Daniel Sumegi announced 10 April on Facebook, the passing of Randy Mickelson. I join Daniel in mourning the departure of Randy and count myself one of many who would rather have the world continue to include him among the living. I feared that what I might say about Randy from...Read More
There are five weeks between me and Torino. That span of time is short, but ripe for work. As our calendars click off significant slices of time, every click hands us a question: What’s next? I keep struggling with that interrogative, and, to be perfectly honest, I never really...Read More
Time to tell a tenor what not to do: Don’t despise your voice. Don’t go all negative about yourself just because God gave you a vocal instrument that seems small whenever you think of Del Monico, Corelli, Bonisolli,,,,,, I could go on, but it doesn’t change a thing. There is...Read More
My wife, Debbie, was ripping some old CDs that we have in our collection and, rather than twiddling her thumbs, she started to read the liner notes while she waited for ITunes to do that saving thing. When she got to this CD, she forgot about ITunes and lost herself in the...Read More
This is my way. It’s just,, like,,, I mean,,,,,, so yesterday to let the girl go first and open the door for her as well, but the young will have to forgive me for being so invested in yesterday as the deepest well of knowledge and wisdom concerning all things human. I really...Read More
I’m getting my work done. I have a mission and it looms over everything I do, but no one can “Tote that barge” until barges cease to be, or “lift that bail” until no bail shall be left to lift. It is a special work for me; editing this Garcia book. I started out reading...Read More
Summer is starting to cool its heals, and leaf fall is already covering some lawns in my neighborhood. In short order, frost is going to bring my “weeds war” to an end. I’m already planning the day that I’ll have our traction expert change those smooth rolling treads on car...Read More
I am happy to be home and have my garden somewhere between 10% to 20% weeded. I’m sure the rest of the weeds in my back yard are still comfortably soaking up the fertilizer I intended to feed my flowers, but they should be shaking down to their roots at the prospect that I...Read More
This blog’s for Debbie. (My wife.) The die was cast when I mentioned Mario Salerno in my previous blog. I don’t usually take requests, but I could not resist Debbie’s enthusiasm. When I kick started my career at Washington Opera in 1976, I met Mario. I found him sitting at...Read More
I left my previous blog with the promise to write “more” about “Una furtiva lagrima”. I’m back with a little bit more Falsetto stuff, and an invitation to meet me in Torino, Italy for a Master Class. It starts on June 9, and I am looking forward to making new friends as well...Read More
I am about to pack my bags and go back to Torino for a Master Class that will bring me back where another Falsetto kerfuffle in my life was born. Last September I had the privilege to work with some really talented young people who offered me many opportunities to use Garcia....Read More
Today’s confusion surrounding “Falsetto” is only one good reason modern times should make room for questions about the future of Classical Music. On my first day in Rovereto, a big strapping young tenor, Mr. Gao Si Chen, baptized me with enough falsetto for a whole season of...Read More
I often wonder how many more of these time clicks I will be allowed to mark off in celebration with family and friends. Tempus Fugit, and I have to remind myself that it doesn’t belong to me. It flies like the birds who won’t stay put long enough for a good photo shoot. So...Read More
It’s part of being a tenor. There are more places to be than the number of me to be there and there is always more to do than time to do it. I am reminded of Economics as taught by my favorite big brained thinkers. They teach that what we desire is most often more than we...Read More
What a trick question.... Voice is first.
Daniel Sumegi announced 10 April on Facebook, the passing of Randy Mickelson. I join Daniel in mourning the departure of Randy and count myself one of many who would rather have the world continue to include him among the living. I feared that what I might say about Randy from my point of view as an Opera insider and close appreciator of his innumerable interests and many talents would be insignificant in the face of his expansive existence upon the face of this Earth. So I asked an outsider to write a remembrance of Randy for me to help me do a better job. If you keep reading you will run into it.
I remember him as an overflowing vessel containing interests, knowledge, passions and endeavors that a phrase in Rossini’s “La Cenerentola” catches perfectly. It is said in Operatic context with great insincerity, but applied to Randy it fully forms in truth my estimation of the prince of a man that Randy Mickelson was:
“Prence! L’Altezza Vostrae e un pozzo di bontà. Più se ne cava, più ne resta a cavar.”
My terrible translation:
“My Prince! Your Highness is a wellspring of goodness. The more one lifts out the more there is left to extract.”
My outsider friend’s impressions in her native language:
Ciao, Rocky mi ha invitato a scrivere un mio ricordo di Randy. Sono onorata per questo e lo faccio con immenso piacere. Ho incontrato Randy molte volte e ogni volta è stato estremamente divertente e interessante. Amavo i suoi racconti su Joan Sutherland, Marilyn Horne, Federica fon Stade, quegli episodi quotidiani che rendevano “umani” questi esseri che per me vivevano sull’Olimpo. La Sutherland che adorava fare i lavori di casa e che parlava di Rossini e di Donizetti con i guanti per lavare i piatti o controllando il forno con l’arrosto. La prima volta me lo avete fatto conoscere a Pesaro e ricordo che per due notti di fila siamo stati a parlare sulla terrazza del Clipper fino alle 6 della mattina, non aveva mai sonno e quando l’ho salutato per andare a letto ho avuto la sensazione che provasse un lieve fastidio. Non ho un ricordo di Randy diurno. Per me Rendy è sempre stato l’uomo della notte. lo potevo sentire parlare per ore e non mi stancavo mai di ascoltarlo raccontare quei dubbi musicali, quelle scoperte brillanti, quelle fantastiche intuizioni. Una volta mi raccontò tutto sul Crociato in Egitto, la riscoperta, gli incontri con la Queler, la parte di Adriano scritta praticamente per Rocky, per me era toccare il cielo con un dito.
Mi piaceva tanto quando raccontava la triste vicenda della sua villa palladiana, di cui non ricordo il nome, con il soffitto affrescato dai temi astrologici che soffriva infiltrazioni di acqua quando pioveva e che aveva bisogno di essere restaurata, ma la burocrazia italiana impediva ogni iniziativa. Parlava sempre con passione distaccata . L’ultima volta che l’ho visto è stato a Venezia, quella sera a cena dove ci siamo scolati 10 bottiglie di vino in 6 e che, forse a causa dei fumi dell’alcol, mi disse che aveva conosciuto poche persone non musicologhe o musiciste che ne sapessero quanto me e che per lui era un vero piacere conversare con me. Sono passati un mucchio di anni, ma ancora adesso, se ci penso sono orgogliosissima di quelle parole.
Again my terrible translation slightly improved by my wife Debbie:
Hi, Rocky you asked me to write a personal memory of Randy. I am honored by this and do it with grand pleasure. I ran into Randy many times and every time was extremely entertaining and interesting. I loved his remembrances of Joan Sutherland, Marilyn Horne, Federica Von Stade, in normal life situations that gave humanity to these creatures that I imagined as living on Olympus. Sutherland who loved doing house work and spoke of Rossini and Donizetti wearing rubber gloves for washing the dishes while caring for the roast in the oven.
