Today I had the wonderful pleasure of listening to dramatic mezzo soprano Michelle DeYoung singing in a live performance of Edward Elgar’s Sea Pictures, Op.37. She is a testament to the absolute lack of effort required for a dramatic voice to cut across a large orchestra.
The pieces, save for III. Sabbath Morning at Sea and the final part of V. The Swimmer were gentle and more intimate. As a dramatic voice, it was obvious that DeYoung was relying on a relaxed jaw that folded down and slightly back for each open vowel. This allowed for the tongue to release and make space for the beautiful resonator that was her pharynx. There was so little tension in her voice, yet so much ring despite how gently she was singing. Her posture was incredibly still and didn’t involve heaving and bending, so breath flow was never interrupted or inconsistent. It just goes to show that dramatic voice do not have to be constantly pushing for sound; on the contrary, Kirsten Flagstad was of the mindset that dramatic singers are the ones who use their full volume the most, but actually are the ones who need their full volume the least.
I encourage you to watch this arrangement of The Flight of the Valkyrie:
It should be noted how natural the ring of the dramatic voices are. The do not need to be over-darkened, on the contrary, they have a very fine balance of laser-like mask resonance and cavernous throat space. Michelle DeYoung stands at the second to last place (from our left to right).
The singer third from the right, while still very proficient, does have the tendency to ‘push’ a bit too much from the body, rather than simply ‘let’ the voice emerge from a healthy posture. Always remember that the breath is passive/active, meaning that you should never think to ‘lurch’ or ‘pound in’ the body to support notes, but rather allow the body to emulate the incredibly ‘active’ feeling of breathing out on a ‘hiss’. The second singer from the left proves that dramatic voices can hold a considerable range and should not ‘hit a roof’, but rather should allow themselves to transition into their lightest, head voice mechanism.
If you suspect you are a dramatic voice, it is important you find a teacher who will work with you on this vocal quality. If the teacher is commanding you to ‘darken’ the sound and to think ‘low larynx’, you will likely engage the tongue root and end up with a wide wobble and a locked diaphragm. If you have a teacher who is making you sing on a ‘quieter’ or ‘small’ sound, you will find the throat squeezing. The voice becomes shrill and the dramatic soprano ends up being given an incorrect fach, normally ‘soubrette’.
If you do not belief you are a dramatic voice, it is still useful to remember that pidgeon holing yourself at such a young age can be the death of potential. Always return to art songs, easy musical theatre and short arias and work on mastering the forward tongue, open and slightly back jaw, the long spine, open chest and lumbar (not slouched or over-extended) and low, ‘pleasant’ breath. The simpler you keep your practice, the more you will become still, sophisticated and nurturing.