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Thread: HIP and Opera

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    Default HIP and Opera

    I've been thinking about HIP lately, especially when it comes to opera singing. I've been listening to a lot more Baroque opera (which I used to think an insufferable bore) through historic recordings. Reading the reviews of these recordings, I'm struck by how consistently I read something like, "Great voice, beautiful tone, but it's not period style." The error on the part of the great singers of the past is always that they sing too big, with too much freedom, and too strong a lower register. Then I saw that Wagner is now getting the HIP treatment, and I really started to wonder about the claims made about vocal size, coloration etc. with respect to that movement. In short, I just can't accept that the singing of the great and renowned singers of the past was thin, collapsed, and small. Fortunately, I think the evidence backs me up.

    If there's one thing that This Is Opera! has made indisputably clear, it's that you can't base your estimation of technique off of books: singers of the past sometimes wrote about placement, mask singing, spinning tones, etc., all the stuff TIO rejects, and yet they were great singers. The important thing, though, is that the actual sounds they made, as opposed to their kinesthetic sensations when making them, and their technical terms for that, were nothing like modern singers who also talk about placement, mask singing, spinning tones, etc.. Tettrazzini and Horne both talked about mask sensations, but Horne is nasal and Tetrazzini is not.

    It strikes me that HIP is a predominantly text based movement. Performance practices are reconstructed through (it must be said, a highly selective, to the point of mendacious) reading of past descriptions of instruments, practices etc.. But most of all, it is based on the "text" that is the score. Fidelity to the score is one of the main rules. And not just any score, the original. But moving from score to sounds is the whole issue of performance, and the singing example demonstrates just how in conflict the descriptions and notation and the actual sounds could be.

    So I've been thinking about another way to get at what earlier singing actually sounded like: through historical recordings. The earliest recordings of singers we have are in the 1890s, and the earliest ones that are of much use are a couple years later. My idea is this: true, these singers are recording between 1900 and 1910, generally, but they were trained a lot earlier than that. In the case of Adelina Patti, born in 1843, and debuted in 1859, six years before Tristan premiered. At the time she trained, not only had there been no verismo movement, there had been no mature Wagner, and Verdi was in his middle period. Bellini had been dead for only 24 years, Donizetti for 11, Mozart 68.

    Now, it's certainly possible that Patti's singing style changed radically during her career, but I don't see any evidence for this in the descriptions of her singing that I could find. Now, it's important to note how singers were trained in the past: they were trained to imitate the correct sounds by their teachers. So if Patti's technique is consistent with how she was trained, her recordings represent what a teacher in the 1850s would have understood to be the correct sound. The same applies to other singers. Hermann Winkelmann, the first Parsifal, is also on record, and he was born six years after Patti. There are many other singers born in the 1840s on record, and even more born in the 1850s. This gives us a sense of what kinds of sounds singers in the 1850s through 1860s were trained to make. Now, remember that these students were imitating their teachers and the singers around them. This means that these sounds also represent, albeit problematically, the sounds that this generation's teachers made, meaning the singing of the previous generation as well. So that gets us back, with some assumed distortion, to the 1830s, or truly the time of Bellini and Donizetti, and very near indeed to Mozart.

    Here are the recordings:
    Adelina Patti (b. 1843)
    Voi che sapete: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xVpZQAC_sQc
    Jewel song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z_21jOr4jbI

    Marcella Sembrich: b. 1858
    Deh vieni, non tardar: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EMIYfxIrSzU
    Casta diva: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jR8OLC2On0w

    Marianne Brandt: b. 1842
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XS8TXEbYYjc

    Hermann Winkelmann b. 1849
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=42lB...hXJqOM&index=1

    Alexander Kirchner:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=87be0BS8ens

    So what do these singers sound like? Well, there are a few things to note. First, all the female singers, including the coloratura, Bel Canto, Rossini and Verdi beloved Patti use a strong, fully developed chest voice as a matter of course for their low notes. Second, the head voice shows clear vowels and no collapsed tones, which is the standard in today's singers of all repertoire, including Bel Canto. I think we can conclude from this that modern pedagogy is totally wrong if it thinks it is approximating the singing that Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi, and Rossini expected.

    Next, note the totally liberal use of portamenti, rubato, etc.. Now, this could be a product of cultural change a bit more that basic technique, but honestly I think it's better evidence of the Mozart performance tradition in the 1850s and 60s than the HIP movement has provided.

    The tenors sound like Melchior. Fully developed, slightly baritonal, strong, clear voices. They would only be out of place today, in an age of Klaus Florian Vogts. And tbh, the recorded evidence here fits with descriptions of tenors back even to Gluck's time: baritonal timbre, powerful voices, sensitive phrasing. I read an old TC thread about the idea of an HIP Parsifal. Well, it doesn't get anymore HIP than hearing literally the original historical Parsifal personally selected by Wagner. Yet, Winkelmann's singing is remarkably consistent with the rest of what we hear in 1900s, 1910s Wagnerian tenor singing: baritonal voice, strong, vibrato. Yet it is totally different from anything we hear today.

