Well, after all that, they didn’t even ask for Susannah! Oh well, it was a good excuse to get the aria ready for this coming season.
They asked for Juliette’s “waltz” aria instead, an aria I have sung many, many times - and an aria that many people hate. It is sung by young sopranos for many reasons: it’s not difficult (in the sense that it’s easy to learn the notes), the accompaniment is light, and it shows some flexibility and a few high notes. It is often interpreted by said young sopranos as a joyous romp through Juliette’s birthday party, nothing more than an expression of how happy she is in the moment. “What a great party! I wish I could stay here forever!” This treacly approach is why the aria is widely loathed by audition pianists and panelists.
Yes, it’s a waltz, and it’s her birthday, but what is joyful about
“This intoxication of youth lasts, alas, only for one day!
Then comes the hour when one weeps.
Far from the morose winter let me slumber
and inhale the rose before it’s petals are plucked.”
Sounds like a girl going kicking and screaming toward womanhood, if you ask me, but I swear to you that I have seen a soprano pick up a prop rose with a smile, sniff it, and then toss it gaily over her shoulder at the end of those lines! I died a little in that moment...
I put the aria away for a long time, because I wasn’t sure I could sing it with the necessary gravitas, but a couple of years ago I put it back in the line-up. I’ve been 30-something for a while now, and I think I understand a bit more the longing that Juliette was feeling. It was fun to watch my interpretation grow as I grew up...
And then this summer I started working on Juliette’s second big aria, sung as she takes the poison in the tomb. It is a very mature, very womanly aria which I love to sing and which will be making an occasional appearance this audition season. And - and this shouldn’t really have been a surprise - I think my knowledge of the rest of the character has put the finishing touches on fleshing out the Waltz. There we go.
As if to prove a point, at the audition on Friday I did something new, something I wasn’t expecting and, frankly, something I’m not sure is even “done.” The waltz ends with a cadenza, a long running stream of unaccompanied notes. This cadenza is kind of shaped like a mountain, building up to a quick high D and then back down again before rejoining the piano and ending with a big finish. I have always sung the cadenza fairly evenly; it’s entirely comprised of 8th notes, after all. But Friday, when I got to the D, I actually held it out, probably not more than an extra second, but long enough for my brain to scream at me!! “What are you doing?! You’ve never done this before! Do you know how to get back on track and end this thing without falling to pieces now that you’ve totally broken your rhythm?!?!”
Heh. I made it out unscathed, but those moments when instinct takes over can sure be scary! I hadn’t, after all, “totally broken” my rhythm; I just stretched it a bit. The phrase was alive, vibrant, and apparently it wanted to blossom. It was kind of an awesome moment, one in which my voice seemed to exist outside of me for a moment. I hope it won’t be the last...