Luisa Cappiani on Registers

Luisa Cappiani 
There are many opinions on the subject of vocal registers. Unpedagogic scientists, enthusiastic with results of laryngoscopic experiments, have hastened to conclusions which teachers will not accept; while unscientific "maestros," trusting too much to the accuracy of their refined musical ear, have rushed pell-mell into the discussion of a subject, about which they know little or nothing.

Sir Morrell Mackenzie, in his excellent work, "Hygiene of the Vocal Organs," defines "Registers" as "the series of tones of like quality, producible by a particular adjustment of the vocal cords." He then very wisely adds that, "strictly speaking, there is a different register, i. e., a certain appropriate condition of the laringeal orifice for every note, but the actual mechanical principles involved, are only two." If this be true, would it not be better to define register in terms of the mechanical principle involved and thus let us think more clearly on the subject?

His division of "long"' and "short" reed registers is good from an anatomical point of view; however, inasmuch as it involves consciousness of muscular activity in the throat, it is liable to injure the singer permanently. In this connection it is well to recall "that the throat was made to sing, not to sing with." 

It is generally accepted that the human voice has three registers,—head, middle and chest, and, if we can classify falsetto singing as a register, there are four.

I agree with Sir Morrell Mackenzie, who makes himself understood in his "Hygiene of the Vooal Organs," that by the greater resonance in head or chest there are only two registers, Head Register and Chest Register. On this ground, and from my personal view and experience of resonance of the human voice, I would like to reduce all those registers into a single one.

Since the voice receives its resonance and acquires more beauty by guiding the original tone from the Larynx through the nasal bridge or human sounding board to the osseous framework of the face to awaken the overtones, I prefer to call it Facial Register. 

But "the difference between artistic and inartistic production of the voice depends far more on the management of the resonators than on the adjustment of the vocal cords." Here he lets a flood of light in upon the subject; and since what he says is true, a far more consistent definition of registers would be the following: a series of tones of like quality produced by the vocal cords and determined by the predominance of head or chest tone resonance. 

Then there are two registers, and when all tones are properly placed in the acoustic chamber, i. e., the nasal bridge, the chest well expanded, and the impelling power of the diaphragm well managed, there is no danger of a break, and the voice is equalized throughout. In the higher tones there is a predominance of head resonance, and in the lower tones there is a predominance of chest resonance. 

The physiological cause for this may be illustrated by the harp whose long strings produce the low tones and whose short, tense strings produce the high ones.

In the production of high tones the entire larynx is at greater tension; these resound more easily through the acoustics in the facial sounding board; but in low tones the larynx is more relaxed, and its cartilaginous surface vibrates so strongly that the resonance is imparted more to the bones of the thorax,—the chest.

From this it may be seen that a full, powerful, magnificent tone is best obtained by expanding the chest to as great an extent as is consistent with bodily ease.

Some male singers expand their chest so well that the resonance of their tones swims along every bone of their body, and even causes the floor upon which they stand to vibrate.

Experience and common sense teach, that, since the object desired, is to equalize the voice, it is best to have the pupil with well inflated chest direct all tones to the facial center, where they may tingle with brilliancy.

In conclusion, it would be well to state that Sopranos should not attempt to imitate the voice quality of Contraltos, nor. should Tenors imitate that of Bassos, and vice versa. 

The voices in their characteristics differ from each other by reason of their anatomical construction. It is extremely dangerous for sopranos and tenors to force their voices for the production of low tones, as this causes too great a relaxation of the vocal cords, which may afterwards prevent the necessary tension for the high tones. The same advice applies relatively to the other voices.

If singers go beyond their natural compass, they are bound to reap, sooner or later, the punishment of their misdeeds. Let me repeat what I have said in the last chapter: My old teacher, Francesco Lamperti, offers the following advice, which I heartily endorse: "Students should never practice exercises to the full extent of their compass, either high or low, but they should stop within two tones of their limit. They will then gain these coveted tones with ease and their voices can never be injured by overtaxing."

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


Luisa Young was born in 1835, either in Italy or in Austria, depending on which source you believe. Whatever the location, she was educated at the Vienna Conservatory, afterwards traveling to Italy where she studied as a dramatic soprano with Antonio Sangiovanni, Luigi Vannuccini, Pietro Romani and Franceso Lamperti—whom she considered her principal teacher. She made her debut in 1859 after the death of her first husband, Gilbert Kapp, singing Wagner roles in Germany. Thereafter, she appeared in England—where she was presented to the Queen; then in Spain, Austria, Italy, Russia and Romania. Madam Kapp-Young came to America in 1867, where she appeared to much acclaim, singing in L'Africaine, Trovatore and Ernani. After subsequent seasons in Italy, she returned to America, and established herself as a voice teacher under the name of Cappiani (which she undoubtedly used in Italy to obtain engagements), first in Boston and then in New York City. Cappiani was the teacher of Julia Etta Crane, a leading music educator in Pottsdam, NY (who also studied with Manuel García), and Lillian Russell, the famous American actress and singer. She died in Zurich in 1919. 

Photo Credit: New York Public Library 


  1. "born in 1835, either in Italy or in Austria, depending on which source you believe."
    It's possible she took an Italian "birthplace" with her stage name; it's also very possible that her Austrian birthplace became Italian territory (Lombardy-Venetia was under Austrian rule until 1866, and South Tyrol until 1919).

  2. Thank you for your comment, Marcellina. I can believe both actually, which is complicated further by another source stating Cappiani was born in Germany! However, I believe that source may be confusing her father's ancestry with her place of birth. It's very had to know at this late date, especially when singers take names and ages which are stage oriented.


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