Being of a certain age, I now frequently have to resort to reading glasses which is disconcerting. If I sit them firmly on my nose, the audience looks blurry and I feel as if I have lost connection with them. Sit them further down so I can use normal eyesight for the audience and I look like a caricature of a dragon-lady librarian. Alternatively I could grow my arms another 6 inches and problem solved. So learning things off by heart is definitely the better proposition.
I got a last minute request to sing at a Registered Music Teacher’s concert and my teacher said “Let’s do something from your new repertoire, how about ‘Kommt ein schlanker'” and I replied “But but but! I haven’t learnt the words from memory yet.” However she was keen for me to get a performance of this one under my belt so I agreed that I would do it with the music. I did try to stuff all the words into the small walnut that passes for my brain in the intervening couple of days, but you know, that irritating thing called Life got in the way.
The concert was being held in a large room of our local museum. Carpeted with a lowish ceiling. I figured this would swallow the sound, especially when filled with an audience, but it was actually very nice acoustically. When it was my turn I stepped up to the piano (teacher accompanying) and discovered that a) the lighting was feeble and b) my folder clearly didn’t have non-reflective plastic. Nothing to be done but soldier on.
Fortunately I had the opening couple of pages off pat so things started well. Just as I was mentally patting myself on the back for putting my glottals in the right place and actually making the trill sound like a trill instead of a wobbly vibrato, disaster struck! I glanced down at the page to pick up the next lot of words and couldn’t see them properly. Have you ever tried making up something on the spot in a language other than your own? Me either. But I did. It’s entirely possible that instead of saying Sollten ja sich Blicke finden (If you should catch his glance) I said something like Meine Katze sitzt auf einer Keksblume (My cat sits on a biscuit flower).
The rest of the aria passed without incident. So here’s what I learnt from that experience:
1. If you’re going to make up words, do it in front of an audience that neither knows the language you’re singing in nor the aria you are singing.
2. Don’t let any flicker of panic cross your features and no one will be any the wiser that your cat sits on a biscuit flower.
3. Avoid having to do 1. by memorising the dang aria!