Onstage, Cara Cammaroto plays the part of a scholar. She grew up a multi-instrumentalist but became a vocalist in college, and now finds herself a specialist in one of the most demanding niches in classical music.
Cammaroto, 38, now a music teacher herself, a coloratura soprano and Arlington resident, released her first album this spring, a collection of bel canto arias by Charles Gounod, Leonard Bernstein, Verdi and Donizetti.
The collection lets her show off her voice, but Cammaroto hopes it will also lead to slots at prominent music festivals around the world. The disc sets her apart as one of a few coloratura sopranos.
“In a field when there’s too many people, you need to find what you do well,” she said.
Micahel Cordovana, a Catholic University opera professor and Cammaroto’s mentor, agreed that the disc was a good demonstration of her abilities. But it will appeal to more than just the most cultured ears, he said. “She put out a lovely CD. People will really enjoy it.”
<b>GROWING UP</b> on Long Island, Cammaroto was immersed in music at an early age. Her elementary school offered band, orchestra and choir classes, each one of which Cammaroto signed up for.
Later, her family moved to the Washington area, and Cammaroto graduated from Langley High School in McLean. After a brief stint in the music program at James Madison University, she transferred to Catholic and working with Cordovana in the school’s vocal music program.
After immersing herself in the general study of opera, Cammaroto found herself focusing on music from the bel canto period, written expressly for coloratura sopranos.
The style is rooted in 19th Century Italy, said Ken Weiss, assistant conductor with the Washington National Opera, and is primarily associated with the composers Gioachino Rossini, Vincenzo Bellini and Gaetano Donizetti.
Their operas “are singer driven, and designed to feature the voice,” said Weiss. “They focus on the singer, which is not true in all opera.”
Today, “people often discount it,” said Cordovana. “They are not interested in traditions, they want to climb new vistas. To do that repertoire right, you must have a tremendous respect for earlier singers.”
<b>MUSICALLY, THE ARIAS</b> demand coloratura sopranos to range up and down the scales, cramming notes into a small space. “Coloratura is the acrobatics of singing,” said Weiss. “It’s the scales, it’s the trills, it’s the arpeggios, it’s the ornaments.”
Performing in that style means a singer must be aware of what her voice can do, but also must be aware of what others have done, and why. “It’s very demanding, but also scholarly,” said Cammaroto. “A lot of singers just want to sing. They don’t want to do homework.”
Some study is the same for all singers, Cordovana said. “They have to be sure they study languages, many languages: French, German, Italian, Spanish,” he said. “You’re only entitled to a new outlook once you have studied what went beforehand.”
BUT HOMEWORK also helps, Cammaroto said, to realize what is in each aria. Rossini may have been writing for one of his favorite singers, and included ornamentation that’s not suited to every voice. Research lets the singer know what is necessary, what can be changed and what should be cut from each performance.
“That is the one thing that the individual herself must do,” said Cordovana, “by examining the work of other people who come before.”
For her CD, Cammaroto looked not just for work she could sing, but also arias that would reveal different aspects of character. “That’s the fun, the actress part of opera to get into,” she said. “You try on different ornaments.”
Trying different interpretations will serve Cammaroto well, said Weiss, since it gets to the heart of performance: finding what works.
“Opera’s the art of compromise,” said Weiss. “The people you have available shape it. At various times in history, you will find singers in charge, at other times conductors are in charge. Sometimes it seems like stage directors are in charge.”