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J.B. Steane

When a syllable is sung to more than one note, some singers are in the habit of inserting a light aspirate, as in ‘Cele-heste Aida’. In Italy, Spain and Latin America this appears not to be considered a major stylistic fault (if one at all), but in Britain and, on the whole, the USA and Germany the practice is generally condemned. Gramophone records suggest that in standard operatic work the habit grew during the first half of the century, and that criticism has subsequently had some effect: Domingo and Pavarotti, for instance, are not habitual aspiraters, unlike their predecessors such as Gigli and Pertile. More insidious are the means used to ‘separate’ notes in the florid music of Baroque composers, where on the one hand they are defended as ensuring greater clarity, and on the other attacked as the makeshift devices of a defective technique....

Article

John Rosselli

(It.: ‘absolute’)

As applied to a singer, the term crept into opera bills and contracts with the general inflation of titles that set in towards the end of the 18th century. In theory it meant ‘unique’: a particular singer was the only member of the company engaged for a season entitled to be called prima donna (or primo tenore, primo basso etc.), and she or he could refuse parts that did not fit the description. In practice, nearly every leading singer now wished to be called ‘absolute’, however illogically; in Naples the impresario Domenico Barbaia, backed up by Rossini, was still resisting the trend in the 1820s, but in vain. By 1877 the tenor-impresario Italo Campanini could write of parti assolute, meaning simply leading parts; these included Marguerite de Valois in Les Huguenots, one of two leading women’s parts in that work (letter of 29 July 1877, I-Ms Coll. Casati 233). Thus devalued into meaninglessness, the term seems to have vanished from opera by the early 20th century. It is still occasionally used– in its original sense–of an outstanding ballerina....

Article

J.B. Steane

A term used to characterize a particular type of Baritone voice. It owes its origin to (Nicolas-)Jean-Blaise Martin (1768–1837), a baritone with a remarkably extensive upper range, sufficiently famous and distinctive for his name to continue in use long after his death to denote a high, lyric baritone, almost a tenor, usually bright of timbre and light of weight, but with a free, unthroaty production characteristic of the French school. Jean Périer, the first Pelléas, was probably typical, with Gabriel Soulacroix a distinguished predecessor and Camille Maurane (...

Article

Bass  

Owen Jander, Lionel Sawkins, J.B. Steane, and Elizabeth Forbes

(Fr. basse; Ger. Bass; It. basso)

The lowest male voice, normally written for within the range F to e′, which may be extended at either end.

Italian composers in the late 16th century often wrote highly ornate parts for the bass voice, and this continued into the first three decades of the 17th. In opera, however, where bass roles were few and generally unimportant, ornate writing was relatively rare; the emphasis lay rather on dramatic portrayal. In the surviving operas of Monteverdi the bass already appears in some of what were to be its most important historical role types: as a god (particularly a god of the underworld: Pluto in Orfeo, 1607, Neptune in Il ritorno d’Ulisse, 1640), or as a sepulchral figure (Charon in Orfeo). In Orfeo Monteverdi called for special instrumentation (the regal, a trombone choir) which was itself to become a tradition in much operatic scoring associated with the bass voice. A further impressive use of the voice is for the role of Seneca in ...

Article

Elizabeth Forbes

Member of Brambilla family

(b Cassano d’Adda, 1819; d Milan, 1903). Italian contralto, sister of Marietta Brambilla. She made her début in Trieste in 1841 and sang in Rome, Milan and Barcelona; then in 1846 she was engaged at Her Majesty’s Theatre, London, where she appeared as Maffio Orsini, the part created by her eldest sister. In ...

Article

Elizabeth Forbes

Member of Brambilla family

(b Cassano d’Adda, June 6, 1807; d Milan, Nov 6, 1875). Italian contralto. After studying at the Milan Conservatory with Secchi, she made her début in 1827 at the King’s Theatre, London, as Arsace in Rossini’s Semiramide. During the season she sang two more travesty roles, Adriano (Meyerbeer’s Il crociato) and Romeo (Zingarelli’s Romeo e Giulietta), becoming a specialist in such parts. She sang Paolo at the first performance of Generali’s Francesca di Rimini in 1828 at La Fenice. At La Scala (1838) she sang Cherubino and Arsace (Semiramide). Donizetti composed two trouser roles for her, Maffio Orsini in Lucrezia Borgia, first given at La Scala in 1833, and Pierotto in Linda di Chamounix, which had its première at the Kärntnertortheater, Vienna, in 1842. He also adapted the second tenor role of Armando di Gondi in Maria di Rohan...

