Friday, July 27, 2012

Trust Yourself

In my opinion singers need to trust themselves as far as their ability and technique, and try not to judge themselves. I think it is a mind body connection, and a long process, which sort of keeps on going. I just found this quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson, which I find really relavant to singing psychologically. He says "Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string." Once a singer reaches a certain level technically, executing that technique is psychological. As a singer the belief that I can do it has to come from the heart, and the mind follows. If my mind tells me I can't do something, and my heart is out of the equation, my larynx can start raising and causing me problems. If that starts happening, I need to calm my throat down, and keep it nice and quiet. If I sing something that is right for me, I need to have the belief that I can do it. The belief comes from the heart. Other people, can say that they know I can do it, but when I believe it from my heart, then I get the confidence mentally. At first the belief has to come when I'm practicing or having people with ears I trust listen to me. I think I can hear what I sound like sometimes, but that's a laugh. I can't hear what I sound like when I speak either. Trusting my voice in public is an even more difficult task than practice or singing for my voice teacher. The idea of trusting from the heart is even more important when I am performing in public. If I can come to trust my technique, then my mind follows and reminds me that I can trust it. The way I tie in Emerson's quote to singing is that if I believe in my heart that I can trust my technique, then my mind and body convey that confidence to the audience. The iron string is that feeling of confidence people get from showing trust versus showing fear. Trust comes from my heart, then to my mind. Trust is deep down and with in. Performing from a place of trust is an awesome phenomenon. It is not easy to get there. I know that I sometimes sing from my mind, versus my heart. There needs to be a combination of both. There are places where we must think technically in a piece of music. But, that is different than evaluating every note, because evaluating every note is judging, and prevents my heart from being in the music. When my heart is in the moment of a song or aria, the mind follows, and the audience gets pulled in by that iron string.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

John Charles Thomas (Great Historical Singers)

John Charles Thomas was part of the phenomenon called the Verdi baritone which has nearly become extinct these days. The way I define a Verdi baritone is the respective singer can sing in the upper part of his range for long periods of time with great strength or drive. John Charles Thomas had a voice that fit that description during the first half of the twentieth century. He was one of many successful singers who attended the Peabody Institute in Baltimore. There is a picture of Thomas in the George Peabody Library. I remember passing through the library with the late Wayne Conner once, and him saying "not a successful baritone" in a dry and sarcastic type of way.

      I bought a cd of Thomas a number of years a go at a book store in Princeton, New Jersey. It was a singer performing a bunch of popular English songs. I took a chance on it having no clue who this guy was, and it was well worth it. Thomas was trained on Broadway, so he had incredibly clear English diction for an American singer, which is actually a rarity for the most part. Needless to say the cd I bought of Thomas singing American songs blew me away. His rendition or Malotte's song "The Lord's Prayer" is the best version I have ever heard. Thomas's voice was a Verdi baritone with primary strength in the upper range. He sings up to a high A flat at the end of "The Lord's Prayer." Thomas's recordings of "Trees" and the Green Eyed Dragon" have never been topped either in my opinion. My point of all this is Thomas had such a Romantic voice that he could cross over into Musical Theater and popular songs extremely effectively. He had great personality and diction in his singing, not to mention this absolutely extraordinary beauty to his voice. His voice had a very forward Italianate sound which was completely different than his contemporary Lawrence Tibbet's very dark timbre. Thomas sounded like Italian singers such as Titta Ruffo and Apollo Granforte, who were Italian baritones who were trained in the upper range. Thomas was unique because he could sell a song like "Home On The Range" with his voice and personality.

      Thomas led a very adventurous life. He loved golf, yachting, speed boat racing, pig farming and chicken racing. He had a very gentle and generous side, but also a very dark side to his nature. He had strong convictions in his political views, and drank heavily and womanizer. His political convictions were so strong that he parted with an accompanist he had been working with for twelve years. His iron will also paid dividends in that he kept his music in alphabetical order, and studied French very thoroughly. He was a very competitive man, and even took his hobbies extremely seriously. Thomas's unique ability to excell in opera and broadway music was matched by few others. However, his pop singing takes away from his being recognized more as an opera star. He lost out on some opera parts at the Metropolitan Opera to his contemporary Lawrence Tibbett. They were direct contemporaries in that they were born in the same year and died in the same year. Thomas left very few operatic excerpts on record unfortunately. The first time I heard him was on the Prima Voce series of historical singers. There is a cd entitled "Great Baritones" in which he sings "Nemico della Patria" from "Andrea Chenier." This recording represents Thomas at his best. It shows that he was a force to be reckoned with in opera. To find recordings of John Charles Thomas, look him up on YouTube.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Humans Can Make Choices

