It was announced last week that Rolando Villazon will have surgery to remove a cyst from his vocal cords. This is sad news, indeed. But we went over this a month or two back. There really is no such thing as singing too much, the problem comes from not being functionally capable of singing as much as you choose to do. Jussi Bjorling sang often, sometimes on consecutive nights, but he had the functional capacity to handle it. Villazon has such poor coordination of his voice that any amount of singing will be too much for the instrument to handle. Just saying that he sang too much, or worse the wrong repertoire, is just a cop-out. Saying that problems come from singing too often without enough rest implies that singing in itself is injurious. Granted, the way it is being done it very often is. But that is not how it should be. Good functional singing is therapeutic to the voice. It builds up rather than tears down. This latest event in the saga of Villazon is just the medical outcome that proves my point that he has been abusing his voice for years. He is an exciting performer, and audiences love that. But sometimes that adulation can blind you to what is the right thing to do. Just because it makes an impressive effect doesn’t make it a good thing to do. We can learn that from observing the career of Giuseppe Di Stefano. Actors step over that line all the time now with realistic acting, but singers can’t afford to let the emotion go past that point where the voice is still under control. Both Villazon and Di Stefano suffer from the effects of singing without a balanced resonance to naturally amplify the tone so they don’t have to sing loud all of the time. Jussi had great resonance balance so even though the tone seemed loud, he didn’t have to work hard vocally by singing loud. It is called vocal efficiency. Without it the voice breaks down. I don’t expect him to completely recover. A loss for opera lovers.
More Bad News for Rolando Villazon
by Michael Mayer | May 4, 2009 | Uncategorized | 7 comments
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What really surprises me is that no-one has the authority or influence to tell these singers that what they are doing is wrong or dangerous and will damage them. After all, if commentators like yourself and many other excellent assessors (see eg the piece at http://www.classicalsource.com/db_control/db_cd_review.php?id=6074)are publicly aware of the problem it is, frankly, amazing that such singers do not stop to consider the damage they might be doing. Do you think this is just due to the egos of such artists who are blind to honest criticism, or is it because in opera there is, unfortunately, a lot of fawning born of ignorance about the art- form or a desire for greater and greater emotional 'thrills' in this sensationalist age? From my time as a singer I know that hardly ever will anyone tell you the truth after a performance – hence the cliche, much laughed about, but hiding something more worrying, of 'you were WONDERFUL, dahling'!
On a related note, the comments above about Corelli etc again show a complete lack of understanding of voices. Corelli could sing the way he did because his instrument was that of a natural heroic tenor. In his way he say beautifully and efficiently and this led to excellent singing of its type. Villazon can never sing like that as, even at maximum efficiency, his voice will not naturally make those sounds. It's strange because in sport (say soccer) people have a natural understanding that a defender will generally have different skills and even a different body type to a typical midfielder and a typical soccer crowd will not blame a player for playing poorly if he is played 'out of position', but a surprisiingly large number of people appear unable to make similar connections in opera, and expect a 'tenor' to sing everything from Bach to Schubert and from Bellini to Wagner with equal success and with equal ease.
Thank you for your comments. I agree completely with your assessment. You have stated it very clearly and accurately. Thank you.
I've just read your comments on Villazon after checking him out on youtube – he is doing a dreadful, cheesy,'pop opera' show here in the Uk at the moment, and I did not know him before.
I think what you say is spot on. On his Boheme on you tube, he is clearly over singing and, just like Di Stefano, does not turn his voice enough at the top – the surest way to do long term damage. And you can hear in Una Furtiva on youtube, from about the same period, that he sings that piece much better because it suits his voice perfectly and Donizetti writes so that it is almost (almost!) impossible to oversing that aria if your voice is right for the piece, as Villazon's is. (Those guys of the 19th century KNEW about voices and knew which types of voice should sing which arias and how to sing them.)
Villazon is a lyric tenor (we can argue about the exact nomenclature, but he is not a tenore di grazia, nor a heroic tenor) and should only sing the lightest Verdi roles and be very careful in how he approaches Puccini.
In sum, if his voice is not permanently wrecked he needs to go back to the light rep ONLY and sing, carefully managing the voice around and above the passagio and not oversinging in chest.
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I'm not a real fan of Villazon, but I know that he has many admirers. Notwithstanding your constant example of Bjorling (whom I admire), you seem to forget that there have been many singers willing to throw caution to the wind to produce the sound they envision for themselves. Corelli is one example, as well as del Monaco.
Had these more dramatic singers been such "careful" tenors as Jussi, Kraus and Gedda, we would not be able to enjoy the thrilling performances that remain after they have departed this world.
Jerome Hines, with whom I studied for quite a while, introduced me to Corelli on a number of occasions. Whatever problems the man had both vocally and personally, he is a legend and we are richer for his sacrifice and his struggles.
Now, I don't advocate deliberately destroying your voice, but these darker, more exciting tenor voices are at considerably more risk than the prettier and arguably more bland variety to which you seem to aspire.
Now, there is much to be said of Bjorling's balanced singing, and he was a giant in his time. But if a singer such as Villazon is willing to give his all and then some, but has a shorter career for it, who are we to complain?
It is sad that operatic singers mistake the craft of singing for the more popular form of self-expression which is pop music. In Opera, the singer must train his vocal function into an instrument, whereas in pop music, the performer is basically expressing himself, through sound. The operatic preformer must never, while performing, stand in the way of the composers wish. This can be expressed in other ways to clarify: The singer must not FEEL the emotions that the music is already expressing. The singers job is to allow the instrument, his/her voice, to be totally unaffected by emotions, i.e "sound effects", because that will cause damage to the vocal membranes. Emotional actions inside the throat causes cramps and puts the voice in a very sensitive state. If a sinegr is at the same time using a strong appoggio, effective for operativ singing, the voice is slowly destroyed.
The only way to protect the vocal instrument while using a classic "appoggio" is to be cool and controlled, and not tense and emotional.
The music is upposed to acheive the emotions, not the singers inside. And the voice is not supposed to "demonstrate" the emotions of the singer, it must "communicate", which is done by technique, not by "demonstration" of your own inner emotions.
You can clarify this by allowing someone to stand on stage and try to conjure up the emotions af extreme sadness. This causes small cramps in the throat, tightness in teh chest and the tear canals well up. All this is detrimental to singing, but by no means effetive as a way of communicating sorrow to 2500 people, some of them 100 meters away, and often times across the sound barrier of 90 instruments or more. To demonstrate this emotion by shouting out "i'm sooo saaaad" is just hysterical. It requires extreme control to make it effective.