…the standard of singing is lower than it was, both upon the operatic stage and in the concert room. The voices of contemporary singers do not compare for beauty with those of the past; nor does their technical training, save in the rarest instances, nearly approach the same height of perfection.Herman Klein, Essays on Bel Canto, 1923.
Herman Klein’s book Herman Klein and the gramophone : being a series of essays on the Bel canto (1923), the Gramophone and the Singer (1924-1934), and reviews of new classical vocal recordings (1925-1934), and other writings from the Gramophone is a gateway into developing your ear for the sound Bel Canto.
On the internet there are people claiming to teach Bel Canto but it is not even a shadow of the method.
By reading Klein’s book (available for free on Internet Archive) and combining this with old recordings freely available on music streaming sites like Spotify and historical vocal pedagogy freely available on internet sites like IMSLP, you can begin your journey to piece together what Bel Canto is supposed to sound like. (My websites has references for you to start you on your way).
I suggest this is an excellent way to begin if you are thinking of taking classical singing lessons. Don’t dive into classical singing with the first singing teacher that comes your way. Ask yourself the following question: ‘Do I like the way my prospective teacher sings?’.
The chances are that you will come out sounding just like them, so browse before you buy! Ask the teacher to sing for you. Audition the teacher!
This is why I am demonstrating and singing on my website. I am auditioning for you before you part with your money and time.
Here is a beautiful recording of Lilli Lehmann with a woman who may be her pupil, to labour the point. Herman Klein remarks in his essay on Lilli Lehmann’s recordings that he believed Hedwig Helbig was a pupil of Lehmann’s. Listening to the recording, it may be true. Why? One can hardly tell them apart. The same flawless technique and beauty of sound, despite the primitive recordings. However, there also may be another reason. On page 590 of Herman Klein’s book, Herman Klein and the Gramophone, in a letter to the editor, N. Marschall writes that Lilli Lehmann’s sister’s daughter was Hedwig Helbig. Helbig, he says, was Lehmann’s devoted companion and accompanist. To me, this is also a good explanation for the technique because Lilli and her sister, Marie, had both been taught to sing by their mother.