Bel Canto: What is it?

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Leyla Cuberli in Semiramide (Rossini)

Most of the repertoire that I am working on or have sung falls into the bel canto period.  I will be doing some concerts next year that will be all bel canto. Since it’s currently on my mind, I thought it would make a good blog topic… you’re welcome. 🙂

When I teach in my studio, whether I’m teaching a rock singer or an R&B artist, a Broadway singer or an opera singer, I always incorporate the use of the bel canto school of singing. I don’t consider myself a “bel canto” teacher, per se, although I do borrow from the school liberally and consider it a large part of what I teach. Bel canto is a style that originated in the Italian tradition between the 18th and 19th century (some argue it started sooner but for our purposes, we’ll move on). The main principles are the use of air so that your  vowels ride upon the air and are connected, thus creating what is known as a legato line. The registers should be properly balanced and seamless. The throat should feel open and relaxed while being supported by the body (sternum up, intercostals out, diaphragm allowed to drop during inhalation). Tones focused, round and beautiful. It couldn’t be bel canto without beauty. The most famous teachers who made these ideas a cornerstone of vocal pedagogy which we still look to even today are Manuel García (1805–1906), Pauline Viardot (1821–1910), Mathilde MarchesiFrancesco Lamperti and his son Giovanni Battista Lamperti.

In true bel canto period singing, the vocal  technique was also married to a style. A style that was at its strongest in the works of composers such as Rossini, Donizetti, Bellini and Verdi, to name a few. The thrill of these pieces was the long legato lines sung on pure vowels with plenty of vocal gymnastics to show off the singer. The drama and emotion were meant to be conveyed through the voice. It was dubbed the Golden Age with good reason. The best way to understand it is to take a listen. So I leave you with a few examples. Do enjoy and do feel free to ask questions.

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