In this post I will explain and demonstrate how phonation changes in the passaggio, not just the vowel, but the actual type of voice. Great tenors had “blazing sword” high notes, like Filippeschi, Gedda, Lauri Volpi; as also today with Piotr Beczala (lighter) and Giordani (spinto).
The path to a secure upper register has much to do with skill in stretching and thinning out the vocal folds. The cry phonation – or what I like to call “voce magra” (literally “thinner voice”) or “voce allegerita” (or “lightened voice”) is weird. It’s not going to be intuitive at first. Why in the world would you phonate in this strange sound?
In the following 1st clip I show what the cry sounds like, and how it can be present in both the speaking and singing voice.
The cry phonation in the “troncar suoi di'” was purposefully exaggerated to give you an idea of how it is incorporated into the middle voice. The feeling is very relaxed. It is not at all constricted. DO NOT try to achieve this cry by tightening your throat. Notice all the sighs? I do that to give you a clue that it is not constricted. The cords are closed and thin, but the throat is relaxed as in the beginning of a yawn. Why would sing with that weird sound? Can’t you just sing “normal”? Building the cry into your upper middle voice makes the cry stronger in the passaggio, as we hear in Filippeschi, Gedda, and Bjoerling. Many learn to sing this way in the top, but not in the passaggio. Fact is we sing more in the passaggio than we do in the top, so we should know how to sing with this bright sound in the passaggio without losing the depth of the middle voice.
In the following 2nd clip, I show the difference between cry phonation in the middle voice between high and low larynx. The low larynx cry is darker and wider, but feels just like the sigh, easy and relaxed.
Taking a deep breath and expanding the lower ribs helps tug the larynx down, and singing in the yawn position relaxes the throat open. The tongue should be forward on the lower teeth.
In this position you learn how to sing full in the low voice up to around a middle D. You will feel connected to the lower voice as you ascend. That is the foundation. This is where you start. As you sing between D and F, vowels take on more of an UH or EU (as in the French “peu”) vowel position if your larynx continues to stay in a low range. In this area of the voice you can also insert characteristics of the EH vowel into that EU.
The EU/UH vowel is wide, and feels like an open tube of sound is headed straight for the space in the back of the throat – where your tonsils are, and above it. The EH vowel is brighter and makes the voice ring more (higher resonance). When you sing in this D-F range with an UGH vowel, insert an EH into the EU, but don’t lose the EU position. You will notice the your tongue will want to move forward and the body of it raise just a little up front, while the back stays down. This is good. The EU is keeping your larynx relaxed low, while the EH component is closing your cords.
The trick to the passaggio is to keep that EU deep while thinning the cords by “crying” – keeping the EH component as bright as possible. This cry feels like cracking. You are right on the verge of cracking, but your vocal folds learn to withstand the pressure. The most talented tenors, far more talented than myself, had laser-like sounds in this position in the passaggio and in the top.
For your pleasure, here is a truly great tenor, Mario Filippeschi. How some tenors are ignorant of Filippeschi is beyond me. You will hear clearly the cry, the depth, and the amazing ring in the passaggio and upper voice.
Masters of the cry phonation are of course Caruso, Bjoerling, Gigli, Gedda, and many other greats. All the greats incorporate a bright EH component in the upper register as soon as they turn the voice in the passaggio. Sometimes, the EH is so bright that it overpowers the UGH. Listen to Caruso sing “l’ora e’ fuggita e muoio disperato” from E Lucevan.
Doesn’t it sound like L’ora e’ Fuggiteh? If you listen carefully you hear that it’s not an EH vowel, but the EH component is ringing so strong that the vowel is modified by it. This causes the pressure of the voice to be very strong above in the mask. It becomes your job to balance the EU and the EH. This becomes a game, where you play with 2nd formant and singer’s formant harmonics.
The reason this way of singing the passaggio should be built from the middle voice is because it’s a sure way to train your vocal folds to keep closed even with higher pressures. The cry is compressed but the throat remains supple… Pavarotti would say the passaggio is “squeezed” but with a relaxed sound. He insightfully stated that it is “the voice” that is squeezed, not the throat (Great Singers on Great Singing). There has to be enough chest to give the cry strength to resist the air pressure. On a later date I will talk about appoggio, and how the sound resists the air.
By singing strong in the middle and then inserting the cry into that middle voice, we learn how to sing with strong breath pressures on the cry. Then when we turn the voice in the passaggio, we increasingly let go of chest, and the cry takes over more. However, the EU has to anchor the voice low, so that it doesn’t thin out too much. If it thins out too much and we try to maintain the volume, the cords will overcompress and the sound will get pinched and too narrow. We compensate for the thinness by compressing the cords. What we should have done is carry a little more chest – more EU (2nd formant, release). This is how we learn how to ascend to the very top range.
There are variations on this theme. Some tenors are trained to have strong mask resonance, and so they incorporate a lot of the EH ring, like Gedda for example. While others focus more on the width of the voice, like Corelli.
Just because I love Filippeschi’s – William Tell, I felt inspired to sing a few excerpts myself to show how the thin mechanism sets you up for the highest notes.
Did I give you enough to think about?