The Paradox of Santley’s Voice

I found the article below from a newspaper while I was searching for something else and I had to share it.

It talks a bit about the difficulty of categorizing the voice of Sir Charles Santley, and why I think that teachers should hold off for a while before categorizing/faching a voice.

A Great Baritone

Mistakes in “Placing” Voice

Like a good many other singers, Sir Charles Santley, the great baritone, whose death was reported from England recently, had early difficulties in the classification of his voice. When it recovered after the usual break, his father insisted that he youth was a tenor, and, as a tenor, he sang for two or three years with the Liverpool Philharmonic Society. Later some of the “authorities” in the society pronounced him a bass, and he sang bass parts in oratorio and concerts. Then, on going to Milan, he was kept by his master, Gaetano Nava, to baritone parts. On making his first appearance on the operatic stage, as Hoel in “Dinorah,” Santley had a “revelation” that his true register was high baritone, and he took parts in which his voice could be used to advantage. After all the early misunderstandings he became recognised as the finest English baritone of his day, with power, compass, and quality added to artistic taste.

Santley appeared in many operatic productions, and, though he had much command of expression, he achieved his chief successes in that form of work when there was not excessive demand for passion. In Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” he sang finely, but acted less well. Yet  as Valentine, in “Faust,” he raised the part to greatness. Gounod complimented him on the death scene, and afterwards added the invocation to the Cross.

Born at Liverpool in 1834, Santley celebrated his jubilee as a public singer as long ago as 1907. He had visited Australia in 1889-90. He ascribed the preservation of his voice till an advanced age to “the study of the best vocal exercises I could find – the study and the result of the study in the work of the great singers it was my privilege to hear from an early age, and to my good fortune in being able to use my voice in its proper register, with slight deviation, for a number of years.” He considered that if he had followed the advice of would-be instructors his voice would have been ruined. In opera he sang scarcely any but pure baritone parts. At times, as in the case of Wallace’s “Lurline,” parts were varied by composers to suit him. He first sang in Italian opera in 1862, when he took the part of the Conte di Luna in “Il Trovatore,” which he had sung three years earlier in English.

Under the management of Gye, Mapleson, and others, he continued in this class of work in London until 1876. Afterwards he toured for some years with the Carl Ross company, and “created” for England several parts in famous operas.

In oratorio Santley’s first appearance was in 1857, as Adam in Haydn’s “Creation.” He had a great success, and he was engaged for many parts in oratorio, both before and after he sang in opera. For many years he was heard in such parts as Elijah, which he made most impressive. In such a part he seemed to feel that he actually was the character he was singing. A similar earnestness have value to his concert singing; but he would never “tear a passion to tatters,” or indulge in anything like shouting in place of singing. His effects were obtained by the pure art of the singer.

In 1907 a benefit performance was held, and a fund of more than £2,000 was presented to the singer. In the same year he was knighted. Sir Charles Santley was a man of general culture and conversational ability. In his later years he gave his time to teaching, besides writing a book of memories and “The Art of Singing.” His daughter Edith was a contralto singer, and his son Michael had experience both as a singer and as actor.

Leave a Reply