Two-part Vocal Closure Mechanism per Titze

Since I have not been part of the Higher Education environment for the last fourteen years, I miss out on a lot of interesting publications. What is interesting is that an article by Ingo Titze in The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America dating back to 2014 corroborates the theories I have shared on this blog relative to the necessity of deeper fold adduction. Titze’s conclusions (a culmination of more than a quarter century of research and shared research with colleagues) are so accepted in the field that they inspired research in surgical procedures to achieve the so-called rectangular glottis in phonation. I will attempt to clarify the basics as Titze explains in his article:

Titze concludes there are three muscle groups responsible for different aspects of glottal adduction: 1) The Lateral Crico-Arytenoid (LCA) pair that bring the folds to midline at the superior aspect (upper portion) of the folds. 2) Thyro-Arytenoid (TA), which includes two muscles, vocalis and muscularis, thicken the folds vertically and brings the folds in contact at the inferior aspect (lower portion) of the folds. Finally 3) Inter-Arytenoid (IA) pairs seal the posterior gap to prevent air leakage (IA is less relevant to this discussion since it only prevents leakage beyond the vibratory edge of the folds)

Titze states:

The LCA adducts the vocal processes of the arytenoid cartilages, which bring the superior edges of the vocal folds together…The bottom of the vocal folds is adducted by the TA.

But Crico-Thyroid (CT), the primary function of which is the lengthening of the folds (also called the pitch muscle) has an adductory function as well.

Titze explains further:

What role does CT activity play in registration? Its main function is anterior–posterior fiber stiffness regulation of the vocal fold tissue layers by vocal fold lengthening, but CT also plays a role in adduction. LCA and CT activity are often highly correlated in speech (Atkinson, 1978). One reason is that, when fundamental frequency is high and governed by tension in the vocal ligament (Van den Berg, 1960Titze et al., 1988), amplitude of vibration is small. Smaller amplitude requires more adduction at the vocal processes to allow the vocal folds to reach contact in vibration.

Titze confirms what I have attempted to explain here–That shallower glottal posture (i.e. convergent glottis, as Titze refer to it) requires “more adduction.”

Thinner tends to be pressed (my words).

In addition, elongated vocal folds are retracted from the glottal midline because their cross sectional area is reduced. This retraction requires further LCA adduction, which adjusts the glottis toward a convergent shape if TA activity is not simultaneously increased (Hirano, 1975). In other words, bottom adduction may not follow top adduction of the vocal folds when CT is much more activated than TA (Berke et al., 1989). At the opposite extreme, if TA activation is strong and the ligament is lax due to little CT activation, a divergent pre-phonatory configuration can be the outcome. Adduction at the top is then weaker than adduction at the bottom. For mixed registration, it is hypothesized that the two extremes are avoided with appropriate muscle balance so that a near rectangular glottis is achieved and stiffness is balanced in the tissue layers. A small convergence angle is probably not detrimental, but large divergent or convergent angles are not conducive to low-threshold self-sustained oscillation.

Titze concludes (perhaps correctly) that LCA (the primary adductory muscle) approximates only the upper portion of the folds and that TA is needed to adduct the lower aspect. He then correlates LCA and CT. He refers to convergent glottis as related to LCA dominance and divergent glottis to be TA dominant. That is one way of looking at it. Far be it from me to question the research of a top scientist far more fluent in his understanding of such matters than I am. Nevertheless, I have a suggestion purely from the singer’s point of view:

I believe that pre-phonatory postures are a result of the singer’s expectation of vocal timbre. If I imagine myself to be a bass, I will tend to expect a deep sound, which might lead to exaggerated TA activity resulting in a divergent glottis. The sound feels like it is rooted in the chest. This posture prevents the folds from closing at the upper portion, which is related to a lack of CT activity (lengthening). That imbalance results in lax vocal folds and result in a rather dull timbre. This, of course begins with the singer’s desire to sound bassy (this would work for a mezzo as well). The opposite can be said for a tenor (or soprano)–that is a tendency to desire brightness over darkness in the voice, resulting in an excessively convergent glottal posture. Naturally a tenor or soprano can desire to be excessively dark just as a bass or mezzo may seek to be excessively bright.

If we take as given that fold posture is primarily influenced by the singer’s imagined sound, then I would explain more simply that LCA is the primary adductory muscle and that the shape of the the glottis will depend on the balance between CT and TA.

