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Rant 'n Rave > Singers who are singing well, and why the rest aren't

OK, I want to preface this with the fact that I'm probably one of those 'never really ran' people or 'will never really make it' people, so maybe this is all worthless cause I that's supposed to make my opinion invalid. So take it for what it is.

I wanted to make a comment about this issue with people singing too heavy of repertoire too early, blowing their wad at young ages, and what singers are out there who are really singing well, for real for real.. I think the reason why we don't have great singers of the bel canto style is two parts. First, because we are now 150 years, roughly, past when that music was a living artform being composed by composers. The repertoire we are forced to learn that comes after that have so many different requirements, especially works from the Germanic and Slavic composers, that it takes away from our ability to master the bel canto style. Second, I really feel like there aren't teachers teaching the bel canto style of singing. I, like many people, feel like as a foundation for singing bel canto, or "the historic Italian school" of singing is the best way to line up the voice and getting it working in a healthy way. We've gone so far with singers equating singing with the 'full-voice' with singing loud, dark and with a noticeable and heavy vibrato. Those FEW voices that are actually dramatic are naturally dramatic and don't need any help, and I think there are too few good teachers who can recognize how to get the voice singing on a core of sound without thinking that they have to oversing all the time to get there. Bel canto, like Oliver said, takes finesse, and to do that you need to have a less weighted registration, a kind of registration any singer can achieve as 'slender' and 'lighter registration' are all relative to the voice, thus given singers the ability to float high notes, spin long lines, and the flexibility for the coloratura. I am hearing a real problem with far too many young singers as I said above, there just aren't the teachers to teach the method or style. Almost everyone I'm seeing is being encouraged to sing far too big even at our age, in order to produce a sound the teachers consider 'full' or 'resonant'. Even while teachers who do want slenderer sounds are out there, often the methods they try to employ just aren't working. So...along with the coaches and conductors who are just not putting time into learning the style, the teachers are as much to blame.

Now, as for current singers, famous ones at least, it really enrages me to hear people talk about Kaufmann because I really just think he's someone who blew his wad. I have to disagree with the idea that he's singing well, because I don't think he is, his high stuff has all become problematic, the tone is over-covered, and in general I think he's singing like a baritone. His younger recordings of Mozart were pretty fantastic, so I can see why he got to where he is, but everything lately with the heavier rep has taken its tole. Calleja is another one, this time, I have to say that the voice is a colorless sound. I'm not sure if its an issue of technique or not, and I've never heard him live so I can't speak to the size of the instrument, but it really, for me, is an unpleasant sound and for atrocious in Hoffmann, which is a role that really requires a sound with a lot of depth and range of color that he just doesn't have. What music I think he should sing? I don't know, I guess Mozart, but I really find his performing to be lackluster from the video footage I've seen, and granted that's not the same as seeing it live, but his stagecraft is really uninspiring.

Right now I think that we have a dearth of three things, though, that make me really excited. We have a wealth of fantastic lyric mezzos, Susan Graham, Joyce DiDonato (LOVE HER!), and Elina Garanca to name a few. We have a bevy of young countertenors coming up through the rank who are really really fantastic and can stand alongside any other voice type in terms of technique, Jarousky, Cencic, Howell, and Davies. I think that they are trying to push into nontraditonal rep, the Bel Canto, is great, but I think it is dangerous because people think it's just like any mezzo voice. Not all countertenors are built the same, Greg Peebles is not the same voice as Ieston Davies, neither are they exactly the same as mezzos. In my experience, and I think this is why not all female voices fit well into the baroque repertoire, the voice in general sits a step or two below their female counterparts, making the vocal shifts different and the colors different in the various parts of the range. A female contralto, except for these fabulous new ones coming out of Europe doing the new baroque recordings, is about a half-step higher than a male contralto, actually less then a half-step, but still a little different. The female mezzo is about a whole step higher in passaggi than the general mezzo countertenor, and so on.

As for tenors, we have some fantastic lighter lyric tenors singing in the Bel Canto rep. I don't think they've mastered the style, but that is a problem with conductors and coaches. They are, however, singing the coloratura well, they have beautiful voices, and there is a legitimate place for them to specialize in just that repertoire. I think Florez may have recognized the mistake of moving into the heavier repertoire, and that maybe why he's backed away from it, but even other than him we have fantastic lyric singers like Matthew Polenzani, Lawrence Brownlee, and others.

Any soprano or tenor who isn't obviously a lyric voice, however, sadly seems to be being pushed into a dark sound, oversinging, and having way too much weight in their voices. That's the kind of singing we used to only hear from singers at the end of their careers. Young Tebaldi, Freni, Sutherland, and Price, all sang with a relatively slender timbre even when they naturally were putting out tons of volume.
May 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJoe
I completely agree. I went to Germany last summer and watched a variety of operas (Rossini, Verdi and Weber) and found that the singers cast in the major roles were completely out of their depth (especially in the Verdi opera Macbeth). The Lady Macbeth was good for about 5 minutes into her first scene and declined horribly through the rest of the night. The brindisi was sung with so much tension and shrieking that my mother and I left before the last act (we were literally hoarse just from listening to her).

The sad thing is, this was at an A level house and she was an award winning "dramatic" soprano in the prime of her career (late 30's).

The Rossini (Il Babiere di Siviglia) opera was also a let down. The Rosina was sung by a very well known mezzo, yet you could barely hear her and she seemed almost AFRAID of coloratura and avoided it whenever she could (at the same A house as Macbeth). All the other roles were being sung with WAAAYYY too much weight (the Don Basilio was EXCELLENT though).

Like you said, there seems to be this obsession with the overly dark, "warm" and dramatic sound. In my opinion, some voices are simply not built to sound that way (even some of the dramatic/wagnerian ones!), it can actually be damaging to the voice to sing that way all the time. Not to mention damaging to the audience that has to listen to it.
December 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterOrtrud