NYFOS@North Fork 2022: Day 5

Written by Steven Blier

Artistic Director, NYFOS

In category: Blier's Blog

Published August 27, 2022

Friday’s always a tricky day in these week-long residencies. I want to keep moving the artistic process forward, while simultaneously instilling confidence and protecting the singers’ vocal resources. It’s not a great idea to exhaust them 48 hours before the show. 
You can tell César to take it easy, and he does—for about four measures. Shelén doesn’t particularly like to hold back either, and we’re all determined to get these songs as close to our Platonic ideal as possible. I feel like a laser surgeon, slicing in with precision and causing the minimum disturbance. 
Each of them needs help with different things: César has sung most of his material before (I promised him an easy ride after the rigors of his summer schedule), so we’ve been focusing on two tasks: to import the technical advances he made over the summer into these well-trod pieces; and to keep the material fresh and spontaneous, not mechanical. Tenors obsess about vocal technique more than any other singers, and love to pore over the minutiae of vowels, oral space, breath support, and laryngeal position. Fortunately I speak semi-fluent Tenorese, and can converse with this species without too much difficulty. 

Shelén told us she wanted to go a bit easy today— something in the Orient air was activating her allergies. These days, even a sniffle is enough to make everyone run for cover. The hall has an aggressive air-conditioning system, pumping in filtered air like a jetliner. César loves it, I am always on the  border of freezing, but it was comforting to have plenty of pollen-free air circulation. It’s not so easy for these two to maintain social distance from one another in their duets, but we made a pass at it. Everyone’s fine.

When I was planning the program I offered Shelén a tango by the fiery Argentinean composer Astor Piazzolla, and she agreed to take it on. It’s usually belted out by ragged, nicotine-infused low voices, not sweet sopranos who can toss off Rossini arias. For that matter, it’s usually played by combos with bandoneon and strings, and the singer has the support of a microphone. Nevertheless the two of us were hot to include “Siempre se vuele a Buenos Aires” in the program, and we’ve been bashing away at it all week. I’ve been fascinated to watch Shelén get increasingly carried away by the passion of the lyrics and the belligerence of the vocal line. Of course, I have faced my  own challenges with this piece; it’s not not a comfortable fit for a solo piano and particularly not for the ancient Mason & Hamlin in Poquatuck Hall. 
I didn’t want Shelén to belabor such a strenuous song yesterday. After the first run of the piece I had a few suggestions for her, and she said, “Can I try it?” “Sure, but let’s just do the first sixteen bars.” At which point she tore into it and there was no stopping her. She was on fire and so was I—and so was “Siempre se vuelve a Buenos Aires.” 
The two of them had earned an Aperol spritzer, which we provided, along with a beautiful sunset and a feast. I’ve rarely felt so fortunate. 
author: Steven Blier

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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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