High Notes Aren’t Necessarily ‘Chest’ Tones

Pietro Mongini

The Italian tenor Mongini, creator of the role of Radames, and a noted Manrico & Don Alvaro.  Praised for his stupendous high ‘chest notes’, but always denying his high notes were actually ‘chested’.

Do not suppose, when you hear a great singer produce on a high note exactly the same quality of tone as he produced on a low one, that he did it exactly the same way, or “got it from the same place,” as some people say. The perfection of his training and the diligence of his practice have enable him to assimilate the quality of one register to that of another so to completely deceive your ear…

There are notes and passages in [tenor] music which no “chest” register could by any physical possibility execute, but some of which have been sung within the recollection even of the “rising generation” with all the effect intended, and with the very tone that critical slang calls “chest notes,” (simply because it so closely resembles the tone of chest notes) that few, if any, can detect that they are differently produced from the low notes.

For obvious reasons I abstain from mentioning the names of any living singers, but I can name one, not very long since dead, who attained the highest reputation here as a tenore di forza whose “chest notes” were chronicled by the newspaper critics, and were the envy of aspiring youths – and yet who has ever been heard distinctly to deny that he ever produced those notes in the same way as the lower ones, and to laugh at the idea that such a thing was possible; and this was Mongini.

Advice. Advice to singers, by a singer. 1882.

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