Titze concludes that a balanced (or mixed) coordination in the antagonistic relationship between CT and TA will produce a desired rectangular posture that requires less adduction than the convergent (relatively pressed) glottal posture. Ideally, the folds approximate gently along the entire vertical cross-section of the folds.

The rectangular posture gives both richness and brilliance to the tone–In bel canto terms, chiaroscuro.

Titze also mentions that the extreme postures, convergent and divergent, are more stable, which is why more singers tend to find comfort in a one-sided posture (convergent or divergent). The most admired singers achieve a successful tightrope act of balancing CT and TA and regulating breath pressure as to not blow apart the gently adducting rectangular glottis and adjusting vowels in order to achieve acoustic configurations that encourage the dynamic coordination that produces the rectangular glottis.

The singer’s challenge is to figure out how it feels to access the two sides of adduction. How does appropriate TA activity feels such that it produces ideal posture on the lower portion of the folds? And how does one combine that sensation with the sensation of appropriate CT activity to close the upper portion of the folds? That is what we must achieve in voice lessons. The benefits of a mixed (rectangular) posture include an easier, more flexible tone; more dynamic transitions between registers; greater volume control; greater stamina and less wear on the folds. And more!

Lastly, health matters! Our folds’ surface is not always flat and smooth. It is usually somewhat uneven from inadequate sleep or viscosity from inadequate hydration or reflux or allergies or colds, etc. When the surface is uneven, we often compensate by adducting a little more firmly to avoid gaps in the closure (which sounds raspy and produce subharmonics). In so doing, we are creating a chain reaction that results in a more convergent glottis, lacking in depth and causing abrupt register changes. Achieving this balance is the singer’s daily work for a lifetime. Additionally, achieving balance in speaking has a great influence on the ability to achieve a mixed (Bi-stable fold adduction, per Titze’s article) posture in singing.

Copyright 4 December 2020

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The Development of Anna Netrebko in Light of the MET NYE Gala

I was not at the gala, so my comments are a response to comments I have read from singers who were there and from two reviews that disagree on most aspects but are united in Ms. Netrebko’s singing (The New York Times and Operawire). From the recordings I have listened to of Netrebko’s “In questa reggia,” I am not surprised that she would do well. Her tone is fundamentally full and flexible and always well-supported. There is enough natural substance to the voice to justify certain dramatic roles. But before I continue, a little background regarding my personal assessment of Netrebko’s voice when she caught the world’s attention.

I tend to shy away from opera singers who are complimented for their looks far beyond their voices. That was the case with Netrebko in the beginning and I was turned off even before I had the chance to hear her live. When I finally did, it was a production of Rigoletto with Villazon as Duca di Mantua. The voice reminded me of the more substantial incarnations of Renata Scotto’s career–More lyric than coloratura. She was comfortable in the first act but not dominant. She was breathtakingly beautiful in the second and third acts. Therefore I was surprised that she took on Puritani and Sonnambula. In both roles I found her inconsistent relative to intonation in the highest parts of both roles. Lucia was even worse and the Traviata for which she garnered great reviews also betrayed suspect intonation the highest parts of the role. I said often (perhaps even on this blog–I must search) back then that she should sing more lyric roles. Gounod’s Juliette was a great fit for her. I experienced that incarnation opposite Alagna in a celebrated MET production. Unfortunately the night I saw it had Domingo in the pit to disastrous results. While I loved her “Je veux vivre,” despite Domingo pedantically interfering in a 3-pattern (no professional conductor would be beating 3 in that situation), I left the theater after the first act. I could no longer bear the disaster in the pit. I’m a huge fan of Domingo as a singer, even in some of his baritone incarnations. If he were serious as a conductor, he should have taken some lessons from his many great conductor-friends. But I digress! I had also enjoyed several of Netrebko’s excellent Mozart roles.

A few seasons ago, I experienced her as an excellent Leonora in Trovatore in Berlin and later as Elsa in Dresden’s Lohengrin. The voice had gained in fullness without losing flexibility. I was impressed! The Lady Macbeth attempts (as I experienced at the Waldbühne in Berlin), in my opinion, were disastrous. I remember a similarly scary broadcast of a celebration at the Bolshoi in Moscow. The hint of a wobble was evident and a sense that the voice was at its limits:

I was under the impression that she would quickly decline as so many before her have done by taking on heavier and heavier roles until they cross the line of inappropriateness. Perhaps I was wrong! Many great singers with very long careers have overcome disastrous role attempts to become models of vocal intelligence: Gedda’s singular Lohengrin and Pavarotti foregoing Cavaradossi for 13 years after he was advised by di Stefano to respect the potential perils of the role.