The power of being able to choose how we live our lives from one moment to the next is pretty empowering isn't it? Animals do not have that power that we human beings tend to take for granted. I can choose how I behave towards myself and others.  Therefore, if I choose to get angry at various situations that are out of my control, I can choose not to be angry the next time.  I can choose to be compliant or defiant.  I can choose to be professional or unprofessional.  I can choose to be stubborn and prideful or humble.  I can choose whether to do something to help myself or others, or something to hurt myself or others.  When it comes to emotional behaviors, I can choose in any given moment how to behave.  I can choose to do the right thing or the wrong thing.      Choices have consequences or benefits.  Good choices, pay dividends, whereas, bad choices kind of suck.  I can make different choices in any given moment.  I can act positive or negative.  I prefer the positive myself.  I have chosen the negative enough times already, and it can hurt others and myself, therefore it has consequences.  Now, by positive  versus negativeI mean that I can take a glass and fill it to the top, or spill the damn thing out.  Spilling it out never feels good in my humble opinion.  There is hope with one choice and hopelessness with the other.   Good choices equal good results  02It is so black and white it blows my mind.  Usually a good choice versus a bad choice is obvious just based on my gut reaction.   However, in cases where it is not obvious just think about it a little.  Think, is this going to help me or hurt me? Will it hurt someone else?   Usually the answer is obvious.  Am I going to exercise or eat an entire pizza if I am trying to lose weight?  If I am unsure if I should say something, should I say it if it may be potentially hurtful?  The answer to that is no, believe me.  Fairly obvious right?      I can get into Mr. Forgetful mode and forget I actually have a choice.  I can start thinking about how I should have done this, should have done that, or think of what I have done, what I can do, and being grateful for what I do have.  When I get into ungrateful mode, I must remember to pause and get back to being grateful.  If I am in the self pity mode, how on earth is it possible to grow?  Life is about growth, and facing one thing after another.  If I don't face things, I am staying in safe mode.  Safe mode feels great for a short time, then sort of stops working on me. For example if I do not challenge myself with my craft, then I am in safe mode, and do not grow in my craft.  Waste of time. Growth mode is getting out of my comfort zone, and it feels good once I get out of that comfort zone.  I can choose which mode I take.  So choice, is a very important concept, and I have the power to make choices that either work  in my favor or backfire.  The choices we make have a very strong impact on our lives and other people's lives.  The end.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Great Historical Singers (Adamo Didur)

Adamo Didur was one of the most unusual operatic basses that I have ever heard on records because of his unusually strong upper range.  His peak was around the turn of the 20th century, but many recordings of his art have survived.  A lot of them are recorded with only piano because they were recorded around 1900.  The voice is so powerful and electrifying that it doesn't really matter though.  Adamo Didur's voice is relatively new to me.  I admit that I am just becoming familiar with him, and I do not know his voice as well as some other famous basses of the past.  The power, richness, and highly unusual upper range of Didur's voice struck me as I was listening to him earlier today.  Adamo Didur should not be neglected by any singer, because he was a very significant figure on the operatic stage for a long time.  He made his professional debut as the bass soloist in Beethoven's 9th symphony, a solo very well suited to his talents.  He sang in places such as La Scala, Covent Garden, Warsaw Opera, Russia, and the Metropolitan Opera, where he would perform for twenty fovea years.  He took part in several important world premieres and American premieres. He sang the American premiere of Boris Godunov, and he created several Puccini roles including Simone in "Gianni Schicchi, Talpa in "Il Tabarro", and Asby in "La Fanciulla del West." He also sang in the premiere of "Konigskinder", which is by Humperdinck, the composer who wrote "Hansel und Gretel." What strikes me about Adamo Didur's voice is the unusually wide upper extension he had.  I would personally call him a bass-baritone instead of a bass, because he could sing both bass and baritone roles.  He had a high A natural above middle C which is well beyond the bass range.  I am not sure if the term bass-baritone was used during Didur's career. Didur's upper range sounds stunning on these old recordings.  It must have been huge live.  He excelled as Mephisto in both Gounod and Boito's version of "Faust." He does his own whistling on the recording of "Son lo Spirito Che Nega" from Botio's "Mefistofele." Didur was mainly famous for his roles in Italian operas, but he also sang roles by Meyerbeer, and the four villains in "Les Contes des Hoffman, so he had a varied repertoire.  Adamo Didur's last performance at the Met came in 1932.  After that, he spent the last years of his life in Poland, where he was from originally.  He died there in 1946 at the age of 72.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Consistency is Key

