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
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.