Earlier today I posted about the current aesthetic trend of training the male voice into a darker, woofier place.
I think it’s important to qualify the earlier post with audio examples of lower male voices that are not overly darkened. Most of these male singers were active during the early to mid-20th century.
Things to listen for in these samples:
- Purity of intonation
- Clarity of vowels and intelligibility of text, especially the ‘ah’ vowel
- Dynamic contrast in piano and forte passages
- A brighter vocal sound balancing against a natural darkness of the timbre
- The relative youthfulness of their singing, despite the lower tessitura of their voices
Robert Weede sings “Il balen del suo sorriso” from Don Carlo (Spotify link)
John Charles Thomas
4 thoughts on “The ‘brighter’ lower male voice”
YES YES YES! The “bright” voice is what Garcia and friends meant when they used the term “timbre clair,” and much of the evidence shows that that timbre was the standard, the default… and that the timbre sombre was used only when it was appropriate to the mood or emotion being expressed *in a single given phrase*.
Many of the most amazing singers—male and female, in recordings and pre-recordings—had teachers who were in direct line with the OLD, old school Italian singing methods: those developed and refined by the castrati and the Neapolitans. That includes Garcia et fils, Marchesi, Sbriglia, Gaetano Nava, etc. It wouldn’t have occurred to the castrati or those methods to try to cultivate a dark, dull sound as a *full-time timbre* (the way Caruso and Ruffo did, which is why it became the vogue that it is today). Speaking of, I highly recommend this random book from 1987. The whole thing is super, super important, but the final chapter is the real clincher. Here’s a free PDF: http://bit.ly/1gxX4TB
Also, two ESSENTIAL audio examples of bright male low voices:
Polish bass Edouard de Reszke, brother of THE star tenor before Caruso, Jean de Reszke. Both of them had the same teacher—Pol Plançon’s teacher—Giovanni Sbriglia. Listen to this; he sounds like a cello! It’s unusual to modern ears, but when you sit it with a bit, you find it’s actually the *right* reading. Today basses sing it like this heavy, weighty thing when really Silva is deeply saddened and wounded *and* wistful *and* self-pitying, almost crying inside. He’s singing to himself, *inside* himself. And the portamenti de Reszke uses are heartbreaking; those are the tears themselves.
But the real, real king of this clear timbre is the king of baritones, Mattia Battistini. I don’t even want to say much about him, but damn he knocks your socks off. People are so unaccustomed to this way of singing that they often say “Oh, he’s a tenor, not a baritone” (the same way they say de Reszke was no bass). But listen to how he varies the timbre (and color) for particular phrases. You can hear what his voice would sound like if he tried to sing 100% in dark timbre like today’s singers. It’s precisely because he uses the clear timbre that he’s able to do all those incredibly precise series of swooping gruppetti and mordents in both a heroic and delicate manner. This is how I, as a baritone, want to sing:
I mean, gahhhhhhh isn’t that exciting? Almost superhuman… mostly because it is *SO* human!
Nick, I can’t thank you enough for the gift of your comments!