We have had an Oedipus Rex rehearsal at the end of November, but it really didn’t count. Last night was our first true rehearsal for Oedipus Rex, and it was everything I love about a TFC rehearsal: insightful, funny, helpful, rewarding, and short.
Insightful. During the rehearsal, John shared some snippets of background on Stravinsky that gave appropriate color. He emphasized how Stravinsky saw himself as composing very mechanically and without emotion, as compared to contemporaries like Schoenberg. All of those early 20th century composers were “running away from the 19th century” trying to find their own distinctive style and sound, and Stravinsky was no exception. Practically speaking, it meant staccato notes were even shorter and more precise; cutoffs were as exact as possible; and duples and triplets, when those rhythms occurred, were as academic as possible.
Funny. John had his usual array of funny stories. I loved his aside comment about being in charge of a boy choir once (and aging faster in those 2 years than any point of his life), as well as stories about his voice teacher who said he’d never be a singer but took him on anyway because of his musicality. Dwight asked a question about whether we should be emphasizing the double L in ellum and John joked, “You know, that kept me up all night on New Year’s Eve,” and fired back with “What you’re doing sounds great” without really answering the question. Ha! Then, after practicing a section with crazy high speed runs, John started off his commentary with “there’s a C-natural…” and everyone burst out laughing because the notes are all so run together and approximated that there’s no way any of us freakin’ know where the C-natural is that he’s talking about. He plowed on, “No, really, this is one people will be able to notice!” (And he was right.)
Helpful. I may have the music memorized quite well, but there’s nothing like a live rehearsal to really lock in on a lot of the words. John worked us hard on a few parts where the orchestra diverges from doubling us, to make sure those chromatic moments come through very clearly. He emphasized the need to have a brighter sound, even a sharper sound, partially to cut through the characteristically heavy orchestration of Stravinsky, and partially to keep the harmonic motion as energetic as possible. The before-and-after difference after mentioning this was quite noticeable, especially for the tenors who changed the character of one section from “sagging” to “interesting.”
Rewarding. I love walking away with new insights and a better understanding of the piece. For instance, John at one point stopped drilling sections and warned us that it’s easy to shout while singing a piece like this, and in fact that’s what we were doing, was shouting. He tried to explain this a few different ways: that voice teacher he spoke of before would say we were “singing on the capital and not on the interest.” He encouraged us to get a better sound so that we would “avoid a hole in the tone” when singing against the weighty orchestration. Nothing better than getting such hands-on feedback and then hearing the chorus as a whole adjust nicely to incorporate it.
Short. I couldn’t believe it, but we walked out of there after only a little more than an hour of the three hours on the schedule. I’m used to these ending early but this was great. I attribute it to the fact that the chorus really sounded good, garnished a lot of compliments from John Oliver, and really didn’t need to work on a lot of the piece. In other words, we did our homework well.
This is a busy week, with a piano rehearsal tonight with Maestro Levine, orchestra rehearsals Tuesday morning and all day Wednesday, and performances Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings.