What sort of training do classical singers need?

The principles of the vocal art, as I shall here describe them, are classified under the following heads:


Adjustment and Attack

Vowel Formation


Management of Registers



Tone-Colour and Expression

Herman Klein, Phono-Vocal Method, page 9.

This post addressed the question: what sort of training do classical singers need?

Above is a quote, by Herman Klein, writing at the beginning of the 20th Century. Klein was a pupil of Manuel Garcia. Klein, for me, sums it up. Singers need a method. They need to be able to isolate the techniques, perfect them and then apply them.

Daniel Shigo’s You Tube Channel is the most reliable gateway for you to listen to the technique Klein describes in the quote above. On Mr Shigo’s You Tube channel, perfect demonstrations are executed of Klein’s Phono-Vocal Method by, the Contralto, Janet Spencer. The techniques are then applied to examples of solfeggio and songs.

Classical Singers should aim to spend several years on technique after which they should sing only songs and only the ‘simpler’ arias for several years. The songs or simpler arias of composers such as Handel and Mozart should be the focus for a developing singer. Why Mozart?

Mozart demands everything. To begin with, a beautiful voice controlled and directed by correct scientific breathing; ample resonance; an equal scale achieved by the perfect blending (or if you like it better, the obliteration) of the registers; a clean attack; a steady sostenuto; a smooth, pure legato, an elegant use of the portamento; a well graduated messa di voce or management of crescendos and diminuendos; flexibility, agility, and brilliancy of execution; and, not least of all, the capacity to sing absolutely in tune.

Herman Klein, Bel Canto, 1923
The wondrous voice of Dame Kiri Te Kanawa.

And what is the reason for all of the above. The years of toil? The focus on the Old Italian School Method? The focus on singing what is appropriate?

Opera’s lost generation of stars…a whole generation of singers seems to be missing in action. Where are the stars now in their 50s? There are precious few of them. The blight extends to some in their 40s. So what has happened? A significant cause is a lack of proper education, not only about how to sing, but about which roles are appropriate for which voices and, equally important, how to say no.

Anne Midgette, The New York Times, May 28, 2006. Quoted in Denes Striny’s book ‘Head First’

The quote above brings me to Lilli Lehmann. Lilli Lehmann was the opposite of what is described above. Here is a wonderful summary of her talents.

Among the singers of that date whose superiority over their successors is most evident I count Plancon, Schumann-Heink, Battistini and Lilli Lehmann. The last-named, a frequent Covent Garden visitor about the turn of the century and an early pillar of the Salzburg festivals, deserves a place among the wonders of musical history. To begin with, her versatility was astounding; she sang 165 operatic roles, ranging from the Queen of the Night and the Forest Bird in Siegfried to Carmen, Fricka and Ortrud; among the most famous were Brunhilde, Isolde, Norma, Donna Anna, Constanze (in the Seraglio) and Leonora (in Fidelio). I have thirty of her recordings, mostly made about 1907 when she was nearly sixty, and including some of the most taxing music ever written for the soprano voice – such things as “Casta Diva”, “Ah, For’ e lui”, “Non mi dir”, “Martern aller Arten” and “Abscheulicher! Wo eilst du hin?” Of course there are moments when the strain of age is felt; but the sheer technical mastery, and the command of various styles, are such as to put singers of a later day to shame.’

Desmond Shawe-Taylor, Covent Garden, page 52.

When I read the quote above, in a little book on Covent Garden, I was fascinated to learn more about this wonderful singer. Once I discovered she wrote a singing book, biography and diary notes, and, her recordings were reviewed by Klein, I was hooked. Lilli Lehmann loved technique.

It is not enough to sing well; one must also know how one does it.

Lilli Lehmann, How to Sing.
Lilli Lehmann

Lilli Lehmann is my point of reference for this website. Why? I had found what I needed most of all in my classical singing training – inspiration.

Published by Deborah Wai Kapohe

I am a classical singer and guitarist. I have created a project called 'The Lilli Lehmann Project'. The project, lasting from 2020 until 2023, aims to refresh my voice and prepare me to be a singing teacher. The scope of the project is that I am studying Lilli Lehmann's singing book, bibliography, recordings and her reviews, as well as other historical vocal pedagogy. I have chosen this platform in order to blog about my discoveries, demonstrate techniques and exercises, and perform pieces of music. I have done so because I wish to be transparent. I think that if a student is prepared to learn from me then I should stand up to public scrutiny.

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