May 18, 2023

29. Freeing the Voice of Your Soul

29. Freeing the Voice of Your Soul

“Opera singing is a civilized version of what you were doing when you were a baby. We scream like a little baby. That's what opera singing is all about.” Simona Mango did clarify that you have to scream the right notes of course! Simona reveals the secrets of being an opera singer, overcoming stage fright and what to do if you forget your lines.  She also explains her unique perspective as an opera singer to help others “free the voice of their soul” as a life coach.

Simona described her warm-up for a performance as “waking up The Bear”. I can assure you there was nothing bear-like about listening to Simona singing. I am delighted to be able to share snippets of her beautiful voice throughout today’s episode. The ability to create controlled notes with so much volume has a celestial feel to it and helps to explain why Simona is so successful at helping others “free their own voices, literally and metaphorically”.  Thank you Simona. It has been a delight.

Good news! You too could learn to sing like Simona and become the singer of your dreams. You could either free the power of your voice by following Simona’s online course or chat with her directly to talk about one-to-one lessons. Check out the links below…

- Talk with Simona about one-to-one singing lessons
- Free the Power Of Your Voice online programme
- Learn about Simona’s Life Purpose Mentor support

Last week's episode
[Episode 28] – Honeybees, Herbalism and Humans - If you have ever considered how you could reconnect with nature, here’s your answer – through bees.  Have you ever wondered why bees make honey? What does a drone do all day long? Why should we care about the health of our bees? Paula Carnell is a bee consultant and honey sommelier looking to create a buzz about health. She says that bees are Mother Nature’s way of connecting nature with humanity, “What’s happening to the bees is inevitably happening to us as well”. 

Next week's episode
[Episode 30] - The Lone Star Speaks - President John F Kennedy arrived in Dallas, Texas, on November 22nd, 1963, appearing to be in good health; almost exactly three hours later, he left the city in a casket.  Those two facts are the only things most Americans agree upon concerning that tragic weekend. If you think you know who was responsible, you’re in for a surprise. History matures over time. New witnesses come out of the woodwork as the veil of secrecy is steadily lifted. Sara and Katanna found those witnesses - and recorded their testimonies.

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Thanks for listening!


[00:00:00] Steve: Can you teach anyone to be an opera singer?

[00:00:03] Simona Mango: Yes. Yes, I believe so. Yes. At least technically. If you can pitch correctly, if you can hear what height, what pitch is needed, then yes, technically possible. If you can't hear it, it's tougher. I can't make you [00:00:20] an opera star, I mean, it takes some participation. I can definitely make you sound like one. Yes.

[00:00:26] Simona Mango: [00:00:40] [00:01:00]

Early days

[00:01:08] Simona Mango: I was a pretty lonely child. I was born into this family of academics. When school was over, I was back at home and pretty isolated. So I [00:01:20] was reflecting a lot, I was drawing a lot. There was no TV. We had no TV at home because in my parents' view of the world, TV was for idiots only. So I had all this time, apart from doing my homework, dedicated to creative things; to drawing, [00:01:40] to reading, to making music.

[00:01:43] Steve: This is Simona Mango, originally from Naples in Italy. She would grow up to be a professional opera singer, and over time start sharing her expertise as a singing coach and then onto life coaching. [00:02:00] Interestingly enough, there were signs of her ability to mentor from a very early age.

Simona Mango - opera singer

[00:02:05] Simona Mango: Kids would tell me their secrets. And the more secrets you knew, the more it meant that you were popular because you knew someone's secrets. And this has actually gone on up until now. People just [00:02:20] think for some reason I will listen to them and I will, they're right! And so even adults keep telling me their secrets, which I treasure, which is something I really, really love... I'm grateful for.

[00:02:33] Steve: Can you remember when you first started to sing?

First singing

[00:02:36] Simona Mango: I know for sure that when I was two, I was at [00:02:40] the... city Zoo in Bern in Switzerland with my parents. And the moment we got to the duck, swan, other bird pond, I started singing, " All My Little Ducklings". I always sang, I always loved music. I was singing along with records my... parents had. Vinyls with [00:03:00] classical music, opera, all of that. And the radio was always tuned on classical.

[00:03:04] Steve: And of course Italy is a great singing nation.

[00:03:07] Simona Mango: In Naples there is a huge tradition of, it's a mixture between popular and classical songs. It's usually songs from the [00:03:20] popular repertoire that composers have taken up and transformed into something beautiful. You might think of O Sole Mio for example. That's a Neapolitan Street song, it's a folk song. The second most famous one is what Elvis called 'Surrender'. That's a Neopolitan song, the lyrics are in Neapolitan. [00:03:40] It's not Italian, it's the dialect from Naples. So I would have a huge collection of all these songs. I would know them all. I would sing them all, and I still do. I still perform them publicly.

