Faulty intonation and painful tremulousness; a lack of real expression, through which vehemence must be accepted as intensity; absence of pronunciation and an infrequent power of sustaining long phrasesall these, accompanied in our opera houses by convulsions of orchestration, denote, at the present writing, a serious decadence in the art of singing. One may indulge the hope, however, that this decadence has reached the level at which a reaction may soon be expected.
The condition of affairs I refer to is, in my judgment, the outcome of the degradation of the artist in the universal race for wealth. It is illustrated in the enormous honoraria commanded by the few gifted ones that yield to a low standard exacted by a vastly extended and ignorant public. The foremost men and women in the profession are the greatest offenders, judged by the columns of the daily newspapers, the character of the songs desired by popular taste, and the artists’ subservience to its demands. A womana musician, not a singerthat stood at the head of her profession expressed the yearning of all true artists for a more serious state of things, in the words, “I am fifty years too late!”
Many years ago students were far more earnest in the pursuit of their labors than they are nowadays. Young vocalists no longer admit the need of prolonged study when they can earn money at once, regardless of the future of their throats. Then, too, art is not for the million. The million cannot apprehend a high standard. The art that appeals actually to ten millions is but a caricature. Students possessed of the most splendid natural gifts will no longer stand a prolonged course of tuition. A year, or a year and a half, is regarded as a sufficient outlay of time; at the expiration of that period each is equipped, thanks to the prevailing low standard of taste, to go forth and pros-per. This lowering of the standard of taste by the representative singers of the age is a disorder of the century. The real artist never ceases to raise his own standard by study, nor does he bid for popularity.
As for singing, Lamperti’s great axiom was, “Sing to the breath, and the instrument must be free from rigidity, and the tones will respond to the slight pressure of the controlled breath.” This is in accordance with the teachings of Crescentini, who said, “Singing is looseness of the throat and the voice on the breath.” And Pacchierotti proclaimed. “lie that knows how to pronounce and how to breathe, knows how to sing.”
If the singer sings as above explained, he will experience certain physical sensations that may be tentatively described. For example, the right production of the chest tones will convey a feeling of very great vibration iii the chest; the tones above thesethe lower medium or upper chest toneswill cause vibration in the mouth, at the front teeth. if the tones lying higher than these are rightly produced and the tipper lip and chin are free, expression is the result; but wrong production is attended with a loss of all expression, a fixed eye, and a set chin and jaw. Reverberation of the tone in the forehead is the fatal sign of a wrong production of the high tones; with the highest tones of the female voice the sensation should be farther back than the back upper teeth. These tones constitute what is known as the “head voice.”
A bad singer experiences discomfort and strain at the throat; a good singer is utterly unconscious of any fatigue, or, indeed, of singing at all. Perfect unconsciousness should exist at tongue and throat. Wrongly produced, the high tones become gloomy and, so to say, “hooting” in quality. Stiffening of the tongue is probably the great means by which a bad singer is able to bring forth his loud but meaningless tones. Hence all that teach freedom of throat in singing are in the right. Equally so are those that teach facility of pronunciation and breath-control, and those that insist on expression. as long as they insist with equal pertinacity upon control of the breath. Stiffness of tongue involves stiffness at the vocal cord. The practice of coloratura was intended by the old masters to secure looseness of the vocal apparatus. and to this the attention of the student cannot be too earnestly directed. But for the ancient study of florid exercises, the miracles of brilliant and facile execution credited to the singers of old could never have been performed.