How shall I celebrate Christmas this year? Thankfully, I shall be at home with my immediate family, which is definitely more than some of the population of our country can say. However, despite all of the typical, traditional, warm feelings associated with the Yuletide season that usually make up my mood annually, I do not feel as joyous as I have previously felt as a rule. Be that as it may, Christmas alone is enough to brighten the spirits of even the coldest heart, and so it continues to do with me as the calendar progresses to December 25th. Let us take every opportunity to thank our Heavenly Father for the most precious gift of His Son for our salvation.
Whatever the reason for this phenomenon, Christmas carols, especially the sacred works written for the holiday, convey to us all of these many years later the glorious occasion that was Christ's birth. I have three favorite recordings of Christmas music, and these are:
3. Sing We Christmas by Chanticleer: This disc easily reminds us of what the season is actually celebrating. This CD's repertoire covers everything from the Renaissance to modern times (1900's). In my opinion the rendition of Es ist ein Ros' entsprungen, which is excellent on this recording, is angelic on another of Chanticleer's Christmas themed projects, Christmas With Chanticleer which features soprano Dawn Upshaw. Surprisingly enough, both recordings have very little overlap of music; there might be three or four of the same carols on both discs that average 20.5 tracks. Even when confronted with another version of a selection on the other of the CD's do not hesitate to listen to it another way; you will not be disappointed.
2. Christmas with Chanticleer by Chanticleer and featuring Dawn Upshaw: Even though I have already given my readers a brief overview of this fine project, I have still more that I could say about it. First, I must admit that I was rather skeptical and suspicious of including a woman with a men's chorus, but I was quite willing to take the risk when I was able to purchase this CD for the paltry sum of fifty cents (!) at a library sale; little was I aware that this was to become a staple of my leisure listening. Dawn Upshaw's voice, which is so clear and silvery, even in English, is an optimal addition to this album, and her inclusion on several of these tracks makes them heavenly. Stille Nacht and the Es ist ein Ros' entsprungen cycle are tracks that are beyond beatiful. I hope the choirs of Heaven sound as good as this.
1. Sacred Songs by my favorite soprano, Renee Fleming: This recording is a must for either adoring fans of Renee or for those who can listen to carols and sacred works any time of the year. I can listen to this disc straight through without interruption and hear it again without it sounding old. My favorite track on the CD is her duet with mezzo-soprano Susan Graham on Engelbert Humperdinck's Abends will ich schlafen gehn is truly "angelic indeed" as Opera News' Features Editor Brian Kellow says in the album's liner notes. Other notable tracks on the recording are Handel's/Och's Dank sei dir, herr, Bernstein's Simple Song from his Mass, and Schubert's Ave Maria. I really love this recording and the DVD of the same name. Both are arguably the best compilations of Christmas carols and "sacred songs" available.
Now to some random trivia about my voice and my journey to wanting to become an opera singer.
Most of what I have discovered about my voice has come from my involvement in community musical theatre. For example, this spring during a production of The Secret Garden I was chosen (okay, okay, I actually volunteered) to sing a high C with the sopranos, many of whom could not safely reach that high with them being so young. Then late in that same production, I learn from one of my dear friends, and for all practical purposes my "vocal coach," the man to whom I go whenever I have any sort of problem with my singing, that he believes that I have a good voice. According to him, such words of praise are not to be taken lightly, and since he worked for Word Records for quite a few years and lived in New York (regular trips to the Met included) before coming here, he ought to know. A considerable amount of my colleagues in community theatre also assure me that my voice is quite good, some of whom are voice teachers; therefore, in my spare time, as little or as much of that as I possess, I sing whatever opera arias I can, and I try very hard to avoid choral pieces which wreak havoc on operatic technique. Until I make my entrance into either an university or a studio program, I shall continue to do exactly what I am doing, which is learning languages (I have moderate proficiency in Spanish and Latin, so the other Romanesque lexicons should come easily to me.) and practicing music. I am proud to say that I took Renee Fleming's advice about learning to play piano, and it has helped me very much in finding the limits of my vocal range. Some of the things I have learned to do: build almost any major or minor chord with my voice from a tonic note; if I have been adequately warmed up vocally, I can pick out any pitch in a scale - I had to teach another person a song without a piano by starting on a root note and climbing or lowering through every pitch of a scale, and he did not know a thing about music; I can sing a high C without much difficulty, and generally without much perparation; my diction is rather good. Some of the things I would like to improve are: get better at melismatic passages (The melisma of Gregorian Chant is very different from Italian operatic melisma.); get better at controlling my breath consumption; get better at auditioning (!!!!!).
Finally I wish all of my readers a Merry Christmas and a Blessed, Happy New Year!