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Subject: Re: Sing as though Italian
From: Mathieu Marcil <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Mathieu Marcil <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Wed, 21 Jan 1998 13:50:43 -0500

text/plain (98 lines)

Dear Mike and List:

It's time for some polite, healthy disagreement over the relationship
between vocal production and national styles.

Mike Richter wrote:

> For example, there may have been no more Italian tenor than Richard
> Tucker. Where he was born, where he trained and all the rest are
> irrelevant. Listen to him in any Italian opera or song - *that's*
> Italian!

Here I MUST disagree.

Many will pooh-pooh the question of proper diction, some only when it
suits them (these listeners are often the first to pounce on, say, Richard
Margison's Italian, while downplaying the serious diction drawbacks of
singers from an earlier "golden" generation such as Tucker or Joan
Sutherland--more on that below).

I realize that proper diction is not the only element of style (to me it
is important, since I'm an old Languages student and can't help hearing
the difference).  The most one can say about Tucker is that he represents
A CERTAIN SCHOOL of Italianate opera singing, one I've also heard referred
to as "ecole de Corelli"--a ringing, heroic tone, lots of sobbing and
gulping, over-the-top acting, "pig singing" (seeing who can hold a note
longer and louder), and sometimes, just screaming on pitch (I refer you to
Tucker's "in ciel" in the final duet from ANDREA CHENIER from a live
recording--I wish I could remember the CD, possibly "The Essence of
Verismo" on Legato--and just about any passage from the live GLI UGONOTTI
with Corelli and Sutherland, which even my significant other, who lives
for this kind of interpretation, acknowledges to be "raunchy").

Now, while I won't go as far as one lister for whom Tucker evoked an image
of a Vegas lounge crooner doing a bad impression of an Italian tenor,
nevertheless I had to laugh when I read that, as I remembered his diction
(admittedly aggravated by the extremely close micrphone) in the lead-up to
"Di quella pira" on the recently reissued Columbia Masterworks TUCKER
SINGS VERDI CD.  I've never heard anyone sound less Italian than Tucker
singing the word "spettacolo" here...

But there's more.  This particular school of Italian tenor singing, much
lamented these days, was also what I would call un-Italian in other ways.
For example, the singers mentioned above (Tucker, Corelli, and I'll add
Del Monaco) did not have the best legato. They had a tendency, intensified
later in their careers as far as Corelli is concerned, of separating
phrases (and sometimes individual notes) with a kind of glottal stop
verging on a cough--the oft-criticized "bark".  (This technique is also
very dangerous for the voice unless you have the extraordinary vocal cords
these guys did--I wonder how many aspiring tenors have significantly
shortened the lifespan of their voices trying to do this).

Singing below mezzo-forte was another weak suit for this school, Corelli's
famous diminuendo at the end of "Celeste Aida" notwithstanding (and I
never could understand why everyone makes such a big deal out of this.
Yes, it's hard to go from very loud to very soft on a single note, but I
can ALWAYS hear the break as Corelli shifts registers, and the resulting
piano sounds pharyngeal to me).  A better example, and one I would
consider more Italianate:  Beniamino Gigli (though his famous and
beautiful "mezza voce", to my ears, came perilously close to crooning at

Yes, their sound is thrilling sometimes, and I personally think Del Monaco
and Corelli were the best Alvaros in FORZA, the best Manricos, the most
heroic Radameses I've heard...  but getting back to Tucker, I cannot
consider him as "Italian" a singer as the other two because his diction,
to me, was never more than passable.

(In case you're wondering, my favorite tenor for 19th-century Italian
opera is Carlo Bergonzi.)

Speaking of diction, I've always wanted to point out, when discussing Joan
Sutherland (one of my all-time favorites), that proper diction in opera is
really made up of two elements:  pronunciation and enunciation.  While
Dame Joan occasionally had small problems with the former (misplaced
"t"s), overall her pronunciation was very good, meaning that it was
idiomatic and that she was making the right sounds; she just wasn't making
them very clearly.  Most diction-challenged singers have the opposite
problem:  they aren't pronouncing the words properly, but their
enunciation is clear (which really only accentuates the problem...)

> As Italian as Maria Callas, whose French is too French.

I'm not sure I understand this.  I'm not a big Callas fan, but I have
heard her CARMEN --I think it's very good--and I'd like to know what is
meant here.

Vive la difference!

Mathieu Marcil
Budding Countertenor and Computer Programmer
Toronto, Ontario, CANADA
[log in to unmask]

"They have resonance where their brains ought to be."
--Anna Russell, on the superior intelligence of singers

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