When I was in high school, there was such a thing as a “Grade 6 solo” that was sung by contestants for the All-State Chorus. Some of them were far too difficult for the developing voice of a teen. Because I excelled in my French classes and could handle the diction, I fell victim to Delilah’s “Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix,” which was detrimental to me for a number of reasons.
First of all, I was in my second year of high school, and I led a sheltered life, pre-Internet, pre-social media and pre-Skype. My choir director was coaching me, and he kept telling me to sing like a “vamp” or a “seductress” when I had not even been out with a boy yet. Nowadays, I see sixth grade girls who already look like women at the age of twelve and talk about how their ex-best friend wanted to steal their boyfriend. Isn’t that a bit early to be thinking about dating?
Secondly, even though I often sang alto in the school chorus because I could read harmony and had a good low range, this aria placed an undue strain on my young voice. When I mentioned it to a vocal coach at a music camp that following summer, he was aghast. “Nobody under the age of 35 should be singing that!” he told me. Needless to say, I had to force my voice to approximate the quality of a woman that age, and it’s a wonder I didn’t develop nodes on my vocal chords. My natural, clear timbre had vanished and in its place was a strident tone and a “vibrato you can drive a truck through,” to quote my fellow choir members.
Finally, this is an aria for mezzo-soprano. Granted, I am now the age of Susan Boyle when she took Britain’s Got Talent by storm. I can master the technique and even produce something melodious, but the bright coloring is all wrong. I sound like Despina from Cosi Fan Tutte trying to sound like Delilah. There are even lyric soprano arias that I should stay away from. As much as I enjoy Leonora’s “Pace Mio Dio” from La forza del destino, it is for a dramatic soprano and I simply lack the power. Most sopranos fall into one of several sub-categories, unless they are Maria Callas, who could sing just about everything. Here is her rendition of Delilah’s aria: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9piRiiZ0C4Q
It is said that young sopranos start out as soubrettes and then fall into one of the other sub-categories (called Fach in German) as their voices mature. I never matured, so to speak, so I am embracing the playful girlishness. Then again, I also have a warm cabaret-style tone in the low and middle ranges, though not as sultry as Edith Piaf, whose songs I have to transpose up four steps. It might not be too late for some more subtle changes to take place, but I have resigned myself to the reality that I will never be a stentorian Brunnhilde, let alone a seductive Delilah.