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Thread: State of modern operatic singing

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    Member Parsifal98's Avatar
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    Here are two videos to illustrate what I mean:



    Last edited by Parsifal98; Nov-26-2020 at 02:16.

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  3. #152
    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Parsifal98 View Post
    Thank you Woodduck for gracing this thread with your presence! And I say this with sincerity for I am a big fan of yours. Now concerning these two singers, what I mean by tiny is that their voices are tiny compared to what they could be if they were produced properly. I do not need to hear them in the flesh to know that. Just look at the singers when they sing. You can see the tension in their faces when they hit high notes (quite apparent with Brownlee at 1:04). Spyres even wobbles at 2:14, which is another sign of improper tension. Now if improper tension was their only problem, it could be solved rather easily (working on relaxing said improper tensions so the proper tensions, products of the vocal muscles, can do their work without disturbance). But their problem is far greater. Brownlee and Spyres's voices sit on improper foundations. What I mean by this is that they have improper registration. Both their registers have not been trained and strengthened, which is why their voices sound shallow and why their high notes sound squeezed and not properly released. Listen to Spyres at 2:25. This is quite a weak chest voice, even for such a light tenor. Their coloratura is aspirated à la Bartoli, which seems to be the norm with baroque singers ( I think Viva would be better at explaining what is wrong with it, as he has done in previous posts). Their current voices are of course improper for more dramatic parts, but could have been if they had received a better training. No one has a baroque voice or a bel canto voice. Everyone has a voice which must be trained to work according to nature so that it can then sing music according to the rules and precepts of a specific style. I hope I have explained myself clearly enough. Otherwise I know that other people will be able to phrase my ideas in a more eloquent way!
    Thanks for the detailed reply. I do agree that Brownlee's tone is shallow, like that of a number of tenors of his type (Florez comes to mind). I don't care for this sort of tone, and it may well not be the sound he could be making, though I couldn't say that with assurance. I would say that the right tone quality for a singer is the one that results when the voice is free of extraneous tensions, and that, basically, if the mechanism feels good to the singer and enables him to sing for long periods, and a long career, without straining the voice and causing distortions such as wobble, the technique is sound. Obviously there are further refinements of technique, such as great agility, which a singer may develop to varying degrees. I do hear the aspiration in Brownlee's coloratura (Spyres' is smoother), but it certainly isn't as extreme as Bartoli's, and isn't accompanied by her bizarre gyrations. It seems to me a bit presumptuous to say that Brownlee and Spyres could sing dramatic roles if they developed their voices properly.

    Here is an example of Spyres' work that reveals a bit more: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ONTSk3ytH4 He seems to have quite a strong lower register for a tenor, so perhaps the near-wobble you point out on his high C and D is somewhat forgivable. In this aria he goes up to high G with what sounds like a developed falsetto. i do think, hearing him in several selections, that his registers could be better integrated, and I suspect this would solve the wobble problem.

    I'm certainly not going to claim that either Brownlee or Spyres is a faultless singer, and in general I think you make good points about their work in that video. But I would say, regretfully, that they're both superior to a lot of singers taking leading roles in our opera houses. Let's see how many good years they have ahead of them. Brownlee, I believe, has been around for a long time now; according to Wiki he's 48 years old. The above video looks recent, so I'd say he's done pretty well for himself thus far.
    Last edited by Woodduck; Nov-26-2020 at 09:25.

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  5. #153
    Senior Member vivalagentenuova's Avatar
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    This is why I think it's helpful to frame the current problems in opera singing in terms of different techniques. In the current technical paradigm, Brownlee and Spyres are very good. They do the whole mask/forward placement/head resonance thing very well. They are not old style singers doing old style technique badly. So calling them bad singers is sort of half true. They apply the technique they've learned well, but the problem is that the technique they've learned is totally inadequate and inappropriate to the music that they attempt to sing. Hence, the results are far less satisfactory than those achieved by singers like Cerini, Jadlowker, De Muro Lomanto, D'Arkor and other old school singers who did outstanding work in this repertoire.

    A good example of how opera singing has developed a different technique from what it used to have is found in a series of videos by two current opera singers, a tenor and a soprano, called Living Opera. They provide tidbits on what it is like to be a professional opera singer today and sometimes do technique videos. They seem like perfectly nice people. When it comes to chiaroscuro, their definition is very much "so close and yet so far".

