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The New Art Of The Singer
by [?]

Will any composer arise with the courage to write an opera which cannot be sung? Stravinsky almost did this in The Nightingale but the break must be more complete. Think of the range of sounds made by the Japanese, the gipsy, the Chinese, the Spanish folk-singers. The newest composer may ask for shrieks, squeaks, groans, screams, a thousand delicate shades of guttural and falsetto vocal tones from his interpreters. Why should the gamut of expression on our opera stage be so much more limited than it is in our music halls? Why should the Hottentots be able to make so many delightful noises that we are incapable of producing? Composers up to date have taken into account a singer’s apparent inability to bridge difficult intervals. It is only by ignoring all such limitations that the new music will definitely emerge, the new art of the singer be born. What marvellous effects might be achieved by skipping from octave to octave in the human voice! When will the obfusc pundits stop shouting for what Avery Hopwood calls “ascending and descending tetrarchs!”

But, some one will argue, with the passing of bel canto what will become of the operas of Mozart, Bellini, Rossini, and Donizetti? Who will sing them? Fear not, lover of the golden age of song, bel canto is not passing as swiftly as that. Singers will continue to be born into this world who are able to cope with the floridity of this music, for they are born, not made. Amelita Galli-Curci will have her successors, just as Adelina Patti had hers. Singers of this kind begin to sing naturally in their infancy and they continue to sing, just sing…. One touch of drama or emotion and their voices disappear. Remember Nellie Melba’s sad experience with Siegfried. The great Mario had scarcely studied singing (one authority says that he had taken a few lessons of Meyerbeer!) when he made his debut in Robert, le Diable and there is no evidence that he studied very much afterwards. Melba, herself, spent less than a year with Mme. Marchesi in preparation for her opera career. Mme. Galli-Curci asserts that she has had very little to do with professors and I do not think Mme. Tetrazzini passed her youth in mastering vocalizzi. As a matter of fact she studied singing only six months. Adelina Patti told Dr. Hanslick that she had sung Una voce poco fa at the age of seven with the same embellishments which she used later when she appeared in the opera in which the air occurs. No, these singers are freaks of nature like tortoise-shell cats and like those rare felines they are usually females of late, although such singers as Battistini and Bonci remind us that men once sang with as much agility as women. But when this type of singer finally becomes extinct naturally the operas which depend on it will disappear too for the same reason that the works of Monteverde and Handel have dropped out of the repertory, that the Greek tragedies and the Elizabethan interludes are no longer current on our stage. None of our actors understands the style of Chinese plays; consequently it would be impossible to present one of them in our theatre. As Deirdre says in Synge’s great play, “It’s a heartbreak to the wise that it’s for a short space we have the same things only.” We cannot, indeed, have everything. No one doubts that the plays of AEschylus, Euripides, and Sophocles are great dramas; the operas I have just referred to can also be admired in the closet and probably they will be. Even today no more than two works of Rossini, the most popular composer of the early Nineteenth Century, are to be heard. What has become of Semiramide, La Cenerentola, and the others? There are no singers to sing them and so they have been dropped from the repertory without being missed. Can any of our young misses hum Di Tanti Palpiti ? You know they cannot. I doubt if you can find two girls in New York (and I mean girls with a musical education) who can tell you in what opera the air belongs and yet in the early Twenties this tune was as popular as Un Bel Di is today.