I questioned Netrebko’s choices further because of the fact that the World Operatic Oligarchy (WOO for short) banked so much on the persons of Netrebko and Kaufmann to unbearable stress, at very least evident in Kaufmann’s illnesses over the last few years. But unlike Kaufmann’s dilemma of being the only lirico-spinto that WOO has bet on, Netrebko’s reign as the current prima donna in assoluta, she is far from the only viable and celebrated soprano taking on the light Wagner, Verdi and Puccini in the world. She may have more time to calculate and learn from potential mistakes. If she is to last, she will have to forgo roles like Lady Macbeth, Santuzza, Elisabetta (Don Carlo) and ultimately Kundry, Isolde, Senta and Elektra, i.e. roles requiring a thicker middle and fuller second passaggio than are natural to her fundamentally lyric instrument.

Why do I think Netrebko will take on those roles? At least Elisabetta, Isolde and Elektra (the Strauss not the Mozart) are bonafide prima donna vehicles and Netrebko’s career has been built on glamor not artistry. By all estimation, she is indeed a very sensitive artist. Unfortunately, those responsible for developing a career are less interested in the impact on the art form but rather obsessed on the individual as an end unto herself. And despite the fact that Ms. Netrebko is a rare artist, I had to find that out upon reflection and sifting through many videos. For despite her superior talent, she has been marketed as a fashion modal who sings opera instead of a great operatic artist who happens to be a very glamorous woman as perhaps Schwarzkopf before her. Now that she has fed the WOO, perhaps she has enough time and freedom to build her legacy as the excellent artist she is without the tethers of representing pop culture as well. She chose her MET NYE Gala repertoire very well. Indeed she is a memorable Mimi and one of the best Tosca’s around (I prefer Radvanovsky’s sound-surround suppleness vocally) particularly with respect to the necessary emotional content she brings to the role. Her current videos of Turandot on Youtube reflect promise in the role.

Let’s hope she continues a great and steady climb and bring back the idea that an opera singer’s legacy is based on her/his longevity not how much they flash the pan!

copyright 2 January 2020

The Absolute Weight of the Voice

One paper I read a few years ago (I will post the article’s information when I find it again) stated the obvious: Regardless, of fundamental frequency, the net weight of the voice is constant. The voice doesn’t become suddenly “lighter” when we go up in pitch nor heavier when we go lower. For some of you, this may sound radical, because that is all you ever heard. Let us be more exact! The vocal folds change shape with changing pitch/vowel combinations. The folds are 3-dimensional. They can change in length (horizontal), in depth (vertical) and width (medial/closure aspect) if we are looking at the singer’s frontally (the way the singer traditionally faces the audience).

What we call weight is the way we experience medial tension (or how tightly the folds close). Yet a part of the paradigm is that the folds must close firmly. I’ve been hearing this for a long time and honestly, following that advice only contributed to my less than superlative former baritone incarnation (I was always a tenor but trained as a baritone). Here’s the kicker! My favorite singer in those days was the great Domingo, whose phonation mode became increasingly about “fold closure.” In my experience, fold closure is the easiest way to get glottal resistance as to avoid leakage–especially when there is no knowledge or consideration that the y-axis (vertical contact area) contributes greatly to glottal resistance. Appropriate resistance produces the high overtones we need for vowel clarity and for the singer’s formant. In a spectrogram, the singer’s formant (the ring of the voice) manifests as a cluster of harmonics combining the influences of formant-resonances 3, 4 and 5.

A strong glottal resistance is needed to produce strong harmonics. However, a medial squeeze is not the only way to get a strong resistance.

In Journal of Voice, Vol. 32, No. 1, 2018, Li, Scherer et al. concluded that the vertical contact area, controlled by the activity of the vocalis muscle produce a deeper, bulgier fold cover that approximates the folds more closely. There are even experiments and theories that suggests that the folds might only need to come close enough to each other to create the desired acoustic results. That can only happen with “relatively deeper folds.”

