For those of you who don’t know (or didn’t notice!), after a year of writing every week on the dot, I stopped writing for the last three months. Sure, I’ve had plenty of excuses: moving to a new country, living out of a hotel room for four weeks, being in a small town with no internet café, etc etc, and I must say I quite like living off the grid, but I’ve also missed singing and WRITING about singing!
In the meantime, I’ve been collecting a good number of stories, everything from a spontaneous performance at La Scala (for the tourists in the museum, that is!) to the weeks I spent practicing in a highway underpass, since our hotel room was too small. Today, however, I want to share with you a more recent story, about how I joiked, and how it got me into trouble. Continue reading →
While we have to use a mixture of imagination, texts, and creative research to reconstruct the singing practices of past centuries, early gramophone recordings give us a priceless peek into some truly splendid voices of the romantic period. Their ability to shine through the hissing and sputtering of the limited recording techniques that captured them is a testament to their power and beauty.
In fact, recordings didn’t benefit from microphones and amplifiers until 1925, which means the examples below were recorded acoustically, with the singers’ faces right up against the gramophone’s horn. As such, the more subtle sounds and higher frequencies were lost, meaning the singers’ actual voices probably had even more finesse and brilliance than these recorded mementos demonstrate. And since it took quite a bit of sound energy to vibrate the primitive recording diaphragm, singers with more powerful voices (most notably, Caruso) were the most successful recording artists of their day. Continue reading →
Since starting this blog in September of 2012, I have never missed a posting, until this week, when the Weekly Warbler temporarily became the Biweekly Warbler. It wasn’t for want of words to share, but rather because I spent the last two weeks traipsing around the cold, dreary streets of London (“to show you something that’ll make you change your mind…”). Actually, I was planning on pulling out my laptop and settling down in an internet café at some point, but then was seduced by the shelves of London’s many illustrious antiquarian bookshops. My favorite discovery, a gold and blue tome, was simply called “Great Singers”, written by Anna Comtesse de Bremont in 1892. Its purchase was made even more thrilling by the fact I had to climb and balance on a real old-fashioned library ladder to access it!
“Great Singers” records the high and low points of 18 colorful opera singers’ careers, ranging from 1770-1877, all of whom were stars in their time and legends after, inspiring roles and a whole host of questionable anecdotes. Some chapters read like hagiographies, others like columns of a gossip magazine. As the phonograph wasn’t invented until 1877, the mystery and glamor of their popularity is intensified by the absence of actual sound recordings.
So how to embalm in words the ethereal beauty of a great voice? Here are a few of Bremont’s more admirable attempts: Continue reading →