Interview with Nicola Martinucci

Nicola Martinucci

Nicola Martinucci is one of the few great heirs of the tradition of the Melocchi school that hit it big. When I think of him, I remember a tenor who could stand fearless in front of any audience, sing the heaviest and hardest of tessituras with stentorian, granite like sound, with a seemingly myth-like energy in his presence.  Among the aficionados of spinto tenors, Martinucci is undoubtedly considered a demigod. In the 1990, Martinucci sang Andrea Chenier at the Met. On that occasion, Bernard Holland made an interesting observation:

Mr. Martinucci made his presence felt through clarity and pointed delivery. The wild and extended applause, especially from some upper reaches of the Met balconies, seemed a little out of scale…. This is New York City and 1990, but one would almost have thought there was a claque at work up there.

(New York Times, December 1o, 1990)

I don’t think Mr. Holland appreciated the type of almost fanatical enthusiasm successful Melocchi-type tenors like Martinucci aroused in people.  It wasn’t only at the Met’s Andrea Chenier that Martinucci’s performances unleashed an avalanche of applause.  These ovations were the norm.  For your enjoyment here is Un di’ all’azzurro spazio from Andrea Chenier.  (Mental note: the public is always right!!!)

 Martinucci Un di all azzuro spazio

Nicola Martinucci comes from Taranto. Tarantini are a people with a culture formed over millennia – the city and port being a center of international commerce.  Tarantini are hard-working, fearless, family oriented people. Maestro Martinucci’s fierce deportment on stage is that of a proud guerriero Tarantino. For this reason I particularly love his Luigi in Tabarro. I think this man knows exactly what Luigi is about. The characters from Il Tabarro – Michele, Luigi and the crew, could have just as well docked their barge in Taranto. Listen to the passion in this singing.

Martinucci – Slatinaru, Folle di Gelosia – Il Tabarro

From a technical perspective, it is truly impressive to hear a voice dominate this kind of orchestration, with an A flat – A natural passaggio work robust like a city wall. Martinucci is never apologetic for being in your face with his sound. I think of Martinucci as a vocal warrior.  Vocally, this is no British infantry foot soldier holding the line, this is a Spartan warrior kicking butt.

He is well-known for his portrayals of heroic tenor roles, like Calaf, and Radames.  

Martinucci, Celeste Aida, Verona 

He towered in Verismo, being truly in his element.

Martinucci Vesti la giubba

He commanded the spotlight in these roles during his time. Surprisingly, he also showed nuanced, beautiful singing in operas like Poliuto, and Forza del Destino.

Martinucci – Zancanaro, La Forza del Destino, Le minacce e i fieri accenti

Without further ado, I present my interview with Nicola Martinucci.


 JL: What is you method of diaphragmatic support for the sound?

NM:  The foundation of everything, the motor of our voice is only our breathing. I breathe both through the mouth and the nose, and the emission of the sound occurs without blocking the diaphragm, holding it still, without pushing neither inward or down… rather still and sustained.

JL: What is your method for lowering the larynx and opening the throat?

NM: The larynx is lowered the moment in which I breathe correctly, it lowers naturally.  This way the throat remains supple, and wide without contractions.

(Aside: I have long told people that Melocchi never taught to lower the larynx forcibly, but rather through the energetic breath.  I will repost here my article on the Melocchi method previously posted at

JL: How does one maintain the larynx low while ascending toward high notes?  Also, you have an extraordinary squillo and metal in the voice.  How does one develop this kind of intense resonance in the voice?

NM: The larynx remains low if I breathe well and think of the running of the breath forward, without blocking it; thinking that the sound remains there (in the laryngeal area) from the low voice to the high note… that is, as I ascend toward the high note I do not think I am going to a higher placement of the voice, otherwise the larynx ascends too as a result.  I think the that the higher note is exactly where the preceding note was, down low.

