First the history. Back at the end of the April I sang the roles of the Dew Fairy and the Sandman in Humperdinck’s opera “Hansel and Gretel’. It was part of the Southland Arts Festival. These were my first solo roles and it was a completely awesome experience. My teacher sang the part of Gretel, the lovely Amanda Winfield (who is a fabulous soprano and a complete professional as you will soon see) sang two big roles, the Mother and the Witch, and her very talented husband-in-real-life Ravil Atlas was the director and conductor. (I’ll tell you about my experiences of singing my first opera role in another post).
Depsite a bit of a head cold, all was well until I woke up on the Saturday morning of the last performance, opened my mouth to say something and was alarmed to discover that an enraged chicken and taken over my voice. Despite the best efforts of a magic gargle and steam, it was clear to everyone that I was not going to be able to sing. Being a complete amateur I thought this was someting of an insurmmountable problem and with what little bit of voice I could muster was apologizing to all and sundry. And yes, I admit it, trying not to cry.
Ravil decided that Amanda would sing my part from the wings into a microphone leading to a speaker that was already at the front of the stage and I would mime. I got ready to duck, waiting for Amanda to throw a diva-tantrum along the lines of “I’m already singing two big roles and you want me to sing two others that I will have to sight-read??!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” *hurls breakable objects at anyone in the vicinity* And what happened next, dear readers is why working with professional singers although being completely nerve-wracking for an amateur like me, is also a god-send when something goes awry. Amanda calmly reorganises her costume changes, grabs the score and lightly sings over my two arias (I slaved over those for weeks!) and then as I launch into my 1,346th apology, she turns to me and says with a big smile “It’s fine – really”. And it was 🙂
Anyway, the point of all that is that it was the start of the problems with my voice. My voice came back, but only slowly. And now anything more than about half an hour of singing and I get husky. First stop the doctor and a prescription for antibiotics to ensure no silent infection and then prednisone to reduce inflammation. They might as well have been jelly-babies for all the good they did. (Actually real jelly-babies would have been more therapeutic). So then a referral to an ENT specialist in Dunedin where a camera was shoved up my nose and down my throat – not nearly as bad as it sounds – and I was able to watch my vocal folds on a tv screen. Is it vain of me to say that they looked beautiful? The ENT man agreed that they would make a lovely illustration of what-vocal-folds-should-look-like in a text book. Which is all very nice, but didn’t explain the voice problems.
So here’s his theory, and the reason why I had my first visit to a speech therapist on Thursday: Because my voice took a while to come back after losing it, I unconsciously started using a number of smaller muscles in my neck and shoulder area to help bolster the sound. These aren’t designed to take that amount of work and therefore get strained. So I have to learn to stop using them. Back to basics. Lots of steaming still. Oh and for those of you who have ever conversed with me, this will amuse you – I have to try and slow down my speech a little. Frankly I think I would have a better chance of singing Mimi at La Scala than speaking more slowly but I’m going to try. I know. I. can. do it. if. I. really. try.