Cher Public

Magrets de canard

Sound please!For our weekly meander through mendacity, we turn to no less than Gotham Chamber Opera’s own Neal Goren (not pictured), who writes, “People repeat as fact that women ruin their voices, or at least sacrifice their high notes, by singing in chest voice. So untrue!”

  • Cocky Kurwenal

    There are degrees, surely? Excessive weight in any area of the voice will unbalance the instrument and make it sub-optimal elsewhere. Of course it’s nonsense to suggest ipso facto that singing in chest voice will ruin your top, but hammering away at it might.

    • Yeah, I don’t see the point of this two-sentence debunk. Singers have to sing with some chest voice. I’ve never heard anyone suggest that any use of chest voice ruins high notes. In fact, I’ve heard that not incorporating any chest voice at all can be just as unhealthy for the voice as overuse of chest voice. What I have heard is that overuse of the chest, and taking the chest voice too high can be damaging.

      • armerjacquino

        I’ve often wondered where folk singers (oldskool ones, not Joan Baez etc) fit in with this: of course, the sound they have to produce isn’t nearly as big, but they sing unamplified in crowded pubs and outdoors, and female folkies in particular push the chest voice way up to the top without any seeming effect on the higher floaty-fluty stuff.

  • Gualtier M

    Now imagine the snark if Zinka had been quoted here instead of dear Neal Goren. They are basically saying the same thing. BTW: even mezzos today are trained to not use chest voice which should be a federal crime. I remember really enjoying Hungarian soprano Georgina Lukacs’ Tosca because she used old-fashioned chest (this was the Met in Central Park in 2001 -- she was less good when she repeated the role in the house the next year. Lukacs real first name is Gyongyi btw.

    • la vociaccia

      Well first off, which pedagogues are we talking about? Whoever taught Jamie Barton definitely didn’t tell her to shy away from the chest, the same goes for whoever taught Angela Meade, Tamara Wilson, and a lot of other big-voiced ladies.

      • antikitschychick

        and Renee, although her speaking voice lies pretty low for a soprano me thinks…but this subject requires a bit more specificity because using chest voice on an e (as in the first note of the treble scale) is not the same as using chest on middle c and below (i.e. it does not have the same effect on the voice)…chest voice is more appropriate for certain ranges, but as a general rule I wouldn’t say its healthy to use only chest voice above the b-c range…sure it can seemingly produce a “powerful” effect but its not completely healthy… a mix of head/chest voice + some covering is healthier I think, although ultimately it just comes down to pushing. The reason why chest voice is dangerous is because of the tendency to push and just “ram into” those lower notes which can indeed be detrimental to the voice since too much pushing (i.e contact b/t the folds) probably swells the folds, thereby limiting the ability to access the upper register…but this is true for pretty much any register of the voice…the issue has more to do with pushing/singing with the throat rather than on the breath than use of chest voice, when it comes to “ruining voices” that is.

        • Thank you for your sensible response. Boiling the issue down to “pushing” sounds right about right.

          AS for ramming into low notes, you mean like this? :)

          • antikitschychick

            fabulous clip Kashania! Thanks for sharing :-D

            I would classify the above excerpt as “semi-ramming” only because the sound is still somewhat resonant so to my ears its not totally unsupported and the voice doesn’t sound strained…I’ve seen/heard performances (in Opera and other genres) where singers just attack the notes and you can actually hear the strain in the voice (it becomes raspy) as the result of a sudden dive/register shift + lack of support. But that’s just my conception of it. Your point about the dangers of taking the chest voice too high is also important. It goes both ways really.

          • You’re right in that the sound is still resonant. And I love the way she does a slight diminuendo on the last note of the passage I cued up. So, even when “belting it out” in a way, she’s still graceful.

        • isis00

          I cosign this, anti. My voice teacher has always said that chest voice should ideally be used when singing about “death and torture”, i.e. for dramatic effect in certain places. Mixed voice is definitely the way to go most of the time in the low range.

          • kennedet

            I agree with your voice teacher but only in those instances. When chest voice is used indiscriminately, it sounds too much like two different voices from the same person. Therefore, destroying the vocal concept of smooth transition from one register to another.

  • Chrysothemis

    I remember Nilsson talking about how the secret to being fresh in the Götterdämmerung Immolation is resisting the temptation to use chest voice in the Waltraute scene.

    Supposedly, she demonstrated this to Karl Böhm by singing Die Hölle Rache after one performance.

    Of course, every voice is different. I doubt that there’s a universal rule on this.

  • Noel Dahling

    Dolora Zajick has said that she was always accused of ‘ruining he voice’ with her use of chest voice. She’s fond of saying ‘I’ve been ruining my voice for years now!’
    Tommasini’s obit of Behrens claimed that her heavy use of chest voice took a toll on her voice, as did singing heavy hochdram parts in general.

