March 31, 2011

Jenny Lind in New York

For all her demure religious virtue, Jenny Lind must have been quite the business woman. The deal she negotiated for a concert tour of America with P. T. Barnum included all her expenses as well as a $1000 per concert fee- a staggering sum at the time.

She arrived in New York in 1850, and was met at the dock by 40,000 people. Her first concert - for charity- was at the Castle Garden Theater which was located on an island off the southern tip of Manhattan. Originally a fort in the harbor, the structure is now a national monument and is surrounded by landfill and part of Battery Park. Visitors to Ellis Island know it as a ticket booth, and the only evidence of Lind's famous concert is a plaque inset into a wall.

Probably old New York has never before or since witnessed a more magnificent scene of beauty and splendor than that which greeted the eye upon this occasion. Looking down from a niche high up in the balcony, the scene to the writer was one never to be forgotten in its rich and bewildeiing beauty. All of the wealth, the taste, the beauty and cultivation of New York's best society was there resplendent in color and glowing with gorgeous magniflcence. The splendid costumes, the rich and varigated colors, the lovely roses filling the air with a soft and delicate perfume, the flashiug jewels and sparkling eyes,—the speaking looks, movement and action, all blending with the subdued murmur of animated voices, made up a scene of fairy like enchantment rarely witnessed more than once in a lifetime, and those who were so fortunate as to behold it will carry it in their minds as a souvenir of memory never to be forgotten. As the time for opening the concert drew near the audience became hushed in mute expectation. At length the supreme moment that they had so anxiously looked forward to arrived. Signor Benedict came quickly forward and took his place at the piano; and a moment later a fair girlish figure glided gracefully forward to the front of the stage and bowed. The vast audience was hushed for a moment and then burst forth in a prolonged thunder of applause. This was so loud and vehement that its effect was to overcome and disconcert the fair singer for a few moments, as the first notes of her "Casta Diva" were a little tremulous and unsteady. But as it progressed her genius reasserted itself and her voice rose steady, clear, strong and vibrant,—full in volume, immense in compass, and under perfect control. Its reverberations filled every corner of the immense building, ringing brightly out from the dome above and sounding distinctly over the waters of the surrounding bay. During the progress of the song the house was "hush as death," but when the last notes died away, the pent up enthusiasm burst forth in repeated and prolonged applause; nor did it cease until she had been repeatedly led forward and deluged with boquets, during which the wildest enthusiasm sought expression in the waving of handkerchiefs—the tossing up of hats and some of the madest antics that enthusiastic frenzy could be capable of. There was but one voice in all that fabel of voices and that was the voice of applause. Irresistable expressions of astonishment and delight escaped from every mouth.    

From Music: A Monthly Magazine, 1896, Jenny Lind's First Concert in America by Ira Gale Tompkins.   

You can read the rest of this fascinating eye witness account here.

From Castle Garden, Lind set out on cross-country tour which brought Barnum half a million dollars. Lind reportedly gave most of her quarter-million earnings away.

March 30, 2011

Jenny Lind's Singing Method

etters detailing the method of a famous voice teacher are rare. Even rarer are those written by a famous singer. So there was great interest when a letter in the hand of Jenny Lind, the legendary soprano who took America by storm under the auspices of P.T. Barnum, came to light and was published in The Musical Quarterly in 1917. You can read it here. Written to a Professor Bystrom in Sweden, Lind details various aspects of her training with Manuel Garcia, including the trill, sustained notes, breathing and phrasing, formation of the mouth, use of the soft palate in the upper range, and the 'binding' of one note to another. In the history of vocal pedagogy, it is a most unusual document.

March 26, 2011

A lesson with Garcia

The singer recommences her task. Her whole form is reflected in a large mirror which hangs behind the Maestro, no movement of her features can escape her observation, every frown, every quiver of the eyelashes, every unpleasing position of the mouth is plainly revealed. Neither can anything escape the Meister's gaze; his piercing eyes are fixed with untiring attention upon the singer's features. Yet he does not criticise the position of the lips and chin, he does not confuse his pupil's mind by long and obscure dissertations on these important points, but simply repeats the instructions of the celebrated old Italian masters, Tosi and Mancini, Que tout chanteur doit placer sa bouche comme il a coutume de le faire lorsqu'il sourit naturellement, c'est a dire de maniere que les dents supérieures soient séparées perpendiculairement et médiocrement de celles d'en bas. He does not, like a drill-sergeant, give minute directions for the position of the body; his rules are few, but rigidly enforced. Ayez le corps droit, tranquille, d'aplomb sur les deux jambes, éloigné de tout point d'appui. The arms must be allowed to hang back,  Afin de ne pas gener le jeu de la poitrîne.

