Recently I was speaking with a friend about the sense of the old school narrowness. We hear this sound in great tenors like Lauri Volpi, Fleta, Caruso, Martinelli, but also in more modern ones like Bjoerling, Gedda, and Filippeschi.
When speaking about the sense of appoggio of the old school, the sense of the sound leaning on the air beneath the larynx, it is easy to conclude erroneously that the sound should feel blocked by the muscles in the cords. Many falling into this trap feel a sense of security by having something to “push against”, but ultimately are heading in the wrong direction.
There definitely is a sense of narrowing that occurs in the old school way of singing, however, it is not a muscular force in the cords. This is an important clarification to be made in our minds because we should never think that appoggio feels like muscles stopping the air. In fact, the secret is in doing exactly the opposite.
In the very moment that the appoggio becomes muscular we block the diaphragm, which will not know how to react. When you sing a deep OO, soft falsetto, or even in a relaxed middle voice tone, you sense that the diaphragm responds in a harmonious way. If you ascend and you narrow the tone muscularly in the cords, you will feel a sort of hiccup in the diaphragm. It no longer knows its path.
There is no doubt that there is a significant adduction in the cords, and at first almost everyone overdoes that. There is also without doubt a narrowing above the cords, a slight sense of bottleneck… slight… not Kermit the Frog exaggerations, but slight. However, when the balance is right, you don’t sense these.
Most people don’t master appoggio because they don’t know how to focus the tone. Getting the sound to narrow correctly is done through refining the overtones. The relaxed low larynx and the narrow larynx, along with “suono alleggerito” in the passaggio (lightened sound, or boyish sound) give laser-like qualities to the sound of the upper register. Without the focus of the overtones, we put pressure in the wrong place. If you sing with intention of singing a straight tone, you will sense that the diaphragm responds exactly to the overtones. We should learn to concentrate our mental intention on sustaining a very refined overtone.
So the combination of not blocking the air with muscle, and focusing on laser-like qualities of overtones allows us to train the connection between diaphragm and vocal cords. If our sound is airy or in the vibrato cycle we get muscular or woofy, the diaphragm will gravitate toward that and attach itself to those actions. We end up pushing. It is impossible to support the voice correctly without refining well the overtones.
(PS. notice how the voce finta helps get the right low laryngeal set up (position, narrowness, etc)