It is not poetic, but it is plain truth, that chiefly upon the condition of the stomach depends the condition of the voice. Now, stomachic disorders are mainly caused by unsuitable food; and about my food I am most particular. It requires a little self-denial, of course, to abstain from rich dishes and wines; but my fare is invariably of the simplest kindplenty of chops and steaks, fresh vegetables and fruits. Then, exercise, indoors with dumb-bells, when the weather is bad; but always in the open air if fine, and there walking is best. No ordinary rule of health may be disregarded by the singer, and every sensible person must know more or less what contributes best in his individual case to health and well-being.
Another secret of the freshness of my voice is that, while I save none of my other muscles, but take much physical exercise, I use my voice for the public only. When young artists undertake a new role they immediately begin to sing it. They hack and hack at their voices, not for purposes of execution, but merely to memorize what they might better do with their fingers on the keyboard. I do not memorize on my voice what can be as well done on a mechanical instrument. When the music is fixed in my mind then only do I use my voice upon it. Further still, except at rehearsal I al-ways use my voice pianissimo. If you practise forte, you cannot sing pianissimo afterward. Therefore, pianissimo in private, and the forte is sure to come all right in public. Of course, while the average voice is being developed, scales, solfeggi, and vocalization over its full compass, are essential; but once the voice has obtained its growth, my experience is that if you sing in public you should save it completely in private.
I especially advise young singers above all things to look after the proper posing of the voice. When I first went to Marchesi, in Paris, without a single vocal lesson I sang as well as I do to-day, but for one break in my voice. Marchesi corrected that at once, and placed the registers properly. If this had not been done I should have totally lost my voice. Singers will know of themselves where the break lies between their registers, and if the teacher tries to force the voice over the break there is sure to be something wrong. The probable result will be permanent ruin of thevocal organs. Many a voice is thus ruined in the first stages of tuition. It is quite possible to sing as an artist and yet be an exception to the ordinary rule as to the place where the registers change. A natural peculiarity in this respect should not be disregarded. I carry my middle register to F sharp, half a tone beyond the prescribed limit. If I were a teacher and advocated this in any special case, I should have the whole fraternity abusing me. But I know my own voice.
While I have been on the stage I have sung in many different roles, and have studied several in which I have not appeared. I like them all. If I begin the study of one and find I do not like it, I drop it at once. I can make nothing of a role with which I am not in sympathy. Of course, one has naturally a weakness for those in which one has achieved the greatest success. But I seem to have been equally successful in mineAida, Elsa, Lucia, Gilda, Semiramide, Elisabeth in “Tannhauser,” Elaine, JulietteGounod him-self taught me that partand Marguerite as well.
Certain roles may suit the voice and not the temperament of the artist, or the reverse. I mean that one’s nature may be one of passionate intensity, and one’s voice of a quality unfit for the strain of expressing exalted sentiments, intense feeling, and profound emotion. A man with a light, high tenor voice could not hope to sing heroic roles with any considerable success; neither could a heavy dramatic soprano make much effect in opera-comique music. A singer should pay regard to the type of her voice (for that is the medium of expression), and ignore inclination to impersonate characters for which the voice is unsuited, even though nature may have bestowed every other endowment required for those parts. When possible, I always study my role with the composer. Gounod was my friend. I studied with him, with Mascagni, with Thomas, with Delibes. If I cannot reach the composer, I study what the music says to me of the meaning of the libretto. I do not go to the scene of the story, study the class of people to which the characters belong, or even read of it from books. I try to get the composer’s meaning, rather than to make a conception of my own of what the part ought to be. I work this out in my own mind, not from observation of scene or people.