The Voice and Singing

Article excerpt

Jean-Baptiste Faure, The Voice and Singing. Translated and edited by Francis Keeping and Roberta Prada. New York: Vox Mentor LLC, 2005. Paper, 288 pp., $59.00. ISBN 10:0-9777823-0 www.voxmentor.com

The history of voice pedagogy can be researched in a variety of sources, from Caccini's famous introduction to Le nuove musiche, to the battle for public opinion between the French tenors Nourrit and Duprez in press reviews. Vocalise collections are particularly revealing, for they offer a glimpse into the most basic rudiments of voice development. From the lauded single sheet of exercises used by Porpora in the training of the renowned singer Cafarelli, through the well known compilations by Marchesi, Vaccai, and Panofka, graded exercises have been notated by pedagogues for centuries.

The Voice and Singing (Le Voix et le Chant) is the set of vocalises by the leading French baritone of his generation, Jean-Baptiste Faure (1830-1914). As the principle baritone at the Paris Opéra for almost two decades, he created roles such as Nelusko in L'Africaine, Posa in Don Carlo, and Méphisto in Faust. In the 1880s, Faure was invited to overhaul the French Conservatoire system. He presented his observations and recommendations in this treatise, which consists of both vocalises and essays on the voice and singing. Translated by Francis Keeping and Roberta Prada, Faure's work is presented in English for the first time.

"The art of singing has fallen on hard times," writes Faure in his opening sentence. He blames the decline of vocal technique upon the diminished study of religious music, and upon the music of modern composers-such as Wagner-who view the voice as an instrument. Faure offers insight into the culture of the Conservatoire, a fiercely competitive place in which teachers jealously guarded their methods, even to the point of forbidding eavesdropping on their lessons. He advocates the adoption of a standard curriculum at the Conservatoire, one that includes the study of the Italian masters, and recommends performance on public master classes, attendance at concerts, and an open door policy so that students could attend any teacher's lessons.

Faure's appraisal of the Conservatoire and his suggestions for its improvement comprise only a small portion of the treatise. Most of Le Voix et le Chant is devoted to vocal technique. A brief explanation of the dassification of voices-of both adults and children-and directives for posture and breathing precede the vocalises. The voice exercises begin with studies for a balanced attack, and proceed to a progressive study of all intervals. Faure includes vocalises for portamento, register blending, all types of scales, arpeggios, agility, and trills and other ornaments. The open vowel in the French word "hot" is used for beginning work, but in the advanced exercises, French text is introduced. Vocalises should also be drawn from the vocal literature. …