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Subject: What is a "huge" voice?
From: "Max D. Winter" <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Max D. Winter
Date:Tue, 30 May 2017 11:16:47 -0400

text/plain (61 lines)

There lots of talk frequently on this List about "huge" or "big" voices.  But rarely is there 
ever any discussion about what exactly makes a "huge" voice.  For example, I don't think 
many would say that Mirella Freni had a huge voice.  And yet, twice when I heard her (once 
as Aida, once as Tatiana, both in Houston), she produced at several points some of the 
biggest jaw-dropping sounds I have ever heard from a soprano.  It was only on several 
notes that had exceptional resonance, both in the upper-middle register.  But in those 
passages, the voice was "huge." 

I thought it interesting that someone included Shirley Verrett among the huge-voiced 
singers.  The voice was plenty big, she certainly had no trouble being heard, but to my ears 
it was a well-projected but essentially slender (in terms of focus) sound.

To my ears, there are a number of different components that can make up what I think of 
as a "huge" voice, and they are not necessarily the same thing.  Flagstad, for example (and 
I speak here based on live recordings and contemporary accounts), had what I think of as 
"amplitude" in her singing - not a cutting sound, but one that just rolled out over the 
orchestra and enveloped the listener.  She was like a lyric soprano on steroids.  Completely 
different was the effect of Nilsson's voice (and I heard her live many times): it was plenty 
big, in terms of sheer volume, but what made it so extraordinary was its ability to cut 
through any amount of orchestral or ensemble sound without ever sounding shrill or harsh.  
This is the quality that many have described as Nilsson's "silver spear."  Hard to put in 
words, but those of you who heard her live know just what I am talking about.  A good 
friend of mine in NY in the 70s heard both Flagstad and Nilsson many times and esteemed 
them both, but he said that the impact of their voices, in terms of size and projection, was 
completely different.

There are some singers whose voice is huge in certain registers but not particularly large in 
others.  Rysanek was one of those, in the upper register (her voice did not project nearly as 
well in the middle and lower registers, sometimes not at all).  Ewa Podles had the biggest 
sound in the lower register of any singer in my experience, but the voice got more slender 
as it went up the scale.  So, can we really say that, generally speaking these singers had 
"huge" voices when in most of their range the voice was not exceptionally large?

Then there are singers whose voices "roar" (again, my own impression).  Not an especially 
pleasant sound, but impressive just in terms of sheer decibels.  Obratsova, Giangiacomo 
Guelfi and Ute Vinzing were of this type.

Years ago a friend of mine at the Dallas Opera, who had heard just about every great singer 
from 1950 on, said that the young Gwyneth Jones, in her American debut in Dallas as Lady 
Macbeth, had the biggest voice she ever heard (including Nilsson).  She described Jones' 
voice as "splashing" off the back wall at the State Fair Music Hall.  I tend to think of Jones 
as an "amplitude" singer of the Flagstad type.

So, I would really like to know what people mean when they talk about a "huge" voice.  
There are many different kinds of size.  And lets not forget that, as in other aspects of 
anatomy, skill in handling the instrument can be more effective than sheer size. 


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