Continuing my series about picking arias, I would like to go back to my T-shirt analogy – each aria you offer should fit you as a performer. There are several aspects to consider.
Your aria package should present a clear picture of what voice type you consider yourself to be.You may disagree with the standards of fachs or dislike being labeled or constrained but voice type is a necessary evil in the business of opera. It gives people who are casting an idea of what roles will fit you and where you might excel. So, that means you must have a clear idea of your voice type – I would recommend getting the input from trusted teachers and coaches if you are unsure. Once you have done that you should research your fach and find the roles and arias that are associated with and appropriate for your voice type. I went through a period of time when I was not sure if I was a baritone or bass-baritone. I received a comment from a judge in a competition that my aria package made it appear I was unsure of my voice type which would make directors unsure of how to cast me.
Range & Tessitura
Range refers to the limits of the pitches in an aria, i.e. the highest and lowest you must sing. Tessitura refers to the range where most of the pitches in an aria lie, i.e. where you will spend the most time singing. The range and tessitura of an aria should be as comfortable as possible for you. Every high or low note should be one you can confidently hit 100% of the time, or at least pretty close to 100% of the time. A high note that is pushed or cracks conveys that you have poor technique. The tessitura can be just as dangerous. If it is too low for you your voice will not carry as well and give the impression that you voice is small (gasp!), if it is too high or sits in your passaggio it can also communicate that you don’t have control of your instrument.
As young artists we have to realize that there are certain roles we will not perform for another 5-10-20 years. This goes hand in hand with voice type – You may be a dramatic voice in waiting but no one is going to cast you in a Verdi opera before you turn 30. Yes, we know of Roberta Peters who made her Met debut at the age of 16. She was the exception to the rule, we are not. There are also certain roles where young artists are not cast because the character is older. In college I sang the role of Gianni Schicchi, but Puccini lists his age in the score as “50”. It would be a bad idea to offer an aria from that role when I will not be cast in it for at least another 15 years – stage makeup is good but not that good.
This is perhaps the most unfortunate consideration and certainly the hardest to bear. The truth in opera that we must confront is that it is a visual art form, and our physical appearance must reflect the characters we portray. Some examples: You may sing the character’s aria stunningly – but if that character is dying of tuberculosis you won’t get cast in that role unless you can convincingly look like you are dying of tuberculosis. If you are 5’4″ you will not make an intimidating Baron Scarpia. If you do not look remotely African you will not be cast as an Ethiopian Princess.
All of these things are important for determining who you are as a performer and finding your niche. Exploring new arias will help you discover these things! Stay tuned, in my next post I am going to talk about different resources for finding new arias and I’ve got a couple good ones up my sleeve…