Q. …a technical question…found myself wondering the other night at SF Opera, and who better to advise me, than yourself…
…it's about vibrato in classical music--classical vocal music--more particularly, in grand opera.
Are singers, especially sopranos, taught to use vibrato on every note (well, every note that's long enough)? Does vibrato use vary with the era, or year, or style of the music?
…thanks for any insight,
A. I just posted a blog entry about this recently. I think most people have a vibrato and I have absolutely no recollection of anyone teaching it. It's a natural part of the voice.
In the old days there were turntables that did both 45 and 33 rpm, so if you had a 45 you could slow it down and actually hear the vibrato or lack thereof. Patty Page was the only one with no vibrato.
In general you are stuck with the vibrato you have. If it's too fast or too slow or perish the thought too wide, you might be sunk.
There are choir schools that train singers not to have vibrato. I am aware of training it away but not of training to have it. Heavy singing affects the vibrato, generally in a negative way. But this effect is not voluntary.
In general, you have the vibrato you have, but taste in vibrato might change from one era to another. I would guess it was lightening right now.
This is strictly an educated guess, but I think it's the muscles that hold the larynx in place that oscillate and create the vibrato. I'd have to look it up and my books are in boxes. For once Wikipedia is no help. They are talking about instrumental vibrato which is entirely voluntary.
Q Follow up. Once again, my question was based in trying to understand performance differences between jazz (and pop) music and opera. It has seemed to me lately that opera singers--particularly sopranos--have been laying in vibrato on every single note, and it often sounds mechanical. in jazz--both for singers and for horn players, guitarists & bass players--especially on ballads, the musician will start a note steady, then add vibrato, and take it off again, to warm it up or shape the line. Kim Nalley is a master of this; you hear it a lot in Jane Monheit's singing, and Diane Reeves's, etc., etc. so if jazzers use this as a tool, for emotional impact, why wouldn't opera-ers? a mystery for our time.
A. Historically instrumentalists didn't use vibrato. A Vivaldi singer would have had a natural vibrato. A Vivaldi violinist would not.
Maybe some famous violinist like Paganini started using it. I'd have to research that, and as you know, I just wing this stuff.
The second reason a Vivaldi violinist would not have used vibrato is because his musicians, and perhaps also his singers, were children. I think one of the reasons children singing sound so different from adults is because children have no vibrato. You need adults for that.
Instrumentalists are imitating singers. Singers are imitating God.
So by the time of jazz in the early 20th century I think it developed with the style for the instrumentalists and subsequently the singers to be aware of and manipulate their vibrato. In jazz musicians and singers hang out together in a way that they just don't do in classical.
I should add this to my "Things you can do" list: you can manipulate your vibrato, take it out, put it back, make it bigger, make it smaller, etc.
But see, then you are getting into stylistic issues. Manipulating the vibrato, except for the trill thing, is not part of the style of classical singing.