Got Mezzo?

So y’all know I’m an opera singer.  I’m a lyric mezzo-soprano and I love it.

What’s a lyric mezzo-soprano, you ask?

Joyce DiDonato as Octavian

(Joyce DiDonato as Octavian in Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier)

So there are, roughly, three voice types for a woman: soprano, mezzo-soprano, and contralto.  Within those categories there are several more, primarily coloratura, lyric, and dramatic.  (I could go into much greater detail, but I will spare you).

Sopranos are the singers that are the most comfort in the higher registers.  Mezzo-soprano, in the Italian, means ‘middle-soprano.’  Our voices are a little lower with the comfort level (tessitura) further down the scale.  Contraltos are characterized by their rich, developed voices that are usually in the range of a countertenor.  (Good examples of each: Kiri Te Kanawa — soprano, Joyce DiDonato — mezzo, and Marie-Nicole Lemieux — contralto.)

so helpful! soprano mezzo alto tenor baritone bass range chart

(Typical ranges for most types of voice)

Roles are often stereotyped.  The sopranos get the best, biggest female roles — it’s been that way for centuries.  The Queen of the Night in Mozart’s Magic Flute, Leonora in Verdi’s Il Trovatore, Susanna and the Countess in the Marriage of Figaro….  There’s a lot.  The soprano has that soaring voice capable of the most profound emotion and even the most piercing evil.  It’s no wonder everyone loves them.

Diana Damrau as the Queen of the Night. I think she could probably kill us all...

(Diana Damrau as the Queen of the Night.  The woman is legend already)

And I love a good soprano (my best friend is one.  It’s one of my favorite things to brag about), but often they overshadow the other voice types.  We’ll get to mezzos in a minute, but first let’s introduce the contralto.  As rare as a true soprano is, a true contralto is even less common.  Subsequently, they get the least amount of roles.  (Polinesso in Handel’s Ariodante is absolutely awesome, however.  Marie-Nicole Lemieux’s performance gives me chills of creepiness).  Luckily, I’ve heard that often they can do the roles usually written for mezzos.  Ah, imagine Rosina performed by a contralto?  Man, that would be gorgeous!

All right.  The mezzos.  There’s a saying that I will not repeat due to the inclusion of a word I’m not comfortable repeating, but the basic gist of it is that mezzos get only the witches, guys, and bad girls (or the maid that has all of two scenes).  Mezzos are rather underutilized, which is a real pity, but at the same time, the few central roles written for us are usually stellar.  Let me name off a few:

Azucena in Verdi’s Il Trovatore: Azucena is the mother of the ‘troubadour,’ an old woman whose last wish is to avenge her mother’s death.  She’s a sort of mad sorceress, a pinnacle of power within her ragtag group that gives her a kind of wary respect.  She’s only ever on her own side, and I’m inclined to believe that she lost her mind long before the start of the opera.

Elena Manistina (centre) as Azucena in the @Canadian Opera Company's performance of Il Torvatore

(Azucena)

Romeo in Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi: This opera is a retelling of the story of Romeo and Juliet.  Romeo is a determined youth whose heart is set on peace (and Giulietta), but who isn’t afraid of getting his hands bloody … unfortunately.  He’s a swashbuckling hero, brave but reckless, and willing to do whatever it takes to achieve the happy ending he envisions.

Bellini - I Capuleti e i Montecchi. Joyce DiDonato (Romeo). Photo by Cory Weaver. San Francisco Opera 2012

(Romeo)

Carmen in Bizet’s opera of the same name: Who doesn’t know Carmen?  She’s basically the original ‘bad girl.’  A gypsy who uses her sensuality and cleverness to get what she wants, one doesn’t mess with her.  Her motto is, “Si tou ne m’aimes pas, je t’aime.  Si je t’aime, prends garde à toi!”  Basically, that means, “If you don’t love me, I’ll love you, and if I love you, watch out, bub.”

Elina Garanca and Roberto Alagna in Bizet's Carmen.

(Carmen)

That’s not to say that all the mezzo-soprano roles are stuck in these three stereotypes.  There are many alterations of these roles, and we also get the occasional ‘princess’ one, as well.  Rosina in Rossini’s Barber of Seville is one of the best roles a girl could ever hope for, and it’s usually performed by a mezzo.  (Kathleen Battle just didn’t cut it, sorry).  She’s kind of a spunky Cinderella — the count (it took me a moment to remember the word in English) falls in love with her and he, the barber, and Rosina begin a hilarious plot to free her from the clutches of her mean, overbearing guardian who wishes to wed her for her fortune.  It’s probably my favorite operatic comedy.

