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The New Art Of The Singer
by [?]

It’s the law of life that nothing new can

come into the world without pain.

Karen Borneman.

The art of vocalization is retarding the progress of the modern music drama. That is the simple fact although, doubtless, you are as accustomed as I am to hearing it expressed a rebours. How many times have we read that the art of singing is in its decadence, that soon there would not be one artist left fitted to deliver vocal music in public. The Earl of Mount Edgcumbe wrote something of the sort in 1825 for he found the great Catalani but a sorry travesty of his early favourites, Pacchierotti and Banti. I protest against this misconception. Any one who asserts that there are laws which govern singing, physical, scientific laws, must pay court to other ears than mine. I have heard this same man for twenty years shouting in the market place that a piece without action was not a play (usually the drama he referred to had more real action than that which decorates the progress of Nellie, the Beautiful Cloak Model ), that a composition without melody (meaning something by Richard Wagner, Robert Franz, or even Edvard Grieg) was not music, that verse without rhyme was not poetry. This same type of brilliant mind will go on to aver (forgetting the Scot) that men who wear skirts are not men, (forgetting the Spaniards) that women who smoke cigars are not women, and to settle numberless other matters in so silly a manner that a ten year old, half-witted school boy, after three minutes light thinking, could be depended upon to do better.

The rules for the art of singing, laid down in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, have become obsolete. How could it be otherwise? They were contrived to fit a certain style of composition. We have but the briefest knowledge, indeed, of how people sang before 1700, although records exist praising the performances of Archilei and others. If a different standard for the criticism of vocalization existed before 1600 there is no reason why there should not after 1917. As a matter of fact, maugre much authoritative opinion to the contrary, a different standard does exist. In certain respects the new standard is taken for granted. We do not, for example, expect to hear male sopranos at the opera. The Earl of Mount Edgcumbe admired this artificial form of voice almost to the exclusion of all others. His favourite singer, indeed, Pacchierotti, was a male soprano. But other breaks have been made with tradition, breaks which are not yet taken for granted. When you find that all but one or two of the singers in every opera house in the world are ignoring the rules in some respect or other you may be certain, in spite of the protests of the professors, that the rules are dead. Their excuse has disappeared and they remain only as silly commandments made to fit an old religion. A singer in Handel’s day was accustomed to stand in one spot on the stage and sing; nothing else was required of him. He was not asked to walk about or to act; even expression in his singing was limited to pathos. The singers of this period, Nicolini, Senesino, Cuzzoni, Faustina, Caffarelli, Farinelli, Carestini, Gizziello, and Pacchierotti, devoted their study years to preparing their voices for the display of a certain definite kind of florid music. They had nothing else to learn. As a consequence they were expected to be particularly efficient. Porpora, Caffarelli’s teacher, is said to have spent six years on his pupil before he sent him forth to be “the greatest singer in the world.” Contemporary critics appear to have been highly pleased with the result but there is some excuse for H. T. Finck’s impatience, expressed in “Songs and Song Writers”: “The favourites of the eighteenth-century Italian audiences were artificial male sopranos, like Farinelli, who was frantically applauded for such circus tricks as beating a trumpeter in holding on to a note, or racing with an orchestra and getting ahead of it; or Caffarelli, who entertained his audiences by singing, in one breath, a chromatic chain of trills up and down two octaves. Caffarelli was a pupil of the famous vocal teacher Porpora, who wrote operas consisting chiefly of monotonous successions of florid arias resembling the music that is now written for flutes and violins.” All very well for the day, no doubt, but could Cuzzoni sing Isolde? Could Faustina sing Melisande? And what modern parts would be allotted to the Julian Eltinges of the Eighteenth Century?