My friend Cynthia Vaughn posted this picture on Facebook or Instagram or both yesterday and it rang really true to me in the moment. I had just listened to a singer in a competition who was singing something that would be great for him in the future. At this point in his life, it was a little beyond him, and it did not show him in his best light. (And his other two songs were fantastic.) There are so many songs out there that people can sing, but too many times, they opt for the one that is just a little beyond their capabilities.
The title of this blog is based on something that was said to me a few years ago by a relatively new-to-me student. She had been working with a teacher who was more familiar with classical repertoire, and wanted to audition for musical theatre programs. So we started working together, and I was helping her pick out repertoire that would suit her. She told me that one of the colleges also wanted a classical piece. I said, “Oh, okay. We can pick that out too.” She said, “Oh, I know what I want to sing. I’m going to sing, ‘Caro nome.'”
I paused. I said, “Do you mean ‘Caro mio ben?'” (which is a common song given to beginning voice students) and she said, “No, I mean the song from Rigoletto. I really love it and I think I can do it.”
This is Caro mio ben.
And this is Caro nome.
I tried to tell her that this is an aria that is considered very advanced and would draw raised eyebrows even if someone were to sing it for a graduate school audition. I even checked with colleagues of mine at a variety of prestigious conservatories and they all agreed that it was a poor choice for an undergraduate audition and would not be received well, even if the singer was able to get through it. (In addition, while this song is rather light, the rest of the role is not, and it’s not representative of what Gilda actually has to sing for the opera.) She didn’t believe me.
I don’t know if she got into that school, because she took such umbrage at my telling her that she shouldn’t sing it that she left the studio and I never heard from her again. And the thing is that “Caro mio ben,” although it is often sung by high school kids, it’s also sung by opera singers at the top of their game because it’s a well-written song. And no one would look down upon you for singing one of the 24-26-28 Italian songs well. But they certainly will judge you if you sing an advanced aria badly. (Caveat: I don’t know if she would have sung it badly because I never got to hear her sing it, or anything classical, for that matter.)
There is a middle ground between Caro mio ben and Caro nome. Look through Donaudy, Haydn, lighter Mozart, Gluck, things that won’t shine a glaring light on what you haven’t mastered yet.
In musical theater, if you are a beginning belter, you don’t start out with Defying Gravity. You might start with something like Johnny One Note from Babes in Arms. You might work up to One Perfect Moment from Bring It On. You work your way up to Defying Gravity, you don’t start with it.
If you’re a tenor, you don’t start with Bring Him Home from Les MIserables (in fact, unless you’re a 40 year old tenor, you shouldn’t even consider singing this for a college audition because you’re just too young). Start with On the Street Where You Live from My Fair Lady. Build your way up from there as your voice develops and you can handle more.
This doesn’t mean don’t stretch. It means don’t BREAK. Or make people think you just might break.
Training wheels aren’t just for tricycles.
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