Aria Savvy: Expanding Your Audition Repertoire

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ost audition judges are eager to hear any singer whose repertoire choices show some musical curiosity and a sense of adventure. Why choose only the “standard” five arias in your Fach for one audition after another? There’s so much repertoire out there waiting for you! OK, your “list of five” shouldn’t all be arias found off the beaten track, but one or two would certainly be welcomed by those auditioning you. Aria Savvy will present two arias per column, introducing you to music that will invigorate you musically while providing a refreshing change for your listeners.

MEZZO-SOPRANO or CONTRALTO

George Frideric Handel, Hercules, Act One, “O joyful news!…Begone, my fears” and Act Two, “Dissembling, false, perfidious Hercules!…Cease ruler of the day to rise” (Dejanira)

Taking to heart Handel’s label for Hercules (“musical drama,” not oratorio), numerous major opera companies have staged this magnificent work in recent decades. Despite the title, the protagonist is actually Hercules’s wife, Dejanira. If a contralto (the voice for which it was written) sings this role, she needs delicacy at the top of the staff, while a mezzo singing Dejanira must offer the necessary variety of color and tonal strength in the lower octave. Handel gives a rounded view of the character, with seven notably contrasting arias. Usually I discuss just one aria per role, but I thought it would be good in this case to mention two.

Hercules has long been absent, leaving Dejanira increasingly anxious. When she hears that he’s about to arrive at home – and as a  conqueror – she’s elated, giving way to joy in “Begone, my fears.” As his captive, Hercules has brought back the lovely princess Iole. Dejanira becomes possessed by jealousy, believing  that Hercules and Iole are in love. Hercules assures Dejanira that her fears are baseless, but once alone with her own thoughts, she recalls that when Hercules was wooing her, he said there would be no dawn of the sun, and that the moon would be “blotted from her orb,” before he would be unfaithful to her. In her aria, she now calls on the sun (“ruler of the day”) and the moon-goddess Cynthia to cease their rising, declaring “with endless night his falsehood seal.”

The allegro of “Begone, my fears” can create infectious exhilaration in the A section, provided the challenging coloratura is shaped with musicality as well as precision. The B section is somewhat quieter, but the singer must still maintain the delight of this moment. The aria is rangy, extending from low A to high G-sharp (those notes are just touched — once each, within coloratura passages). Not structured as a da capo aria, “Cease, ruler of the day to rise,” is written in 3/4 as a stately larghetto lament, with much of the vocal line minimally accompanied, leaving the singer very exposed. The legato must be sculpted absolutely cleanly, with an aching yet still noble expressiveness, and with skill in responding tonally to the occasional clashes of harmony. 

Timing: Act One scene — 4:00

              Act Two scene — 4:10     

Score published by: Kalmus

Listen to:  Sarah Walker (Act One)

Joyce DiDonato  (Act Two)

 

LYRIC TENOR

Léo Delibes, Lakmé, “Je me souviens, sans voix, inanimé… Ah, viens dans la forêt profonde” (Gérald)

It’s unfortunate in auditions that lyric tenors invariably neglect the two arias for Lakmé’s leading man.  His first, “Fantaisie aux divins mensonges,” is glorious, but  you may want something shorter, in which case the equally memorable “Ah, viens, dans la forêt profonde,” is the ideal alternative. It can make a superb impression if you give it beauty of sound, thoughtful musicality, ease at the top, and sensitive response to the text.

In  late-19th-century India, Gérald  is a young officer in the Brtitish army, which is hated by Nilakantha, a Brahmin  priest. Lakmé, Nilakantha’s daughter, falls in love with Gérald.  After he’s stabbed by her father, she’s brings him to a forest hut, where she cares for his  wounds   In a recitative he recalls how, when he saw her as she bent over him, and his soul revived. Then, in  the aria, he urges her to come into the depths of the forest with him: “Love’s wings have passed over it, dividing us from the world…the voluptuous scent  of wild flowers fill the weakened heart with  rapture and oblivion.”

The brief recitative  starts fairly intimately, with each phrase sung on repeated  notes, ascending gradually to a forte A-sharp, before the quiet descent.  Once into the aria, you’ll be grateful for the comparatively gentle accompaniment. It provides a beautiful cushion for an aria that Delibes labels “cantilène,” making clear that the emphasis here is on pure lyricism.  You’ll need pristine legato, but also the shaping of phrases with the naturalness of speech. There’s no  dynamic marking indicated  for the first two high Bs, but they’re traditionally done piano. The final phrase, “L’aile de l’amour a passé,” concludes with a high B to be held at forte for five beats – a truly thrilling finish when negotiated with solid technique.

Timing: 2:30

Score published by: Eastman Scores

Listen to: Alain Vanzo

Roger Pines

Roger Pines, dramaturg of Lyric Opera of Chicago, has adjudicated for major vocal competitions for the past three decades. He also currently teaches the opera repertoire course at Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music.