Tag Archives: coloratura

A Cinderella Comeback

This past weekend I had the thrill of singing La Fée with soprano Laura Mitchell as my Cendrillon. We both did our undergraduate degrees in San Diego, and it was such a pleasure to be reunited and to sing together.

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Reunited with soprano Laura Mitchell. NYC, 2014.

Having the opportunity to learn the rest of the role and revisit La Fée’s coloratura-filled aria and eyebrow-raising Act 3 scene was immensely rewarding and validating. After getting through the initial bumps in the note-learning and muscle-coordinating processes, I found that the less I stressed about the hard parts, the more easily and cleanly they came. A year and a half ago the vocal demands of La Fée had left me feeling a bit beat-up, but this year I came away from the performance feeling confident and quite happy. Continue reading

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The Fairy Godmother, a Dream Role

About 3 years ago, a fellow soprano-friend and I were in San Francisco and chatting about repertoire and roles when she suggested I look into the fairy godmother in Massenet’s take on the Cinderella story, Cendrillon. Massenet, I knew, but Cendrillon?

Back then, a YouTube search resulted in only about five Cendrillon clips that weren’t French dubs of the Disney movie, one of which was this recording of Esther Heideman singing La Fée’s aria “Ah! douce enfant.”

One listen, and I was in love.

Over the next few years I learned the aria even though it was on the obscure side and, therefore, not a great audition choice — I wanted to learn it just to learn it and to sing it, even if it was just for myself. I even had the opportunity to learn and perform La Fée’s second big scene, in Act 3, when she works a bit of magic to bring Cendrillon and the Prince together after their first encounter at the ball. Annalise Belnap sang Cendrillon, Kristin Roney sang the Prince, and during rehearsals the three of us would melt into puddles over the way Massenet spun these soaring, pleading lines.

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La Fée with her Cendrillon, Annalise Belnap. ASU Lyric Opera Scenes, 2013.

Continue reading

First semester ends, my first Messiah comes ’round

A few quick updates: the masterclass with Elio Boncompagni was cancelled (boo).  I sang in the Palm Springs Opera Guild Competition but did not advance (darn).  Kevin Ames’ concert went well, and I also got to sing a little soprano solo in the Baroque cantata, Ad manus, by Buxtehude (yay).  Here‘s the Margaretha Consort & Choir performing in The Netherlands.  Ad manus is part of the cycle Membra Jesu Nostri which is really quite beautiful and gripping.  Each of the seven cantatas focuses on a different part of Christ’s body after the crucifixion: feet, knees, hands, side, breast, heart, and head.  The trio in Ad cor is beautiful, and so is the trio in Ad faciem.  Actually, just go listen to the whole cycle.

My first semester is winding down.  We just closed our school production of Le nozze di Figaro (I was in the chorus), and there are just a few days of class left before finals officially start.  I only had one written final, which I took early because a group of us are leaving during finals to make the 12-hour drive up to Salt Lake City to audition for a summer program.  We’ll come back just in time to sing our juries, and then I’m headed to San Diego to be a soloist for the Messiah Sing with La Jolla Symphony & Chorus!  Thank goodness I learned one of Cleopatra’s arias from Handel’s Giulio Cesare in the first half of the semester, because it turned out to be good training in Handelian runs: I learned the notes for “Rejoice” in about 3 days.  And when I say learned, I mean learned and able to sing the runs comfortably, which – for me – are two very different things.  So this 3 day thing is kind of a big deal… and I think I have “Da tempeste” to thank.  This 3 day turn-around isn’t happening with every new piece I pick up, but I think the time-delay between learning the notes and getting the notes in my voice is shrinking.  It used to take months, and now I think I’m down to weeks (and apparently, on occasion, days if it’s the right song).

