Once in awhile even a grizzled old singing teacher like me has a shock. These days the happy and fruitful 'shock' 's are few and far between. Largely because after 30 years of teaching one has come across most scenarios, or met most problems many times over.
Last Friday I had the vocal shock of my life, well at least for the last 15 years ! My student L, who played the part of Mabel so beautifully, came for a lesson as usual. We are working on diploma repertoire and so were choosing suitable material to make a recital which had variety as well as contrast... You know the sort of thing I mean.
After a while I was perusing some Mozart arias and plumped for the gorgeous Ach Ich Fuhls from The Magic Flute, and during a short conversation about its beauty and difficulties L looked at me and said in a nonchalant sort of way 'Do you think I could sing the Queen of the Night arias?'. I looked startled and replied I honestly did not know if she had the requisite top F's, but if she knew the melodies from listening to recordings we could give it a go.
I have not taken anyone up to the dizzy and stratospheric heights of a fourth above top C in many a year, indeed if ever, but we started some simple scales and, like Richard Bonynge with the great Joan Sutherland, we just kept going up and up, so L did not really know where we were. I stopped after we hit the top F, mostly to take a breath myself ! I said quietly that was fine, let's have a bash at the aria, and like a steam train off she went.
It was rough and ready in terms of notes and German, but so strong and meaty in terms of sound. I was quite bowled over and a bit non plussed if I am honest. What a wonderful shock, what a revelation. This completely changes things.
A true coloratura soprano is like a good counter tenor, a rare and precious thing. Many girls try to sing the Queen music, and end up sounding like a somewhat thin electric current, and often miss the very top notes because they only happen intermittently. No so with L, she sang these notes with fully rounded tone, resounding ping and relative ease.
So I've told you the story, now I must get my head around this. It makes for a different road forward, it changes the nature of my approach and teaching strategy, and it might mean true possibilities.
I say that with all the usual reserve and pessimism which a good singing teacher of aspirant professionals must keep close to her heart. It is still a perilous career with too many singers fighting for very few jobs, but all I can say is, I have never in a lifetime of teaching even suggested the Queen repertoire to any female student in London, Paradise or any geographical place inbetween.
This is a most exciting moment and as rare as hen's teeth, no, as rare as golden hen's teeth.
Oo err !
Diana Damrau as the evil Queen of the Night