Monday, June 22, 2015

“What Bel Canto Means To Me...” (By John McCormack’s heir)

In an e-mail letter to me dated October 15, 2003, Count John McCormack, heir and grandson of Irish Tenor John McCormack writes:

Bel Canto speaks for itself – beautiful singing – and one of its greatest exponents was my grandfather, Count John McCormack.... The secret to Bel Canto, some say, lies in the continuity of tone and the art of sustaining passages to create a beautiful line. John was an expert at delivery, phrasing and had uncanny breathing ability, quite often leaving his audience gasping while he sailed effortlessly on.

The sheer simplicity behind the theory of allowing a voice to develop in its own individual and distinctive way could well be learned and understood by many modern singers who force their way through songs while desperately attempting to sound like their favourite singer. Why do we spend so much of our lives trying to be someone else when what we have is so divinely unique?

It gives me great pleasure to know that the tradition of Bel Canto is continued with success through the Bel Canto House in Dublin. My grandfather’s legacy will remain and the lessons that can still be learned from listening to his mastery will, hopefully, continue to be of benefit to hundreds of future students.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Frank Merriman (1941- a long, time in the future...)

I learned Bel Canto from my teacher Julian Miller in the traditional and conventional way, with an emphasis on clarity of pronunciation, especially the vowels, and endless hours working on classical arias.

I realized through our work together that the singers who made the most enduring impact on the singing world through their artistry were the ones who focused all of their efforts on telling the story of the song. The true essence of the expressive Bel Canto artistry in singers like Jean de Reske, John McCormack, Zinka Millanov and Jussi Bjorling came from storytelling.
Telling the story was what allowed them to use their voices effortlessly in the most beautiful, powerful and natural way. I made sure to tell the story every time I opened my mouth to sing.

I began teaching singing because my co-performers in the opera company in Duesseldorf, Germany started asking me to help them improve their performances. When I eventually realized that over half the entire opera company was coming to my flat for singing lessons I decided that the life of a full-time teacher was the life I was born for. I taught in Germany for a while and then for several years in London.

When I came back to Dublin to teach singing in the year 1983 I expanded my teaching base to include not only classical singers, but also singers from other styles of music such as Irish folk singers, pop singers, showband singers and rock and roll singers. I revolutionized the Bel Canto tradition by taking it out of the opera house and putting it into the hands (and voices) of all Irish singers. Thus a new singing tradition, unique to Ireland, was born: "Bel Canto Storytelling."

In 1987 I purchased a historic Georgian building on North Great Georges Street in Dublin as a permanent home for the Bel Canto House School of Singing. It truly is the home of "beautiful singing" where singers of all styles, whether beginners or experienced performers, have a positive environment to work towards VOCAL FREEDOM.

I have been the singing teacher of hundreds and hundreds of students, including Sinead O’Connor, Heidi Talbot, Leslie Dowdall, Christy Digman and most importantly my associate teacher Edwin Williamson.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Jussi Bjorling: Failing Heart, Triumphant Singing Voice

The Swedish tenor Jussi Bjorling enjoyed a status as king of the singing world until his untimely death at the age of forty-nine in the year 1960. He graced the stages of the Met and Carnegie Hall in the United States as well as the great opera halls throughout Europe and the rest of the world with his beautiful Bel Canto singing voice. He left behind a great legacy of his art, readily available in all leading music stores throughout the world, both audio and video recordings.

What many people didn’t realize about Bjorling when they hear him sing, however, is that he suffered from a deadly heart condition. Whenever he had a heart attack he was placed on a medication that was designed to broaden the arteries of his heart to allow the blood to flow more freely. Over the years of taking this medication his heart became increasingly enlarged until his early death in September 1960.

At that moment in time just before his death Jussi Bjorling was the greatest singer alive. During the last year of his life Bjorling’s voice was becoming more and more dramatic. He was starting to take on more of the dramatic roles in opera. This was due to the maturity of his mind and the depth of his spirit. It had absolutely nothing to do with any degree of physical strength. His body was growing weaker and weaker while his singing voice was becoming stronger and stronger.

Bjorling’s last recital was on August 20, 1960 in Stockholm, Sweden, less than three weeks before he died. It was a truly spectacular performance. Recordings of it are still available today. I encourage you to go out and buy a copy and have a listen for yourself. You won’t be able to tell that you are hearing a man whose heart is failing. You will only hear a triumphant and majestic singer.