Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 3.djvu/522

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510

��SINGING.

��that much-abused word ? A generally accepted meaning is a series of aimless ill-proportioned crescendos and diminuendos, rallentandos and accellerandos with a constant apparent disposi- tion to cry. Taste and expression are often con- founded with each other. ' Expression,' if only from its etymology, means a manifestation of the thought and feeling that is passing within. Can people, then, be taught to sing with true expres- sion ? Certainly not through the bare outward means to the end. But they may be taught to seek for some meaning in their words and music that shall rouse their feelings, and then they may be guided in their use of the me- chanical means at their disposal, in order to avoid exaggeration : when once they feel, we have the signs of it in the mere sound of the voice ; and it is this subtle expression springing from within that finds its way from one soul to another ; and as a glass reflects only what is placed before it, so, only so far as the singing is or has been felt by the singer, will it be felt by the hearer.

Before the death of Titiens we were so fortu- nate as to have here five prime donne at one time Titiens herself, Adelina Patti, Nilsson, Albani, and Trebelli four of whom we may hope to have for some time to come. Titiens was a fine example of the soprano drammatico. The voice was of unusual magnitude, and grand quality, with just an idea of veil upon it.

The veil, in a small degree, is by no means of necessity a defect. Indeed it adds substance to the voice where it is otherwise pure and strong. One of the most remarkable instances of the voce velata was Dorus-Gras, who sang in Eng- land in 1839 and 40. The veil had possibly come over the voice after first youth, but it was then very marked. With a fine voice sounding through it, a most brilliant style, and excellent execution, it quite gave the idea of the bright sun and blue sky shining through and dispelling a white morn- ing mist.

To return to Titiens. Such parts as Medea, Norma, Semiramide, Fidelio, were her forte. Besides her occasional heavy breathing, she had a defect in the pronunciation of the vowel e (Italian), which so far marred her voice-pro- duction ; but she was a conscientious artist, and a fine singer both in oratorio and opera.

Adelina Patti, blest with a clear, pure, facile, high soprano voice, which apparently never gave her any trouble, of considerable compass, produced in a faultless manner, is one of the greatest mistresses of vocalisation of our times. Nilsson, with a fine, extensive voice, and much dramatic talent, has a peculiar earnestness, in parts that she feels to belong to her, that is most attractive. During her early great successes in Paris, one of her greatest was the part of Elvira in ' Don Giovanni,' a part almost unappreciated in London. Her prison scene in Boito's * Mefistofele ' is a very perfect performance. The beauty of Albani's voice, the grace of her style, and her thorough conscientiousness, have justly made her a great favourite. Trebelli, with her grand mezzo-soprano v oice and style, is another of the great artists of

��SINGING.

the present day, and Pauline Lucca yet another With six such singers at one time, it might be asked, Where is the decadence in the art of singing of which you complain ? ' We must remember that in England we get the very best of everything (except climate), and that it is to these very artists, and those in the same path, that we owe the preservation of the good school.

Lady singers have been and are, for the most part, well-favoured ; many very beautiful ; those of the stronger sex are also generally well-look- ing. But there have been instances of the re- verse, and of the triumph of art over this draw- back. Tacchinardi (Persiani's father), was so plain as to raise a coarse laugh when he first appeared in Italy, upon which he came to the footlights and said, ' I am here to be listened to, not to be looked at.' He was listened to, and admired. Pisaroni, the great contralto, was so ill-favoured that she usually sent her portrait to the managers of theatres before making an en- gagement. She was nevertheless very famous. In about the year 1855 Barbieri-Nini, a well- known soprano in many parts, was the prima donna assoluta at the Scala. The opening opera was Verdi's ' Vespri Sicilian!,' under the title of ' Giovanna di Guzman.' The heroine was a young girl. Barbieri-Nini, who impersonated her, was very short and thickset, without the semblance of a waist, very ugly, marked with small-pox, and with the looks of about fifty-five. When she ap- peared, there was the general coarse 'Oh, oh I* and laugh of the Milanese public. As she proceeded, however, attention became fixed upon the singing ; a certain duet with the tenor made her an esta- blished favourite, and she remained so to the end of the Carnival. The Milanese, though unsparing in their censure, are immediately ready to recog- nize what is good ; they will hiss a singer through nearly a whole evening, and yet a little bit, of a few notes only, well executed, will provoke a storm of applause.

About the time when the tremolo was be- coming intolerable (1854), Clara Novello was the prima donna assoluta, and the great beauty of her voice and her freedom from the prevailing vice, caused her to be greatly admired. Singers do not always know their own powers. Clara Novello was requested to sing the part of Gilda in ' Rigoletto.' This she at first declined to do, on the plea that it was totally unfitted for her. Being persuaded, however, it proved an enormous success. She sang the music beauti- fully, and acted the part with much grace. The baritone was Corsi, one of the best Kigolettos ; and the performance was a very fine one. Corsi was a little man, rather stout, and with not very dramatic features, being somewhat like the busts of Socrates, but his dignified gestures had the power of apparently increasing his stature. His sympathetic, but not over strong voice, would not bear the strain of large theatres; it left him, and he became a teacher of singing.

There has been a long list of tenors, beginning curiously with a Nicolino and a Mario in the 1 7th century, leading down to our own Mario

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