You first introduced me to him in Pesaro and I remember that for two consecutive nights we spoke through the night until six in the morning on the terrace of the Hotel Clipper. I didn’t feel sleepy for a moment and when I took my leave of him to go to bed I had the impression that I had mistreated myself by only the slightest of deprivations. I have no diurnal memory of Randy. For me Randy was always a man of the night.
I could listen to him speak for hours and never weary of listening as he told of musical doubts, many brilliant discoveries and fantastic intuition. One time he told me all about “Crociato in Egitto”, the rediscovery of it, his encounters with Eve Queller, the role of Adriano written particularly well for a voice like Rocky’s… for me it was like touching the sky with a finger.
It pleased me to hear his sad story of his Palladio Villa, the name of which I cannot remember, with the astrologically thematic frescoed ceilings that suffered water infiltration when it rained, because the place needed restauration. But the Italian bureaucracy impeded every one of his initiatives. He spoke of this with grand passionate detachment.
The last time I saw him was in Venice, that evening at dinner when six of us drained ten bottles of wine, and maybe because of the alcohol fumes, he said to me that he had encountered only a few non-musicologists or non-musicians who had as much knowledge as I did, and that for him it was a real pleasure to converse with me. A pile of years have passed, but still today if I think of them, those words make me prouder than proud.
Nothing I could say from inside the artistic world could match the picture painted by Silvia, and I am so grateful to her for helping me honor Randy.
Rockwell BlakeRead More
There are five weeks between me and Torino. That span of time is short, but ripe for work. As our calendars click off significant slices of time, every click hands us a question: What’s next? I keep struggling with that interrogative, and, to be perfectly honest, I never really know to which of a thousand and one (1001) possible projects I am going to commit my next chunk of time. The struggle doesn’t get easier with increased maturity. Even a tenor knows that time past is gone and future time is shorter. So the struggle actually gets harder, but I know the day to act is always today and that my time to work is now.
He sent back a stack of “A Complete Treatise on the Art of Singing: Part One” proofs to the Blake compound all marked up and ready for me to correct. You know – the typos and formatting errors that were in the printout that I sent Dr. Paschke a short time ago.
Now that the USPS did its work to carry Donald’s answer to my priority problem, I can see that it’s high time to dedicate myself to getting this book ready for the printers, but I just can’t forget that Torino project scheduled for March.
I know there are already a few singers signed up to participate in Torino, but I would like to have more. So here I am adding an invitation to this stream of tenor thoughts. Please come and let me do my best to help you with your singing. Getting you to sing well is now one of the most important parts of my life’s work. My Garcia project is also important, but only as a support for the after-Opera-life I always saw coming when I finally arrived at being an unemployed tenor. I sang in the business for quite long enough for me to learn what it was all about and to collect the demanding fans who insisted that I teach others how to take the stage when I finally quit singing.
Garcia made his life all about that “Get them ready to be great Opera Artists” thing, and I stand small before his legacy calling for anyone and everyone to follow his lead. With maturity (OLD AGE) and retirement I have had enough contemplating time to fully absorb Garcia and study in greater depth the many “problems” of singing which I suffered and the few that passed me by. I am diligently trying to lay a foundation for sharing Garcia and the content of my tiny tenor mind. The first floor of this edifice may one day have many rooms, but the venue that Armando Caruso gives me at Accademia della Voce del Piemonte I already number as 101. I’ll be there on March 14 and hope you will join me.
My dearest Debbie sometimes comes at me with statements like “You’ve got to write something about……….” Many times it’s about a local political or economic (TAX) thing, and we collaborate to shine some light on something resident power broker types would like to see pass unnoticed. But we kind of like people to know what’s going on. It is a sad fact that power brokers in every category of activity and every geographic expanse are able to hide from the apathetic, but Debbie and I care deeply about many things. Big deal!!! Two people, two votes, two opinionated citizens of the World who care about what’s going on???!!!! Well, if there were more of us, there would be a lot less political dirty doings going on. I’m fortunate that Debbie also cares about what is happening to singing almost as much as I do…. To return to perfect honesty; she may care even more than I do, but who am I to judge? Anyway, she came at me with “You’ve got to do a blog about that “Don’t listen to your voice!” thing you keep telling me about.” Not that I haven’t written something (click here), but students keep quoting that hissing serpent in our lessons. I just can’t keep myself from sssssshhhhhharing with Debbie the ssssssssssssstupidities I hear students repeat. They’re phrases they have heard in pre-Blake voice lessons, and they carry them around like “gems of wisdom”. I get really hot under the collar, do my best to keep from punishing my student with a rant, and often let my bubble of anger burst when Debbie asks after the progress of a student. So, now, even she has heard enough, and it will be a future project.
I’m off to,,,,uh,, oh yes, I forgot, the dentist first, and then the editing desk. Garcia’s “Part One” is almost back in print.
Time to tell a tenor what not to do: Don’t despise your voice. Don’t go all negative about yourself just because God gave you a vocal instrument that seems small whenever you think of Del Monico, Corelli, Bonisolli,,,,,, I could go on, but it doesn’t change a thing. There is always space in this world for singers who are effective. Big voices are really rare (that’s why they were valuable), really hard to manage (that’s why some big voice owners were considered stylistic pigs) and those big voices often get misdirected.
The biggest misdirection I can think of is down. That is, like you know, the COMMAND: DOWN. It’s a good command for a big dog with dirty feet, but a “commanding” mistake for any singer with an un-rare gift to put his or her larynx down all the time. It will have an effect, but it will almost always cost the instrument more than it can afford to pay. Most students adopting this “all the time” command never get further than completing a college career. Some manage to populate regional theatres, and represent, to some opera operatives, the hope for the future. A few rise high enough in visibility to become shooting stars in the Opera world. Very, very few become durable Stars, and most of these show us, in the twilight years of their vocal life, the symptoms that quickly overcome all those youthful voices unable to sustain the cost of the DOWN command.
Petter Reingardt’s question was:
3. I feel that my voice is quite small but high and light. I’m searching for that dark timbre you have by breathing low, relaxing jaw and throat, and keeping the larynx in a lower position. Now I wonder: have you ever felt that your voice is not big enough? If you did; how did you solve this problem?
My response to Petter:
For you to focus on laryngeal position is a misdirection of your attention. You need to concentrate on the quality of sound you are making. It is primary for all singers who want to be real artists. In your recordings available on the internet, you sing as if you do not recognize the difference between Chest Voice and Falsetto. In your “Ah! Mes amis” video, you manage to do a little Chest Voice but you insert it with no apparent artistic logic and darken enough to make the moments when you sing in Chest Voice hard to discern. Don’t think that you can use tools like “Dark Timber” to tweak your voice into sounding like mine, and please forget imagining injections of Botox to your jaw and throat.
