The Lilli Lehmann Project* – Light Coloratura

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).

O luce di quest/anima sung in light coloratura quality – Deborah Wai Kapohe

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.

Nasal Close

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.

Nasal Close on second ‘sol la’ Deborah Wai Kapohe

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.

Cammino sung without nasal close and then with nasal close – Deborah Wai Kapohe

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.

Applying nasal close in Liu’s aria – Deborah Wai Kapohe

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?

Voice Characters

In previous blogs, I have demonstrated starting the note from the larynx mechanism, the pharynx, the nasal and the imposto. Here is a chance to put these ideas together to create three different voice characters. To achieve this, I have followed Lucie Manen’s book ‘The Art of Singing’ and recalled the teachings of the late Beatrice Webster.

Lucie Manen writes that Lilli Lehmann was able to sing all three characters in The Tales of Hoffmann! Accordingly, I will explore this in my studies too. Today, I am beginning with the three qualities – the Light Coloratura, the Lyric and the Dramatic – sung on ‘a’.

Light Coloratura quality demonstrated by Deborah Wai Kapohe
Lyric quality demonstrated by Deborah Wai Kapohe
Dramatic quality demonstrated by Deborah Wai Kapohe

Below is an example of ‘Una Voce Poco Fa’. What is remarkable in this example is that the Great Singer, Amelita Galli-Curci, could sing also lyric and dramatic soprano. Here she is demonstrating her incredible ability as a coloratura soprano.

The extreme attractiveness of Mme. Galli-Curci’s Una Voce…lies in its all-round merit. The rich, satisfying timbre, the essentially Italian quality of the voice, easily produced and managed with rare, unfailing skill, strikes the listener at once.

Herman Klein, Herman Klein and the Gramophone, Page 68.

Another example of voice characters. This example of Dame Joan Sutherland singing ‘Ah, tardai troppo…O luce di quest’anima’ captures the youth of the character so beautifully.

Here is my first attempt at singing Donizetti’s aria. I call this a work in progress because my voice is still too heavy (not light coloratura quality). Accordingly, combined with a loss of support near the end leading to the dreaded press and loss of head voice, caused a crash onto the top D. Never mind. We know the cause. Now fix it!

The loss of support here near the end caused the dreaded press which in turn led to a loss of head voice on the Cadenza and a woeful end to the piece!

Lucie Manen exercises demonstrated

Here are some demonstrations of techniques from pages 26 until 31 of Lucie Manen’s book ‘The Art of Singing’. On a previous blog, I demonstrated the onset of the note using the larynx mechanism. Here is a demonstration of the onset using both the larynx mechanism and, the main resonator, the pharynx mechanism.

Starting the note using the pharynx – Deborah Wai Kapohe

Manen writes ‘[a’n essential component of the Bel Canto technique is the exploitation of the upper respiratory tract. Manen writes ‘…the Imposto mechanism cannot by itself generate tone production..the larynx can produce a note without involving the Imposto…but, once the Imposto mechanism is initiated it will function simultaneously with the mechanism of the larynx in tone-production.’

Here is a demonstration of the start of the note from the Imposto.

Starting the note from the imposto – Deborah Wai Kapohe

Manen writes ‘the naso-pharynx, are used as resonators for the Imposto, the secondary mechanism of tone production. Here is a demonstration of some exercises to develop nasal resonance. By developing nasal resonance you can then access the Imposto. I have added the word ‘sing’ in at the end because ‘ng’ is difficult for some people to grasp.

H before m, n and ng to avoid larynx becoming dominant

Below is an example of what you don’t want – humming started from the larynx – and what you do want – humming started from the imposto. By now you will say. But hey. You just said that to develop the imposto need to develop nasal but now you say you have to start the nasal from the imposto. Yes. That is correct. Singing is round and round in circles. Another example of going round and round in circles is when your teacher tells you “you need to breathe well to sing well and then turns around and says you need to sing well to breathe well”.

To help you develop your humming starting from the imposto have another go at the exercise above. Use ‘h’ before the nasal consonant. Below are two examples, one wrong and one right.

Example of what you don’t want – humming started from the larynx – Deborah Wai Kapohe
Example of what you do want – humming started from the imposto – Deborah Wai Kapohe

FInally, Manen discusses head resonance. Head voice – or head resonance – is a brilliant sound. It gives warmth and beauty. Here is one of many exercises to develop the head voice. My poor old iPhone doesn’t cope too well with these recordings but you may hear there is a brilliance to the sound. Head voice gives the voice carrying power. You don’t need to push the voice if you can access the head voice. You will also last a lot longer in the singing business than singers who push and shove.

An exercise to develop the head voice – Deborah Wai Kapohe

Finally, I finish with a picture of Lilli Lehmann because these blog posts are part of my three year project, called ‘The Lilli Lehmann Project’. The project goal is that I prepare myself for becoming a responsible singing teacher using her book ‘How to Sing’ as a point of reference.

Lilli Lehmann


Classical Singing is not just about being able to sing loud and soft. Classical Singing is about being able to sing with different tone colours and shades of intensity.

Here is the opening phrase of a Cancone solfeggio. Solfegii and vocalise are vital for training singers. I will be demonstrating a lot of solfegii and vocalise over the next three years.

Before you listen to my brief demo of the opening of a Cancone solfeggio below, please note that to learn to sing Bel Canto requires the mastery of the happy surprise breath. Lucie Manen in ‘The Art of Singing’ and Esther Salaman in ‘Unlocking Your Voice’ describe how to perform this breath. (I demo this breath in one of my earlier posts.) You must also master the start of the note. (Again, refer to the singing books of Manen and Salaman). Bel Canto requires the mastery of starting the note with the caress of the glottis. I have demonstrated this on an audio file in one of my earlier posts.

