Keyword Press

Vocal Traditions in Conflict

This book reports on the conclusions of twenty years’ research into styles of singing. The author identifies a huge chasm between classical singing from 1650 to 1830 – the ‘Golden Age of Italian singing’, led by legendary castrati such as Giovanni Francesco Grossi (‘Siface’) and Carlo Broschi (‘Farinelli’) – and today’s opera-house style, which has ruled unchallenged for a century now but which is utterly inappropriate for all vocal music from Purcell to Rossini.

Huge advances in historically informed performance have been made in the last sixty years; instrument making and performance have advanced by leaps and bounds, but classical singing has remained stuck in a time-warp. As a result, none of us today can hear an opera by Handel or Mozart sung in a style that their contemporaries would have applauded.

The copious, detailed evidence presented in this book shows that the best long-eighteenth-century vocalists sang in straight voice, with occasional expressive vibrato and messa di voce, produced low notes firmly and high notes softly (partly by ascending regularly into falsetto), adopted high or neutral larynx positions, achieved good diction (by adopting a slightly smiling mouth shape) and delivered polished cadential trills. By contrast, most of today’s operatically trained singers emit a permanent wide vibrato, screech or bellow high notes (always in chest voice, except for specialist falsettists), adopt a plummy low larynx position, sing with wide open mouths (as Mancini noted, opening a ‘small furnace in the mouth’) thus impairing diction, seldom use the messa di voce and are mostly incapable of delivering a proper trill.

Fortunately, there is light at the end of the tunnel. A handful of classical vocalists and some pop- and jazz-trained singers have avoided the traditional opera-house sound and are producing the sweet, clear, pure and affecting music praised in the past. The author points to examples which can be found on the internet via Youtube and Spotify.

Published by Peacock Press. Softback, 398 pages.
ISBN 978–1–912271–49–8