Article

Elizabeth Forbes

Member of Brambilla family

(b Cassano d’Adda, Oct 23, 1813; d Milan, July 15, 1895). Italian soprano, sister of Marietta Brambilla. She made her début in Milan in 1831 and sang throughout Italy with great success for 15 years. In 1846 she appeared in Paris as Abigaille in ...

Article

Elizabeth Forbes

[Teresina]

Member of Brambilla family

(b Cassano d’Adda, April 15, 1845; d Vercelli, July 1, 1921). Italian soprano, niece of Marietta Brambilla. She studied with her aunts Marietta and Teresa. She made her début in 1863 as Adalgisa at Odessa, afterwards singing in Lisbon, Madrid, Paris, St Petersburg and Italy. In ...

Article

J.B. Steane

(Fr. voix de poitrine; Ger. Bruststimme; It. voce di petto)

A term that is used in two connections (leaving aside the anatomical conditions under which the chest voice functions): the lower part of the female vocal range and the upper part of the male. In both instances it applies to a certain type of voice production and its resulting sound, which is quite distinct from that of the head voice (voce di testa).

A male singer can extend his upward range by using the head voice or the Falsetto (opera) (opera), which may be strengthened and developed as a mixed tone so that the falsetto element is to a greater or lesser extent disguised. Alternatively he may use the chest voice, which produces the ringing high notes of the characteristic modern operatic voice. The tenor roles in operas by composers such as Bellini have high notes which are sometimes so frequent and beyond normal reach of the non-falsetto male voice that it seems likely that they would have been sung originally with the head voice. Tenors would not then have extended their chest voice much beyond ...

Article

J.B. Steane

(Fr. voix sombrée; Ger. gedeckte Ton; It. voce cuperta)

Although ‘open’ and ‘covered’ would seem to be layman’s terms and their manifestations in singing easy to recognize, the technique of ‘covering’ and the need for it are probably understood properly only by singers themselves. As voices ascend in the scale, reaching the higher notes of the singer’s range, the method of voice production is gradually modified, partly so as to ensure a musically pleasing sound rather than a shout, partly to protect the voice, and also to secure a greater concentration of tone. This may involve modifications of the vowel sound, shading the brighter vowels towards those that are ‘darker’ and less open. It will also be a difficult exercise, during the course of which the singer seems to him or herself to be producing thinner, less powerful and excitingly resonant sounds in the upper notes than would otherwise have been possible. A further difficulty lies in the areas of the voice called the ...

Article

John Koegel

[Francisco Rafael ]

(b San Antonio, TX, May 16, 1883; d New York, NY, Dec 12, 1943). American operatic tenor and recitalist of Mexican and German heritage. He was the most prominent Mexican American opera singer of his day, although perhaps to advance his career he used the Italian-sounding first name “Rafaelo,” and press reports sometimes identified him as Spanish instead of Mexican American or Mexican. Díaz attended the German-English School and the West Texas Military Academy (now Texas Military Institute) in San Antonio. He studied piano with Amalia Hander, a local music teacher, and at the Stern Conservatory in Berlin. After vocal studies with Vincenzo Sabatini in Milan, he returned to the United States and in 1911 began appearing in small roles with the Boston Grand Opera Company, quickly moving up to more prominent assignments. He accompanied the soprano Luisa Tetrazzini on a tour in 1913 and made his Metropolitan Opera debut in Massenet’s ...

Article

Elizabeth Forbes

(b Sydney, Feb 8, 1943; d Oct 10, 2021). Australian baritone. He studied in Sydney, where he made his début in 1966, and then in London before joining Scottish Opera (1972), with which he sang Count Almaviva, Malatesta, the Music-Master (Ariadne auf Naxos), James Stewart (Musgrave’s ...

Article

J.B. Steane

A type of soprano voice. The term admits a wide variety of repertory and voice type. Any claimant to it must possess a powerful voice and a style capable of energetic emphasis; yet at one end of the spectrum is the singer whose best roles may be, for example, the respective Leonoras of Il trovatore and La forza del destino, and at the other is the singer who encompasses the heaviest of the Wagnerian soprano parts, Brünnhilde and Isolde. The first type may be described as lyric-dramatic and the second as heroic. The more narrowly defined dramatic soprano would then look for parts such as Aida, Lady Macbeth and Abigaille in Verdi, Senta, Elisabeth and Kundry in Wagner, Leonore in Fidelio, and the title roles in Medea and possibly Turandot (the last of these raises a problem for many dramatic sopranos on account of the high tessitura; it is beyond the reasonable ambitions of those who have an admixture of mezzo-soprano in the voice). Contrasted voices which might still come within the general category of dramatic soprano are, for instance, those of Jessye Norman (an exceptionally full-bodied sound, shaded towards the mezzo and nearer to the lyric-dramatic) and, in an earlier generation, Eva Turner, whose voice was pure soprano but of such penetrative power that the heaviest Wagnerian roles came within its scope and with such brilliance in the upper register that it was ideal for Turandot....

