The radio was tuned to WGBH, the local NPR station, when I turned the car over. I was going to change it to AM to get a weather report when the radio announced that it was about to play excerpts of the New England Regional MET auditions. I kept the dial (as if my radio actually has a dial!) tuned to WGBH to listen to Christian something-or-other, a bass who placed first in New England and was one of the national winners.
His first selection was a Bellini aria I had never heard before. He sang it well, for all I could tell. His voice is nothing special, but he seemed to be in control of it. One of the judges requested "Non più andrai" from Mozart's Marriage of Figaro for his second piece.
I was shocked. His diction sucks! His voice is good -- better than mine at the moment, I'll admit -- but there's only so much a good voice ought to cover up. But that's the problem with the music scene today, and probably why I will never become a big name in singing. It's all about the voice now, about how pretty and expressive it is. That's fine if you're singing vocalises (songs without words), but that is not, in my opinion, acceptable for singing.
It's not just about the voice. Opera and other forms of singing are artforms that combine music with poetry, movement, visual arts, theater, dance, and so forth. Singing is communicating. Never mind that most American audience members have very little clue about Italian, French, or German -- languages have lives of their own, and properly pronouncing them is essential to conveying the character of the music. The succesful singer has to have complete command of his vocal mechanics but also a mastery of language, of poetry, of interpretation and communication, of theater. She must be the total package, not just another pretty voice.
My strengths as a singer lie in the interpretive side of things. As such, the tables are stacked against me. (Am I mixing up my metaphors?) But every once in a while things click vocally for me.
I've been very frustrated in my practice lately. I feel that I am not getting proper breath support, that my tone often sounds strained and whiny, that there seems to be a lot of tension in the jaw that keeps me from releasing my sound. But even though I sometimes feel as if I'm banging my head against a wall, vocally speaking, I know I am doing good for the voice. If I have my doubts, lessons like last night's cast them away.
I just opened my mouth and started to sing. And the sound that flowed out was full and expressive. It was nuanced and subtle. It was confident and gentle. And, most importantly, I was in control of my sound. I sang five Schumann songs last night, the first four of Dichterliebe and "Widmung," and, though I've just started learning them this past week, already sounded as if I've been singing them for weeks.
It's one of the most satisfying feelings in the world when everything comes together vocally, artistically, for me. I hope I can sustain this and build on it.