Musica Transbelgio, Part 2

Here is Part Two of the radio interview with Daniela Bloem-Hubatka and her husband, Jan. The conversation has been translated from the original Dutch by the contributions of Daniela, and my friend Dirk Gevers.

Petra: During the musical interval we were talking here about modern music and about Maria Callas, but you have some things to tell us about her, for it is said that she does not have a natural voice. Perhaps you can first explain what you mean by natural singing and what has or hasn’t Maria Callas to do with that and what is the difference….

Daniela. The Italian singing masters of the 17th and 18th century started with the voice as it was in its natural state and when we are born as little babies we do not think about “now I am going to have a good cry, now I am going to start my voice”, but it happens, that is an automatic action in your throat and with that we speak later consciously or unconsciously. Some people lose it and other people preserve it and that you can hear very well, some have a clear voice, while others get problems with their voice, for instance if children are forced to speak softly. Some vocal problems are ascribed to being old though that is not the case. For example, women have to speak lower these days in meetings where men are present otherwise they are considered too bossy. There are all sorts of deviations from that natural way of starting your voice that you used as a baby. The good attack of the voice can get lost later or stay. And the Italian masters, I write in my book, they knew exactly how to proceed from that natural attack so that the voice came out clear and beautiful and through various reasons this natural way has been abandoned.

Petra: Is there a reason for that? Did not people like it or did something else come into fashion, or did people consider that a more imposing way of singing?

Daniela: There are several reasons for it, first of all the 1st World War that changed peoples’ habits of clothing, music, it is in the music itself, people wanted more drama in opera and more so called passion and that asked for a coarser vocal sound. On the other hand there were some very famous singers who always suffered from a sore throat and they searched for easier means of attacking the voice leading them to apply all sorts of mannerisms that they taught to their pupils and so gradually there emerged a different way of singing. It is a way of singing that takes place mainly in the head.

Petra: This applies not only to classical music , but also to popular modern music, can you notice that also in modern music, just now you had a wonderful example.

Daniela. Yes that is the example of Dolly Parton, because I think she is the only great diva of today and she plays to a gigantic audience, she sings for everyone personally, she can speak to everyone very strongly, she can compose her own songs like the old singers used to who composed their own songs like the violinists who composed their own music.

Petra: The old fashioned “singers-songwriters”!

Daniela: She can deliver that in a unique and special manner and I think that she uses her voice quite reasonably, of course she sings with the microphone, that is true, but I do not think it disturbing how she uses her voice. I think it is disturbing with present day classical singers and I think where you yourself can hear the technique, that I can do like them myself, by means of all kinds of mannerisms. The voice is being made into today’s ideal and you must produce a certain sound to sing professionally, whereas in olden days singers sang with their very own vocal sound.

Petra: Do you ever watch kids? Small children?

Daniela. No, but I have seen that Amira and a girl in America Jackie Evancho I think she is called.

Petra. Because you ask yourself when you hear these children sing whether that is imitation of the great stars, or if you still hear something natural in it, like you wish to hear.

Daniela: Alas I do not hear anything natural in it and I think those children are being exploited. That girl in America sings for large audiences with a voice of a 30 year old woman, that is one of the charms of such a young girl with that little white dress and the pink sash who suddenly produces a grown up voice, to me it is very unpleasant for it is not her own natural voice, and on top of that girls of that age can sing very high very easily, people think wow her high notes are special but that is simple for a girl of that age.

Petra: People are very impressed, but when I hear this from you then I think that this is fairly normal for such a young child.

Daniela: For sure, I sang those arias of Callas just like that with all the coloratura, funny in my family it was not thought of as special, nothing surprising, no fuss about it.

Petra: I think it rather nice to hear how your voice is as a child and how it later develops into a different singing voice because you adapt it after a fashion. Just fancy that you would step into popular music with your voice do you think that would catch on in the Netherlands compared to what is being done now?

Daniela: I don’t think it would.

Petra: So this is really more focused on classical music. Is it now being widely used and taught, this knowledge? You have written a wonderful book about it in English, The Old Italian school of Singing. What do you describe in it?

Daniela: I describe step by step how the voice was schooled in the old days. It is good fun I get very enthusiastic and warm reactions from America and England, the voice teachers are busy applying this technique to their pupils and they have success with it.  Just like I taught myself, they used to have problems and that is what it is all about  – that you can help someone to sing with their own voice again, whether that is someone who wants to sing in a choir or simply in church, as long as they take pleasure in singing and consequently more pleasure in life.

Petra: When you are really busy with singing…when do you sing, even if you have no singing voice, when do you sing?…when you are cheerful and happy! Below me lives someone who is deaf but now and then she can burst out in very loud singing. I just think “she is happy today, how nice!”, whether it is beautiful or not. If you can use your natural voice it is very nice.

About which period of time do we speak when we talk about the Old Italian School of Singing?

Daniela: It started in the 17th century that the voice was being schooled to sing art song, it is a natural way of singing but you are prepared to sing the opera or songs that the composers wrote for this type of voice. That is why I say that the authentic instruments are popular, (the violins on special strings etc.), and that the singing voice joining them is trained in the present day manner, which is not authentic. The composer of those days composed for the way of singing described in my book.

Petra: Of which composers do we speak?

Daniela: Of all composers from over a hundred years ago, they wrote exclusively for the way of singing of the Old Italian School and you can clearly read that in their biographies, Rossini, Verdi, Puccini, Liszt.

Petra: Then what we hear now when we go to an opera of those composers is not what was meant originally?

Daniela: That is for sure, but fortunately historical recordings have been made and now available on CD, also live recordings have been made, the old recordings might not be ideal but you can hear very clearly that people then sang differently from nowadays.

Petra: Fascinating. But now let’s transfer from classical to popular music.

To be continued…

 

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