Competing to win: James Newby at the 2016 Ferrier Award voice almost becomes its own personality, and you learn to deal with this by being aware of how you are singing, and constantly listening to yourself. Muscle memory is important, but you cannot rely on muscular strength or the voice develops a wobble.’ As he has gained more security with his technique Pati has become more aware of physical rather than vocal changes in himself, and how that affects his singing. He believes that ‘Whether you’re servicing a Porsche or a station wagon, they still need servicing’ and frequently visits the San Francisco teacher he shares with his wife, Amina Edris, sending recordings of difficult passages and getting feedback whenever he is away. Bernadette Cullen agrees: ‘When preparing a role, working regularly with a teacher and/or vocal coach is vital for advancing technique, attaining beautiful colour and achieving muscle memory, while developing your interpretation.’
After years of being unsure about finding a suitable teacher, and avoiding the issue, the English bass Julian Close found ‘a fantastic teacher in New York who I now see as often as possible’. However, Keenlyside comments that having a teacher during a career ‘can sometimes be more of a psychological prop than of any genuine value’. Ever since his original teacher died, Tézier has worked by himself, by feeling rather than hearing: ‘I learn, work, stabilize, listen to colleagues or old recordings, and analyse, trying to imitate the phrasing and the style—but not the sound. You follow the voice and adapt to its changes, just like I do with the wear and tear on my knees—I still have to walk!’
Von Otter stopped taking lessons as often as she should and lost the sense of how her voice ought to feel. ‘I was pretty careless, and the voice still sounded good until my late 40s and early 50s, when there came a point when it didn’t, and singing became more difficult. I found a new teacher who really helped anchor my voice, bring it forward again and find my support. I see her when I can and try to remember “how it’s meant to feel”; but the voice has changed, and there’s nothing to be done about that.’ She started recording herself some ten years ago and found it greatly helped in dealing with the voice as it ages. Allen knows that ‘every singer hits a brick wall at some point. After 25 years in the business, I noticed that the voice wasn’t working properly, though I was “getting away with it”. With a new teacher I regained my confidence and achieved a breakthrough. I found alternating between opera and recitals cultivated vocal health, each adding to the other.’ Lloyd does not take lessons, he gives them, and although he does not sing when teaching, he finds they actually help him to be a better singer.
‘As we mature and progress, our bodies change with age and you cannot fight it. If you interfere with your development, physical, mental or emotional, there could be
Opera, May 2021