However, careful, this does not mean that I remain low in my position….no throaty sounds.  The sounds must have a balance between mask and “cavità” (cavernous sound, or open throat sound).  (The position) can’t only be mask, otherwise the voice becomes small like the point of a needle; and it can’t be just cavernous otherwise I only sink deep, and can no longer go up; the voice goes back and I would break the voice.  Therefore, wide and supple throat and projection of the sound forward.  Only this way the voice travels and is rich in harmonics, and is not constricted.

(Aside: this reminds me very much of what Caruso had to say on the subject.

In the matter of taking high notes one should remember that their purity and ease of production depend very much on the way the preceding notes leading up to them are sung. Beginning in the lower register and attacking the ascending notes well back, a balance must be maintained all the way up, so that the highest note receives the benefit and support of the original position of the throat, and there is no danger, consequently, of the throat closing and pinching the quality of the top notes. )

JL:  How does one cover the voice in the passaggio?  The tradition speaks of “lightening” phonation when one passes from the center to the passaggio, to the high note.  How does one sing high notes without weighing down the voice?

NM: As one gradually ascends, if the voice is produced on the breath from the first note, the passsaggio and the covered sound happen on their own, naturally.  One need only give more space to the mouth and maintain the right position of the voice, from Middle C to High C.  It’s all there already.  The sound will cover on its own, I repeat, if emitted well.  Also, one should never sing heavily or force the voice with the idea of being heard more.  To the contrary, one will be heard less.

JL: Some tenor voices become smaller in the opera house space as they ascend to the high notes, even though in the studio their voices seem big.  Other tenor voices expand in the theater, as yours did.  What is the secret of the expanding voice?

NM: The secret of the voice that projects and expands in the theater is singing on the breath and not through force.  The more one remains supple and the more the voice goes and acquires resonance.  The more one pushes and the smaller the voice gets.

JL: Canio in Pagliacci says “Il teatro e la vita non son la stessa cosa.”  What effect has being a tenor had on your life?NM: My life and my choices have always been a function of my career as a tenor.  A rigid discipline and an intense study have characterized all the days of my life as a tenor, from 50 years to date.  A life dedicated to singing….


Nicola Martinucci is dedicated now to sharing his knowledge and understanding with young singers in lessons and masterclasses.  I reached out to one of his students, a very impressive tenor, Giancarlo Monsalve.  This is what he had to say:

I can tell you that there are no voice teachers like him around.  He explains everything, absolutely everything, and if that weren’t enough, he gives examples while seated singing High Bs, Cs, and C sharps, with an unbelievable squillo.  This way one realizes the efficiency of the Italian technique, which is very hard to find one who can teach it, but even harder to find someone who can teach it and show you.  Maestro Martinucci is able to do this very thing, and his voice is intact as in his youth, proof of a true effective technique.

I want to thank Maestro Martinucci for his generosity in sharing his understanding of vocal technique with us and going on the record!  You can find further information about Nicola Martinucci at, including upcoming schedules for masterclasses and contact information.

I would like this community to visit the Facebook page of 2UArts, an organization dedicated to promoting contact between artists and global community.  2UArts is organizing a Masterclass with Maestro Martinucci in New York in Summer 2011.  You can indicate your desire to participate by visiting the 2UArts Facebook page by clicking on the thumbnail below.


9 responses to “Interview with Nicola Martinucci

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Interview with Nicola Martinucci | Tenor Talk Blog --

  2. This blog is becoming legendary. Such great interviews!

    “Also, one should never sing heavily or force the voice with the idea of being heard more. To the contrary, one will be heard less.”

    Well said!

  3. Maestro Martinucci is a legend. The proof is in the budino. Add to that a bit of gorgonzola dolce and there you have it!

    I would like to have some clarification on this phrase:

    “One need only give more space to the mouth and maintain the right position of the voice, from Middle C to High C.”

    Inside of the mouth, such as lift in the soft palate or the opening of the cavity itself? Or both?

    I have always loved his voice. It’s a highly focused core, matched only by Pertile, but his overtones are resplendent and more burnished and abundant.

