I have a question regarding technique, in this case the (almost) lost art of mezza voce. For all his brilliant top notes I think some of Jussi Björling’s most memorable moments are those in which he is able to sing a high note softly but with a full ravishing tone. No falsetto, no shallow head voice, but soft and shining at the same time. One example from many I could cite is the first act of Manon Lescaut when he introduces himself to Manon beginning at “Cortese …”. You may have already discussed this on your website but I’d appreciate your thoughts. Perhaps related, Jussi one time said something to the effect that when singing right it was as if his voice was several feet out side his body and he could “play” it as if it were a violin. Again, Mille gratzie!
These are good questions.
I haven’t talked specifically about mezza voce. But the determining factor for a good mezza voce is the same as for all aspects of good singing – wide range of pitch and dynamics, clear vowels, chiaroscuro – a proper relationship between the larynx and the breath. When these two elements of the voice are working together it allows the voice to do everything it is capable. It is much like a violin and the relationship between the string and the bow.
A very popular example of Jussi’s mezza voce is in Aida, during the 3rd act duet on the line “il ciel de’ nostri amori”. Below is the recording from YouTube. If you want to skip to the exact spot go to 1:58-2:16.
There is also some wonderful singing by Zinka Milanov as Aida.
The basic key is to not let the breath out as breath, but only as a natural part of the vibration of the vocal cords. Just like the violinist tries to not let the bow slip on the string but stay perfectly related to the vibration. This allows the singer to just do what they want. There isn’t any other “how” that needs to be known. Just the skill to keep the voice connected, or better “fused”, to the breath. It is a dynamic relationship, never static. Just like any physical skill we adjust the body as the circumstances require.
I think, as I have stated before in other posts, that the important thing is the state of the body. A general description would be “stretched”. This is where the positive influence of joyful/loving emotional states can be very beneficial. When we have a committed involvement to our singing from an emotional state of love our body will take an energized and stretched condition. It is this physical condition that mirrors the condition of a musical instrument.
I think the sensation you refer to as “being outside his body” is a result of no interfering tensions. The body then works in complete freedom from natural reflexes. When this happens there is nothing holding the feelings so it seems outside. The fact that there are no nerve endings in the vocal folds can cause a lot of confusion. But we can feel the resulting buzz of the vibration, and that is what people should be focusing on. Not the breath as is the widely-held opinion. The breath just forces the voice too big.
Feel free to comment or question below. Thanks.