An Explanation of the Tenor's Art Past and Present
For those whose knowledge of tenor singing might be confined to fading memories of the Three Tenors (Pavarotti, Carreras, and Domingo) performing "Nessun Dorma" to hordes of admiring spectators, this is the kind of program to broaden the mind.
Presented by Antonio Pappano, Music Director of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, since 2002, this documentary looked at how tenors produce their remarkable sound through specific singing techniques. Taking a masterclass from retired baritone Sir Thomas Allen, Pappano learned just how difficult it was to breathe and produce the sound using the whole of the body. It seemed that tenors are born, not made.
In fact the tenor as we understand it is a particularly nineteenth century creation, a substitute for the castrato singers of yore, who really did have to undergo some form of bodily mutilation to achieve their vocal strength. With the development of opera through Italian masters such as Verdi and Puccini, the tenor gradually became an established part of the operatic canon.
The concept of the star tenor was really only created a century later through the efforts of Caruso, who spent a lot of his time using the then new-fangled technology to record some of his most famous performances for posterity. Others followed in his wake, such as Fritz Wunderlich and latterly Pavarotti.
The program was intriguing, but perhaps suffered a little from trying to cram too much into a limited running-time. We would have benefited from learning a little more about Mario Lanza, the Philadelphia-born Italian-American with little or no operatic experience who nonetheless became the first real crossover star with the hit "Because You're Mine" that topped the charts in Britain and the United States. Although dying of a pulmonary embolism aged only thirty-nine, Lanza blazed the trail for future superstar tenors such as Pavarotti and Carreras.
Nonetheless, the program offered a fascinating insight into the mysteries of operatic singing for specialists and nonspecialists alike.
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