I did a blog some time ago about Falsetto, and confusion. I suggest you consume it: Just click here. Follow the music and Luciano’s singing to get an idea of how Falsetto should be incorporated into an interpretation. There is logic to Pavarotti’s moves from one function to another. I wonder if you can hear it happening in Luciano’s voice. I can hear it happening in your Donizetti recording, but can you? In your audio recording of “Languir’ per una bella” I am hard pressed to pick out any Chest Voice singing.
Please stop telling your instrument that it is just not good enough. Sing in Chest Voice when you intend to sing mezzo forte or louder in your low register, your middle register and your high register. Chest Voice is for the louder bits and Falsetto is almost exclusively for the softer bits. High or low doesn’t matter. The big “trick” is to hide your transition from one function to the other so that the in-expert listener takes no notice of the event as you go from soft (Falsetto) to loud (Chest) to soft (Falsetto). Sadly, your singing hides Chest Voice when you find it. You need to make Chest Voice ring in the ears of your audience.
Yes, my voice is and was a “small” voice. All high voices are “smaller” than lower voices. The real measure of a voice used to be its audibility. If the audience could hear the singer, and the singer inspired the audience to applaud, then the voice of the singer was not “too small”. I didn’t have a vocal size “problem” back in the early years of my vocal life. I did learn to ignore those who criticized my voice for various qualities it had, and those who criticized me for some qualities that a few of my detractors said my voice should have had. Size was an issue that surfaced in auditions and shortly showed up in print. It took a while, but I learned that it was less about my voice than it was about my category. You are of the same category as I, and I’m sorry that you seem to have internalized the standard carping about the “size” a voice in our category normally displays. Making a voice sound bigger than it is by nature is a formula for microphone dependence, if the voice survives.
My hope for you is that you can let go of your obsession with laryngeal movement management, and change your focus to hearing continuity in the sound your instrument produces.
So, Petter, please don’t wrastle your larynx to the floor. It won’t make your voice bigger. A big voice used to be a mixed blessing, and I often went all “Why couldn’t I have a voice like that?” when I listened to Franco Corelli. I am a tenor. So I did try to make like Franco, but my instrument put me on notice: “OK! As long as you do this “Nessun dorma” and “E lucevan le stele” thing in front of that Navy Band microphone then we’re on, but if you take your mouse in elephant costume show on the Operatic Stage then I’m out-uh-here!” I’m glad, I got the message.
I will try to answer your other questions briefly.
1. Coloratura: what is the secret? How should I train this the right way? I feel like I can’t be agile and sing with full voice at the same time. So how do you do it?
The secret is in your ability or inability to make your diaphragm flutter and with your coordination. The primary physical apparatus that produces good coloratura is the diaphragm. This controller of support acts in a negative fashion. That is to say that the potential energy developed in the pressure under which your viscera are place by your abdominal muscles is blocked and controlled by the diaphragm. That pressure created by your abdominal muscles, unopposed by your diaphragm, would normally be transferred to the air in your lungs, and if you didn’t stop it by other means the air in your lungs would escape you immediately. So your diaphragm stops your tightened abdominal muscles,,, you do know,,, I forgot. You’re a tenor! The source of energy that goes through two conversions and several modifications before ultimately landing in our ears as your voice are your abdominal muscles. Anyway, your diaphragm is in charge of controlling the transfer of the pressure in your viscera to the air in your lungs which then motivates your vocal chords which provide the vibrations that the rest of your vocal instrument converts into intelligible language and hopefully satisfyingly attractive singing. If you didn’t care a whit about coloratura, that would be enough said.
But, since you ask, the diaphragm is also the main generator of the pulsations that we recognize as coloratura. It is even logical. Not all vocal things are logical, but this one is. There is no other component of your anatomy to which you can award credit. Leo Nucci once told me that he believed that the old school castrati used to do coloratura with their lips. He demonstrated his proposition on the Met stage during a “Barber of Seville” rehearsal. It was a good laugh, but I was never quite sure he meant it as a joke. The diaphragm takes care of this work. I have often offered the following advice:
Sing the violin part from the shaving scene in IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA. Start it in any convenient key, really slow at first and singing every note without any interruption of vocal cord activity except during inhalation. And, by the way, not forgetting my target audience, do breathe and breathe where ever you find convenient. String players don’t have to breathe, so composers can forgo putting in breathing points some tenors need in the melodic line. You could say I am calling for you to sing legato. When you get to the repeated notes, just keep on singing without interrupting your vocal chords’ intonation of the pitch.
You will find that the diaphragm is the only thing that will get the job done. If it does not do the job, then all those repeated notes that represent bow direction changes on a violin will become one long held note or you will be forced to stop your vocal chords from vibrating between each note…. Oh!!! I forgot. Leo Nucci’s method does sort of get the job done, but it would inspire most people to laugh, so I don’t recommend it.
2. Low notes: I find it hard to be heard in the lower register (below g3 down to a2). It feels either breathy or very tight. I’ve been singing “vado incontro…” from Mitridate, re di Ponto, and it’s extremely hard to keep access to those two octaves.
When you have a good idea what Chest Voice is, then you can address this problem. You must use Chest Voice in the Chest Register if you ever hope to have those notes heard while an orchestra is backing you up. The way you sing now leaves the orchestra little choice. It’s going to cover you up, if it is composed of more than a dozen or so instruments.
When you can sing in the middle register of your voice with Chest Voice, then you can experiment with descending by 5ths into your Chest Register keeping Chest Voice function active. When you find yourself singing in Chest Voice in your middle register, you will likely also find your pharynx to be less dilated and your larynx at a higher position than you seem accustomed to maintain.
Don’t forget to use the “Glottal Attack” of Garcia. Tight is not right. You will need to allow for more space into which your vocal cords can comfortably phonate those low tones in Chest Voice. Just be aware that the lowest notes require the least tension on the vocal cords, but they are going to be asked to flap large slow vibrations. They require the chamber above them to accommodate the larger wave forms of the low notes as compared to the 5th above.
“Mitridate” was designed for an expert. If you master that Opera, you will have solved the low note problem. Oh! By the way, you will have solved almost all the rest of your vocal problems as well….. ooops! The coloratura thing might still be unresolved.Read More
My wife, Debbie, was ripping some old CDs that we have in our collection and, rather than twiddling her thumbs, she started to read the liner notes while she waited for ITunes to do that saving thing. When she got to this CD, she forgot about ITunes and lost herself in the notes.
Horowitz wrote his own notes for this CD. Debbie put them on her scanner and then insisted I read them.
Well, here I am cribbing from his notes.
I don’t feel too bad about putting his words in my blog since DG recycled the same words in at least one other CD/DVD compilation.
Classical, Romantic, Modern, Neo-Romantic!
These labels may be convenient for musicologists, but they have nothing to do with composing or performing. In fact, they may be more of a hindrance than a help in the education of young performers. All music is the expression of feelings, and feelings do not change over the centuries. Style and form change, but not the basic human emotions. Purists would have us believe that music from the so-called Classical period should be performed with emotional restraint, while so-called Romantic music should be played with emotional freedom. Such advice has often resulted in exaggeration, overindulgent, uncontrolled performances of Romantic music and dry, sterile, dull performances of Classical music.