From Musical Tales, Phantasms and Sketches, from the German of Elise Polko, 1876

March 24, 2011

Dame Kiri te Kanawa at Carnegie Hall

I went to hear Kiri te Kanawa sing Strauss' Four Last Songs at Carnegie Hall a few days ago, and have been sitting on my hands debating whether to write about it or not. Why the trepidation? It's awful witnessing one of your idols crash and burn.

Truth to tell: I wasn't expecting the performance in the Utube video below (one should make allowances for the passage of time), but the performance at Carnegie was compromised in ways that made me wonder if Dame Kiri was aware of her current limitations. In a work that demands impeccable 'placement,' and is arduous even for those in the the prime of life, I heard only a handful of tones that cut through the orchestra and landed on the listener's ear with a hint of radiant glory. The rest were so carefully produced as to be inaudible. In short: the voice simply wasn't there.

A great singer with a once golden voice? I should say that I heard- and saw- one really beautiful tone in the third song. Everything came into alignment. Of course, this needs further explanation.

What most people aren't aware of is that the facial nerve is connected to the ear. When the face is 'open', that is, the small muscles of the head enervated, the ear is tuned towards higher frequencies which make ringing chiaroscuro tone possible. This is effected via the facial nerve which goes into the middle ear and stimulates the stapedius muscle and the stirrup, bringing about a posture of the ear as well as the body. What does this look like? The facial muscles looks sculpted while the spine is extended without effort. What does this feel like? To put the matter succinctly: the muscles of the face, front of throat and back of head feel drawn towards the ear, while the upper lip feels wide, and the small muscles surrounding the nose 'busy' (the combined forces of /a/, /i/ and /u/). Then the bones really do sing. For one moment, and in one tone, that is what I heard and saw in Dame Kiri. Barring the Strauss, which is a tall order for anyone, I hope she gets her groove back.

March 23, 2011

Manuel Garcia's Granddaughter: Louise Héritte-Viardot

I should like to take this opportunity of removing a widespread error. Some people think that the Garcia School of singing is a thing apart; others believe that it is exactly the same as the Italian school. Neither view is correct. It is true that Garcia’s school is based on the Italian School, for in those days there was nothing else, nothing but Italian singers, Italian operas; but the Garcia’s, father and son, by means of their physiological discoveries, enlarged the scope of this school and improved and strengthened it.  

From Memories and Adventures, by Louise Heritte-Viardot

March 21, 2011

Gérard Souzay

His gleaming baritone voice made a huge impression on me when I was in graduate school. Though I have to say; the first time I heard Gérard Souzay, it wasn't a revelation as much as it was a window into a world that was. Frankly speaking, when I heard Souzay at a summer Art Song Festival concert at Westminster Choir College in Princeton in the 1980's, it was evident that his voice was in decline. It was only when I later listened to an LP of Debussy songs that I realized why everyone was making such a fuss: Souzay was simply the most elegant singer of his time. What a beautiful voice! His mezza voce singing in the upper range made my hair stand on end. How did he do it? It was only much later that I learned that the secret in acquiring this most beautiful of vocal effects was in practicing messa di voce, first in a comfortable lower range, and then in the higher more challenging range.

It's systematic you see. You have to able to do one thing before you can do another. Speaking of which: how does one practice messa di voce? Manuel Garcia taught his students that the way to go about the matter was the artful decrescendo of a full ringing tone without losing any quality. Then one learned how to start the tone with this same quality and increase the volume. Join the two 'halves' of your practice together, and you have messa di voce.

If anything, Souzay is exemplary in his shaded, soft singing. You can listen to his art below, or watch him in action here. He sings Duparc's Chanson triste in the latter link - a song that still gives me goose bumps.

One more thing about this beautiful singer which is quite evident in the Duparc:  Souzay uses his right ear to lead his voice.

