In the following article, Madame Blanche Marchesi, the famous daughter of a world-famous mother, advises girls who aspire to success in operatic singing. As Madame Marchesi began her career as a teacher at the age of fifteen, and has been before the public as a singer in every Continental capital, there can be no doubt as to her qualifications. She was one of her mother's most brilliant pupils, and among the number of those pupils are included Ada Crossley, Melba, and innumerable other "stars."
There was never a time, I think, when so many girls were anxious to go upon the operatic stage as now ; and, naturally, they all desire to succeed.
For success as a singer a girl must have a certain look. I do not mean necessarily beauty. It is something in her face, something in her manner, something in her general appearance. It is unmistakable. The moment I glance at a girl I can tell whether she has it or not. If, when I look at her, she appears to me to be a Madame Nobody or a Miss Nothing-at-all, I know how heavily handicapped she is.
A Voice is Not All
Still, I do not say right away that she will not succeed. I say to myself : "We will see if she has the other qualities developed on so colossal a scale that they will simply wipe out the disadvantage of lacking the all-important quality I have spoken of, and still compel the public admiration."
The first of these qualities is the voice.
Now, a voice is one thing, and ability to sing is another thing. Most people seem to think that the two things are one thing. They are not. They are two things.
I have known singers who sing without art, but their voice has been so magnificent, so wonderful, that they have carried their audience away with it. They have succeeded, even though they did not possess any of the other great qualities.
Good Health a Necessity
Another all-important factor is health. I can tell at a glance whether a girl is really healthy or not. If the first qualification for success as a singer is to please, the second undoubtedly is health. I have often had girls come to me who have had every qualification requisite to make a successful career but health. Those girls never could succeed. Health is the foundation on which a successful career in opera or on the platform must be built. A singer must not be in a state of collapse just when she has to give out all her strength and vitality. If you cannot sing when people want you to do so, they will soon leave off wanting you. Therefore, health is a vital necessity.
Another important thing to which I always look is character. The moment you see a face - if you study these things - you can tell a great deal about the character. You will see evidences of inborn weakness if they are there. You cannot live and fight in the world if you have some of these faults. They are bound to be a hindrance to the career.
When girls come to me I ask them a good many questions, such as : "Are you stubborn ? " "Do you find that you lack this or that or the other quality ?"
I also notice their hands. Sometimes girls come to me with their nails ragged and ugly, showing that they bite them. Nail-biting betokens a lack of control of power. If girls cannot control their powers, they get no lessons from me.
This lack of control may show itself in many different ways. I have only instanced one. People who cannot get over one difficulty, who have not steadfastness enough to conquer their faults, will always take the way of least resistance. They will always do the thing they want to do, the thing that pleases them, and the thing they ought not to do. Just as men who go in for a military career are drilled and drilled and drilled, until they are made to do what they ought to do, so a girl who wants to succeed as a singer must consent to be drilled and drilled and drilled, until she has developed strength of character.
It is impossible to overrate the value of character as a factor in achieving success in opera.
When old Rossini was asked what qualities were necessary for a woman to win success as an opera singer, he answered : " There are three qualities. The first is voice, the second is voice, the third is voice."
When the same question was put to my mother's great teacher, the famous Garcia, he, too, said : " Three things are necessary. The first is character, the second is character, and the third is character."
If you ask me what things are necessary, I say: " Voice and character."
If you asked me further whether a girl could succeed with a voice, but without character, I should say "No," unhesitatingly and emphatically.
If you asked me if a girl could succeed with character and without a voice, I should say: "Sometimes, yes."
It is character which makes and does everything. You can do nothing on the operatic stage without character. It enables you to make yourself liked. It enables you to adhere to your own line, not to waver first to this side and then to the other, but to keep straight on along the path you have mapped out for yourself, when you are once satisfied that you are going the right way. I have had girls working for me who seemed to be going to make a big success, when suddenly their characters failed and people have led them away. Their inherent weakness of character was traded upon, and they failed.
Such people always make me think of the famous fable of the man and his son and the ass. Most people know it. Still, I may recall it to the girl who wants to succeed.
A man and his son were taking an ass, their only possession, to sell at the market, and were trudging by its side.
Presently they met a man who said : " What fools those people are ! They are walking by an ass when they might be riding."
" That's true," said the father. So he mounted the ass and rode on.
" Just look at that man ! " said the next one they passed. " He's a nice father ! He's riding the ass and taking it easily, while his young son has to tire himself trudging by his side."