Garaudé Blasts the Voix Sombrée

The voix sombrée (or singing with an actively lowered laryngeal position) came into public awareness through the singing of Gilbert Louis Duprez in 1837 in Rossini’s opera Guillaume Tell, as well as the paper published by Diday and Pétrequin in 1840.

Surprisingly, I’ve seen many teachers continue to teach a willfully lowered larynx to achieve the voix sombrée, while demonstrating their allegiance to the ‘Old School.’ One teacher went on to say that this is what makes the voice ‘sound operatic.’

Um, no.

I come down on the side of Monsieur Alexis de Garaudé, writing in the 1840s. He said that it wasn’t new, and it was also ruinous to the voice.

MM. Diday and Pétrequin, chief surgeon of the Lyon hospital, show in a thesis [1840], the recent discovery of a new kind of voice called sombrée, brought into our lyric scene, a few years back, by a celebrated singer. You get this voice by holding the chin a bit lower, by emitting the sound with force and by energetically contracting the glottis (which makes the larynx quite immobile). This voice, I am willing to say, has a grand intensity, and can augment the energy that one wants to give to certain eminently dramatic phrases, when the singer is gifted with excellent lungs.

…[however] this alleged discovery is very ancient. And that is without mentioning the era before Lainez. This celebrated Lyrical Tragedian (and otherwise poor singer) – who, according to the reporter Geoffroi “set the opera alight with his burning energy” – only produced his effects by the use of the voix sombrée, and and in shouting what he could not sing. Unfortunately, some of our modern artists have taken this double lesson on board.

On the detrimental effects of this maneuver, Garaudé had this to say:

The young tenors especially, who look to create the appearance of a big voice that nature denied them, work until they are worn out at this manner of emitting a sound that their means does not allow.

One should therefore advise them:

  1. that with anything less than a perfect vocal constitution, the dogged working at this voix sombrée will lead them, within a few years, to the loss of their natural voice, if it does not lead first to a violent irritation of the chest or a deterioration of the larynx;

  2. that if this voice lets them find resources for high Lyrical Declamation, it destroys the charm of the vocal organ, along with any of its agility;

  3. that, with its use quickly wearing out their organs, the career of the singer will be a short burst, and the decline of the voice and therefore of their talent will soon make this [newly acquired] “force” beat an early retreat.

Garaudé closed with:

…The voix sombrée, itself is merely a kind of forced voice, artificial and manufactured, exploited by certain singing Masters to the detriment of their pupil’s health.

Garaudé, Alexis de. Méthode Complète de Chant, 2nd edn, Paris, c. 1840.

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