Friday, February 17, 2012

Donna Elvira: think totally nuts, and you'll be fine

Because of some major snafus this morning with me just being completely out of it, I got a late start to my coaching. So I had to drive at an obscenely high and unsafe speed to get there on time. The problem being compounded of course, by another snafu—no gas in my car. Joe would never be so careless as to leave a car without gas—no, it was my own fault—I’d left it with very little after getting home from yet another singing related drive, and hadn’t had the energy to fill it up last night.

Frankly, I’m surprised I didn’t catch on fire, I was moving so fast around all that gasoline at the gas station. It was insane. And I had to pee, but I didn’t dare stop to go. And I hadn’t eaten. Ask any of my close associates what the worst combination of problems in my life could be, and they will tell you: late, hungry, have to pee. No, seriously, there was this one time in Philadelphia…

Okay, that’s a story for another time, or, actually, never. It will go to my grave with me.

But I did get there on time, only to arrive to hear one of the most ethereally beautiful renditions of Mozart’s SECOND hardest aria: Et incarnatus est. I mean she really nailed it, and she NEVER had to breathe.

His first hardest is the one I had to sing directly after she left.

Mi tradi quell’alma ingrata.

The thing is, I don’t think it would be hard for any of the other women in the opera to sing. Zerlina could just chirp right through, and it would be a lowish walk in the park for Donna Anna. But for the voices that are most frequently cast in the role of Elvira, it can be a bit of a nail biter.

I think it’s because the rest of the arias we sing in Don Giovanni are a bit more, well, angry and loud. Full voiced singing is what feels good to me, I have really only just learned how to do it in the last couple of years (having been a bit of a default floater in the past), and I like to take that approach to all operatic rep. But Mi tradi is so much more complex. The whole scene really kind of shows how really double-minded Elvira is—she’s got some real issues, people. The recit requires that sort of singing, loud, very full in parts, but then, abruptly, a shift to the aria, lots of strings to keep up with underneath, and has to go very fast. It is the worst kind of pain to sing fast and switch between registers all throughout the range, and yet, it happens for about seven very exposed minutes, over and over again. So the only approach that seems to make sense so as not to kill oneself, is to go about it with a really free flow of air and light, light, light, not much weight. No getting bogged down, no worrying about the low bits, just keep the air flowing and use every single rest (oh wow, a second to actually REST?) to go back to, as I like to say, zero. Not to let any tension rise.

When I asked for any last advice before I sing it for the conductor, my coach said: “prayer.” And then burst into laughter and subsequently reassured me that the light concept was working, and that a bit more of the kookiness of the character needs to come in, with a sense of playing with the accidentals and some more “woohoo” nuttiness. It’s hilarious that just thinking about this makes my voice lighter and not weighted. But I will still need to pray as well. Sigh.

Now, isn’t that more than you ever wanted to know about an aria? Yes. Me too.


Kelly said...

I sang this aria last semester. The hardest part for me was that last series of notes on "e abbandonata provo ancor per lui pieta" because there's nowhere to freakin' breathe! And if you manage to slip a tiny breath in, you had better be counting like mad to not get left in the dust by the accompanist. The contrast Elvira shows between her feelings for Giovanni is fascinating, this is aria really showcases that dual feeling very well.

Tough as ever-loving heck to sing though.

Jessica said...

Thanks for understanding, Kelly! Since it's such a fab aria, I suppose we could say it's worth it!