The silencing of Bel Canto

Robertson-Kirkland, B. E. (2013) The silencing of Bel Canto. eSharp, 21, 7.

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The castrato voice is lost to modern ears, but was a significant and influential phenomenon in music history, which continues to fascinate researchers. It has been noted by Katherine Bergeron that „the figure of the castrato offers a kind of chilling embodiment of that truth, a poignant testimony to things that can never be recovered‟, (Bergeron, 1996, p. 167) and yet as Michel Poizat points out „there is every reason to expect that attempts to yield something that may once more conjure up its echo will continue‟ (1992, p. 95). Without the physical embodiment of this voice type, there are many limitations in constructing what the castrato voice may have sounded like, and yet the lasting legacy of the phenomenon is of significant importance to opera due to the dominance of the castrato during the development of the genre and, by extension, the development of vocal education. John Potter has theorised that throughout the 18th century castrati were responsible for the development and cultivation of the art of singing. He further suggests that the loss of the castrato voice and their „irrecoverable skills‟ created the „myth of bel canto‟ (2007, pp. 99). Bel canto is a style of singing that has a number of contradictory definitions and time periods that it encompasses. Rodolfo Celletti in his brief overview of the history of bel canto entitled A History of Bel Canto, describes a resurrection of the bel canto tradition in the 20th century with singers such as Maria Callas (1996). However, to Potter, bel canto and the castrato vocal technique are one and the same and with the loss of the castrato, the skills and techniques that once built this vocal style became blurred in the oral tradition, leaving nothing but the myth of their art of singing, which can be defined as bel canto. In this article, I will take a closer look at the link between the castrati and the bel canto tradition reconstructing the key vocal technique of flexibility, which is often referred to in vocal education books published in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Robertson-Kirkland, Dr Brianna
Authors: Robertson-Kirkland, B. E.
Journal Name:eSharp
Publisher:eSharp, University of Glasgow

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