When I started studying voice I was absolutely obsessed with the covered sound Pavarotti had in his passaggio. I remember listening really close to my stereo speakers to try to capture perhaps sympathetically what was going on in his throat and sound. As I tried to imitate him the resonance in my voice would shut down, and the sound would become “schiacciato” – crushed.I tried looking for a place in my mask where I could sing into to get that sound… couldn’t find it.
I went straight to the source – Arrigo Pola, Pavarotti’s first teacher. You can hear Arrigo Pola on Youtube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a1pXVWgRD7k&feature=related) in a variety of beautiful recordings.
His idea was that the voice had two main regions where the singer felt the resonance respectively below and above the passaggio. Think of your voice as having a sort of body or feeling vibratory pressure, almost like a cloud of vibration that occupies certain spaces (it doesn’t matter if this is objective fact or not… this is what the method reports one should feel).
Pola taught that right below the passaggio the voice expanded in the mouth right below the top molars all the way to the front of the mouth, with the mouth open comfortably as though in the beginning of yawn. This sound needed to be right to get the passaggio right.
Over time I discovered that the “right” sound – the open throat sound, was produced when the larynx is relaxed low with a deep expansion of the lower torso. Pola, true to his post Caruso Italian school, made singers sing these notes very wide.
Why does this feel like the “vibration cloud” or “vibration pressure” is in the mouth, or against the dome of the hard palate? Because the harmonic that gets reinforced is largely the one in the first formant, and the tenor’s first formant when strong feels like it is in the mouth, almost expanding laterally.
Here is a picture of my harmonics in this area below the turn.
I have posted also an audio clip from the aria – Quando le Sere al Placido. What I did is break down the clip into the harmonics. If you look at the picture you can count the harmonic peaks. I separated them into 4 separate harmonics in the audio, so you can actually hear what those peaks represent in my voice. The voice is broken down into its component harmonics. You will notice that the second harmonic is the strongest. It is the strongest harmonic in the graph – the first formant. Notice the flute-like quality of that harmonic sound. That confers a surround sound effect in the opera house when done with quality. Notice, this sound is EXACTLY an octave above the pitch that we are thinking when we sing (the fundamental). So the strongest sound actually coming out of our mouth when we sing open throat sounds in this area (middle D to middle F or as long as we keep open) is actually an octave higher than what we think it is; but our ear hears a composite sound and correctly identifies the fundamental as “the pitch.”
Eventually, when we “turn” the voice, the harmonic dominance shifts from the 2nd peak in the graph to the 3rd. The resulting sound is even more “surround sounding.” Following is the graph after the passaggio and then an audio clip with the broken down harmonics in the passaggio. I chose to highlight particularly the 2nd formant so you get an idea of what it sounds like. When this sound is present in the voice, then the voice is “covered.”
When the sound shifts dominance from that second peak to the third ( in the graph), the voice “covers”, but also feels different. It’s not in the mouth as before. It feels like it has turned over the soft palate. Arrigo Pola would have students go from Eb to G – open/covered – again and again, and with his hand he would gesture the central tone in the mouth, and the higher one above in the cheeks.
The feeling of the 2nd formant rises in the tube “su per la canna” or up the tube… a sense that the voice has climbed a tube in the back of the mouth up over the soft palate. This is also why you can see Pavarotti and Tucker closing their mouth somewhat when they cover, because the opening of the mouth is no longer needed, because we are not enhancing the first formant any more, but rather the second.
This is Cotogni’s “Eco Sonora” – Sound Echo, as described by Lauri Volpi. When you listen to the clip you can hear that the sound takes on a sort echo quality. With training, you learn to hear that sound in your voice.
Some people sing “in the cracks” or a sort of mix of the two… that is not right according to the tradition. It weighs down the voice as we are carrying too much chest. This “openish” sound is not right. The great Italian tenors make a NET SWITCH between 1st and 2nd formant dominance when they cover.
There are other ways of doing this, an older way, more in line with Bjoerling, Caruso, and older tenors influenced by the Garcia school. On a later date I will compare the two different ways of approaching the passaggio. I will simply say that the older way blends qualities of the “EH” vowel into the OH vowel, bringing about a brighter and lighter sound. The Eco Sonora is a more masculine sound, darker and chestier.
How does one get this sound? What do we do to cover? Well that will be for next time.
– Jack Li Vigni