The Alchemy of Authenticity & Jeff Buckley's Dido Lament
Having a bit of time out from singing myself, as my voice recovers, I discover an interpretation of one of the central arias of my favourite Baroque operas 'Dido and Aeneas'. The tragic aria 'Dido's Lament' is sung by the queen as she realises death is the only solution to her broken heart. Aeneas decided to leave her to fulfil his own needs, to go to war, although he returns, she rejects him for leaving her and dies. The reason I am sharing it, is because it left me deeply touched, and I felt transformed after hearing it. I could do nothing but listen again and again, to this voice, this alchemy in performance. What strikes me most is the affect his voice has on me. I am instantly suspended in time, the hairs on my arms stand up, my heart beats faster and, I felt I was shaking inside. What is this most strange reaction I am having? Something in my body's autonomic nervous system is firing off. Emotion. Sadness. Pain. Anguish. Joy. Beauty. The colours and the depth of expression are exquisite. It feels as though he is baring his soul to us, with much courage, as he is not a trained classical singer and this is not his genre. What courage it takes, to perform an opera aria with no experience and having trained your own voice? It says so much to me right now. The quest for technical perfection can have the effect of creating a barrier in the communication, we lose the feeling, lose the live wire that plugs right into your soul. We are then left in a sterile age. Numb. Disinterested. These are a few of the feelings I can recall from watching 'performers' as the pesky ego is clearly getting in the way and the singer becomes too preoccupied with how they appear and how their voice 'sounds'. I know because I have heard it and seen it and done it myself far too often. Where is this seemingly elusive place where we become egoless, even momentarily? Where do we take risks to be better communicators and where is the courage to express the truth of what you are singing about, beyond self consciousness? The point where the audience gets the live wire, where they get to feel the authenticity of real communication, where we can touch someone. Where we are the conduit for the magic alchemy of real expression. Buckley's Lament is one of the best recordings I ever heard of this aria. The recording quality isn't so great, he makes what some people would refer to as musical 'mistakes' and he is a self trained rock singer, not a classically trained opera singer and yet this is the ultimate performance for me. I wish I could have seen this live, to see his expression, and yet, I am very rarely drawn these days to watch operas. I find a lot of what is selling at the big houses around the world is too sterile and intellectual. It feels as though the directors are trying harder to impress with their grand visions and staging and having a perfect sound, and not focusing on how to create something that is authentic and inspiring their singers to take risks to achieve emotional integrity. Musically, I fear, current performances of operas are oftentimes too perfect to be honest or real. There are no risks. Sometimes you can not even say why or put it into words, but opera deserves authenticity. Perfectionism seems to serve an aesthetic, a two dimensional world of precision and accuracy, a gloss, and we lose the raw and the truthful. I long for the grit and soul in a performance, along with all the light and dark elements, all the jagged, unfinished edges, because I need to feel something if I watch a performance. I don't want to hear technical perfection, I want to hear truth. For this reason I will always listen to Callas, over most other singers and good old Klever Kath (Kathleen Ferrier) because when I hear those great voices, it affects me at my core and reminds me why I became an artist, although I find them technically astonishing too! I have heard such comments as Callas had an ugly voice, that she was technically flawed and don't listen to Ferrier, her voice is too dark etc.!! What about being moved? Callas can give me goose bumps within one bar of mostly everything I have heard of her 72 disc complete recordings. Ferrier does the same to me, from art song to opera. Technical perfection is really overrated and it makes me sad. Communicating with feeling and honest expression is so underrated. When the ego takes centre stage, there's no room for anything else.