Any discussion about the voices of singers active before the invention of the phonographic recording is similar to the investigations into a painter whose canvases have been totally lost. Only contemporary descriptions can give us some hints, through metaphors outlining their voices in words. Of course, sound can be evoked by images, too. In some cases, this is true also for the “grain of the voice,” as Roland Barthes called it. If “The grain is the body in the voice as it sings,” the image of the singing body is a simulacrum of the singing voice: not the image of a mere body, of course (the simple portrait of an artist), but the representation of the artist as a singer, that is to say the portrait of a singing character. This is well evidenced in the portraits of opera tenors created during the first decades of the nineteenth century. The histories of opera state that an epochal transformation occurred in the 1830s, when some tenors discarded the Belcanto tradition in favour of a new way of singing. The two manners of being a Romantic tenor thus coexisted for a few years, dividing the taste of the spectators into two groups. The opposite attitudes, in which those tenors were portrayed whilst singing, are therefore a testimony to their lost voices: singing bodies telling us the story of a vocal metamorphosis, that thanks to the complementary literary descriptions can be identified with the passage from the ancient 'canto di grazia' to a new type of vocal emission, perhaps identifiable as an anticipation of modern belting.

Singing bodies: The visual metamorphosis of Rossini's Arnold from ‘canto di grazia’ to ‘belting’

Marco Beghelli
2020

Abstract

Any discussion about the voices of singers active before the invention of the phonographic recording is similar to the investigations into a painter whose canvases have been totally lost. Only contemporary descriptions can give us some hints, through metaphors outlining their voices in words. Of course, sound can be evoked by images, too. In some cases, this is true also for the “grain of the voice,” as Roland Barthes called it. If “The grain is the body in the voice as it sings,” the image of the singing body is a simulacrum of the singing voice: not the image of a mere body, of course (the simple portrait of an artist), but the representation of the artist as a singer, that is to say the portrait of a singing character. This is well evidenced in the portraits of opera tenors created during the first decades of the nineteenth century. The histories of opera state that an epochal transformation occurred in the 1830s, when some tenors discarded the Belcanto tradition in favour of a new way of singing. The two manners of being a Romantic tenor thus coexisted for a few years, dividing the taste of the spectators into two groups. The opposite attitudes, in which those tenors were portrayed whilst singing, are therefore a testimony to their lost voices: singing bodies telling us the story of a vocal metamorphosis, that thanks to the complementary literary descriptions can be identified with the passage from the ancient 'canto di grazia' to a new type of vocal emission, perhaps identifiable as an anticipation of modern belting.
Rossini after Rossini: Musical and social legacy
123
151
Marco Beghelli
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: http://hdl.handle.net/11585/782442
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