My role as Italian language coach is not only to help the singers with how to pronounce their words, how to enunciate and deliver them to achieve the right sound of the language, but also how to convey the meaning, to put across the larger picture: the context of the period, the poetry of the word, the sentence, the musical phrase. I encourage them to become like detectives when studying the text and suggest to them to pay good attention to the structure of the sentence which, for rhyme reasons, is often completely twisted, leaving the verb separated from the subject for example. Even if the singers generally know the meaning of what they are saying, they might not know instinctively how to use and energize a particular word to create a certain rhythm in a phrase or colour of the voice.
The challenge in my job is to make singers sound as authentic as possible, singing with correct diction, dramatic intensity in telling the story, while sounding absolutely natural and effortless. My goal is to make them feel comfortable and in control of the text. When they sing, unless I can hear and believe every word in its phrase context, I don’t think I have done my job properly. But I am very careful to not insist on fixed rules. I’m aiming for an organic, fluid sound that expresses the beauty and elegance of the Italian language.
Singing in a foreign language with clear articulation, precise diction and transmission of the word’s semantic, whilst at the same time being musically exact, requires a very detailed and precise kind of work and I am so amazed to see how much dedication and effort singers put into this all the time, no matter how experienced they are. For this reason I’m very careful to give singers their privacy and respect. I’m working with the words but it’s their voice they are using. Working with someone’s voice is very private. You have to build and establish a certain trust before you even start to work. I approach the human first, then the singer.
Since around 1999 I’ve been regularly working in the UK for Opera North and Glyndebourne Festival and Touring Opera, Covent Garden, Scottish Opera and Garsington. I have also given master classes at the RSAMD in Glasgow and Manchester Royal Northern College of Music.
I’ve been very lucky with the people I work with. I have always had very supportive colleagues. When travelling so much and in different places, it’s great to come back and work with people I already know and the people at Opera North are like a family to me now.
This particular production of Norma at Opera North has been very rewarding work. Maestro Oliver von Dohnányi and Christopher Alden have allowed for openness and research and this has made it possible to create an organic process which could clearly put across both conductor and director’s interpretation of the piece. Everybody has worked very hard on this production and the singers have been very patient and co-operative. My joy has been also to work alongside the pianist John Querns. He has a very strong understanding of the structure of the Italian language. His musical knowledge and experience on the Italian repertoire is always a deep well from which I constantly draw when coaching Italian to the singers.
I might ‘know’ a piece but until I actually work on it bar after bar, phrase after phrase, together with the pianists, singers, conductors and directors during rehearsals, I cannot really say I know it. Reading the score from different perspectives adds a completely new dimension.
It is fascinating to me how after so many years, every time I work on the same piece but with different people, there are always new aspects rising out of the score and the text, which have been missed or not considered important on a previous work. This is what makes it so exciting to do this job. One never stops learning and discovering from both the people and the music.
Rosalba Lo Duca
The remaining performances of Norma are 25th February at Nottingham Theatre Royal, 29th February & 3rd March at The Lowry and 7th & 10th March at Newcastle Theatre Royal. For more information please click here.