Hello dear readers! I have spent too much time away from this Blog, the symbol of so much of the work my Kashu-do colleagues and I have been doing these past 10 years. Yes, Kashu-do is 10 years old!
Today, I would like to punch a hole in this entire presupposition that there is a lack of dramatic voices in the world. I write to you from Barcelona, where after one of our Winter Intensive courses, I decided to spend the holidays. One of the reviews for the Liceu’s current production of L’Italiana in Algieri says it all. In short, some undervoiced singers have made up for their lack of projection with undeniable musicality and stylistic sense, not to mention excellent stagecraft!
In our small Winter Intensive Group, I count a bona fide dramatic coloratura who will eventually take on early Verdi roles like Odabella (Atilla) and Abigaille (Nabucco) and Elena (Vespri Siciliani). I have a baritone who reminds of George London with an endless top and a voice as meaty and rich as a bass. And I count among them a soprano who shows all the elements of a voice like Birgit Nilsson. Yes, they are young and they need time before they can take their places in the operatic firmament. My point is this: In a little course of few singers, I am able to count several dramatic voices appropriate for the many roles that we are having a hard time filling on the big stages of the world!
Let us be clear! There is no shortage of big voices! There is simply a lack of support for those voices. 1) Those voices are not the pretty voices when they begin in choirs in their teenage years. They are initially rough and unbalanced because they require stronger breath support. They are often rejected at that early level. 2) They do not do well in undergraduate educations for similar reasons. The produced operas are usually Mozart operas. Those operas require great control of the passaggio and on both the male and female side, the larger voices have difficulty initially. And when an average program has the students for four years at a maximum, teachers chose to deal with voices that are already better aligned (i.e. the lighter voices). 3) By the time we get to the YAP (Young Artist Program) level, the lighter voices have gotten all the attention and are better in all aspects (vocal production, stagecraft, and physical aesthetics since smaller voices tend to come in smaller packages).
In our intimate programs, the audiences without fail end up being attracted to the voices that impact them (whether lighter or more substantial). I do not have a preference for bigger voices, but I do have a preference for all voices to be as completely substantial as they are naturally. A dramatic soprano singing “off of her voice” is no less annoying than a lyric coloratura singing unsupported. The audiences ( from the least to most educated) respond the same way:
In an operatic context, vocal presence trumps everything!
Who would not want the singer to look and sound the part? This is no argument for obesity or lack of style! If anything, I am a champion for musicianship! I wish the singers that I teach to understand the musical language that they undertake. But what does it matter if we cannot hear the singer? I often say:
What if Martin Luther King’s microphone was off during the “Dream Speech?”
I see too many singers on stage that I do not hear! Recently, I received a recommendation for a young pianist from a respected colleague. Unfortunately, the impertinent upstart spent the entire time teaching voice instead of coaching music, for which he was hired, not to mention he spent the entire time undermining the program he was hired to support. I would not have minded so much if what he was teaching was operatic. But instead, he was espousing the kind of off-the-voice singing that feels easy in the moment and disconnects the singer entirely from the kind of physicality that produces great “audible” voices. The singers he had the most influence over ended up sounding tired and weak. But they were happy enough not to have to support their voices. Note to self: “Do not hire anyone I do not vet myself!”
The point is simple! Opera was much more interesting when we felt the emotions of singers through their very audible voices! If opera is now meant for electronic consumption, let us be clear:
Outfit every singer with a mic and let us call it classical musical theater!
But if we want opera in the real sense, let us spend our times developing great acoustic voices that require physicality, courage, and patience to develop! That’s what I signed up for and I will continue doing just that!
Be heard or get off the stage!!! Make room for beautiful and audible voices!!! Let’s talk about the costumes later!