March 15, 2011

The heart of bel canto

Bel canto means 'beautiful singing' in Italian. It also refers to a certain tonal quality, one that is ringing, rich, full, and chiaroscuro in timbre. Of course, theatre or cabaret singers don't make this kind of sound, but they often have a quality that classical singers lack, one that is not simply the product of singing quietly into a microphone, and is as ineffable as it is necessary for real artistry. Nancy LaMott is one such singer. She, more than anyone I can think of, sang with this quality. And what would that be exactly? Heart. Listen to her here. She makes you believe in beauty, life and love.

March 11, 2011

Emma Albani on Francesco Lamperti

The Canadian soprano Emma Albani first studied with Gilbert Duprez in Paris for six months before going to Milan to study with Francesco Lamperti. A diva of the first rank, Albani considered Lamperti "by far the best singing master" in her memoir Forty Years of Song (1911), which you can read here. Fully trained in Lampert's method, Albani sang Bellini and Wagner with equal aplomb. You can hear her below at the age of 60 sing a trill that is worthy of emulation. Her portamenti? That is another matter. During Albani's day, this vocal device, though overdone, was considered part and parcel of the art of the Old Italian School along with messa di vocemezza voce, crescendo and decrescendo.

Emma Albani (1847-1930)

Let me say here that Lamperti was, in my opinion, by far the best singing master in the world at that time, both for voice production and for the true Italian method--a method which is now unfortunately becoming extinct. The maestro used to say, "Learn this method thoroughly, and you will be able to sing every kind of music." I did learn it thoroughly, and to prove the truth of Lamperti's words, when the great pianist von Bulow, the friend of Wagner and Liszt, heard me in "Lohengrin" at Covent Garden, he said, "If Mademoiselle Albani ever goes to Germany, she will show the Germans that Wagner can be sung!"
I am proud to say that Lamperti had a very high opinion of me and of what I could do, and often said that I was his best pupil. One day Prince Poniatowski, who was then in Milan, came to the studio and, amongst others, heard me sing. He said to the maestro, "But her shake is not correct." "Ah!" replied Lamperti, "that will be all right. She is like a bottle of soda-water; I have only to draw the cork, and out it all comes." His kindness and encouragement, and the interest he showed in me, could not be surpassed; though at the same time, and justly so, he never relaxed for a moment the strict rule of his teaching, while showing me also what he thought of me. Lamperti never passed over a fault--he exacted the most minute study from all his pupils, in breathing, in producing the voice, in shades of tone, in phrasing, and in all the minutiae which go to make a great singer. He was a severe critic and master, and though he thought nothing of taking any amount of care and trouble with those pupils who studied conscientiously and thoroughly, he had no patience whatever with those who lazily left half his instructions unheeded, or with those amateurs who, from time to time, wished to join his classes, and on the strength of their rank or wealthy position thought they could play at singing and still succeed. He would say of such an one, with a shrug of his shoulders, "Sì, canterà da contessa" ("Yes, she will only sing like a countess").

March 10, 2011

A very peculiar disposition

The Musical Visitor, July 1892. 


Francesco Lamperti, the last of the really great Italian masters of the voice, has passed away after a record of sixty-two years of teaching (1830 to 1892). He was of a very peculiar disposition, with no ambition, and caring little for anything but music. He had but little affection, and occurrences that would have moved most men to tears touched him not at all. A pupil and assistant of his, in giving a sketch of his life, relates some things which show him up in a not very attractive light. He was almost devoid of family feeling, as evinced by the brutal remark when informed of the death of one of his grown sons, "You don't say so," and went on with the lesson with which he was engaged. 

Some peculiarities of his method of teacher are pleasanter to dwell upon, and these we collate for the VISITOR'S readers: 

The old maestro spoke nothing but the Milanese dialect, so totally different from the pure Italian that I frequently translated his meaning to Italians! Once his dialect understood, an impossible feat to almost all of his pupils, as it was mumbled between a set of very loose fitting false teeth, their troubles had only begun, for it seemed impossible for him to give a plain, matter-of-fact explanation. The native wit and constant similes and metaphor, often leading the perplexed student miles away from the idea which he wished to convey. For instance, instead of using the practical term "breath deeply," he would say "put it down" ("gui"). Instead of saying "breathe quietly," "he would say "drink" ("bevi"); while after an unusually ferocious rap with that much-dreaded cane the pupil would be told that "the boat was under water," and in many instances it was only in after years that the pupils would realize that by "boat under water" he meant that they were exploding their tones without being properly sustained by the breath. "Scappa" ("it runs away") was constantly given as an explanation of a rap from his stick, or "balla" ("the breath is dancing"), and the bewildered student would suffocate his tone in deadly fright of that stick and another furious outcry, only realizing that something was going wrong and the maestro was in a rage. Thus it will be seen that it was something like solving a Chinese puzzle to understand what the autocratic old maestro really meant. 

