Voice and singing: when the musical instrument is within ourselves
7 April 2017
Paolo Corsi (30 articles)
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Voice and singing: when the musical instrument is within ourselves

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The most fascinating “musical instrument” finds its glorification in Opera.

Opera is possibly the most complete type of performance. The combination of music, acting and often dancing makes it a multidisciplinary artistic event. The success of such an event depends both on the high quality of each performance and the ability to harmonize them. However, truth be told, when one thinks about Opera the first thing that comes to mind is the singing.
This doesn’t mean that the other elements of the shows are less important. However, one is more likely to get over a badly organised conduction, an insignificant direction and horrible scenography and costumes rather than forgiving singing that doesn’t meet high standards.

After all, Opera comes from the word itself that is expressed through voice and from the idea that values it through music. The concept of “recitar cantando” which means “acting through singing” was introduced in order to stimulate one’s imagination with the context of the text, and to seduce one’s hearing with its shape. This concept can still be considered as valid if we believe it is correct to state that singing is related to speaking just as dancing is related to walking. As a result, after a few decays and countless evolutions, Opera remains indissolubly tied and subject to the human voice.

The reason why this unique “instrument” fascinates us so much is quite obvious. Without having to mention Plato (“The voice is the fire of the soul”), we can state that we love such an instrument because… the instrument is nothing more than ourselves! Nobody knows their own instrument more than oneself. However, we do not know our voice at all, at least not as well as the others know it; the reason being that our point of hearing is within our body, and what we hear from there is different from what others hear from the outside. In fact, when we listen to our recorded voice (that usually we can’t bare to listen to) we sometimes fail to recognise it.

This is why it is so difficult to teach singing. Teacher and student have to find common grounds for the same phenome, despite it being perceived differently. Furthermore, they have to find a common understanding for their indications and corrections.

There isn’t a universal and flawless method to learn, or, to be more precise, to learn once again what by nature we are prearranged to do, but that unfortunately we have forgotten. When a new-born is hungry, he could “sing” for hours without compromising his voice. His technique is perfect: he breathes through the diaphragm and sends out the voice through the nasal cavity, obtaining the maximum result with minimum effort. Those who have children would know. However, growing up, we expectably forget this mechanism, acquiring several bad habits. As a result, we don’t know how to use our voice properly any more. Several singing books try to teach us how to sing, with the presumption of codifying something that cannot be codified. As Nanda Mari would say, nothing is more useless than a singing book- and she has written a lot on the matter-.

Fortunately, there have always been good singers, and it’s always been a pleasure to listen to them. We don’t need to know about their talent beforehand, when someone begins to sing, they always catch someone’s attention, independently from the end result. Why? A part from a few exceptions, everyone can sing, and they can even sing opera. The key is to know the melody and the words, and the die is cast, without having to have studied the piece. From a quality point of view, the result may be disastrous, but on this basis, anyone could start to sing a piece of opera from the beginning to the end.

Such theory doesn’t apply to musical instruments: if one hasn’t studied, one can’t perform the score. End of story. This may be the reason why when it comes to singing, everyone thinks to be a bit of an expert. As laymen, we avoid judging a piano performance, however, we don’t hesitate to say if we liked a singer or not, despite lacking in knowledge in the subject. On the other hand, we admire without reserve those who are able to take the challenge, as we can easily imagine the emotional impact that this entails. Everyone knows how much emotion effects the voice more than anything else. It can make it tremble, disappear or come out as hesitant towards the public.

Nothing more than the voice is so incredibly affected by one’s emotional state. When in front of an audience, the singer not only shows his technical ability in using this unique instrument, but he also exposes a very intimate aspect of himself. This scares us and fascinates and attracts us all at the same time. This is because every voice is unique, just as every person is, and it is in this uniqueness that lies the secret of the charm of human voice. Each live performance is an event that can’t be reproduced a second time, and maybe it’s for this reason that Opera is the type of performance has kept people in love with it for the last four centuries. It is in fact a huge show at the complete service of the singer’s voices. For this reason, its descent still appears to be far from happening, despite the ongoing economic problem caused by the lack of money that affects culture and the arts.

Paolo Corsi
Translated by Francesca Dunning

 Top photo, Mario del Monaco, Arena 1955, Otello (Photo Bisazza, Fondazione Arena)

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Paolo Corsi

Paolo Corsi

Paolo Corsi è nato a Verona e vive in provincia di Trento. È attore, autore e critico teatrale. Da sempre appassionato d'opera, ha studiato canto e si è esibito come solista e in varie formazioni corali, partecipando come corista ad alcuni allestimenti di opere di Verdi, Rossini e Mozart. www.paolocorsi.it - posta@paolocorsi.it