Joyce DiDonato, Cherubino, Lyric Opera of Chicago

(Joyce as Cherubino)

As much as I love sopranos and contraltos and despite the slightly-lacking repertoire for mezzos, I wouldn’t change my voice type for the world.  There’s a certain pride that comes with the voice (mezzo power), and the whole world is ripe for the picking.  Nicklaus, Cherubino, and Sesto are my friends.  Their stories have become mine.  As I strive to make my voice worthy of the music that belongs solely to them, I feel like the luckiest girl in the world.

Cheers!

Ana

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To the Sound of Music

I have to apologize for my complete and total absence from everything but Pinterest.  We’re in the process of moving from the mountains down to the big city, and the stress has sky-rocketed.  We put our house on the market, and the old, horrible cycle of showings has begun yet again.  And I just found out that the feedback from the horde of realtors that descended upon us on Wednesday dealt primarily with clutter and stuff on the walls … i.e. my room.  My walls are my life.  Take my bed, my desk, anything — but not my few special stuffed animals, my books, or the things on my walls.  Sorry.  If you want to remain alive, leave me my walls.

The Emperor's New Groove is now on Blu-ray.  Click to order!

(L-yama, in Bolivian Spanish.  Not llllama.  Not yama.  L-y-ama.  Cool, huh?)

Anyway.  Hello again!  Now that you’ve been updated in the minute details of my life, I will progress to the fun part.

So I’ve said before that my novel To Befriend a Vampire has been giving me grief.  It didn’t want to cooperate.  Nicholas was sitting in a corner, pouting and clinging to his seat, and Piper was watching me in wary confusion.

When I write, music is involved.  While I was working on Metamorphosis (which needs to be edited fiercely), I was almost constantly listening to Korean pop, introduced to me by the amazing Mirriam Neal.  (Look her up and buy her book.  It’s called Monster and you will thank me for introducing you).  I would sit in the car and go through my entire collection of U-KISS songs, and something that really kept me going was assigning each song to one of the characters in the novel.  When, after an eternity of pumping words out, my brain would start to putter to a halt, I would take a small break and watch a music video.  It would rejuvenate my mind and I could continue with the story.

Neverland. ;D

(My boys).

Music somehow untangles all the colored strands of my imagination.  It soothes me and encourages me, and all the thoughts cluttering my mind and fighting for room in my imagination pay attention and cooperate.  For instance, when I’m struggling with math I’ll listen to the Japanese rock band the Gazette.  Their music calms me and keeps me from getting angry.  When I’m writing, it’s a little harder to know what to listen to.  The music has to coincide with the material I’m working with.  And, strange or not, it’s usually confined to one artist/group or particular genre.

the GazettE,  Go To www.likegossip.com to get more Gossip News!

(The Gazette.  Man, they mean so much to me).

Recently, I’ve found that I can’t write without the assistance of music.  It keeps me on the literary straight-and-narrow.  My youtube account consists solely of separate playlists for my varied projects.  I listen to U-KISS when I edit Metamorphosis.  Dream Dancers is American/British pop — and as an opera singer, that’s just strange for me.  But I’ve found that it fits.  (I think I’ll have to add some Tchaikovsky for Valkyrie, however.  That would make me happy.)  My Robin Hood/King Arthur retelling is, I think, all Heather Dale.  (She’s a Canadian singer who writes and performs songs based on old English legends.  Go listen to the Trial of Lancelot.  It’s gorgeous).  And To Befriend a Vampire … was empty.

Dreadfully empty.

I turned on my Disney playlist that I had put together, assigning a song to each of my characters (man, that was fun!).  It just didn’t work for my novel.  I tried without music.  No luck.

For fun, I began again to listen to the Wonderland musical my friend Ashley introduced me to — bam.  I had it.  It was fresh, (mostly) unassociated with my other projects, fun, and totally insane with a healthy dose of whimsy.  It was perfect.  So I put that baby on a playlist and began to add a slew of Disney songs — including stuff from Snow White.  As a child, I never realized how charming the music was.

Voila!  I could write.  The words flowed, the characters began talking to me again, plot points began to sprout like daisies, and we have worked together to create something beautiful.  Mind you, I’m only on chapter four, but with this music, Nicky, Piper and I can come together and make this into something amazing.