Just two years ago, I was singing in the chorus of the Messiah Sing and feeling a mixture of admiration and envy as I listened to the soloists.  The soprano soloist had been a chorister in San Diego Opera’s Madama Butterfly when I’d been a supernumerary – we’d talked a few times during rehearsal and she gave me some names when I was looking for a voice teacher.  The alto soloist I recognized from other concerts, and the bass soloist was one of my former teachers at UCSD.  I wanted so badly to be up there too.  What did I need to do to make that happen?  How was I going to make that happen?  At that point in time, I had started taking voice lessons again but I had a lot of vocal dusting off to do.  Soloing and grad school were still quite far off in terms of plausibility.  I hadn’t even started studying with Enrique yet! I left the concert feeling a little empty despite the cheerful high and energy of the crowd.

And then two years later, I get an amazing email with a thrilling invitation.  Me?  Yes, I’ll do it!  It was a spirit-lifting affirmation that I’m making progress, an out-of-the-blue reminder to give myself a little credit in between beating myself up in the practice room.

I sang with La Jolla Symphony & Chorus when I was an undergrad at UCSD.  It was the first music ensemble I joined after I decided to return to singing and to pursue music professionally.  I remember singing Marguerite’s “Jewel Song” for my re-audition, and I wonder what it sounded like (because I had only been singing for 1 month after a 1.5 year hiatus).  The choral director, Dr. David Chase, believed in me and encouraged me.  I wouldn’t be where I am now without him.  In a week, I will be reunited with this big-hearted, fearless group.  Making the trip in two days, sandwiched in between two singing finals, is completely worth it!

No shame in strategizing

Learning roles.  This means preparing all music for a character in a given opera even if you haven’t been cast yet.  This is how we pad our sparse resumes when actual stage-time is limited.  Am I speaking just for myself or are there brave souls out there who will admit to this strategy?  There’s no shame, just ruthless practicality.  No one can argue against the marketability of having a role ready to go:

– “Would you like to hire me?  I already know how to do this job.  I’ve spent hours studying, memorizing, and practicing.  And I won’t charge you extra for showing up perfectly qualified and super prepared.”

– “Sure.” (no arguments here)

HR experts and self-help/motivational speakers push us to dress for the job we want, not the job we have.  An opera singer puts on the Viking helmet of her dreams in the privacy of a practice room, and improves her odds by already knowing the notes and the characters.

It’s standard for applications, teachers, and other singers to ask what roles you have prepared.  Thinking fast, I say I’m working on what’s-her-name … because the straightforward answer is: I got nothin’.

The majority of my recent singing centered around local competitions and graduate school auditions.  These situations call for range in languages, time periods, and style.  It’s 15 minutes to show how much bang someone can get for their buck/endorsement/praise.  This versatility has its place in the real-world (I’m guessing here since my experience as a paid singer consists of two – count ’em, two! – contracts), but learning a role speaks of commitment.  It’s like getting your bachelor’s compared to taking some classes at the local community college; no one hates having credits in basketball and basket-weaving, but most of the praise seems to come around graduation time.

Working full-time, and going to school full-time (but not for music) left me very little time to prepare roles.  Thank the singing gods I’ll be an opera performance major in three months.  My existence will revolve around opera.  I’ll have the incredible luxury of spending 8+ hours a day on music rather than 8+ hours thinking about music.  I have a lot of catching up to do.  Many singers younger than me either have more experience or more impressive looking resumes.

I am singing a little of Pamina and Giulietta over the summer in San Francisco. I like a Giulietta with the guts to circumvent her family’s wishes and the maturity to balance out her emo youthfulness.  Does Pamina have the same fire?  She seems gentler and less terrifying to tackle, whereas Giulietta sounds like she could kick you in the face.  But Mozart is a trickster.  He strings notes together in straightforward progressions.  He says it’s okay to let down your guard and it’s absolutely possible to learn this piece in 30 minutes.  His lines float, but you realize you have to work to make it sound so effortless.

Pamina is a good place to start since the voice doesn’t have to fight the orchestration.  But the type of movement and control in Giulietta’s part is what I specialize in as a coloratura.  These two ladies will need to battle it out over the summer.

Plotting and scheming,

Joyce