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28 Days to Diva: Day 7 – Polish Your Arias (#28daystodiva)

February 7, 2013

That’s polish as in “make shiny, gleaming, and kick-ass” because, my dear little divas, picking arias is all about showing off what your voice does best. While we have been discussing putting music together for a recital and why you should play chamber music, it is undeniable that our opera and oratorio arias are a classical singer’s bread and butter. That is why we will be challenging ourselves to fine-tune our arias on this most excellent Day 7 of 28 Days to Diva!

“The selection of the arias for this package depends not only on the vocal qualities and restrictions of the singer in question, but also on current casting trends and market expectations. To offer an aria in the package that does not fit the current conception of that particular voice type, whether the inappropriateness of the role be pedagogically justifiable or merely a matter of taste, is to run the risk of exclusion from invitations to audition. Indeed, one hears directors explain that upon receiving hundreds of requests for auditions, any aspect of the application that points to a lack of professional preparation, such as inappropriate repertoire, offers an easy means by which to exclude those singers who are not yet ready to be heard. This process of reducing the applicant pool to a feasible number of singers, while frustrating to those who do not make the cut, is necessary for companies to save time and money.” - Sandra Cotton

Arias are better left out of your solo vocal recital unless you program a nice flashy one as an encore or the aria fits particularly well into the theme. Therefore, we are focusing on arias for auditions and competitions. “What are your five?” is one of the most common questions opera singers ask each other. It is an accepted standard that singers will have five arias of varying languages that span different time periods of vocal music. You need a strategy to cover as much stunning repertoire as possible in those five. One good option: pick three or four “standard” arias and one or two “signature” arias. The standard arias, in this case, are the ones that are most recognizable for your voice type or fach. Ladies, the one exception to the standard arias rules that I hear time after time is waltzes. Yes, they are standard rep. No, they are not your friend in this case.

“I hope that the rest of my life is long and full of music, and that I never have to hear Juliette’s waltz, Musetta’s waltz, Monica’s waltz or Marguerite’s waltz ever again. If you are a Juliette, you know that the rest of the role is vocally unrelated to the waltz. Why not offer us the “potion aria” instead? (And please, don’t call it the “poison aria.”) If you really are a Marguerite, again the waltz is anomalous. Give us the “Roi de Thulé” instead, and grip us with your storytelling. If you really are a Musetta, we knew that when you walked out onstage. Sing something else.” - William R. Braun

Do not present a package of entirely obscure arias because it will actually hinder the panel from understanding your voice. It is a cruel fact; but, the adjudicators need to be able to compare you to other performers and the best way for you to edge out the competition is to give superior performances of standard rep. After you have decided what your best standard arias are, then you can have some fun and pick something more obscure or adventurous that still shows off your vocal strengths!

Let’s talk a bit about your first aria (your starter piece) for auditions and competitions. Remember, it is better to sing a few shorter, contrasting arias than having long arias on your list. So, begin with something under three minutes and preferably in French or Italian. Go ahead and start with the aria that has your highest practical note. If you got it; flaunt it. Your starter is also the piece that you can sing on demand (with a hangover…) because you know it inside and out. The rest of your aria package should aim to present your abilities that the first aria did not fulfill such as agility, languages, humor, or even cadenzas. Finally, always be kind to your accompanist. Unless you travel with a dedicated accompanist in your entourage at all times, pick arias that have a straightforward accompaniment. The last thing you want to worry about is if they have seen this aria recently. Focus on making the most, musically, out of any audition or competition performance.

Let’s create your singer’s binder! It should contain:

→French aria
→Italian aria
→German aria
→English aria - Bonus points for early and new music English arias

Supplemental Materials:
→Oratorio aria (for which you are likely to be hired)
→Operetta aria (Who doesn’t like a good G&S standard to show off at any moment?) Bonus points for a German operetta aria
→Musical theatre selection

Try on your arias like you’re trying on a bathing suit in front of a department store changing room mirror. If it you don’t want to flaunt it – it’s not the right fit. If it’s not the right color – it’s not the right fit. Stop singing the same ol’ arias that do not fit and get in the practice room and memorize some new ones. You wouldn’t buy an unflattering bikini – so do not keep selling unflattering repertoire season after season.

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