(Piper).

So that was my daily ode to music.

Cheers!

Ana

Why Listening to One’s Mother is a Good Idea

Almost a year ago we moved.  It was one of those really hard life changes that takes everyone a ton of getting used to, y’know?  On top of that, money problems started getting worse, and my voice lessons with Jennifer Welch-Babidge went bye-bye.

(Jennifer Welch-Babidge.  She’s crazier in real life, trust me).

Jenny is amazing, and I was so blessed have lessons with her.  My mom has taught me all the building blocks, and it’s thanks to her that I’m as good as I am now.  But she’s a full-on musical theater girl and opera is a foreign world.  So my parents paid for me to have Skype lessons with Jenny (LOOK HER UP IN FIDELIO.  NOW), and Mama made sure that I was being good and doing what I was supposed to.  Being stubborn and lazy, I went about my merry life without doing sit-ups and practicing every day, but I still devoted time to sitting down at the piano and plunking out my arias every once in a while.

Then we moved, money got tighter, and lessons ended.  I really don’t mean to complain, but it wasn’t easy.  I have a great life, but this was a scratchier bit.

But here comes the point I have been leading up to.

My mother told me to continue practicing.  I didn’t.

Eventually, I started doing sit-ups almost every night.  Your diaphragm is the most important factor when singing.  You can almost kind of fake lacking anything else, but if your belly isn’t strong, you got nothin’.  So I thought I was doing myself a service and I would be able to sing like the angels of Heaven when I actually got around to practicing.

Nah.

I had started work, was busy, and didn’t practice despite everything my mother has ever told me.

I sat down to sing two, three weeks ago and I found, to my fear, mortification, and all-consuming horror, that I had lost ‘the knack’.  While I could explain in a heartbeat what it was like to sing, my technique had diminished so much my voice was like a withered flower.  One of those ones that you touch and it falls apart.

And I have to perform next Saturday.

I’m trying desperately to get my voice back — my mom assures me it’ll come.

But if I had been diligent in taking care of my instrument, this would not be happening.

This is why I should listen to my mother.

Disney Frozen Elsa picture #DisneyFrozen

Cheers!  (And woes).

Ana

Box Five

It’s a well-known fact that I’m training to be an opera singer.  So it really shouldn’t be a surprise that one of my favorite books is the Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux.  Before I launch into the post, however, I’d like to clear up a few things:

a) The musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber is not an opera.  I don’t know how many times I have had to tell people this, and I cower in terror at the thought of how many more times I’ll have to repeat it throughout the course of my life.  The Phantom of the Opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber is not an opera.  Period.  Fantastic musical.  I love it.  Not an opera.

b) The Phantom has a name and it’s Erik.  And he has a full-facial deformity and so does not wear a half-mask.

c) Sarah Brightman is not an opera singer.  She is labeled as a classical singer, but the woman can’t sing to save her life.  I was eons better than her at fourteen.  (Then again, my mom is an amazing voice teacher.  I give her the credit).  The main reason my mom — who was good enough to be on Broadway — never played the Phantom musical for us was because when I was young, we didn’t have any other recording and Mom hates — I mean hates — listening to Brightman.

d) The book was written in the early 1900s.  The musical was done 70-80 years later.  The rights, content, etc. belong to Gaston Leroux.  And Erik.  Because I think he would be pretty upset if he were not given his due share in the masterpiece that was the Phantom of the Opera.  And I have no desire to be strangled to death by the Punjab lasso.

e) My best friend disagrees with my opinions on the book and adores the musical.  I love her anyway, so I won’t think too badly of you if you have differing ideas and thoughts.

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On to the post!

The book begins as the author addresses the reader.  He informs you that he is certain, through much investigation, that the Opera Ghost was, in fact, real.  Leroux has a magnificent way of drawing you into the story by merely addressing you as he would in person — the beginning is said in such a way as to intrigue you while still making you smile a little at the lightness, almost casualness, of his phrasing.

The story is told through several different points of view, as Leroux has written it as if it were the results of a true investigation.  As a journalist by profession, he writes the novel as such in some instances.  He will sometimes break the fourth wall, but usually only to explain some minor detail that couldn’t be included otherwise.  It’s as if he wrote the entire novel to convince the world that the happenings surrounding the Palais Garnier were real.  For instance, the first chapter is given almost as if you were watching a film — you’re not really in a character’s head, just a spectator as the hours play out.  It’s here that you are first introduced to the mysterious apparition that has the entire Opera in the palm of his hand: the Opera Ghost.

