Chiara & Giacomini in Concert

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Nabucco (overture), Adriana (2 selections), Tosca (2 selections), Otello (duet), Cavalleria (intermezzo), Fanciulla, Wally, Gioconda, Mefistofele. Enrico De Mori, cond; Orch. dei Teatri di Padova e Treviso. Stereo. (Modena, 1994). 65m. Color.
PAL VHS only (please verify)

Around 1930 a Russian voice teacher taught Italian voice teacher Arturo Melocchi a singing method that involved lowering the larynx. Melocchi taught this method to Mario Del Monaco. The resulting sound was loud, brassy and penetrating, more suited to emphatic climaxes than sweet caresses. At its worst the lowered-larynx technique yields thick, coarse, burly, leathery, monochromatic tones that not infrequently are sharp in pitch and voices that sound old before their time. It’s hard to imagine singers with this method modulating dynamics, like Tamagno, sounding dreamy, like Anselmi, or floating pianissimos, like Gigli. (Corelli, a Melocchi student, modified the “laryngeal” method, enabling himself to caress certain passages and make diminuendos.)

For some years Del Monaco was rejected, but at length he emerged as Italy’s premier dramatic tenor. His brother, Marcello Del Monaco, also studied with Melocchi and then taught a number of tenors who came to dominate the Italian operatic scene from the 60s onward: Limarilli, Cecchele, Merighi, Sebastian, Murgu, Martinucci and Giacomini, among them. Although more men than women have successfully used the technique, another Marcello Del Monaco pupil, Alain Billiard, taught mezzo-soprano Sonia Ganassi. (In the U.S. a somewhat parallel method was pioneered in the 20s and 30s by teacher Douglas Stanley and today is continued by, among others, Thomas Lo Monaco.) For better or worse, laryngeal methods are changing the world’s view of what singers, tenors in particular, should sound like, at least in Verdi and verismo.

From the 1770s until the beginning of the 20th century, many singers “placed” their voices at the top of their heads, at a point between but above the ears. This was edged aside by placements at various points between the forehead and the upper teeth, so-called “masque” placement. Masque placement is now being edged aside by laryngeal techniques, which have nothing to do with placement. Each of these approaches yields characteristically different sounds. (I’ll contrast examples of the first two approaches, recorded from the early 1900s onward, on a forthcoming CD. For comparisons of the eight fundamentally different vocal techniques, see Opera Fanatic magazine, Issue 2, pp. 10-11. The magazine is available here.).

Of the post-Del Monaco, post-Corelli Italian dramatic tenors, none is more prominent than Giacomini, heard here in good voice, his tones bronzed, his breath span enabling him to encompass in one breath phrases others sing in two or three (this despite the fact that he has food in his belly, from what I can sense from this tape). True to the breed, his sounds are not sweet, romantic or poetic but ringing and brilliant. Unlike some of the “laryngists,” he is seldom throaty. He sings some blazing B-flats, and he even makes a diminuendo on the G of “paradiso,” in the Otello duet. If you want to experience an expert practitioner demonstrating the method on a tape with stereo sound, here’s your opportunity. (The video, shot with a single camera, is in lovely quality.).

Chiara sings with feeling, with mature, darkened tones.–Stefan Zucker