|Giovanni Battista Lamperti|
The old master of "bel canto," Professor Lamperti, has been willing to give the Signale his views on the downfall of German singing. The question, what he held chiefly responsible for the present depressing conditions, he answered without a second's hesitation: "The repertory! Works like 'Don Pasquale,' 'La Fille du Regiment, etc., in a word, Donizetti, Bellini, Rossini, Mozart, tend more and more to disappear from the repertory, and thus the singer lacks the constant practice necessary to maintain the flexibility of the larynx. Then, too, such operas as 'Carmen' are given with spoken dialogue. What a monstrous thing! Speaking in the intervals of singing is extremely injurious to the larynx; it dries up the throat and wearies the voice in the middle range. Moreover, it is bad in style and in taste; it breaks the continuity and robs the performance of life and warmth."
He was asked if it was so much worse in Germany than in other countries. "Certainly, for in Germany they all have the single aim of becoming Wagner singers. Germany has no tenors any more, because they strain their voices in Wagner singing. They 'strangle' them. In Italy a tenor does not lightly decide to study Wagnerian roles, except purely lyric parts, like Lohengrin. And would it not be better if, in Germany, too, tenors with less robust voices entirely gave up the idea of singing Wagner? The tenor is the most delicate of all voices. Most tenors in Germany are to be classed as high baritones, anyhow; and since the Wagnerian tenor parts do not lie high, they believe they can manage them. The worst of it is, that they go into such difficult dramatic roles without previously making thorough studies in breathing, solfeggio and vocalization."
To the question, what method he recommended for vocal training, Lamperti answered: "No method at all. Voices are born, and singing teachers must likewise be born. The latter can accomplish nothing through any kind of artificial, special method. They must meet Nature and bring the material they find to a high point of development. The raw material must be cultivated. In this I include the perfect control of the breath, the support of the voice through the breath; only when mastery of this is obtained can a perfect legato be obtained. But singing must be learned in Italian, for Italy is the home of song and the Italian is unquestionably the most musical language. With Italian syllables, singing is an entirely natural process.
"But let none believe that they cannot interpret dramatic music if they have studied legato singing in Italian. I have already explained that the expression 'dramatic interpretation' is not to be confused with vulgar exaltation, by which the voice is forced, and the gestures which accompany it are exaggerated. Unfortunately, this belief is often held by artists. Richard Wagner says, in his writings about Mme. Schroeder-Devrient, 'She had no voice at all'; but she knew how to manage her breath so beautifully and let a truly feminine soul stream through it in such wonderful tones that nobody thought either of the singer or of the voice."
At the end of the interview, Lamperti, to the question how dramatic singing in Germany was to be elevated, gave an answer as promptly and decidedly as he had previously made the repertory responsible for the whole wretched condition of things. He declared that a return to the earlier light and graceful operas, especially in the style of opera bouffe, would bring a cure. The continual singing of such roles had at one time kept the voices of singers oiled, while they had now become rough and unmanageable through the continual use of the declamatory style. And he added, significantly, that this was also the case in Italy.
It is to be feared, says Mr. Spanuth, that in the last remark Lamperti is right, and that the dramatic singing will improve only if we go back to the old repertory. But any one who has any understanding of the development of taste will understand that such a return is impossible. A short, atavistic period may come as a natural reaction from a too violent progress; but on the whole, there can be no return of a period that has passed. But so long as the repertory gives the singer no occasion to exercise his voice in the manner of the Italian school, daily, so long will even the best schooled artist have the greatest difficulty in keeping his singing fine. A few whose voices, vocal technique, musical intelligence, willpower and industry, are far above the average, may be able to give us the finest singing, united with the most intense dramatic expression; but the great majority will'not be able to. The present situation, in which true singing is entirely pushed into the background by the disproportionate, excessive effort after dramatic expression, makes it clear that it is time to call a halt, that we need to renew again our understanding of and our demand for a beautiful singing tone.
The New Music Review and Church Music Review by The American Guild of Organists, 1908