Young Singers: Too fast, Too Soon?…Where has the Golden Age Gone?

The following article was published today in The Economist by E.H.B and I thought it would open discussion on a few very important topics that are very timely.  Feel free to send your opinions and thoughts.

Who Will Sing “Aida” by E.H.B (The Economist)


There are some large issues this article highlights:  1) young singers being forced into roles that are too large for their vocal size, 2) older singers (and I mean mid 40s) who are considered too “old” for certain roles and seemingly weened out of role contention, and 3) preparation of young singers and relying on technique to sustain a career in the opera profession.

I agree that young singers are more readily offered roles that are too big for them to handle.  I also agree that middle-aged singers are being left out of the mix for fresher, more youthful faces.  Had this been the case years ago, Leontyne Price, Birgit Nilsson, Kirsten Flagstad, Marilyn Horne, Joan Sutherland, and Luciano Pavarotti….to name a few, would have been taken out of the mix before they had a chance to reach the peak of their vocal prowess.  How stupid a situation this is?  But where does this all stem from?  It stems from the voice studio, from the teacher, from the technique.

Flagstad as isolde

Flagstad as Isolde

If young singers (and when I say young singers I mean anyone who is beginning to learn to use their voice regardless of age) are not provided with a technique that is able to withstand the rigours of major arias and roles, then what is the point of sending someone with a beautiful voice and face head first into the echelon of auditions?  Years ago, this was a lesser problem because singers found teachers who used techniques that worked, Marchesi, Malocchi, Lamperti, Garcia, for example.  Nowadays its all about making domes in the back of the mouth and finding resonances in the back of one’s head with no placement whatsoever and no vowels to be heard of except for some that are lost in a swash of fluttering or wobbling.  Really?  I went to school for years before I actually had a teacher who taught “a technique” and not one that they conjured up in their own fantasy by giving analogies of puppets hanging from strings.  On what green earth does anyone think that a voice produced that way will carry past an orchestra to 3000 people? Ever heard of singing in the masque? Mmm….interesting concept isn’t it, using your face? Ever heard of the first rule of opera…one that was fashioned in the mid 1600s when Monteverdi and the Camerata were fashioning the form of opera:  SI CANTA COME SI PARLA…..yeah, that’s right.  “You sing as you speak!”

Mathilde Marchesi

Mathilde Marchesi

Manuel Garcia

Manuel Garcìa

Singers are being thrust into roles too heavy for them and it seems that larger voices are being produced less and less because techniques are no longer the same as they were years ago, thus impeding the singer from projecting fully or using their full sound capacity.  So, if we have smaller voices, of course they can’t sing Aida or Tosca!  Then, we decide that middle-aged singers aren’t “glamorous” enough for Mimi or Tosca so let’s just throw young singers in, even if they ruin their voices, even if it makes them push, even if it makes them sing uncomfortably.  Who cares! Right!? WRONG!!! (Rigoletto’s motive of LA MALEDIZIONE plays loudly).


Claudio Monteverdi “The Music is the Mistress of the Words”

The Golden Age of singing was the Golden Age because even the comprimario roles were sung with exquisite voices that had the technique to withstand the rigours of opera.  Was it just that genius singers were born during that age and we’ll never hear the likes of them again? What are the odds of that? I think not.  There are many excellent voices today, in fact, there are spectacular voices out there but the real concern is making sure those voices fall into the right hands, acquire a sturdy technique, have good support from their vocal teacher, coaches, and then later agents, who understand the voice and are there to PROTECT the singer, not their pocketbooks.

Frankly, I think this article opens up an important discussion and although my comments may seem harsh, I’m being honest about how “I” feel about these issues.  It’s just my opinion.  I’d love to hear yours.