The “Potentializing” Factor of Bel Canto Singing

Singers classify themselves according to supposed limitations; each finds his métier and lives up to, and on it. Any singer, of ordinary physique and mind, should be able to delineate clearly any character. “Such and such a rôle does not suit me,” is a statement which one often hears: it is marked by indolence and apathy; for any rôle within a singer’s vocal range should “suit” an Artist. To some of us, at all events, it is clear that varied and even universal expression is the only kind of work to which any person of common-sense would care to devote his life. Bel-canto” (of which we read so much) meant, and means, versatility of tone; if a man wish to be called an artist, his voice must become the instrument of intelligent imagination. Perhaps there would be fewer cases of vocal-specialising if the modern craze for “voice-production” (apart from linguistic truth) could be reduced. This wondrous pursuit is, as things stand, a notable instance of putting the cart before the horse. Voices are “produced” and “placed” in suchwise that pupils are trained to “vocalise” (to use technical jargon) the words; i.e., they are taught to make a sound which is indeed something like but is not the word in its purity. “Tone” or sound is what the average student seeks, ab initio, and not verbal purity. Hence the monotony of modern singing. When one hears an average singer in one role, one hears him in all. Many modern singers do not characterise. This charge would be inadmissible if they breathed properly, and spoke the words with correct atmosphere; nor would it be possible in such a case to accuse them of pretentious or fictitious pronunciation and expression.

Ffrangcon-Davies, David Thomas. The singing of the future. J. Lane, 1907.