Secrets of Svengali, After the First Lessons

A few weeks pass.

Trilby sings her thirds and fifths. The voice gets deeper and deeper. The strain comes more and more off the throat, for the relaxed lips relax the entire throat. And the quality gets richer and more plentiful. One can almost hear it develop from day to day.

Other exercises are added: the scale and one note over, twice in a breath, carelessly and freely, always on the vowel ah, beginning in the lower part of the voice and advancing by semitones until the limits of the upper voice are reached.

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Then the attack and down the arpeggio — the upper note not sustained very long at first,

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This exercise is not given as the others by semitones along the whole compass of the voice, because the attack is fatiguing — one arpeggio in the lower voice, one in the center and one taking a fairly high note.

Trilby must be told that in attacks, especially in the higher register, the mouth must be well open with the lips relaxed before the note is struck, and loosely and gently the mouth must continue to open and the lips continue to relax during the whole duration of the note.

This of itself will throw all the responsibility, as it were, on the diaphragm, which will begin to do the work automatically.

You must remember that Trilby has a splendid physique; she has a fine body, upright and strong; her chest and lungs were as Du Maurier said, “of leather” ; otherwise I should have had many things to say to her on position, development by gymnastics of certain muscles of the stomach, chest and neck, and general exercises for the whole body.

The “setting up exercises” as practised in the American army cannot help but do good to any singer, and to those with weak bodies, scrawny necks, flat chests, bad carriage, etc., they are of first importance.

Old Giovanni Sbriglia had one exercise that did more to give one a singer’s thorax than anything I know of. I shall describe it in a later chapter.


Duval, John H. The Secrets of Svengali on Singing, Singers, Teachers and Critics. JT White & Company, 1922.

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