Decibelomaniac…I had the pleasure of hearing Ms Bartoli in the greatest and most important halls in Europe, with – contrary to some US halls – marvelous acoustics. E.g. the Berlin Philharmonic with almost 3000 seats – she filled and coloured the air and brought to us the joy and energy of singing and life.No, no mikes… and she was clearly audible even as she sang toward the masses seated behind her… For more than 20 years now…and still going strong. Why is it that a singer who is able to sing and move in an unparalleled way and let us discover old and new rep is judged by the question if she is able to fill a hall ? What matters more – quality or quantity ?
I appreciate this anonymous comment because it shows someone who cares about good singing. But they have completely taken what I am saying backwards. My very point is that quality is more important than quantity. This applies to the breath as well. The modern singers I cited emphasize a quantity of breath over a quality use of the breath.
This comment specifically calls out my example of Cecilia Bartoli. I have included a video of my personal favorite example of her singing. The Vivaldi aria “Sposa, son di sprezzata”. I find it to be beautiful and very expressive. But it still shows the violations to natural function that I have been talking about.
In another part of the TV special this clip comes from (that can be found on YouTube) they interview her Mother, who is her teacher. They specifically discuss some technical concepts that she has taught to Cecilia. They main one of interest being the dropping of the larynx. She is of the opinion that we must deliberately lower the larynx before we sing and keep it there. This is a mis-interpretation of the instruction to have the larynx in a low position. The larynx should be lower than normal and it should definitely not be lifted. But the larynx taking a low position is a result of good function not a cause of it. When we manipulate the larynx into a low position it interferes with the instinctive behavior of the larynx. This means that the ability of the larynx to properly resist the breath pressure has been tampered with.
When we positively use the larynx the proper musculature gets activated to suspend and stabilize the larynx. Part of that action draws the larynx into a lower position. But it happens without our awareness. The important difference lies in the condition of the glottal closure. When done consciously the lowered larynx impairs the natural closure of the glottis. When the larynx behaves instinctively the glottis closes naturally and the larynx descends as part of the function and not by conscious choice.
The same kind of thing happens with the breath. When we allow the body to behave naturally the proper action of the breath happens as a part of the function and not by a conscious action of the breath.
This comment also illustrates what I was trying to say in my last post. A singer doesn’t need to be functionally perfect to move an audience artistically, as this individual was by Cecilia Bartoli. Her personality is a very strong force of expression and communication. That is what makes her a great artist. And often great artists not only succeed in spite of their deficiencies, their deficiencies eventually help to define their greatness. (i.e. Maria Callas)
One last response from me to this comment. First, I’m confused by the salutation of “Decibelomaniac”. Is that supposed to be me? I wonder because this individual also brings up the point of being “able to fill a hall”. Like they believe I am saying good singing should be loud. And this is what I meant at the beginning about this person getting what I’m saying completely backwards. I am always emphasizing that we shouldn’t be trying to sing big with lots of breath escaping. I said a balanced voice is more audible in a hall. I said nothing of filling a hall. Filling a hall with sound will result in oversinging, at least if that is the intention. Good balance in the function makes it so we don’t need to oversing to be heard. The clarity of the tone makes it easy to be heard acoustically. Notice I used Bidu Sayao as an example. This was a pretty small voice. She couldn’t try to be heard by singing loudly. She was able to be heard by the clarity of tone that resulted from the efficient function of her voice. My whole point was to emphasize quality of tone over quantity of tone.
The fact that many people have complained that it is hard to hear Bartoli, with the exception of this commenter, is the point I was trying to make. She over-darkens her tone with the unvocalized breath that escapes so the tone loses the clarity that would make it sound right next to every listener. This doesn’t necessarily detract from her wonderful ability to be expressive with her voice. She may be a great artist. But again, she is not a good example of function.