Article

Falcon  

J.B. Steane

Term for a type of voice, presumed to have been exemplified by Cornélie Falcon , the dramatic soprano who sang Rachel in the première of La Juive (1835) and Valentine in that of Les Huguenots (1836). Her voice was exceptionally powerful, dramatic in quality and ample in the middle register. Mainly in France, or in association with the French repertory, ‘falcon’ has survived as a word which denotes a soprano of this type. Félia Litvinne and her pupil Germaine Lubin, both of whom sang Wagnerian roles such as Isolde and Kundry, would come under this heading. As Falcon herself sang last in ...

Article

J.B. Steane

(Fr. voix de tête; Ger. Kopfstimme; It. voce di testa)

A term widely used to denote quiet (‘soft’) singing in the upper range, or register, of the voice. The singer aims the sound high in the face (or ‘mask’) and may experience it as in the head itself, the opposite of the Chest voice . In practice, what seems like a simple piece of nomenclature can describe very different things, particularly in tenors and baritones, where reference to an ‘exquisite head voice’ may mean nothing more than a pleasant ...

Article

Elizabeth Forbes

(b Berlin, Aug 10, 1931; d Vienna, April 21, 2022). German soprano. She studied with Maria Ivogün in Vienna, where she made her début in 1957 in operetta. Engaged at the Volksoper and later the Staatsoper, she appeared there for over 20 years. At Salzburg (1961–3) she sang Blonde and Papagena. Her repertory included Zerlina, Despina, Marzelline, Norina, Mařenka, Sophie, Isotta (...

Article

Alan Blyth

(b Southport, Jan 12, 1941; d Andover, May 18, 2022). English mezzo-soprano. She studied at the RMCM, singing Helen in the British première of Gluck’s Paride ed Elena (1963) while a student. She made her professional début in 1966 as Flora (La traviata) with the WNO. At Glyndebourne (1966–89), she created Cathleen in Maw’s Rising of the Moon (1970) and also sang Erisbe (Ormindo), Dorabella, the Composer, Diana (Calisto), Clairon, and Baba the Turk. She made her Covent Garden début in 1967 as Flora, created Lena in Bennett’s Victory (1970), and sang Hermia, Rosina, Cherubino, Siébel, Mélisande, Helen (King Priam), Olga, Thea (The Knot Garden), Despina, and Clairon (1991). She made her Chicago (1972), Metropolitan (1975), and San Francisco (1979) débuts as Dorabella. At Geneva she sang Octavian, Idamantes, Régine in the première of Liebermann’s ...

Article

J.B. Steane

(Fr.)

Term for an old man’s role sung by a high tenor. In the later part of his career as an haute-contre, Jean-Louis Laruette of the Opéra-Comique specialized in comic roles for elderly gentlemen, which came to be known as ‘laruettes’. As early as Mozart and Rossini old men’s roles were generally for a bass rather than a high tenor, but the tradition survived in ...

Article

J.B. Steane

(Fr. soprano léger; It. soprano leggiero)

Typical roles for the light soprano are Despina, Susanna, Norina and Nannetta, as well as Sophie (both Der Rosenkavalier and Werther). The lightness in volume of such a voice is usually matched by a brightly produced, freely carrying tone, which in the Italian and French schools tends to be of a more sharply edged, forward quality than with the Germans or British. The term Soubrette (opera) is sometimes used in connection with such roles and voices; its original meaning of ‘coy’ or ‘shrewd’ and its later use, as a noun, to denote a lady’s maid suggest the character of the roles assigned to the soubrette in opera. Light sopranos admired in the 20th century have included Elisabeth Schumann and the Americans Kathleen Battle and Barbara Hendricks. Many sopranos, such as Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Mirella Freni, have begun their career in this category and have developed into singers of the lyric or lyric-dramatic type....

Article

Lirico  

J.B. Steane

(It.)

The term, meaning ‘lyric’, is used in English writing generally to describe a singer whose voice is lighter than that required for more dramatic roles and which suits a smooth, melodic style rather than a more declamatory form of utterance. In Italy, the tenore lirico is distinguished from the tenore leggiero...