I call it the “Power of Puccini” because nothing has strengthened my voice like vocalizing to and performing music written by Italian composer Giacomo Puccini. When I first began studying voice with my most influential teacher, he put me to the task of singing “Vissi d’arte” from Tosca and “In quelle trine morbide” from Manon Lescaut. Both of these arias are for dramatic voices, and my teacher and I both knew that I would never perform them; however, as vocalises they were ideal. The power, the sustain, the emotion — each of these elements helped me to dig deep intoboth my body and soul to find my true voice.
I eventually started playing around with Mimi’s arias from La boheme. Mimi is a character of pure-heart and inner beauty, and her sweetness is evident is every note of her singing. I relate to Mimi, or at least, I respond to her, and singing “Mi chiamano Mimi” and “Donde lieta” first helped me to find the delicate balance between hard work and ecstatic singing. I was even brave enough to bring “Mi chiamano” into a masterclass, despite the teacher clucking disapprovingly how the aria was “not my voice type.” Until I sang it. He begrudgingly changed his tune (no pun intended) to admit that I had “plenty of voice” to sing this particular aria; although he would not allow me to proceed to my second prepared aria, “Je dis que rien ne m’epouvante” — Michaela’s aria from Carmen. Even then, I was wise enough to understand that neither Mimi nor Michaela were my voice type, but I still wanted to sing them, at least in lessons and masterclasses. As a growing singer, working on these characters was like taking medicinal supplements or committing to weight training for my voice.
In a few years I would perform the role of Lisette in Puccini’s La Rondine. Finally, this was a character written for my voice, but I would learn quickly that it would take every bit of my voice to perform it successfully. Puccini is not easy on any of his singers, even the lyric sopranos. Lisette is a sassy, outspoken and coquettish character, not dissimilar to Musetta in La boheme but lower status. She has no aria (sadly), but she has two duets and many interjections. And her music is all over the map, with much of it sitting in the middle voice. Singing Lisette forced me to connect to my body in a deeper way than I ever had. With the technique and training behind me, I started singing so powerfully that I almost didn’t trust my sound at first. After recording my rehearsals, I was surprised to find that what I thought was belting instead came out as a strong, connected operatic soprano sound. And I had a middle voice.
Now, if I sing a contemporary song in a belt or mix, I feel confident and strong. I couldn’t do this until a worked on the music by an Italian operatic composer who lived over 100 years ago!
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