Professor of Singing at the Royal College of Music, Examiner for the Associated Board of the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal College of Music. Author of " Life of Verdi," Essay of Musical Culture," etc.
Before attempting dramatic singing, I must warn you that it is necessary to have a very complete control of your vocal means, as the strain such singing makes upon a badly produced voice might have injurious and lasting effects.
I spoke in the preceding article on the subject of temperament, and of its cultivation, for portraying the colour of voice, necessary to all the emotions. Here I wish to caution you against allowing that temperament to become untutored.
In all dramatic singing the brain must be the controlling power; emotional feeling plays a large part in dramatic song, but anything approaching the hysterical must be avoided. As a rule, the English singer errs on the side of not " letting herself go" sufficiently, but my point is that feeling in song, when it is not governed mentally, is apt to lose its effect. And when singing words that require forcible utterance, do not lose quality. Very often I have heard singers with quite good voices give vent to ugly, harsh sounds under the impression that they were being dramatic. Occasionally-very occasionally-an "ugly" word may require an "ugly" tone in song, but any departure from a round, musical tone is unwarranted.
Some authorities say that, to make its effect, declamatory song depends less on beauty of tone than on declamatory power.
I disagree with this teaching, not only because I hold that dramatic singing and beauty of tone can go together, but because of the harm done to the singing voice by an unmusical production.
A vivid imagination is of priceless worth to the singer who aspires to be a dramatic artist. She must, to use a well-worn phrase, "live in the part." A great deal of mental preparation is necessary before a character or mood can be clearly and truthfully presented in song, and, as I have said in a previous article, more is demanded to-day than merely a beautiful voice | the histrionic side is given greater prominence, and the combined standard is altogether higher.
It is not necessary in order to become a dramatic singer to possess extraordinary intellect, or powers of analysis, but there must be a nature alive to all the emotions, power of expression, and, above all, imagination. And the last is the most important. This quality may lie dormant for years, until roused by the teacher or some other friend who has an influence over you. But the great thing is to have a personal imagination, not to try to see what others see, but ever to be receptive to new thoughts and ideas culled from your own brain. I quote a paragraph from a work on the subject, The Arts that appeared some years ago from the pen of Clara Kathleen Rogers:
" You are to part from someone very dear to you-a mother, a father, a husband, or an only child. At the hour of parting your voice is choked with sobs, and the tears stream from your eyes. Is it the act of parting in itself which produces this effect? Certainly not. Your emotion is the result of the thoughts which the act of parting calls up in your mind by association. You think of the long absence, of which the parting is the forerunner, of the lonely hours of yearning for the dear presence, of the dangers and perils that may attend the absent one, that perhaps it may not be granted you ever to look on that dear face again. It is such thoughts, such imaginings as these, that arouse the emotions, that express themselves in tears and sobs, and not the mere act of parting, which in itself, and independently of the imagination, would produce no emotional effect whatever."
What I have previously said about diction applies more than ever to dramatic song. Words are of paramount importance here. Clearness and absolute "word-truth" is a goal that the dramatic singer must conscientiously strive for if the desired effect is to be reached. If I seem to give an undue amount of attention to this subject, it is because the importance of the art cannot be too strongly impressed upon all who are desirous of becoming real singers. It is a gospel that I preach unceasingly, not only on account of the incompleteness of a voice, which, however beautiful in quality, without it, lacks its true mission-the welding of words to music, but also because the spoken word, correctly and purely articulated, is a very great help to the actual production.
To-day, an intelligent singer, with a moderate vocal equipment, stands a better chance of success with the critical public than the possessor of a glorious voice used without intelligence. The latter may call forth enthusiastic applause from the unmusical portion of the .public, but you must aim at something higher. Give your imagination free rein, and then set out to satisfy your own aspirations. Thus you will strike an individual note in your work, and as the imagination expands and soars, so you will be always striving to achieve more. The true artist never ceases to learn. I am not addressing myself now to the singer who is satisfied when she can render a simple ballad with acceptance, although even that needs a great deal more study than many seem to think, but I am appealing to the artist who would translate for us the masterpieces of song.
The singer who proposes to follow an operatic career must not neglect to undergo a very thorough training in gesture and stage technique. One hears frequently the effect of a really fine vocal performance entirely spoiled by reason of inability to give an adequate dramatic presentment of the role undertaken. As an example of the complete equipment of an artist, I would mention the names of Madame Destinn and Madame Kirkby Lunn. Both the possessors of most beautiful voices, how greatly is the value of their performances increased by their really consummate acting.
Up to within a very few years it has been a matter of great difficulty-almost, I would say, of impossibility, for a beginner to get any real stage training in England; but with the increase of operatic enterprises in this country, things are very different, and the future of native operatic singers was never so hopeful as it is to-day. The many notable successes which English singers have made in this branch of music is most encouraging, and should act as a spur to those who are fitted by Nature and training to follow in their steps. We hear no longer the old cry that England is not a musical country.
But do not be in a hurry, you who are setting out for an operatic career. Given the requisite means, it requires many years of hard work and study, not only of the voice, but of the different languages and schools. To become a finished artist is, as the Americans say, a very big "proposition," but the ultimate reward will more than compensate you for all the time you spend in gaining it.
To be continued.