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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I have a Sonnambula DVD in which the reviews on Amazon say the tenor is not very good, but I think they may misunderstand the role of Elvino. According to one review:
The role of Elvino lies in the upper range of the light lyric, or leggiero, tenor voice and it has been suggested that Rubini, and certainly others who followed in that period, used a falsetto voice.
So the question for TC opera fans: Is Jose Bros a good Elvino (You Tube)?

Here is another clip with more of Jose Bros.
 

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In that second clip (Son geloso...), Bros completely omits at least one high phrase and transposes down others -- the reviewer may be on to something. By comparison, here is Juan Diego Florez, a true tenore di grazia singing Son geloso (from 2:20) with Natalie Dessay -- note particularly from 4:55 on his complete ease and power with the high coloratura passages that Bros omits or transposes:


I greatly prefer Florez to anyone else I've heard in the role.

For the record, I have a Callas recording where Cesare Valletti takes the high phrase in Son geloso (the one Bros omits) in falsetto -- it is not pretty. So kudos to Bros for not going that route.
 

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Wouldn't Rubini's 'falsetto' just have been head voice, as opposed to the sort of more extreme falsetto now used by countertenors?

I was reading something yesterday which claims that Elvino's character becomes clear only when the original keys are restored. (I don't know anything about this personally but it sounds like you might be interested.) Here's the quote:

Two roles conceived for Rubini have survived in the repertory, Elvino in La Sonnambula and Arturo in I Puritani. Elvino contains technical difficulties greater than those in any subsequent tenor role, including Arturo, and by the 1840s the part was being transposed down. So common were the transpositions that no edition published since then contains the original keys. The transpositions fairly quickly became standardised, so that the two first-act tenor-soprano duets and the last-act tenor cavatina were put down a whole tone, while the last-act tenor cabaletta was lowered a major third. These transpositions have a drastic impact on the emotional character of the role. As conventionally sung, the part has a personality bordering on the insipid. A few years ago, the Italian author Alberto Arbasino declared of Elvino that 'No one seriously believes he would be capable of any erotic possibility'. When the original keys are restored, however, the music becomes virile and the Rubini role a character of real emotional substance. In his last-act scene, for instance, Elvino, when heard in the original keys,becomes every bit as lathered up as does Pollione in the trio from Norma.

(From 'The Origins of Modern Tenor Singing' by Stefan Zucker.)
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 · (Edited)
In that second clip (Son geloso...), Bros completely omits at least one high phrase and transposes down others --
...
For the record, I have a Callas recording where Cesare Valletti takes the high phrase in Son geloso (the one Bros omits) in falsetto -- it is not pretty. So kudos to Bros for not going that route.
I am blissfully unable to discern such things as omitting a high phrase or transposing a note. So this is beneficial in that I enjoy the less than perfect performance, but bad in that I could be doing better.

Florez sounds great. Think he did this role in both the Bartoli and the Dessay recordings. Hey, I think Dessay would be a great Angelina in Cenerentola--wonder if she ever did that part.

I too am very happy Bros did not go into falsetto. I don't even like falsetto in 1950s greaser music.

"Elvino contains technical difficulties greater than those in any subsequent tenor role, including Arturo, and by the 1840s the part was being transposed down. So common were the transpositions that no edition published since then contains the original keys."
Would love to hear it in it's full original glory. Is there no such recording then?

It may not be quite germane to this discussion of high notes and falsetto and such, but if elegance and style matter I've yet to hear a match for this guy (here with Galli-Curci in 1923):


I suspect it's a little rushed to get it onto a 78rpm side, as was often the case then.
Thank you. That is very nice.

How about this Elvino? Nicola Monti
 

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Rubini, as well as all other tenors of the period, were using falsettone.

