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!!!)
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.
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.
He towered in Verismo, being truly in his element.
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.
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 grandi-tenori.com).
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 www.nicolamartinucci.it, 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.