"Which comes first, Music or Text?"

What a trick question.... Voice is first.

Torino Memories

Posted by on Oct 23, 2015 in Featured, Garcia, Opera, Singing, Teaching

Torino Memories

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.IMGP1356 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.

IMGP1447Those 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 possibleIMGP1461 copy 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 hadIMGP1393 copy 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.IMGP1400 copy smaller 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.IMGP4662 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.

IMGP1405I 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”.IMGP1402 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.



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Torino Bound

Posted by on Sep 19, 2015 in Featured, Garcia, Opera, Singing, Teaching

Torino Bound

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.Falling leaves small

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.

CONFERENZA STAMPA BUONAWith 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.


Fort Worth Opera

San Diego Opera
Michigan Opera Theatre


Lyric Opera Chicago 2

Teatro Reggio Torino

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.Mertopolitan Opera

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.

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Email exchange

Posted by on Jun 26, 2015 in Featured, Opera, Singing, Teaching

Email exchange

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:

—–Original Message—–

From: Michael Papadopoulos

Sent: Tuesday, June 23, 2015 9:18 AM

To: rocky@************************.***

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:

Dear Michael,


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.


Many thanks,


Rockwell Blake

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.

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Who was Mario Salerno?

Posted by on Jun 11, 2015 in Blog, Featured, Garcia, Living, Opera, Personal History, Singing

Who was Mario Salerno?

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

Renata Booth

Introduction to, and implementation of Garcia Part Two: Mario Salerno

(and daughter – sorry, I don’t have a picture of her).

Mario Salerno

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Almost Two Weeks to Torino!

Posted by on May 28, 2015 in Blog, Featured, Garcia, Opera, Singing, Teaching

Almost Two Weeks to Torino!

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 as getting back to work with those of you signed up already for more of what Garcia spent his life teaching.  Even if you haven’t already signed up, I hope to see you there if you will let me help you.

In case Torino is too far to travel or just doesn’t fit your calendar, please come to my home town, Plattsburgh, NY, for a Master Class. It will begin August 10 and finish with a concert on August 16.  Last year’s Plattsburgh event was a blast that moved some of our participants to make some really big changes in their vocal lives.  Come and see if we can bring your singing to a higher level.

Now to get back to dragging Falsetto out of today’s confusion, let’s first remember what the Great Master had to say about discerning talent:

Garcia writes:

                Often one needs an experienced judgment 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.

A Complete Treatise on the Art of Singing: Part One by Manuel Garcia II

I don’t think anyone needs any experience or judgment to admit that Luciano Pavarotti had a fantastic talent, and successfully sang all over the World.  I seem to remember that when anyone wanted to talk about the “faults” that Luciano may have possessed while he was still singing, critics and theatre goers were more concerned with non-vocal imperfections.  I don’t remember anyone quibbling with his vocal qualities.

Let’s push off into the Falsetto fog by agreeing that Luciano is not displaying any “faults” in the little video embedded at the end of this blog.

The audience response recorded at the end of this video should help me convince you to agree.

Mario Salerno

Mario Salerno

Luciano used enough Falsetto in his interpretation of Nemorino’s aria to fulfill the traditional interpretive mannerisms I learned from a fantastic old man of the theatre, Mario Salerno.  “Who was Mario?” could be a stand-alone blog, or a page, and I may get to it one day, but for now I introduce him as my guide to a lot more Falsetto use in Nemorino’s aria than Luciano used when he was caught on video tape.

Falsetto can be a big fault in the singing of a student when it appears unintentionally on notes that a composer would argue should be sung in Chest Voice.  I encountered, in Roveretto, just such a student.

In that same jewel of a town, Roveretto, I ran into an un-tenor that reported the displeasure of certain important Italian Opera operatives with a tenor that used a lot of Falsetto in Nemorino’s aria just as I had I taught him to sing it in Torino last year.

I can agree that when Falsetto is the only function used by a fella, it is a fault.

When Falsetto is used convincingly, according to traditional interpretive values, it is not a “fault” but is a wonderful tool.

