Singing is all about muscle memory. What it feels like in your throat when you sing something “correctly,” how to kick in your support muscles, etc. For this reason, partly, it takes a while – years, even – for an aria to really feel settled. The Voice has to become intimately familiar with the twists and turns, ins and outs of a piece before it can stop thinking analytically and just sing.
I was reminded of this last week when I brought “Qui la voce,” an aria from Bellini’s I Puritani, to one of my lessons with Mark. I’ve been singing this for about 15 months now, I suppose, when it was recommended to me by a former teacher after he heard me sing the Queen of the Night. I sang it in a recital last fall, I think, and have put it back in my “working arias” folder for the summer.
For those of you who don’t know the piece, it is structured in typical bel canto style with a slow opening half (the cavatina) and an up-tempo second half (the caballeta) which is often repeated and embellished, sometimes at the composers instruction, with the repeat and changes written in, and sometimes at the performer’s “discretion.” (Historically, discretion is optional; it’s really about showing off!) The tempo of each half generally reflects the mood. In the opening of “Qui la voce.” Elvira is sad and questioning the disappearance of the “sweet voice” who called to her (and who she now thinks ran off with the Queen); in the cabaletta, she sings longingly and excitedly about the joy she will feel when he returns. [This whole structure is reminiscent of the baroque da capo aria, in ABA’ form, with the B section generally having a substantially different mood. These sudden changes in atmosphere can make for some tricky dramatic justification!]
Ok, enough exposition. My revelation last week was about bel canto in general, a style into which I am just starting to delve. It requires a lot: true, taffy-like legato; spot-on coloratura and flexibility; a seamless range from top to bottom. In short, it is a combination of all the vocal elements I have been studying. It needs the warmth of my middle voice that I honed in my “lyric” days, the ring of my high notes from my “high coloratura” days, and the sweet legato phrasing of my “soubrette” days.
About eight years ago, opera appeared to me as a synthesis of all the arts I had studied and loved my whole life: theater, dance, literature, music. I really feel like one day I woke up and said, “Oh! Look! Here’s opera! I can continue to be all these artists (dancer, actor, etc.).” Last week, it was as if bel canto appeared to me similarly. “Oh! Here’s bel canto!” It feels like another brick in the foundation of my development and the path of my career has fallen into place.
Other bel canto projects for the summer/year: Adina in L’elisir d’amore and Lucia from Lucia di Lammermoor. I had a taste of that role last summer, which, I imagine, was when the seeds of the revelation were planted. It all comes to light eventually, doesn’t it?