One thing that immediately stood out to me in Corelli’s interview was his cautioning singers in regards to forward sounds. This may seem a bit confusing to many. I know this took me a long time to understand, and as usual, let me freely divulge what I have learned over 20+ years of seeking.
Corelli says: “E devi pensare la voce un po cosi’… non spinta molto in avanti. Perche’ se spingi in avanti prima o poi chiudi. 1 2 3 e ti strozzi.” (translation: “You have to think that the voice is a little like this…. Not pushed forward. Because if you push forward sooner or later you close your throat… 1, 2, 3, and you choke.”)
Is Corelli saying that a person shouldn’t seek to have the voice forward? Yes, he absolutely is, and this fits in perfectly with Corelli’s modern approach to singing. His objection to forward singing was that by seeking to send the voice forward one would close the throat. But wait, how does this fit in with what his mentor Lauri-Volpi said about the importance of laser beam sounds striking forward in the maxillary and frontal sinuses? The answer to this seemingly contradictory technical information is at the heart of the difference between old school and modern Italian tenor technique.
I have said many times on this blog that a radical difference exists in squillo singing between old school and modern Italian tenors (worldwide). Old school tenors enhanced the 5th harmonic region of their high notes – a range roughly between 2,300 – 2,500 Hertz. This sound is often the dominant harmonic in their high notes. They sang this way particularly from Aflat-Anatural upwards, while in the F#-G# region they often relied on “eco sonora” or the 2nd formant dominance typically heard in Lauri Volpi, Gigli, Merli, Fleta, etc, and often in Caruso. Old school Europeans in general relied less on eco-sonora and rather more on a more even balance between 2nd formant strength and the singer’s formant when it came to the passaggio.
As time went on, the spacious, cavernous sound of the eco sonora, this cavernous second formant sound was extended upwards of the Aflat into the high notes along with an increase in chest voice contribution. This approach particularly bloomed in the 1940s, and Del Monaco, but even more so Corelli, became the dominant forces in this approach.
This approach does not work with the narrowness of the old school. To find this way of singing one must remain strongly laryngeal in origination of sound and allow the sound to climb upwards in the back of the head. Part of the sound bends forward, but most of it is vertical. But you don’t think of the sound pressure as forward, gathered in a sinus pocket as it were, as in the old school, or out in front of you. Even in the Hines interview Corelli rejects the idea of projecting forward out of you. Its interesting to read along and find Gedda talking about finding a place about two inches in front of his face to think of for projection… who is right? They both are, within the context of their respective approaches.
So, is Corelli right? Does singing forward cause the throat to close? Yes, unless you have a deeply embedded OO sound (1st layer of vowel), which means that your larynx will be relaxed low but also narrow and tilted forward. The deep OO type sigh in the voice protects against excessive chest and gets you into a mode of release.
The great thing about Corelli was that he was able to find this chestier laryngeal sound and still have the skill to not grip at the larynx, proof of which is his ability to vary dynamics. Del Monaco was far more gripped, and most chestier tenors are too. They just can’t let go of the weight that pulls the voice down into the pharynx.
You can get forward without closing the throat at all as long as you enhance the 5th harmonic in the high note. If you enhance the 6th or 7th harmonic while singing forward you will likely either press the voice or you are probably singing narrow but with a high larynx, or both.
Some find a way to free, as it were, the breath pressure forward in the mask rather than pressing against the cords in order to not close the throat, but they often lift the sound and lose depth, McCormack would be an example of this, as also Borgioli, sometimes even Gigli and Bjoerling, never Caruso, or Laruri Volpi.
The long and deep OO sound/laryngeal position of the old school actually provides tremendous release in the sound. It is a very dark sound, at least it feels this way, compared to the brighter 6th and 7th harmonic. It strikes forward, but never above the cheeks, though it is accompanied by other harmonics that strike above as well as in the back of the head. But the “lean” of the voice is in the maxillary sinuses (cavita’ mascellari). The pressure bypasses the larynx which becomes a narrow passing point for the air, but also the place of origination of a deep dark OO sound which remains your contact point between breath and sound. In other words, the place of contact between breath and sound still remains low. If you lift the voice entirely into the head then your voice becomes small and pressed, which is what Corelli was also warning about.
The traditional question all good teachers ask? That would be “where is your voice born?” or “where does your voice originate in sensation?” This is not a pedagogical question meant to test your knowledge about the intricacies of laryngeal musculature, which woud be good for writing books, but not for singing, or teaching for that matter; but rather it is about getting to the substance of how you phonate. Is your voice too high? Is it detached from the breath? There is no doubt about one thing, and take this to the bank: THE ITALIAN SCHOOL, OLD AND MODERN, IS LARYNGEAL IN NATURE. Anyone that tells you to the contrary has no idea what they are talking about. La voce nasce in laringe – the sound originates in the larynx. Now, the difference between modern and old school can be thought of differentiated as follows: WHAT PART OF YOUR SOUND ORIGINATES IN THE LARYNX? In any case, as far as the Italian tradition goes, in the larynx it starts! This is the contact point between breath and sound. Lose this connection and you will not sing properly as a tenor.