I say relatively because the folds do not have a constant depth for all pitches. The folds become less deep as pitch rises but the question is how deep/shallow relative to the pitch in question? The right depth and length combination produces conditions for a softer closure and above all:

An isolation of the fold cover. When the folds are lengthened and appropriately deep, the muscular layer of the folds become stiff enough to isolate the fold cover to vibrate freely–Zhang et al.

Therefore, we must avoid the false narrative that more closure and less fold depth is the path to a strong glottal resistance. It’s one path! That path is closer to a pop singing strategy than an operatic one. A medial squeeze is easier and gives immediate results of a type. But those short term results are also the ones that produce limitations later. An appropriately deep, long and gently closed folds is the path to flexibility (morbidezza). The larynx is then able to relax down to a low position without being pressed down. That part is simple.

A tone that is relatively pressed, even a little contributes to a higher larynx, which makes the transition to the second resonance area (F2) rather difficult. In that case, one must make a concerted effort to push the larynx down to lower the 1st Formant resonance to facilitate the process of the second to take over.

Guess what? A lot of singers have successful careers doing exactly that. So I’m not saying it’s not possible to have a little squeeze and be successful–especially singers with relatively thin fold covers by nature. The lighter voices!

As a dramatic tenor I don’t have the option of pressing. I must do it the best way possible. Teaching the folds to stretch and not lose too much depth is not easy. Some singers grow up with relatively good habits and can prosper with very little intervention. Rarely the case with dramatic voices–especially dramatic tenors! Our ultimate success as dramatic singers in the world of opera depends greatly on the good fortune of meeting a teacher who matches our needs. And since I personally do not like to rely on luck, and I was not fortuned with wonderful vocal balance in my youth, I figure being as much informed about the voice is the best way to even the odds.

Be informed!

How To Deal With Misogyny in Opera: On the Heels of David Leigh’s Powerful Article

If you have not read the brilliant article by David Leigh, a young bass at the Metropolitan Opera, you should! I had the joy of teaching Mr. Leigh when I was in New York and he was one of the singers I missed very much when I moved to Europe full time. He is not only an extremely talented bass, but an intellectual heavyweight. I am not surprised by his multifaceted, well thought-out essay dealing with a very difficult subject.

I am not sure what the answers are ultimately but we all need to be having this conversation. The allegations against Placido Domingo have started a very heated debate on social media. I have been hearing these allegations about Domingo and James Levine (two of the operatic artists I most admired in my youth) since I entered the field 35 years ago. One of the questions that David Leigh does not ask directly but lets the reader conclude is:

Does the inherent misogyny in operatic libretti encourage misogynistic behavior offstage?

I have been part of more than 60 operatic productions in my life and can count on one hand the moments of inappropriate behavior that I personally witnessed. But it does not mean they did not happen–indeed perhaps much more than I noticed–especially considering the many friends who have shared horror stories of sexual harassment and objectification with me over the years.

The question I ask myself as a 53-year old heterosexual male and that I encourage other male friends to ask, is the following:

What did I consider harmless in my interactions with women in the past that may not be considered so harmless when examined through the lenses of modern, better informed times?

Women have lived in a male-dominated society forever. The Bible and other religious manuals have framed women as the source of man’s original sin. These books are still part of the spiritual education of the majority of people in the world, educating men and women both to propagate these beliefs even today. The #metoo movement is only beginning to open our eyes to the harm that has been done and continue to be done in the name of religion and therefore in the name of what we have accepted as social norms for as long as we have lived on this planet. And while we are having this conversation in places where the gender equality movement is encouraged, there are many places in the world where barbaric acts are routinely practiced against women and young girls. I am purposefully limiting the scope of this article to the relationship between heterosexual men and the women they target and how that relationship is mirrored in and influenced by the medium of opera itself. Sexual assault is as pervasive in homosexual relationships in our field as well, as the cases of James Levine and David Daniels exemplify.

What do we do going forward?

In terms of our behavior as men, there is only one answer worth entertaining. We, men, pose a potential threat to women just in terms of physical strength. The fact that most women, if not all, can point to moments of sexual oppression in their lives mean that even what might seem like harmless flirtation can have the effect of post-traumatic stress. It might feel like walking on eggshells for us men at times, but we simply have to be willing to listen and learn from women how they would prefer to be treated. This has been a systemic problem our entire lives. It will take time for us to work out solutions, but it is incumbent upon us men to simply listen and acknowledge that we all have contributed in little and substantial ways to the abuse of women and girls. We should be collectively sorry for our behavior!