It would have been difficult to find a more exacting, imperious, and positively maliciously wide-awake musical martinet than Lamperti for fairly imperceptible faults in tone, time or expression. I have mentioned the abominable dialect which he spoke himself, but in singing he was simply maddening in his determination to hear the purest Italian. Often the pupil would not get beyond a few a half-dozen words of a recitative during an entire lesson, every inflection, every letter, being repeated before he would rest content. Italian was for him the only conceivable language for the soul; every one was commanded to speak only Italian between lessons, with sublime indifference on his part to the fact that many of his pupils did not know enough of the language to ask their way about. 

How he execrated Wagner and his influence on the singing voice! The German language to his mind conveyed a sense of fog and discomfort. "They are schlum, schluming it again!" he would say on hearing pupils talking German to each other. As for French, "It closed the throat and made squeaky voices like marionettes." He delighted in calling English "La Schiuma" ("the scum of the languages"). He used to repeat the following story about the origin of the English language to every new English or American pupil: "When the good Lord was mixing the ingredients for the languages of the various peoples of the Earth, He forgot all about the blond-haired English on their distant island. When reminded of them, He said at first that they would have to continue talking like birds, as His cauldron was full. Suddenly, He bethought himself of taking off the scum. 'There,' said He, 'we'll give that to the English; "it is good enough for them.'" 

March 9, 2011

The Two Schools: Garcia v. Lamperti

The Players

Bianca Rosavella- an American from Chicago who's real name was Blanche Roosevelt Tucker (Roosevelt was her mother's maiden name). She sang in several Gilbert and Sullivan productions and ended up marrying a Signor Marochetti. 

C Harry MeltzerBianca Rosavella's defender, who's ad for the translation of Alphonse Daudet's "The Evangelist" appeared in an astonishing number of books. 

Charles Lunn- A highly regarded voice teacher from Manchester who taught at the Royal Academy of Music, was the author of The Philosophy of Voice (1874), and a friend of Manuel Garcia. Lunn posited that the false vocal folds have as much a role in phonation as the true folds, which was proven to be false. 

Manuel Garcia and Francesco Lamperti - The two giants of vocal pedagogy in the 19th century. 

Pauline Viardot-Garcia - Manuel Garcia's sister and legendary singer and voice teacher. 

Antonio Sangiovanni - A Milanese voice teacher.

Signor Trivulsi- A Milanese voice teacher who instructed the young Francesco Lamperti.  

THE MUSICAL STANDARD: A Newspaper for Musicians, Professionals and Amateurs, January 1876


TO THE EDITOR OF THE " MU8ICAL 8TANDARD." Sir,—In commenting upon an incident affecting Mdlle. Bianca Rosavella and Signor Lamperti, the well-known Italian teacher, your Milan correspondent was recently betrayed into certain inaccuracies which I would ask you, with your usual courtesy, to give me the opportunity of correcting. Mdlle. Rosavella was sent to Italy by Mr. Gye in order to perfect herself in the Italian language and in singing, prior to making her debut at Covent Garden as prima donna. 

Acting on the advice of the London impresario, immediately on arriving in Milan she applied for instruction to Signor Lamperti, who bears, rightly or wrongly, the reputation of being the first singing teacher in the city; and, after some little delay arising from the master's absence at the Lakes, was admitted to the privileges of the faithful who sit at the feet of the Signor. The first lesson Mdlle. Rosavella took so weakened her physically that she had a severe internal attack. The second did still more mischief, and when the time for the third arrived, she was so unwell as to be obliged temporarily to cease working. 