As far as Mozart is concerned, we know from his letters that he showed great concern for musical expression: he continually criticized performers whose playing lacked freedom for their “mechanical execution” and the absence of “taste and feeling”. As for Beethoven, historical accounts describe his playing as very free and emotional – the trademark of a Romantic.
All my life, ever since I was a young man, I have considered music of all periods romantic. There is, of course, an objective, intellectual component to music insofar as its formal structure is concerned; but when it comes to performance, what is required is not interpretation but a process of subjective re-creation.
The notation of a composer is a mere skeleton that the performer must endow with flesh and blood, so that the music comes to life and speaks to an audience. The belief that going back to an Urtext will ensure a convincing performance is an illusion. An audience does not respond to intellectual concepts, only to the communication of feelings.
A dictionary definition of ”romantic” usually includes the following: “Displaying or expressing love or strong affection; ardent, passionate, fervent.” I cannot name a single great composer of any period who did not possess these qualities. Isn’t, then, all music romantic? And shouldn’t the performer listen to his heart rather than to intellectual concepts of how to play Classical, Romantic or any other style of music?
Of course, mastery implies control – in music as well as in life. But control that is creative does not limit or restrain feelings or spontaneity. It is rather a setting of standards, limits and boundaries in regard to taste, style and what is appropriate to each composer. In order to become a truly re-creative performer, and not merely an instrumental wizard, one needs three ingredients in equal measure: a trained, disciplined mind, full of imagination; a free and giving heart; and a Gradus ad Parnassum command of instrumental skill. Few musicians ever reach artistic heights with these three ingredients evenly balanced. This is what I have been striving for all my life.
I have to thank Debbie for looking beneath the cover and finding these jewels of thought and musical wisdom.
Horowitz is now one more dead white guy among many, but I think we are forced to overlook that post-modern epithet, because his recordings stand as brilliant testimony that he knows what he is talking about. Well “forced” is a little strong. Nobody can be forced to purchase the recordings that put flesh on the bones that are the words of his liner notes. By banning his artistry from your ears, you can feel safe believing Horowitz to be just another white guy shilling for White hegemony. Move away from the “H” bin at Tower Records. OH! I’m sorry…… Like,,, it’s so yesterday. Tower Records closed its last door in 2006. There is no “H” bin because there is no Tower Records in which you can avoid it. I’m so sheltered here in Plattsburgh that I didn’t even notice it went belly-up.
Horowitz figured it out. Horowitz walked the walk of his talk, and I tell my students to listen to his recordings for hints on how to shape vocal lines. His recordings have yet to stop surprising me with interesting turns of phrase that I missed in the many previous plays I have enjoyed. I share his dedication to the proposition that audiences want performers to communicate feelings. Garcia surely believed the same thing.
I just sent out the last of my editing work on the Garcia translation I have been editing. Now it’s up to Donald Paschke, the translator, to check my efforts give his approval or send me corrections. The pages of this publication are Garcia’s “Gradus ad Parnassum” guide to singing: A Complete Treatise on the Art of Singing: Part One.
At the start of the New Year, I will begin editing Paschke’s translation of Part Two. That second book is full of guidance for just how to engage in the sort of artistic endeavor Vladimir called “subjective re-creation”. It is a guide that young people really need. It has everything a singer needs to know about performing, and I am going to get it back in print. Garcia and Horowitz spoke the same musical language. Garcia Sr. was the best tenor. Garcia Jr. taught the best singers. Horowitz was the best pianist. All of them, just dead white guys. Who am I? Well, I’m not dead yet.Read More
This is my way. It’s just,, like,,, I mean,,,,,, so yesterday to let the girl go first and open the door for her as well, but the young will have to forgive me for being so invested in yesterday as the deepest well of knowledge and wisdom concerning all things human. I really am “Old Hat” on principles…… You know those antecedents, preconceptions, pre-determinants, pre-considerations, presuppositions. The old guard had a chance to analyze how things worked and many grey haired successful types managed to write down the lessons they learned. In the case of the Garcia family, it was the second generation who best recorded those life lessons, and Garcia Jr. added a great deal of value to his father’s wisdom. Blocked/Liberated from the pursuit of an active singing career, he brought his special gift, a sharp analytical mind, to bear on the vocal and artistic wisdom he inherited from his father.
Garcia’s writings are my special wisdom well, so let me pull up today’s pail of understanding and guide “Jenny Lind” on a different approach to her project. I hope she doesn’t think me sexist for putting her first, and I really hope she doesn’t. I want to help her singing, but, if she gets offended, her political sensibilities will probably make her immune to this tenor’s arguments. That would be a shame.
Now you all know that Jenny is not her real name. She knows who she is, and her identity is hers to keep secret or reveal. Just to remind everyone, she gave me a starting point with this statement:
My current teacher, Dr. *******, has been having me work to bring the low, settled larynx position into the higher notes, and not strain for them.
I didn’t include:
Dr. ************ always tells me to bring the high position into the low, so she would agree with you completely.
These statements are in response to an Email I received in which I catalogued some specific and general thoughts on Jenny’s voice and singing. I suggested that her category is soprano, not mezzo soprano. She is currently preparing mezzo soprano repertoire, which, given the quality of instrument with which she is gifted, could be a comfortable home for her working life.
Now, Jenny (we all know it’s not your name), there are two problems with living in one category lower than the category of the gift you received in your mother’s womb.
The native timbre of your sound is going to be too light for the more dramatic mezzo stuff and even a bit light for the lyric stuff, especially so in the face of today’s apparent ideals. This is the case for you.
The regimen your instructors are going to impose on your voice will be contradictory. This is the case with the two examples of advice you have received from your instructors.
I have heard thousands of ways to say “Darken that thin sound of yours; pull your larynx down and open your throat!” Many variants of this were directed toward me by a few well-meaning people and many more emanated from a few less ethical individuals who populated my path through the singing life. I have collected even more examples from overheard conversations and stories told by singers and by frustrated students. Your particular variant is a nice PC version. The word “settled” would seem to suggest that an outside agency, like gravity, is accomplishing the pull, or that a successful attempt to use this advice would require the larynx to enter into some sort of consensus with the professor and the singer who’s making the attempt to ascend to the highest notes of her voice. The “low” position for your larynx seems to already be a “settled” issue for your middle voice. Your audition in LA showed me that it is so. You sang in the center of your voice with ease and a “warm” color. That’s a PC way to say you are using Dark Timbre which includes, in your case, a lowered larynx. That low position stands as an impediment to finding your way happily to the top of your voice. The fact of where your larynx is located at the beginning of your assent is not, in itself, an impediment, but the project to maintain the laryngeal position while seeking to sing ever higher notes is just too big a project for your voice to complete successfully in Rossini’s music. This was the most noted deficiency in your singing. That it was probably appreciated differently by each of us on the judging panel is something I expect in any group of Voice enthusiasts, but it entered our ears and we all noticed.
