Books

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Alto: The Voice of Bel Canto – 

Everyone is familiar with the words diva or prima donna, which have come to mean a (usually) outrageous operatic soprano, but there was a time when the star of the show was more often a contralto, or a soprano singing in today’s mezzo-soprano range. This performer was referred to as an alto. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the male and female leading roles were likely to be sung by emasculated males, the alto castrati, although there were many great female altos during this period as well. The music for these fantastic artists, written by such composers as Porpora, Vinci, Hasse, and even Handel, has been largely forgotten. At the beginning of the 19th century, as the castrati died out, their roles were often assumed by female altos referred to as musici. New repertoire continued to be written for them by Rossini and others, but gradually, this musical tradition and technique was lost. Now, however, because
of the talent and industry of such gifted artists as Marilyn Horne, Cecilia Bartoli, and Joyce DiDonato, and the sudden ease with which the performance of these forgotten works can be obtained, there is a resurgence of interest in the performance and preservation of this lost art.

Alto: The Voice of Bel Canto examines the careers of nearly 320 great alto singers, including the great castrati,from the dawn of opera in 1597 to the present. The music of the composers who wrote for the alto voice is discussed along with musical examples and suggestions for listening. The exploration of the greatest altos’ careers and techniques offers inspiration for aspiring young singers as well as absorbing reading for the music lover who wants to know more about the fascinating world of opera.

 Giovanni Battista Rubini and the Bel Canto Tenors – 

Giovanni Battista Rubini and the Bel Canto TeorsGiovanni Battista Rubini (1794–1854) was a legendary tenor and the first 19th-century non-castrati male singer to become an international star of opera. The previous two centuries had been the era of the castrati, with tenors and basses relegated to character and supporting roles in the operas of their time. Rubini stood apart because he not only matched the castrati in coloratura and pathos, but he also had an extraordinarily high voice. With Rubini’s rise, and in his wake, several tenors came to sing roles written specifically for them by Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, and many other lesser-known bel canto composers. Signaling the end of the dominance of castrati on stage, this period would last some forty years until the advent of grand opera, Wagner, and Verdi and the appearance of the first so-called High C from the chest by Gilbert-Louis Duprez in 1837. Since then, the accepted tenor sound has followed the tradition epitomized by Enrico Caruso and, in our own era, Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo.

Many composers, conductors, and performers would come to regard bel canto dramatic operas as decorative and vapid until Maria Callas and Tulio Serafin demonstrated the heights this genre of opera could reach. However, opera directors and opera performers of late who have expressed an interest in reviving selected masterpieces from the bel canto tradition have found themselves confronted with the problem of locating tenors versed in the vocal techniques necessary to carry the high tessituras. In Giovanni Battista Rubini and the Bel Canto Tenors: History and Technique, Dan H. Marek explores the extraordinary life of Rubini in order to frame this special period in the history of opera and connect the technique of the castrati who were among Rubini’s instructors. Drawing on the work of Berton Coffin, Marek offers long-sought answers to the challenges presented by high tessitura of bel canto operas for tenors. To further assist working singers, Giovanni Battista Rubini and the Bel Canto Tenors includes over sixty pages of exercises written by Rubini himself before 1840, which Marek, for the first time ever, has adapted to acoustical phonetics.

Professional singers, teachers and their students, vocal coaches, and opera conductors will find this work indispensable as the only English-language work on high tessitura for tenor and soprano singing.

Singing: The First Art – 

Singing: The First ArtThe Italian singing technique Bel Canto instructs, “He who knows how to breathe and how to pronounce, knows how to sing.” Singing: The First Art incorporates the techniques of Bel Canto along with those of masters like Berton Coffin and Manuel Garcia to promote and facilitate vocal excellence. Many concepts are described, from correct posture and alignment to improving and maintaining proper breathing, from good pronunciation and diction to producing an even, pure tone, and from vocal ranges to singing within and smoothly shifting between vocal registers. Mannes Vocal Faculty member Dan H. Marek effectively breaks down these complicated concepts with clear exercises, helping the vocal student to achieve freedom and complete control over his or her instrument. A primary section on the history of singing stresses the importance of understanding vocal history while inspiring and motivating the student through the experiences of opera stars such as Enrico Caruso, Maria Callas, and Jussi Björling. The second section explains vocal techniques, including the use and proper pronunciation of the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet), and provides 64 specific exercises with clearly defined goals designed to overcome faults and to develop vocal virtuosity. Complete instructions for transposing the exercises for both male and female voices are included, as well as drawings of the exercises, musical examples from vocal literature, excellent anatomical illustrations by Frank Netter, MD, and copious photographs of opera stars. Singing: The First Art is an invaluable text for students, professionals, singers, conductors, composers, and vocal medical professionals, or anyone interested in understanding and appreciating the vocal art.