I had the privilege yesterday to work with a very open young singer who was interested in developing his emotional range as a singer. I have worked with only a few singers, but it seems to me that Chekhov is ideal for them, and a few people who have had some serious opera training have told me that the use of imagery in Chekhov to create sensations, feelings and ways of being is very similar to much of their training, that they imagine colours, atmospheres, and the like to promote timbre and emotion in their work.
I started musing when the young singer left on why it might be easier for musicians to access this way of working. I suppose the first thing is that a song is most definitely not ‘real’ . The singer still has to keep the tune and play the instrument, at the same time as accessing their imagination and their Higher Ego to find the feelings and character for the song. When someone is acting in a realistic scene there is a conflict for an actor trained in a more realistic school, because they fear that the use of atmosphere and image comes from the imagination and is not considered ‘real’. When the director or teacher starts talking about imaginary centres , atmospheres and gestures from which the actor gets the emotional juice, those who are not trained to explore a play or character like this can understandably be suspicious.
One of Michael Chekhov’s great contributions to actor training was his exploration of atmosphere,this idea that there are atmospheres everywhere out there affecting us as people, that exist at events or in locations , in addition to our own personal atmosphere which we might be carrying . The idea that a play has a definite atmosphere is one that the realists fear because they worry it will make things all the same. This of course is simply not true. if you and I both surround ourselves with an atmosphere of sadness, and we are both asked to speak the line. ‘the Queen my lord is dead.’ and we have created our atmospheres authentically , we will speak with truth and emotion through that atmosphere in completely unique ways.
Atmosphere is knit into all music. When you speak about an atmosphere to a musician they know exactly what you are talking about. In plays very often, atmosphere is something that the designers take care of, rather than this ‘oxygen of performance’ that Chekhov talks about .
Another strong and concrete thing which is in the very fibre of music most obviously is what Chekhov calls a feeling of form. A beginning, middle and end. In plays and theatre pieces, there seems to be a kind of rebellion against form, as if succumbing to form is going to create an unacceptable happy ending, again, something that is not real. but form need not be like this as any singer will tell you. A feeling of form can be subtle and deep and surprising.
The very formality and honesty that this song or piece of music IS a work of art, and everyone knows it is, frees the performing artist to use imagery, atrmosphere and the like , without fear.
A big problem for the singers are the Opera directors. It must be difficult to experience the right atmosphere for an aria when you are literally standing in a junk yard or in a set which belies all the content of the opera. All my compassion goes out to the opera singers.
I agree. I think that is possibly true of all big productions too. Check out my experience at King Lear. Are you a singer yourself?