NYFOS@North Fork: Day 5, July 30

Written by Steven Blier

Artistic Director, NYFOS

July 31, 2021

Friday is usually the most uncomfortable day of a one-week rehearsal period. By now we’ve done our serious work on the songs, we’ve confronted some obstacles, we’ve had our breakthroughs. Friday isn’t a good day to make any big changes—it’s too close to performance day. Dress rehearsal is tomorrow. The best thing to do is run a dust-buster over the songs, routine some of the numbers that need a bit more repetition, correct a few imprecisions in the French diction, and—mainly—encourage everyone for their good work. 

The three of us were tired, and it took a while for us to find our groove today. I felt a bit disorganized at the piano, after a remarkably good day yesterday. But the magic eventually made an appearance. 

Nicoletta had gotten a couple of jellyfish bites when she went swimming earlier in the day—I did everything in my power to direct them to a calm, jellyfish-free inlet in Orient that I have always loved, but they felt the lure of the colder, more turbulent Long Island Sound. I was concerned Nicoletta might still be suffering from her marine attack, but she was fine by mid-afternoon, and in even better voice than yesterday. 

We only had one artistic discussion today, and it was about a song both Sam and I love: “Montparnasse” by Poulenc. He sings it with the kind of rich beauty that I cannot resist. But his performance seemed a bit grave to me, especially in a section when the poetry talks about “the lines in the Paris sidewalks, upon which you must not step.” It’s a charming moment in the piece, a naïve throwback to the childish superstition, “Step on a crack, break your mother’s back.” 

I mentioned this to Sam and he said, “Oh…well, I think read somewhere it was about feeling like an outsider and having to be careful in a place where you feel you don’t belong.”

I remembered that this had come up at Caramoor in March when Aaron Crouch was singing the song, and I did not cotton to it then. 

I do not like stepping on other people’s interpretive ideas, even when I disagree with them. I try very hard to subscribe to Archibald MacLeish’s idea, “a poem should not mean, but be.” But that only takes you so far when you have to get up and sing a poem set to music. Then you have to have a character, a story, an arc—an interpretation. And if I feel that someone’s interpretation is giving them the wrong color for the music, I have to step in—as gently as possible. 

       “Sam, I think that Poulenc’s texture gets dreamy—like a lullaby—and it would be great if you sang it with…” I searched for the word. “With more fantasy.” 

       It doesn’t take Sam long to make adjustments. “Let’s do it again,” he said. 

       And voilà, those measures suddenly took on the timbre of a sweet, rosy memory. 

       “Are you OK with that, Sam?”

       “Yes. You’re right. It’s better.”

       Another satisfied customer. 

By the end of rehearsal we were all running on fumes. But I decided to stay and look at a couple of spots that had given me agita during the afternoon. After 40 minutes I felt as if I were in the last reel of “The Red Shoes.” I called it a day.

Pictured: the “Twin Sisters Duet,” by Michel Legrand. At Caramoor, the two women had a field day with it. It’s such a catchy song that I didn’t want to lose it. So Sam (6’5”) has stepped in to do the honors as the twin sister of Nicoletta (5’3”). As you can see in the photo, he makes a beautiful Delphine.

Steven Blier

Called “the coolest dude in town” by Opera News, master collaborative pianist and coach Steven Blier is the co-founder and artistic director of New York Festival of Song. Here on No Song is Safe From Us, Steven blogs about the NYFOS Emerging Artist residencies, writes the engaging and erudite program notes for our Mainstage concerts, and contributes frequently to Song of the Day.

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