The bel canto period of opera offers a wonderful experience for people who love the honesty and fragility of the human singing voice. There are many interesting attributes to how opera was produced during this golden age of opera. But the singing from the period was the most important element in producing and certainly composing opera.
In this episode I’m featuring parts of an interview including soprano Joan Sutherland, mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne, tenor Luciano Pavarotti, lead by conductor Richard Bonynge. They are a powerhouse quartet of bel canto. The first time I worked with Maestro Bonynge he told me of this interview, and I listened to it dozens of times before assisting him on a bel canto opera. The quartet discusses the elements of the bel canto technique, and offers immediate examples through the discussion.
Maestro Bonynge refers to the infamous castrati. This is a very uncomfortable but fascinating topic. The point to reference it is because the sound the male voice makes when denied hormones influenced the defining aesthetic quality of sound from this time period. Without giving you the gory details, of which there are many, I HIGHLY recommend you watch a fascinating BBC film called CASTRATO. On YouTube the documentary is broken into six parts. Here is a link to the first part, from which you can easily find the remaining five.
One interesting concept introduced by Luciano, is the strict influence his father had on his training. Marilyn had a similar experience with her father. And Joan’s mother was her primary teacher for quite a while. I hear this often from great singers. Not just the support every artist needs from home, but a true hands-on approach from parents in the training of singers.
What is particularly interesting to me about this genealogy, is that in the day of the castrati through the bel canto period, and even in the great choir schools of today, the training for young singers is almost a full-time job. The training includes/included several hours of singing with a voice teacher, and hours of musical study on theory and keyboard, among other elements.
Another fascinating documentary talks about the rise of mezzo-soprano Cecelia Bartoli who is an ideal example of a true bel canto artist. In this documentary there is film footage of her daily voice lessons with her mother. I love finding consistencies among many great artists. Here is a link to this look into Ms. Bartoli’s work.
If you would like to see the video of the interview we’ve featured in this episode of AMPED UP, featuring this historic quartet of bel canto wisdom and talent, you can find the first of two clips through this link on YouTube.
At the beginning of the episode you hear ‘Ah non giunge’ from LA SONNAMBULA by Bellini. This recording shows Ms. Sutherland at her best. Here is a link to find it on iTunes.
The episode closes with Ms. Horne singing ‘Cruda Sorte’ from L’ITALIANA IN ALGIERI by Rossini. The ease with which she navigates these difficult passages has always impressed me. What a gift she is! Here is a link to this recording on iTunes.