The dramatic voice may be interpreted as an evolutionary product of operatic ideology; a culmination of masculine and feminine vocal energies and composition. In her 1938 article, Joanne Holbrook describes Wagner's operatic compositions as the achievement of "the final metamorphosis of the soprano from a mass of static flesh; performing merely musical acrobatics, to the active representative of a vital idea.” Those are some high standards!
Young dramatic voices experience challenges of acceptance, patience, and longevity. The sheer scale of the dramatic repertoire invites a myriad of potential for singers- both positive and problematic. I may be biased, but I'm beginning to think that fostering your own confidence to continue on the path while waiting for your voice to develop, and retaining your love and drive for the art form is the hardest part of the journey. Being a singer is already a strange vocation, and the various microcosms within the world of opera alter the landscape even further. The dramatic voice's incubation period, if you will, is longer, the repertoire is larger, as the superlatives increase along with voice size.
A young dramatic voice may be interpreted as wild, out of control, metallic, and sometimes harsh/edgy. These "less desirable" qualities are often a reaction, or indication of another issue. It may be pitch, vibrato, control of the sound, support, but the ultimate culprit is usually linked to breath. It's also important to remember that these are all exciting qualities! It means a voice that can be heard through a thick orchestral texture is brewing.
But, if we all experience technical issues, waiting, stagnation, what's the big deal with young dramatic voices?
Generally speaking, the lighter the voice, the earlier the voice will mature or settle. Thus frustrations arise for young singers of all types. If they are a light voice , when will they get work, and why hasn't it happened yet? If the voice is heavier or more lyric, when will the voice be ready, and what should or shouldn't they do in the meantime? There is more than one answer to these questions, because there is (mercifully), more than one way to get on to the stage. The problem is, there are SO many of us for very few jobs. I believe a very common misconception among young singers is the more versatile they can be, the more jobs they will get.
"Artistic Development of Young Professional Singers" by Olga Kolokyhta is a fantastically pragmatic view into the modern opera industry. She features an interview with Riccardo Muti concerning the dwindling number of dramatic singers, especially the darker timbres. He links this to artists' "tendency to sing a greater variety or repertory; artists don’t care about their voices in the same way.” I think his perception of singers lack of care in their voices is more directly the pressure to make a living out of their vocation, by any means necessary. To strive for immense variety in repertoire is just as damaging as trying to align yourself completely and totally with one kind of repertoire. Herein lies the paradox for young dramatic voices; If potential exists for a very specific kind of repertoire (e.g. Wagner heroes or heroines), how do you ensure a safe pathway towards that repertoire or voice type while maintaining balance in the current voice?
I think the root of all of this torment is the hazards of labeling; whereby singers take their potential voice type and align their own value within those parameters. Of course, we yearn for niche and identity within the vast cacophony of operatic repertoire, but it's possible for the predictions to be wrong, for everyone. Singing is a process that’s only learned by doing; We all need to go slower.
As my research through the development of the young dramatic voice continues, I'm finding how so many issues and concerns are universal for the young singer. We all clamor for recognition, resources, validation and simply the time to discover what it is our voices will become. The more we try to predict where the voice will go, the less we learn about our present instrument.
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