Following on from my previous article on using the Slide, the Swing and the Hiccups in opera aria coaching, my client has brought Porgi Amor, from Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. It’s a tricky aria at the best of times – it’s the first thing the Countess sings and it’s very slow and sustained. Add to that the fact that my client is singing with a voice that is bigger than she previously thought, and it becomes terrifying.
Here’s how I coached her to feel in control of her sound and the aria.
Getting in the groove
We start (as I usually do) with a sing-through of the whole piece. It helps the singer feel comfortable, to get into the groove of performing, and it helps me discover where that singer’s voice and energy is that day.
Sing with your own voice
Now to focus on the opening phrases. Even at a slow speed, these phrases aren’t very long (just 2 or 3 bars each), but they do require a high level of control. She was bumping the opening note and then tightening to control the volume. Since we’d worked on the Tosca aria earlier in the session (see previous article here) I encourage her to bring the garden swing technique we’d explored into the Mozart. It helps to sing the aria slightly bigger than you would expect so that you can ‘feel’ how your voice works in this music at a decent volume. It is essential whatever music you are singing that you sing with your own voice, and that sometimes means singing/feeling/hearing the phrases with a louder connected volume than you would use for a performance.
The bicycle wheel
Since this client responds so well to imagery my mind comes up with the bicycle wheel. Imagine putting your finger on the top rim of the wheel, pushing it round and arriving back at the top. The arrival point is the top, and the bottom of the wheel is a point that you travel through.
How does this apply to Porgi Amor? I notice that the arrival point in each of the first three 2-bar phrases is the beginning of the second bar, not the first. So by seeing the opening note as an ‘already travelling through’ point and starting ‘at the bottom of the wheel’ my client is able to sing the phrase without the opening bump and move through to the second bar.
That simple change has so many knock-on effects. She is able to control the opening note of the aria very effectively without closing her throat; each phrase has a sense of travelling forwards (this aria is notorious for slowing down); and because the forward momentum is now built into the phrasing, she is able to sustain the phrases easily so could sing it realistically at a slower speed. And since each phrase rises and falls like a sigh, she is able to reflect that emotion just by using the travel – arrive – travel again feel of the bicycle wheel.
This even works for the next set of phrases – three bars each – and the climbing phrase to the Ab.
There’s a hilarious moment in the lesson when we notice the next phrases are like little trainer wheels – 2 semiquavers each (“porgi amor qual che ristoro al mio duolo a miei sospir”), then back to the 2-bar circle.
The next tricky bit is the rising phrase over a ninth on “lascia”. The bicycle wheel didn’t feel appropriate for this as it’s a smooth climb. So we ‘step onto the escalator’ for the rising ninth scale. This works surprisingly well. In real life, the escalator does all the work of carrying you up, so there was no sense of driving up to the top note. Having arrived at the high G we use the idea of arriving at the top of the escalator before you expect to, to reflect the curious offbeat rhythm pattern in the phrase (you stagger a little as you go from assisted climbing to flat floor walking).
That is a particularly bizarre image to play with but again, it works brilliantly for my client. She now has a real sense of ease in the phrase, the sound and emotion match the writing, and the piece loses its terror.
She sings the aria through using this imagery and it’s like listening to a different singer. My client is happy and I’m fascinated by the way that each singer’s brain works in conjunction with their voice. I’m looking forward to the next session!
PS If you want to know what I can do to help your singing feel easier and more authentic, come and work with me in person or online – I’d love to help you discover more about your voice and performing.
PPS If you want to hear more about targeted imagery, coaching singers in different genres and more case histories, check out our new “Let’s Talk” event, Joining The Dots, in London.