    They know that the voice should not be overly bright or overly dark, and they know that over-darkness comes from depressing the larynx. He even emphasizes that the voice comes from the throat, seemingly contradicting the mask placement theory. But when it comes to describing the source of brightness in the voice, they in practice revert to the mask placement theory. She essentially manipulates the sound towards lightness by raising the larynx (or rather making in neutral, since in her previous demonstration she had depressed it) and putting the sound "forward". That's not where brightness comes from. This is one of the dividing lines between modern technique and old school technique. In old school technique, the brightness in the voice comes from the development of the muscles that produce what we call the chest register. That is what creates real squillo. They are superficially lightening or darkening a mixed or collapsed registration, which does not constitute vocal development and can't lead to vocal freedom. You can hear the results in their singing:



    Her voice is collapsed and the vowels unclear, there is no chest at the bottom so the head register just sort of sputters and dies on the low notes, and the voice has that hallmark of modern technique: "old before its time." She sounds much older than Melba at 65.

    He sounds very much like Florez, Brownlee, and Spyres, though is a little less nasal than Florez (a low bar). Unlike the collapsed head voice soprano sound, this sound is less immediately strident, but ultimately bland. There is a lack of richness and power. It doesn't quite offend in the same way (although I find all these singers grating after a while, whereas I could listen to Gigli until the Second Coming of Caruso) but it certainly doesn't thrill or move. To me, a Rossini voice should do both:


    De Muro Lo Manto doesn't have the quite agility of Cerini or Jadlowker, but his voice production is excellent and the coloratura is fine. Moreover, he has real squillo. The voice thrills and moves and the big moments are really big because there is steel. The soft moments are more tender because the softness comes from the beautifully coordinated head voice.

    Simply put, old school technique used chest voice development as its foundation and modern technique does not. Certainly there was more to the old school technique than development of the chest register, but that was the sine qua non of bel canto. From Baroque treatises to Callas' Julliard masterclass everybody says you must have a strong chest register, and the evidence from every recorded great singer of the past, including the lightest coloraturas like Galli-Curci, Gluck, and Patti and leggero tenors like Schipa and Tagliavini, supports that claim.

    Modern technique is incapable of doing what the old technique could, produces less beautiful results, and has few to no compensating virtues. This is why I think that it is justified to refer to it as inferior, and why I would refer to Brownlee and Spyres as negative examples of opera singing despite the fact that they are perfectly competent musicians. It's like sending somebody on stage to play with a technique they learned on a faultily constructed violin. Whatever good instincts they might bring are not going to able to compensate for the fact that the instrument simply can't do a lot of the things it's going to be asked to do because of the way it was made. I can't agree at all with the posters on the other thread who see this as a bright period for Rossini tenor singing. To me a bright period for Rossini was when one could hear singers like Selmar Cerini or Hermann Jadlowker, with rich, powerful, natural sounding voices sing the most fiendishly difficult coloratura with effortless legato. And then go to a Verdi or Wagner opera and hear the same singer as Radames or Lohengrin.
    Last edited by vivalagentenuova; Nov-26-2020 at 17:10.

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  7. #154
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    Much I agree with there Viva!

    Listening to the soprano it strikes me that she isn't singing with her real, natural voice. She is clearly putting on a voice when she sings (we can compare her talking voice with her singing one). This is something I have referred to as 'pronouncing as in your native language when singing in a foreign one, but it is perhaps better described as singing with your speaking voice. (Doing so suddenly fixes so many vocal problems. I couldn't manage more than a couple of minutes of their video, though. So many myths! Should you sing with a low larynx or in the mask? How about singing with a properly co-ordinated registration and then the 'resonances' will take care of themselves.

    N.

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    ^^^Parassidis presents a perfect example of the modern opera singer voice, afflicted with that heavy, slow vibrato that puts people off opera. That, plus the vague vowels, makes continued listening a chore and ought to get her a job at today's Met, where she can make my Saturday afternoons hell. Reinhardt is certainly better, with a free, quick vibrato and good diction, but his sound is monotonous and becomes dull and breathy at low volume. No need to spend much time here.

    Singing aside, I can't listen to these people talk. "I was like, girl..." Ugh. When did people start talking like this? I don't want to know what she was like.

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  10. #156
    Senior Member vivalagentenuova's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    Singing aside, I can't listen to these people talk. "I was like, girl..." Ugh. When did people start talking like this? I don't want to know what she was like.
    Yes they have that affected persona that tries to cover over their awkwardness in front of the camera, which is grating to listen to (much like their singing voices) and only produces more awkwardness. Still, although it's annoying I try not to hold it against them because it's so common. I see it in YouTubers and in frequently in students when they have to give presentations. It's one of the things I try to work on with them. I think it comes from wanting to inject informality into their manner and sloppiness and even carelessness into their speech so that if they get a bad response they can say to themselves or their peers, "Well, I didn't really care. That wasn't my best." That's just my theory, though. Who knows where it comes from.