I am writing about something different today for a change. When I say consistency I am referring to starting things and continuing to do them. I am referring to positive life changes or behaviors, not negative crap. For example if I exercise, eat well, practice, dress nicely, meditate or whatever, I have to do them even when I don't feel like it. I have to keep doing them because they are helpful to me. If I meditate one day, and don't do it the next, what is the point? Each day is a new day, and what I did yesterday carries into today. Each day is a new beginning, but life will be easier tomorrow if I do good things today. There is only one today. Consistency is important in my everyday activities. I need to consistently show up for life, not show up once in a while. We only live once, that is why consistency is key. If I only do good things for myself when I feel like it, what is the point? The point is to keep doing them, so they can pay dividends. I have never earned anything from doing things once and a while. So, I need to get off my ass and do good things everyday. It builds self-esteem and character. Doing positive things consistently is not engrained in me. I am trying to get to the point where that kind of behavior is consistent versus inconsistent. The line of progress goes up versus down or neutral when I am diligent with doing good things. Anyway, I hope this post was helpful to someone. It helps me to write about it.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Buffo (Comic) Bass

There are several types of operatic basses including basso-buffo, basso-cantante, and basso-profondo. In addition, there is a term called an octavist, which is a term for very low bassi-profondi who can sing an octave below the bass line in choral music when called for. The art of the buffo bass is a fascinating art form, which requires a lot of skill from the singers in the respective roles. Each one of these categories I mentioned are called vocal fachs or classifications. The term fach is a German term, and it is a classification system which distinguishes which particular roles singers should be singing. For example the basso-buffo singers are given roles such as Don Bartolo in "Il Barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville), and Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro), Dr. Dulcamara in "L'elisir d'amore", Don Pasquale in "Don Pasquale", Uberto in "La Serva Padrona", Don Magnifico in "La Cenerentola." There are many more, but those are a few solid examples of roles these types of singers are assigned. The characters in the buffo roles are often older men once well respected in society, or complete quacks like Dr. Dulcamara. They also tend to get pushed around a lot, and boast constantly about how important they are. A singer classified as a basso-buffo often sounds more like a baritone than singers of the other two types of basses. Buffo roles sit very high for basses, sometimes going above the normal bass range of approximately the second E on the piano to the forth E on the piano above middle C. Buffo singers do not necessarily possess the greatest voices, but have great pattering skills, and acting skills. Pattering is singing syllables very fast. Often patters are tongue twisters which makes it even more difficult to pull off. The secret is practicing in slowly, speaking it, and on the breath. One of the top buffo basses of today, who is actually a baritone, Alessandro Corbelli said, practice the patter always on the breath. Another important skill for a buffo bass is the ability to be funny on stage. Buffo singers such as Fernando Corena almost always played funny roles on stage, and rarely went into serious roles. Fernando Corena had a great voice compared to most basso-buffo singers, so he did take on some serious roles in his career. Corena was perhaps the greatest buffo bass of the twentieth century because he had the skills of a buffo bass, but was a great singer as well. Most buffo singers who are just considered comic basses do not take on serious roles like Corena did. Fernando Corena's predecessor Salvatore Baccaloni never took on any serious roles to my knowledge. Some singers who took on buffo roles later in their career such as Renato Capecchi, were star operatic baritones before moving into buffo territory. Capeccchi was a Verdi baritone early in his career before moving into comic roles. Capecchi was famous for Melitone in "La Forza del Destino", Bartolo in "Il Barbiere di Siviglia", and Uberto in "La Serva Padrona" later in his career. All of these singers had the ability to be funny actors on stage. Corena was a ham on stage according to sources, whereas, Baccaloni's actions were always planned. Another singer who could be very funny on stage was Enzo Dara. His acting ability, and pattering ability where unreal, but his voice was not suited to serious roles in my opinion. The basso-buffo is a separate vocal classification because singers usually exclusively sing those types of roles, as Dara did. There are two types of buffo roles in Italian comic operas. Stefan Zucker mentions the character buffo, and noble buffo in his article about Fernando Corena. The difference between character and noble buffo roles is that a larger variety of bass singers take on the noble buffo roles. Mustafa is one of them in "L'Italiana in Algeri." One of the most famous basso-cantante singers of all time Samuel Ramey was famous for Mustafa. The quality of the voice in more noble buffo roles is more important, than in character buffo roles, because the music is more noble. Samuel Ramey, Cesare Siepi, Ezio Pinza, and other basso-cantante singers sound more noble than Corena, Dara, and Baccaloni. The most clear distinction between the two types of buffo roles in is "The Barber of Seville', and in "La Cenerentola", with the roles of Bartolo versus Basilio, and Don Magnifico versus Alidoro. Don Magnifico and Bartolo are almost exclusively sung by character buffos. They require great acting skills, and awesome pattering ability. Don Basilio, and Alidoro are comic characters, but the singers need powerful and beautiful voices, and they need to anchor the bottom of the ensembles. Samuel Ramey was very famous for Basilio, and he was not a comic bass, but a lyric and noble bass singing a noble buffo role. I am fascinated by the art of the comic bass. There have been a lot of great comic bass singers, but I pick Fernando Corena as my favorite because he sang so many comic bass roles, and did it for so long. Unlike most comic basses Corena recorded several serious roles such as Rodolfo in "La Sonambula", Schaunard in "La Boheme", and Monterone in "Rigoletto." His portrayals of these roles are not as good as leading singers, but still they certainly work. He also recorded acme Mozart concert arias. This posting is not intended to be about Corena per say. I am using him as the quintessential example of the art of the buffo bass. He had the ability to patter, act well, be funny, and he had the upper extension that went beyond the bass range in order to sing the buffo roles with ease. I hope this is an informative account of the art of the comic bass.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Great Historical Singers (Luciano Pavarotti)

