I have spent most of my vocal career being cautioned to avoid that which is vocally uncomfortable. Good advice, in some ways, and especially if you are a very young singer and do not yet understand your musculature and the whole structure of the voice enough to be able to protect yourself. And because I am a person who will practice myself into the ground doing an exercise if a teacher tells me is good for me, I can understand why everyone would have wanted to keep me from doing myself harm. I actually practiced myself into some major clinically diagnosed vocal fatigue my first year of grad school-- so I think I was on the crazy grad student watch list from then on. But in typical Jessica style, I may have taken the advice to "take it easy" a little too far.
As I look at new audition arias, I've noticed that one of my few criteria for choosing them seems to have been: does it not stress me out too much? Is it relatively easy for me? Are there few vocal challenges?
ON THE FIRST SING THROUGH!
What in heaven's name ever gave the me the notion that singing was supposed to be easy all the time? I guess when I was singing off my voice, singing was easy, and sounded rather easy, I suppose, to the listener. But it was missing the vital component of resonance, so I might as well have been using a microphone, which is missing the whole point, really. It's amazing how many singers can get away with this-- some can sing off their voices and really be relatively loud, because of the shape of their faces, resonating cavities, all that stuff. But they will never know the depth and width of the sound of which they are capable, using what is essentially falsetto all the time. I think the memo I missed was that my tone should (ultimately, when I am finished...imagine that) SOUND easy to the people listening. Nothing will hurt (yay), but it will never be "easy" to sing in an athletic manner and project over an orchestra!
With this thought in mind, I am more willing to commit to the idea that a chosen audition aria need not be instantly a breeze to sing. Mimi is very much like that for me-- easy to sing, and therefore I assumed it "was right for me." And indeed, I can sing it, but I have come to the conclusion that it does not really showcase what is best about my voice! What is best about my voice requires real work to refine. Of course Joan Sutherland could have sung Mimi-- it would have been a walk in the park for her to hit the notes and do the role, but who would ever want to hear her do that piece when her other vocal assets could be better shown off as Lucia? Much like Mi Tradi, it may take weeks of intense practice to get the muscles to remember what to properly do. But oh how much I felt I grew through that experience!
For me, Bach is like falling off a log in terms of my voice-- it sings itself. But it is the musical and rhythmic aspect that is so challenging for me, also the breathing part. You never have a chance to get a GOOD breath!! Musically, I have no trouble catching onto Mozart, and you get tons of chances to breathe, but vocally, technically, it takes conscious work. That does not mean that it isn't going to work for me as an audition piece. I never thought I would be able to sing things I am singing now-- but it has been so much work. But I am proudest of myself when I can say that at the end of a long process, I have accomplished what I set out to accomplish. Things that come easily never result in that kind of satisfaction.