    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    ^^^Parassidis presents a perfect example of the modern opera singer voice, afflicted with that heavy, slow vibrato that puts people off opera. That, plus the vague vowels, makes continued listening a chore and ought to get her a job at today's Met, where she can make my Saturday afternoons hell. Reinhardt is certainly better, with a free, quick vibrato and good diction, but his sound is monotonous and becomes dull and breathy at low volume. No need to spend much time here.
    Precisely why I chose them. They represent the logical conclusion of modern technique.

    Quote Originally Posted by The Conte
    So many myths! Should you sing with a low larynx or in the mask? How about singing with a properly co-ordinated registration and then the 'resonances' will take care of themselves.
    Yes! The larynx should be low, but there's a big difference between "the larynx should be low" and "the singer should actively be thinking about positioning their larynx while singing." If the teacher is listening and teaching ideally, the student will end up producing the right sound and having the right mechanics without obsessing about "doing" things in the throat.
    Last edited by vivalagentenuova; Nov-26-2020 at 18:42.

  11. #157
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    Quote Originally Posted by vivalagentenuova View Post
    This is why I think it's helpful to frame the current problems in opera singing in terms of different techniques. In the current technical paradigm, Brownlee and Spyres are very good. They do the whole mask/forward placement/head resonance thing very well. They are not old style singers doing old style technique badly. So calling them bad singers is sort of half true. They apply the technique they've learned well, but the problem is that the technique they've learned is totally inadequate and inappropriate to the music that they attempt to sing. Hence, the results are far less satisfactory than those achieved by singers like Cerini, Jadlowker, De Muro Lomanto, D'Arkor and other old school singers who did outstanding work in this repertoire.

    A good example of how opera singing has developed a different technique from what it used to have is found in a series of videos by two current opera singers, a tenor and a soprano, called Living Opera. They provide tidbits on what it is like to be a professional opera singer today and sometimes do technique videos. They seem like perfectly nice people. When it comes to chiaroscuro, their definition is very much "so close and yet so far".

    They know that the voice should not be overly bright or overly dark, and they know that over-darkness comes from depressing the larynx. He even emphasizes that the voice comes from the throat, seemingly contradicting the mask placement theory. But when it comes to describing the source of brightness in the voice, they in practice revert to the mask placement theory. She essentially manipulates the sound towards lightness by raising the larynx (or rather making in neutral, since in her previous demonstration she had depressed it) and putting the sound "forward". That's not where brightness comes from. This is one of the dividing lines between modern technique and old school technique. In old school technique, the brightness in the voice comes from the development of the muscles that produce what we call the chest register. That is what creates real squillo. They are superficially lightening or darkening a mixed or collapsed registration, which does not constitute vocal development and can't lead to vocal freedom. You can hear the results in their singing:



    Her voice is collapsed and the vowels unclear, there is no chest at the bottom so the head register just sort of sputters and dies on the low notes, and the voice has that hallmark of modern technique: "old before its time." She sounds much older than Melba at 65.

    He sounds very much like Florez, Brownlee, and Spyres, though is a little less nasal than Florez (a low bar). Unlike the collapsed head voice soprano sound, this sound is less immediately strident, but ultimately bland. There is a lack of richness and power. It doesn't quite offend in the same way (although I find all these singers grating after a while, whereas I could listen to Gigli until the Second Coming of Caruso) but it certainly doesn't thrill or move. To me, a Rossini voice should do both:


    De Muro Lo Manto doesn't have the quite agility of Cerini or Jadlowker, but his voice production is excellent and the coloratura is fine. Moreover, he has real squillo. The voice thrills and moves and the big moments are really big because there is steel. The soft moments are more tender because the softness comes from the beautifully coordinated head voice.

    Simply put, old school technique used chest voice development as its foundation and modern technique does not. Certainly there was more to the old school technique than development of the chest register, but that was the sine qua non of bel canto. From Baroque treatises to Callas' Julliard masterclass everybody says you must have a strong chest register, and the evidence from every recorded great singer of the past, including the lightest coloraturas like Galli-Curci, Gluck, and Patti and leggero tenors like Schipa and Tagliavini, supports that claim.

    Modern technique is incapable of doing what the old technique could, produces less beautiful results, and has few to no compensating virtues. This is why I think that it is justified to refer to it as inferior, and why I would refer to Brownlee and Spyres as negative examples of opera singing despite the fact that they are perfectly competent musicians. It's like sending somebody on stage to play with a technique they learned on a faultily constructed violin. Whatever good instincts they might bring are not going to able to compensate for the fact that the instrument simply can't do a lot of the things it's going to be asked to do because of the way it was made. I can't agree at all with the posters on the other thread who see this as a bright period for Rossini tenor singing. To me a bright period for Rossini was when one could hear singers like Selmar Cerini or Hermann Jadlowker, with rich, powerful, natural sounding voices sing the most fiendishly difficult coloratura with effortless legato. And then go to a Verdi or Wagner opera and hear the same singer as Radames or Lohengrin.
    Thank you Viva for such a great post! Then again, some people will always find ways to disagree...

