The three vols. cover many subjects but fundamentally are about the choices and tradeoffs that caused tenor singing to evolve, from the late eighteenth century until today.
Franco Corelli and Stefan Zucker, in edited transcripts of thirteen years of conversations on the radio, in their theater presentations and master classes and in private, discuss changes in tenor singing:
Beginning in the 1820s Donzelli and Duprez sang with a massive darkened tone at the expense of vocal inflections and agility. Their coarser, more obvious but more exciting style won out over the more nuanced singing that had prevailed until then.
Stefan critiques Donzelli, Rubini, Nourrit, Duprez, de Reszke, Tamagno and De Lucia, and together Franco and Stefan discuss Caruso, Pertile, Martinelli, Schipa, Gigli, Lauri-Volpi, Björling, Ferruccio Tagliavini, Tucker, Del Monaco, Di Stefano, Domingo, Pavarotti and Carreras.
A central question for tenors is whether or not to “cover” their tones (explained in the book). Verdi extensively coached Tamagno who didn’t cover, but Verdi tenors from Caruso through Domingo do, resulting in a very different sound.
Caruso and those who followed him mostly sang at full volume. Compared to his predecessors, such as de Reszke, Tamagno and De Lucia, Caruso had less musical nuance, variety of dynamics and rubato; in short he had less musical imagination. He also had less control over dynamics.
Franco describes how, using Arturo Melocchi’s controversial lowered-larynx technique, he and Del Monaco revolted against sweet tenor singing in favor of older-sounding tones and a more “virile” approach.
Franco explains that he tried to combine Del Monaco’s fortissimo, Lauri-Volpi’s high notes, Pertile’s passion, Fleta’s diminuendo and Gigli’s caress. He describes using more portamento than his predecessors, his copying of some of Pertile’s interpretations and his attempt to emulate Schipa’s Werther.
Stefan describes Franco’s music-driven interpretations and Di Stefano’s word-driven ones, the history of vibrato, Gigli’s two kinds of chiaroscuro, chiaroscuro of dynamics and chiaroscuro of timbre, and compares eighteen Radamès recordings with Pertile, Martinelli, Gigli, Tucker, Del Monaco, Björling, Di Stefano, Corelli, Bergonzi, Vickers, Domingo, Carreras and Pavarotti.
Robert Tuggle, Director of The Metropolitan Opera Archives, contributes a chapter on Björling to the appendices.
The volumes are printed on top-quality paper and feature more than 483 rare lithographs and photographs, the majority provided by the Met Archives.
This is not a biography, nor is it a book of anecdotes. Instead it explains the evolution of tenor singing from 1820 to Domingo.
Stefan Zucker on six revolutions that have reshaped singing.
In this volume, in discussions with Stefan, Franco Corelli looks back on his life and career. Here are a few examples:
FC on the “Rome Walkout”: Callas was a little sick, and that didn’t permit her to sing at her best. Some in the audience heckled her. When she came offstage after Act I she was completely calm, but then she began to stew and announced she was canceling. The management went to her, to push her to continue the performance. She became a lioness and began to scream. She threw some vases and a chair. Little by little she lost her voice. When she left the theater, however, she looked elegant, as if nothing had happened.
This vol. contains interviews of Corelli, Bergonzi, Kraus and Alagna, among others.
Corelli evaluates the singing of many tenors. He advocates that, to uphold standards, “If an artist isn’t good he must be booed,” citing in particular Chris Merritt in I vespri Siciliani at La Scala. Listeners to “Opera Fanatic” confess their booing, including the notorious organizer of the Scotto booings and some who booed Corelli.
Bergonzi: “De Lucia, Pertile, Merli, Schipa, Gigli and Galliano Masini had their personal styles but weren’t faithful to the composer, because they introduced ritards, rests and effects. Del Monaco was the first singer to respect the composer. Toscanini and Bruno Walter were the only conductors who heeded what the composers wrote.” Bergonzi also declares, “The difference between my singing of Bohème and of Trovatore is the degree to which I cover. Rodolfo is a lighter role, so I cover less, but Manrico is more dramatic, so I cover more.” This statement proves controversial among others interviewed in this book. He describes his breathing method as well as the first five years of his career, when he sang as a baritone in casts that included Gigli and Schipa.