As to how we deal with the misogyny in the different operatic scores we perform, I don’t believe in a revisionist approach any more than I believe in the ill-advised modern treatments of operas brought on by the excesses of so-called Regietheater. As a director of operas myself, I have always sought to find the stories behind the libretto. The most effective operas have very short libretti, which means the art form has always been symbolic at its best.

Let us take for example, La tragédie de Carmen! Indeed the Tragedy of Carmen! Is it less of a tragedy if instead of Carmen’s murder by José that she turns the knife on him instead? A recent production did just that! It probably provided a moment of celebration for the women in the audience who are sick of operas making victims of women. Yet in such a case, we miss the opportunity to reflect on the root cause of misogyny in life in general of which opera is a very visible byproduct. Great operatic productions take advantage of instrumental music for instance to develop the archetypical figures into three dimensional characters. If I were to stage Carmen, I would try to find every possibility to tell Carmen’s story from before we see her onstage so we understand how a fundamentally anti-female society produced this woman who appears to be a so-called femme fatale or man-eater to which the character is often reduced. I would do the same with José and Micaela. Who are these people? How did they get to the point we, the audience, encounter them? Yet we have forgotten that Opera is in great part about the miracle of the human voice trained to its most powerful and flexible level.

Is Shakespeare’s treatment of Lady Macbeth not misogynistic and Verdi’s is? Many operatic productions reduces the character to an ambitious bitch! It is partly incumbent upon the audience to educate itself about the root source of an opera libretto. It used to be a part of the experience. The audience knew the stories that were being told and could fill in the blank. The understanding of these characters was nuanced by understanding the sources they come from. It was understood that an opera reduced a story to its emotional essence, which when expressed by the human voice moves us to our core. Both the producers and the audiences have become lazy!

Nevertheless, we are coming to grips for the first time, as a society, with the inherent misogyny in our social development. By modern standards we can decide that every opera or play or movie heretofore is fundamentally misogynistic. It is too easy! And that is the fundamental problem with the way we deal with complex issues in our time.

Modern society is fundamentally lazy. We want immediate gratification at every level. Fast food, fast education, fast opera. Insipid, inept and inane!

The Domingo case, which has given rise to the online frenzy about misogyny in Opera, is an opportunity for us to have an adult conversation about society as a whole for sure, but more fundamentally about the chaotic, plutocratic oligarchy that is the structure of the operatic field, which encourages lookism, racism and misogyny while discouraging talent development, assiduous education and administrative competence.

There cannot be truly great operatic stars if a few people are performing all over the world. They become fatigued, inconsistent and burned out. And they decline. Singers, conductors, directors, stage crews and administrators need time to train and understand the whole of the field they work in. Competence yields respect and valuing of all concerned. When singers are expendable, they are devalued, mistreated and ultimately abused. They cannot talk against incompetence or unfair treatment or even sexual harassment because they have no one to complain to who has the will to confront abuse of power.

The #metoo revolution should have taken shape in Opera when Deborah Voigt was fired from Covent Garden because her talent was deemed less important than a stupid black dress that they could not alter to help her look more glamorous. I am certain, a talented costume designer would have made Ms. Voigt the most glamorous person onstage. Instead we stood by and accepted the blatant misogyny by Peter Katona and Christoph Loy and their enablers on the administration of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Naturally, they thought they were at the forefront of bringing opera up to speed relative to modern theatrical innovations. If bringing opera into the future means discriminating against a large part of the population (whether by race, weight, etc) then it actually has the reverse effect. By trying to catch up, opera in such hands, only ends up always playing catch up, rather than lead the arts and society in terms of encouraging progressive social evolution. I have enjoyed several Christoph Loy productions since then. No doubt Mr. Loy is one of the most musical regisseurs I have experienced in the last 20 years. However, his talent and accomplishments do not give him the right to undermine a world-class talent like Deborah Voigt, then at her best. Such misogyny has major consequences for the victim and it is especially defeating for an opera singer who sacrifices so much for what is supposed to be a merit-based endeavor. Few human beings ever achieve Ms. Voigt’s level of technical-musical skill. The ugly manner by which she was diminished must have discouraged thousands of young women (and men) who invested so much to achieve such a level.

