Discovering the "Open Throat" with the Help of Enrico Caruso (Part 2)
April 13, 2013
The libraries at the University of Texas opened my eyes to a new reality. They had a wealth of information in regard to all aspects of the voice, from its physiological basis to its functioning in both speech and singing. When I started doing research, I was surprised to discover that specific muscles in the larynx, pharynx (throat), oral cavity, and soft palate determine how a voice sounds and behaves, that the voice is the expression of many muscles working in relation to each other! I saw the connection to Caruso’s idea of the open throat immediately. Although Caruso did not mention the musculature of the throat in his little book, he, nonetheless, advised that singers should make sure to keep their throats open. In Caruso’s own words:
“To have an attack true and pure one must consciously try to open the throat not only in the front, but from behind, for the throat is the door through which the voice must pass, and if it’s not sufficiently open it is useless to attempt to get out a full, round tone…” (Caruso and Tetrazzini On The Art of Singing).
But how does a singer keep his throat open in consideration of the anatomical fact that it’s made up of musculature? Opening the throat could only mean stretching; that is, widening and elongating its physical dimensions—its muscles! Caruso’s idea finally began to make sense. In no uncertain terms, vocal muscles were designed to be tensed and stretched—that is, actively engaged in singing. The life-changing moral to the story turned out to be very simple: an open throat is not a relaxed throat, but a muscularly built one!
Only much later did I have my interpretation of Caruso’s idea of the muscular throat finally confirmed by the great tenor himself. In his book about his father (Enrico Caruso: My Father and My Family), Enrico Caruso Jr. quotes his famous father as saying:
“I wish people generally might know how hard I have worked to gain such vocal abilities as I possess. They say that I sing as I do because I have the voice; they think for me that it’s easy. It may appear so, I hope it does, for the artist should always conceal from his audience all evidence of physical effort. To gain such technique demands the constant effort; the exercise of the muscles, day after day for many years, until they respond to the will and have been developed to the point where sudden and very great effort never imposes a strain that cannot be met. If people only could be close enough to see my hands tremble during the delivery of some very physically exacting phrase, they wouldn’t say I sing easily.”
Here Caruso is speaking like an athlete when he talks about the need for the voice muscles to be strong enough to respond instantly to the singer’s will and for them to be sufficiently resilient to be able to withstand any physical strain. It’s worth mentioning that athletic efficiency, as a result of sufficient muscular strength and coordination, is not at all particular to singing. Athletes—and those of us who workout regularly—know this connection.
Equipped with a new understanding of the open throat in relation to throat muscles, Caruso, Corelli, Del Monico, and Ruffo’s singing finally began to make sense. But an open throat has another biomechanical dimension that I had learned through my studies and research—the “lowered larynx.” For many decades there has been much debate swirling around the so-called “lowered larynx technique.” Resonant, open, and brilliant vowel sounds—the sort that often emanated from the above-mentioned, muscular singers—are only possible when the larynx can assume a consistently lower position in the throat. By lowering the larynx, it becomes more securely anchored and stabilized in the throat, the vocal folds move toward each other more efficiently, and the glottis is closed more firmly; the lowered laryngeal position also elongates and expands the pharyngeal cavity and raises the soft palate. All these new alignments and adjustments result in a highly compressed and resonant tone with exceptionally brilliant and penetrating sound frequencies.