Opera? Like “opera” opera?

Due to scheduling conflicts, a sick kid, and a family vacation, the last couple of weeks have been pitifully kink free.  It’s tragic.  But luckily that’ll end in a couple of days.  And in the meantime, I thought I’d answer a non-kink question.

Dear Jen,

You’ve said that you can sing opera.  Do you mean actual opera?  Like opera opera?  Is that true?  How did you get into that?  What kind of soprano are you?  What would someone have to do to hear you sing?  Would you ever consider posting a recording?  Do you have a favorite song that you like to sing?  What about a favorite singer?

A curious fan

Oh, I hope you’ve got time

Yes, I’m a soprano.  And unfortunately, the only way to hear it is to know me in person (and before a few years ago, even that wasn’t enough.  I was an idiot when I was younger, and embarrassed about it, so whenever someone asked if I liked opera, I’d say, “Does Phantom of the Opera count?”).

But no, I’m not going to post any recordings.  Not because my operatic voice is similar to my speaking voice (people have heard me sing and not believed it was me) but because microphones are a soprano’s worst possible enemy.  When you get that high, even a high-end microphone can distort it, and you need huge amounts of control to make subtle changes in pitch and volume to make it sound the same volume all the way around.  Microphones can’t pick up on that.

Have you ever seen an opera?  They don’t use microphones.  It’s not enough to be able to sing.  You have to have the power to be heard over the orchestra, in the nosebleed section of a packed house (which is why Andrea Bocelli is not cast in any actual operas.  Sure, he sounds very nice, but he doesn’t have the power or the diaphragm to pull it off without a mic).

Nope, the only way to hear me sing is to know me in person and catch me in a really good mood.

I’m a lyric coloratura soprano (kind of a jack-of-all-trades type, I guess), and, like many lyric coloraturas, I can do lyric (middle of the female voice spectrum), and soubrette (light, youthful type) roles just as well.  Unlike many lyric coloraturas, I can also do lyric dramatic (deeper, powerful type) and spinto (super powerful, very big sound) roles rather decently (despite the fact that I’m a bit on the young-ish side), which I’m particularly proud of.  My hope is to mature into a dramatic coloratura (my idol is Diana Damrau, she’s such a fucking badass), which I just don’t have the power for yet.  But that kind of voice doesn’t usually “settle” until 35 to 40-ish, so I’ve got time.  I’ve already got the range.  I just don’t have the power.  Hopefully as my voice settles, that will change.

As far as favorite arias to sing, my go-to when singing for others is generally Habanera (because you literally cannot be a female opera singer and not know it).  It’s written for a mezzo-soprano, which is super low, so it doesn’t really require a warm-up to do well.  Which means it’s perfect for those situations where people think I’m lying (“You sing opera?  You?  No way.  Prove it”).

It’s also great to see people’s faces when the tattooed, foul-mouthed chick with the dyed bright red hair and the love for anything dark and twisted starts singing in perfect French (with operatic vowels, of course).

Yeah, that’s right.  I’m all cultured and shit.

It was great with obnoxious parents of boyfriends who thought I was ignorant, or slutty (I had one ex’s mother who just hated the fact that I’m well-endowed, and would constantly ask me to “put them away.”  Put them where, exactly?  I once wore a turtleneck to dinner, in the middle of summer, in the desert, because I was that tired of her constant bitching.  The day she called me a blonde bimbo — I’m naturally blonde and this was before I started dyeing my hair — was the day she heard me sing Der Holle Rache.  And shutting that frigid cunt up, slapping that smug smile off her her face — only figuratively, unfortunately — was soooo unbelievably satisfying.  I still have no idea what drugs she fed her husband to get him to sleep with her enough to have 3 kids.  He was a totally pleasant person, every bit as nice as she was awful.  And he spent more time apologizing for her being such a hateful bitch than anything else).

So it’s fun seeing people’s expressions when I switch immediately from bad English to perfect French.

Yeah, don’t ask me to speak French, though.  Or Italian, for that matter.  But I can sing it damn well.  German is a bit harder, despite the fact that my dad was born there, and that was his first language, and you could always tell how pissed he was by what language he was speaking (if he was speaking English, you were fine.  Spanish, you needed to watch your ass, and the next words out of your mouth had better be “Yes, Sir, I’m sorry, Sir.”  German, you were just fucking screwed).  And my grandmother would randomly switch from English to German and back again, and most of the time was completely unaware that she’d switched at all (which was fun, because I don’t speak German).

Even with hearing it all the damn time growing up, I struggle with singing it. I can do it, I’m just not super comfortable with it, and not super great at it.  But give me a good Italian role, and I sound like I was born speaking the language.  I love singing Verdi, particularly, although Tosca by Puccini is just so many kinds of fucking awesome.

My favorite arias to sing, besides Habanera, are Vissi D’Arte from Tosca, A Fors’e Lui from La Traviata, and Der Holle Rache from The Magic Flute.

As far as singers, I love Angela Gheorgiu, Anna Netrebko, Jessye Norman, and Renee Fleming.  But my favorite, by a pretty massive margin, is Diana Damrau.  She’s fucking awesome, and her voice is everything I want mine to be.

Her rendition of Der Holle Rache is literally the best of our time.  No one can hold a candle to her.  She is the Queen of the Night.

Y’all don’t understand.  That’s one of the hardest arias to sing.  Like, ever.  Not many can do it.  And even fewer can do it well.  The singers who have the power to match hers end up going flat in the coloraturas (the fast, elaborate parts), or their voice cracks, or they need the tempo slowed down.  And the ones (like me) who have the range to hit the F6 don’t have the power and sound like little mice compared to her.

