…there is almost no limit to the height that can be reached by the pure head tone without admixture of palatal resonance.
Lilli Lehmann, How to Sing.
…the whole secret of both [extension of the compass and equalization of the registers] consists in the proper raising and lowering of the soft palate, and the pillars of the fauces connected with it.
Lilli Lehmann, How to Sing
Over the next three years (2020-2023), I have created a project for myself called the “Lilli Lehmann Project”. This project aims to refresh my voice and brain to prepare myself for teaching. The whole point of the three years is that I believe that in order to teach responsibly, I must be able to actually do it myself!
The first stage of the project is to learn bel canto repertoire, in particular coloratura. Coloratura repertoire demands, amongst many other things, secure high notes because the arias often end with a high note.
Today’s post discusses my thoughts about high notes.
First, here is short audio file where I am rehearsing the high notes at the end of Caro Nome.
In this audio file, I focussed very much on increasing the nasality in the notes before singing the notes above top C. I also increasingly thought of [e].
As soon as the head tones come into consideration, one should never attempt to sing an open ah, because on ah the tongue lies flattest. One should think of an ā, and in the highest range even an ē; should mix the ā and ē with the ah, and thereby produce a position of the tongue and soft palate that makes the path clear for the introduction on the breath into the cavities of the head.
Lilli Lehmann, How to Sing.
In addition to thinking [e], I watched Dame Joan Sutherland singing high notes. Imitating her mouth position as it changes through the registers. Once I reached the C# I positioned my mouth ready for a wide opening on the Eb.
Here is a picture of Maria Callas laughing. This is a good example of the mouth shape for high notes.
In addition, to the above, there was one more thing I did. This was to extend my neck upwards. In the following video, the Italian bel canto singing teacher, Capucine Chiaudani, explains why this is important.
This is a follow up post to my earlier post on Cherubino’s aria. Here are three versions of Cherubino’s aria sung at 421HZ. The first version is too dark. I pressed down on the sound. It was tiring and uncomfortable. The second version isn’t as dark but I have another problem – you can see my mouth is moving too much. There is also a trace of tension. Accordingly, the language is distorted.
I decided the most efficient way to fix this was to listen to Herman Klein’s Phono-Vocal Method and sing a Solfeggio. I did this for ten minutes or so and then recorded the third version. The third version is my preferred version. The only reservations I have is that it now needs other musicians to bring it to life and time to settle.
Wow, the closed Italian [u] – why Italian? – why did Gregorian chant, opera, and singing in a certain way seemingly start in Italy? Their language was the main reason, and of course, we must consider that because it started there, it started because of their language.
Denes Striny, Great Singers, An Endangered Species, How to Get Back to Mother Nature, Page 43
I could pose a similar question from a New Zealand perspective. Why are there so many stunning Pacific Island Opera Singers? Their language is the main reason.
Language for some of us Kiwis is a challenge. How do we train our mouths to speak like an Italian or a Pacific Islander or a native Te Reo speaker?
Here is one way. It is cheap, easy and will save you doing a three year Italian degree like I did.
Listen to Gregorian Chant!
This post contains a Gregorian playlist for listening while you take that daily walk. (You will need Spotify to access the entire track).
Language is my everyday struggle because I have a thick Kiwi accent with more than a hint of Aussie – could it get any worse – ha ha ha! Yes, it could. I love pop music which means I am often singing around the house in chest voice trying to be Beyonce!
Gregorian chant is the perfect remedy. The language is focussed on the [u] vowel, there is no chest voice, the vocal range is not taxing and the singers sing directly onto the note (no scooping).
Put your headphones on and have a go at imitating this. Imitation is training. Training your lips to feel the [u] shape and to maintain the [u] sensation in every other vowel.
Training, training, training! Training your ear. Training your muscles. Training, training, training!
Here is the process I have followed today to locate a shiny sound for Cherubino’s aria. I would like Cherubino to sound youthful. Accordingly, I am looking for that old fashioned bright Italian sound. I will add to this post over the next month or so until the aria is complete.
Voi Che Sapete – further blog post
I am continuing this post in a separate blog post because I notice the information is too much for one page. Please look at my more recent post to see a comparison of different versions…
Peter Dawson, (31 January 1882 – 27 September 1961), Australian Baritone.
Australia produces fine singers. Today’s blog post features the singing of, Australian Baritone, Peter Dawson. It is obvious, by listening, that Peter Dawson, born in Adelaide in 1882, was trained in the Old Italian Method of Singing to produce Bel Canto. Dawson’s sound quality is dark. His attack is clean, intonation secure, legato pure, agility without fault and diction faultless.