Kraus describes his vocal technique in detail, takes a stand against covering and for a variety of reasons excoriates Gigli, Lauri-Volpi, Caballé and Callas. He discusses being partnered by Callas in the Lisbon Traviata.
The origins of lowered-larynx techniques. Jean de Reszke’s larynx-lowering. Caruso’s technique. Melocchi’s teaching of Limarilli. Corelli’s real view of the Stanley method. Marcello Del Monaco’s pupils, among them Giacomini, Martinucci and Lindroos. Tenor Emilio Moscoso on lessons with Marcello and Mario Del Monaco. A Corelli pupil, Enrique Pina, describes “floating” the larynx. Araiza’s describes combining larynx-lowering with mask placement. Aspiration. Matteuzzi and Morino—unaffected by Del Monaco and Corelli. Olivero attacks Del Monaco’s technique.
Roberto Alagna describes placing “behind the nose and between the eyes.” He explains that he sometimes switches to larynx lowering and re- corded an album with it. Like Corelli he learns technique by singing along with records—in his case Gigli’s above all—and recording himself doing so. He discusses tenors on old records as well as his personal life.
Elena Filipova recounts how after learning larynx lowering from Rina Del Monaco (Mario’s wife) her career blossomed. Then she studied a more extreme version with Alain Billiard, lost range, agility and her pianissimo, and her career collapsed. She regained her voice from studying placements with Hilde Zadek. “She reintroduced me to my head resonance.”
Bill Schuman (today’s most prominent voice teacher) explains his technique, which involves floating the larynx, mask placement and, for high notes, lifting the palate, top-of-the-head placement plus smiling and, for breathing, using the diaphragm as a pump. Also interviewed are four of his current or former pupils, Met tenors Giordani, Costello, Fabiano and Valenti. They discuss the tenors who are their models. (Schumann dismissed Valenti from his studio for concurrently studying a more extreme lowered-larynx method with Arthur Levy and dismissed Fabiano and Costello for reasons discussed in the book.)
Reviews of forty-seven CDs and DVDs of today’s top tenors, among them Kaufmann, who continues in Corelli’s footsteps, Cura, Villazón and Fraccaro, who continue in Del Monaco’s, Grigolo, Flórez, Brownlee, Banks, Filianoti, Cutler, Bros and Calleja, who continue in Kraus’s and Licitra, who continued in Bergonzi’s, as well as Galouzine, Beczala, Álvarez, Antonenko and Vargas.
The book features photos from many sources, among them The Metropolitan Opera Archives.
Huntley Dent, Reviewing in Fanfare: The Magazine for Serious Record Collectors:
“In Fanfare 38:5 I began my review of Stefan Zucker’s vastly entertaining first volume on Franco Corelli by saying, ‘Turn to this book if you want to hear operatic singing spoken of with heartfelt emotion and lifelong understanding.’ That recommendation holds good for Vols. 2 and 3 as well, and the entertainment value proceeds apace. But a question naturally arises. Is even a great tenor like Corelli worthy of three-volume treatment? I’d say yes, resoundingly, because Zucker’s broader topic is tenordom from its roots in the 18th and 19th centuries. He maintains, as other vocal experts do, that a major turning point was the popularization of a high C sung from the chest, for which credit goes to the French tenor Gilbert-Louis Duprez—Zucker considers him ‘the most influential singer ever.’
“As the subtitle of all three volumes indicates, the scope of these books extends to 54 tenors, making Corelli a central focus while surveying a wide landscape. We get a wealth of information about how the mechanics of singing, and the teaching of singers, actually works. This is a hotly contested realm, and Zucker enters with bold opinions about technical matters that the lay reader (so to speak) is likely to find new and intriguing, such as ‘placing in the mask’ and ‘the lowered larynx.’ Without absorbing such fine-grained technicalities, a reader won’t be able to grasp topics such as ‘tenors who covered’ and ‘tenors who didn’t cover.’