So many skills are needed to be truly convincing as an opera singer and no one is superlative at all of them. Domingo, arguably the most successful opera singer of all time, could have been better in several areas. He had a package of talents that fit the demands of those times and because he is a Caucasian male, he probably did not face many of the obstacles that so many singers must confront. Opera is not quantifiable except by real experts who understand it globally. In short, today, only singers truly understand singers and even among us, many do not understand the different challenges. Non-singers (stage directors, casting agents, artists managers, Operndirektoren, Intendanten, etc) today, unlike the past, have not the experience of their predecessors to appropriately distinguish between great singers and those that look pretty while crooning! Therefore, they make too many decisions based on superficial attributes that in the end have little impact on a live opera performance.

More insidious than mere lookism would be lookism for the opportunity of future sexual harassment/assault? Let’s not kid ourselves! It can be that insidious!

My apologies to the few talented conductors and directors out there (and the singers too) who persevere despite the chaos that this once glorious field has become. Many of us have held back our voices. On this blog I have been too polite, because I thought making a balanced argument might be more convincing. However, the only thing that seem to put a little fear in the heart of so many incompetent, self-aggrandizing bullshitters is a good scandal–Especially one that reaches to the top. I’m sick of seeing my talented, creative friends reduced to sheep so they can keep their jobs. But is it really what we spent all these years working our asses for? To capitulate to less invested people who have the mere talent of yelling louder about how great they are?

This cancer has existed a long time before now and has only become unbearable in a world that has also become unbearable.

The Washington Post suggest: “…let it die!” I have written about just that at least a couple of years ago on this blog. Why let it die? Because it is cancerous!

I dare say, there is nothing wrong with Opera as an art form. It is created to grab an audience, heart and soul. I am tired of people inside the field claiming how hard it is to sell. How the hell can you sell opera if you fundamentally do not believe in its power? Why do it if you think it needs to become more like musicals and more like movies? Why not just do movies and musicals and leave Opera to those who know it, believe in it and want it to thrive?

A few people are gorged until they burst (ungracefully die out) on more and more performances, more and more money, more and more exposure to the point that we get tired of them and even they of themselves! It becomes about over-blowing a few people at the expense of the field itself! How is that different from Wall Street? or Politics?

In short, the misogyny and chaos in Opera represents a microcosm of our society! Imagine if this little version of our world could reflect our humanity in ways we can truly process!

THIS IS OPERA!: Calling Out the Opera Mainstream On Its Self-Immolation!

When I began writing this blog more than 11 years ago, it was the first of its kind. It was members of the original NFCS forum that suggested I put my thoughts on technique in blog form. But much has happened in technology since then and blogging as a medium, has become almost uninteresting to much of the operatic audience. I am a teacher at heart and whether consciously or unconsciously, I am always in teaching mode. I have a great desire for young opera singers coming up to be informed, educated. More than ever, young singers cannot count on any single person to give them information. The operatic field has become like the Wild West. It is less about fully-formed professionals and more about who is brave enough to throw themselves in the fire and hope to survive. It’s less like the gold prospectors of old, who would spend a lifetime searching, hoping to find that one nugget that makes them rich. It is more like the gambler, who will risk everything, including his home, at the poker table, hoping to score on that perfect hand. Our singers are no longer royal flushes, where all parts are strong. A pair of twos is enough sometimes when the competition is one ace as a high card.

This is not a criticism of singers! From me, it is a criticism of the system from colleges and conservatories to the opera houses themselves and many of us who play in that system. We teachers and coaches are frustrated because our work is rendered invalid when quality is not what is rewarded. Young singers are more interested in a coach who says “phrase it like Callas did,” instead of the one who says “learn the harmonic language and understand why you should phrase this way!” Which of these coaches would Callas hire?

Physical attributes and charisma are rewarded even where fundamental vocal technique and musicianship severely lack! Why would a singer return to a teacher to work on legato when all they care about is “making it through this aria!” Twenty years ago, teachers who offer quick fixes were labeled charlatans. Today they are rewarded with titles like “genius” for enabling their fundamentally untrained singers’ emotional fragility. That is until those singers (even the most celebrated ones) come crashing and burning. Self-immolation!

