The Badass Soprano: An Origin Story
Webster defines badass as:
often vulgar : ready to cause or get into trouble : mean
often vulgar : of formidable strength or skill
While I can have the mouth of a sailor, I'm not much of a troublemaker (I'm kind of anal about rules, actually), and when the idea of the badass soprano was born, it certainly wasn't because I thought I had any formidable strength or skill. Quite the opposite! The "young artist" years can be really demoralizing for young dramatic voices that aren't considered viable in lighter fachs - and that was absolutely my situation.
In my early 20s, I was most comfortable singing lyric mezzo repertoire, but so many of the people who heard me couldn't get past the dramatic soprano potential in my voice. They loved my "Parto, parto" but didn't think I was a mezzo. They told me I wasn't a Prince Orlofsky, but I wasn't a Rosalinda or an Adele either. They told me that I'd never get anywhere if I didn't sing soprano even though the soprano rep on offer at the time would tie my voice into knots.
At age 25, I went to Germany with the intention of auditioning for agents and starting a career. Instead I started the transition to soprano and returned to the States after 5 months. When I got back, I tried to navigate my way through Jungendlich repertoire, but I felt like I was dealing with a different instrument every day. It was a struggle to find pieces I could consistently sing comfortably.
I did do some successful auditions and performances, though the first roles I was offered as a soprano were the title role in Carmen and Tisbe in La Cenerentola. You might be a young dramatic soprano, if you sing mezzo, but get offered soprano roles, then switch to soprano and get offered mezzo roles. ;)
There was a general consensus among experts, even among those who offered me mezzo roles, that I was some sort of soprano. There was no clear consensus, however, about what soprano repertoire I should sing to make the most of my changing voice. Some told me my voice might "make more sense" if I sang heavier repertoire, while others wondered why I was pushing myself to sing such "big" pieces. Between the ages of 25 and 30 I was encouraged to sing everything from Susanna to Turandot!
One night while I was out singing at a restaurant (as one does when one lives in NYC), a colleague and I were commiserating about how unsettling it is to transition into bigger soprano repertoire. We were both plodding through the no-man's-land of fach overlap and mixed opinions that lie between light lyric and dramatic soprano. We were encouraged, however, that the music we were singing at the time was decidedly more badass than anything we had sung previously. We jokingly decided to call ourselves "badass sopranos" and get on with singing whatever happened to feel comfortable in our voices at the moment.
Anyways, once I hit 30, I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. My voice had grown and changed to the point that entry-level dramatic repertoire was consistently comfortable, and I was finally able to toss out the lyric arias that felt so stagnant in my voice!
But as I get closer to putting myself back out there as a dramatic soprano, I find the badass fach feels increasingly true and relevant. The "badass-ness" of music I sang before pales in comparison to what I sing now (and that pales in comparison to the roles I hope to sing in the future!). And as my repertoire continues to become more and more badass, the more formidable, strong, and skillful I must become to do it justice.
Original artwork by Jacquelyn Kruzic