    This is a treasure and thank you for the interview.

    • Interesting comment. It’s a tricky thing because some tenors do the opposite. Corelli in his interview with Jerome Hines says that he opens the throat more in the passaggio, while Pavarotti says he doesn’t. It’s interesting to note that Corelli did open the jaw more in the passaggio, while Pavarotti closed the mouth a little as did Tucker.

      One thing is for sure, the opening of the mouth does not equate to the opening of the throat. In fact, sometimes if you open the mouth too much you actually shut down the open throat production. When the mouth is not opened wide you can still open the back of the throat quite well, and achieve the suppleness required to find the edges of the cords.

      Rule of thumb, more jaw opening creates more strength in the 2nd formant in the passaggio, or more “cavita'” or cavernous sound, and requires more breath pressure to support. Too much can weigh down the voice. Keeping the mouth moderately open causes the tenor to rely more on higher harmonics to balance phonation. That is my experience.

  4. sasa7:
    “One need only give more space to the mouth and maintain the right position of the voice, from Middle C to High C.”

    Inside of the mouth, such as lift in the soft palate or the opening of the cavity itself? Or both? “”

    — I could be wrong, but my understanding of this is that we do not try and do anything different physically be it a middle C or a high C – with the exception that the mouth will open more on its own volition as we ascend. And that we err where we try to manipulate things physiologically into a different structure for the passaggio. For my money, this would include the palate, larynx, and pharynx in general. I think he states that we give more space to the mouth as this is something occurring necessarily and without intention – i.e. he is making sure one doesn’t intentionally keep the mouth cavity small as it may be for a middle C, but allow it to increase in space on its own, and without force.

    This is very much in line with my current approach, so I am very happy to read this as I admire Martinucci so much. In a previous blog post I commented that I was of the opinion that the voice turns (or “covers”) as if incidentally or even accidentally to having the right setup in place and then leaving everything alone to function without manipulation. This response of Martinucci seems very much along those same lines.

    The great word that he uses in this interview is “supple”. This is an excellent way of describing how the throat must not be tensed or rigid in its setup. I am wondering Jack – did you conduct this interview in Italian and then translate? and if so, is this word a direct translation of the word he used? (either way, I am going to steal it!)

    – Ben

    • Yes. Martinucci does indicate clearly that his idea of covering is a sort of automatic thing that happens on its own.

      The word supple is my choice. The interview was in Italian and the word used is one I grew up with my whole “tenor” life… MORBIDEZZA. My dad used this word incessantly. Morbido means soft. Morbidezza means softness; in this case softness of tissue. Suppleness is a word Andrew Richards and I have been throwing out there for years now in discussing the kind of physiological softness of pharyngeal sensation needed in the voice, especially in the passaggio and upper register… I think it conveys the sense better than “softness” which people could misunderstand for a quality of sound. I am going to write a post specifically about morbidezza, because in a very specific sense, morbidezza is the very reason why one feels appoggio so vividly. Without morbidezza the very sensation of appoggio is lost in a turbulent mix of extraneous sensations that have nothing to do with correct singing.

      I remember working with a tenor early on as he was passagging from a very darkened and stiff position to one of freedom, and in the passaggio the voice would get really stiff, but this tenor said the throat was competely relaxed. I knew it wasn’t, and that he just hadn’t yet discovered what this kind of suppleness was about. He has since learned a great deal more and senses the release of the tensions far more vividly now. 🙂

      • Yes Yes. Morbidezza. That is right. Supple is a very good word for communicating this in English. You are right to suspect that “softness” will be too easily misconstrued.

        It certainly is interesting how we too often think we are tension free, only to find (when looking through the prism of hindsight) that we were harboring so much tension — we just didn’t know any better, sensationally. I certainly look forward to your future post on morbidezza. I agree that this is an absolutely crucial concept to embrace in order to truly manage the sense of appoggio/appoggiare (I never know which word to use!)

  5. Another great post. I’m extremely excited about the 2011 Masterclass.

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