Nellie Melba, the famous Australian soprano, studied the role of Marguerite in Charles Gounod’s Faust under the supervision and guidance of the composer himself.
Melba’s use of the chest register in the bottom of her range is (if history is to be believed) apparently what Gounod WANTED in this aria – otherwise, Melba would not have sung it this way. We can probably take on faith that Gounod wanted these lower pitches sung in chest, not a pulled-down head voice. Sopranos, take note: Gounod likely wanted the aria to sound this way.
The ready availability of chest register on the bottom of the range was much more apparent in the Old School sopranos, as evidenced by this recording. Why change voice emission if the composer HIMSELF wanted the music sung this way? #morechest
Check out the chest register Melba utilized throughout the COLORATURA aria “Air des bijoux,” known in English as the Jewel Song:
3 thoughts on “Something to Consider…”
Your thesis in an compelling one, but I wonder if there isn’t other factors involved. One is that is Melba’s teacher, Mathilde Marchesi, taught that women should not sing in chest above E natural. Her teacher Manuel García taught this as well. Could the composer have instructed Melba otherwise? That’s possible. But why? I’d like to hear more about that, especially if there are examples of other singers of the same period doing likewise. The other factor is age. I don’t know the recording date, but if this recording was made when Melba was in her 50’s or 60’s, it’s very common for the chest register to start to predominate. In fact, as one colleague noted, the “car” can keep going, “but the wheels come off!” He was referring, of course, to the affect of menopause—the registers pulling apart from each other and equalization becoming more difficult. The whole matter is fascinating. Thank you for this post.
Terrific insights there, Daniel. I did some investigation on Melba’s studio recordings of this aria from some online discographies.
It looks like she recorded it in:
September of 1905 in London (44 years old)
in New York or Camden, NJ in 1907 (46 yrs old)
in November of 1910 in London (49 years old)
And she was also partially recorded singing it live from the stage of the Metropolitan Opera in 1901 (Melba was 40).
It would be an interesting project to compare and contrast those recordings against each other, as well as look up other sopranos of that time period to see how they managed the aria! I might do some investigation further to see what comes up! Thank you for reading and responding!
The plot thickens! I look forward to learning about your investigations.