Back to Luciano: I suggest you download the music (by clicking here) and follow along with the video.  You will find that my markings in the music indicate where Luciano used “CGC” – “Complete Glottal Closure” or “Chest Voice” and where he incorporated in his singing “IGC” – “Incomplete Glottal Closure” or “Falsetto”.

This blog is an introduction to my analysis of Luciano’s performance and only addresses two issues.

  1. Where did Luciano change from Chest Voice to Falsetto?
  2. What does Falsetto – IGC and Chest Voice – CGC sound like?

Luciano’s voice has a striking divergence of quality when he moves from Chest Voice to Falsetto and back.  The difference that you can hear in this video is an excellent example to use for recognizing these two functions in the singing of other vocalists, and in your own singing if you happen to be a guy.

How much of either function should a singer use?

An answer to that question was dumped on me by that un-tenor in Roveretto who put me on notice that Falsetto is just not good singing.  I’m glad Luciano knew better.

Luciano used Falsetto much less than I would like to hear.  Falsetto only appears on 35 notes of his singing as compared to Luciano using Chest Voice on 159 of the notes he sang.  But then I can understand that Luciano’s voice was just so beautiful when he sang in “CGC” – Chest Voice, that making his listeners wait and wish for that gorgeous flow of glowing vocal gold by singing a lot of Falsetto might seem a big risk.

Does anyone want to suggest that there is no difference between the beginning phrase Luciano sings at measure #10 and the phrase we hear at measure #27?  If so, you need medical help or an upgrade to your hearing aid.  If you think Luciano should have sung #27 the same way as #10, then you may be a Verdi or Wagner addict who needs to expand his/her taste in music.

I’m going to leave you with an assignment.  Keep the music with my markings handy.  Print it out if you like, and troll through You Tube for “Una furtive lagrima” sung by other singers.  See if you can pinpoint where each singer sings in “CGC” and “IGC”.  Certainly no other tenor will sing this aria the same way as Luciano.  I believe there was no more perfect voice for “Nemorino” to be found anywhere, but his rendition of “Una furtiva lagrima” could have been more interesting interpretively.  But, again, given the beauty of his voice, keeping his audience happy was more about delivering his sound to their ears than developing the character of Nemorino or sharing Nemorino’s emotions with them.  This is not the case for the rest of us.

I have a lot to say about what the rest of us should do, and I’ll be back later to say it.

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Falsetto Friends

Posted by on Apr 8, 2015 in Blog, Featured, Opera, Philosophy, Singing, Teaching

Falsetto Friends

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. It was a tenor, of course, who started the ball rolling toward an incident in Rovereto.  I taught that tenor how to sing “Una furtiva lagrima” from L’ELESIR’ D’AMORE. It wasn’t the only aria we worked on, but it became a bone of contention.  I mentioned this tenor’s success in the little concert we did in Torino in a previous blog from that city.  It was a struggle to convince him, but eventually he successfully put Falsetto to exactly the use for which the Bel Canto composer, Donizetti, intended.  The result was most gratifying, but a kerfuffle was set to catch up to me a month later.

Now, my struggle with my Torino tenor was nothing new to my work.  I strove for an extended period, back in Plattsburgh, to convince another tenor to utilize Falsetto in Bel Canto music with eventual and welcome success.  Apparently Verdi loving voice teachers are loath to accept Falsetto as a worthy component of good singing, and I encountered in these tenors a shared attitude of aversion for Falsetto use.  My Plattsburgh tenor told me that his previous Maestri had told him that what I was suggesting to him was “not singing”.

Even with this background, I was not ready for the incredulous inquiry I received after the Rovereto concert.  A Rovereto home boy baritone participated in the concert, and during the crowded aftermath he got in my face (it was very noisy in the hallway) and asked me if I had, by chance, ever worked with a certain tenor. It was my Torino guy.  I told the home boy that I had worked with him in more than one master class, upon which declaration the baritone told me that he had recently been on the jury of a competition in which that tenor had sung “Una furtiva lagrima”.  He did not win the competition because of the way he sang that aria.  The baritone wanted to know if it were true that I had taught him to sing so badly.  Given that I was not there to hear what that tenor had done, I was at a loss to discuss the quality of his rendition of “Una furtive lagrima” but I did manage to bellow that I had taught him how to sing the aria “alla” Bel Canto.  I was happy that at that point in our semi-shouted conversation a bevy of fans grabbed him away from me and I was accosted by a few audience members that wanted to recount to me good memories of performances in which I sang.  I felt badly for my Torino tenor.

