|After the Lyric Memoir 6/2011 Recital
|Grateful for a successful new beginning with a different voice.
I survived the Lyric
Memoir Recital with three encores and a great audience. Some people from my audience took me out for ice cream afterward.
It was a wonderful extended evening. I finally feel as though I have something to build back on vocally. Eventually
since my voice seems to be going up into the coloratura rep I will now need an accompanist since for that repertoire I cannot
sit and play as I sing.
The 59th Street Bridge is where I have recovered
most of my voice. I now consistently work the Queen of the Night, the Lucia Mad Scene, Sonambula, Mireille, Olympia,
Lakme, Madam Herz and several Mozart concert arias - on the way to work in the morning. I am surprised that my rather
high thin voice cuts through the traffic noice, but it does. And someone most likely on Roosevelt Island said something
to the editors of the Wall Street Journal. And a very young reporter had the task of finding me in 90 Degree plus heat.
Since I am very self-protective - the minute I see someone approaching I stop singing until they pass by. It took Richard
two weeks to find me in the heat. The above small cut of the article is the end result. It was on the front page
of the Metro Section entitled "The Soprano on the Bridge"! It's nice to find that most people like the voice.
Sue Hassel, Soprano & Piano – Why and How? Some General Background:
WHY? - I started piano
at age 9, and then lost the first joint of my left index finger in a horse race (yes really!?). I started to play piano two
months before the accident and as soon as the splint and bandage came off I resumed playing. My mother would not let me off
the hook (I am very glad she was so insistent). Extremely painful – many tears,
but the finger became tougher. My sister was
the “pianist” in the family. I was the “singer”, and I knew if I wanted to learn any repertoire, I had to read better at the piano. Intuitively I knew I was a coloratura soprano, since I could
imitate the birds outside. When my sister was out of the house I read at sight her
Beethoven sonatas, Schumann Carnival, Brahms Opus 118, and Bach Inventions and Fugues at the piano.
I waited until my sister was out of the house, and then I took her current repertoire
and began to read at sight. Since I had heard her play the rep, I could tell pretty reasonably how it should sound, and so
I persisted. In fourth grade, my classmates called out the hymn number and I played for them at sight (anyone who needs to
become a solid sight-reader – reading a four part hymn and any Bach and Beethoven is a good place to start – slowly
at first – then in time, up to tempo). Over many
years I developed a ferocious sight reading capability, which has saved me money, time, aggravation and bailed me out many
times in German and Austrian auditions.
HOW - How to organize playing as one sings. Let’s take the Immolation Scene in Goetterdaemmerung. First I straight jacket the entire piece. I sit and sing as I play blocking in the first chord of every measure (I don’t have
perfect pitch so this means I play my tune with a minimal cord accompaniment below). In this way I have reduced Wagner’s
structure to a simple hymn. However every interlude gets played completely - no matter how awful the first reading, the harmonic structure is first,
then the main tune. Once I have the span of the piece, where it moves in surges, where
it is calm, where the big vocal climaxes are, where to save and build the voice to surmount those big climaxes. Since I have
a merely competent theory background, my ears have to understand the rest of it, and I have to have quick hands and speedy
eye-to-hand coordination to hold it together on a first reading. My eyes are always
scanning up and down and then left to right. Over
a number of years working this way, you realize each composer has his own formula for
composing as his personality. This HOW distillation on sight over years becomes automatic,
and the quick coordination becomes automatic, so the most difficult Liszt, Busoni, Richard Strauss, Alban Berg (although with
Berg you are dealing with a fixed tone row – forward , inverted and retrograde) and Rachmaninov can be learned rapidly.
The standard operatic and song repertoire is child’s play by comparison to the more complicated late 19th
century to 20th century idioms. I am not diminishing the profundity of the Romantic
era composers (this rep across the board is where I live emotionally), but this is how I develop my personal skill set with
a very modest musical background.
FIRST EXPERIENCE AS SUE HASSEL, SOPRANO & PIANO – As a singer I have auditioned a lot, and even with
the standard 19th Century opera rep, I frequently
run into pianists who are undertrained, and like me at the age of 9, are thrown into playing for an afternoon of singing auditions.
