Expanding Your Repertoire : Aria Savvy Part V

Most audition judges will eagerly hear any singer whose repertoire shows 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 your voice! 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” presents two arias per column, introducing you to pieces that will invigorate you musically while providing a refreshing change for your listeners.


Ambroise Thomas, Mignon, Act Two, monologue: “Elle est là, près de lui…Elle est aimée” (Mignon)

If you’re a lyric mezzo whose instrument boasts impressive range and, where required, a degree of heft that most singers in your Fach lack, this will be a great fit. Definitely take the high options (if you don’t, you could disappoint those auditioning you). While revealing your security above the staff and the thrust, depth, and tonal beauty of your sound, you can also present an enormously sympathetic character.

Mignon is saved from her miserable life by the dashing Wilhelm.   She falls instantly in love with him, but he’s infatuated with the actress Philine, which makes Mignon desperately jealous. Philine’s acting troupe is performing at a baron’s castle. During their play, Mignon is alone in the castle’s park. She knows that Philine’s hour of triumph has arrived, and that Wilhelm is with her. Mignon repeats bitterly, “He loves her!” In the monologue’s last section (sometimes omitted in auditions), she’s nearly out of her mind with despair. Seeing the park’s pond and its reeds, hearing them call to her, she’s seemingly ready to end her life. (Fortunately, she doesn’t – all ends happily for her in the opera’s last act.)

The monologue takes its time to build in intensity: the phrases are short at the start until the end of it, which needs messa di voce on G-flat at the top of the staff. Individual phrases are still not that extended in the next section, but each phrase needs to be lived – line-by-line response to the text couldn’t be more important here. When Mignon recalls Philine’s cruel laughter, the composer gives the option of two grand-scale legato phrases touching first high B-flat and then high C (the lower version can’t compare in terms of sheer vocal splendor.) Tension builds thrillingly to another hair-raising option offered by the composer: when Mignon declares “I’m driven mad with rage,” she plummets in an arpeggio down two octaves from high B-flat. If you sing the full scene, you’ll again have brief, excited phrases before sustaining the final high A-flat. This music is truly stupendous – give it a try!

Timing:   5:39 (complete)

         4:44 (abbreviated version) 

Score published by: Kalmus

Listen to: Jamie Barton (complete version)


                        Marilyn Horne (abbreviated version)




Jules Massenet, Le Jongleur de Notre Dame, Act Two, Legend of the Sage: 

“Marie avec l’enfant Jésus” (Boniface)

This aria is probably unlike anything else in your audition list. No doubt at least one of your arias demands this degree of velvet in the voice, but Boniface’s narration is also all about how elegantly and thoughtfully you can color a text. The aria can be so extraordinarily touching that you might have those listening to you reaching for their handkerchiefs. 

The opera’s title character is Jean, a starving, exuberant, and irreverent juggler. The Prior of an abbey persuades him to devote himself to God by becoming a monk. Jean is dismayed that, being unable to speak Latin, he’s incapable of offering an homage that would please the Holy Virgin. Boniface, the monastery’s cook, explains that the Virgin also understands French, and that she once gave her heart to the humblest, simplest flower. Now Boniface tells Jean a legend: fleeing with the infant Jesus, the Virgin believed their lives were in danger when she saw the King’s   bloody cavaliers approaching. She begged a rose to open itself up to save Jesus from death, but the rose refused. A flowering sage plant opened its leaves so wide that it formed a cradle, where the child safely slept. The Virgin then blessed the humble sage among all flowers.

The first third of the aria, describing the Virgin’s apprehension, is actually surprisingly dramatic and vehement, much of it sitting above the staff. However, once the Virgin encounters first the rose and then the sage, the music is suffused with the most exquisite tenderness, particularly in the main theme, repeated several times, invariably lifting to a sustained D above middle C. Coloring that phrase differently as you proceed through the storytelling is one of the aria’s major challenges. As always, Massenet is very specific in his markings for phrasing and dynamics. If you observe everything he’s given you, while singing with complete sincerity and warmth, you’ll find this aria hugely rewarding.

Timing: 4:38

Score published by: Heugel

Listen to: Samuel Ramey 


Michel Dens

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.