    Next, let's look at an actual lesson given by Giuseppe Danise, a truly great Verdi baritone, of the kind we have generally agreed is totally extinct today, born in 1882, but whose pedigree as a singer goes back to the 18th century through the Neapolitan school. In other words, his teacher's teacher's teacher would have been a singer around the time of Mozart, and was at the heart of the place where Bel Canto method developed. It's an amazing recording.
    Danise giving Giuseppe Valdengo lessons: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yDbKGL4c1p0&t=1s

    Listen in particular to the Il balen del suo sorriso portion, which the poster links to in the video description. You can hear Danise imitating the correct (and often exaggerated to make the point) vowel sounds for Valdengo, and correcting his "ingolato", a problem which afflicts legions of modern baritones and a famous tenor. Whenever Valdengo goes too far ingolato, Danise makes brighter, more open sounds, sometimes even to the point of harshness, to push Valdengo back to the correct sound. Often, you hear and an immediate improvement in Valdengo's sound. Suddenly it blooms and becomes clear. Listen especially to "La tempesta" just after 32:00. Valdengo sings an ingolato "LUH" for La tempesta and before he can even finish, Danise yells out "LAAAAAAAA" open and clear. Valdengo corrects, and the difference in his sound is striking. Everytime I listen, I am amazed at the ability of Danise to hear and correct the sounds. We desperately need someone with his ear training modern baritones.

    So what does this get us? Well, it gets us a singer working within a tradition going back to the 18th century showing us how singers are trained. I wonder if this video will ever be part of HIP for Verdi performance practice?

    I recognize my method has some limitations, namely those inherent in the delay between these singers' actual training and their recordings, and those inherent in historical acoustical recordings. Still, as some members here have very perseuasively argued, these recordings can give us everything but the actual full timbre of early singers: their technique, their use of registration, their style, all that is presevered. And all that, really, is what relates to how music should be performed and recreated, as timbre is somewhat more a matter of one's individual voice.

    Still, I think we have very strong evidence for totally rejecting the HIP methods of singing opera, especially for Bellini, Rossini, Donizetti, and Verdi, and shouldd it ever come to it, Wagner. Furthermore, I think that these recordings give us better evidence of how singers were trained in Mozart's time than any document can. Furthermore, the documentary record is ambiguous, full of contradictions, and open to misinterpretation. Even so, to the extent that it is clear about anything, it is clear that chest voice has always been an integral part of operatic training, something unambiguously confirmed by early recordings.

    Finally, I leave you with good vocal performances of early music by great singers and alist of complete recoridngs. Today, these would all be considered hopelessly inauthentic. I think they are more likely to authentic, at least in the vocal production, if not in the style, than any modern performance.

    Eide Norena, Care selve Handel


    Frida Leider, Ah si la liberte Gluck (one of my favorite recordings of all time)


    Oralia Dominguez, Adagiati Poppea, Monteverdi


    Giuseppe Danise, Stabat mater, Pergolesi


    Lilli Lehmann, Porgi amor, Mozart


    Sigrid onegin, Ermabre dich Bach (she sounds much like Brandt, who was born in 1842)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8vFxs_yqf-U

    Hermann Jadlowker, Fuor del mar Mozart
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rbj3hB5poJk

    Non-HIP vocal performances of early operas I own/know of:
    Monteverdi: L'orfeo, 1939 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jh8hw2s8sbU) One soprano has a caprino, but the rest are good
    Monteverdi: L'incoronazion di Poppea, Prtichard EMI (the Dominguez above is taken from this)
    Purcell: Dido and Aeneas, with a perfect Flagstad, but unfortunately the rest of the cast isn't at her level
    Handel: Giulio Cesare, w/ Hans Hotter Walhall Eternity
    Gluck: Orfeo ed Euridice, Furtwangler Urania, with Fedora Barbieri and Hilde Gueden!
    Gluck: Aleceste, Jones Decca (also with Flagstad)
    Gluck: Orfeo ed Euridice, Fasano (w. Verrett and Moffo)
    There are also several live recordings my Maria Callas of operas by Gluck, Spontini, Cherubini and others

    I would love being pointed to further recordings!

    P.S. Perhaps the saving grace of the HIP movement in opera will be when they finally get around to Verismo, one of two things will happen: they will admit that the singing requires chest voice, and will use the historic record to try to recreate the sounds of that era and bring back good singing; or they will tell us how Classical Puccini and Mascagni really are, and the absurdity will cause the whole house of cards to collapse.
    Last edited by vivalagentenuova; Nov-07-2019 at 18:22.

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    You read my mind, man! I was about to create a thread asking for recommendations of non-HIP early music performances. I can't stand no-depth, no-core tiny voices with annoying aspirate coloratura anymore.

    Unfortunately, these recordings are rare for Handel, even rarer for Vivaldi and Monteverdi. If I may add something, there is an excellent 1939 recording of Handel's Rodelinda conducted by Carl Leonhardt (sung in German).

    http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/...album_id=59753

    You may have also known about this 1962 Vivaldi's Juditha triumphans with the great Oralia Dominguez.



    Besides, if you got sick of the current league of cute-looking countertenors who sing with constant collapsed head voice, there is always Russell Oberlin with his extensive discography:



    Btw, this is probably my most favorite Handel singing ever. Just imagine if we could have someone like her on stage nowadays to revive Handel, Vivaldi and Porpora further:

    Last edited by silentio; Nov-09-2019 at 23:16.
    Current Hall of Fame:
    1) Franco-Flemish Masters (esp. Josquin and Gombert)
    2) Japanese Gagaku
    3) Classical Period Chamber Music (Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven)
    4) Wagner Operas
    5) Brahms Chamber Music
    6) Scriabin Piano Music
    7) Bach Organ and Keyboard Works
    8) Japanese Shakuhachi Music
    9) Sibelius Symphonies
    10) Chinese Guqin

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    Virginia Zeani in Handel's Giulio Cesare. Not sure if there is a full recording of this performance:

    Current Hall of Fame:
    1) Franco-Flemish Masters (esp. Josquin and Gombert)
    2) Japanese Gagaku
    3) Classical Period Chamber Music (Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven)
    4) Wagner Operas
    5) Brahms Chamber Music
    6) Scriabin Piano Music
    7) Bach Organ and Keyboard Works
    8) Japanese Shakuhachi Music
    9) Sibelius Symphonies
    10) Chinese Guqin

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