I still hate referring to Luciano Pavarotti in the past tense, because it is still hard to believe he's gone. Pavarotti had the most recognizable singing voice for an opera singer that I can remember. I remember my father playing Pavarotti's recording of "La donna e mobile" from Rigoletto when I was less than two years old. I was told that I was singing along with it. Pavarotti had an exciting sound because his voice had a stunning ring to it. His high notes were like a trumpet in his glory years. Pavarotti used the analogy of blowing into a trumpet for the top voice in a master class. Pavarotti had a great technique when he was in his prime. I am writing this post to share my thoughts on Pavarotti's technique, more than writing a summary of his life. There are plenty of writings about Pavarotti's life all over the Internet. When he was in his prime, Pavarotti's voice was balanced throughout the range, powerful and rich. The remarkable beauty of his voice is what made his voice so recognizable. Even people who are not familiar with opera have heard of Pavarotti. There are several types of tenor voices. They are leggieros, lyric, spinto, dramatic and heldon. Those labels are there in order to classify tenors for appropriate roles. Pavarotti was a lyric tenor, which is considered a light voice that carries, but isn't big. Pavarotti was a very unusual lyric tenor. His voice had an incredible forward resonance in a natural way. I am not saying that he placed the voice to make it sound a certain way. Singing is an exaggerated form of talking. When watching Pavarotti, his tongue was flat as a pancake. When listening to him, the vowels were very clear, and one could hear the transition from chest to head voice clearly. When I say transition from chest to head voice, I am referring to the passagio. That transition results in a mix between chest and head vice in the male voice. The mix between head and chest voice results in high notes being turned over. That whole sensation of turning the voice over can be heard really clearly in Pavarotti's voice, which serves as a good example to singers who are learning. My point in all this is that Pavarotti was really important as a technician, and he knew what he was doing technically. I had the pleasure of hearing Pavarotti in person three times, although he was well past his prime on all of them. The first time he sang in a gala at the Met in 1998. He sang "Quando le sera il placido" from "Luisa Miller." His voice had an incredible resonance to it which was effortless. He was far from 100% when my dad and I heard this. Pavarotti was unable to finish the entire gala because of dizziness. Still, we got to hear that one aria. Pavarotti got healthier for a while, so I got to hear him again in Puccini's "Tosca." Again he was no where near in his prime, but it was very worth hearing. The voice was still there. However, nothing cannlast forever. The last time I heard him, it was historical, because it was his second to last Met performance, but his voice just didn't work. Voices die, just like people die. He tried desperately to make his voice work in that performance, but was unable to do it. When I heard Pavarotti the previous two times, he had the most sound of the three tenors in person. I heard them all live, which is a huge blessing. To say he had more sound than Placido Domingo sounds like a wild statement, because Domingo has a much weightier voice, and sang much heavier roles such as Siegmund in Wagner's Ring Cycle. Pavarotti had the natural forward resonance, or squillo if you will, which was tremendously exciting. I cannot help but wonder if there will ever be another Luciano Pavarotti. There are many great tenors from the past who were also really well known, like Caruso of course, but if someone says the word opera Pavarotti comes to mind.