Really, one is probably in the mind of Raoul for the majority of the book.  I love Raoul in the musical, but it wasn’t until I read the book that I truly appreciated the version in the musical.  Because Raoul is a simpering, spoiled child with a little blond mustache that I dearly want to rip — quite painfully — from his face.  But he’s a good enough narrator.  Gets the story told.  I think Leroux liked him too much, but really, there was no other character that could have told the story in the way that he did.  As you read, you are Raoul.  You have about as much of an idea of what’s going on as he does.  He is head-over-heels in love with a young Swedish singer called Christine Daae, and when strange happenings leap up around her, he is the first to take action and try to discover what the heck is going on.  He’s deeply involved because he cares so much about Christine.  His reasons are personal, rendering him, really, the only narrator available in the mystery.  As he worms his way around, demanding of my poor Christine what’s going on, chasing people like an infuriated ten-year-old, he begins to put the pieces together, and as you are in his mind, you’re doing the same thing.

Well, there was a Poor Raoul who was listening!

One of my favorite narrators is Christine.  She’s introduced as a sweet, innocent girl suddenly catapulted into fame, and frankly, she has no idea what to do with it.  She’s described as having blonde hair and big blue eyes, as well as being quite petite.  One is not often in her head, as the only time you read her point of view is when she’s explaining her story to Raoul, but I love her to death.  She speaks intelligently, but still with her signature kindness.  And man, that girl has spunk!  (I love how after Erik goes shopping for her, as he leaves her room she slams the door in his face).  She presents her side of the story with confusion, pity, and horror, and I would imagine, at times, with some anger.  Her point of view is clear and poignant, and despite her strong emotion through the whole ordeal, she is still able to present what happened so evenly that the reader is left in no doubt of the actuality of the events she describes in all her guileless honesty.

El fantasma de la ópera (2004) | 48 de los vestidos de boda más memorables de las películas

I have to admit that my favorite character whose head the reader occupies is the Persian.  He has no other name to any character except Erik, who calls him daroga, which was what he was called as head of the government police back in his native country.  Erik and the Persian have had a long history, including a notable time when the Persian saved Erik’s life (which the Persian has no qualms about reminding Erik whenever our boy is a pill).  But because of everything they’ve been through and the ages they’ve known each other, the Persian understands Erik better than anyone else in the novel.  His point of view comes when Leroux includes a set of papers supposedly penned by the Persian himself at the conclusion of the events described throughout the entire novel.  He’s matter-of-fact, compassionate, but has also had the, ah, opportunity to see Erik at his worst, therefore knows what he’s capable of.  And frankly, that scares him.  My sister deems him “the only normal person in the book.”  The man has guts, and he’s not afraid to say things like they are, and as you journey through the horrors he is forced to endure, your respect and love for the man skyrockets.  He is, to put it simply, awesome.

The managers are also included, and they’re hilarious (which they are not aware of) and skeptical and Richard literally boots Madame Giry out of the office once, which elicits gleeful laughter from the reader.

So there are my principal narrators.  Now I just have to rave about the storytelling.

In my opinion, Leroux is a genius.  Oftentimes, an author will have a specific ‘voice’ that they write in, but Leroux’s changes with each character he writes, including himself.  Raoul’s is whiny and the kid annoys me.  Christine’s is sweet and clear, but there’s a touch of spice that’s irresistible.  The Persian’s is mature, intelligent, and personable, almost like a father-figure.  While Erik never gets to have the reader in his head (that’s a scary place, anyway, that boy has such a major case of something that I think anyone else would explode), his way of speaking — which is constant, as whenever he’s in the scene he never shuts up — is beautifully unique.  His phrasing is very simple, and the boy is obsessed with adjectives.  (He also speaks in third person when he gets really ticked off.  I think he thinks it makes him sound threatening or something).  His speech patterns remind me of a child, and even in merely his way of talking, I think so much is expressed.  He speaks like someone that had been silenced for so many years he’s not as adept at expressing himself through words.

(Image credit to muirin007 on deviantart.  Stalk her.  Now.)

