Come Friday evening, these same vocal cords will unleash a note so dizzyingly high, so astoundingly rare, that archivists say New York’s Metropolitan Opera has never heard it in 140 years – at least, not since her last performance.
And like a world-class athlete on game day, she needs to conserve her strength.
Ms Luna is a coloratura soprano – the voice type capable of the highest notes – and specialises in thrilling, trilling vocal runs that pour out strongly even at their peaks.
Few people alive have the potential to reach the note now winning her headlines – the A above high C.
To put that in context, Christmas choristers singing the descant line of Hark! The Herald Angels Sing will usually hit a high A – some with difficulty. Ms Luna’s note is a full octave – or eight notes – higher than that.
The opera showcasing this rarity is Thomas Adès’s The Exterminating Angel, a savage, surrealist piece based on the 1962 Luis Buñuel film of the same name.
Ms Luna plays Leticia, an opera diva who joins a well-off couple for a glittering dinner party. Macabre twists unfold as the partygoers find they have entered a strange vortex – and are trapped in the house when the evening ends.
It’s a supernatural note for a supernatural story – and the Oregon native is hitting it twice a night.
So How does ,she do it?
Beyond the usual advice for better singing technique – things like watching your posture, not smoking, and avoiding air conditioning that can dry out the throat – freakish genetics must play a part, I suggest.
“I am not a scientist!” laughs the singer, “but it’s something I’ve been training for years… I’ve always kind of wondered what the limits are to my voice, and it wasn’t until I met Tom Adès and I saw his score for The Tempest [in which she played the sprite Ariel in 2012] that I saw notes that I had never sung before.
“And when I was asked to actually do the role, I was like, ‘Is that something I can do, time and time again?’ I found it was easy – it came easily to me. Then, I guess he had to just write one step higher for this! He showed me on paper, saying, ‘this is the approach you would take’. I said, ‘what do you mean, approach?! There is no approach – it’s just bang, out, sing the A!”
What does she think about when she’s trying to hit that highest note?
“Well, I’m off-stage because it is an off-stage laugh… and there’s a lot of people around me. It’s kind of claustrophobic backstage. All the crew is there, all the singers are there because we’re just about to make our first entrance. It feels like psychologically everyone’s there to do their job… so it kind of takes the pressure off me, in a way. Everything goes really quickly at that moment.”
Nature and nurture?
The singer was just 10 when she started voice lessons. “I stopped violin, piano, flute, dance – I stopped all of it!” she recalls. “But that’s the one thing I held on to, because I loved it.”
“Queen of the Night was something I was singing far too young. I was singing it behind my voice teacher’s back, at the time – she didn’t know I was doing it.”
The famous aria from Mozart’s Magic Flute, where the Queen of the Night throws a vocally spectacular temper tantrum, is out of range for almost all sopranos as it repeatedly runs up to an F, two notes below Ms Luna’s latest showpiece.
Nowadays, she is careful to protect her voice. But if I’d been hoping to hear the secrets of her brilliance, they sound disappointingly like standard self-care. On off-days, she goes on long walks or does some yoga.
“Rest is key,” she advises. “Seriously – it sounds silly, but sleep is the most important thing, I think, for an opera singer. And not talking too much in-between show days.
“For me in this role, it’s like maxing out on the weights. If you go to the gym and lift the very most you possibly can or something – that’s what singing this role is like. It’s unlike any role I’ve ever seen – probably that’s ever been written. It really does stretch the voice to its very limits.”
Any diet rules? A few, she says. “The couple of hours before a show I’m not going to have any coffee, I’m going to stick to water. I like my ginger tea!”
New York’s Metropolitan Opera is beyond the reach of many, both financially and geographically. A cinema trip may not be, though – and the Met’s Live in HD series will be beaming the 18 November performance of The Exterminating Angel live into movie theatres around the world. You can find your nearest one
Spoilers : She thinks she’s got a higher note
Despite the plaudits pouring in for her current vocal feat, Ms Luna is pretty sure she can go higher. “I’ve sung a C above C – a couple of notes higher than the A, just in a practice room…”
Now she just needs an opera to put it in.
Sources – BBC
About Audrey Luna
Grammy award winning soprano Audrey Luna, who Opera News says “has power and a blazing coloratura facility that most lyric sopranos can only dream of,” continues to be one of the opera world’s most exciting artists. In her triumphant performance of Ariel in The Tempest at The Metropolitan Opera, The New York Times said: “Mr. Adès’s Ariel is a dazzling creation, and Ms. Luna conquers the role.” Her performance as Ariel in this production of The Tempest is available on DVD with Deutsche Grammphon; the DVD was awarded a French Diapason d’Or, and the 2013 Grammy Award for “Best Opera Recording.”
This season includes the world premiere of Thomas Adès’ new opera The Exterminating Angel with the creation of the role of Leticia, marking her debut at the Salzburg Festival. She will also make debuts with Houston Grand Opera as Madame Mao in Nixon in China, the Colorado Symphony in Carmina Burana and with the Seattle Symphony in Requiem by Ligeti. Ms. Luna joins Sir Simon Rattle for performances of Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre marking her debut with the London Symphony Orchestra and the Berliner Philharmoniker. A new collaboration with composer Peter Eötvös and the Calder Quartet of his new work, The Sirens cycle will go on tour to Zürich, Madrid, Frankfurt, Paris and the Donaueschingen Festival. Ms. Luna will also record the work to be released on CD in 2017. She will reprise the role of Leticia in Thomas Adès’ The Exterminating Angel next season with the Royal Opera House – Covent Garden.
Last season included a return to the Metropolitan Opera as Olympia in Les Contes d’Hoffmann, and also with Den Norske Opera; Carmina Burana with Minnesota Orchestra, and her debut with Teatro la Fenice as Queen on the Night in Die Zauberflöte and with Wiener Staatsoper as Ariel in The Tempest.
Season 2013-14 engagements included her return to the Metropolitan Opera as Fiakermilli in Strauss’ Arabella and the Pittsburgh Opera as the Queen of the Night in Die Zauberflöte, and debuts with Opéra de Montréal in the title role of Lakmé, San Francisco Symphony as Ariel in Scenes from The Tempest, with Virginia Opera as Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos, as soloist with The Williamsburg Symphonia in an Opera Gala Concert and Madame Mao in Adams’ Nixon in China with Ireland’s Wide Open Opera.
In season 2012-13 Ms. Luna returned to the Metropolitan Opera to sing Ariel in its production of The Tempest, Zerbinetta in her debut with Fort Worth Opera, the Queen of the Night with Utah Opera, La Santa Muerte in Sosa’s Regina with American Lyric Theater, and returned to the National Philharmonic as soloist in Carmina Burana.
In season 2011-12 she joined the roster of Lyric Opera of Chicago for its production of Ariadne auf Naxos, and made her debut with that company as the Queen of the Night. She also sang Ariel in Thomas Adès’ The Tempest with Orchestra Dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia and with Festival Opéra de Québec both conducted by the composer; as Madame Mao with Lyric Opera of Kansas City; as the Queen of the Night with Teatro dell’Opera di Roma; as soloist in George Crumb’s Star Child with the American Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall; as Gretel with Intermountain Opera Festival; and as soloist in Amy Beach’s Grand Mass in E-flat Major and Debussy’s Martyrdom of St. Sebastien both with the National Philharmonic.