December 31, 2011

Eugénie García

Wife and student of Manuel García, Eugénie (née Mayer) García (1818-1880) sang with the Opera Comique in Paris and became a noted singing teacher. She left her husband after a few years, afterwhich he decamped to London, marrying an Englishwoman with whom he had two daughters after his estranged wife died at the age of sixty-two. Manuel and Eugénie's child, Gustave García, became an actor and wrote a book titled The Actor's Art.

Images from the New York Public Library Digital Library

December 30, 2011

The Vannuccini School of Singing: Part IV

Julia Stacey Gould

Successful Singing: The Method of Famous Teachers 

Vannuccini, Florence Whitney, BostonReaching back through themto the Italian School of Singingof a century ago.

Tone Resonance  

Explanation of Tone Resonance 

A violin string, by itself, produces only a small amount of tone. If the string is on a violin this tone is amplified by vibrations of the instrument. When the violin is played by an artist, this same string can produce a tone which can be heard in a large auditorium above an entire orchestra. 
We can recognize the vibrant quality in a vocal tone which we call resonance. If the tone is properly placed, we can feel in our own voice the resonance which comes from the vibration in the mouth and in the nasal cavities. The fundamental vocal tone, to have its full quality and color must have this resonance which can be produced in several ways. 
1. Resonance from the mouth. 
The natural sounding board of the tone is the roof of the mouth. The tone has been placed forward in the mouth against the teeth. From this position the tone receives resonance from the roof of the mouth. The roof of the mouth is bone, curved and arched in exactly the formation to reflect the tone and to project over the pulpit in an old church or the shell in back of the bandstand are examples of such a reflection of tone. The reflector in back of a bulb in an automobile headlight focuses and intensifies the light and throws it a long distance. In the same way the sounding board amplifies and directs the tone, this type of resonance which comes from the mouth can be felt most clearly in the speaking voice or in the singing or lower notes of the scale.  
2. Resonance from the face and head. 
As the voice is raised in pitch, the sense of vibration in the mouth grows less, and more resonance can be felt in the face and head.  
It can be seen by consulting any diagram which shows the nasal passages of the head that there are cavities in, around, and in back of the nose which are backed by bone structure. These facial cavities are several times larger than the mouth cavity. In producing a tone, part of the breath can be deflected from the mouth and directed up through these cavities. The resulting vibration adds resonance which gives roundness, richness, color, and quality to the tone. The fundamental tone has little carrying quality. A tone with this added resonance, however, will carry easily and with a rich quality throughout a large hall. No amount of effort can make a tone carry, but with resonance, the tone carries without effort.  
As the tone is raised in pitch, the resonance grows correspondingly higher in the head cavity until the vibration is felt above the eyes and all through the forehead and top of the head. This head tone is natural and should be unforced and free. In the open vowel sounds it is easily produced. Consonants are less easy to sing, and practice is necessary before words are easily pronounced in the higher resonance.  
The resonance in "the mask" or facial cavities can be sensed and built up most quickly by practicing and singing softy. In a descending scale or in a descending interval, resonance can be brought down from the higher tones to the lower tones. For this reason, descending phrases are most valuable for vocalizes. In ascending phrases, it is necessary to plan for the higher resonances. This is done by anticipating and by using the placement which will be called for at the higher part of the phrase. It is essential, however, that the lower notes are sung softly.  
In all instances, the resonance that is felt in the higher tones can be brought down through the lower parts of the phrase. The lower resonance cannot be carried into the upper tones with any success.  
The muscles of the face should be relaxed, and the upper lip should be in its natural position. The length of the lip allows all the resonance of the facial cavity to be utilized and gives added richness and color to the tone. (p. 24-25) 

December 28, 2011

The Vannuccini School: Part III

One has only to listen to Eleanor Steber for a few minutes to realize that she had one of the most beautiful voices of the 20th century. A glorious full-lyric soprano that excelled in Mozart and Strauss, Steber was a student of William L. Whitney at New England Conservatory in the 1930's. His school was that of Luigi Vannuccini, considered one of a handful of authentic Old School maestri in the latter part of the 19th century. Steber's studies with Whitney resulted in an international career and over 286 performances with the Metropolitan Opera in New York. While in New York, she studied with Paul Althouse, a student of Oscar Saenger. But it was her studies with Whitney which provided the basis for her career.

