Lucia again...and vocal changes!

11/27/2019

Hello lovely people! It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog, and one is long overdue! I felt I wanted to share with you a lot of what’s been going on with me vocally!

 

This past year has been quite a journey for me.  I covered Nannetta in Falstaff, and had some chorus fun in Falstaff and Belshazzar with The Grange Festival, what a great experience and a bunch of lovely people! I got to do a handstand on stage (not while singing...but that's next on my bucket list!!)

 

I also got the wonderful opportunity to sing Lucia again with the Festival Lyrque-en-mer on the gorgeous island of Belle-Île, conducted by the lovely Philip Walsh and directed by Denise Mulholland. I had already debuted the role previously with Fulham Opera, so this was my first opportunity to be able to sing the role again with a different company (my first time getting the chance to do this with a role). I knew that the role would need to be reworked into my voice, as the voice had become much warmed and rounder.  I felt like I could give more to the character and it felt so rewarding. Denise and Philip were so wonderfully supportive and allowed me to really explore the beautiful mind of Lucia Ashton. I cannot explain why I love singing Lucia so much, perhaps one day I will find the words to express why I feel so much that there is a piece of her in me. She is now so much a part of me...

 

It was a fun summer, however along the way I have had to do some vocal soul-digging....*spoiler alert* I am no longer classified as a “young coloratura” anymore (age-ism in opera is alive and kicking)... I’ve spent the past few months exploring exciting new repertoire, trying to understand where my voice fits in the current operatic climate, what feels comfortable, what I feel can develop my voice in the healthiest way possible, without pushing it too fast too soon. 

 

About two years ago, people started asking me whether I’ve had a thought about looking at some bigger repertoire…Suggestions like Donna Anna started coming in… For those non-opera buffs reading this, “bigger repertoire” tends to suggest repertoire that is more “lyrical”. At the time, I just giggled to myself and thought “no way… me?” You see, up until then, I’d always thought I would be doing light repertoire for most of my career. I would always be type-cast as the girl, the doll, the fairy, the naughty maid, etc! Like in film and in musical theatre, opera also has its type-casts, and larger repertoire could often be associated with bigger people (I am a small person, and I also look very young). I have always had high notes, however while they came easier when I was younger, once I hit 28, the “fear” kicked in (as it does when you grow up and stakes become higher) and I now have to work extra hard to be confident with them - usually the struggle is in auditions rather than in actual shows where it is so much easier to become the character, and the drama is built in. I think few of us actually enjoy auditions and competitions! There is of course, a difference popping out high notes in something like Lucia which is so comfortable for my voice, and other Bel Canto repertoire (Donizetti, Bellini, Rossini), where the voice is allowed to sing in the upper middle register (it goes high but goes back down), and with the repertoire that just sits up there (like Strauss’ Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos). When I sang Adina last year, I put top F’s into some of the duet endings just for fun…that wasn’t an issue! 

 

The more time passed, the more people started asking whether I was looking at roles like Violetta, Konstanza, etc… and I started thinking that perhaps I should have a look at this repertoire. Particularly when they know that I am not under 30 anymore…

 

Now this part is going to get a bit (womanly-issues) personal, but I feel it is important to talk about it – in fact, I don’t know why we don’t talk about it much, because we should!! The female voice depends so much on hormones, and my hormones started being all over the place about two years ago. I was on the pill for 8 years and when it became clear that my body was not happy with it, I decided to get off the pill and get a non-hormonal IUD, I wanted to completely stop putting hormones in my body. My (natural) hormones seemed to start balancing out (don’t think it got much easier, the menstrual cramps with an IUD are pretty excruciating, and I have given performances where an hour before I was on the floor crying in pain), and my voice gradually started changing. Now I am not an expert and I can only speak of my own experience, and of course we can never really know whether the voice changed because of getting older, or because of the pill, but I believe that more research needs to be done so that singers are more aware of possible vocal changes before making a decision to go on the pill. Having said that, I am now willing to try different pills because the cramps are just too painful to bear to allow me to perform at the highest level for my work… #firstworldproblems I know! *Please note  that I am not qualified to give any advice about medication/body issues, and you should discuss these things with your GP or Gynaechologist, I am just trying to share my experience to create awareness*

 

After a while (well only in the past few months really), I did look at the Violetta, I did look at the Konstanza, and yes, it felt good. I started experimenting with presenting Konstanza in auditions, and in one in particular, I had a consultation in which the panel suggested I consider presenting myself as a lyric soprano… meaning Mimi, Juliette, Micaëla, Donna Anna, etc… This wasn’t the first time some of these roles were suggested to me…so I started thinking, ok maybe I need to start dipping my toes into the repertoire, no harm in trying.

 

Fast forward a few months, and having continued to grow and change, I am so much enjoying working on this repertoire, and it feels comfortable, not pushed. With changing repertoire, also comes changing the way you sing. Bigger repertoire needs lower support (those pelvic floor/kegel muscles), but cannot be pushed otherwise too much air causes an imbalance in the sound. It needs a better vocal mix for the lower notes, since there’s more of them. Basically, this change has revealed to me little flaws in my technique which, due to singing higher repertoire, I never needed to tackle before. Particularly, singing in that middle! I have to constantly practice in the mirror, doing some hilarious-looking things (like holding my tongue out on a straw…it’s ridiculous but very effective!) to make sure I release any tongue root tension…maybe if I’m brave enough I’ll make a short video for you one day! Did you know that the tongue is the strongest muscle in the body? It just loves to do our hard work for us! I could go on and on, but I don’t want to bore you!!

 

I recently had to sing the role of Madame Goldentrill in the Impresario at the Teatru Manoel (Malta' National Theatre), the aria has two top D’s (ok D’s are fine) and the rest of the role has three top F’s and one E flat (Ok the E flat’s are fine too)… it’s so interesting how the voice has to be reset. Many say you should sing with the same voice, but others will argue that you cannot take the weight up there. I found that it is about getting right balance, and also the right approach. It is still something I am exploring, and either way, improving my middle register helps for some of the more dramatic coloratura repertoire, if that is indeed where my voice will continue to develop towards. It also helps to have had such a wonderfully supportive conductor in Michelle Castelletti and director Antonella Mifsud! It was such a blast performing as part of the Ziguzajg Festival - the performances were built with an audience full of kids in mind, and Impresario is certainly one of the best operas to help introduce the art form to the younger generations.

 

Anyway back to topic....the fact is that in this business, everyone has an idea what they think your voice should do. In the end, it really doesn’t matter, you just have to follow your instinct, choose what you feel is best for you, and above all, sing what makes you happy! 

 

I wanted to share with you my journey because, aside from helping me come to terms with the changes and looking forward, I want for anyone going through something similar, to know that they’re not alone, and there are many of us struggling to fit into these boxes that are imposed on us… I guess it’s just all about taking one leap of faith after another!

 

Nicola x

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Hello lovely people! It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog, and one is long overdue! I felt I wanted to share with you a lot of what’s been goin...

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