March 20, 2016

My thing for Early Music....

My journey into the boundless world of the Baroque started while I was in undergraduate studies at The Juilliard School and I was assigned the role of “Orindo the Dwarf” in Cavalli’s La Doriclea. While I had studied and performed many pieces composed during the 17th and 18th Centuries, I had no idea what this role, in practice, would involve. The production utilized period instruments, and the role called for me to stutter, walk and dance on my knees, wear a beard, and drink and smoke profusely on stage. Initially I was skeptical (I hoped to be cast as Venus in this production and was shocked to see my name next to “Orindo the Dwarf” on the cast list, and could not imagine what it meant). Despite my affinity for early music and historical performance, I hadn’t anticipated how far “Orindo” would stretch me vocally, stylistically and dramatically. Finding humanity and warmth within a character so distant from myself was an eyeopening and uplifting experience. While immersing myself in this role, I realized that it was the artistic freedom inherent in the Baroque style that allowed me to connect so fully with my character. Additionally, the way in which the continuo section approached the performance fascinated me and inspired me to take artistic risks that I had never before felt the freedom to explore. 


This experience as “Orindo” 8 years ago marked the beginning of my love affair with Baroque music and historical performance, specifically, with Elizabethan lute songs and the work of Purcell.  Although I was raised in the United States, I was born in Britain, and singing early English repertoire feels at once familiar and revelatory. Juilliard’s Historical Performance program had only just started while I was pursuing my Master of Music in Opera, and I frequently sought opportunities to collaborate in early music performance and to explore Baroque repertoire on my own.  As I’ve matured vocally, my appreciation for Baroque music has only expanded; the expressive and stylistic freedom found in the Baroque allows me to always sing with my true sound and authentic voice. When performing Baroque repertoire, I feel that I’m permitted to explore colors within my sound that are often questioned in Classical and Romantic repertoire, where beauty of sound is often considered paramount. Beyond technical concerns, the humanity that permeates Baroque music and text has contributed to my deep personal connection. Its emphasis on the “natural” is also one of my favorite aspects of the Baroque. One’s natural range, temperament, and quality of sound are not only accepted, but exalted. The pressure to alter my sound to fit a preconceived stylistic ideal has never been a part of my experience singing 17th Century repertoire, and this sense of freedom was a revelation that has stayed with me through my career and has influenced my approach to singing in other musical genres. Although my career has led me to sing music from many different time periods, it has held true that I can consistently be more myself while singing early music than in any other style… even when a role requires a transformation into a stuttering, swearing, smoking, drinking, dancing male dwarf. 


Since graduation from Juilliard with my Master’s degree, I have worked to reconcile my operatic training with my desire to sing early music. Working as a professional in New York and completing my Professional Studies Diploma at Mannes have yielded many opportunities to sing contemporary and experimental repertoire, but singing early music has remained my passion, and I’ve worked extensively with several early music ensembles in New York City and abroad. My love for English lute songs inspired me to study the lute and continuo performance, first with Pat O’Brien and now with The New York Continuo Collective and Richard Kolb. I also had the privilege of singing the roles of Valetto and Pallade in L’incoronazione di Poppea in a production led by Richard Egarr at Snape Maltings as part of the Britten-Pears Young Artist Programme. My experience singing with the programme’s incredible continuo section was exhilarating. My weeks performing with these artists advanced my understanding of rhythm and ensemble: singing with a group of musicians so accomplished in historical performance and playing on period instruments was a beautiful dance of risk and trust. Again, as a Britten-Pears Young Artist, I participated in a master class and concert series with Andreas School and Tamar Halperin focusing on Early English repertoire spanning from Dowland to Purcell. While working with Andreas and Tamar on Purcell’s “O Solitude”, I experienced the extent to which rhythm can be utilized as a form of ornamentation by experimenting with singing as much as a measure off from the ground bass line. At the point in which this occurred, I already considered myself immersed in historical performance, and experiencing yet another new and enlightening aspect of the Baroque style reinforced my need to focus my career on early music.