Among the many YouTube video's of her singing, there are two which I find quite interesting. The first is of Steber performing Sempre Libera from Verdi's La Traviata, while the second is of her performing Depuis de jour from Louise by Charpentier. In the Verdi, one hears the bells and whistles of bel canto technique with its floated tone and ease of production. Remember: this is live television, and she wasn't a spring chicken anymore. Steber has the goods, out-singing many a would-be Violetta today. Do you see how open her face is?

The second piece had been recorded by Steber on a whim in London and she fairly astonishes in this performance that was given at the Continental Baths in the Ansonia at the age of 59 in 1973. It is full-throated singing with shimmering high notes and mezza voce phrasing, the crescendos and sudden diminuendos taking one by surprise: you think she can't give anymore and she does. 

A City Opera colleague who studied with Steber tells stories of lessons in a room with heavy carpets, curtains and cocktails. She was also his second mother. A complicated woman, Steber's voice was shot through with a fire that transcended vocal technique. The paradox, of course, is that only real vocal technique made this burning, gleaming, silvery tone possible.

You can find a record of Whitney's teaching in a little known book titled Successful Singing. It's author, Julia Stacey Gould (1894-1976), studied with Whitney in Boston and recorded for Victor in 1921. Successful Singing was published in 1942 during a period of great uncertainty with Gould stating in the Preface that Whitney himself was involved in its preparation. Look for a copy at Wordcat. 

December 27, 2011

The Ballad of NYCO

The January issue of Opera News is on the stand and carries an authoritative article on New York City Opera that - frankly - reads like a eulogy. A swirl of images appeared before my mind's eye when I read it: Beverly Sills speaking at a NYCO gala and publicly excoriating then general director Paul Kellogg for trashing the State Theater's acoustics; Baby Doe freezing to death in a mind shaft; the current administration's logo of a black hole. 

Having witnessed most of the events written about, I can say that the author's accounting is as accurate as it is bleak.  

December 23, 2011

Make Merry

This past Monday a friend came to the City rather unexpectedly, so I threw an impromptu party for ten on 24 hours notice and I can't remember when I had so much fun. Most of the guests were friends from my Westminster Choir College days, so it was no surprise that we sang Christmas carols and anthems from sight in four part harmony after a homey dinner of Mac & Cheese (toast the mustard seed and use heavy cream!), Rustic French Pork and Chicken Pâté, Salad Greens with Goat Cheese, Dried Cranberries and Toasted Pecans in Mustard Vinagrette and Apple Bourbon Bundt Cake.

John Rutter's Nativity Carol made an appearance as did The Twelve Days After Christmas (Silver) which still makes me laugh though I learned it in High School. And refuting the perception that singers can't read music or play the piano, Muzetta, our guest of honor, transposed O Holy Night (Adolphe) into the soprano key for another guest using my low version and glorious high notes soared to the ceiling. She also accompanied Musetta's Waltz from memory. The joy and talent in the room overflowed as much as the champagne and wine, my friend and colleague Paulo calling to mind the Land of Song with a wonderful Prosecco.

Yes. I was cajoled into singing Johanna from Sweeny Todd (Sondheim) and Some Children See Him (Burt) but can't be objective about my efforts since my perception was undoubtedly affected by tiny bubbles. Oh but it was fun! When we weren't singing, holiday tunes were spinning in the CD player, which contained Nancy LaMott's album Just in Time for Christmas (you can hear one of the cuts here) as well a cracker jack What if Mozart Wrote Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.

That the evening glowed only points out that that sometimes you just have to make merry.

