The time has come! In October, I will be making my debut performance of Aida at Annapolis Opera. I have dreamed of singing this role for years and I have loved every minute of exploring this fantastic role. I feel blessed though and am looking forward to breathing life into her. A career long dream has come true.
The road to this debut has not always been an easy one. I was not exposed to opera until I was in high school. The first opera I saw was a video of Don Giovanni with Kathleen Battle singing the role of Zerlina. I loved how Ms. Battle sang so effortlessly and for the longest time I was under the incorrect assumption there was only one type of soprano voice…that of Ms. Battle.
I didn’t know anything about classical music at all at the time and surely didn’t know there were different categories of soprano voices. Terms like soubrette, coloratura, lyric, dramatic soprano…let alone a spinto were unheard of to me. And thinking of combining these voice types even further to delineate the soprano voice category to include light lyric coloratura, full lyric, lyric spinto, dramatic spinto would have made my head spin back then.
My first art song, Vergin tutto amor, is still, to this day one of my favorites of the 24 Italian Songs & Arias. I remember trying to imitate what I heard on the recordings of Ms. Battle. Indeed, my first opera aria that I learned was Zerlina’s Vedrai carino and I studied Ms. Battle’s singing and truly attempted to imitate it. But alas, unbeknownst to me, I was not the voice type of Ms. Battle at all. It took me quite a while to find my true voice and even more time to reconcile myself to what voice type I was blessed to possess.
In my sophomore year, I began to take voice lessons and from that time on I was told that my voice needed time to mature and roles like Aida, Tosca and Madame Butterfly were in my future. I kept thinking to myself, “I can’t wait to get older and for my voice to grow up”! When you are young, with an unwieldy and sometimes edgy instrument, it is sometimes difficult to see the forest for the trees. The forest that I couldn’t see was that the edge/cut/steel I had to my voice was exactly what would characterize it as spinto. Those years and the many stages of my vocal growth (ugly duckling phases I called them) were seemingly never ending and quite frustrating.
I had a life-changing discovery in high school in the extraordinary soprano, Leontyne Price. While I still loved and love to this day the brilliance of Ms. Battle, I had found in Ms. Price a sterling example of a spinto soprano.
I remember my Godmother telling me the story of Ms. Price learning the role of Aida even though she had no existing contract to sing the role and that her diligence in learning the role had prepared her to be ready to step in for another soprano. (I later learned that soprano was Antonietta Stella and the opera company was San Francisco Opera.) That story got me intrigued and I immersed myself in the gloriousness of Ms. Leontyne Price.
I would have never thought that I could love music that wasn’t Funk, R&B, or Blues. But Ms. Price’s voice took me to a whole entire new world of beauty. I knows it’s cliché and corny, but I fell in love with her voice. I was surprised when I actually shed tears after hearing her sing Chi il bel sogno and O patria mia. I found that I loved those roles that my teachers and coaches said that I was ‘meant to sing’.
Soon, I began listening to other singers. Mirella Freni, Martina Arroyo, and Renata Scotto are just a few from those early years of operatic exploration. I discovered the range of vocal quality in their voices and loved each of them for different reasons. I didn’t discover Maria Callas until undergrad after which I became slightly obsessed with her ‘vocal acting’. Even the breaths that she took had emotion. I was totally hooked and immensely inspired.
After many years of listening to the above-mentioned singers and others, it was very easy to know which voices to go to when I wanted to find recordings to listen to as a part of my research of Aida. Ms. Price is the first person that one thinks of when the role of Aida is mentioned. As a part of my preparation for a role, though, I have found it very useful to listen to various recording with different singers in order to get a full range of what the possibilities are regarding interpreting a role.
Some of the recordings that I have listened to are: Mirella Freni at Houston Grand Opera; Wilhelmina Fernandez at Luxor; Maria Callas at Mexico City; Aprile Millo at the MET; Leontyne Price at Del Teatro Dell’opera Di Roma (1966—my fav); Zinka Milanov with Orchestra of Opera House of Rome; Leontyne Price with London Symphony Orchestra; and various recordings on youtube.
When listening to the music of Aida, one cannot help but be moved.
Some of the most beautiful melodies in opera fill Aida’s score, including the very beautiful Ma, tu o Re sung by Amonasro and taken up by Aida, Tu sei felice sung by Aida in the duet with Amneris, and of course the arias…Radames’ Celeste Aida, Aida’s Ritorna vincitor & O patria mia. In my opinion, the most beautiful moment is the final Tomb Scene.
I have been immersing myself in this role and am honored, excited and can’t wait to lift my voice as the Ethiopian Princess of my dreams-Aida.