And… we’re back! Chesapeake Chamber Opera has a very intense working schedule: all the artists prepare their parts before arriving and then get together for a week before the show to put it all together. This week has been full of stress and yet, fun and serenely musical. We are rejoining Jessica Lennick to read about the process of creating a character in just a week. Although she has lived with this character for many months, the Zerlina for this production has turned out to be very different from the Zerlina she originally envisioned. Jessica’s journey to the current 21st century Zerlina presented her with many ideas and new questions. Let’s see what she has to say about it…
Process and Prevarication
I have a confession to make—I find being “real” incredibly difficult. It is so easy to coast onstage. So easy to make all the same decisions that people have been making for centuries and not rock the boat and to simply get by on charisma and a pretty voice.
Actually getting onstage and living a role is, to put it mildly, uncommon. So often we stumble through our blocking and settle for hitting our marks and singing what’s in the score and not putting any of ourselves in the mix. So often it’s so difficult just to do that—to hit all our marks, and to remember how to sing pretty, and to remember every dynamic marking that the vast majority of the time we have to not only settle for, but be happy with a performance lacking in real sincerity or vulnerability.
I have another confession to make—I find this Zerlina difficult, possibly because that real sincerity and vulnerability are required in the production. Also, possibly because this Zerlina goes back to an age and a person that I am glad I am not anymore.
You see, I’ve been her. I have made all these mistakes before—wanting to think I haven’t gotten myself in too deep, thinking I can handle the trouble I’ve gotten myself into and then having to handle it because I haven’t left an out. Zerlina walks into that Act I party with Masetto already knowing that she is uncomfortable, that things will go wrong, that if something happens, she will be undefended.
She walks in anyway.
An enticing smile, a wink of the eye… One look from him is all it takes. Don Giovanni is the legendary lothario who loves and leaves women at a shocking rate. Despite the warnings of his faithful servant, he refuses to end his womanizing ways. And, tonight, his game turns deadly. With this captivating music, you might just be the next to fall under his spell. – Tulsa Opera
I learned the hard way a few times not to do that, but here I am, going into the party because I refuse to be intimidated even though I know already it will end in disaster.
It’s so difficult to be 26 and playing 16. I’m not far enough away. Zerlina is making the mistakes at 16 that I was making at 22 and neither of those ages are removed enough for me to be impartial. I want to make the right decisions for her. I want her to not be flawed. But that’s not an option. DaPonte wrote the most brilliant libretto and it’s full of flawed characters who are all incredibly human and who, correspondingly, screw up.
She eats the pomegranate in Hades. She walks up the stairs in the horror film. She thinks she is immortal. She thinks she won’t get hurt. She thinks she can do what she wants and that there will be no consequences.
She will make these mistakes. I cannot make her be perfect. I can’t even make her me.
This is what I have to conquer. She can’t be me—even though she is so, so close. Even though she seems to be living my life, she zigs where I would zag. My job is to find that woman—that girl—and to be her.
So where to start? I have been intellectualizing her for weeks, thinking of my options and all the ways she could evolve. I’ve gotten pretty attached to my idea of Zerlina, but it’ll be time this weekend to put Mr. Jake Feldman’s Zerlina onstage and that had me a little nonplussed yesterday.
I have a hard time playing trashy. Probably because I am pretty loud mouthed and inappropriate and trashy hits a little close to home. It’s kind of the uncanny valley of acting. I can play a character I feel an intimate kinship with, or I can play a character who is nothing at all like me. Ask me to play someone who is justthisclosebutnotquite and I find that difficult.
So I did what I always do when I get confused…I played with makeup.
Yesterday morning before our tech rehearsal I went into the bathroom, took out all the bronzer and cheap colorful makeup I own and I went to town. Somewhere in the middle of giving myself a fake tan I realized exactly who this Zerlina is—JWoww.
Okay, okay, for those of you who watch Jersey Shore not exactly JWoww, but close enough to help. I put in my hoop earrings and did my best imitation of a girl from Queens and suddenly I got her. I got what made her walk into that party. I got where she came from in an intuitive way I hadn’t been able to before.
It’s still a fight to put in her mannerisms while keeping the emotions real—in fact, after playing Zerlina’s arias as a straight-up sexpot for so long, Jake’s insistence that Vedrai, carino is about an honest, loving emotion came as something of a shock. I am still embarrassed at how long it took me to understand and execute what was being asked of me in that staging rehearsal. Who knew honesty could be so hard?
I’ve gotten really lucky in the fact that my Masetto, Paul Corujo, is a longtime friend and colleague of mine. Almost immediately during staging he and I established a very physical relationship between Masetto and Zerlina, and having that relationship as a “homebase” really helped to establish Zerlina as an individual when I was foundering. It’s also helped because there are parts of this staging that hit rather too close to home for me personally, and having that support makes it easy to explain why she’s so resilient and helps me to be resilient in turn.
Originally, I was going to ply you with tales of drug use in our Don Giovanni and the physical challenges that presents, but frankly, I didn’t want to give away the plot point. Suffice it to say, we have a few surprises up our sleeves in this production that you’re just going to have to show up to discover.
Soprano Jessica Lennick prides herself on being able to stay busy. She is looking forward to her role début as Zerlina in Don Giovanni with Chesapeake Chamber Opera in April 2011 and just finished premiering the role of Angeline in Mike Dutka’s Crowded House at the Philadelphia Fringe Festival in September 2010. Information about other events and her varied career are found at www.jessicalennick.com
Now, the part you’ve all been waiting for: it’s trivia time! The first two right answers will get a free ticket to this weekend’s production of Don Giovanni!
In the final act of Don Giovanni, Mozart steals one of his own famous tunes during the banquet scene. What opera is this tune from? A correct answer will get you a ticket to this weekend’s production!