Most usually play Mozart adequately, but they can run into trouble with Verdi and Bel Canto (it’s own thing). Rarely are they asked to play Richard Wagner or Richard Strauss. If
the singer persists with Wagner or Strauss, the audition can quickly fall apart. This happened to me ALL THE TIME in Europe. I got used to playing for myself the opening Turandot monolog, Invocation from Elektra,
Battle Cry, Walkuere (untrained pianists ALWAYS miss the rhythmic return to the A section the second time around!). It takes
a determined soprano with huge physical strength and airways of a horse to survive
that glitch. And generally they will miss the tempo variations in the Norma Casta Diva Scene (easy to read – BUT treacherous
in pacing). In Bulgaria once very early in my European forays I had two different conductors – one Russian (who spoke German and knew his business) and a South
American (who had never looked at the Strauss Elektra first monolog). The rehearsal
was to get a recording of my operatic excerpts (included Elektra, Turandot, Ring & Norma Casta Diva Scene). I offered to work with the conductor the night before to show him my way with the arias at the piano ,
but he refused and was offended. Next day, we began with the Elektra in front of his
full German speaking orchestra. Three hours later (the conductor did NOT speak German,
only Spanish) we got through the first half of the monologue!
Every time tempos were wrong, I stopped him by clapping my hands (my agent was freaking out – as was another
American conductor in the audience) and then explaining what had to happen in German
and demonstrating vocally while conducting myself as to how the tempo should be. The
orchestra got it immediately and ignored the conductor and played what I had demonstrated. This is a memory emblazoned on my mind! So whenever
I auditioned in Europe I MADE SURE I COULD PLAY anything I sang. You never know what
you can run into. I always remember that orchestral concerts are collaborations
and no matter how stressful, the conductor has to be respected, and with one badly timed down beat, the singer
can have a complete fiasco which could prevent him or her from ever singing
in Europe or elsewhere professionally! For the record, after the last
take of the Elektra, the German orchestra applauded.
END Sum Total and Takeaway - Over the years, I have
presented composite shows (singing a recital group playing for myself, playing a solo piano group & dancing enpointe to
my pre-recorded music – show runs an hour roughly. I bring a few of my paintings as the backdrop for scenery – one-time runout). And
I also perform in straight recitals as Sue Hassel Soprano & Piano and as a solo pianist, presenting master classes, and
listening to many many singers and helping them all (something I really enjoy). I also collaborate with other pianists ad
hoc. My finest voice teacher (of all of them) was Bettina Bjorksten – a coloratura
soprano. She told me that before the Nazi’s came to power there was a German
baritone who toured singing AND playing for himself in Germany the important song cycles.
Even as an undergraduate she recommended that I perform as Sue Hassel, Soprano & Piano (my catch phrase for it)
since I had the pianistic chops and wherewithal. Her words rang true for me since then to now. And
so, a lifelong habit, necessity and simplicity of performance has kept me going artistically.
For the Record - I was always a simple coloratura soprano. I have sung professionally
as a Hoch Dramatischer Sopran (Bruenhilde, Elektra, Isolde), Hoher Dramatisch Sopran
(Kaiserin, Helene), Verdi Soprano and Dramatic Coloratura Soprano. And because I kept rebalancing my voice with piano, ballet, and much self-recording (Thank you Edirol) as a singer, my voice is still holding. This year I have learned it will only hold as
a simple coloratura soprano – and for that I am grateful. That’s after
two complete cardiac arrests. I am like Secretariat, the race horse, who died suddenly.
The necropsy revealed a heart 35% bigger than any other race horse. When they put him
out to pasture, he died. So I keep busy and active because my doctor told me that could
happen to me. I am a realist, and music is my life. And I thank the audience at Christ & St. Stephens in June 2015 for
keeping me alive so I know how to handle my health to keep going. I have a defibrillator in my chest. If my heart stops the
machine will restart it – a few times if necessary. I have no blockages, no arrhythmias
and I commute by bicycle.
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