After the publication of our article on sacred arias for sopranos, we at Modern Singer were asked if we could publish a similar list for mezzo-sopranos. By request, here is a brief look at several of the most requested sacred songs and arias every mezzo-soprano needs to know for weddings and special occasions during the church year.
1. Gounod/Bach: "Ave Maria"
We covered Shubert’s most famous tune in our last article, but Gounod’s setting is also another frequently requested song for weddings and ceremonies. Gounod layers the Latin text Ave Maria over Bach’s beautifully broken chords that make up the Prelude No. 1 in C from The Well-Tempered Clavier (BWV 846). It has been recorded by singers and instrumentalists alike and is published in a variety of keys.
2. Bach: "Et exultavit" from Magnificat in D major, BWV 243
This joyful aria for mezzo-soprano is full of movement and melismatic passages and is accompanied by strings. The Latin text is taken from the Magnificat (Luke 1:47 of the Bible) and translates: “My spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.” It is a great example of Bach’s vocal writing, which often mirrors the way he composes for violins. This aria is a staple in the oratorio repertoire for many mezzo-sopranos and is often requested for Advent services. It is also a lovely opener on recitals.
3. Barber: "The Crucifixion"
“The Crucifixion” is the fifth song of the ten-song cycle, Hermit Songs, by Samuel Barber. Leontyne Price premiered the Hermit Songs in 1953 with Samuel Barber himself accompanying. The songs are based on poetry composed by anonymous Irish monks of the Middle Ages. "The Crucifixion" is a short, poignant song, about the crucifixion of Jesus and the sore grief of his mother. It is often requested for Easter and Good Friday services. It is an art song with piano accompaniment available in a variety of keys and appropriate for singers both young or advanced.
4. Handel: “O Thou, that tellest good tidings to Zion” from Messiah
No discussion of sacred music would be complete without including arias from the most famous oratorio ever composed. “O Thou that tellest” is a lilting alto aria with chorus in 6/8 time, but it can be performed as a solo. It is a joyful telling of the coming of the Savior and is from the Christmas portion (Part 1) of Messiah. It is appropriate and often requested for Christmas services.
5. Handel: “He Shall Feed His Flock” from Messiah
“He shall feed His flock” is a lovely alto solo also from Part 1 of Messiah, and it directly precedes the soprano solo “Come unto Him.” This aria was originally composed for soprano, but was transposed for alto, and it is now traditionally performed in concert with an alto soloist. Its gentle melody and atmospheric accompaniment is reminiscent of the pastorale (pifa) played earlier by the orchestra. It is often requested at Christmas, but it is appropriate throughout the year, particularly for use during communion.
6. Malotte: "The Lord’s Prayer"
The most famous musical setting of the Lord’s Prayer was composed by Albert Hay Malotte in 1935. Numerous artists have recorded it across the globe including Marvin Gaye, Elvis Presley, and Andrea Bocelli. It is often requested for weddings and is also appropriate for memorial services. The text lends itself to year-round use in church, and it is a lovely solo to offer for communion. It is published in a variety of keys and settings.
7. Mendelssohn: O rest in the Lord, from Elijah.
This simple and accessible alto aria can be found in many sacred anthologies and is another oft-requested piece for church. In context of the oratorio, this aria is sung by an angel who appears to Elijah to offer him comforting words of strength while he is on a long journey through the wilderness. It can be sung at memorial services, and it makes a lovely offertory solo. The oratorio is often sung in English. Arrangements also exist for soprano, but it was originally scored for alto.
These sacred arias are a great set to have on hand for any mezzo-soprano working in church or sacred scene. While there is a whole world of music to dive into, this list represents some of the most-performed songs and arias for church soloists. Because there is so much overlap in repertoire, some other favorite sacred songs are also discussed in the previous article: Sacred Songs and Arias Every Soprano Needs to Know. You might consider spending some time in the upcoming new year adding more concert works to your repertoire to help showcase your versatility as a performer.