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  13. #158
    Senior Member wkasimer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    Brownlee, I believe, has been around for a long time now; according to Wiki he's 48 years old.
    At least a couple of decades. I saw him as Almaviva in Boston in 2002.

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    This video is interesting, and I find the most interesting part to be what it says about the "over-intellectualized" operatic acting (from 13:18 on):

    Last edited by Plague; Dec-15-2020 at 12:41.

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    /\ That is a great video, one of TIO's best.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    I don't hear what you hear. I've listened to this without watching it, and I don't know how, given that this is a recording session, you can tell that these voices are "tiny." I sincerely doubt that they are, though obviously they are not, as most voices in this repertoire are not, big voices suitable for dramatic parts. Neither were Tito Schipa's or Fernando de Lucia's (though I intend no further comparison). I don't hear poor coloratura either. Just in the first minute or so we can hear Brownlee executing some fiendish figuration quite clearly and with gusto.
    I feel like I am starting 6th grade while some of you are in college when dissecting technique LOL. I've enjoyed Brownlee live several times. It is big enough for the repertoire, though not big and ringing by any means, and I found his singing very thrilling. I have not extensively studied voice so I can't dissect technique like many of you. I do have a better ear for good female singing than male singing so my statements about them carry more weight I think. I enjoy learning from you people who are competing to be valedictorians of our forum

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  18. #162
    Senior Member Seattleoperafan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Parsifal98 View Post
    I may offend some people... but this is absolutely dreadful! I mean she cannot be oblivious to the fact that so many soprani sang this role before her... and did it so much better! Can't she hear herself??? I am starting to ask myself if she has any artistic integrity or if she is only doing all of this for the money.

    And her husband is singing Calaf... Nepotism at its finest! Oh what a time to be an opera fan

    I am gonna clear my ears with a bit of Nilsson and Corelli...

    Anna Netrebko's Turandot sounds big but unattractive to me. I think Lady Macbeth was a better fit instead of these long vocal lines. I really would love to hear from someone who heard her live after her voice supposedly grew in size because it is hard to hear just from a recording how a voice fills up an opera house. Sounding big in a recording is not the same thing as hearing it sitting at the back of an opera house. It would lose a bet trying to guess who the singer looked like as she is unrecognizable, which is bad because she is famous as much as from her good looks as from her singing I believe.
    Last edited by Seattleoperafan; Dec-15-2020 at 21:26.

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  20. #163
    Senior Member BachIsBest's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Seattleoperafan View Post
    I feel like I am starting 6th grade while some of you are in college when dissecting technique LOL. I've enjoyed Brownlee live several times. It is big enough for the repertoire, though not big and ringing by any means, and I found his singing very thrilling. I have not extensively studied voice so I can't dissect technique like many of you. I do have a better ear for good female singing than male singing so my statements about them carry more weight I think. I enjoy learning from you people who are competing to be valedictorians of our forum
    I often feel the same way. All I know is this


    is a lot better sung than this


    and I don't think I need a degree in music theory to pick this out (in fairness to myself I think I have picked up some knowledge from some of the more knowledgeable and well-spoken members of the forum; thank you!).

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    Member Parsifal98's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Plague View Post
    This video is interesting, and I find the most interesting part to be what it says about the "over-intellectualized" operatic acting (from 13:18 on):

    This is my favourite video by TIO! It is after watching it that I realised why I did not like the Metropolitan's performance of Aida I had seen with my grandparents some days prior... with Anna Netrebko wobbling her way through the main part. When Corelli comes in at 8:06... absolutely incredible!
    Last edited by Parsifal98; Dec-16-2020 at 05:15.

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  23. #165
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    Quote Originally Posted by Seattleoperafan View Post
    I feel like I am starting 6th grade while some of you are in college when dissecting technique LOL. I've enjoyed Brownlee live several times. It is big enough for the repertoire, though not big and ringing by any means, and I found his singing very thrilling. I have not extensively studied voice so I can't dissect technique like many of you. I do have a better ear for good female singing than male singing so my statements about them carry more weight I think. I enjoy learning from you people who are competing to be valedictorians of our forum
    Completely agree. I, too, have enjoyed Brownlee live on more than one occasion. Although noticeably one of the weaker cast members in a production that headlined Joyce diDonato for example, he still held his own and had a pleasant tone that suited his role as, er, suitor Idreno to Joyce's Semiramide. Also not a vocal critic, I like what I like and he was pleasant here as in at least one other production I've had the chance to catch him.

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