I always love watching Jonathan Cohen at work. It’s clear that music is his happy place. His joy for the music is palpable, as well as his sense of camaraderie with his fellow musicians, especially here, playing with his own ensemble. I had never heard Buxtehude’s Sonata Nº 3 in A Minor but it was a small musical revelation.
The featured singer, whose name I prefer not to give here, sang Händel’s German Lieder.
This was a tough night for the singer. There was so much fear in her, so much insecurity. And so many missed opportunities to make a positive impression on the very generous audience. You could feel that everybody was painstakingly rooting for her. She was pretty, had a well-trained, melodic, rich voice and an impressive resumé. Yet, that evening at least, she took to that stage walking like a stiff doll, wearing an unbecoming white dress with a sleeveless top and a fanned bottom that reached her ankles and whose waist portion was oddly tainted brown so it looked as if she had spilled the coffee over her dress. Who is advising these poor singers on their outfits? Of short stature, her heavy long hair made her appear even shorter and spoke volumes about her not wanting to let go. She positioned herself at the outer end of the ensemble and used a note stand. I doubt she really needed it but suppose she insisted on it to have a life saver at hand. She in fact appeared completely frozen in terror, singing every song sternly facing the far diagonal corner of the hall. In other words, she never faced the audience at all, not once making eye contact. She looked as if she was locked into a prison. My heart went out to her, filled with pity and compassion. There is nothing worse than sitting in the audience and fearing for the singer. Here she was, at Carnegie Hall, trying to be a good girl and doing everything right, and completely miserable. It was heartbreaking. She did not dare to add any inflection with the lyrics, coming across like a high school girl trying to prove that she can sing all the notes correctly. There were some half-hearted, half-finished gestures, and no specific decision seemed to have been made in terms of interpretation, intonation and expressiveness. How did this happen? Who failed to prepare her properly for the stage? Who forgot to teach her that singing is not just an act of creating a sound? I was devastated for her, for all the time, energy and money she had put into her career to make it here and not being able to enjoy it and thus, making it impossible for us to enjoy it. When it came to the final bows, her entire body went into flight mode. Cohen at one moment motioned gracefully ot her to take a solo bow and she took it as a sign to leave the stage! It was just so sad. And all this after a Lied called, ironically, Alles jauchzet, alles lacht [Everyone rejoicing, everyone laughing]. There are singers who need to be taught to be less humble and more courageous. The stage is a singer’s rightful home, but he or she must learn to take full charge of it, or they will be blown off it like a wilted leaf.
Please understand that I am not writing this to put down this singer. I am writing this to show that there is a big problem in this industry when singers are not prepared accurately for the concert stage, a holy ground that is governed by eternal laws that must be understood by anyone entering it. We all have bad nights, but there is a technique to preventing the pain and damage one can suffer during and after a failed attempt to showcase one’s art in the best light.
These things can be fixed if they are addressed seriously and thoroughly in the training. I am always rooting for the singer.