As your voice followed Rossini’s notes, it did a great job of decorating all that landed in the middle voice and a good work of it in the lower parts. The decoration began to mutate as Rossini’s notes guided you higher and higher on the scale. It is not inevitable, but common to humans, that the vocal chords struggle – and ultimately fail to maintain “normal” function in the face of the extra work imposed upon them – by holding the larynx in place or lowering it while ascending the musical scale. I noticed that, as your voice rose to the highest flights of Rossini roulades, you eschewed Head Voice function where it should have begun and kept Falsetto going as Rossini took you very high into your Head Register. This is often forgiven by everyone when a singer is interpreting some other composer’s music, but Rossini is one of the worst on the list of the unforgiving. First he insists on uncovering a singer’s deficiencies and then leaves no place to hide. The rest of us unforgiving types get all tangled up in linguistics just trying to describe what went wrong for the singer caught out by Rossini’s music. Some just default to “Rossini is just too hard.” My short analysis is that your voice finally and suddenly shifted gears from Falsetto to Head Voice at the highest notes you sang for us in LA, and your instrument gave up the laryngeal stasis project about one or two notes below those really high notes. The resulting timbre change was and is “unforgivable”. As absolute values, they were not very pretty. As for what you should do about them, you will get conflicting advice. Your quotes are from two professors who stand in opposition to one another.
Your “bring high to low” professor is giving you good advice. The unfortunate quality of your highest notes is the direct result of excessive Dark Timber use in your upper register. Lowering the larynx is only one component of Dark Timber application to the voice. When you venture out of your middle register into your head register you try to match the “warm” character of the sound you attain in the middle, and you cannot. Other singers may be able to do it, but not you. You must allow your instrument to adjust to its needed clarity for attaining “Head Voice Function” in your head register much earlier. This is especially true when singing those roulades surmounted with challengingly high top notes.
I know that your “settled larynx” professor would most likely disagree with me, as well as with your “high to low” professor if the “high to low” statement is correctly understood. My specific advice to you is to try to use arpeggio exercises to find the most beautiful and effortless high notes your voice will deliver, and use them as the pattern for every high note you ask your voice to produce. Then bring that quality down with you as you descend the scale to your middle register. If you insist on maintaining that “warm” color in your middle voice, please be content to reapply it somewhere between F and D. Let it live in your middle voice and forget about taking it to high Q.
Think of Federica Von Stade and her manner of register negotiation. She presents the pattern of how you should find your way to the top of your voice.
I have other thoughts about traveling into your lower register, but I’m way over my word limit.Read More
I’m getting my work done. I have a mission and it looms over everything I do, but no one can “Tote that barge” until barges cease to be, or “lift that bail” until no bail shall be left to lift. It is a special work for me; editing this Garcia book. I started out reading Donald Paschke’s translation with a tenor attitude. You know,,,, I couldn’t really understand how it was important and if people were handing me contracts all the time, what good was that dead white guy going to do me anyway? Now I’m older and totally in love with Paschke’s brilliant idea. By sifting together two different editions of Garcia’s “Method” he allows the reader to discover for him/her-self some very subtle secrets that are becoming even more fascinating for me as I approach the end…. Not my end, I hope,,,, but the end of my first edit of the first book.
“Barge and Bail” Song
Paul Robeson had a great voice, didn’t he?
As important as I know it is to make Garcia’s writings available to young singers, I just had to drop the “Tote” rope and break away from my stack of editing “bails” to jump on an opportunity to be useful to two singers who asked for my advice. I hope helping them in plain view may also be helpful to you.
What fun it is to have a request coming from Sweden. Jenny Lind left Sweden looking for Garcia’s help, and in Paris he put her singing back on track. The results are historic. Well, another Swede, Petter Reingardt, is seeking my advice. I hope I can make Garcia as helpful to this tenor as the Grand Maestro was to that stellar soprano who started her life in Petter’s neighborhood.
The tipping point to distraction from my present “barge” and “bails” landed in my Email as a response to a letter I sent to everyone I recently heard in LA. I was there to audition singers for the Palm Springs Opera Guild Rossini Award. One of the respondents asked me to cover the same program about which the Swedish tenor was asking advice. I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to make a blog of my answer. Besides, pulling “barges” and handling “bails” are kind of heavy work for tenors anyway.
Some time ago I asked Petter if I could blog my answers to his questions, and he graciously accepted to be outed as a singer seeking help. My correspondent from the Palm Springs Opera Guild Rossini Award auditions may not want to be publicly exposed, and, since I didn’t ask, her name is changed to protect the innocent.
3. I feel that my voice is quite small but high and light. I’m searching for that dark timbre you have by breathing low, relaxing jaw and throat, and keeping the larynx in a lower position. Now I wonder: have you ever felt that your voice is not big enough? If you did; how did you solve this problem?
Jenny Lind (pseudonym):
My current teacher, Dr. *******, has been having me work to bring the low, settled larynx position into the higher notes, and not strain for them.
Mr. Reingardt could be doing his own thing, but my soprano friend has a teacher telling her to adopt the same project. They use different words and describe different motivations, but the project is the same, and it is totally upside down. According to Garcia, the larynx has no “settled’ level. Garcia asserted and demonstrated to The Academy of Science in France on April 12, 1841, that the larynx has two different mannerisms that are relevant to our discussion. They have nothing to do with attaining a particular size of voice or high note decoration. The larynx moves for many reasons that fall mostly within the category of Timbre application to the voice.
Picking out the position of the larynx as the key feature of the vocal instrument and focusing on maneuvering it to a lower than normal position as a general principle regulating “size” of voice or vocal “beauty” in singing is like deciding to concentrate on the position of the elbows as one takes on the hurdles. I think the modern vocal pedagogical statement can be phrased: If the larynx “settles”, or, better stated, is pulled into a lower position, the singing will improve.
It is no less folly for a Track and Field coach to suggest that if a runner manages to pull the elbows as far back as possible while running the hurdles, he/she will have lower times and fewer downed barriers.
Garcia demonstrated to the Academy the mobility of the larynx in his students while they sang in Clear Timbre and the “fixed” position of the larynx while they sang in Dark Timbre. Today we are faced with acceptance of a very wrong idea. It seems that many think the human voice to be capable of being anything its owner or the teacher in charge wants it to be, and the larynx is the principle tool for building the voice desired. It would seem that my friends are working from the hypothesis that the larynx is in some way an obstacle to attaining the results they or their teachers would like to hear. My soprano friend wants better high notes and Mr. Reingardt wants a bigger sound.
The descriptions that Garcia employs for explaining what happens to the various parts of the vocal apparatus are always post performance discussions. He is describing what can be observed while a person makes a vocal effect. That is to say, one must first attain the effect, and then one can discuss what happened as the individual made the vocal effect.