[00:03:52] Steve: And your connection to opera became a little more committed at a time when you just happened to meet an opera singer.

Opera singing

[00:03:59] Simona Mango: When [00:04:00] I was 25, I started taking my very first lessons. And that's an age where everyone else starts running around on stage with their repertoire sorted, and I was taking my very first lesson. So I had to make up for lost time.

[00:04:16] Steve: So you started taking lessons and sometime after [00:04:20] that you became a professional opera singer. Tell me how that came about.

Simona Mango performs opera

Professional opera singing

[00:04:24] Simona Mango: I was working as an art restorer at the time and a decorator and a stained glass artist. You know, I had paint under my nails, I was showing up in my working attire to my opera singing lessons. One day I came to her door, she opened it, stood in the door [00:04:40] and wouldn't let me in. And she looked at me and said, "What are you?" And I said, "What do you mean?" and she says, "Call yourself an opera singer? Look at yourself!" And I was like, "What? No, I don't call myself an opera singer". "Well, you should", and I was like, "What?" And she says, "Well, today you are making [00:05:00] a decision. Either you do that dirty work that you do, or you are an opera singer. Alright? Is that clear?" And I was like, "Oh my God". And she says, "And now in. Let's go, let's sing".

[00:05:11] Simona Mango: [00:05:20] And we had a great lesson, I was like a bit on edge. I ran home. I went on the phone, I called my mum and I said, "Mum, what am I meant to do?" And my mum, she was amazing, she said, " What do you want to do?" I said, "I want to be a singer. She said, "Okay." [00:05:40] That day my world changed.

[00:05:45] Steve: God bless your mother.

[00:05:47] Simona Mango: She was amazing. She was amazing. She granted me what she never, ever granted herself.

First professional performance

[00:05:52] Steve: Fantastic. So apart from singing to the ducks when you were two, tell me about the first time you sang in [00:06:00] public for real.

[00:06:01] Simona Mango: I'll never forget that. I was so scared. I had my heart racing. I was hot and cold and I think I was, I was too scared to really look up. I didn't think I made a good contact, established eye contact with the audience. But I sang really well. And I know [00:06:20] because... my teacher, she recorded it and I could hear it the day after.

[00:06:24] Steve: You weren't wearing your painting outfit, were you?

[00:06:26] Simona Mango: No, I had put on a... nice dress and everything.

Simona Mango relaxes

Warming up

[00:06:30] Steve: So my mind is now thinking about performing. Before you perform, of course, you have to warm up. [00:06:40] What does that mean exactly?

[00:06:42] Simona Mango: A warmup means you start moving your voice, you start doing some scales and some exercises. You always start in the middle range of your voice and you go down a little bit and up a little bit, and then down a little bit and up a little bit, and you extend the range as if you were taking [00:07:00] a few leisurely steps before you start running. My voice is heavy, it's, like a diesel engine. My voice is a bear. I always say I have to, I have to wake up the bear.

[00:07:10] Steve: Wake up the bear. Love it. And then you are on stage. Where's your head when you are in the middle of a performance?

While performing, where's your head?

[00:07:19] Simona Mango: [00:07:20] For me personally, my head is very much in what I'm doing. I'm very concentrated. You get to a point where how you do it physically gets automatic. It becomes completely automatic how you breathe, how you project your voice. You don't have to think about that.

[00:07:37] Simona Mango: [00:07:40] But there are so many things you have to think about. So I don't usually fly off into some ecstatic trance or anything. I'm very much there, very present and yes, very concentrated. There will be moments where you can [00:08:00] go off somewhere.  This is very dangerous and it's never happened to me to just be in some alternative state of consciousness while singing in public, you know, while delivering. Because it's about, it's about delivering at the end of the day.  

[00:08:14] Steve: So you, you might get taken somewhere, but that might not be the place you were supposed to be!

[00:08:19] Simona Mango: That's right.[00:08:20]

[00:08:20] Steve: Have you ever forgotten your lines?

Forgetting lines

[00:08:27] Simona Mango: Yes. Not my notes. Once in a concert with a piano and then I just skipped the line because I didn't know what to do. And the pianist was amazing. He just took the line and played it, and I just came back in. No one knew [00:08:40] unless they knew the song, they wouldn't know. And once in an opera, and then what happened is I just made up some other lyrics.

[00:08:47] Steve: So presumably you are if you're playing to an English audience and you're singing Italian, nobody would have the clue that... unless they really knew that piece...

[00:08:59] Simona Mango: I will come up with [00:09:00] some part of a recipe or something and they wouldn't know.