We hear of singers routinely depending on beta-blockers and even cocaine to either bring them down or up in preparation of a performance. Operatic Singing is difficult! Those that truly master themselves to become consistently great at it were always few. In that regard, there are enough jobs for the people who are committed to doing this. But the system as it stands no longer gets to interact with the majority of the most dedicated and yes talented young singers, especially those with fuller voices who require time to develop. Instead, the system lowers competition age limits until fuller voiced singers age out before they are ready. The bar is lowered (first by opera theaters and subsequently by schools) for vocal technique and musicianship, the two criteria that most importantly define opera singers. They are replaced by big breasts and and 6-packs and the ability to look good on camera. Voice and musicianship are incidental! The winners for competitions are already picked before competitions begin and all of this in plain sight. There is no accountability! The singers who suffer most will not complain because they are afraid they will be blacklisted. The coaches and conductors who know better will not rock the boat for fear of being also blacklisted. There is plenty of willing mediocrity to replace any concerned professional.

But even though there is a place for a blog like mine, the audience that is most important to me, the young singers, is not interested in dissertation-like arguments like the ones I present here.

The young singers of today are best served by the Youtube personality, This is Opera!, who goes after opera’s modern incarnation with the straightforwardness of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, if lacking her eloquence! I don’t mean to diss the Unknown Crusader. Quite the opposite! His binary approach speaks to the average emotional young singer out there. With rare exception (the ones who are really committed to the art form), today’s average young singer is more interested in the fast lane before they even learn to drive. And they are rewarded by agents, many who have lost their souls, for being committed to success! But then they are dropped as soon as they falter. The majority of young singers are not going to listen to nuanced arguments. They respond to shock treatment, whether in lessons by teachers who alternate between: “you are the best thing since Callas!” and “Is it possible for you to suck more?!” Maybe it’s the times we are in. Our Youtube Vigilante (I’m giving him quite a few monikers) is exactly what the young generation responds to. I have received many messages and emails from young singers asking what I think of This is Opera!.

I make it a point of treating active singers fairly on this blog. Whatever my feelings may be about whether a singer is ready for professional work or not, the system put these singers out there and they have to fend as best as they can. In most cases, these singers are trying their best to deal with uncertainty and they do not need someone like me raking them over the coals. I hate the system we are in because I love singing and the singers. But those same singers need to hear the ugly truth, that operatic readiness requires time, which singers are not given, which conductors and even coaches are no longer given and that stage-directors on the whole are not given. The field has been rotting from within for generations (if it sounds like our politics worldwide, that is no coincidence). Theaters for the most part do not present Opera. They present an Idea of Opera–A symbol that affluent people can experience just to have a sense of status and that masses now go to the movies for, just to remind themselves of the larger-than-life experience that their parents told them they experienced with Pavarotti and Price. What their parents experienced in live sounds, they experience in blown up pictures. Opera is for the ears first! When I go to the opera and a gorgeous woman walks on stage and takes my breath away, if the sound she emits is weak, she loses all sex appeal. It is often said, that on the operatic stage, the moment someone opens their mouth, we forget what they look like. This cut both ways! They are either a prince or a frog, a femme fatale or a bag lady, depending on the sound that comes out of their mouths. On the movie screen, however, it’s all jumbled up since microphones can make up for a fundamentally weak voice.

Opera at its best demands the best of us! I will not die if I never see a stage again. But my soul will die if I don’t strive to sing as well as I possibly can! Pursuing the art of opera, like anything taken to its zenith, challenges us to our very core. It brings out the best in us and even if we never quite get to where we wanted, walking that path changes us, ennobles us, enriches us and indeed everyone who gets to experience us when we are honestly taking on that challenge.

This is Opera! uses a blunt instrument effectively! In the clips, s/he hits the younger generation, and anyone who is willing to listen, over the head repeatedly until s/he gets the point across, and the comparisons aptly show the difference between the great singers of previous generations and how modern singers, and the system that give them rise, too often only give a symbolic Idea of Opera instead of delivering the genuine article.

For my part, I will continue to make arguments in as balanced a way as I can. But that is not going to drive home the message to singers who are out there, many of which are inadequately trained and a step away from a disastrous end. No exaggeration necessary! Just go on Youtube and listen to singers from when they hit the big leagues and see how long they have lasted. Without a solid technique, more than ever, it is a game of vocal Russian Roulette out there. Therefore, it is good to have this Operatic Dirty Harry out there taking them on with a video version of a .44 Magnum asking:

“Do you feel lucky?…Well do you, punk!”