There are a lot of unrevealed assumptions that Garcia terms “Secrets” and in Philosophical circles the term “presuppositions” would be applicable. They lurk between many lines of Garcia’s writings. I find almost all of them related to a consensus existent during the many days of Garcia’s life. I am talking about a consensus that existed between Garcia, other vocal maestri, critics reporting on the musical doings in their region as well as the majority of the audience Garcia would join when he would attend performances. When Garcia would sit to hear great singers ply their trade on the stage, Garcia and his fellow audience members would enthusiastically applauded and bravo their work according to the satisfaction these singers would provide, and critics wrote of these events with a level of understanding I believe no longer exists. If the singer happened to be a student of Garcia, his pedagogical competition might have curbed their enthusiasm for partisan reasons, but even they would have agreed on one assumption. The great singer they heard had a great gift, and what that gift consisted of was recognized by just about everyone who would applaud. Consensus was there, and a singer of Jenny Lind’s caliber could attain the same level of fame in the Mechanical Age as Luciano Pavarotti did in our Age of Hyper Media.
So, what is my advice? Don’t lower your larynx to make your sound larger, and don’t expect the lowered larynx to make your high notes more beautiful. Laryngeal position management has nothing to do with attaining the best display of a singer’s gift. The larynx moves about as a participating component of the vocal instrument that attains an endless list of vocal effects. The beauty of one’s high notes and ultimate greatness of the individual gift is independent of such technical considerations. Garcia tells us teachers to seek out these gifts:
Often one needs an experienced judgment to recognize in the voice of the student the germ of the true qualities which it possesses.
And then he speaks of the first job of a teacher:
Generally, these qualities are only in the rudimentary state, or well veiled by numerous faults from which it is necessary to free them.
The essential point is to first establish the existence of them; one then manages to complete the development of them by patient and orderly studies.
Voices in their natural states are nearly always unpolished, unequal, unsteady, even tremulous, and, finally, heavy and of short range; only study, but a well-informed and persistent study, can make firm the intonation, purify the timbres, perfect the intensity and the elasticity of the tone. Through study, one can smooth the harsh-nesses, the disparities of the registers, and by uniting them to each other, one can extend the scope of the voice. Study will make us acquire agility, a quality generally too much neglected, especially in Italy. It is necessary to submit to rigorous exercise not only the stubborn organs, but also those which, drawn along by a dangerous facility, cannot control their movements. That apparent flexibility is connected to lack of clarity, steadiness, balance, and breadth; that-is-to-say, to the absence of all the elements of accent and style.
The above text is on page 3 of the book I am about to finish editing. I’ll be back to tell my friends how I think Garcia would advise them further if he were still with us.
While putting this blog together I’ve let a few too many “bails” pile up and that “barge” is drifting away………………….
So I’m back on home ground. I have many reasons to celebrate and want to dedicate this blog to a few of them.
There are so many friends who welcome me home, and a few of them decorate this blog. Everyone passing through my North Country at this time of year is offered a wonderful costume show by my friends and their family members. It is a short display of glory before they go to bed for the winter. This fleeting beauty is just one of the many local natural adornments that surround me and enrich my life. Happy to show them off, I often remark that this North Country of mine is really God’s country.
Those eight days away from friends and family that I dedicated to playing Johnny Appleseed with Garcia’s wisdom also enriched my life. Unlike the local arboreal color parade, I can’t show you anything without permission, but I can tell the story of three lovely gifts that make me smile every time they come to mind.
When a singer asks for my help, I try to imagine the best possible future that could be attained by the help seeker. If I can see an accomplished artist as a possible future for the singer, I set to work, using everything I can bring to the task, toward helping the singer to develop into the artist that I can foresee in the future. I am no more able to guarantee an outcome than anyone else, and like every time period in History, ours is interestingly in flux. Who can know of outcomes not yet established?????…… Well,, I do have an answer to that question, but it needs a website of its own.
On the day she arrived, a mezzo soprano, whom I met in a previous Master Class in Rome, planted her feet on the platform and sang two arias on which we had collaborated since our first meeting in Rome. Her performances earned rousing applause. Her singing displayed all the Garcia technique I had introduced to her and her interpretation included every detail of the art I wanted her to master. I asked her where she had learned to sing those two arias so well and she smiled a big smile and pointed directly at me while mouthing the word “you”. On top of this bang up job of tossing back at me everything I had thrown at her in her lessons, she tossed off NEW things. The skill and understanding of a great craftsperson is sufficient for delivering everything someone might ask you to do as a singer, but the label “artist” should only be applied to singers who come up with their own successful mix of messages and effects. Paola Cacciatori delivered on all counts this time, and I have great hopes that she will move from “Budding Artist” to “Accomplished Artist” quickly.
My second celebratory Torino story has another gifted soprano at its center. I also met her in that Rome Master Class where I first encountered Ms. Cacciatori. She came to Torino wanting to prepare arias on which we had never collaborated. She also surprised me and made me smile a lot by taking every Garcia suggestion I tossed at her and turning it to good use. She grabbed every artistic detail and concept I passed on to her as well, garnering good results in her performance. Claudia Alvarez Calderon yanked one of my “Great Crafts Person” labels out of my hand and applied to herself as I applauded her for letting me see our collaboration bear fruit in studio and on stage. This, however, is not the end of the Calderon portion of my Torino story.
I have every hope that Opera is going to survive the present crisis that faces the Arts generally, and it is with that hope that I write these blogs, give voice lessons and run the travel industry gauntlet to play “Johnny Garcia-seed”. Ms. Calderon asked me to endorse her as a teacher of singing. It is with great joy that I do so. When she asked, I told her she was going to have to earn my endorsement, and she earned it both in the studio and on the Master Concert Stage. She knows more than she can yet put into practice as a singer, and what she knows is mountains more than the average voice teacher I keep hearing about in the lamentations of many modern voice students. My endorsement of her as knowledgeable in the craft of singing is of small value. She will have to earn the label “Great Teacher of Singing” by transferring what she knows to others so that they can eventually appropriate the label “Great Crafts Person” for themselves. It is my prayer that Garcia’s banner will be taken up by many students of singing, and, when appropriate, they would take on the mantel of “Johnny or Joanna Garcia-seed”. If Ms. Calderon finds some students for Garcia’s teachings, I will be waiting to hear some good results.
My third reason to party is a young man. We share a common…. Well, I would say uncommon friend. Alessandro Mormile has been telling me about Pietro Di Bianco for a long time. Sr. Mormile finally brought us together for the Torino Master Class. Pietro has exactly what Garcia tells us to look for. His gift is so exceptional that even the Opera World of today recognizes he has something. I can see for Pietro a future artistic life equal to the lives of the greatest singing artists the World of Opera has ever enjoyed. I hope he will allow me to help him become the artist I know his voice can enable him to become.
With that off my chest, I am back to my homework, which is no less important to my project to see the Operatic Stage populated with exciting singers.