“Fanfare‘s readership, being record collectors, will be particularly intrigued by Zucker’s opinions about the recordings and videos of every current tenor of note; these appear in Vol. 3. He has decided views on the strengths and weaknesses of Jonas Kaufmann, Vittorio Grigolo, Juan Diego Flórez, et al. to whom he applies rigorous standards of vocal production as well as his own personal preferences. A taste in voices is a very personal matter for opera lovers, and a devotee of Flórez, is likely to nod in agreement when Kaufmann is criticized, and vice versa. Arguing silently with someone else’s opinions is endemic to music criticism, and Zucker offers ample scope for entering the fray.
“Technical matters aside, opera is a gossipaceous arena, and these books are rich in anecdotes. Have you heard the one about Corelli and Boris Christoff fighting a duel with swords on the stage of the Rome Opera? The cause was that Corelli had taken Loretta Di Lelio, who subsequently became his wife, away from Christoff. The two combatants were both wounded. Do you crave inside knowledge about Corelli repeatedly sending his wife to Italy so that he could keep his mistresses away from her eagle eye, or how far he and Mario Del Monaco went to jealously undermine each other’s career? No one who loves opera is immune from curiosity about its scandals, rivalries, and intrigues. Zucker satisfies this curiosity in abundance.
“Perhaps even more fascinating—and aimed higher—are the interviews with Corelli and other tenors, exposing their private opinions about a host of operatic subjects, including famous historical incidents. Corelli was intelligent and thoughtful, and being, for many, the prince among Italian tenors in his generation, he’s a credible witness to how opera looks from a conqueror’s vantage point.
“For example, regarding the starry recording of Gounod’s Faust that Decca made with him, Joan Sutherland, and Nicolai Ghiaurov: ‘Ghiaurov screamed and was only good in the laugh [of Méphistophélès], Sutherland hooted. I was the only one who truly sang, with a free voice and an expressive top. I threw away some recitatives, though, because I didn’t know them well enough.’ Each reader will have to sort out ego, expertise, professional rivalry, and sharp-eyed criticism, yet all are intriguing elements in the serious-ridiculous-inspiring art of opera.
“I can’t resist quoting a lengthy passage from a Corelli interview in Vol. 2 that centers on ‘the Rome walkout,’ a notorious incident in the career of Maria Callas at which Corelli was present. On January 2, 1958 Callas was starring in a gala performance of Norma at the Rome Opera, with the president of Italy and most of Rome’s social elite in attendance. When she walked out after the first act, a scandal ensued. Corelli was singing Pollione and he recounts the affair at first hand.
“Corelli: Callas was a little sick, and that didn’t permit her to sing at her best. Some in the audience heckled her. When she came offstage after Act I, she was completely calm, but then she began to stew and announced she was canceling. The management went to her, to push her to continue the performance. She became a lioness and began to scream. She threw some vases and a chair. Little by little she lost her voice. When she left the theater, however, she looked elegant, as if nothing had happened.
“Zucker: Are you suggesting that she could have continued the performance had she not started to scream?
“Corelli: Absolutely. She was in possession of a fabulous voice and an excellent technique. As late as 1958 she was always able to sing. She could have continued.
“Zucker is himself a tenor and hosted Opera Fanatic on WKCR-FM in New York for many years. Whether he is breaking down voice teaching into eight categories, interviewing illustrious tenors like Alfredo Kraus and Carlo Bergonzi (in Vol. 3), skewering three botched biographies of Corelli, or recounting, after interviews with over 100 singers how most handle the passaggio (the tricky break between the chest and head voice), Zucker has created three luscious page-turners.
“According to him, today’s tenors are restricted to one or two modes of vocal production—the art of ‘chiaroscuro,’ as Zucker calls it, died with Beniamino Gigli. But one could as easily mourn the era when opera singing was a blood sport and tenors bought into their stage image as romantic ideals.
“Corelli unblushingly declares, ‘People assume that in my old age I am hearing Verdi and Puccini in my mind’s ear. No! The music I am hearing and that keeps me going is the sound of Teresa Zylis-Gara having orgasms.’
“As in Vol. 1, these two later volumes are lavishly illustrated with lithographs and photos, totaling over 483 for the whole series. The paper is heavy and enameled. Having devoted years to this project and laying out tens of thousands of dollars to publish and illustrate the books, in the forewords Zucker asks for donations to Bel Canto Society. Considering the treasure trove contained between the covers of all three volumes, it should be any reader’s pleasure to comply.”
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