We are so lucky to have access to Dawson’s singing which could be used by teachers of singing as the ‘goal post’ for singing in general, and, specifically, singing in English. In this respect, I am very glad to have discovered Dawson’s recordings for both my students and improvement of myself.
Here is a playlist of Peter Dawson’s singing and, below, an example of his teacher’s singing.
Peter Dawson studied with, Englishman, Sir Charles Santley. Sir Charles recorded only a few songs and arias at the end of his career. However, his voice remained fresh – one of the tell-tale signs of good technique! Here is an example of his singing. Examples such as this could be used by teachers of singing as a ‘reminder’ of the Old Italian School of Singing. The power of this example may be enhanced by reading Sir Charles Santley’s books on singing and his memoirs.
Everyone knows it, and most lovers of the old school of Italian singing adore it. Yet how few, even of the cleverest vocalists of to-day, can sing it really well!
Herman Klein, Herman Klein and the Gramophone, The recording of Una Voce, page 66
Listening to the finest examples of Bel Canto and learning how to critically engage with the examples is essential for developing one’s ear for the Old Italian School. In the Spotify Playlist below are four of five examples that Klein compares in his article ‘The Recording of Una Voce‘. Klein’s critique gives us insight into the performance of this aria. I suggest you listen to the four recordings and then read pages 66 – 68 of 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. (You can locate this book on Internet Archive to borrow).
Let it here be noted that Lilli Lehmann’s was one of those voices known as a “soprano sfogato,” having in the head register a thin yet ethereal quality which she used to bring down into the medium as well, until it dropped naturally and often suddenly into the chest tone. This equalization of the scale downwards explained her ability to sing for long periods without fatigue and also to undertake the heaviest as well as the lighter soprano roles. Thus her coloratura was exceptionally smooth and brilliant, whilst at the same time she could declaim to perfection the most dramatic of Mozart’s recitatives. She was thus directly in the line of Jenny Lind, Tietjens and Ilma di Murska, and happily equipped to illustrate in an enduring form the art which they practised so superbly…
Herman Klein, The Liili Lehmann Records (Herman Klein and the Gramophone).
Today’s post is about the importance of training daily to bring your head voice downwards. This was the way I was trained by Beatrice Webster and Isabel Cunningham. Beatrice was as a student of Lucie Manen. Accordingly, we are talking here, via via, about the same school.
The daily technique I have demonstrated on the technique page of this website should be understood in this paradigm. I was not taught to shove the breath through and focus on the middle voice. No. I was taught to caress the glottis, stream the air efficiently and focus on bringing the head voice downwards. This is why my voice has not been destroyed by my broad repertoire in the past and years of not singing at all because I was reading law! My gratitude goes to my teachers.
When I sing a single tone I can give it much more power, much more palatal or nasal resonance, than I could give in a series of ascending tones. In a musical figure I must attack the lowest note in such a way that I can easily reach the highest. I must, therefore, give it much more head tone than the single tone requires.
Lilli Lehmann, How to Sing.
You need the head voice/ head tone for the equalization of your voice. It is your warmth. Projection. Longevity. Colour. Flexibility. Below is a demonstration of an exercise on ‘i’. It is difficult to hear the volume because my iPhone condenses everything but sing the exercise ‘pp’. Use this exercise to soar upwards with an ethereal quality then bring the ethereal quality downwards. In addition, do what Lilli Lehmann says to do in the quote above.
The ‘i’ exercise is excellent for bringing your head tones downwards. I also use the ‘ng’ exercise for this as well. These exercises are how I begin my daily practice. I sing pianissimo and start in the upper part of my voice. The chest will always be there. It is the head voice and all of its benefits that so easily vanishes!
Always think this way. The way Lilli Lehmann describes in the quote above. Every exercise, every phrase, every moment.
The purpose of my project – what I have fondly named ‘The Lilli Lehmann Project’ – is to use Lilli Lehmann as a point of reference. I will not be solely referring to her, as you can probably guess from my other blog posts which refer to other Historical Vocal Pedagogy. Accordingly, I checked Hermann Klein’s book. Hermann Klein was a student of Manuel Garcia. On Page 37, Klein teaches the blending of the registers and equalization of tones. Klein says to do what Lilli Lehmann did and what I was shown by my teachers. He has this to say.
…the student is required as soon as possible to become familiar with head tone, and be able to attack it with ease and certainty. It should be sung lightly, not fortissimo, or even forte; with abundant breath support, with a somewhat open throat, and a distinct sensation of resonance upon the front teeth, the hard palate, and in the “forward” cavities of the masque.