December 18, 2011

The Vannuccini School in America: Part II

Fedele Fenaroli

How far back can one trace a lineage? It is this thought that keeps me digging on Google Books at odd hours and at the Lincoln Center Library of the Performing Arts even if the place is woefully understaffed since the financial debacle of 2008. (Have a question at the research division on the 3rd floor? You have to go down to the 2nd floor to find a music librarian.) The lineage in question? That of Luigi Vannuccini (1828-1911).

Vannuccini's School came to America through Annie M. R, Barnette, Myron W. Whitney, and his son William L. Whitney, the latter teaching at New England Conservatory. One of the younger Whitney's students was Eleanor Steber.

Vannuccini? His own teacher was a man named Pietro Romani (1791- 1877), who canny readers of this blog encountered in Barnette's book, Talks About Singing. She called him il babbo di tutti maestri- the father of all the teachers. (Barnette also compared Romani to Manuel Garcia II for his longevity.) Of course, because Romani was so influential, I can't find an image of him, at least not yet! Be that as it may, Romani taught singing at the Real Istituto Musicale in Naples and later conducted in Florence. He also composed two operas, il qui quo in 1817 and Carlo Magno in 1823, but is better known for composing an aria - Manca un foglio - for a performance of Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia because the bass was unable to sing Bartolo's famous aria Un dottor della mia sorte. As you have undoubted figured out by now: all the Italian singing-masters composed as well as taught the art of singing. Who does that today?

Romani's teacher? He was a gentleman named Fedele Fenaroli (1730-1818). Fenaroli taught at the  Conservatorio di Santa Maria di Lereto in Naples, himself a pupil of Francesco Durante and Antonio Gallo. He is credited with maintaining the "purity of ancient doctrines." Gleaned from the second part of a fascinating and comprehensive account of the singing schools of Naples, you can read all three 1) here 2) here and 3) here.  (It took some seriously creative googling to obtain the proper links.) The third part also notes that Niccolo Zingerelli was one of Fenaroli's students, who, if memory serves, was reported as having tutored the aforementioned Manuel Garcia II. Degrees of separation anyone?

Reaching back even further, we find that Fenaroli's teacher, Francesco Durante, was a pupil of Gaetano Greco (1657- 1728) - one of the earliest singing masters in the Old Italian School in Naples. One of his pupils was Nicola Porpora. He also taught Leonardo DaVinci and Domenico Scarlatti. Hello! Genius alert. Greco's own teacher was Alesandro Scarlatti (1660 - 1725). And going back one more step, we find that Scarlatti studied with Alessandro Stadella (1639 - 1682). He got his start in Venice, lived quite the life and came to a bad end. Who did he study with? The trail goes cold.

A bit overwhelmed? Try using this handy table to orient yourself. This link also delves deep into the history of Neapolitan conservatories. Just scroll up a few pages to the beginning. Fascinating stuff.

December 17, 2011

The Vannuccini School in America: Part I

Myron W. Whitney

A student of Luigi Vannuccini, Myron W. Whitney (1936-1910) had great success as a leading oratorio singer, appearing in the bass role of Polyphemus in Handel's Acis and Galatea at Oxford University, which he sang in the original key to much acclaim. He had a son, William L.Whitney (1861- 1950), also a bass, who studied with Vannuccini. The younger Whitney also studied with the famous German pedagogue Julius Stockhausen, a student of Manuel García. William L.Whitney became one of the leading voice teachers in America, teaching at the New England Conservatory of Music where he taught Louise Homer and Eleanor Steber

December 15, 2011

Jenny in Three

Three images of the Swedish Nightingale grace a small case on the ground floor of the newly reopened New York Historical Society, which has been closed for more than a year. I snapped this image with my Iphone after having gone there to find the famous Healy portrait of Emma Thursby, who, interestingly enough, was known as the American Nightingale. I was hoping to make another post about Thursby, but she was not on view, and I couldn't find anyone who knew when she would make her return.

