TRANSITIONS

First published in Classical Singer.

Dear Erda,

I am in the process of switching from mezzo to soprano. To complicate the identity crisis, my entire resume says mezzo, mezzo, mezzo. While I was a mezzo people told me I might be a soprano. Now switching to soprano, people ask me if I am sure I am not a mezzo. ARGH! How do I indicate the change on my resume? How do I handle all this with grace (without getting defensive)?

Fach-sy Lady

 

Dear Fach-sy,

The good news is that you don’t have to throw out all your mezzo credits just because you’re changing fach. In fact, you need them to show your experience. You have a body of work which establishes you as an artist. It is not suddenly invalid because your voice has taken a new direction.

Have you performed roles in your new fach? Put them at the very top of your resume (after Upcoming Engagements, of course). As you gain more experience, you can eliminate the mezzo roles from your resume, starting with those that are the most different from what you sing now. For example, let’s say you presently sing Gilda, Cunegonde, and Queen of the Night; but as a mezzo you sang Rosina, Cherubino, and Charlotte. You could keep Rosina on the resume since both sopranos and mezzos do it; but get rid of Charlotte, which is in no way a soprano role and doesn’t support your new direction. Leave Cherubino until you have something to replace it.

If you don’t have roles performed in your new fach, you should have either Roles in Repertoire or Roles in Preparation. Roles in Repertoire means you have prepared these roles to a professional level and could have them ready to perform in short order (you can also call this category Roles Studied, which doesn’t sound as professional but gives you more leeway as far as being able to perform them on short notice). If you don’t have any of your new roles up to that level yet, but you are studying some, list them under Roles in Preparation. These categories show the direction you are now taking, so it’s important to get them on your resume.

There’s one more thing you can do to prepare people for your switch. Mention it in your cover letter, briefly and gracefully. “Although my resume reflects my stage experience as a mezzo, I am very pleased to have recently made the switch to soprano, and am adding new roles regularly.”

Although it’s frustrating to be second-guessed in auditions, there’s no reason to become defensive. If people frequently tell you that they hear mezzo in your soprano and vice versa, that’s a legitimate observation and you should pay attention to it. It’s one thing for you to have that zwischen-y type of voice that can confuse people. Controversy isn’t always bad, especially if it keeps people talking about you. However, if you have some technical issues that you still haven’t quite ironed out, that’s a different story. Make sure that your top sounds as easy as it should and that you’re handling your voice like a soprano, rather than falling back on mezzo habits.

Many people like for everything to fit into neat little boxes with neat little labels, and few voices actually do that. It sounds like you might be a zwischen. If so, you’re in terrific company with the likes of Frederica von Stade, Cecilia Bartoli and the great Marilyn Horne, all of whom are billed as mezzos and all of whom have trod, judiciously, into soprano territory. Since you have just made the switch, it’s quite possible that your voice will continue to change and grow into your new fach until it’s distinctive from your old mezzo sound; give it some time. Meanwhile, be prepared to handle questions in auditions.

How do you do that? Rehearse a brief, firm, friendly reply. “You know, when I was a mezzo people often asked if I wasn’t really a soprano. I guess I just have one of those voices. My teacher, coaches, manager, and I have given this a lot of consideration, and we all agree that my current repertoire is the most comfortable and suitable for me.” Repeat as necessary. Good luck!

 

Dear Erda,

I am in my second to last semester of graduate study. I know opera is more than just getting role after role handed to you on a silver platter. I know there is work to do, places to go, things to know, and people to know. How can I get a headstart in being ready for the business of opera?

Grad

 

Dear Grad,

Congratulations. You are asking the right questions at the right time, and that already puts you ahead of the majority of your peers. Unfortunately, there aren’t really any concise answers or a really direct path to follow. I could teach a full year course on the business aspects of a singing career and still miss stuff! What I can do for you here is point you in the right direction so you can begin to educate yourself.

To get started, locate and investigate resources. As a grad student you’ve probably had plenty of experience with research. Well, it should stand you in good stead as a singer, because you will continually need to research Young Artists’ Programs, opera companies, managers, roles, travel information, and more.

 

General Resources

Classical Singer Magazine, naturally --- both hard copy and newly revamped website at www.classicalsinger.com. The searchable online archive of past issues is particularly useful. The online version also offers various databases, the latest auditions, and a forum where singers can exchange information and ideas.

Opera America at www.operam.org offers a variety of publications, including the Career Guide for Singers, of particular use to college and YAP-level singers. Membership entitles you to discounts on publications, a subscription to audition announcements, and periodic workshops.

Musical America Directory, hardcopy and online at www.musicalamerica.com. This is the premiere directory for listing singers, managers, presenters, venues, festivals, Young Artist Programs, orchestras, concert series, and more. The website also has a newsfeed of interesting industry articles. A must for determining who’s who in the business, and where you fit in.

The New Forum for Classical Singers at www.nfcs.net is a singer-run site offering lively discussion from singers at all career levels as well as the occasional industry insider.

Operabase at www.operabase.com lists the world’s opera companies, their seasons, cast lists, reviews and more.