While I will be working on the more technical information on the blog, I will deal with technical issues I encounter in the studio or that come up on NFCS. I encourage you, the readers to suggest topics you wish to discuss. The Subject of the Day will be a continuing, less formal feature of the blog. Any comment that has a bearing on technical issues is fair game.
A young tenor on the New Forum for Classical Singers questioned about “Mixed Voice”. I understood his usage of the term to mean a balanced mode of phonation in the top voice that is not falsetto and not the chest voice brought up, but rather a balanced muscular coordination between muscles that thicken the folds and those that lengthen them. My comments to him will follow, but first we should make some precisions and distinctions in terminology.
Several terms are erroneously used interchangeably, including mixed voice, half-voice voix mixte, voce mista, and mezza voce. We have to refer to Italian understandings of the terms because the original terminology comes out of Italy. But rather than argue about how the terminology was understood four hundred years ago, it makes more sense to investigate the consensus among contemporary Italians. On the site, La voce artistica, maintained by surgeon and laryngologist, Franco Fussi, a poll of professional and amateur singers was taken to consider their understanding of the term voce mista. By a wide margin, the understanding is that the term refers to a coordination between the qualities of the heavy mechanism (heavy chest voice at the extreme) and that of the light mechanism (falsetto or flute voice at the extreme) specifically in the area of the passaggio, D4-G4 (first passaggio for female voices). The term mezza voce (literally half-voice) refers to softer a volume level irrespective of range when compared to voce piena (full voice). The direct French translation of voce mista, voix mixte, is meant by the French in the same way that Italians mean voce mista. It is referring specifically to balance issues in the passaggio. However, in the United States at least, the term has become synonymous with the ability to sing softly irrespective of range as exhibited by masters of French mélodies. The term half voice is an exact translation of mezza voce, and general refers to softer well-supported singing irrespective of range. The term mixed voice has two connotations in different musical genres. In opera or “lyric” singing, the term is used like its Italian counterpart voce mista as referring specifically to register balance in the passaggio. However in popular and Musical Theater singing mixed voice refers to a technique of reducing subglottic pressure by phonating in a slightly breathy manner. Since the need to reduce subglottic pressure in belting tends to occur around the passaggio range D4-G4, the term was most likely borrowed from the operatic glossary.