I was introduced to Berio's Sequenza for female voice five years ago. As our music A level teacher demonstrated an array of vocal effects, I remember being largely unimpressed by these five sides of paper, which to me bore no resemblance to music, art, or in fact anything of any grand cultural significance.
Fast forward five years and I find myself in a practice room, highlighter and stopwatch in hand, poring over those same pages I scorned in years gone by. On Wednesday I will be back at my old sixth form college, performing this work to those same self-assured students amongst whom I was once numbered. We never thought we would have to perform this music. Our future was filled with Mozart, Purcell, maybe some musical theatre at a push. Yet here I am, locked in a concrete cell with Berio. His (or rather Berberian's) mania and despondency prickling the surface of my skin.
I have been living with this piece for three weeks now - each day bringing new discoveries. The learning process began with resistance. I am not sure whether this was due to my objection to the work's reduction of the female state to one of total fragility, or my reluctance to pursue the loss of control that is induced by Berio's ironically prescriptive dots and lines. However as my confidence grew I could not help but lose myself in the score
Whilst I am still unsure as to the contemporary feminist, or indeed musical merits of this work, I have discovered it to be a triumphant and insightful piece of performance art. It is a work that asks endless questions of both the performer and their audience. A score that, whilst prescriptive, also has countless possibilities in interpretation. Although at first Berio's emotional performance directions were an annoyance, it has been wondrous to explore the different levels of anxiety, doubt and, indeed, joy that can be portrayed.
Wednesday's performance will not be the finished product (if such a thing exists at all with this work) but the bringing to life of Frankenstein's monster. I am both excited to be sharing my work and also slightly dreading the vulnerability it demands. What I am most interested to see is whether I will come out of the day with a new-found love for this piece, or with a passionate desire to never perform it again...