We can't know for certain what falsettone was, as of course there are not any recordings from the early 19th century. But for sure it had nothing to do with countertenors. It was used not in all the tessitura, but only for the high notes. And the note from which it was used was different for each singer. For instance, it was documented that for Donzelli (the first Pollione) it was the G before high C, while for Rubini it was most probably the high C itself, or high B flat.

Also, falsettone was surely a mixed emission, including resonances from the head voice, but also some from the chest voice. In Italian, it has been described as "pieno con consonanza di testa". Personally, I don't think it was something fundamentally different (humans being humans in the 19th century, too) as we can hear sometimes in the recordings of Gigli, or David Devriès.
 

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Rubini, as well as all other tenors of the period, were using falsettone.

We can't know for certain what falsettone was, as of course there are not any recordings from the early 19th century. But for sure it had nothing to do with countertenors. It was used not in all the tessitura, but only for the high notes. And the note from which it was used was different for each singer. For instance, it was documented that for Donzelli (the first Pollione) it was the G before high C, while for Rubini it was most probably the high C itself, or high B flat.

Also, falsettone was surely a mixed emission, including resonances from the head voice, but also some from the chest voice. In Italian, it has been described as "pieno con consonanza di testa". Personally, I don't think it was something fundamentally different (humans being humans in the 19th century, too) as we can hear sometimes in the recordings of Gigli, or David Devriès.
Great post. It's probably not a bad idea to look to the French school for evidence of early 19th century Italian singing, as that style continued well into the 20thC and there seems to have been a certain amount of cross fertilisation between the two schools. Devriès is maybe a good example, since Rubini was also small voiced and derided for a goat like vibrato. I hope Rubini's sound was more beautiful than Devriès': I haven't listened to the latter regularly for years and now if I do I will have to get used to that thin whiny sound all over again. Villabella too.

I am blissfully unable to discern such things as omitting a high phrase or transposing a note. So this is beneficial in that I enjoy the less than perfect performance, but bad in that I could be doing better.
Me too. Thank goodness for some of the better informed posters on here!
Would love to hear it in it's full original glory. Is there no such recording then?
I don't know. If I find one you will be the first to know! The author I quoted did indeed make an album of bel canto arias including an extract from Sonnambula- with a technique supposedly derived from Rubini and not noticeably reliant on falsetto, but also with much distracting waywardness of intonation. The trouble with trying to reconstruct nineteenth century singing styles is that it's a very marginal endeavour that tends to attract marginal musicians. A singer who wants to get hired has to sound a certain way, and that means not sounding like Rubini or Devriès. It's a shame, as these adventures in historically correct performance styles have an intrinsic value and interest. Vertebrate Font Publication Paper Pattern
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 · (Edited)
Great post. It's probably not a bad idea to look to the French school ...
Would the French school have anything to do with this Maria Callas quote I found on her Wikipedia page,
On April 11, 1938, in her public debut, Callas ended the recital of Trivella's class at the Parnassos music hall with a duet from Tosca. Callas recalled that Trivella:
"had a French method, which was placing the voice in the nose, rather nasal..."
:lol:
 

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Would the French school have anything to do with this Maria Callas quote I found on her Wikipedia page,

:lol:
There was a nasality among some French lyric tenors of that period- Devries is as good an example as any. I would take the heroic French voices over the lyric ones every time! The sopranos could also sound rather piercing- perhaps Callas' teacher had that sort of voice.

I enjoyed the Wikipedia article. I didn't know anything about Callas' early life before.
 

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I am blissfully unable to discern such things as omitting a high phrase or transposing a note. So this is beneficial in that I enjoy the less than perfect performance, but bad in that I could be doing better.
Haha. I only notice because this happens to be one of my favorite duets so I've listened to it many, many, many times.

It is fun to discern differences among recordings, but I hope I never get to the point where I don't appreciate and enjoy the good qualities in every version.

I think Elvino and Amina are two roles that really benefit from young, or young-sounding, singers.

For another take, here are Ekaterina Siurina and Charles Castronovo in dress rehearsal:

 
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