Listen to my demonstration below of Cancone and then read and listen to the different techniques I used.

Cancone solfeggio – Deborah Wai Kapohe demonstration

Vowels. Learning to sing vowels isn’t as difficult as one thinks. Teachers can over complicate things by referring to ‘pure vowels’. Lilli Lehmann states that there are no pure vowels.

Below is a demonstration of the three exclamation vowels contrasted with their counterparts, the articulation vowels. Exclamation vowels are simply that. Exclamations that are natural to us. I have fun by exclaiming ‘a’ like I have discovered something wonderful, then ‘i’ like I have discovered something weird and then ‘u’ like I discovered something unbelievable. I then sing these exclamation vowels. In contrast, articulation vowels are the vowels we learn to use in speech. They are wonderful and limitless because we are all different. The challenge in singing is learning to blend vowels. For example, now that I listen to the Cancone again, I think I should have blended slightly more ‘u’ into the second top note. Or perhaps even just thought ‘u’.

Exclamation vowels followed by phonation vowels – Deborah Wai Kapohe demonstration

Nasal. Below is ‘ng’ followed by the same vowels as above (a, i and u) but with nasality added. This nasality was used in the demonstration of the Cancone above on the second F#. I thought the nasality gave the second F# a nice change in tone colour as well as more volume (Cancone indicated more volume on the score).

Ng followed by adding that nasality to vowels – Deborah Wai Kapohe demonstration

Singing soft and loud and everything in between. Below is messa di voce. It is not a good example because the diminuendo does not match the crescendo and my support is lacking. However, I have included it so that you can hear because bad examples are as useful for learning as good examples. Messa di voce was used in the Cancone also because a singer should never sing in one dynamic, whether it be one note or a phrase. Even individual notes should have messa di voce.

Messa di voce – flawed demonstration

Emphasising certain notes as well as creating springboards to fly up to the top notes. FInally, here is vibrazione on u. I exclaimed ‘u’ first then sang the vibrazione onto the exclamation vowels to keep my lips from wanting to form an articulation vowel. There is a little tiny vibrazione just before the first F# sung in head voice.

Vibrazione on exclamation u vowel – Deborah Wai Kapohe

I don’t have time for consonants today and didn’t think about them at all in the Cancone example above. However, I will be putting a lot of time into consonants over the next three years. Lilli Lehmann’s teachings are a great resource for studying consonants and they can make or break a legato vocal line.

Messa di Voce on ‘u’

Today I made a sound file of messa di voce on my favourite vowel ‘u’. There are two attempts in this sound file. The first attempt was uneven and lacked in its intensity but the second attempt was ok. My iPhone compresses my recordings a lot, but I think it is still possible to hear what is happening.

The Old Italian School was about intensity, not pushing. The 21st Century loves loud. Accordingly, Vibrazione and Messa di Voce exercises are more critical than ever if a singer wishes to create volume without pushing whilst continuing to sing beautifully for the duration of his or her lifetime.

Messa di Voce – ‘u’


Lilli Lehmann laments that nasal resonance is often neglected.

Today I made a sound file of ‘ng’. I practice ‘ng’ throughout my vocal range. If I concentrate on my happy surprise breath, onset and support then I feel what Lilli Lehmann calls ‘whirling currents’.

‘Ng’ C to C

Here are a pair of ‘i’ vowels without nasality and a pair with nasality. I hope you agree with me that the second pair has more warmth than the first. This is because I added nasal resonance to the second pair of ‘i’ vowels.

A pair of ‘i’ vowels without nasal resonance followed by a pair with nasal resonance


Esther Salaman, in her book ‘Unlocking Your Voice’, reminds us that the Bel Canto school of singing is about quality over quantity. Ms Salaman says that Vibrazione is an exercise that develops the core of our vowels. In other words, it develops quality.

Today I made a sound file of vibrazione. Vibrazione is a moment of intensity and depth. It is not obtained by pushing. Rather, it is the product of the ‘Happy Surprise’ breath, correct onset and a coordinated deepening of the sound whilst increasing the airflow.

The word “Sing’ sung normally, then vibrazione using dynamics of mf, mp, p and then pp.


“He who knows how to breathe and pronounce well, knows how to sing well”

Pacchiarotti (quoted in Francesco Lamperti’s book The Art of Singing).

I have written quite a few posts about breathing. Today, I decided to write about pronunciation. Pronunciation, as well as breathing exercises, should precede singing lessons.

Oskar Guttmann, in his Gymnastics for the Voice, wrote the following brief but important guide to pronunciation. It is an excellent wee page for beginners.

Breathing with Interruption

Here is a fantastic exercise to develop your breath control. Lilli Lehmann approved of Oskar Guttmann’s book ‘Gymnastics for the Voice’. This exercise is taken from his book.

Stand in Oskar Guttmann’s base position (I blogged about this in an earlier post). Breathe in through the nose, suspend for 5 seconds and then exhale through the mouth.

‘Breathing with Interruption’ will develop your self-awareness. You will discover there is no need to take in a lot of air to begin with. In fact, taking too much will make the exercise difficult. However, as you increase the duration of the interruption/suspension, you will find you need increasingly more air. Accordingly, you will become aware of not just your abdomen expanding, but also your rib cage and even your back.

In addition to developing your self-awareness, ‘Breathing with Interruption’ will also develop your skills in training your ribs to remain outwards. You will need this skill when you are learning the Great Scale or singing long passages.

Below is the diagram from Mr Guttmann’s book ‘Gymnastics for the Voice’ and a video of a demonstration of the exercise. The video is very boring but the location, the Northern Cape of South Africa, is very pretty!

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