Sunday, January 07, 2007

Bel Canto

Bel Canto simply means beautiful singing, and a concept often associated with late 18th and early 19th century Italian vocal music. Although the term and practice originated in Italy (as did most things musical), it has to do not only with a period and nationality, but to a particular approach to vocal technique as applied to particularly melodic music performed in a relatively intimate setting. Although the style is especially suited to the nature of the Italian language, it has been easily adapted to other languages and musical styles. Simply put, it involves singing in a natural, unforced way, with the emphasis placed on clear, flowing vowels, minimally interrupted by consonants in order to produce a smooth, legato line and clarity of text--a tall order and not as simple as it may seem. There are several modern examples of this practice among singers from differing nationalities. An obvious Italian one would be Carlo Bergonzi, a Spanish one--Monserrat Caballe, a German one--Hans Hotter (in fact, as a teacher, he instructed his students to sing as if they were Italian, no matter what the actual language), a Russian one (Bulgarian to be precise)--Boris Christoff. These singers all have one thing in common--they sing in the manner described above. I could site other examples from the more distant past, when such singing was very much the norm as copared to the present, but this is a start. There is,of course, more to it than I have mentioned, but this is the easily recognizable basis. I know I am opening a can of worms as a result of my viewpoint, but this is OK. It makes for a fun discussion.

Nice basic explanation. I would only add that there a host of practices thatrequire a finly trained instrument. I would mention the tapering of thephrases at both ends, etc. and the use of ornamentation that was requiredlearning for lll singers, trained in composition in the old days.J B Faure in his manual has long essays on various aspects of the art,Garcia thoroughly covered it as well in his manual.Nourrit was a belcanto singer, as was Kraus, Rocky Blake, Sutherland, andone of my favorites of all time, Zara Doluchanova, as well as Chaliapin,Schipa, Gigli, and so on.

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