Dealing with coloratura passages is tricky. They look imposing, and the tendancy may be to just dive in and hope that you may come out of the other side. The result is usually a big mess and a disheartened spirit. Now as a tenor, I am having to face my own weaknesses in these phrases, and therefore I am having to ask help for and invent strategies to deal with them.
My initial observations are that many of the phrases look like they were composed of stock material from vocalise books (of course this is a big chicken/egg situation). This has led to the strategy that is discussed in this post. This is by no means the only way to approach these passages. There are many strategies, and this is one.
[Definition: For those who are not accustomed to the word coloratura, what I am talking about is a style of singing that is highly ornamented or melismatic (where a single syllable is sung over several, usually fast-moving, notes). This is often called “florid” singing, a run, fioratura, and so on. These phrases were most in use during the Baroque (1600-1750) period as improvisations in cadenzas or in the return A section of a da capo aria, but Classical and Romantic composers used them to great effect as well, though usually not as improvisations. Instead, composers increasingly desired performers to sing the music as written.]
“Il mio tesoro” excerpt
This phrase appears in the Ottavio’s part in “Il mio tesoro” (Click here to view if you do not have Scorch installed):
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This is by far not the hardest bit of florid singing you will ever see, but it is challenging enough. If you look at it long enough, you will see that once the 16th notes begin certain patterns begin to emerge:
- The first four 16ths (beat three of the first measure) are a “grupetto” or “turn”.
- The second four (on beat 4 of the first measure) are an upward third, downward second, ascending line.
- These alternate until the half note in the third measure.
- Diatonic scalar passages follow.
- Chromatic scalar passages follow that.
So, if you were to break this down into manageable chunks, and you decided that you wanted to practice more extensively on each of the patterns as they appear in this aria, then you might practice vocalises that look like these:
These passages can be easily modified to whatever you may need out of your practicing.
What this does is it makes you completely aware of where within the coloratura passage you are weak. You may be fine with scales but terrible with leaps or vice versa. By excerpting certain moments, you can focus on that weakness alone.