Finding that the method she was called upon to adopt threatened to nullify all the hard labours and study of two years; moreover, perceiving it to be at direct variance with the system of the great French teacher, Madame Viardot Garcia (who had given her the rare advantage of her tuition in Paris) Mdlle. Rosavella ventured to express a fear lest she should be unable to continue her studies on the same principles as certain other singers—Albani, Waldmann, Stolz, Campanini, &c., &c.—mentioned by the Signor as instances of great artists who had come to him utterly innocent of voice or talent, and who by blindly following his method had grown famous. This unprecedented act of rebellion against routine so astonished the maestro that he in a moment of (let us hope) thoughtlessness, so far forgot the rules of ordinary courtesy as to grossly insult his pupil, a young and refined Iady. It is hardly surprising if under these circumstance; Mdlle. Rosavella felt little enthusiasm for master or method. As a matter of fact she took a couple of lessons more before severing her connection with Signor Lamperti, and then finding that to succeed she would be compelled to rejoice in the possession of either no voice or a ruined one (to quote the master's own words) neither of which seemed either desirable or indeed possible objects of ambition to her, she discontinued learning of Signor Lamperti, and returned to Signor Trivulsi, of whom she had already taken several lessons. 

It is neither my wish nor intention to enter upon any discussion regarding the different methods followed by different teachers. Far from my thought be it also to insinuate that Signor Lamperti does not unite to the wisdom of Solomon the patience of Job and the versatility of Paul, who, it will be remembered, was "all things to all men;" but still would I respectfully submit that the doubtless honest censure passed upon Mdlle. Rosavella by your Milan correspondent, is decidedly out of place, and might with fitness have been spared. The reason of his mistake is found in the very letter of your correspondent itself, for therein it is distinctly evident that the information communicated to you was obtained from third parties, who had possibly some interest in misleading your correspondent. Be this as it may, as a friend of Mdlle. Rosavella, well competent to speak with certitude as to the facts of this affair, I should be indebted to you did you grant me a corner of your valuable journal for inserting this correction of your Milan correspondent's letter, which was, unintentionally I am sure, couched in terms of a nature to damage the prospects of a young artist most favourably known to Paris, and I doubt not soon to be better known in London.

I am, Sir, faithfully yours,

C. HARRY MELTZER. Paris, Dec. 22nd, 1875

The Music Standard, January 1876



Sir,—It is at times instructive to observe rebellion. Millie. Rosavella's stern rejection of Signor Lamperti's school, and Mr. Meltzer's manly defence of such action, have deeper meaning than may at first appear. For it is only a student of the Garcia school who could so rebel. And the difference between the schools is this—The Garcia school appeals direct. It strengthens local weakness by concentrated nerve-force directed to enfeebled muscles in the larynx. The other school appeals to the chest, not to the larynx. It distributes nerve-force through all the muscular action of the chest—it strengthens chest power, it does not strengthen laryngeal power.

Now we may divide singing masters into two classes, (1) those who do not attempt to change the voice (as Signor Sangiovanni), and (2) those who do attempt to change it. And of these latter we find (1) those who do something absolutely mischievous; (2) those who do something absolutely beneficent. And amongst the students of those who do something, we find, as though to increase confusion, wise and foolish, and these latter, if they do anything, are bound to get injury from whichever school they learn, either by the intrinsic wrong of the one, or by corrupted or perverted understanding of the other. So that it becomes a serious consideration whether the fault is with the school or with the scholar. But in this case we find a tested student, whose discernment could not well err, promptly rejecting as vicious a method which she felt and knew by experience to be "at direct variance” with her past culture. 

It is scarcely just for me to draw upon raw experience of boyhood years, but from what I heard of Signor Lamperti's pupils, I certainly thought his method based upon entirely false, and in great degree vicious, notions of voice. It was a deep repugnance felt at the modern Italian school that made me throw my uttermost energy into the scientific corroboration of Garcia's truths. It may be asked, if there be men who have unmerited repute as voice trainers, how has such repute been gained? The solution is easy. In Italy voices uncorrupted by spoken words abound, and in lesser degree in France and Spain, and in ever decreasing number in northern countries. "There is nothing so successful as success!" Men of musical ability, who have had the training of such voices in the art of song, are naturally tempted to undertake the training also of those not so unconsciously obedient to eternal physical law— they invent a method. The healthy ones flock to the reputable man, and succeed in spite of his method (this is on a par with persons in perfect health rushing to a physician because of his repute, and according to him the strength which nature gave), the disturbed ones fail, of course, but by failure are lost to observation. The number of singers that succeed under the men of greatest renown compared with the number these men have to train, is simply absurd in its smallness, and sufficiently proves that whatever musical power there may be the physiological processes for a right adjustment of the parts creating musical tone are calmly ignored. The test of a man's theory is found in his written words, not in the accidental support of the favored public, frequently blindly led by fashion. If any believer in the modern system of voice training can disprove my scientific support of the Garcia method, I shall be pleased to be converted, but till then I, as an onlooker of the conflicting schools, must feel delight at the present published rebellion, and express sympathy with the rebel.


