Diana Soviero is a legend in the opera world. She has sung many of the most difficult opera roles at the major opera houses of the world numerous times.
She’s one of those solid icons who has proven her abilities and her knowledge time after time. Before I knew how to have a career, I was working for an opera company as an assistant conductor, for which I was very ill-prepared. I was too young and too experienced for the job, which meant my ability to process all that I was learning and experiencing was not keen. I was definitely scrambling to make my love of music focussed towards our industry. I had the opportunity to hear Diana sing Madama Butterfly at The Met. It was a life-changing experience on several levels. It gave me an understanding of what I should be working for, it was viscerally thrilling, and Diana’s performance introduced me to what the standard should be for opera singers.
In performance, Diana hits everything my study of these great opera tells me should happen. She has the ability to ‘color’ every word with emotion. She is able to make every word pop within the musical moment set by the composer.
Thank God for Youtube. I’m going to link a very poor video recording of a very tremendous performance by Diana in the opera Suor Angelica by Puccini. This aria is called "Senza Mamma", as the character has just been told that her son- from whom she has been apart since birth- has died. She sings about the baby dying without her mother. (Yep… that storyline has GREAT OPERA PLOT written all over it.) This clip shows exactly what I’m suggesting Diana has perfected. Important words in her textual delivery pop out of the sentence. The musical line is made even more exciting by her ability to stress words and color them differently.
Check this out! https://youtu.be/fyzKwafbjyI
In this interview Diana talks about her start as a singer. The support of her parents was of major importance. With her grandparents, they positioned her to find the path to the famed Juilliard Prep School. This program flourishes today, and allows talented performers who are pre-college age to have lessons and performing experiences with many great teachers. Throughout her time there her mother drove from NY to Philadelphia to take lessons. Geographically we’re talking a short distance, but through New Jersey traffic after school we’re talking about a very lengthy drive.
She references her time with famed vocal pedagogue Marenka Gurevitch. It’s clear this woman knew what she was doing because she shaped many great singers from Diana’s generation. I remark on this podcast that Diana clearly knows the name of everyone who supported and trained her. She instantly recalls everyone who kept her on her journey. This gratitude is a wonderful and unique trait. Its very easy for artists to expect their talent to be the sole catalyst for any success, which we all know is an impossible uniqueness.
In the podcast Diana tells us that while working at Juilliard Prep School and through lessons with Madame Gurevitch she was expected to work from the ‘orchestral score’ rather than the ‘piano vocal’ score. In the preparation of an opera it is expected that someone- not always the composer, often an assistant or an editor- turn the complete orchestration into a smaller more manageable score from which pianists can easily play, and singers can read their parts. If we’re looking at one page of an orchestral score we’re talking about possibly the lines for 30-40 different instruments. This makes page turning as a pianist an utter nightmare. A piano/vocal score definitely has its uses, but it is not the complete picture.
Diana’s mentors required her to look at the ‘entire’ picture of a musical moment because, as she says in the podcast, often musical lines from instruments match exactly the musical lines the singers must duplicate. If a singer takes a breath in a line that is also played by a wind instrument- also an ‘instrument’ driven by breath- then the musical line is interrupted. It’s a very amateurish mistake, but one that careful understanding of who else is making music at any given time, can result in a truly unified performance, and certainly the performance expected by the composer.
The opportunity to be fully merged with the orchestra is crucial to a great performance. Operas are full of those tiny moments of interlocking musical choices. For a role the size of Madama Butterfly, as an example, that happens hundreds of times in a three hour opera. Great musicians do this innately and not all of those moments need to be discussed in rehearsal. Usually the discussions occur when they don’t happen.
A final note Diana references in this podcast is that many singers want to have lessons with her so she’ll give them the ‘magic bullet’, the one mystical secret to great singing, the one piece of advice that will have opera companies banging down their door. Diana knows, and relates in this interview, that to be ready for those opportunities takes years of preparation. That said, in the second part of my interview with her, she is able to elucidate in one single sentence the key to a great vocal technique. I have been working with voices most of my life, and not one singer has ever been able to phrase this ‘magic bullet’ to me so succinctly. BUT YOU’LL HAVE TO WAIT TIL THE SECOND PART OF THIS INTERVIEW TO HEAR IT, he writes with a smile.
If you follow our Amped Up Opera Podcast page on Facebook you’ll know when that episode will air. www.facebook.com/ampedupoperapodcast
MUSIC FROM THIS EPISODE:
- I begin and end every Amped Up Opera podcast with the Overture to CARMEN. The excitement of this music launches me into energy mode at light speed. I would call it the defining Amped Up theme song, at this point.
- One of Diana’s signature roles is Violetta in LA TRAVIATA. This is the famous first act are “Sempre Libera” where the character pushes off the flirtations of a potential lover, and its potential heartache, so be “Forever Free”. We all know that conviction lasts exactly as long as the aria, because the next scene we see they’ve been shacking up for the last six months. It is a wonderful scene. This is Diana singing on a recording available through iTunes at https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/verdi-la-traviata/id305003522.
- “Un bel di”, the famous aria for Madama Butterfly, another signature role for Diana. After three years without her Pinkerton, Butterfly sings of the conviction she holds that one day he’ll return. Its a clip that features Diana on one of those record company mishmash recordings, with bits of the most popular classical music thrown on it. The rest of the recording is a little cheesey, but you can download this specific track only, if the rest of the album does not appeal to you….https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/jewels-romantic-era-joyaux/id128665244
- Diana references her family’s connection to famed Italian composer Pietro Mascagni. This is the famous Intermezzo from his great opera CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA. This is soulfood music. This exact track is from a 1957 recording THE MET made while in performance in Boston. You can download it here….https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/pietro-mascagni-cavalleria/id407246045
- The great Roberta Peter’s singing “Caro nome” from RIGOLETTO. The whole recording is worth a listen: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/verdi-rigoletto-metropolitan/id453304530
6. Another great singer Diana references is Renata Tebaldi. Diana uses this wonderful aria
from LA BOHEME, and Ms. Tebaldi’s interpretation specifically, as an example of how her
curiosity was peeked to create her own artistry. I love the whole of this recording with
Carlo Bergonzi on stage with Ms. Tebaldi, and the super-human conductor Tullio Serafin in
the pit. https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/puccini-la-boheme/id68974714
At least a whole week’s worth of listening available on this one list! Enjoy!