As I wrote on the last post, Patience is indispensable to any kind of true progress. Some of us have been waiting a long time and are just sick of it. But just when we start thinking that three years is a long time to struggle with a ridiculous vocal change, then satisfying steps begin to happen. After my paradisical teaching experience on Klädesholmen during which time my voice chose to literally go on vacation, it seems that it was more a period of necessary hibernation. Indeed since the day I arrived in Stockholm my voice has decided to awake from its slumber and came out to play. No, none of this is arbitrary as I jokingly try to make it appear. The product of three years of targeted muscular retraining is indeed promising and gives me great hope for the next short while. This is all happening while the members of my posse of tenors-who-formerly-sang-baritone are all experiencing important strides. One is singing Merry Widow, another one is preparing Lensky and a third is being compared to Richard Tucker. Not bad for a bunch of false baritones who a while ago might have taught themselves (and certainly me) crazy for embarking on this road less traveled!
The main reason for sharing these short clips is to discuss the process of muscular training. In sports, athletes who spend many months getting in shape will experience a final period of exponential growth when suddenly they seem to get stronger every day and have increased stamina as well. When I first begin Kung Fu anew, a few months ago, I could not do more than 20 push-ups in one set. But now I push myself to try 50. Likewise, for quite a while, A4 felt like the most difficult note in my voice. I felt that my top notes depended in great part on how well I can sing that note. The first clip I share is a 50 second clip of the difficult part of the aria “L’anima ho stanca” from Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur. Far from a final product in my estimation. I am happy to be able to sustain the A4 comfortably and long. This is a sign of new stamina I did not have a month ago.
But real strength includes the ability to be able to flexibly play with dynamics, and this is something I am only beginning to experience. With greater strength will come the flexibility (non-rigidity) that the Italians refer to as morbidezza. Here Franco Corelli shows how it is done.
It is important to know that the great singers of previous generations built strong voices, whereas in our time, we are often satisfied with the ability to simply coordinate the voice. I taught a fabulous baritone today who made a very important point. He said that many singers get cast based on an audition where they demonstrate they can sing the main arias. But often no one thinks about whether they will make it through the grueling rehearsal process. Indeed the rehearsal period is where a singer finds out how ready they are to do battle with difficult pieces.
Along with my stronger longer but not yet refined A4 came also a new more balanced sustained B4. For this I chose to practice different Bs to improve strength. One such B is “la vita mi costasse, ti salverò” from the first act of Tosca. Pavarotti called it a very difficult note. Again I sustained it as long as felt comfortable to see how much stamina I had. I will take a bit of time before it becomes morbide but I feel on my way with this note.
What is interesting is that despite a pretty long B, the C5 just one semitone higher requires its own specific muscular setup. So although I was able to sustain it a few days ago, it is not a note I could depend on sustaining. I attempted to sustain two different Cs: the cadenza in the cavatina, “meco all’altar di Venere” from Norma and “Gli enigmi sono tre” in the Turandot-Calaf duet.
I share these clips simply to show the developing steps toward a fully strengthened voice. I taught a young tenor I have been working with for the last year today and it was inspiring to here what a well-supported full-voiced C#5 sounds like. I will ask him to send it to me and I will post it here. Experiencing his development with the top notes gave me a great deal of hope. The path is clear to these notes but it is simply a matter of strength and that takes time. Getting to work with the many fully formed voices here in Sweden is both inspiring and humbling. It gives one a much better sense of what a final product should sound like. I am very happy to “…be in the fray” as George Shirley would often say, but the battle is far from over. I am winning it though!