March 6, 2011

A Great Voice: Eric Cedergren

I follow Edmund St. Austell's bog Great Opera Singers, and was astonished after listening to several Utube video's of his friend, the bass-baritone Eric Cedergren this afternoon. While I know very little about Mr. Cedergren, it is quite evident that he possesses a great- and I mean great- instrument: George London, Julius Huehn, and Herman Uhde all come to mind. All three men sang Wotan, and I hear Mr. Cedegren as being a member of their august fraternity.

Please do go over to Great Opera Singers and have a listen.

March 5, 2011

Herman Klein on Edouard de Reszke



In the days when the De Reszkes came upon the scene there were giants of the operatic stage- giants beside whom it took time for new-comers, however gifted to grow level in stature. To strive to compete with the great singers until after long years of hard work and experience in the theatre was hopeless and out of the question. Thus Jean de Reszke, who still lives and teaches in Paris (he is nearly six years older than was Edouard), was singing in London as a baritone in 1974, achieving brilliant failures because he was out of his element, a full decade before he made his first big success as a tenor in Paris, and thirteen years prior to the memorable Harris season at Drury Lane, when he and his brother at last really came into their own, and laid the foundation of their universal fame.

For Edouard de Reszke had also been here before. With a four years' stage career behind him he had made his début at Covent Garden in 1880 as Indra in Massenet's 'Roi de Lahore', a novelty of the previous season, with Gayarre, Lassalle, and Albani in the principle parts. But the Polish basso cantante did not set the Thames on fire. He was recognized as an artist belonging to the genius 'useful.' Above all, his rich, full voice had a haunting quality, a penetrating beauty of timbre, which it owed quite as much to nature as to art. During the last five seasons of the Gye régime he appeared in an extensive round of characters, proving always competent, always acceptable, always hardworking and sincere. Surviving habitués of that period- among them the present writer- easily recollect the delightful Italian purity of his legato, the charm of his phrasing, the ease, distinction, and authority of his style. In parts like St. Bris ('Les Hugeunots'), the Count Almaviva ('Figaro'), Walther ('Guilaume Tell'), Basilio ('Il Barbiere'), and Alvise ('La Gioconda'), he was quite unsurpassable. But his Mephistopheles had yet to mature; there the memory of the 'giants' was still vivid and hard to efface. 

However, one noted that his art was constantly improving. During these years, between seasons, he was singing regularly in Paris (Théâtre de Nations), acquiring the best attributes of the French School and adding to his repertory operas such as 'Sigurd,' 'Herodiade,' "Simon Boccanegra,' 'Aben Hamet,' and 'Le Cid.' It was in the last-named work, in November, 1885, that his brother Jean, creating the title-role, won his first genuine triumph as a tenor and became the prime favourite of Parisian opera-goers. This, by the way, was not at the Italiens, but at the Opéra (that is, the Académie Nationale de Musique), where Edouard had made his début as Mephistopheles in the previous April. Then, a couple of years later, came Harris' season at Drury Lane, already referred to, when the two brothers, after a sensational opening (June 13, 1887), in 'Aïda.' appeared together in 'Les Huguenots,' 'Faust,' and 'Lohengrin'- all sung in Italian- and by means of their maginficent voices and superb art helped to rekindle the dying flame of the lamp of Opera in this country. The immediate outcome of their triumph was the reopening of Covent Garden in 1888 and an added quarter of a century of existence for 'fashionable' and polyglot opera on the grand scale. 

From that date it is almost impossible to differentiate between the careers of the two brothers down to their farewell of the stage, or even down to the tragic moment when the beginning of the war found them cut off from each other- Jean teaching in Paris: Edouard a prisoner with his wife and daughters on his estate at Garnek, in Poland, where he eked out a precarious existence until he died on May 25 last. 

