You’ve probably heard the phrase, “I’ll give him E for Effort” many times. Last night that saying kept running through my mind as I watched a concert performed by a semi-professional troupe of opera singers.
The troupe was made up of three singers (soprano, tenor and baritone) and their accompanist on piano. They presented a selection of operatic “greatest hits,” including solos, duets and trios from Tosca, Rigoletto, Magic Flute, Barber of Seville, and others, all on the theme of love. The soprano was the best voice of the three, with the baritone a close second. The tenor, on the other hand, was … how can I put this? … having on off night – way off.
Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t that he didn’t try his best. He poured his heart and soul into each song. His face contorted into looks of unrequited longing or jealous rage, depending on the story being told. Even though the lyrics were in Italian, French or German, his expressiveness made the meaning of each song crystal clear.
His voice, however, was not so clear. Sometimes it wasn’t there at all. A couple of times, he’d reach for a high note and though his mouth remained wide open, no sound came out and he’d have to repeat the phrase. Or it would crack in the middle of a line and he’d soldier on hoping no one had noticed. But then, after one particularly botched song, he mumbled “sorry” to the audience as he bowed at the end. My heart broke for this guy. He truly was singing his heart out, but something was terribly wrong.
I’ll say one thing for him — he certainly wasn’t boring. Although the soprano and baritone were technically better singers, I found my mind wandering during their songs — making up my grocery list, wondering what the weather forecast was for the week. When this guy was singing, however, the whole audience seemed to be paying more attention. Maybe it was a bit like a traffic accident — you just can’t stop yourself from looking.
He actually started to improve in the second act – until they got to the finale, that is. At that point, all three came on stage to perform a song they were supposed to sing in harmony. The tenor’s tune, however, went completely off the rails. And for some reason, he’d cranked up the volume so not only was he hitting more sour notes than good ones, he was drowning out the other two.
Even with this final train wreck of a performance, he still managed to impress me. How is this possible, you ask? Just by bravely coming out and facing the audience after each mistake. That could not have been easy.
So when the concert came to an end and the three singers came out for applause, I found myself getting up and giving them all – even him – a standing ovation. And, as usually seems to happen in those situations, once one person gets up, others follow suit until a whole section of us were giving the singers a standing “O” (I even heard a couple of “Bravos” – his parents, perhaps?).
This tenor may not have brought his A game last night but he certainly did get a big E for Effort – not to mention a C for courage.