pars media // films // Belcanto - The Tenors of the 78 Era // 2 The singing Robot

scene: music lessons with Peter Feuchtwanger in London, who applies the principles of bel canto to piano playing.

music: Meyerbeer (de Lucia, Bonci), Chopin (Carol Cooper), Schipa (Tito Schipa), Verdi (Caruso, De Lucia), Donizetti (Joseph Schmidt, Stefan Zucker), Wagner (Melchior), Bach-Gounod (Moreschi), Strauß (Schwarz/Tauber), Leoncavallo (Lieban)

analysis: Alessandro Moreschi (the last castrato): Ave Maria (Bach-Gounod), 1904

The record is a wonderful invention, it repeats something which cannot be repeated. Miracles can only happen once. (Feuchtwanger) The gramophone created a new relationship with the musical time. When a singer holds a top note I forget time. If I hear the same note many times over on a record the effect is totally different. (Kesting)

'Belcanto' - it's so vague that I sometimes think the term should be banned. Its principle use is a kind of negative one. We know what isn't belcanto and it's useful in that respect. In a real belcanto singer it's not simply a matter of a smoothness and flexibility, but an element of phantasy enters as well. The obvious example is the Neapolitan Fernando de Lucia. He takes all sorts of liberties which wouldn't be allowed by any conductor today. But when you listen to him your first instinct is to say, "how poetic". 'Poetic' is almost as vague as 'belcanto' itself, yet you do mean something by it. That the imagination of the singer has taken flight. That these are no longer notes on paper. (Steane) De Lucia still understood the Latin of singing. It was still a living language in those days. (Kesting) Decorations of the sort that De Lucia has used were absolutely common to Italian singing as far back as we can trace it in history. These little quick notes remained an essential part of Italian singing until it was stemed out in our century. (Crutchfield)

Gramophone records had an enormous levelling effect on singing. Singers had to learn to produce a model performance. (Kesting) The only ideal moment is the here and now. The unique value of the moment is its irreproducibility. (Splett)