With giving lessons, Garcia translation to do and Christmas coming………. Etc. I expect to be silent until 2016.
Summer is starting to cool its heals, and leaf fall is already covering some lawns in my neighborhood. In short order, frost is going to bring my “weeds war” to an end. I’m already planning the day that I’ll have our traction expert change those smooth rolling treads on car and truck for our noisy ice munching studded numbers. They’ve been under wraps since spring rang the bell on our quick bout with short sleeve temperatures. I am happy to foresee the snow that Global Warming seems unable to steal from us, and the redirection of my energy from garden to Garcia. I still have a lot of work to do on Part 1.
I missed doing a master class in Plattsburgh this summer. When my wife and I retired, I believed that living in the North Country would effectively isolate us from the Opera addicted and we could cherish just a few visits from our artistic friends. You know, the ones that happen to be passing our little ‘burgh on their way to somewhere else on Route 87. I was also sure that students of singing would only venture this deep into the woods if they were really serious about asking my help. Well, that isolation worked better than I expected this summer. Preparations were made, thank you Jo Ellen Miano, but interest in visiting us in the woods just wasn’t enough to cover costs. Thanks also to Dr. Karen Becker for making herself available, even if we didn’t get to work together this year.
With weed wars soon to be well behind me, I am looking forward to a Master Class that is, happily for anyone wanting to attend, more convenient for traveling. I’ve been charged with two Master Classes in Torino. The interest of potential participants in the upcoming Master is already greater in Torino than we saw in Plattsburgh. After the press conference scheduled for September 21 that Armando Caruso set for presentation of this year’s activities, see and click on little poster to the right of this text, I hope even more participants will register to participate. Sorry to post an un-translated Italian document, but if you can make the conference, I think you can read it.
For those of you, who don’t dream of becoming stars of stage and screen in the shrinking Opera world but read my blogs anyway, please let me tell you why I think these Master Moments are important. There is no shortage of gifted humans among us on this earth, and I want to help those blessed with the gift of voice. Writing this blog and putting an English translation of Garcia’s books back into print isn’t enough. You may ask: “Enough for whom?” or even “Enough for what?”
I’m glad you asked. Garcia was all about empowering the singer to a high degree of effectiveness with his/her audience. Now that a century has passed since his death, I can see that Garcia’s mission has become a little more complicated. The need for “empowerment” is still with us, but I must add “Audience Expansion” to it. “A.E.” is on the mind of many an arts mogul and opera operative. It has become a subject of “Higher Learning” and a professor of this subject has a clear view of the problem (click to read his latest evidence). I don’t think he and I agree about what is needed to stop the audience shrinkage bothering the Arts, but he can see the problem as well as anyone else. I would say it is just an added component to “Development” (fundraising) as I first discovered it about a third of a century ago. I signed up with an able salesman hired by Houston Grand Opera to “develop” Texas citizens with largish bank accounts. What did I do? I sang for quite a number of lovely ladies and a few handsome fellows in a number of living, meeting and dining rooms. My salesman friend wanted me to help him inspire these well-dressed individuals into donating large sums of money to the benefit of HGO. When I sang for those small groups of happy and successful Texas types, I knew why I was there and did my best to get everyone excited with my singing. I must have been effective enough. Requests to come help out didn’t stop until I was out of town.
If money was pulled from purse, pocket and/or bank account, it wasn’t because of the nobility of the Art of Opera. It was because those open handed cash flush individuals had a good time, and wanted to support a fun art form that was never really profitable. Opera cannot support itself or better yet, it is unsustainable without an excited fan club that can afford it.
News of unsold seats at the bastions of Operatic life make the big, BIG buttons: “DONATE NOW“, “BUY TICKETS“, “SUBSCRIBE“, “GIVE“, “DONATE” and “SUPPORT” quite unsurprising. Unfortunately, just as unsurprisingly we see opera operative elites beginning to view dragging a big bag of cash out the door before the roof falls in as an attractive alternate choice to the rigors of “A.E.”. Click to follow one such story.
The Operatic roof no longer shelters my grey hairs, but I want the roof to stay up. The present and future generations of gifted singers seeking entry into the House of Opera need that roof, and the roof needs them, or it will fall in.
My crusade includes the prayer: “If it be the Lord’s pleasure, may all those relevant buttons on Opera Internet pages be clicked enough to break them.” I believe Garcia has the answer for how to get people to DONATE NOW and BUY TICKETS to the Opera. Garcia offers an un-simple answer, but it is what Opera needs: Gifted and talented singers trained to excite their audiences.
I wrote about Garcia’s first ingredient offered to The Opera World in Factory Made. The relevant quote is:
“Often one needs an experienced judgement (sic) to recognize in the voice of the student the germ of the true qualities which it possesses. Generally, these qualities are only in the rudimentary state, or well veiled by numerous faults from which it is necessary to free them. The essential point is to first establish the existence of them; one then manages to complete the development of them by patient and orderly studies.”
Garcia tells us to discover in the student a voice worth the effort, and then develop that voice. Such developed vocal gifts are Garcia’s first ingredient. The second part of his answer to the question:“How do we develop donations and sell tickets?” is in his second book. In it he tells us how each artist should use his/her fully developed gift with his/her fully functional technique to excite an audience to ecstatic applause. That empowerment to excite is just the ticket to develop donations and ticket sales.
I answer Garcia’s first call to arms in every Master Class. I always discover vocal gifts! Each class gives me a chance to help the owners of these gifts to develop them. When an artist with enough preparation shows up, I can put Garcia’s second book to good use, and teach “Excite your Audience”.
If you want to become a star and you have a gift sufficient to carry you there, the Opera world needs you. I want to find you and I want to help you. Come to Torino.
If you are an Opera lover, and want to see and hear how good singing is key to the survival of Opera, there is room for you.
For the purpose of demonstration, I dust off my vocal chords every day in those classes. Some have lamented about never hearing me sing in the flesh. Well, there’s room for you, too. Come to Torino next month.Read More
I am happy to be home and have my garden somewhere between 10% to 20% weeded. I’m sure the rest of the weeds in my back yard are still comfortably soaking up the fertilizer I intended to feed my flowers, but they should be shaking down to their roots at the prospect that I will get to them in due time. The weather has dropped lots of happy flower making H2O for the roots, topped off occasionally with a magnificent halo of promise for the eyes that can see and appreciate.
As I recovered from my Torino trek, I have wanted to write something about it and my prayers for inspiration were answered in an Email:
From: Michael Papadopoulos
Sent: Tuesday, June 23, 2015 9:18 AM
Subject: A note from a fan
Hello, Mr. Blake.
Just a little note to tell you how much I admire you and your voice. I’m a bel canto fan and I was following your career for years. It’s a pity I never heard you live. I think you retired too early! I have heard you in almost all your roles in private recordings. I have the old Mozart and Rossini recital lps and the Dame Blanche cd, but I think that your live recordings show off your amazing coloratura and breath control to better effect. I can’t find your complete Idomeneo. All we have is just the 2 arias on video… You’re pretty amazing in Meyerbeer too, in Robert le diable and Les Huguenots…The current Rossini tenors are fine, but none has your range of colors and unlimited breath resources.