The baritone’s dislike for good Bel Canto style was easily understandable given his performance of Mozart’s music in the concert.  Everyone, including me, would praise the quality of the man’s voice, but I wouldn’t suggest his rendition as a model for anyone to follow in the interpretation area.  This is because I believe Mozart’s music lives best in a style of singing that this Rovereto home boy just didn’t bring to the concert.  I suspected that many of my favorite components of Mozart style are missing from the man’s vocal technique.

I subsequently learned from my Torino tenor that he was a “good friend” of this Rovereto home boy and that they had shared a voice teacher.  A light bulb switched on in my head!  It has long been my observation that teachers often teach the style of singing they employed, when and if they sang for a living, as if it were a technique. I have often heard and read references to Verdi technique, Rossini technique, Bellini technique etc. essentially mixing style and technique together.  These Torino / Rovereto events brought home to me most forcefully how limiting this way of thinking and teaching can actually be.  Vocal technique is not style specific, but empowering to all styles.  Style and technique are not the same thing.  Each style, excepting the hardest Bel Canto, has a limited set of technical requirements, and teaching only those requirements leaves the student bereft of many elements of technique necessary for the other styles.

I knew that the technical components I had taught my Plattsburgh and Torino tenors to use for “Una furtiva lagrima” would inspire an audience to applaud.  My audiences did when I used them.  Since I learned these technical things from a woman born just 5 years after Garcia’s death and I learned how to apply them to “Una furtiva lagrima” from a man of her generation who attended her alma mater at the same time she did, I assume my taste and style of execution for the singing of this aria are traditional.  Looking back at the history of music through the lens each composer offers us on the time line can be a wonderfully enlightening study, but if one of them, like Verdi, becomes a glass so darkened that his becomes the only style visible to a teacher or singer, then just about all other composers’ music will suffer damage at the hands of the teacher and the voice of the singer.  It was nice to hear from my Torino tenor about his audience at the competition that he didn’t win.  He told me that they enthusiastically approved of his rendition, even if his “good friend” Rovereto home boy, and the teacher they once upon a time shared, who was also on that jury, didn’t like it.

Falsetto has a place in the House of Music, even for boys.  There is a lot of confusion about when it is called for, what it should sound like and when it is inappropriate.  I hope to get to these issues very soon.

The artist in the above video is my reason for never singing Nemorino.  I knew I couldn’t compete with Luciano.  My Torino tenor is no match for Luicano either, but he learned to do everything Luciano did in the above video and more.  I’ll be back to explain the “more”.

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Falsetto Fog

Posted by on Apr 5, 2015 in Featured, Garcia, Opera, Singing, Teaching

Falsetto Fog

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 French repertoire.  Not that he seemed to have any idea what falsetto was.  I took particular pleasure in meeting this challenge and dragged most of his singing out of falsetto. Mr. Chen has an interesting voice but, submerged as it was in “Falsetto”, who could tell?  Mr. Carlo Vitali, one of my fellow jury members for Premio Ferrari, came to observe our progress in the master classes and noticed Mr. Chen’s results.  Mr. Chen’s singing improved so much that Mr. Vitali convinced the full jury to invent a special prize just for this tenor.

After Rovereto, Falsetto held center stage in my thoughts, and in short order two E-goads appeared from the Internet to inspire this blog.  The first one emerged from Face Book:

Caro Maestro, ieri ho discusso via facebook con Enrico Stinchelli della barcaccia, ieri nella trasmissione hanno fatto ascoltare diversi tenori nella cabaletta dell’aria vivi tu, tra i quali lei. Lui sostiene che lei usava il falsettone. Mi sono molto arrabbiato perchè non si possono dire stupidaggini così grosse in pubblico. Se lei usava il falsettone, allora non ho capito nulla di canto!!! Sbaglio??? La saluto con tanto affetto

My English translation:

