The start of this blog is coming right smack in the middle of a process/journey I have been on for a couple of years. To bring you up to speed, I’ve spent the past two years transitioning from a mezzo-soprano to a soprano. For those who don’t know, a mezzo-soprano is the lower female voice type and soprano is the higher. I often compare this transition to going from being a sprinter to a marathon runner; they use the same muscles to run, but in very different ways and for very different kinds of running.
My path has always been one of being a little behind. I started my musical endeavors as a trumpet player, working hard and planning my future around this goal from middle school till college. After 8 intense years of trumpet study and beginning a trumpet performance major, I switched to vocal performance my sophomore year of college. Working to catch up in the vocal world, I studied and performed as a mezzo soprano for the next 4 years of college, 3 years of graduate school and 2 years as a young artist at Arizona Opera. Guided by trusted teachers, coaches, and colleagues, I then made the decision to switch to soprano. The Lyric Opera of Chicago final auditions were the first time I had sung or auditioned as a “soprano” in public, even though I hadn’t even begun the process of transitioning. They took a chance on me and I won the soprano spot in the program. I STILL can’t believe that happened. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing and this also meant I was behind, once again.
Now, I’m just starting my third and final year as a young artist with the Lyric and the transition has been the most difficult thing I’ve ever done in my life. All of the sudden, in the midst of my career path and at an extremely high profile company, all of my understanding, history, defaults, and confidence with my instrument went away. I started the painstakingly slow process of retraining my muscles, building new endurance, and learning ALL new roles. The 20+ roles I had learned over the years as a mezzo would never be repeated and would disappear from my resume. Every new soprano role had brand new challenges. As a mezzo, I was able to sing basically every role given to me with ease. Soprano roles tend to be longer, more demanding, and there are so many different types of sopranos. Finding the right repertoire to sing isn’t an easy feat for someone who has been studying as a soprano for years, much less one who has only started to understand the new instrument.
All of this has felt like trying to lose weight and weighing yourself every hour. The progress is clearly happening, but it is very slow, frustrating, and often scary. Many have tried to make the vocal switch, only to discover it’s not right and to go back to what they were before. I do not like “unknowns”. I do not like that I have had days when I don’t know what will come out of my mouth. I do not like that my expectations for my performances and the dramatic choices I want to make have been, at times, beyond my current abilities.
However, it has also been the best decision I have ever made. I finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. Soprano is absolutely, 100% right for me. In the right repertoire, it is starting to feel simply like releasing what has wanted to come out for years. I also will have the joy of playing some of the most wonderful roles ever written in the operatic repertoire: the epic Strauss, Puccini, Wagner, and maybe Verdi heroines. These are the roles I would hide away and sing through even as a mezzo, never dreaming I would be able to sing them for real. I am also discovering the perfection of many beautiful and powerful roles in the Slavic repertoire that happen to fit me like a glove. On top of that, I am surrounded by amazing people, who believe in me and in my future as a soprano. I couldn’t be more blessed.
This process has brought me more emotional ups and downs than anything else in my life. Because of this, I am starting the process of redefining my expectations of success and failure as a performer. There is often a massive juxtaposition between what the audience sees at my performance and what the brain of Laura thinks about it. I foresee many of my blog entries having to do with this juxtaposition, wrestling with the truth of an experience, finding joy in the beautiful act of singing, and dealing with the rest of life on top of it all. Get ready, blog world, for more than you ever wanted to know about the mind of a performer, from the perspective of a Type A, analytical, emotional-robot soprano. Get excited.