I get a lot of requests for examples of singers doing the things I talk about. So I came across a singer that makes a good example. The Brazilian soprano Bidu Sayao was active from the mid-1930s until the mid-1950s. Her voice was essentially a light-lyric soprano, although she did perform some full-lyric roles. On some of her recordings I personally find her voice a little white in color at times. But in this selection her resonance is well-balanced and is a great example of clarity in the voice.

While listening to this selection, notice the lack of audible breath in the tone. It is pure. Even if you don’t understand Italian the words are intelligible.

Now compare this to some of the most famous sopranos of today. Let’s start with Renee Fleming.

The first thing I notice is the large amount of excess breath in the tone. Some hear that as a “lush” quality that adds to the beauty of the tone. I hear it as an artificial quality. And it makes the words seem “mushy” and hard to understand. This is a big part of the reason even English in opera is hard to understand.

Now let’s hear Anna Netrabko.

Similar quality to Renee Fleming. The singing is beautiful, but I am focusing on function. Some may question what does it matter. If the singing is beautiful why does function matter? The answer is vocal health and longevity. Any muscle that is habitually asked to act in a relaxed manner gradually breaks down. These modern singers are functioning with a relaxed glottal adjustment. This is what allows excess breath to escape while phonating. Now the answer to a relaxed condition is not to be tight. It is like anything with the body, there should be elastic muscular action. Now lax and not rigid. Balanced. The problem here lies in the fact that it is an unbalanced condition.

Another aspect to consider is acoustically Bidu Sayao would be more audible in the hall, especially in quiet passages, than her modern counterparts. This has to do with the purity of the vibration. The sound waves will travel farther than the diluted ones of Fleming and Netrebko.

Use the comment section below to contribute your reactions to comparing these different singer. Thanks.