Stephanie Blythe Answers Your Questions
Last week, we asked our Twitter and Facebook followers to submit their questions for mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe in advance of her Carnegie Hall recital this Friday. Below are Ms. Blythe’s responses to our favorites.
@carnegiehall how do you find time to practice and develop new skills while on the road?— Dr.Blum (@JesseBlum) May 5, 2015
Stephanie Blythe: I just have to make the time when I am on the road. But I also find ways to develop skills while working on a show—there is always something in a role or on a recital that provides an opportunity to hone certain abilities. For instance, I spent several weeks singing Juno and Ino in Handel’s Semele earlier this year, and took this time to work on writing ornaments and singing scale patterns that incorporate the patterns found in my arias. It is a great way to keep your voice limber and flexible.
@carnegiehall Did you always know you were a mezzo?— Cath (@Mammamoonmin1) May 4, 2015
Stephanie Blythe: Yes, though I have always eschewed vocal labels. I have never been a soprano, though early on in my career I looked at a few soprano arias. I have always chosen to sing music that fit my voice well, and sometimes that has been mezzo repertoire, other times contralto repertoire. I always knew that the meat and potatoes of my voice lay in the bottom, and I have always enjoyed that.
@carnegiehall What was your best singing experience and why?— Deirdre Good (@good_deirdre) May 4, 2015
Stephanie Blythe: Over the last 20 years, I have had far too many favorite experiences to choose just one. I realize that favorite and best are too different things, but I prefer to think of my favorites—best is for someone else to say. I think some of my favorites have been my outings as Eduige in Handel’s Rodelinda, and Cornelia in Giulio Cesare of the same composer. Handel is where I found my way in opera, and I love the freedom and exhilaration of singing that music. Handel is also where I found a love of technique, so that has been a special relationship!
@carnegiehall You’re such a remarkable interpreter of the American Songbook. When and how did you become interested in that art form?— Casey Latour (@CaseyLatour09) May 4, 2015
Stephanie Blythe: My father is a retired jazz musician, and the American Songbook is something I always heard as a child, though not through the voice—it was always through instrumental versions. When I got older, I started listening to groups like the Four Freshman, Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and Sammy Davis Jr.. They were all such amazing musicians and the music spoke to me. I loved the words and the rhythm. I started listening to singers like Kate Smith, Vera Lynn, Peggy Lee, and of course, Judy Garland when I was in college. I have always enjoyed singing musical theater songs, and have kept it up through my whole career—it is only the last couple of years that I have begun to sing and record this music—which is so very dear to my heart.
Stephanie Blythe: For me, it only differs due to the style. Of course, there is also spoken dialogue in musical theater, which takes a different skill. But switching to musical theater is about putting on another vocal costume, like switching between Handel and Wagner. As an American, what I truly love about musical theater is that it is a quintessentially American art form and creates a space where the audience can automatically connect with the piece and the character. There is a sense of immediacy there that really appeals to me.
@carnegiehall what advice would you offer to a young singer on vocal development / how to maintain vocal health?— Katrina (@eyelikeopera) May 5, 2015
Stephanie Blythe: Never stop working on your voice, never stop exploring repertoire. Be curious—listen to everything, and if something gives you a particular charge when you hear it, figure out why. Don’t be afraid to say no. In the beginning, it is the hardest thing to say and yet the most important. Just because you can do a thing doesn’t mean that you should. I said no many times early on in my career. Though it was terrifying, I was always right to do so, and something always came along to sustain me. And something I tell every student: Be kind to your ears. Today, I see people with earbuds in and music blasting all the time. I understand the need to tune out the world, but your ears are one of the most important parts of successful singing. Maintain vocal health by keeping your voice flexible, and be smart about choosing repertoire—the right thing at the right time.
Stephanie Blythe: It is all right to be afraid.
@carnegiehall when an emerging artist, what was her preferred starter audition aria and why?— Thalie Knights (@Thalie_Knights) May 4, 2015
Stephanie Blythe: Depending on who was playing my audition, I always had two choices. If my regular pianist was free, I always began with Baba the Turk’s aria from The Rake’s Progress. It shows so many things—humor, flexibility, diction, being able to sing in tune, to sing huge intervals cleanly and with meaning—it is BROAD, and packs a punch in a short amount of time. But I would never hand it to someone to play if they didn’t know it already. If not Baba, then I would begin with “Amour, viens aider ma faiblesse” from Samson et Dalila. It is what I call a “no-waiting” aria—you hit them with a high note right off the bat, and it continues with a great level of intensity right to the end.
Stephanie Blythe: I have the same approach for songs and opera roles. I go to the text first. I read the text aloud and just feel the pattern of the speech—it is the best way to find the rhythm of a song, and is the route that almost every composer takes to writing music with words. If the composer goes to the music first, why should I do any differently?
@carnegiehall What does it feel like to sing with a (majestic, luscious) beard?— Jaimie Appleton (@TheJappleton) May 4, 2015
Stephanie Blythe: Empowering!