Hermann Klein, The Hermann Klein Phono-Vocal Method Based upon the Famous School of Manuel Garcia, page 37.
May I be clear that equalization is not only about blending the two registers until they sound as one. Equalization, just like on a music player, whether it be your iPhone, car stereo etc, is about playing around with tonal colours until your voice sounds balanced. Refer to my past post on voice characters where I demonstrate the light coloratura, lyric and dramatic qualities.
Here is an example. The light coloratura quality can easily sound hollow if there is not enough imposto.
Below is an example whereby my sound was lacking the imposto. I recorded it on my iPhone. It sounded hollow so I sang the F scale for half an hour trying to balance the sound. I began the scale at the top and sang downwards adding the imposto. Here is a before and after example. Even though my voice was tired for the last version, I think the sound is better equalized.
The starting point to introduce the various techniques required for singing consonants today is to choose a Cancone Solfeggio phrase and refer to Oskar Guttmann’s ‘Gymnastics for the Voice’. The majority of the techniques I blog about are for the classical voice. However, this blog is for every style. Every singer should be aware of how they produce their consonants.
Here is a demonstration of the first note. First, it is demonstrated with scooping (bad unless done consciously for effect). Then the consonant ‘m’ is practiced in isolation to make sure it is directly on pitch and resonant (good). Then the first note is sung again. This time there is no scooping (good).
The ‘words’ of this solfeggio phrase are ‘mi fa sol do si mi do sol’. Let’s take a look at Oskar Guttmann’s page on consonants from his book ‘Gymnastics of the Voice’. We see the voiced consonants are m, l and do. These must all be on pitch. There are other techniques for the unvoiced consonants but they are not my focus today (but just as important).
Following on from my previous posts about voice characters, I decided to have some fun. Here is the Cancone phrase, first in the light coloratura quality and then the lyric and dramatic qualities. Interestingly, I didn’t treat the consonants the same way every time, something I will ponder upon in upcoming posts!
Finally, here is some music. This is the first phrase of ‘Regnava nel silenzio’. Referring again to Oskar Guttmann’s page above. The voiced consonants are r, the nasal n, v, n and l.
In a previous post, I demonstrated three voice characters: light coloratura quality, lyric quality and dramatic quality by referring to the lessons in Lucie Manen’s book ‘The Art of Singing’. Manen describes how to achieve the voice characters. She also wrote that Lilli Lehmann performed all three roles in The Tales of Hoffmann. In other words, Lehmann knew how to access the three voice characters.
Today, I focussed on applying the light coloratura quality to Donizetti’s ‘O luce di quest’anima’. Here are the opening phrases recorded on my iPhone. My guitar is tuned to 432HZ. Listening back, I can lighten up the quality a little more, add a touch more imposto on the middle range and address the occasional note that does not have the correct onset (the caress of the glottis I blogged about in an earlier post).
Finally, here is a Spotify link to Donizetti’s ‘Ah, tardai troppo…o luce di quest’anima’ sung by Dame Joan Sutherland. Dame Joan, like Lilli Lehmann, was a Wagnerian Soprano. I love hearing Dame Joan’s voice light coloratura quality in this wonderful recording.
*These blogs are part of a three year project (2020-2023) to refresh my voice and prepare myself for teaching. I have called the three year project ‘The Lilli Lehmann Project’ because I am using Lilli Lehmann’s teachings, recordings and others’ writings about Lehmann as a point of reference.
Lilli Lehmann writes “[t]he nasal close of itself brings a new color into the singing…the word is much more clearly intelligible…”.
Below is a demonstration of a Cancone solfeggio phrase. The first ‘sol la’ is sung without a nasal close and the second is with a nasal close.
Can you hear the second ‘sol la’ is more colourful and also more intelligible?
Below is a further demonstration of the nasal close on the word ‘cammino’. The first is sung without a nasal close and the second with.
Did you hear that when I performed the nasal close I coloured the ‘i’ by adding a shade of ‘u’?
Now let us listen to me applying the nasal close to the word ‘cammino’ from a phrase in Liu’s aria.
Can you hear the nasal close in the word ‘cammino’? And can you hear the colouring of the ‘i’ vowel? This adds pathos to the word.
Lilli Lehmann lamented she was the last to practice the nasal close, saying the nasal close is “a thing that no one teaches any longer, or knows or is able to do”. Sadly, this is almost the case. However, a beautiful example of the nasal close is by Montserrat Caballe when she sings Liu’s aria. Here is the Spotify Link. If you subscribe to Spotify you can hear her sing the entire aria. Nasal close after nasal close. Beautiful! But, even if you only play this little snippet below, listen carefully. Can you hear one?