What a richly-endowed musical family were these De Reszkes! The sister Josephine, who was heard at Covent Garden as Aïda in 1881, was a fine dramatic soprano; she retired, however, when she married the Baron de Kronenberg, and died at Warsaw in 1891. There was, or is, a third brother, Victor de Reszke, who also had a good voice, but he never became a professional singer. He visited Jean and Edouard the year after they first became favourites here. They were men of singular refinement, intelligence, and taste, and it was a privilege to be in their society, to listen when they discussed their art and the technique of the singer or the actor. The great baritone, Lassalle, was at this time the constant companion of the two Polish artists, and they became known as 'le grand trio.' 

An incomparable trio, indeed, they were! To have heard them together as Faust, Valentin, and Mephistopheles, or as Raoul, de Nevers, and Marcel, was an unforgettable experience. Later on came Plançon; but it was no longer quite the same thing. Like Edouard, he was a basso cantante, and their repertories were nearly identical (bar the German, which the Frenchman barely touched), so that when Lassalle left, Plançon could not replace him, and the 'grand trio' became a thing of the past. To assert, however, that Edouard's fame was second only to that of Plançon (vide The Times memoir on the 1st ult), was surely a complete reversal of the actual positions. Plançon, admirable artist and grand chanteur himself, always 'took off his hat' to Edouard. And he was right. 

Apart from his glorious organ, Eduoard de Reszke possessed in an amazing degree the rarest attributes of the bel canto. Thanks to his marvelous breath-control, his command of tone-color, and his vocal agility, he could sing as lightly and delicately as a woman; or, when he pleased, he would emit a volume of rich, sonorous, powerful tone capable of penetrating through the loudest crashes of the modern orchestra. This was only one of the secrets of his remarkable versatility. Not alone as a singer but as an actor he had the gifts that enabled him to range with equal facility 'from grave to gay, from lively to severe.' His comedy was never heavy; that it was unctuous and full of humour, witness his Leprello, his Basilio, his Plunket; that it could combine the genial and sardonic with the dignified and picturesque, witness his striking Mephistopheles, modelled on Faure's original, yet having in it something of the daemonic that Chaliapin put into Boito's Mefistophele. Faure, Rota, and Plançon may have sung the Serenade as well, but no voice ever sounded at once so beautiful and so forbidding in the Church scene as Edouard's. His Frére Laurent in 'Roméo' was a simple joy.

His best proof of all-round genius (as in the case of Jean) came in he early 'nineties, at about the time when the brothers went to America for the first time. It was then that they dropped Wagner in Italian, studied him in his own language, and appeared with success in some of his noblest creations. Even the Germans had to admit the beauty of Edouard's Hans Sachs, the pathos of his König Marke, the rough grandeur of his Hunding and his Hagen. It was amid the glory of these later impersonations that he quitted the stage when Jean left it, in 1905: but he continued for a time to appear at concerts, and on one memorable occasion, he took part in a performance of 'Il Barbiere' in the tiny theatre attached to his brother's house in the Rue de la Faisanderie, when the Rosina was no other than Madame Adelina Patti. Two illustrious artists then bade farewell to opera on the same night.

Much night be written of Edouard de Reszke as a man and a friend, but space does not permit. Let me, in conclusion, quote the following lines from Le Figaro of June 1:

Every admirer of this great artist, who as at once a born gentleman and a noble-hearted man, will be grievously pained by the news of his death, happening as it did during this period of grave crisis, far removed form many who were dear to him, under conditions that deprived his brother Jean, the faithful and glorious companion of his brilliant career, of the consolation of being able to aid him in his last days and to close his eyes at the end. 

*Klein's date of birth for Edouard is two years later than the currently accepted one. 

March 4, 2011

Edouard de Reszke

Edouard de Reszke was the younger brother of Jean de Reszke, and studied with his illustrious brother's voice teacher, an Italian tenor named Giovanni Sbriglia who was known for building up his student's chests. While Jean's voice ascended, Edouard's went the other way, and he become famous for singing bass roles like Gounod's Mefistofeles. The brothers often appeared together, as well as with their only sister Josephine before her untimely death at the age of 36. It was quite the operatic family.

Three Columbia recordings were made of Edouard's voice, one of which can he heard on Utube, which I've included below. Alas, it is not the the aria from Martha where Eduoard sings a trill worth emulating. Which is a question worth asking: when was the last time you heard a bass execute an honest-to-god trill, where the two notes stayed within their bounds, had equal resonance, and spun around each other like dueling suns?

