For an audition last week, I added an aria to my usual audition program. I was still getting over my cold, and my top notes weren’t as free as I wanted them, so I thought I would rework the audition pattern a little bit. I took a look at the audition notice email from my manager, which listed the operas that the company was looking to cast; what else could I offer that they might be interested in?
The only thing that I thought I might be considered for, besides the usual high-note roles, was Zerlina, the peasant girl in Don Giovanni. Her first aria, “Batti, batti, o bel Masetto,” was the first opera aria I ever worked on, back at the University of Georgia circa 1997. It’s Mozart, so it’s not easy, but it’s a good place to start at age 21. These days, the role is often cast with a mezzo, as there are two other (higher) soprano roles in the opera, so I haven’t offered it in a while. But I sang through it, figured it would do for the day, and tossed the book in my bag.
I warned JD of the new addition, and since it’s an aria we’ve played through once or twice over the years, she was her usual cool-as-a-cucumber self. We decided to start the audition with Nannetta instead of Baby Doe (see above re: that morning’s high notes), and it went well enough. The Man Behind the Table must have been picking up on my mind waves, because instead of the usual “What else did you bring?” he said, “Do have any Zerlina with you?” Score!
The aria starts with a short recitative (the talky bits of an opera that help propel the action), and as I was in the middle of it, I thought, “Wow, this Italian is really IN; I know these words!” Since I’ve been singing this aria in some capacity for ten years, living with it, there’s nothing new about it. I know it so well that it is automatic, as if I were thinking the words for the first time at the moment they were coming out of my mouth. It felt really, really good.
As I’m spending time with other Italian roles these days, I’m realizing that I don’t have ten years to let these roles settle! I have to find the way to get the words into my body, into my mouth and my voice, so that they are automatic. So that they come from my soul as I am “inhabited” by Lucia, Adina, Rosina. (ACD and I saw the same interview with Peter O’Toole on Charlie Rose; “inhabited” is a word I stole from him and his description of the preparation process. Go read ACD’s post for more from this inspiring interview.) This is especially tricky with the recit sections, where I can’t rely on the lyricism of the music to carry the words. The words need to come first, and they need to come without thinking.
Of course, this all applies with French, German, et al, as well, but Italian is the language I have studied the least. This is starting to feel like a problem as I’m looking at more and more bel canto rep. Since my summer gig fell through (hmm, I still haven’t talked about that, have I?), maybe I’ll go to Italy for an intensive language course. And shopping…