[00:09:04] Steve: This this my apple pie recipe, la la la la la. Fantastic.  


[00:09:12] Steve: Now there's various ways of developing an opera career, aren't there? What we see most often are the Pavarotti's, [00:09:20] Domingo's, Bocelli's playing in a different city every night. Talk to me about that.

[00:09:26] Simona Mango: There is that kind of career, where people just live out of their suitcases and they dash around the planet. You know, airport, hotel, rehearsal, performance, hotel, airport. This is a [00:09:40] lifestyle that I never wanted for myself. I never done that. I travelled a lot for singing, but I always did it in a way to have time to see the places, to see the cities making my own decisions, that kind of stuff. So, it's a different kind of career. It's a completely different choice. There's not only, [00:10:00] you know, Metropolitan, Scala, Paris, London, no. There's a lot a classical singer can do.

[00:10:05] Steve: And what places would count as among your favorite?

Favourite places to sing

[00:10:09] Simona Mango: They have beautiful theatres in Japan, many theatres, and they have a very refined audience there. And of course Italy,[00:10:20] big tradition there. Opera was born in Italy. what I like about Italian staging is that they are usually beautiful. They're usually very aesthetic. If you go to the northern countries of Europe, there's a lot more of this conceptual, modern, have to be different at all [00:10:40] cost staging. And in Italy, there's more of a traditional, let's enjoy it, it's gorgeous music, let's just have this gorgeous overall experience, the visuals and everything. Let's tell the story like a fairytale, and this... I like about Italy.

[00:10:57] Steve: Lovely. So you developed this [00:11:00] successful career as an opera singer, but what is opera singing?

Simona Mango and her dog

What is opera singing?

[00:11:05] Simona Mango: Opera singing is a civilized version of what you were doing when you were a baby. If you see how a baby breathes and screams, that's what an opera singer does.

[00:11:17] Simona Mango:  [00:11:20] So we fill our belly, which is not the belly, it's the lower part of our lungs, but then our belly comes out, and we put all our air in there. We don't breathe up into our shoulders, that's not very powerful. And we scream. Now we scream in a very pretty way. [00:11:40] It's a very controlled and arty way, but we scream like a little baby. That's what opera singing is all about.

[00:11:46] Steve: So we're all born opera singers basically?

[00:11:49] Simona Mango: Yes, at least, technically. You have to scream the right notes.

[00:11:53] Steve: And how did this kind of singing come about, this ability to produce such full volume voices?[00:12:00]

[00:12:00] Simona Mango: Yes, this way of singing produces really, really high volumes. Volumes in decibels, like really loud voices. And this is because opera was invented at the time when there was no amplification. There were no microphones, no amplifiers. So, a singer's voice needs to be heard over [00:12:20] anything from one instrument to say a big symphony orchestra can come up to 90 players easily and you need to be heard, you need this technique. You need to project your voice that way so you can blend in with all of that and be heard above it.

[00:12:36] Steve: I sometimes see the expression Bel Canto [00:12:40] bandied around in connection with opera. Help me out there.

Bel Canto

[00:12:44] Simona Mango: Belcanto is the old Italian style of opera singing. It literally means 'beautiful singing'. And it is because you never hear the throat or the nose in Bel Canto. It's always a very open, [00:13:00] freely flowing sound that we produce. So this is the old Italian approach. For me, it's the only way I would sing opera.


[00:13:08] Steve: Now at the heart of producing these high output voices, I think, is breathing.

[00:13:15] Simona Mango: Yes, so breathing is the base of what we do. [00:13:20] Breathing is what will make or break our singing basically. So when we sing opera, we can take in a huge amount of air in a very, very short time and without making any noise. So it's a very effective way of breathing, and this lets us [00:13:40] sustain these long, long phrases. And it has another amazing effect, and this is not only for opera singers. It's a way of breathing that signals to your system that all's well. That's why it's a very powerful antidote to stress as well.

[00:13:56] Steve: And you've used the analogy of a baby screaming to [00:14:00] highlight the way opera singers sing from the belly. And I'm sure anyone who's had the experience of trying to placate screaming child will recognise how powerful that sound can be. But it's still sometimes hard when you watch perhaps a diminutive opera singer belt out Nessun Dorma or whatever to [00:14:20] understand where the sound comes from. So just give me a little bit more on that.

[00:14:24] Simona Mango: Not only do we breathe into the belly, we sing from the belly. And when you do that, you basically don't put any strain at all on your throat. And that's why you come with this huge power from underneath [00:14:40] and you produce so much more voice than your throat could ever do if you weren't using it that way. I mean, a throat is easily destroyed. It's such a delicate organ.

[00:14:51] Steve: Now, luckily for all, I've rarely been invited to appear on stage, but my most prominent distant memory is that of [00:15:00] stage fright. Do professionals get stage fright?