What is in the case? A snuff box, glasses case and a child's plate, which you can tell by the alphabet that runs around border. Lind caused such a sensation after her arrival in New York that her image was used to advertise everything and anything. I can't quite imagine that happening today, can you? Pavarotti selling cigars, snuff, soap and handkerchiefs? It's a marketing strategy that died out forty years ago, being seen as somewhat cheesy. But it lasted at least a hundred years, starting perhaps, with Lind herself. 

December 14, 2011

The Lustrous Voice of Emily Magee

Emily Magee

Spinto sopranos don't grow on trees. Some never even find their voices if they remain in the choir, which can stifle with the insistence on blending. But that fate did not await Emily Magee, an American who has had a career based largely in Europe. She found her way to Indiana University and into the voice studio of the great vocal pedagogue Margaret Harshaw after undergraduate studies at Westminster Choir College. Magee's voice is big, full, lustrous and beautiful, with a laser-like focus that echoes Ms. Harshaw's own singing.

You can hear Magee sing in the clip below (thanks to Paulo Faustini) in a concert performance of Salome, a work which demands that the singer be equipped to sing with declamatory production. This requires that the singer hold the vocal tube firmly in a lengthened position, not an easy thing to do by any means. It's also not a thing you start out doing at the beginning of your career, rather, it's reserved for your 40's when you have great stamina and strength. It's what Old School teachers taught their students: you start out singing lyrically and add dramatic roles as you progress- slowly of course. Say you start your career at 25: this means at least a decade of saying no to offers of roles that put you at risk, assuming, of course, that you have the kind of voice that evinces a dramatic arc. Obviously, Magee has the voice, training and smarts to run the gauntlet.

This lengthened position of the vocal tube? Manuel García called it Somber Timbre in A Complete Treatise on the art of Singing (First Part, Complete and Unabridged, The editions of 1841 and 1872 collated, edited and translated by Donald V. Paschke, Da Capo Press, 1984).

The tongue, the base of which is drawn by the lowering of the larynx, represents an elongated arch, and the sonorous body has received a long form, bent at a right angle and rather contracted. The column of air which rises vertically strikes against the palatal arch. The sound is heard round, full, and covered; it is what is called mixed voice, or sombre timbre. 
This enlargement becomes especially perceptible when the singer gives to the voice all the volume which it can allow, although the tones are otherwise very weak; this fact merits being recorded. This exaggeration of volume can take place only in the conditions of the sombre timbre and with violent efforts.  

The danger of singing with sombre timbre coupled with great volume is, of course, the extinguishing of the voice itself. This is why great teachers like Pauline Viardot-García maintained that modern music (c. 1900) was "almost always fatal to the voice."

This is seriously solid and handsome singing. The kind that displays decades of learning and skillful use of resources. You don't get to this stage in your career by hurrying. You have to know what you are doing, and it is clear that Emily Magee does.

December 13, 2011

Kirsten Flagstad: Dido's Lament

Kirsten Flagstad as Dido

I came upon this recording of Kirsten Flagstad singing Dido's Lament from Dido and Aeneas by Henry Purcell this evening, and in listening to it, am reminded just how wonderfully full, clear, rich, even and effortless Flagstad's voice was - even at the very end of her career when this recording was made. Of course, those who have had their musical tastes formed in the last thirty years will assert that this kind of singing in this kind of music is much too much. This can't be bel canto they say. And I can only shake my head. When did Baroque performance practice become so small?

December 5, 2011

NYCO Archives in Jeopardy

Beverly Sills 

The history of America's beloved soprano Beverly Sills and the opera company she championed for a decade as general director is in jeopardy. Why? The New York City Opera is vacating its Lincoln Center offices by December 31st, and in doing so, is poised to throw out its archives. Not idle speculation, this knowledge was gleaned from two former archivists, one having left the company only recently. Both fear for the legacy, not only of Beverly Sills, who gave the company many of her scores, but of thousands of musicians, singers, directors, artists and conductors that have appeared with the company since 1943. Since current management is in the process of re-writing its mission statement, there appears to be little interest in preserving its past. Suggestions to donate the archives, which is comprised of scores, documents, correspondence, programs, audio and visual tapes, television and radio broadcasts, oral histories, historic photographs, casting records, set pieces and costumes to institutions like the Library of Congress, the Lincoln Center Library of the Performing Arts and the New York Historical Society were rebuffed. This is unconscionable. To lose this information to a dumpster would be a tragedy of incalculable proportions.

