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How to find a free public domain aria or art song, and learn how to pronounce it.

When picking an art song or a recital, sometimes it is difficult to know where to begin. Many of us listen to popular, Broadway, or familiar choral music, but until we are exposed to art song cycles, or opera, students usually just rely on their teacher to suggest something. Which is generally OK, because much of the well known classical repertoire is more towards the advanced spectrum of difficulty, so it is probably better to get your feet wet with an art song or aria that fits your learning level. Once you pick a song, what if it is in a foreign language? Do you have to cram a year's worth of Duolingo in a week? No, there are methods for singers to use to learn how to at least pronounce the lyrics most commonly used languages in classical. Also, aren't public domain songs free to use? Well, music and lyrics can legally go into the public domain 70 years after the author's passing, but you still have to pay the publisher for the songbook, and the artist for the recording. However, the web makes a number of available options for free. So let's take a well known student aria and art song, and I will show you the steps for preparation:

Beau Soir

  • Debussy's art song, Beau Soir (Beautiful Evening), is a great look into the the French Impressionism style of bitonal chords, and the use of whole-tone and pentatonic scales. This score video uses a recording of soprano Renée Fleming

  • First, look it up on Art Song Central - There you will find all the basic facts of the piece, as well as links to PDF scores, and sites that offer translations. Print the score out (one for you, and another for an accompanist), and/or put it in your cloud drive.

  • Second, take time to read the translation. Art Song Central leads to The LiederNet Archive, that offers idiomatic translations, not literal word for word, but ones that try to explain the best interpretation of the poetry in the lyrics. This is what you need to be thinking about when you sing. Google Translate, might give you more literal, albeit awkward translation of the lyrics.

  • Third, Art Song Central also leads you to the IPA, or phonetic translation of the lyrics into these helpful symbol glyphs. So even if you are not taking French, you can still quickly learn to pronounce it. Reference the chart here - and print out the guide that shows you what the phonetic glyphs mean, and help you pronounce the French. Art Song Central also has a link that spits out lyrics with the IPA underneath. If you want to dig deeper, there are also some helpful videos on YouTube on how to interpret IPA.

  • Forth, if you are fortunate that the song is well known enough, you will find piano accompanists have already posted the piano part on YouTube - and that can help you practice, as long as it is on your key. If not, you can sometimes find the piece in Music Notes site - and purchase printing and electronic playback (although it sounds a little robotic) for under $6 per song. Music Notes lets you change the key several different ways to fit your voice if needed, and you can even remove the vocal track from the mix and just play the accompaniment.

  • Fifth and finally, this process can get rather complicated, so get some support from Mrs. Encina, and practice!

O mio babbino caro

  • By Giacomo Puccini, this aria is from Il Trittico, a collection of 3 short one-act operas. Sung by a soprano in the third one-act, Gianni Schicchi's O mio... is one of the most well known arias in the world, by all accounts. The process for getting resources on this is very similar.

  • - The Aria Database will carry a synopsis, and the translation, all built in. Sheet music and samples can found here, .

  • For IPA pronunciations however, The Aria Database does not make it as easy as Art Song Central. You can go to and do the trial, but you can probably find a pronunciation guide with web search, as with the case with most public domain works. Again, good luck and go out and practice.

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