Trill or no, the aria from Ernani in the Utube video below is revealing. Though it may be projection on my part, I hear the great bass as standing in front of Columbia's horn and being mindful of overblowing the machine: several phrases reveal a rich dark timbre that threaten to swamp the technology. Otherwise, de Reszke sings with a lightness and clarity - head voice actually - which is quite telling. No bellowing here. De Reszke's also has a nonchalance of delivery that is indicative a performer who is used to making grand statements in the theatre, not the small confines of a recording studio. As such, he doesn't seem concerned with the listener hearing how many times he breaths in a phrase, which often goes unnoticed in a large space. In short, De Reszke sounds like a stage animal with a huge presence that has been dragged in from the operatic jungle and tamed- if only momentarily. 

There is another thing about this recording that is worth pointing out only because it may be taken for granted by the student who is seeking to make a big impression. And that is de Reszke's vowels. Every one of them is as clear as a bell. 

March 3, 2011

The Teaching of Jean de Reszke

The name of Jean de Reszke conjures up a world of operatic legend. If you haven't heard it, or know about the most famous tenor before Enrico Caruso, you've missed something. Like Placido Domingo, De Reszke started as a baritone and then began singing tenor roles. Trained in the Old School by Antonio Cotogni and Giovanni Sbriglia, he didn't excel in the Italian repertoire as much as he did in French opera and Wagner. Sadly, his singing was only captured on three Mapleson Cylinders. Listening to them (see the utube video below which was taken from a radio broadcast) is not unlike hearing someone singing on a subway platform during rush hour—the background noise is overwhelming. However, for those with patience and ears to hear, the glimmer of a voice can be heard through all the crashing and popping.

Jean & Edouard de Reszke

If we can't get a full sense of De Reszke's singing, we do know quite a bit about his teaching which survives in a number of places, the most authoritative being an appendix in a biography by Clara Leiser—Jean de Reszke and the great days of opera (1934). Appropriately titled Jean de Reszke's Principles of Singing, and written by De Reszke's accompanist Walter Johnstone-Douglas, it outlines the great tenor's teaching in seven elegant pages. Another source is Finck's Success in Music and How it is Won (1909). A third is a curious book titled Jean de Reszke teaches singing to Edith de Lys (Edith de Lys was the stage name of Rose Ely from Boston). While some have questioned whether this photocopied pamphlet reflects the great tenor's teaching (published lesson notes with great teachers are unusual), my observation is that it has all the signs of being exactly what the title suggests that it is. A fourth source is the appendix to The Pursuit of Perfection: a life of Maggie Teyte (1979) by Garry O'Connor which contains De Reszke's vocal exercises. One last source, which presents context for most of this information is an excellent article by Voytek Matushevski—Jean de Reszke as Pedagogue: His Ideas, Their Development, and the Results—which appeared in the Opera Quarterly, Autumn, 1995.

To get the maximum amount of "forward" tone to the voice, which he deemed "essential," it was his plan to imagine that you were drinking in the tone, rather than pushing it out. This idea encouraged the palate to draw back and give timbre to the voice, while it helped the tone to find it's way into the true mask, whereas an attempt to push the tone out often results in a nasal tone, though when the voice is in the right place the tone seems to be resonating right on the hard palate, by the front teeth. This apparent paradox was often misunderstood by those who criticized his teaching without knowing it. 
The great idea was was to keep the line from the diaphragm through the vocal cords into the mask, to control - maitriser- the voice and not allow it to "faire le steeplechase" from chest to head, to nose to throat. The whole body was to be as though one was "settling down" on to the diaphragm, relaxed but ready to spring, as in tennis, gold, boxing, etc., rather than braced up and stiff as if "on parade." The effort was to come from the back as if the sound was following "a line drawn from the small of the back to the bridge of the nose." This invariably added a velvety quality to the voice as it had done to his own.  - from Jean de Reszke's Principles of Singing by Walter Johnstone-Douglas

Interested readers may find De Reszke's biography as well as the other sources above at Abebooks (see the link on the right side of this page). Those who would like to download the essay on de Reszke's teaching (Jean de Reszke's Principles of Singing) could also search the JSTOR database at a major library.

Those curious enough to hunt down this information will be rewarded with a unique perspective: I can't think of another singer's teaching which aroused so much interest in his own time with the exception of Lilli Lehmann. De Reszke epitomized everything that late 19th century audiences worshiped: elegance of voice and physical bearing. He was the brightest star of the operatic firmament.