Anthony Frisell, world-renowned teacher of voice for singers wishing to pursue careers in the field of international opera, has updated and reissued his three voice manuals: The Tenor Voice, The Soprano Voice and The Baritone Voice. They are intense, in depth and completely responsive to those individuals who wish beginning and advanced training for a serious career. My review is geared toward The Soprano Voice, however, the basic concepts are the same for all three voices.
For far too many individuals who surround themselves with music and perhaps even learn to imitate some of today’s stars, they begin to consider a singing career. While reality shows abound implying that there is an easy path to success, this is just not true. The professional singer must be trained, practice and learn to protect their new voice!
To find the path to success, Frisell first explains the “Mental Image Approach.” That is, “all vocal exercises must be indirectly applied, through mental concepts.” (p. 7) The beginner then realizes what is expected to attain professional status. It was not at all surprising to me that even though I’ve been singing in various groups most of my life that I had never learned to sing correctly. Learning and maintaining vocal standards is a lifetime study in a professional environment and by a master!
There are fixed rules that form the correct mental image. Grand opera began in Italy and the first rule requires that all vowel sounds, in order to ensure singer communication to her audience, must ensure purity of vowels. Specifically, “each of the five Classic Italian vowels, u (oo) i (ee), e (eh), o (oh), and a (ah), as pronounced by native Italians, must be mastered in their purest form throughout the entire voice range.” (p. 8)
The next fixed rule applies to Control for without control our voices are unreliable. The book covers breath-force dynamics, range, flexibility and shading of tones-all results of control.
There is also a requirement that professional singers must become familiar with the rudiments of music and the ability to play a musical instrument, preferably the piano. Additionally, it is necessary to learn several foreign languages.
For many of us, we do not understand how and why we can reach some notes sometimes, but not at others. This is simply explained by the requirement to identify the vocal registers for the individual. Frisell notes that “to master the art of refined singing one must know the function of the two vocal registers and fully develop them, so they function together as a single unit of quality and strength.” (p. 11) This is not easily done. However, Frisell effectively takes each of the issues in this process, identifies and explains them, and then proceeds to illustrate how the single unit is developed.
Using a keyboard illustration, the breaks for females are identified. The lower register are those that come from the “chest voice” while the upper range is the “head voice.” A ruling principle is provided because there is constant antagonism between these registers. “The conflicting muscular responses that occur, between the two vocal registers, when attempting to produce pure, superior vocal tone, represent the natural responses to the energy of the motor force (breath tension) being applied to the muscles of both registers.” (p. 16).
For an individual to advance from routine singing to a professional, there are years of muscular control development through exercises, practice, and by listening and studying those professionals already proficient in opera. This manual takes you through the mechanics of this study and provides an outstanding array of exercises, detailed illustrations of where the sound should be located, how the tongue and throat are affected, etc.
Frisell has provided “a personal guide to acquiring a superior singing technique.” Indeed, the only thing lacking is that Frisell is not there, helping the individual in this effort. This is a must-read for serious students of voice. As a final contribution, Frisell has included a copy of a recent article entitled, “Is There an “American School” of classic voice training? If so-has it failed American singers?”
By the way, the author gives master classes and is located in New York City. In my opinion, only very serious students need apply! This man will either accept you as a potential great singer…or you will come to know the answer to the question he poses in the above article.