Stage fright

[00:15:03] Simona Mango: Stage fright is a biggie, not only for opera singers, for all performing artists. Imagine when you're an opera singer, basically you are telling everyone to shut up and listen to you.

[00:15:15] Simona Mango: [00:15:20] That's a little bit on the crazy side, isn't it? And no matter who you are, you might be like absolutely fantastic and the best, there is always some twinge. I've known great performers who were dying inside and everyone thought that [00:15:40] they were moving around like gods, and they were like, "Oh my God". As you are being like really true to yourself, you want to use your voice to bring something beautiful, something healing, something positive. You should do that and you should not worry about anything. You are the [00:16:00] only person in the world who is great at being you. So do it unapologetically. Some will love you, some won't. It's perfectly okay.

[00:16:09] Steve: At some point you started to coach singing as well as singing yourself. What was the thought process behind that?

Singing coaching

[00:16:18] Simona Mango: I absolutely [00:16:20] love seeing people bloom. And when someone goes on this journey, it's a real journey of discovering and developing their voice. They will bloom as a person. They will come out of their shells and from behind their hiding places. So... it's double-sided for [00:16:40] me. I always see the voice as our physical voice, the singing voice, and also what I call the voice of your soul. I like to say that I free people's voice both literally and metaphorically. And I want to free the voice of your soul. [00:17:00] And it's happened to me many times to see singers just burst out crying, just overwhelmed by both the sheer emotion of it and also the physical vibration. When you hear that sound coming from you for the first time so free, so powerful, and you look around and, "Was that really [00:17:20] me making that sound?" And this way of getting your voice out there can pop a cork and sometimes just everything can come out at the same time.

[00:17:29] Steve: Interesting. And then I suppose it was quite a natural progression from singing [00:17:40] coaching to life coaching. Is that right?

Simona Mango teaches

Life coaching

[00:17:43] Simona Mango: Singing and teaching someone to sing is one lens to look at the person through, but you can do that in other ways. You can do that through someone's health. You can do that through someone's relationships. You can do that through someone's business [00:18:00] career. Start at one point and you will naturally be taken to all parts of you of what is really you. And there's many, many parts to you. A human being is a very big and very complex thing. Coaching singers got me into live coaching because so much [00:18:20] of coaching a singer is not necessarily related to their singing skills, but to all the rest of their lives. So I was naturally taken to life coaching by my profession, I got certified. I'm very experienced on that side as well, and I keep them parallel, yeah.


Caterpillars and Butterflies

[00:18:48] Steve: And you have a lovely phrase, 'leaving behind the lies of your mind and embracing the truth of your soul'. Tell me about that.

[00:18:56] Simona Mango: Yes. Whatever makes our life [00:19:00] difficult, you might think that you're a bad parent, you might think that you're a bad neighbour, you're a bad friend, it doesn't matter. You'll always find so many things about yourself that you can criticize. And all of that is a product of your mind. Your mind tells you and you believe it. It tells you how you should be, [00:19:20] and you are constantly disappointing it. If you asked your soul what it thinks about it, the answer would be completely different. So why do we not ask our souls? I talk about leaving behind the lies of your mind. Your soul does not do negative, your mind does. So if you want to hear what the soul has to say, you just [00:19:40] try and reach for the next better feeling, go out for a walk for five minutes in the fresh air, put yourself in a better space. And the more you go towards things that make you feel better, the more you are close to your soul. Your soul wants you to feel better.

[00:19:55] Steve: And I suppose this is why you talk about the caterpillar and the [00:20:00] butterfly.

[00:20:00] Simona Mango: When we are trapped in our mind, we have the perspective of a caterpillar. There's only so many things a caterpillar can do. And when we start getting away from the lies of our mind and closer to the truth of our soul, that's when the caterpillar starts becoming a butterfly. [00:20:20]

[00:20:22] Simona Mango: That's when your butterfly has opened its wings and flies.

[00:20:27] Steve: [00:20:40] Beautiful. Throughout your various experiences in life as a young child, as a professional opera singer, a singing coach, a life coach, it feels as if there's a common thread running through, and that's one that I often think about, which is listening.

[00:20:56] Simona Mango: Listening means that you are open, you are empty, [00:21:00] and you are willing to have things come to you. When you're talking all the time, it's an outpour. You're only pouring out. It's not easy to listen because you need to make space. " I am really here for you, ready to listen. And not only am I listening to you, but I am [00:21:20] creating this space where you will be able to listen to yourself as well".

[00:21:24] Simona Mango: Not only can you learn from others, can you [00:21:40] understand who they are, but If you get in the habit of listening, you will listen to yourself.

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