Opera question: how difficult is the iconic Queen of the Night aria?

This piece always seems like a tour de force, but it seems to be within the abilities of quite a large number of sopranos. Here is Diana Damrau doing it; here is her again plus a bunch of other singers serially singing the same staccato phrase.

So, seriously, how hard is it, for a reasonably well-trained and well-equipped soprano? And, if possible, please explain why.

I don’t know a lot about this in particular, but I did go look up the tessitura (range, vocal quality), and it seems it requires a dramatic coloratura soprano who can sing up to F6 (above the staff). That means she has to have thick enough chords for the power, but be very flexible to do the coloratura (vocal ornaments, basically), and have an extension above the normal high C6, without depending on cord lightening techniques.

In short, it’s the rarest written vocal fach (type of voice), but that doesn’t mean it’s all that rare when you consider the large number of singers in the world. I wish I could give you actual numbers, but I’m not able to find them. But maybe knowing the fach will help (dramatic coloratura soprano).

Yeah. “Der Hoelle Rache” is a perfect storm of extreme range, flexibility, and power. There are a lot more high sopranos who can successfully hit all the notes in it than high sopranos who can sing it well.

I have no cite but, once my dad read an article that said the Queen of the Night ruins your voice. Sopranos strategically take it at the end of their careers.

I don’t think that’s so common nowadays, with better techniques of voice training. Shoot, the currently iconic Queen of the Night Diana Damrau, who’s only 47, has sung the role in at least 15 productions over the past 10-12 years, and her career isn’t ending any time soon. If “Der Hoelle Rache” is in fact ruining Damrau’s voice, it’s taking a hell of a long time about it.

Stomping back in to call bullshit on the “Der Hoelle Rache is an end-of-career role” claim, even for sopranos of yesteryear. Consider earlier famous Queens such as Edita Gruberova, who sang the role in 1981 and 1988 and has continued to perform in other operas for the following quarter-century. Joan Sutherland sang it in 1962 and also went on actively performing for the next couple decades.

I’m not knowledgeable enough about operas, or about operatic singing, to answer the “why” half of it, but in this list of the “Top 10 Horrifyingly Difficult Opera Arias,” the Queen of the Night aria is listed at #2.

Unfortunately, the article doesn’t really get into the “why” details, either, other than saying, “Possibly the most famous of all operatic arias, because of Mozart’s divine music, and equally because of its unbelievably voracious difficulty: it will swallow the coloratura soprano whole if her practice or concentration lapse for one instant.”

And, from this article on the Royal Opera House’s site, on “10 of opera’s greatest soprano roles”:

Not every (female) opera singer is physically capable of singing it, just because the notes are very high. (Many other difficult things in opera can physically be done by most singers, because they’re difficult in ways other than high notes.) If you do have the type of very high voice that it demands, then certainly you’ll try it out for fun as soon as you find out it exists, no matter what age you are. There’s nothing stopping a six-year-old from hearing that sound and trying to copy it, and a lot of them can. (Not with the big sound of an opera singer of course, but accurately matching the notes.)

I think the people who make a great success of this role on a regular basis tend to be some of the “freaks of nature” in the opera world, like Michael Phelps in the sports world with his long limbs, narrow body, and combination of strength and flexibility - a lot of people can swim fast, but he’s also built for swimming fast, and it shows in his results. People like Edita Gruberová are highly skilled singers, yes, both technically and in their grasp of the styles they sing in, but they’re also physically built for singing high notes. (Sports theme continuing, I get the impression from hearing Diana Damrau sing other things that her Queen of the Night might have a little less Michael Phelps freak-of-nature and a little more all-rounder who will take on just about anything and do so in style.

One thing I was wondering is whether, as something that makes it a little easier to sing, the repetitive open vowels make any difference? That is, that those staccato passages aren’t words, just mostly “ah” sounds.

Joan Sutherland was mentioned above. In the link of a bunch of different singers, I found hers one of the worst (but also allowing for the age of the recording). This aria requires among other qualities immense crispness of enunciation, and that was always her weakest point.

I also saw on Youtube a recording of this aria by Maria Callas, but I was afraid to listen to it.

On the Youtube of a bunch of different singers, my favorite vocally might be Christina Deutekom. Not sure why, maybe just because they show the music under her video, and that she seems pretty effortless at it. Shows how much I (don’t) know.

That’s just coloratura for you. The distinction between vowels is mostly lost in that range*, so it’s often just written on “ah.” Even if it isn’t, a soprano in that range would be encouraged to change the vowel to sing it.

*The fundamental (i.e., the note it sounds like, e.g. the F6 is actually higher than the harmonic that indicates the vowel.

The vowel in question is actually the last one in “nimmermehr”, thus very much like a French é. Unless Mozart wrote in the syllable “ah” for the repeated notes, but I don’t think he did. Welcome to your “Cheating To Make The High Notes Easier 101” class. :slight_smile:

For comparison, I found this compilation of forty different recordings of the aria:

Some of the recordings go back almost a century. It's really cool seeing all the different takes on the production. There's a few that are weirdly out of place (poor Florence Foster Jenkins) most are valient attempts by names you will recognize. It really shows how even the most famous can still struggle with this piece.

I still like Edda Moser, who is on at 3:10. I appreciate how she takes her time. Some of the singers are clearly just trying to get it over with, when I think the lyrics demand something more focused. The queen is forcing her daughter kill her rival Sarastro:

Hell’s vengeance boils in my heart;
Death and despair blaze around me!
For if Sarastro feels not the pain of death through thee,
Thence shall thou be my daughter nevermore.

Disowned be thee forever,
Abandoned be thee forever,
Shattered be forever
All the bonds of nature

If it is not through thee that Sarastro turns pale!
Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye, gods of vengeance, hear the mother’s oath!***

Moser carries a great tone throughout, while sounding connected to the intention.

Lucia Popp, at :35, is also terrific and very deliberate, but maybe a little too sweet. June Anderson, at 5:50 in a clip from the movie Amadeus, has always been a personal favorite of mine. And of course, Diana Demrau, the last clip, brings real intensity.

For some reason, Maria Callas wasn’t in that compilation clip - probably because she’s so damn good. She makes it sound so easy, when the previous 40 make it clear that it’s not.

So to answer the op - yeah, that piece really separates the men from the boys.

Did it seem to anyone else, while viewing Merneith’s amazing video…that not all versions were in the same key? There seemed to be slight variations in pitch.

Well, trying to force her - the screechy nasty lady loses in the end. :slight_smile:

I don’t see what’s supposed to be so difficult about it. If Florence Foster Jenkins could sing it, so can anyone else!


Most of them were I think in the same key, allowing for differences in recording and playback. There were a couple who appeared to have had the aria transposed down about a tone, and a few who sang flat but in the original key because they couldn’t make it but perhaps didn’t want to admit it.

Thanks, Merneith, that video was nearly priceless.

Dude! Spoilers!

Lucia popp is the one I like best she has an ease to it. Interesting how some voices go trumpet like and others flute. In Handel’s birthday ode for Queen Anne sometimes it is tough to tell which is trumpet and which is voice.

I always thought a high voiced queen of the night was a bit odd. A seriously low contralto would have been scarier. But I guess family first.

Isn’t there a statute of limitations on spoilers? I’ve been keeping this secret for 227 years now, and I’m sick and tired of having to do so - especially along with keeping quiet about what happens at the end of that “Joan of Arc” thing. :smiley:
(And even it was a partial success at best… No wonder… They couldn’t even afford an entire circle. ;))