Sesto's Act I aria from La clemenza di Tito is somewhat of an Olympian feat for mezzo-sopranos. Packed into about 5 minutes, the aria has it all: a big, wide range, sustained lyric singing, and some intimidating coloratura saved for the end. The latest in our series of Aria Guides is dedicated to easing the learning curve for all aspiring Sestos, a supportive start to go with your invaluable time spent with your teachers and coaches.
Firstly, they can get hung up in all the notes, and start to drag the tempo as a result; the bigger trap actually precedes this first one, and that's spending too much time on all the notes. We're not suggesting you trade in fluttering scales for mashing the keys like a gorilla, but it's about picking your battles.
We don't know why it's so annoying that she does her "vocal scales" on the words "Ave Maria" (maybe it alludes to something a bit more classical). And ironically, her demonstration of the "wrong" way is easier on our ears than the "right" way, which upon hearing makes our throats sympathetically tighten.
There are a few instances where singers can really use this vibrato-as-litmus-test phenomenon. The examples are likely endless, but we've narrowed down a few sections from beloved arias, where attention to vibrato can keep the singing easy, and the singer honest.
Ah, Don Ottavio. Is he the lame duck of Don Giovanni, or is he the quiet hero that doesn't get a lot of high notes? Whatever your opinions on the useless/heartfelt role of Ottavio, you can't deny that his arias are difficult, and often thankless. "Dalla sua pace" is an introductory piece to Ottavio's character; we get that he's sympathetic to Donna Anna's emotional highs and lows, and we know we'll never meet a more dedicated man when it comes to love.
We're continuing our Song Guides series with another guest post by mezzo-soprano and founding member of the art song initiative Lynx Project, Megan Moore. Schumann's "Widmung" is one of many songs Robert Schumann wrote for his wife, Clara. That's the fun part, and to get there, singers need to master things like singing legato in German, and pulling off a successful two-against-three.
For good reason, Don Giovanni is one of the most coveted baritone roles in opera. His aria, "Deh vieni alla finestra," is an incredible scene, a picture of Don Juan in action, unencumbered by angry exes or jealous fiancés. He's serenading a nameless woman (Elvira's maid, technically), in that truly Spanish style, with a guitar outside her window.
We've gotten great feedback from our ongoing series of Aria Guides, and so we've decided to branch out, into the world of art song. Soprano Caitleen Kahn, co-founder of the art-song-friendly Lynx Project, kicks off our Song Guides with a staple from the repertoire. "Die Nacht" is a song taken from Richard Strauss's 1885 set, 8 Gedichte aus "Letzte Blätter", in which you'll find other favourites like "Zueignung" and "Allerseelen".
Figaro's final aria in Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro is one that separates the men from the boys. It's endlessly interesting for dramaturgs, since Figaro breaks the so-called "fourth wall" and addresses the audience directly for the first time the show. He's fed up with women and their shenanigans, and it's one of rare times we really see him lose his cool. Musically, it's all about stamina.
For our next instalment of Aria Guides, we're sticking with the tried and true pick of divas around the world, "Quando me'n vo" from Puccini's La bohème. It's got everything you really want in an aria: girl tries to make her ex-boyfriend jealous, and she does it by singing sexy lines and shimmering high notes.