Then there are the operatic aspects.  I read the book in three days, hardly exiting my room as I devoured each page with insatiable hunger.  But unfortunately, I didn’t know much about the music world save for musical theater.  It wasn’t until I discovered the glorious beauty of opera and began exploring that world that pieces of the book began to fit into place.  Two of my favorite instances of this are when Christine has been kidnapped by Erik.  He first begins to sing to her to calm her down, and his song of choice is none other than Mia madre aveva una povera ancella (also known as the Willow Song) from Verdi’s Otello.  In the aria, Desdemona tells the story of her mother’s “poor maid” who was left by her lover.  In the story, the girl sings of how the willow will be her funeral garland, and Desdemona relates the crushing sadness the young maid went through.  This is happening at a moment when Desdemona is frightened and all but abandoned by her husband, and when Christine mentioned Erik singing “Desdemona’s love song” to her, one that is familiar with the song is suddenly privy to all Erik’s feelings of abandonment and yearning for love.  Later, in the crucial scene in which Christine pulls off Erik’s mask, he invites her to sing “music from the Opera,” and they begin the duet from Act Three, again, from Verdi’s Otello.  The duet is at times soft and loving, and the next instant explosive with accusation.  It’s especially fitting after Erik has been suspecting Christine of being in love with Raoul, as the context of the duet is when Otello is — very unjustly — berating Desdemona and furiously insisting she’s been unfaithful (which she hasn’t).  But what I really think makes this the perfect piece to include in this scene is the music itself.  Every sound is so intense and moving that the singers were caught up in the moment, rendering every sense heightened.  Both the soft, loving melodies they share and the powerful strands that come later kind of make up their relationship.  And one never knows how it’s going to turn out — until Christine pulls off the mask and everything shatters to pieces.  What I love about Leroux’s use of the music in the book is that, if you know what he’s referring to, it adds so much more to the scene than meticulously explaining, “And he sang a song about yearning and love and the melody was so haunting I felt my soul attach to his like a parasite and later we sang about infidelity even if I’ve never been unfaithful yah-di-yah-di-yah.”  Music is so powerful.  There is something in even the simplest melody that can alter your mood, thoughts, and even your life.  So it means so much more in the story to reference a piece of music that encompasses more than words could ever express.

Desdemona, Othello, Iago 1 | Flickr - Photo Sharing!

Leroux has everything in this book: suspense, horror, love, agitation, joy, sorrow, despair, solemnity, and an irresistible quirky humor.  The scenes with the managers and the “magic envelope” are like an operatic comedy.  Christine’s despair over the loss of her beloved father hurts everyone that has ever suffered pain.  Every moment of the book is so masterfully woven with threads of emotion, whatever those feelings might be, that when you step back you view a masterpiece.  Then you reach the end, and something in you intensifies and changes, rendering you forever altered by the painful beauty of the entire tale.

I Have Arrived

Hello, there!

My name is Ana, and you have chanced upon my blog.  It’s basically ‘the life and times and blunt opinions of an LDS opera singer’ thing.  Meant to be fun, informative, and a little wacky, I hope it lives up to expectations.

Yeah, I’m LDS — we’re also called Mormons, but I tend to prefer ‘LDS’.  It stands for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  Which means, yes, I’m a Christian.  And it’s awesome.  One reason I began the blog is to show people that we aren’t creepy, scary, daft, or any other negative term.  There are insane stories — magic underwear, anyone? — and I’m here to show you what it’s like to live my standards in a world that isn’t so keen on things like that anymore.

And opera singer.  I’ve loved opera since I was fifteen years old.  No, not the Phantom of the Opera (though that is an utterly amazing musical and I love it to death).  I’m talking Mozart, Verdi and Handel.  And lesser-known ones like Bellini and Meyerbeer.  I’m a lyric mezzo-soprano, and I don’t really know how to explain it in non-opera lingo.  I’ll think of that eventually.  I want my voice lessons back, but school comes first, unfortunately, so I do my sit-ups and sing as I walk home from work.  And Joyce DiDonato is amazing.  Look up her renditions of Rossini’s Una voce poco fa — the woman is beyond fantastic!

I’m also a writer.  I know that’s kind of a generic term, but I’ve been blessed with a mother that’s also an English teacher.  I just finished my first novel and am dreading editing it.  I don’t write fluff.  My stuff is gritty and emotionally warped, but I try to bring the characters from the lowest point possible back into hope.  Kind of like life.

And since I’m starving, I’m going to go put something together and eat it.  I don’t like cooking, but I think I can manage a sandwich and a cup of V8.  Cross your fingers that I won’t blow up the kitchen.

Cheers!

Ana