a journal of observations, obsessions and inspirations

musings on the artist's life

Posted in: The Tenor Book

Hey, old friend / What d’ya say, old friend?

Today: recovering from a particularly intense (and tense) week at work, intended to catch up on homework for my class. What did I actually do? Spent every moment I could find with my old friend, the Tenor Book:

  • organized files, electronic and paper
  • glanced at some of the work I’d done over the years, both text and layout
  • gathered samples and wrote instructions for Vivian, who will be transcribing interview tapes
  • started a production calendar to get an overview of the project
  • worked on outlines for a website just for the book
  • ramped up my visibility and involvement on Google+ though there’s still more to do (but then, there always is)
  • explored YouTubes and blogs

One of those blogs, reached through my Twitter feed, touched a nerve, a bit like hitting your funny bone on a doorway, not too hard, just enough to tingle. Carlo Scibelli is a tenor in New York City who shares his thoughts about traveling and performing. What he wrote today definitely got my attention.

  • He talks about the two sides of experience, both comfort and discomfort;
  • And he says the opera business has been forced to re-invent itself over the last few years, giving a starting-over feeling.

Well. Isn’t that just a perfect description of where I am in relationship to this book? I have the knowledge, the research, and have never lost the passion for the project. Neglected, but never diminished. And something that’s becoming clearer now, in this story I need to tell, is the legacy of opera in general, and (in this book) tenors in particular, in learning their art and craft, one generation to the next. You can’t learn to sing by reading a book. It’s a specialized, personalized kind of training and learning. And I think that’s one of the reasons opera has survived for more than 400 years. And, as Carlo says, because it’s constantly reinventing itself.

Most of my interviews for the book took place from 1999 to 2002, with a few more since then. They’re of another generation and the business has certainly changed. To capture some of the changes for contrast and context, I’ll be adding a few new interviews with young singers (starting in San Francisco at the end of June), and getting together with others for a handful of follow-up interviews. Carlo is on that wish list. Naturally, I hope we’ll talk about his role as a teacher (that legacy thing), but part of this would be to get a more solid baseline with him.

Here’s why: The day of our appointment, I was a basket case, running on fumes after five and a half weeks of interviews on the road: New York to the UK back to the east coast, with a few days in Chicago still ahead. Exhausted and mentally fogged, I waited in the expansive lobby of his apartment building—and though I noticed this nicely dressed man looking around for someone, I didn’t recognize him. (What? I was expecting him to be dressed like Camille from The Merry Widow?) The penny finally dropped and we were off—to an awkward start. I remember I couldn’t seem to establish a rhythm or flow to the conversation, and was kicking myself for trying to do too much in too short a time, should never have tried to squeeze the interview in my schedule, yadda ya. When he later said he had some issues going on that day (okay, that’s not exactly what he said, but it’s the idea) I felt not too much better that it wasn’t a good day for him either, but mostly regretful that an opportunity seemed to have vanished.

His post today makes me think we have enough in common to have a better conversation. I’ll certainly ask.

Oh, and Carlo’s in Mexico City, a place I fell in love with at first sight—my brief weekend flirtation with her museums and boulevards and architecture and contrasts and vibrancy… D.F., you had me at ¡Hola!