Inhabiting a Character in Song
On February 4, 5, and 6, the soprano Barbara Hannigan will perform Hans Abrahamsen’s “let me tell you,” with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Andris Nelsons, conductor. Here is her introduction to this playlist, which she uses to inhabit her role of Shakespeare’s Ophelia.
“For many of the major pieces I perform, I make a playlist to help me get into the piece from a different direction. It serves as a kind of dramaturgy for me and also brings me into various states of mind which complement the facets of the music and character I am portraying. For ‘let me tell you,’ I should become Shakespeare’s Ophelia, looking at her life and experience now, after so many years had passed since she died in Hamlet.
She is still the young girl, she is ageless, but the passing of time has allowed her to see things differently and to have a tender and poignant understanding of what happened to her. Somehow she can rewrite her history.”
Gabriel Fauré – “Pelléas et Mélisande” op. 80 I. Prélude; Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, David Zinman (Conductor)
This represents the purity and tenderness of young Ophelia, her youthful fragility, her sweet faltering steps, stuttering with charming insecurity.
Randy Newman – “Real Emotional Girl” (Live in London)
I love Randy Newman, especially the way he sings out of tune as he becomes each character in his songs. He is a very dramatic singer—like an actor. In this song, the man tells of the girl, broken, fragile, gone from her family home and almost volatile in her emotional world, like a hurricane. She is so attractive because of her vulnerability.
Joni Mitchell – “All I Want”
Here we have the sweet and ultra-clear voice of early Joni Mitchell, where she is so fresh, in love, open without borders.
Händel – “As With Rosy Steps The Morn” (Theodora); Lorraine Hunt Lieberson (Mezzo-soprano ), Orchestra Of The Age Of Enlightenment, Harry Bicket (Conductor)
A languorous enchanting aria, perhaps after a sleepless night, not without dreams, moving into endless light.
John Denver – “Annie’s Song”
John Denver’s natural tenor voice; in this song he seems to be the unabashed and open-hearted lover, with a youthful and tender passion. Hamlet before his father died, when he was a childish lover and an inspiration to Ophelia.
Beck Goldsmith – “I Vow to Thee My Country”
This song I chose because of the concept of duty, of what one should do and how a heartfelt vow seems unbreakable especially to a young and impressionable mind.
Joni Mitchell – “A Case of You”
Drunk on love and infatuation, this was so overwhelming for young Ophelia that it drove her to madness.
Gabriel Fauré – “Pelléas et Mélisande” op. 80 II. Fileuse (Andantino quasi allegretto); Boston Symphony Orchestra, Seiji Ozawa (Conductor)
Back to Pelléas and Mélisande, a flowing and evocative daydream which has dark and obsessive undertones.
Michael Jackson – “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” (Single Version)
Now fully into obsession, Ophelia has reached the point of no return, and she is high on the adrenaline and endorphins which course through her. She is not afraid, she is reckless and heading nonstop towards the crash.
Mozart: Requiem KV 626 III. Sequenz, Dies Irae; MusicAeterna, The New Siberian Singers, Teodor Currentzis, Simone Kermes, Stéphanie Houtzeel, Markus Brutscher, Arnaud Richard
She sings her own Requiem, she charges down a fiery path towards her death which only she controls. A triumph. Wild, wide-eyed, full of passion.
Händel: “Fra l’ombre e gl’orrori” (from the cantata “Aci, Galatea e Polifemo”); Christopher Purves (Baritone), Arcangelo Orchestra, Jonathan Cohen (Conductor)
A low, gentle and hypnotic man’s voice. Maybe Hamlet. Or the ghost of Hamlet’s father, singing a kind of lullaby as Ophelia disappears in the water, as she drowns and her hair swirls and her limbs and eyes and heart finally become quiet. Ophelia watches this from outside herself.
Amy Winehouse – “Love Is A Losing Game”
Ophelia is looking back now, seeing that she, like so many others, had no chance to win at love. She was too young, too fragile, too unable to control her own emotions as they bombarded her heart.
Randy Newman – “Losing You” (Live In London)
A song to herself: Ophelia regrets, from a distance, how she left her love, her family, her life. She regrets not having the strength to stay and to pass through the most difficult years of adolescence and emerge into womanhood.
Bach: Sonata No. 1 in G Minor, BWV 1001: I. Adagio; Chris Thile (Mandolin)
A funereal song, a prayer, to reflect as she walks away from it all, out the door and into a snowy landscape, fading into whiteness. ¶