Discovering the "Open Throat" with the Help of Enrico Caruso (Part 1)
February 26, 2013
Through my studies in Austin, Texas, I became acquainted with the controversial ideas of a famous Italian voice teacher from the middle of the 20th century, a certain Arturo Melocchi, who was reputed to have said daily, “the voice needs to be pushed.” He was the teacher of the famed operatic tenors of the 50s and 60s, Mario Del Monico and Franco Corelli. (Corelli had only one lesson from Melocchi himself and then studied afterwards with one of his students.)
I began studying the recordings of these two singers, and noticed that not only did Del Monico’s and Corelli’s voices resemble each other in striking ways, but both of their voices bore remarkable similarities to that of Enrico Caruso—the most celebrated tenor in history. All three singers, in fact, had beautifully resonant voices that were capable of astonishing power in all areas of their range. Their voices had a muscular feel to them, especially in their high notes. Open vowel sounds, baritone-like coloring, and piercing brilliance (in Italian, “squillo”) also set them apart from all other tenors.
Speaking of baritones, while I was discovering the remarkable voices of Del Monico and Corelli, I soon realized that their voices and Caruso’s also resembled that of a contemporary of Caruso’s—the lion-voiced Titta Ruffo (1877-1953) who possessed arguably the greatest of all baritone voices. Ruffo’s voice was, like Caruso’s, deeply resonant, sumptuous, and immense—and resounded with an explosive intensity that could easily overpower the listener. The peerless Caruso himself feared Ruffo’s huge and charismatic voice as Ruffo feared Caruso’s. That a baritone—usually secondary to the tenor in Italian opera—could compete with a tenor for the spotlight—especially this tenor—gives an indication of the magnitude of Ruffo’s vocal prowess. Because of mutual respect, or more likely, mutual intimidation, they avoided singing together, but we do have a fantastic, acoustic recording of them singing a duet—Si Pel Ciel from Verdi’s Otello—and their competitive performance (and chemistry) is hair-raising to say the least. It’s also interesting to note the extent to which their darkish vocal qualities resembled one another’s. In fact, when listening closely to their duet, it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish Caruso’s cello-like vocal tone from that of Ruffo’s.
Analyzing these three voices and isolating their common qualities joggled my memory. During my early years of formal instruction, I read a book called Enrico Caruso and Luiza Tetrazzini on the Art of Singing (Tetrazzini was a famous soprano in the early 20th century) in which Caruso spoke about the importance of singing with an open throat to a good vocal technique. At that time, I had not the slightest idea of what an open throat might mean, and unfortunately, Caruso himself did not go into detail. Many of my teachers also often referred to an open throat, which they defined simply as a “relaxed throat.” Their interpretation was consistent with their belief that the throat is relatively passive during singing. I accepted their interpretation at the time, but my faith in my teacher’s ideas was soon shattered.