October 30, 2014

The Garcia Lineage: Helene Noldi Alberti

Helene Noldi Alberti (1874-1962)
It's a curious thing, this thing called blogging, which I have been doing here at VoiceTalk since 2009. I say curious because, when I check to see who is reading what—which sometimes do, I am often surprised.

I have written what I consider to be fascinating posts, stuffed with loads of technical information, (my series of five posts on Giulia Valda and the teaching of Francesco Lamperti come to mind) only to find them little read, a matter which always makes me scratch my head. But then, I am often surprised by your interest in the most arcane matters, which teaches me something useful, like how to word the title of a post (it matters, believe me). As such, it's not always about what, but how. 

This leads me to the subject of this post, a continuation of my last post which included a snippet of Madam Helene Noldi Alberti's teaching, which is expanded upon here. However, before that is offered for your consideration, I include Noldi's biographical information, which accompanies her rendition of the "Jewel Song" on Youtube, which you can listen to at your leisure.

Born Helen Russell Ulrich, Noldi is credited as having studied with Mathilde Marchesi. Her American debut was in Chicago, 1897, in concert at the Central Music Hall where she was cordially received, being recalled a number of times. Active in the early 1900s, Noldi appeared with her husband, baritone Achille Alberti, as a soloist with Victor Herberts Orchestra in 1905. Two years earlier they had appeared at the opening of The Columbia Club, 127th and 5th Avenue, New York, with violinist Michael Banner and orchestra directed by Gustav Hinrichs. The hall had been specially designed with acoustic properties in mind for musical entertainments. The result was regarded as a triumph. In opera, Noldi was first engaged by Sofia Scalchi for her touring company and then for Eugenia Mantellis troupe. She also appeared with the Castle Square Opera in Boston and in England,1910, under the baton of Henry Wood. She appeared at the Metropolitan Opera the season of 1905-06 as a replacement for Lillian Nordica as Leonora in Il Trovatore and on a Sunday Night Concert where she sang an unidentified selection, sharing the stage with violinist Henri Marteau, bass Pol Plançon, contralto Louise Homer and conductor Nathan Franko. She and her husband later taught in California. —from the Lawrence F. Holdridge Record Auction Catalogue, 2010. 

That Noldi was trained by Mathilde Marchesi is of particular significance, which should be kept in mind when reading my notes taken from an article she wrote for the NATS Bulletin in 1947, if only because what she has to say sounds very different than what is heard in voice studios today. It's the first bit that fascinates me the most, especially the wording about the "full length" of the vocal cords and tongue being used on every note. While anatomically inexact, Noldi's teaching suggests a tonal quality and manner of proprioception that has everything to do with an educated ear. 

The ancients employed the full capacity of the lungs, the full length of the tongue, and the full length of the vocal cords on every note uttered whether high or low—loud or soft. 
They showed no evidence of breathing. 
They did not take in any breath voluntarily as they knew there was always an abundant supply in the lungs. 
Every tone emanated from one unwavering point, and this dynamic point was in the center of the sternum. 
The body was regarded simply as an instrument which was played upon by the understanding of the vocal principles; hence the body was relaxed and immovable. 
One point scale: tongue and larynx remain in natural habitat when scale ascends. Fixed at point from the center of the torso (sternum). 
Voce de mista: tone neither head nor chest—used both. 
Posture: full enlargement of the thoracic cavity. Shoulders back, chest high. 
Breathing: tone begins at sternum. Action of diaphragm and abdomen results in this exact point. Point of meeting of the inhalation and exhalation. 
Bel canto is based upon abdominal breathing. The control comes through the power of the will acting through the solar plexus, the will to use a certain amount of breath; the will to establish the velocity of that breath. 
From "Facts Concerning the Art of Bel Canto or the Basis of Bel Canto," NATS Bulletin (1947): 4.

Want to read more of Noldi's article? Find it at the NATS website or a good music library.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the New York Public Library. 


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