How to hit opera's high notes
Four sopranos discuss how they prepare for some of the most challenging vocal performances that music has to offer
Mezzo soprano (Irish), Amneris in Lyric Opera’s Aida
How do you prepare for a role?I buy the score, listen to numerous recordings, and get an idea in my ear of where it’s going. When I’m ready enough, I work with somebody, have a little bit of coaching. Then you have to sing it in, learning as you go. You don’t really know a role properly until you’ve sung it once – it’s in performance that you learn how to pace it. But it won’t be in your bones until you come back to it.
How do you prepare in advance of an individual performance?I’m a divorced mum who has to bring her kids to school every day. I’m not precious. It would be nice to get some rest, especially for a big role. I normally go in to the theatre three or four hours in advance, to have peace before dealing with make-up, costumes and the conductor. I go over the areas and corners I want to review, to make them better than the last time.
How do you keep your voice in good condition?You basically sing all the time. I’m very lucky. I got the chance to go back to college after my divorce, I’m doing my PhD with Veronica Dunne. We worked on getting rid of some low-level vibrato that has crept in. It’s great to have a second pair of ears. The voice is now in the best shape it has been in my life. If you sing in big auditoriums your eyes deceive you into singing bigger than you need to. There’s no magic. Keep the airflow moving, keep the voice supported, and sing within yourself.
What’s the biggest surprise your voice has given you?My PhD thesis is looking at the female voice, and how it’s affected by changes in hormones, or confidence, or divorce, or bereavement. I’m affected at the moment by the tragic death of a colleague, British baritone Bob Poulton – he was on a Glyndebourne tour, and died in a car accident. Over time my voice has gotten bigger, and I can make the transition to heavier repertoire. If I was a light soprano, my career would now be over.
Your favourite aria?I love the Handel repertoire, and I like Dopo notte from Ariodante. After all the trauma and trials, the character thinks his love has deceived him, but after the night comes the day.
Lyric Opera’s Aida is at the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin, on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday
Soprano (Irish), Gretel in NI Opera’s Hansel and Gretel
Role preparationI’ll buy the score, a selection of DVDs and CDs, read up and do research. Then I’ll sit at the piano and work on the music itself. I spend a whole day on a certain number of pages, and work my way through it, section by section.
I’ll go for coaching in London, and for singing lessons with my teacher in Berlin. I play around with it a lot in the practise room before I even get to the rehearsal process. If it’s extremely demanding I’ll spend hours trying out different things, and make as many mistakes as I possibly can, so that I know where my voice stands.