As was pointed out to my by a fellow castmate, I just sang Alberich 6 times in 5 days, which, if you know the role, is A LOT. Normally you don’t sing Alberich (or any of the other larger Wagner roles) back-to-back. However, when you are single cast in a production, sometimes you do what you have to do. I also had a long day of singing at church–4 Masses, followed by opening night! Definitely a challenge to survive all of that intact! Luckily, there were several factors working in my favor: 1. This was a virtual production so there was no pressure to oversing to fill a large theater over a huge orchestra. 2. I was able to mark in the second dress rehearsal, and in the third we skipped some heftier chunks of music since they involved the same 3 singers in each performance. 3. Our coach was watching out for me and kept reminding me to take it easy and rest.
This has given me some time to think about vocal stamina and the importance of healthy technique. No two singers have the same voice, so no two singers have the same vocal needs. As you build your technique and figure out your instrument (the journey never really ends), you find the things that work. You find the preparation methods and warmup routines that seem to get your voice in its most optimal state, and then it’s about making those discoveries into habits. Once you get to know your voice, you have to actually listen to what your voice is telling you. If you feel like you are pushing or straining, you probably are. In my experience, healthy singing just feels good. If it doesn’t feel good, there is probably something out of alignment. If you are feeling tired and you notice that you are having to work harder at something in a given aria or song, it’s probably not a good idea to keep on shoving your voice through it. You might have to make some economical vocal choices to make it through, but in the end your voice will thank you for it.
Alberich is a big sing, and even though he is a very well-written role, he is still a beast to get through. I really had to pace myself, as well as be humble enough to admit that I am NOT invincible, and make smart choices along the way. Despite the reputation, Wagner is not just a lot of “park and bark.” His music actually has incredible nuance and dynamic range, and the secret to success seems to be not simply blowing through everything like a freight train. You really have to pay attention to the score, and see how he treats not only the voice, but also the accompanying instrumental textures. If you ascribe to the whole, “Wagner = Loud, Louder, Loudest” philosophy, you will simply not make it through the role. You also have to be aware of how to approach the heavy stuff. If you set it up right, it’s like lining up a clean shot with a bow and arrow–your voice can fly right through it. In fact, it can feel pretty incredible. If you are a little off in the setup...the struggle is real. I don’t pretend to be an expert on singing Wagner after my first outing with one role, but I did learn a thing or two.
If there is one other thing I learned from this role, it’s the importance of knowing your limits and prioritizing your own vocal health. We were so fortunate to have a coach who was very mindful of our pacing and made sure that our vocal health was also his priority. Especially as young singers, we tend to fancy ourselves to be invincible, and we never want to say no to anyone, because we are worried about missing out on some opportunity. We also never want to admit with something is a struggle, or doesn’t feel right. But while we are busy pretending everything is fine, on the other end they may not have any idea there is an issue until everything falls apart. And that’s a best-case scenario. In a bad situation, someone is going to ask you to push yourself past your healthy limit, and your voice will suffer. You have to be your own advocate. It’s a balance of course. You can’t be the diva who arrives wrapped in twelve scarves drinking tepid Evian through a straw, and demanding that the air conditioning in a whole mall be shut down as you walk through the food court. You have to be able to live your life. But you can absolutely recognize when you are struggling vocally and take steps to figure out what is going on, and if you need to mark or make some other vocal accommodation, there is absolutely no shame in making that choice. As many famous singers have said, you have to take care of your voice, because when that goes, all the rest will go too.