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Subject: Re: Caballe (my evil thoughts), was 1973 Norma
From: albert innaurato <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:albert innaurato <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Wed, 26 Jul 2017 11:27:02 -0500

text/plain (153 lines)

I oughtn't to answer this but here goes. Of course, if you are a
"neophyte" you are in a world where ignorance is the prevailing mode
of "fans" who never know what they're talking about.

Singing is the balance of word and tone. It is hard to do. Great
singers always walk a tight rope between a clear, accurate and
meaningful enunciation of the text and as lovely or effective a tone
as they can manage. Many people on this list don't know any languages,
even their English is sketchy. But operas are sung in a range of
languages. It isn't an excuse that the singer may not be a native
speaker of a given language. He/she must articulate words so that they
can be understood, but that must be done without getting in the way of
a vocal production.

The color in the sound, its emotional effect owes everything to this
balance. The last generation of Italian singers, people you must have
heard of and maybe even have heard, Pavarotti, Freni, would tell you
that their lessons began with working on pronouncing Italian clearly
and beautifully as a basis for producing an expressive sung tone.
There are videos of Taddei and Simionato (you've never heard of them)
demonstrating how the correct pronunciation aids in the projection of
the sound as well as achieving the right emotional color in the music.
Tebaldi and Bergonzi were masters of beautiful pronunciation and also
believed fully that their vocal beauty was rooted in the way they
formed words.

The same is true in all others languages (including English). Fifty
years of great French singers from 1900-1950 PRONOUNCE and the color
and clarity of their words is a huge charm in itself. That is a very
difficult language to sing "serious music" in and in that era, French
teachers and coaches had worked out a way to deal with French vowels
and consonants so the tone was not choked off. After 1950 this
somewhat "flowery" French was identified with the Nazi collaborating
Vichy government and discouraged, and more recent French singers have
become more guttural (with exceptions). In that case, there has been a
preference for verbal clarity over tonal beauty.

To listen to Hans Hotter (you've never heard of him) in German, or
Frida Leider or Flagstad (not a native speaker) pronounce their words
with beauty, clarity, and understanding is a big part of the pleasure
of listening to them.

The problem Caballe had was that she had a beautiful tone for
especially the first part of her career but she tended to produce tone
only on one or two vowels that were comfortable for her. From the
beginning, she tended to drop consonants and change vowels to suit the
sound. Her words at first weren't always vague but could be, later she
was sloppy and lazy about it. In the Faust I mention (she was not a
native speaker), she had no words in the verbally important last
scene. It seemed to me she had forgotten them -- or perhaps not
learned them carefully. This is different from dropping the words to
make a vocal effect.

Later on, she tended to pronounce only what was comfortable for her --
leaving words out, dropping consonants, changing vowels, as a way of
getting her sound out.

When people are idiot fans, as I call them, they masturbate, they
don't actually listen. The "vocalize" (a wordless crooning) is enough
for them if they like the sound. But composers work very hard to set
words so that they are understandable and expect singers to project
them clearly and with understanding. And even as a "neophyte", you
must have heard somewhere that opera is the combination of word and
music to a dramatic effect.

Now, there is a balance to be achieved. Anyone who has studied singing
or has worked with young singers knows that it's always easier to
produce sound on one or two vowels than it is to pronounce an entire
word. When the tone on those vowels is pretty their tendency is to
stay on those vowels or accommodate all other vowels to them. So if
the singer finds their tone is more focused and under better control
on the long E vowel, all other vowels are shaded to that long E. The
result is that the words become generalized.

It is also very difficult to cope with consonants in singing. They
need to be clear but pronounced in a way that doesn't pull the voice
back into the throat so the tone becomes harsh, or "chop" the vowels
which produce the sound. In difficult music there is the temptation
not to pronounce them at all -- the audience won't know, goes the
reasoning, they are too dumb.

A preoccupation with words can be a problem. An extreme result of that
can be something you've never heard of, "the Bayreuth Bark". That was
a result of Cosima Wagner's emphasis on her husband's words after his
death. The result was harsh and croaking sound, unmusical and
disagreeable. But to ignore consonants altogether is wrong.

In my opinion, above, Caballe was a very gifted but very lazy singer,
who once she had achieved great fame coasted. I saw many concerts with
piano where she hadn't learned the words in the "serious" music she'd
start off with, she sometimes hadn't learned the music either. But
people found that endearing. I remember the audience delight when she
and her accompanist Miguel Zanetti made up an aria from "Sancia di
Castiglia" about which she was clueless. The process induced a fit of
the giggles in her. Adorable but not professional.

"Crooning" another word I use means taking the voice off the breath
and floating it out. Words are gone, so is a sense of connection to
the actual voice. In some cases crooning the top is the only way a
singer can get those notes. In her case she had a pop singer like
prettiness to the croon, so she did it all the time, as she aged. It's
a phony effect that cheats the musical and dramatic intent of a

I'm sure this has been a waste of time.


On Wed, Jul 26, 2017 at 6:12 AM, Henry <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> albert innaurato <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
>> the last scene, she sang with feeling and great sweetness of sound.
>> However, she forgot all the words (AS OPPOSED TO REFUSING TO
>> SING THEM) and the great John Alexander (Faust) was left at something of a
>> loss.
>> ... She began to croon and leave music out. She ABANDONED
>> WORDS, sometimes because she forgot them or hadn't learned them,
> Please excuse this neophyte's confusion but what are you talking about?
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