Many thanks for the many hours of pleasure you have given us.
All the best,
Now I’m just as vulnerable to flattery as the next tenor, but I have a larger view of what it’s all about, and responded to my correspondent with the following:
Thanks for your note.
I hope my work will in time raise up a few singers capable of inspiring you to write to them of your admiration.
I have my sights set on even larger targets, but my bottom line is inspiring people like you when you go to the theatre. It was my hope, back in the day when I was still singing, that I might be one among many singers who could inspire people like you to drag your friends to subsequent performances. My dream moments, when I was surrounded by singers who inspired, were few, but magic when they happened. Audiences would stop performances in mid-stream for uncomfortable periods of applause, and sometimes kept us singers and conductor parading back and forth through proscenium curtains held open for us by stage hands dreaming of the wine and cheese that some in the orchestra were already enjoying in bars adjacent to the venues.
I have returned home from a Master Class in Torino, Italy where my efforts were dedicated to this proposition, and the work had a draining effect on me. I seemed to empty myself out in service to the singers who showed up seeking to make their way onto any stage that might allow them a chance to inspire an audience. They did get a tiny open door at a concert that marked the end of the Master Class. An audience of intrepid Opera lovers showed up to see if they would discover any inspirational youngsters.
My drained tank of teaching fuel got a big influx of potential energy from the applause of that audience who came out in the rain to attend our little concert. The post event comments directed toward me that day brought my tank to an even higher level of refill. Your note has brought me to the overflow point.
I’m going back to Torino in October, and I hope to meet you there if you are on that side of the Atlantic pond or can afford the freight to get there. If you are stuck on the USA side, come to Plattsburgh in August. Don’t worry, our Augusts are cooler than might be thought. We are too far north here to suffer the effects of Global Warming, if you believe in Global Warming.Read More
This blog’s for Debbie. (My wife.) The die was cast when I mentioned Mario Salerno in my previous blog. I don’t usually take requests, but I could not resist Debbie’s enthusiasm.
When I kick started my career at Washington Opera in 1976, I met Mario. I found him sitting at our rehearsal piano located about level with the surface of the Potomac River somewhere deep in the bowels of the Kennedy Center in our Nation’s Capital. Great building, lovely river and a familiar sight because I had sung many times just downstream from that great white titan for the arts in open air concerts behind Lincoln’s back at his memorial on the shore of the Potomac with the United States Navy Band. It was one of my goals to sing at the Kennedy Center, but I had no idea how my singing would be impacted when it happened.
George London scheduled a production of “L’Italiana in Algeri” for the early days of 1976 and populated it with some of the best talent I could ever hope to work with and steal from. I did steal a lot from one of them, Renato Capecchi, but Mario became a key figure in my musical life. I hope to tell you about Renato in a future blog.
What I know of Mario’s history was gleaned from tidbits of information that he let slip during our conversations. It would be a boring bit of info to know that he studied at the Conservatorio di Musica Luigi Cherubini in Florence, Italy if it were not for the fact that my voice teacher Renata Carisio Booth studied there too, and they were contemporaries. I was so disappointed that they did not remember one another from those school days, but, even so, I suspect that their teaching styles were so similar because those long ago school days had profound influences on them.
Before Mario found work along the Potomac, he had spent more than ten years at La Scala in Milano, Italy during the golden years of singing, and around fifteen years working for Swiss Radio in their classical music broadcasting program.
When I found him, I needed everything he had learned over his long musical life and he was ready to share. I loved the way he worked in studio. He was full of musical suggestions and was dedicated to improving or just varying an interpretation. He was challenging, meticulous and not easy to please.
Mario became my go to guy for help with repertoire and, after Washington, I made the trek to Milano one summer to work with him at his home. It was wonderful. He would hand me suggestion after suggestion for how to sing 4 measures at a time. Not that he had to hector me to sing the way he wanted, because Renata Booth had done the work necessary to prepare me technically to do everything he asked of me and, sometimes, after only one rendition of his suggested interpretation he would say good, now why don’t you try……… I found this work ethic addictive, and when I was invited to return to Wolf Trap in the young artists program, I suggested to Frank Rizzo that he bring Mario in to coach us youngsters. Frank knew how good Mario was, and I got my wish. The only problem with his method of working, that I loved so much, was that it inspired some of my colleagues at Wolf Trap to leave Mario’s studio with tears streaming down their cheeks. I didn’t know that many of my fellow Wolf Trap singers-in-training were accustomed to running all the way through arias before coaches would make any suggestions. The best comment I remember was from a wet faced soprano that couldn’t believe she had spent the better part of an hour working on 8 measures. If my tenor memory serves, I told her that she must be really good, because Mario had the habit of making me work on only 4 measures at a time!
Nothing was too small to address. While I was doing my best in Milano to sing Mario’s musical suggestions, he got frustrated with me doing recitative according to the composer’s notation. That is to say, me following the note values I had memorized. He decided I should study the recitative as spoken language, and he told me he wanted me to learn the rhythm that would be natural to the language. I was all for it, that is at first. He assigned this teaching task to his teenage daughter. I had my doubts that this young lady was going to be able to do anything for me, but we got started. She listened to me recite the recitatives before telling me “Non sembra Italiano.” (That’s not Italian.) During my month long sojourn her three word comment became less and less frequent. She was more than qualified for the job, and she got it done. Mario was pleased with the way I did my best to forget the note durations in those recitatives and rambled over the notes with the replacement rhythm associated with my recitations that had garnered an OK from his young daughter.
Mario and my voice teacher, Renata, may not have remembered each other from Conservatory time, but I think they remembered a lot of what was taught them while they were there. I wish I had asked Mario about his professors at Conservatorio di Musica Luigi Cherubini. Renata had spent time under Ottorino Respighi’s instruction way back then, and I wish I could say the same for Mario. What I can say is that they were consummate professionals who knew what making music was all about, the traditions and how to drill them into their students. They also taught, Renata by insistence and Mario by example, humility along with confidence in one’s abilities and understanding.
Mario was the natural next step in my preparation for the professional life. Renata dragged me out of the woods, pruned off some of my North Country bumpkin culture and put my voice in order. Mario showed me what I should try to do with my voice and my Renata inspired appreciation of sophistication. It was a long, interesting and fulfilling road with many more people stepping in at just the moment needed to point me along in the direction that my life took.
Along the way, Garcia was dropped in my lap… or on my head… Whichever seems more appropriate to your attitude concerning tenors. These formative influences were living introductions to Garcia. I think of them as:
Introduction to, and implementation of Garcia Part One: Renata Carisio Booth
Introduction to, and implementation of Garcia Part Two: Mario Salerno
(and daughter – sorry, I don’t have a picture of her).Read More