Dear Maestro, yesterday I communicated on Facebook with Enrico Stinchelli of barcaccia, yesterday in the broadcast they let us hear various tenors in the last part of the aria vivi tu, among whom there was you.  He (Stinchelli) maintains the idea that you used a large falsetto.  I am very angry, because one should not say such incredibly stupid things in public.  If you used a large falsetto, then I understand nothing of singing!!!  Do I make a mistake??? I salute you with much affection

The guys at La Barcaccia are lots of fun, and love good singing, but they seem to be lost in some kind of Falsetto fog.  My Face Book pal is correct to disagree with their suggestion that my singing in the pirate recording of ANNA BOLENA they aired on RAI 3 included an example of me using a “falsettone”. Whatever a “falsettone” might be, it was not what I produced. I sang a very high pitch in Chest Voice.  There was no falsetto on display at all, but why not make the assertion?  It makes for lively controversy, doesn’t it?  It inspired my Face Book friend to write to me and I welcome all goads toward doing good things.

The next E-goad that impacted my virtual hind parts came by Email and I excerpt a bit of it here:

When I sing up, I feel quite well a resonance shift in the passaggio-area (so somewhere middle b-natural to g). But its not like a different register and there is no “break”, so thats fine.

Until half a year ago, I could never sing higher than bflat though. I would push and strain and my throat would close up or I would crack horribly which was always good for some amusement but nothing more :-). I thought that the remaining high notes would come with time and patience…

Then suddenly I discovered some sort of “click” around that high bflat/bnatural which brought me in what I thought was falsetto – so I never thought, this could be any acceptable sound. Someone then pointed out to me that this sounds just fine and nothing like falsetto because it still kept a metallic twang and even that from outside its not an audible change in “register”. But it always felt to ME like a different register. Its a bit like a scream of a baby but it is comfortable and I can “sing” up that way to super high d or higher without hurting myself (there is no blood coming out of my mouth :-).

Now, my questions:

1. Do you understand me and this sensation I feel? Do you remember feeling something similar when learning your fantastic technique?

2. You say that boys (and clearly I am a boy) stay in the same register (chest) all the time, so how should I explain this sensation?

I hope you find time to answer me! I know its hard to talk about it without hearing, so I could send a recording or something.

My tenor friend is on the right track.  He needs to know that the trick of the “click” he has discovered is a simple thing to explain, but is a difficult maneuver to do.  He is not switching from Chest Voice to Falsetto. He begins at his “click” to reverse the “resonance shift” (Dark Timbre application) he did in the “passaggio”.  That is to say that the “scream of a baby” character of the sound he has “discovered” in the vocal mesosphere is not falsetto.  It is Chest Voice.  Had he not done the “resonance shift” (Dark Timbre application) in the “passaggio” (transition between troposphere and stratosphere), he would have discovered the inevitable “scream of a baby” on much lower notes.  19th Century composers expected Chest Voice function from us boys when they wrote f, ff or fff in their music.  It didn’t matter whether their notes were written in the vocal troposphere, stratosphere or mesosphere.

I believe we could burn off the fog surrounding falsetto today in a minute if we would just get the facts straight.  Garcia himself mixed the voices of boys and girls together when he first published his theories.  No one likes to admit that they are wrong, and Garcia did not admit he had changed his opinion about falsetto when, in later editions of his Treatise, he changed his descriptions.  We modern types have to untangle the web of conflicting texts, because Garcia did not straight forwardly admitted that he was wrong in his first assertion that girls’ and boys’ voices move from Chest to Falsetto on the same pitches. This idea of sex synchrony disappeared when he invented the laryngoscope.  With his little mirror on a stick he could finally see the vocal chords operate, get a clear view of vocal function and complete his vocal theories.

His Laryngoscope pierced this Falsetto fog and changed his mind.

How fun is History!!!!!?

I hate Foggy knowledge and Falsetto fog is just one component of the greater fog surrounding the art and craft of singing.   I happen to love real fog when found where it belongs, like Venice:

I’m glad I’m not the only one to like fog for fog’s sake.


Pierre Auguste Renoir liked fog in Venice, too.

Pierre Auguste Renoir liked fog in Venice, too.

