Magazine article Opera Canada

Pretend-Tenor Isaiah Bell Delves Deep into His Artistic Process

Magazine article Opera Canada

Pretend-Tenor Isaiah Bell Delves Deep into His Artistic Process

Article excerpt

Why is it so thrilling to see someone pouring their heart out on stage when we know it's manufactured? Why do we make heroes out of professional pretenders?

When I was an emotionally repressed teenager, the lives of people in movies seemed more real than my own. In my experience, true feelings had to carefully be kept private. But an actor could safely express anything, as long as he was pretending to be someone else. That's why I started performing: maybe behind a disguise I could feel out loud.

At music college, though, stranded out in front of the piano, I was just me--a painfully self-conscious 18-year-old who didn't know what to do with his arms. I'd always protected myselfby hiding the tumult of my feelings behind a mask of impassivity. Now I wanted to let it all out, but the door was rusted shut. I felt sure that technical inadequacy was to blame; if I could just eliminate the deficiencies in my vocal technique, I would no longer seem weak. Then it would be safe to express myself.

A decade later, however, well into my performing career, I had found no panacea in technical practice. It was only during the odd performance, protected by the artifice of lights, costume, and character, that I would feel the euphoria of leaving myself behind. The rest of the time I was still just me--trying to be strong, and failing.

Growth came instead out of sheer desperation. There was a moment of illumination about five years ago when, drowning in all-too-familiar anxiety on the way to a big audition, I realized that my own fear was mirrored in the characters I was about to sing. The questing prince, the frustrated young virgin, the betrayed friend--all of them felt exposed, unsure, afraid. It was my first inkling that the oversensitivity I saw as a liability could actually be a great strength. …

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