February 3, 2015

Luisa Cappiani on Portamento

Luisa Cappiani 
The value of Portamento to the pupil cannot be overestimated, since, by its aid, he learns how to use the abdomen forte muscles, and thus increases his volume of tone two-fold or three-fold. Therefore, Portamento,  when correctly made, is the best means to develop the voice in quality and quantity. 

When the middle notes are weak, begin with the Portamento of the vowel from a high tone downwards, thus bringing the brilliancy of the high tones to the lower ones. 

To develop the high tones, by the upward Portamento, the lower (beginning) tone must always be taken softly, as the sway of the vowel by the impelling power with the vowel reflected in the belt muscles (transverse muscles) gives the tone great brilliancy and power. 

The following illustration will help the pupil to grasp the idea. 

Looking over his book on singing with Lamperti, I said, "Dear maestro, why have you made so many arches between the notes? Is not one arch enough?" 

He answered, "To bind them together." 

"Yes, " I said, "I know that, but one arch is enough; for what are the others?"

He said again, "For binding them closer together." 

But I still insisted, "What are the third and fourth arches for?" 

His reply again was, "To bind them very much together." 

More I could not bring from him. This was his only explanation. I did not dare ask him more, lest I should irritate the old man, but he left a perfect blank in my mind as to what he meant with his doubled and redoubled arches over the notes for a Portamento. 

Having discovered that in a well-formed tone it is the vowel which must prevail, I was convinced that it is the vowel which represents the road from one tone to the other. Lamperti's "binding" was thus successfully effected.

On account of this experience I change the phrase used by others in regard to Portamento, and instead of saying "bring the voice over to another tone," I say "bring the vowel over to the other tone, high or low," and the voice enclosed in this prevailing vowel must go with it, and Lamperti's four arches exist in the vowel. 

The voice can go over without carrying a distinct vowel (which is bad), but the distinct vowel cannot go over without the voice, therefore the vowel guides the voice, and this being correct, forms a perfect Portamento. 

The well made Portamento develops the voice marvelously in fullness, roundness and power. 

For further perfection of Portamento another consideration is necessary. Very often pupils make too little or too much effort (usually the latter is the case) in the transverse muscles, causing the vibrations to overlap each other, as though they were plaits, or forming little crevices. In starting on the arch from the first note, or in arriving at the second note, to no emphasis too much. 

An illustration to the purpose bring this Portamento always right; therefore I say, "Don't think you will take another tone, but imagine the starting tone is traveling up to the place where the higher note stands, or down to the lower one, and carry there the vowel (the arch) of the Portamento uninterruptedly and smoothly." It follows that the Portamento is the mother of Legato singing. 

These arches can be done so quickly that they become mental arches only, and that results in Legato singing. 

A word of warning is necessary here—avoid confounding the Portamento arch with marks used to indicate Legato, phrasing, or triplets. 

Cappiani, Luisa. Practical Hints and Helps for Perfection in Singing, 1908.


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Serious students of the voice are encouraged to study the Janet Spencer gramophone recording of portamento which accompanies Hidden in Plain Sight: The Hermann Klein Phono-Vocal Method based upon the Famous School of Manuel García, the recording itself being a perfect example of Cappiani's instruction. Links to both book and recording can be found in the right hand column on VoiceTalk. 

Students are also encouraged to study page 20-21 of Francesco Lamperti's Guida teorico-pratica-elementare per lo studio del cantowhich contains the "arches" which piqued Cappiani's curiosity.

Photo Credit: New York Public Library 

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