Turning full circle back to the future of Classical Music, this link will give you a chance to hear some movers and shakers wonder about how the future will support Classical Music.

I will be back to talk about these movers and shakers again because Falsetto fog figures fundamentally in the Opera example played near the end of that show.  I hope to be able to shine enough Sun light on this fog to burn it up.  I’ll use mirrors if I have to.

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Thanks for all the Happy Birthday good wishes!

Posted by on Jan 14, 2015 in Featured

Thanks for all the Happy Birthday good wishes!

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 when Debbie snaps a hawk and I complete another year of life, I count these things as blessings.  I hope I will be able to share some of these blessings with you.

Hunting Hawk

Hunting Hawk

Anyway, 2015 is begun and has lifted off for a good flight.  I closed 2014 with a pause in the Blog, but with a great Garcia victory.  It seems like only a few days ago that I ventured a “Thank you” to Donald V. Paschke in a blog. Since that blog, a few years have passed during which I tracked down the man, pestered him and convinced him to let me republish his books.  My fingers are now often dancing all over the editing/formatting work that this project requires.  I’ll let you know when I get these books ready to go.

Another crusade, that distracted me from blogging, delivered a victory.  Debbie and I did our small bit to help elect the youngest woman ever to the United States Congress.  We met Elise Stefanik when she first set out to win her election to Congress, and when we had the opportunity we decided to help.  The reason we got involved is the same reason I do this blog.  Generations change as time flies, and the newest generations must live with the greater portion of the future time carries us into.  I believe Elise will be a preserving influence on our Nation.

Putting Garcia’s books into the hands of students of moderate means, and electing responsible young people to office are the same exercise.  We want to preserve the best of History’s achievements.  I want the USA and Opera to make it from 2015 to 2100 in good shape and full of joy for those who appreciate freedom and glorious singing.

As you may know, the Bible tells us about salt.  I pray to be really salty.  I expect Elise to maintain her saltiness. Garcia may be a dead white guy, but his legacy is like:

Bacalao in open market Oporto, Portugal

Bacalao in open market
Oporto, Portugal

 Saltier than these Portuguese staples would be hard to find.

Thanks again to all who remembered my Birthday.  I remember it with thankful gratitude.

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Premio Ferrari

Posted by on Oct 9, 2014 in Featured, Opera, Singing, Teaching

Premio Ferrari

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 can afford.  At this moment I have two places to be and one of me.  One tenor equals one location occupied by that tenor.  It is a hard truth for a tenor to accept.  That’s why tenors often used to collect contracts for two Opera productions in the same period.  I think things have changed a lot.



It is unlikely that tenors will change between the ears, but lots of them would seem desperate to have enough contracts on their calendars to pay their bills these days.



Rovereto 3

Walk Better

As usual, I want to stay home but I will ignore that desire and soon go down the airport access tunnel, after turning in my boarding pass, to take my seat on the aircraft that will take me back to Italy. The reason for the trip is almost the same as my visit to Torino.  Young singers are what the future of Opera and Classical Singing is made of.  My desire to see that future be as bright as the past in which I lived my professional life keeps my studio doors open to students and pushing me out the door of our little house to exit the North Country.

Premio Ferrari

Premio Ferrari

This trip will bring me to Rovereto, Italy.  It would be wonderful to find singers who can make conferring the Premio Ferrari a difficult decision because of how good they all are.  If you are a Soprano or a Baritone, and you think you have what it takes to help make the future of Classical Music bright, come to Rovereto on the twenty first of this month to make judging the competition difficult, or, if you are really outstanding, you might make it easy.

On top of seeking out talented singers to promote through the Premio Ferrari, I will also be doing my Master Class best to help anyone, Tenors and Mezzo Sopranos included, who want to come to Rovereto for advice.   Even if you are among the contestants, I know I have something for you.  I always find something in my tool bag for everyone who asks me to help them improve their ability to sway their audience.  There are lots of things in my tool kit to help resolve vocal difficulties.  I’m ready for anything and everything you bring with you.  Please come.  Please win.

