Making No Distinctions in Vocal Ability

Every vocal student was put through the same course. No distinction was made between voices, so far as their native capacities for dramatic or florid singing were concerned. The overwhelming majority of singers trained at this time were almost equally proficient in both styles of music. It was maintained that a voice could not be capable of sustained dramatic singing without a thorough mastery of vocal technique, and that this could only be obtained by a training in florid singing. Naturally the singers loved to display their technical accomplishments. They gloried in their ability to execute the most difficult passages with brilliancy and perfection. In this they were encouraged by the public taste. Composers were led to adopt the custom of writing at least one elaborate aria in each opera, for every singer who had a principal part. These “show piece” arias were looked upon by the audiences as the chief delights of the opera.

This was the great formative period of the art of bel canto. Composers, teachers, and singers vied with one another in discovering new possibilities of beauty in the voice, in inventing new ornaments, and in extending the ability of the voice to master technical difficulties. Some of the operatic scores of the 17th century fairly bristle with passages which made almost incredible demands on the singers. Runs and divisions of great length are included, covering a range of two octaves and more; successions of jumps of an octave and a half are frequently met. Tenors, basses, and contraltos were called upon to execute passages of this kind, as well as lyric sopranos. The messa di voce (swelling and diminishing a long sustained note, and making it exhibit a wide variety of tone qualities), was brought to a high standard of excellence. There can be no question that the singers of that time were able to perform this elaborate music with wonderful brilliancy. Dramatic arias and recitative were by no means neglected, but the chief glory of this period was coloratura singing. In this its standard has probably never been surpassed.

Taylor, David Clark. “New Light on the Old Italian Method: An Outline of the Historical System of Voice Culture, with a Plea for Its Revival.” (1916).

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