May 6, 1916
Page 64

Boston Interviewer Finds Tenor in Serious Mood—Conveying the Significance of the Words the Singer’s First Duty, He Declares—A Defense of His Interpretations Against Unfavorable Boston Criticisms

ALTHOUGH Enrico Caruso has seldom been persuaded to talk seriously of his art in New York, treating his interviewers here, as a rule, to comments in a lighter vein, he departed from this habit during the recent visit of the Metropolitan Opera Company in Boston. Possibly he was moved thereto by the fact of the appearance in Boston newspapers of several distinctly adverse criticisms of his performances, some of which, it is said, almost persuaded the tenor to shake the dust of Boston from his shoes forever. At any rate, he expounded his artistic theories in a highly illuminating manner to an interviewer for the Christian Science Monitor.
“Words are the first consideration in singing, according to Mr. Caruso,” says the Monitor. “The text of an aria rather than the music should be, in his view, an artist’s principal guide in performance. The libretto, he argues, coming into existence before the notes and being in fact the reason for the composer’s writing melody, ought to be the foundation on which an interpreter builds.
“In reference to unfavorable comments made on his work in the Boston press Caruso told his interviewer that he thought his singing and his acting had taken critics by surprise and had offended some of them because of its novelty. He said he believed he could convince everybody of the value of his interpretations if he could appear enough times in each of his parts to become familiar. Being heard in six different roles, he said, was to his disadvantage, because not one of the six argued anything in favor of any other. Every one of t hem, he remarked, was individual, and he would not sing it out of the style of the music or act it out of keeping with the character. He pointed out certain passages in his study of Rhadames, in ‘Aida,’ and of the Duke in ‘Rigoletto,’ where he expressly departed from tradition, and noted that the difference between his interpretation and the usual one raised a point for argument rather than for censure.
Difficult to Disguise Effort
“The tenor said that it was no uncommon thing for his singing to be regarded as careless simply because he did not give the impression of great labor. He averred that he was not taking life easy when he appeared to be singing with freedom, but that at such a time he was working at the very top of his strength. His art, he said in conclusion on this point, is to show no effort when he sings. Even the most experienced listeners, he added, sometimes fail to see how difficult effortless singing is.
“His reply to adverse critics finished, the tenor returned to his chair and invited the interviewer to change the discussion into whatever new course he wished. Accordingly, a query was sent across the table as follows: ‘Where do you locate the source of expression in singing?’ And immediately and forcibly came the answer: ‘I find it in the words always. For unless I give my hearers what is in the text, what can I give them? If I just produce tone my singing has no meaning.’ Thereupon, vocalizing a series of scale passages such as are used in studio practice, Caruso commented: ‘Now, when I do that I don’t say anything. I may make musical sounds, but I express nothing. I may even execute the notes with a good staccato or legato’ (again illustrating with his voice) ‘and still, having no words to go by, I make no effect on my listeners.
“Look at the question in another way. Suppose I were to sing a line of text with a meaning in my voice that contradicted the idea of the words. Would not that be nonsense? It would be as much as though I were to say to you (bringing his fist down on the back of a chair that stood empty near him): “This wood is hard,” and were to say it with a soft voice. People have observed that I sing as though I were talking. Well, that is just what I mean to do.’
“Singing then, as Caruso began to define it, is a sort of exalted speech, its purpose being to illuminate the imagery and sentiment of language. The mere music of singing he seemed for the moment to put in a subordinate place.
“By way of further emphasizing his point, he referred to a theme in Donizetti’s ‘L’Elisir d’Amore,’ which is used in two opposing situations—by the soprano in a mood of joy, and by the tenor in a mood of sorrow. He sang the measures of the soprano as though laughing. Then he sang those of the tenor as though weeping.
“But those two passages of melody cannot be identical,’ objected the interviewer.
“Oh, yes, they are,’ the tenor declared; and he quickly prov(~d it by singing them over again with a . less marked indication of the moods. ‘Here you plainly see where expression must start. It has to be from the words, of course. The performer puts in the feeling of gladness or sadness without regard to the notes, paying attention only to the text.’
“The answering party in the interview, though upholding his position well, did not convince the questioning party that the remarkable expressiveness of his singing rested solely on his reading of his lines in the opera dialogue. And so a lead was tried in a new direction.
Importance of Technique
“But surely you must present some part of your thought in terms of music alone, for everybody knows that you believe in thorough technique and in finished phrasing."
“Yes; and I like to sing a tenor role like the one in the “Muta di Portici,” which is hardly anything but technique. I also like the bravura music of the “Barber of Seville.” A singer cannot do much without training in the old school works. Too many nowadays are in a hurry to sing the modern repertory. They do not like to study. A man with a voice gives a year to learn a role—in a popular opera and gets on the stage as quickly as he can. When such a man is a sked to take a part in one of the old operas he cannot do it. I believe in a thorough technique certainly.
“When I sing I think of an instrument. In a· legato phrase I think particularly of a violoncello, which, when played well, is almost the same as a human voice. I am much inspired by that in my central range, and often I lead my tones up the way the player does it on his A string. Quite regularly, too, in taking certain long intervals down from my middle to my lower voice I do it in the manner of the violoncellist.”


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