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Lesson 1.003

Posted by on Oct 6, 2014 in Featured, Opera, Singing, Teaching

Lesson 1.003

I arrived back home from Torino just in time to see our North Country trees alight with color.  Along with putting things in Snow ready order, it also seems good to me to continue delineating the syllabus that Garcia’s writings suggest to me.  Reading and pondering his writing leads me to believe in these torturously small steps.

In Torino, a Master Class participant handed me an opportunity to apply these tiny Garcia steps.  I used exactly what I described in Lessons 1, 1.001 and 1.002.  The lesson material needed to be well packaged for a Master Class participant of long vocal experience.  He wanted answers to the nagging question for which many vocal students never find even one answer:

Close to HOME

Close to HOME

“Why can’t I sing as well as so many other singers are able to sing.”  This particular answer seeker has a vocal instrument worthy of consideration, but his sound was terribly encumbered by many, varied, extreme and extremely contradictory adjustments. He allowed me to suddenly situate him inside Garcia’s starting gate.  I knew Garcia’s principles would work if I could ease this singer into accepting them.  He accepted and they worked.  His voice began to reorganize and the faulty phonation gave way to a sound production much easier to listen to, even pleasant and promising to become reliable.   My hope is that he will have the force of character, attentive ears and good taste to continue the work, and keep improving.


Closer to HOME

I feel the need to talk about just one more thing before leaving Torino for today.  I repeated myself in that Master Class on many things, but I made tatters of the words: “Impose the rhythm of the language of the text on the composer’s music!”   Composers have the pitch prerogative.  Singers, however, can successfully play with the accent and syllable duration to make the composer’s vocal line correspond with the language.  Language is made up of many components, but the most important characteristics of the words are pitch and rhythm. Even film writers are aware of the importance of pitch in elocution.  So when we give that tool to the composer we should be under high motivation to resort to using the equally important tool, rhythm.  Tempo Rubato is not evil.

Now I’m ready to return to basics, and add another pitch to the scale.  There is no room for any of the deficiencies or defects I discussed in the previous lessons.  The singer travels one pitch higher. The result should be that the basic quality of the sound on the lowest pitch remains on all three pitches with only the slightest diminution of weight or some might say heft or darkness or others might call it caliber or warmth or, or, or,,,  Yes, these vocal issues are just as invulnerable to my linguistic description as they were to Garcia.  Garcia knew what he wanted to hear, as did just about everyone in the “Italian” School back then.  One day I hope to include at least one successful example from one of my students, but, until then, we will have to put up with the limitation of language.

As I passed through this .003 lesson stage with my Torino Master Class participant, I was reminded of a difficulty.  Singing an ascending three note scale can be a challenge in itself, but singing down the scale can be an even more difficult voyage.  It is common to attain victory in ascending the scale, and then to be unable to return to the original sound on the lowest pitch.  Remember, the sound quality remains with each higher pitch, but the apparent weight of the sound should become progressively lighter as the voice ascends the scale.  Going down the scale successfully will necessitate a reversal of this sonic sliming of the voice.  The goal is to have the most beautiful sound on the first pitch which stays just as beautiful if almost imperceptibly slimmer on each higher pitch, and then to find the way back down to that starting pitch displaying all its fulsome glory.  A student failing to find that initial fullness of sound at the bottom of the descending scale and not being able to discern any difference for himself or herself, is displaying either a tin ear or total inattention.  The hearing system can be trained, and the singer can give more attention to the project. When the student can get this little hurdle behind him/her, we have confirmation that the student’s ear is developing the ability to observe his or her own voice as it operates.

It may have been revealed that Garcia himself suffered in his youth from something like the above difficulty when some of the history of his lessons with his father was reported by his biographer:

The monotony of the first portion of this training evidently became very wearisome in time, for Señor Garcia would afterwards recall how one day, after being made to sing an endless variety of ascending scales, his desire for a change became so great that he could not resist bursting out, “Oh dear! mayn’t I sing down the scale even once?”

Mackinlay, M. (Malcolm) Sterling (2011-09-07). Garcia the Centenarian And His Times Being a Memoir of Manuel Garcia’s Life and Labours for the Advancement of Music and Science (Kindle Locations 365-366). Kindle Edition.

Can you imagine what his daddy might have said?

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