What can you do? Write and call NYCO and let them know you want the legacy and history of the People's Opera preserved for future generations and made available to the public.

UPDATE December 5th, 2:20 PM

I got a call from a young lady asking me if I was the "blogger who wrote about New York City Opera." When I said yes, she wanted me to know that the information in this post was untrue. How? I asked. She replied that "we are taking it with us." Not knowing who exactly I was speaking with (I was in the checkout line of a local supermarket at the time), I suggested she was free to make a comment on this blog if she wished. "Why would I lie to you?" She said. I replied that I didn't know who she was.

When I got home, I called back the number on my Iphone and got through to an entity called HRA Advisors, which has Lincoln Center of the Performing Arts as a client on its website. I found no mention of New York CIty Opera however. I spoke with the young lady who called me previously and asked if she could please tell me where the archive would be housed and why it wasn't being made available to the public. So far, I haven't heard back. When I do, I will certainly let you know.

UPDATE December 5th, 11:45 PM

In the nearly 24 hours since this post was written, 1100 people have read it, which, if nothing else, shows the level of interest and concern with regard to NYCO and its legacy. My caller from earlier in the day has not contacted me.

One colleague forwarded a letter from a NYCO company member which asserts that this writer is a "mischief maker." If the preeminent concern is the welfare of the archives of a historic institution which has fired more than half of its employees; dispensed with the position of archivist and thrown away the dressing room name plate of every star to grace its stage; is not reachable through its own website because the email addresses are non-functional; has declared an impasse in contract negotiations with its orchestra and chorus; has vacated its long time home and chosen to speak through third parties, then indeed, one has to wonder what mischief is being made.

A closet in an office doth not an archive make. 

Though I have no personal interest in the archives of NYCO (they do not- strictly speaking- concern themselves with matters of vocal pedagogy), I have an appreciation of their value and importance since I have greatly benefited from many a keen-eyed archivist who knows his/her way around the block.

Archives are precious things since they can be lost through negligence and indifference. They require the oversight of those with expertise in the field who understand the complexities of conservation. Does NYCO have such a person on staff? Are they advertising that a position is available? Does NYCO have the space for the large amount of material that the archive currently comprises? What happens to the archive should NYCO declare bankruptcy? How is NYCO going to handle the many requests for access? Has a complete inventory been made? What steps towards transparency and accountability have been taken? All these questions remain to be answered.

Please convey your concerns to NYCO which will be relocating to 75 Broad Street, NYC, 10004. I understand the move-in date is December 16th. You might also contact Mayor Bloomberg which you can do here. His predecessor, Fiorello La Guardia, established NYCO as a public trust, forever emblazoning it in the minds of New Yorkers as the People's Opera, a moniker which many believe to be in doubt. 

UPDATE: December 6th, 2:35 PM

To those with a professional interest in the NYCO archives: please keep this writer informed as to their accessibility, status and condition. For those who have no idea what archives are and what archivists do, I recommend this site.

This writer firmly believes that access to information leads to true knowledge. This is why public libraries are so important: anyone can study what interests them. The professional researcher, however, functions on a different level: his/her interest shapes and informs a whole field of study which circles back to the public. To restrict access to archives serves no public good, and, ultimately, limits self-knoweldge and - in this case- Music herself.