And then, to see her perform it on a stage is fucking awesome.  Even if you’re not into opera, everyone should watch her sing this hellish fucking aria.  She’s the Queen of the Night, an evil, spiteful bitch who tells her daughter to kill the man who rules them, or she’ll be disowned and abandoned.  She’s consumed by anger and desire for revenge, and while I personally feel she’s justified in being pissed the fuck off, she’s generally just an evil woman.

So it’s not a super nice song, and it’s one of the hardest arias to perform, and like when I sing it, for example, it takes literally every shred of my focus to keep pitch, and I can’t really think about anything else.

But Diana Damrau, holy shit.  She does it while jumping around and acting, and being every bit the scary, evil shrew she’s supposed to be.

Even if you can’t watch the whole thing, watch from 0:35 to 1:20.  I love how aggressive her body language is, especially around the 1:05-ish mark.  Her shoulders, her scowl (made even more severe by some pretty extreme makeup… she’s actually a very attractive, kind-looking blonde), her posture, she uses her whole body.  And then from 2:00 to 2:20, she does it again, and you can see that she’s out of breath, but she still sings it perfectly, and doesn’t lose a shred of her power.

While on her knees.  Because it’s not already hard enough, why the fuck not?

She’s a fucking badass.  And she looks scary as fuck.  You can really believe she’s evil, and will happily set fire to everything she touches.

A woman after my own shriveled, black heart.

You look at that, and then you look at this one (I don’t even know who this singer is, I’ve never seen or heard her before), and watch her perform it, and she breaks character so many times because she has to strain to reach the higher notes, and you can see it on her face.  And her voice cracks repeatedly, and she can’t keep the volume in the coloraturas, and gets super soft and mouse-y.  Seriously, I think this like an amateur production or something.  Or at least I hope it is.  She’s got amazing tone, and for the first 15 seconds or so, seemed really promising, but she just doesn’t have a high enough tessitura (comfortable range), and should not have been cast in it.

And then in the coloraturas, she has to rely on ridiculous hand gestures to convey the fact that she’s angry, because she can’t make it come through in her voice, and so much of her focus is centered on hitting the notes, she can’t focus on the acting at all.  Dude, I don’t even know what the hell she was doing with that, I had to stop watching after less than 90 seconds, it was just bad.

She looks like a kindly old grandmother next to Diana Damrau, and that has nothing to do with the makeup or costume design.  Diana Damrau is more than an incredible singer, she’s an incredible actress, and it’s a hell of a lot harder than you’d think to do both.  No one can sing that aria the way Diana Damrau can, and no one can do it with all the jumping the fuck around that she does.  For the next hundred years, everyone who sings that aria will be held up and compared to her (like Maria Callas and Habanera, although I personally like Anna Caterina Antonacci’s version better).

Total badass.  Just a total badass.

I got into opera in high school, after a longer-than-expected recovery from shoulder surgery made me have to drop my band class for the semester (which made me ineligible for my scholarship, that was awesome).  The choir teacher heard me telling the theater teacher about it and told me that her symphonic choir was the same period, and she wanted me to join.

I was seriously secretive about my voice back then (which may or may not have had something to do with my mother, who toured Europe with her choir in high school, telling me how awful I was) and immediately asked, “What makes you think I can sing?”

I mean, of course she knew I was a musician, I’d written all the melodies and instrument accompaniments for the “songs” in the play, As You Like It, that we’d done earlier that year, and she knew I was the first-chair floutist, but she’d never heard me sing (that I know of… I wrote the songs for the play at school, but in a tiny little closet they affectionately called a “practice room,” that had literally enough room for an upright piano and nothing else.  And the door was always closed).

She never really answered (and even now, I have no idea how she knew), but finally convinced me to join, and never even made me audition.  Within the first week, she was having me stay after school for private lessons.  My range was pretty limited, because I’d never had any training, so we started with mezzo soprano roles, and she showed me a video of Habanera being performed by Maria Callas.

She showed me that video and said, “You can do that.”

I laughed and said, “Yeah, right.”

She kind of arched her brow and gave me this look that said, “Bet me.”

Sure enough, she was right.  She taught me how, and when my ability exceeded her ability to teach, she referred me to another vocal coach, who taught me for free when my parents refused to pay for it.  He said it was amazing to find someone so young who actually appreciated opera, and that was all the payment he needed.

And that was the beginning of the end, really.  It’s a hobby I’ll never grow out of, and a love that has stayed with me for the last 14-ish years.

I doubt anything will come of it.  I doubt I’ll ever sing on a stage, even once my voice matures fully.  And that’s fine, I don’t need to be some famous opera singer.  It’s not a career I’ve ever seriously considered.  It’s just something I love, something I’m damn good at, that not a lot of people can do, and something that youtube karaoke videos give me the opportunity to do on those rare occasions when I get the house to myself (Kazander can’t stand opera, and the spawn will dance around to it occasionally, but she doesn’t like it because she can’t understand the words).

So yeah, it’s fun.  I like it.

9 thoughts on “Opera? Like “opera” opera?

  1. David says:

    Awesome. I too love opera. Great post.

  2. You make me wish for things I shouldn’t want, and you can sing?

    You’re so cool.

    You’re so cool.

    You’re so cool.

    I need to go do a bad, bad thing now. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Possibly Lost v2 says:

    You’re just being a tease now Jen. YT that singing voice!

  4. You’re just being a tease now Jen. Post a recording!

  5. Holy hell..for a sadist you have the sweetest voice ever! I wanna download it and keep it forever, it was that good!

    • Domina Jen says:

      Lol, you know you’re not the first one to tell me that. I’ve been told rather often that I look/sound too sweet to be as sadistic as I am. I always grin and say, “Yes, I’m sweet and innocent. You should go with that.”

      Thank you so much! I’m flattered that you liked it.

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