Opera Arias for the Twenty-Something Mezzo: Lyric and Coloratura Mezzo

I invited a colleague, mezzo-soprano and voice teacher Christine Thomas-O’Meally, to write today’s post on “Arias for the Twenty Something- Singer: Lyric Mezzo-Soprano.” You will find Christine’s bio at the end of the post. She writes:

“I did not begin studying singing until I entered an undergraduate program at a small Catholic women’s college. My teacher was a mere 5 years older than me and fresh out of graduate school. Although he was well-trained pedagogically (for the times), he didn’t know much about developmentally appropriate mezzo-soprano repertoire, and since I had a large voice for my age, he assigned me repertoire that was far beyond my capabilities from a technical and expressive perspective. For example, some of the pieces I studied and performed, at age 21, were arias from Samson et Dalila and La Gioconda.

After college I studied singing with a very well-known teacher who also didn’t understand what repertoire was appropriate for my age and voice. I assumed she was right – after all, I owned the Schirmer mezzo aria book, and I figured that I could sing any aria in there as long as I could hit the notes! Somehow I knew the Wagner arias were out, but otherwise, it was all fair game. Plus I loved the big, juicy dramatic pieces.

When I auditioned with “O mio Fernando” from La Favorita, I was asked, “Miss Thomas, why are you singing this aria?” I said, “Because my teacher gave it to me.” The second time the question came up, I said, “That’s the second time I’ve been asked this. Why do you ask?” “Because that is an aria for a dramatic mezzo and you are a lyric coloratura mezzo.”

That was the first time I had heard anything about the fach system. I had an idea that I was being assigned repertoire that might not fit me when my teacher assigned me “O don fatale,” but I didn’t know why. Now I had something specific to think about.

This was pre-internet, so all I could do was ask around to find out who some lyric and lyric-coloratura mezzos were. I was touring in a production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado, so I spent a lot of time on the bus with my Sony Walkman listening to cassettes (like I said, pre-internet) of von Stade, von Otter, Horne, Berganza, etc. Once I returned home, I left my teacher, moved out of state, and went to graduate school, where I had the opportunity to focus on the repertoire that I should be singing. By this point, I was nearly 30.

I have given some thought to arias that I wish I had prepared when I was a young singer, auditioning for YAPs. Singers back then didn’t have much information about these programs, and there were actually fewer of them in the US than there are now. I selected five arias for today’s list that are not too long, are accessible (for the singer, the listener, and, most importantly, the pianist), and offer alternatives to the old chestnuts that every singer brings to the table.”

1. “Si le bonheur à sourire t’invite,” Siebel, Faust. Most mezzos go in with “Faites-lui mes aveux” for a French aria. This aria might offer a nice change – it’s rather short, but it offers an opportunity for the singer to display both empathy and legato. Range: C#4-E5. Faust, G. Schirmer/Hal Leonard.

2. “O pallida, che un giorno,” Beppe, L’Amico Fritz. Instead of going with yet another rendition of “Voi che sapete” or “Non so piu,” try this aria, sung by Beppe to comfort the lovelorn Fritz. Range: D4-G5. Anthology of Italian Opera, Mezzo-Soprano, Ricordi.

3. “Jägerin, schlau im Sinn,” Nancy, Martha. As someone else who posted a listing of arias said, “It’s a silly little ditty, but no sillier than Orlofsky.” Range: C4-A5. Martha, G. Schirmer/HL.

4. “Il segreto per esser felici,” Orsini, Lucrezia Borgia. Because who doesn’t need a good drinking song in an audition? Range: C4-F5 (lots of opportunities to interpolate notes above and below the staff). Arias for Mezzo Soprano, G. Schirmer/HL.

5. “Oh, those faces!” Secretary, The Consul. Something contemporary that won’t make your pianist’s head explode, and isn’t “Must the winter come so soon?” (Or as a pianist friend called it, “Must the mezzo sing this tune?”) Range: Cb4-F#5. American Aria Anthology: Mezzo-Soprano. G. Schirmer/HL

Christine Thomas-O’Meally, mezzo soprano, has performed everything from the motets of J.S. Bach to the melodies of Irving Berlin to the minimalism of Philip Glass. Her most recent performance was in the Hal Leonard Showcase at the 52nd National Association of Teachers of Singing Conference in Orlando, Florida, where she performed the music of Benjamin Britten. As an opera singer and actress, she created the role of The Woman in Red in Dominick Argento’s DREAM OF VALENTINO in its world premiere with The Washington National Opera. Ms. Thomas-O’Meally received an M.M. in vocal performance from the Peabody Conservatory of Music and has completed her certification in Levels I, II & III of Somatic Voicework™ The LoVetri Method at the Contemporary Commercial Music Voice Pedagogy Institute at Shenandoah University.

In addition to an active performing schedule, Ms. Thomas teaches voice privately in Baltimore and is an adjunct music faculty member at Howard Community College outside of Baltimore, MD.

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