her aria in the third act, which on the recording is called "Dieux!" She sings about losing the prince just as she thought she had him. She laments that she's being passed over, and that a mystery girl, also known as Cinderella, has stolen the prince right out from under her nose.
That is a totally reasonable feeling to have - it's not so far-fetched that we can't relate. So all of a sudden, this character that was totally evil became, for me, easier to grasp.
One of the interesting things about playing an evil character on stage is that you can't judge her from the outside - you have to be inside her head and understand her decision making. So instead of saying, "She's completely self-absorbed," you have to say, "I feel like I deserve a prince. I deserve to be queen, and I deserve to be loved." Acting in opera is really an exercise in empathy, because it can affect how you sing a certain line - if you sing it with tenderness or with deceit.
Understanding a character like Thisbé and her motivation was actually a wonderful thing. It made me aware of the selfish tendencies that I have, and how those behaviors can manifest if taken to their extreme. Having the opportunity to actually experience that self-absorption at its highest level, and then having her get nothing from her actions, was an education in itself. Take a look at the people you know who seem to demonstrate qualities that you don't like - if you can try and understand their behavior, then you can recognize and take measures against falling down the same rabbit hole yourself.
If you're interested in listening to the opera, you can listen to it on Spotify or click the picture below to get your digital download from Amazon! (I'm listed as Abigail Shapiro, because that is my maiden name.)
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I normally sing opera, but this time I made an exception.
The musical Kismet, with lyrics and musical adaptation by Robert Wright and George Forrest, was written based on musical themes by Alexander Borodin. Borodin is an incredibly interesting historical figure: he was a member of a group of Russian composers known as "The Mighty Handful," men who wanted to remain true to Russian classical music rather than learning from Western ideals. Borodin was also a chemist, which is kind of amazing.
Many of the themes of Kismet are based on his music, and this particular song is based on his String Quartet No. 2, Movement 3. The music is so incredibly stunning, you can understand why they would want to turn it into a musical! The text of the song is as follows:
Dawn's promising skies
Petals on a pool drifting
Imagine these in one pair of eyes
And this is my beloved
Strange spice from the south
Honey through the comb sifting
Imagine these in one eager mouth
And this is my beloved
And when he speaks and when he talks to me
And when he moves and when he walks with me
Paradise comes suddenly near
All that can stir, all that can stun
All that's for the heart's lifting
Imagine these in one perfect one
And this is my beloved
In this song, Marsinah, a young woman, has met a man who she has immediately fallen in love with. When asked to describe him, she can only do it in metaphors. When she describes the way he looks, his eyes and his mouth, the music is pensive and thoughtful, as though she's thinking through what she wants to say. Then, as she begins to describe their interactions, the music begins to pick up speed. She's excited just thinking of it, and she's flustered as well. By the end, she calls him her "perfect one," finally saying what she's wanted to express all along, just as the music rises to its climax.
But what can we take from this? Marsinah is a woman completely infatuated with first love. When you've first fallen in love, you call your partner perfect. You describe him with metaphors and with the idea in mind that no one understands him as well as you do. He is everything and there is no question about it. It's only as time passes that you see beyond the immediate excitement and begin to know the deeper meaning in your relationship. These things remain true, and he is your beloved, but you also begin to see what makes him human. And that's just as endearing.
Love should have these feelings bound up in it - but just because those feelings aren't at the forefront of a relationship as it settles doesn't mean that the love has faded. It means that it's transforming into something even better.
The Marriage of Figaro is one of Mozart's greatest operas. It's hilarious, complicated, and moving, all at the same time, and you'll find yourself laughing and tearing up throughout.
One of the most interesting characters in The Marriage of Figaro is the Countess, a woman who has been cheated on by her husband countless times. This aria, "Porgi, amor," is her introduction to the audience. It's usually staged with her lying in bed, morose and depressed that her love is being taken for granted. Here's the translation of the aria:
O Love, give me some remedy
For my sorrow, for my sighs!
Either give me back my darling
Or at least let me die.
That's the whole thing! She expresses her deep sadness in just those four short lines. How does that work? Mozart fills in all the gaps for us. When she asks to die, he moves the vocal line up in stepwise motion until it sounds like a cry for help. She is in pain, and we as the audience are given the opportunity to understand her motivation before she cooks up her plan.
Because that's what she does! She and her servants work together to trick the Count into seducing her while he thinks she's another woman. Then, when he realizes his mistake, she hopes he'll recognize how unfair he has been.
So what's the lesson? What do we take from this?
First, feel your emotions. When something bad happens to you, let yourself grieve and mourn. It's okay to feel bad when you're heart is broken.
But then be proactive. Figure out what your next steps are, what you're looking for, and how you want to proceed. Then make it happen. I do want to clarify that I'm not trying to tell you that if you're partner cheats on you, you should just take action and try to fix everything. I'm looking at this aria from a modern-day perspective. And what I am trying to say is when you're dealing with heartbreak, take action. Learn from the Countess - get your butt moving and make a plan of attack for whatever it is that comes next.
What do you think the meaning of this aria is? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!
Let's talk about art song.
Art songs are songs that are written outside of operas but are sung in a classical way. And here's the the cool thing about art song: because it's outside of opera, it's not part of a story. There's a lot more room for interpretation as the listener and as the singer, and you can relate the music and poetry directly to yourself rather than through a character's perspective.
This is one of my favorite art songs. It was written by a man named Richard Hundley in 1971, and the poetry was written by James Purdy in 1968. The poetry is beautiful and straight-forward:
Come ready and see me,
No matter how late
Come before the years run out,
I'm waiting with a candle
No wind will blow out,
But you must haste
On foot or by sky
For no one can wait forever
Under the bluest sky
I can't wait forever
For the years are running out.
There's something so amazing about adding music to these words. Singing is one of the most natural things that we do as people - trained or untrained, we all love to sing. So singing an art song allows me to access all of those emotions that I can be too self-conscious to show when I'm simply reading a poem outloud.
And gosh, I love this song. From the first few notes of the introduction, you can hear the tenderness with which Hundley wrote this piece. He wants to convey how relatable these emotions are - we've all felt this way. There's no inherent judgment of these feelings because the music is showing what's in the singer's heart. It's a reflection from within, not a view from without.
But what's the lesson? This woman has met a man who has stolen her heart, the kind of person that she will (metaphorically and literally) carry a candle for for the rest of her life. She is willing to wait for him...until she isn't. And that's what I love about her! She knows that she can't wait forever. And that at some point, her love will not outlast her priorities.
How can we relate this to our lives? Here's an example that you've heard before. Two people begin a relationship, but one of them doesn't want to get married or doesn't want children. They stay together for years, trying to convince themselves that marriage doesn't matter, there's no next step that needs to be taken, and they've reached the pinnacle of their relationship. But that's not the case.
You can't wait forever. If what you want is a marriage, is children, then even love won't outlast those priorities. The song may be speaking of waiting for your lover to return, but I think of it as waiting for your lover to "come around." This is the most understandable of predicaments because love is so intoxicating and fulfilling; but if what you need as an individual isn't complemented by your partner, then you'll hit bumps along the way.
If you have a different view of Come Ready and See Me, let me know in the comments below! Let's get a discussion started - I'd love to hear your thoughts!
Hey! I'm Abby, the creator of Classically Abby, a commentary, opera, beauty, and lifestyle brand dedicated to looking at the world from a classic perspective. I'm the first Conservative Influencer and I'm an opera singer with three degrees in performance!