People often wonder what is meant by the Swedish/Italian School that we talk about. First, when we speak of schools of singing we mean a school of thought. An approach to the training of the voice that is associated with the practices of a certain group. For the most part these associations have followed national characteristics. The Italian school, German, French, Russian, English. The characteristic qualities of each school tend to follow tendencies found in the languages. The English school is characterized by a white “mouthy” quality. The French by a light nasal quality. The German by a heavier, guttural quality. And the Italian by open throated round vowels and vibrancy giving a bright and dark quality.
Now these are obviously generalities and don’t necessarily imply that everyone from that country sings in the manner of that school. They are more tools for comparison. Generally the ideal approach is considered the Italian School. This is often referred to as the International Standard. Richard Miller wrote an informative book on the topic.
So this brings us back to the Swedish/Italian School. In the early 20th century in Stockholm, Sweden where the Royal Opera is, there were proponents of the Italian School and the French School. The main teacher there of the Italian approach was Dr. Gillis Bratt. He taught many singers for the Royal Opera that were of International quality. Most famous of his students was Kirsten Flagstad. He also taught the Scottish tenor Joseph Hislop. Hislop had a world famous career, rivaling John McCormack. Now he is probably more famous for his work as a voice teacher with Jussi Bjorling in the mid-30s. He taught in Stockholm from 1934 until 1944 when he moved back to the British Isles. During this time he also taught Birgit Nilsson. She has very little positive to say about the experience. But the Swedish-American Allan Lindquest went to Stockholm in 1938 for 10 months and studied with Hislop. He rebuilt his voice after losing it from illness and learned the principles of the Swedish/Italian School.
Now, what are the characteristics of the Swedish/Italian School. Dr. Bratt had studied with teachers who were students of Garcia and Lamperti in Italy. He brought what he learned back to Sweden and combined it with what the Swedes had naturally, a wonderfully vocal language. So this school is built on the principles of the Italian school, being an upwardly stretched and buoyant “noble” posture, a joyful exuberance for the act of singing, clear vibration of the vocal folds and open throated resonance. This was combined with the vocally advantageous “mixed” vowels of the Swedish language. These mixed vowels take the weight off the voice and give a wonderful heady resonance that adds beauty and “ring” to the voice. This characteristic is what gives the “silvery” quality so often attributed to Jussi Bjorling.
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