Italian And German

How easy it is for the Italians, who have by nature, through the

characteristics of their native language, all these things which

others must gain by long years of practice! A single syllable often

unites three vowels; for instance, tuoi (tuoy[=e]), miei

(myeay[=e]), muoja, etc.

The Italians mingle all their vowels. They rub them into and color

them with each other. This includes a great portion of the ar

song, which in every language, with due regard to its peculiar

characteristics, must be learned by practice.

To give only a single example of the difficulty of the German words,

with the everlasting consonant endings to the syllables, take the

recitative at the entrance of Norma:--

Wer laesst hier Aufruhrstimmen, Kriegsruf ertoenen, wollt Ihr die

Goetter zwingen, Eurem Wahnwitz zu froehnen? Wer wagt vermessen,

gleich der Prophetin der Zukunft Nacht zu lichten, wollt Ihr der

Goetter Plan vorschnell vernichten? Nicht Menschenkraft Koennen

die Wirren dieses Landes schlichten.

Twelve endings on n!

Sediziosi voci, voci di guerra, avvi [Transcriber's Note: corrected

avoi in original] chi alzar si attenta presso all'ara del Dio! V'ha

chi presume dettar responsi alla vegente Norma, e di Roma affrettar il

fato arcano. Ei non dipende, no, non dipende da potere umano!

From the Italians we can learn the connection of the vowels, from the

French the use of the nasal tone. The Germans surpass the others in

their power of expressiveness. But he who would have the right to call

himself an artist must unite all these things; the bel canto, that

is, beautiful--I might say good--singing, and all the means of

expression which we cultivated people need to interpret master works

of great minds, should afford the public ennobling pleasure.

A tone full of life is to be produced only by the skilful mixture of

the vowels, that is, the unceasing leaning of one upon the others,

without, however, affecting any of its characteristics. This means, in

reality, only the complete use of the resonance of the breath, since

the mixture of the vowels can be obtained only through the elastic

conjunction of the organs and the varying division of the stream of

breath toward the palatal resonance, or that of the cavities of the

head, or the equalization of the two.

The larynx must rise and descend unimpeded by the tongue, soft palate

and pillars of the fauces rise and sink, the soft palate always able

more or less to press close to the hard. Strong and elastic

contractions imply very pliable and circumspect relaxation of the


I think that the feeling I have of the extension of my throat comes

from the very powerful yet very elastic contraction of my muscles,

which, though feeling always in a state of relaxability, appear to me

like flexible steel, of which I can demand everything,--because never

too much,--and which I exercise daily. Even in the entr'actes of grand

operas I go through with such exercises; for they refresh instead of

exhausting me.

The unconstrained cooeperation of all the organs, as well as their

individual functions, must go on elastically without any pressure or

cramped action. Their interplay must be powerful yet supple, that the

breath which produces the tone may be diffused as it flows from one to

another of the manifold and complicated organs (such as the ventricles

of Morgagni), supporting itself on others, being caught in still

others, and finding all in such a state of readiness as is required in

each range for each tone. Everything must be combined in the right way

as a matter of habit.

The voice is equalized by the proper ramification of the breath and

the proper connection of the different resonances.

The tone is colored by the proper mixture of vowels; oo, o, and

ah demanding more palatal resonance and a lower position of the

larynx, a and e more resonance of the head cavities and a higher

position of the larynx. With oo, o, ue, and ah the palate is

arched higher (the tongue forming a furrow) than with [=a], [=e],

and ue, where the tongue lies high and flat.

There are singers who place the larynx too low, and, arching the

palate too high, sing too much toward oo. Such voices sound very

dark, perhaps even hollow; they lack the interposition of the

[=a],--that is, the larynx is placed too low.

On the other hand, there are others who press it upward too high;

their a position is a permanent one. Such voices are marked by a

very bright, sharp quality of tone, often like a goat's bleating.

Both are alike wrong and disagreeable. The proper medium between them

must be gained by sensitive training of the ear, and a taste formed by

the teacher through examples drawn from his own singing and that of


If we wish to give a noble expression to the tone and the word, we

must mingle its vocal sound, if it is not so, with o or oo. If we

wish to give the word merely an agreeable expression, we mingle it

with ah, [=a], and [=e]. That is, we must use all the qualities

of tonal resonance, and thus produce colors which shall benefit the

tone and thereby the word and its expression.

Thus a single tone may be taken or sung in many different ways. In

every varying connection, consequently, the singer must be able to

change it according to the expression desired. But as soon as it is a

question of a musical phrase, in which several tones or words, or

tones alone, are connected, the law of progression must remain in

force; expression must be sacrificed, partly at least, to the beauty

of the musical passage.

If he is skilful enough, the singer can impart a certain expression of

feeling to even the most superficial phrases and coloratura passages.

Thus, in the coloratura passages of Mozart's arias, I have always

sought to gain expressiveness by crescendi, choice of significant

points for breathing, and breaking off of phrases. I have been

especially successful with this in the Entfuehrung, introducing a

tone of lament into the first aria, a heroic dignity into the second,

through the coloratura passages. Without exaggerating petty details,

the artist must exploit all the means of expression that he is

justified in using.