UPDATE: December 7th, 11:00 AM

Questions have been raised about the veracity of this writer and his motivations concerning the NYCO Archives. To put these questions to rest, I remind the reader that the concerns on this page have been raised, not by the singers or musicians who have been in contract negotiations with the company, but rather, by former members of the company who were in charge of the archives. I have simply provided a vehicle for their voices to be heard. My own tenure as a member of the chorus with NYCO ended November 20th with my resignation, 11 days before NYCO declared an impasse. The reader who spends even a short amount of time on these pages will glean that I am interested in scholarship, not innuendo.

In conclusion, I wish to quote the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan who so adroitly said:

Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts. 

FACT: This blog posted that the NYCO archive was in serious danger with its impending relocation from Lincoln Center and lack of an archivist.

FACT: NYCO subsequently announced via the NYTimes that it intends to house the archive in storage space at 75 Broad Street (a friend sourced NYCO's new address which I posted here the night before the NYTimes article appeared).

FACT: NYCO has not announced that it has hired an archivist or stated its intentions regarding the archive's administration. It has nine days in which to process a vast amount of information without -apparently- any guidance whatsoever. As "Jewel" has stated in the comments section:
Perhaps one might write to George:, but when people are asking, it seems that reassurances are being given but no details have been published. A friend writes: "Several years ago, private donated funds were designated for a major archive project which was to include an online database similar to the Met's, an oral history project, and the cataloguing of NYCO's massive holdings of documents, photos, and recorded materials. We had a p/t archivist (Susan Woelzl) for a short time and some volunteer support, but these efforts didn't get far and eventually ground to a halt during 'the time of troubles'. All the well-meaning folks asserting that NYCO is moving the archival material downtown must be told this: 
There's no way NYCO is currently equipped to preserve, catalogue, and curate those materials. Because of that the archives are A) useless and B) in peril

UPDATE: December 20th, 11:00 AM

I posted an open letter to Opera America CEO Marc Scorca last week which resulted in the assertion that NYCO was going to re-hire their former archivist who would oversee the transportation of the NYCO archives to their new offices. Unfortunately, this assertion could not be verified. As a result, I felt it necessary to remove the post and wish to apologize to Mr. Scorca for involving him in matters beyond his control.

As of this writing, the status, condition and location of NYCO's archive is unknown.

Note: The New York City Opera archives were irreparably damaged in hurricane Sandy, having been stored in the basement offices of the relocated NYCO under the direction of George Steel as reported in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal (November 1, 2012). Barring updated information, the NYCO archives are presumed to be lost. 

December 4, 2011

Umbrian Serenades

If you've been reading this blog, you know that I went to Italy this past summer with the Umbrian Serenades 2011 program and had an absolute blast. Three wonderful concerts in amazing spaces with stunning acoustics, singing with the legendary maestro Joseph Flummerfelt, delectable meals, superb wines and the dolce sweetness of UmbriaIt was the experience of a lifetime. Really. No exaggeration. I think about being there this past summer and my heart stands still. It was such a wonderful experience. You absolutely must...


(The deadline is January 3rd so get busy!)

December 3, 2011

Fix Me!

Tools can harm or heal. What matters is whether they are used intelligently or indiscriminately. This last word is important. Beautiful singing entails a high level of discrimination. But all too often the student isn't ready to observe what they are doing and hearing even if they know something isn't quite right. Do they listen to their recorded lessons or work with a mirror? Nope. They want to be 'cured' of their vocal ills without lifting a finger, opening their ears or seeing what is before their eyes. Fix me! They cry to the vocal pedagogue. Give me the one tool, the secret technique given only to a few that will make everything right! But please don't ask me to observe myself! Just give me what I want!

Does the master carpenter give his apprentice a tool and tell him to start cutting away without thought to the what, where and how of what he is doing? Is one tool sufficient for every design? No. That is not the way of the master craftsman in any of the Arts, be they fine or otherwise. 

There are no quick answers or cures in learning to sing, which is not to say that it takes forever or is an arduous practice (if it is then something is wrong). But a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. The vocal techniques on these pages need to be applied with great care. They also require a living model in order to be fully understood. 

Sometimes the best tool is no tool at all.