April 25, 2015

Two Mighty Singing-Masters of Milan

Blanche Roosevelt (1853-1898)
Blanche Roosevelt has already appeared on these pages, which you can find by clicking on her label below. She was a student of Francesco Lamperti for a short time before transferring her allegiance to Lamperti's maestro—a certain Signor Trivulsi (also spelled Trivulzi) who had been grievously injured by a physician while employed as a court singer. 

Roosevelt sang for a number of years, most notable for the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, before turning to literary endeavors and writing a book entitled Stage Struck, or She Would Be an Opera Singerwhich is how the reader can gain something of her studies—albeit in the form of fiction. 

One gleans from the article below that Blanche Roosevelt had just begun her studies with Trivulsi, and knew something of the art of public relations, since the writer seems to be squarely in her court. The nice thing, of course, is that we are given a sense of Roosevelt's teachers and their vocal method. 

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The Milan correspondent of the London Standard writes to that journal, on Nov. 1, as follows: 

"Let us turn from a view of La Scala to the musical students, aspirants to the highest honors of the operatic stage, temporarily resident in Milan, to the maestri upon whom these latter are virtually dependent for the instruction which is, or at least so they believe, to enable them at some figure time to reap crops of diamonds and gather in golden harvest. The two principle teachers of dramatic singing who enjoy almost exclusively the monopoly of tuition in this branch of the musical art are, oddly enough, both octogenarians. One of them is an uneducated peasant, afflicted with deafness and a desperately bad temper. He has never taken the trouble to learn the Italian language, and conveys reproof, advice, and exhortation to his pupils in the Milanese dialect, which but few of them understand, and which is as unmusical a jog on as Platt-Deutsch. He vehemently deprecates intelligence and an inquiring spirit in his éleves, and refuses to have anything to do with them unless they will render him a blond and unreasoning obedience. "Non voglio teste sbagliate; bisogna ubbedirmi come un can'!" is a favorite axion of this agreeable old gentleman. He has invented a system, too, of producing the voice, which is one of the most remarkable discoveries of this or any other age. It is called the "Diaphragmatic Method." This theory is that the voice has not its source in the lungs—"nous avon changé tout cela," this modern Diatorius would certainly observe, could he speak French—but in, or under, the largest muscle in the human body. You must, according to him, draw up your voice from somewhere behind your midriff, and utter your note after expelling your breath from your lungs, not in the act of so doing, as would occur to the vast majority of human beings unversed in the diaphragmatic method. He also promulgates the surprised doctrine that you should breath into your bones to prepare yourself for the emission of a musical note. This part of his system is a mystery, the key to which I have hitherto failed to discover, though I have bestowed great pains upon seeking for it. Would-be singers are not, to the best of my belief, specially provided with bone connected with their breathing apparatus, like swallows or pigeons. Were this so, the problem of aerial navigation might be solved with more than lightening swiftness, and Signor Lamperti's pupils, by inflating the osseous framework of this bodies as a preparatory measure to the uttering of dulcet sounds, might find themselves in a position to perform a much more remarkable feat than the production of La or Sol can even be considered, whether these tones be evoked from the diaphragm or pumped up from the bones. Some excellent musical friends of mine here have the audacity to assert that this system is mere mischievous nonsense, the absurdity of which could be exposed in five minutes by any anatomical lecturer; but the maestro sticks to it, and finds it profitable. He nails his diaphragm to the mast, so to speak, and under that muscular banner obtains as many pupils as he can teach, whom he browbeats into the belief that they are inflating their bones when they really are only oxygenating their blood. Another singularity encouraging characteristic of this amiable theorist, in his quality as a teaching of singing, is he practice, whenever a new voice is submitted to his judgement, of declaring that the voice in question must first be utterly destroyed by his diaphragmatic method, and then built up again—I presume upon a body foundation. So far as the destructive part this view of his is concerned, he has indeed been triumphantly successful in the case of two or three particularly fine voices, belonging to young English and American ladies, which "the method" has annihilated. I only hope he may be enable to fulfill the remainder of his undertaking, and reconstruct them. I am informed that the maestro, which has probably entered into some exceptional arrangement of Mr. Thom to centenarian principles, intends to transfer his class from Milan to London, where he proposes to make a snug little fortune in a few years, returning subsequently to Italy to spend it with his young wife. He is a strange being, and would, of a verity, be an interesting addition, persevered in spirits, to a museum of comparative physiology.

The other great maestro, a jeune folâire of eighty-one, is a gentleman by birth and education, who pooh-poohs the famous diaphragmatic method, and stoutly maintains that all the singers he ever taught drew their breaths from their lungs, not from their bones. He is a kindly and encouraging, through struck, teacher; but he labors under the trifling disadvantage of being a confirmed paralytic, which dies a little interfere with the business of instruction. He gives his lesson in bed, and is visited by short spasms at irregular internals, which at first prove highly disconcerting to his female pupils. Thus, of the two great Milanese maestri on the stage of the lyric drama, one is deaf and the other smitten by paralysis; one is short-tempered and too often rude, the other is invariably de bonne humeur, and polite to a fault. The one as a "method," the benefits of which can only be acquired at the expiration of a two years' course, as it takes the most assiduous pupils twenty-four months to learn how to breath through her bones and evolve musical sounds from the pit of her stomach; the other is content with imparting the methods of better mend than himself, stet super atiquas vias, teaches as it were au jour le jour, and does as much for his pupils as his incurable malady will let him. Such are the two mighty singing-masters of Milan, the great-grandfathers of song, under whose rival banners are ranged some scores of "coming celebrities," among others, of less notes, Miss Blanche Tucker, alias Bianca Rosavella, who is engage for next season at Covent Garden, and will probably make her début in the rôle of Gretchen—for which, as fas as her physique is concerned, nature has qualified her in a very unusual and striking manner. This young lady has recently transferred her allegiance from the diaphragmatic to the paralytic maestro. She found that "the method," besides damaging her voice, did not agree with her general health, so she went over to the other master, under whose milder sway she is rapidly recovering.

The New York Times, November 21, 1875

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