Page 97 - Classical Singer magazine 2019 Fall University Issue
P. 97

“Why is the Schubert setting of [Der] Erlkönig the most successful?” Heggie asks. “Because he messes with the text. He stretches and pulls at it and abuses it with character. You know how he feels about that text. That was a real ‘Ah ha!’ for me.
“I respect writers so much. I was setting Dickinson, but I realized you’ve got to mess with it, or why bother? What is the point of setting it? Why not just recite it? What
do you want as a performer or as a composer?
“What is the ache in the middle of it that is causing you to declaim
it in a di erent way? I think that is good advice for singers, too. How do you feel about this? What do those words mean to you?
“What do those notes mean to you? What does that rest mean to you? Why do you think that is there? How do the words and music  t
together, and what does it mean to you?”
Heggie frequently gives masterclasses for singers but also works to educate composers, even feeling the need to cover such basics as the di erence between range
and tessitura. “I don’t think there’s
a person who would write a  ute concerto without meeting with the instrumentalist,” he says, “who knows more about what they can and can’t do on the instrument? Yet they will go and write an opera without even talking to the singer.”
Heggie encourages singers and composers to take part in a dialogue. “I know singers want to be friendly, they want to be employed—but
you cannot do something that is damaging to your voice,” he says. “You can do it in a friendly way. You can say, ‘You know, this is not good for my voice, plus I can’t express what
I think you want. How about I try this instead?’”
Heggie works closely with his singers and will often make changes or create an optional melody rather than demand that a singer do it precisely come è scritto.
“That’s not new,” he says. “It’s called ‘ossia.’ Historically, scores
are  lled with those. I did that with Moby-Dick. I wrote these impossible roles and thought, ‘Here is an alternate for somebody who can’t do that.’
“You have to love these singers,” he says. “They are the ambassadors for your work. They are the ones who are going to make your work shine— or not. I also tell composers: please don’t micromanage singers with 11/16 and a little tenuto, and then we’re
in 12/16. Write it in a meter they can get their heads around so that they are actually working on the character
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