Open Vs. Covered

Continuing the theme from my last post, I wanted to highlight the difference between a covered sound and an open one.

Following is an excerpt of Giuseppe Di Stefano singing Salut Demeure Chaste et Pure.  The A flat is sung open in this case.  The larynx remains relaxed, a sign of his great skill, but the sound is “open,” or spread; and as many great teachers and tenors have said, this is a technical flaw. 

A Flat Di Stefano (open) – Salut Demeure

Following is an image of the harmonic structure of this A flat. 

Di Stefano - open A flat

Why does this sound remain open?   (1) Because  he insisted on pronouncing the AH vowel, which caused the 1st formant to be selected and enhanced, spreading the sound in the mouth; (2) as a result, he is not able to “alleggerire,” or to correctly lighten the sound – the cry phonation of the upper register.

Following is the same excerpt but with me singing. 

A Flat Li Vigni (covered) – Salut Demeure

Here is the graphic readout of that A flat.

Li Vigni - Covered A flat

I don’t wish to compare myself with Di Stefano, but simply point out the technical difference, and to show that I know what I am talking about. 

With modern technology we can use graphic displays like this to help perfect our technique. Bio-feedback of this kind helps you see what you are doing, if you can’t hear it.

It is important to understand that when the voice is efficiently produced, a certain focus in the sound emerges; a ringing quality.  When you go through the passaggio and “giri la voce” (turn the voice – cover) correctly, the “efficiency” must not change – it must still be a focused sound.  What changes is the type of sound, where you feel it resonating, and the a sense that less “meat in the cords” is participating in the sound.  You enhance different overtones, but all the overtones are still very focused. 

Often when tenors make the switch to the covered sound, they lose efficiency and the sound’s harmonics all get a little muted.  When the voice is inefficient, all the harmonics become a little veiled and muted, and the overall sound is often dull and strained. It doesn’t matter that you are enhancing the right formant if the sound is dull!  This is a limit to bio-feedback with the display.  You can have the correct conditions to enhance the right harmonics, but the harmonics being enhanced aren’t that great sounding.  This occurs because there is a difference between setting up the right spaces in the vocal tract and using your cords correctly.  Ideally the two are tuned correctly, helping each other do their job, and not fighting against each other.  When they are, the “vocal beams” or “vibratory clouds” go strike and occupy the right spaces (or so we feel).

How does one turn the voice or cover?  Trying to put this into words is not simple.  When you sing relaxed and focused in the middle voice, with good support, and with a low-range larynx, the sound tends to get wider in the mouth as you go from middle C to E.  In this range, you can begin to modify the voice so that there is more of a “cry” in the sound. 

People hear this as brightness of sound

When the larynx is relaxed low and you sing in this lighter, thinner phonation, people don’t hear the cry, they hear bright sound; which also means that the cry must be well support and efficient.  If you don’t have much of the cry, people hear a darker sound.  It is not enough to think forward.  This is a real change in the way you think of the voice – the intention.  I will write a post just on the cry on a later date.

Following is a clip of me singing Quanto e’ Bella, from L’Elisir.  This is a great aria to practice the cry because of the passaggio work. 

Notice how in the first F in the clip I sing the note open and then cover it.  You can switch between the two, but you want to try to avoid doing that above an F of F#.

Quanto e’ bella – Li Vigni

I invite you to post questions in response if you have any, and I will address them as I have time.

Till next time… be good.

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