    • armerjacquino

      *starts stopwatch*

      • Noel Dahling

        I absolutely adore you armer! :)

        • armerjacquino

          *blushes furiously* Thank you!

    • kennedet

      I think all of these comments from the great singers from the past prove that there will never be a consensus about the use of chest voice….. what it is or whether it should be used and when.There are times when I wish vocal technique was a science….(not really) but sometimes it would help to clear up some of this confusion.

      I had a voice teacher who stated that the only register she believed in was the cash register!!

      However, when chest voice is used improperly, I hear a distinct difference in vocal projection between registers, but it cannot be heard on You Tube,telecast or HD presentations because of the use of amplification. It is also difficult to hear in a small vocal studio. It can be heard in an auditorium of moderate or large size without amplification.

      • Noel Dahling

        By difference, do you mean a’smaller’sound or weaker projection?

        • kennedet

          I hope this is not confusing but the sound phonates weaker because of incorrect placement or(your words) weaker projection. This is corrected by proper placement.

  • Noel Dahling

    • peter

      If only Stefan Zucker would dip down into his own chest voice for that interview.

      • kennedet

        Agreed. How can you take someone seriously who talks in falsetto, endlessly!!?? No wonder he’s thought by many to be crazy!! I know he’s extremely knowledgeable,, but this is scary. Is he joking!!???

  • messa di voce

    Wow, that’s a lot of crazy in that clip! Love ’em all.

    • armerjacquino

      A lot of lying, too, if I remember rightly… “Oh no, I NEVER used chest…”

      • I recall reading that there may have been something lost in translation and the term “chest voice” may have been misunderstood by some of the ladies. The thought of Fedora Barbieri saying that she never used chest is hilarious.

        • It’s a curious phenomenon. I’ve worked with a few mezzos with extremely full low notes who say, “no, that’s not chest voice; chest voice is something else.” I think possibly in some (not all) mezzos the basic vocal position is what we would call “chest,” so there is no sense of a change of register when they go down low. If you listen to this clip, for example…

          … Gencer and Bumbry are singing fairly similar vocal lines that go to emphatic low phrases. You can hear some very obvious adjustments from Gencer as she negotiates her way in and out of chest register, but with Bumbry, there is no “gear change” — the whole lower octave of the voice seems to be of one piece.

          So perhaps Gencer is thinking, “this is chest because I have to do something special to access it,” whereas for Bumbry, it’s the default operation of the voice and therefore not “chest.” (Sort of the way straight people say “gay sex” for the same activities gay people just call “sex.”)

          • Archaeopteryx

            Fab video -- great drama and passion from these two ladies.
            But I think, Bumbry is also chesting around a lot -- but her registers seem to be more connected, or in their sound more similar than Gencer’s. For example, if you listen at 1:55, there is a very audible break in her voice and therefore she seems to change registers -- whether chest, head, foot, ear or whatever you may call it. But she is using the lower part of her voice to great effect, and drives it higher than Gencer -- 1:48-1:50 is clearly sung in “that register”, and the highest note is the middle B flat…
            So no idea whether I’m right, but I do hear it like this…what do you think?

          • I think that maybe what caused the confusion. Barbieri and Simionato could have interpreted “chest” as a gear-shift. And one could understand why they would deny having gay sex using gear shifts. When a singer has such a seamless voice and no discernible break between registers, she is justly proud.

          • luvtennis

            In truth, I think the canard under discussion is really aimed at sopranos. I think the “chesty sound” is more part and parcel of the mezzos approach to singing -- especially dramatic mezzos.

            And I think the issue is simply using too much chest but rather in carrying the chest voice too high, which can be exciting -- see early Maria -- but does seem to exact a toll on the upper register. In that sense, it becomes a bit difficult for the lay person to distinguish between using chest and simply forcing.

            Certainly, when I think of the sopranos who maintained their upper registers intact till late career (Sutherland, Nilsson, Price, Te Kanawa, Fleming, Freni), few of them used chest except sparingly and discreetly.

          • messa di voce

            But then there’s Melba, who regularly carried her chest voice up to A and really slammed into it, and she kept her angelic upper register into her sixties. Everyone singer is different!

          • MontyNostry

            And Grace might have claimed that she was really a soprano by that point in her career … Have to say that her lower register always seemed to be the most gorgeous part of her voice. It was never butch like, say, Horne’s, even though it was so strong.

      • grimoaldo

        Leyla Gencer in that interview says “They (ie Simionato, Barbieri, etc) say this (they never used chest voice)? They used it all their lives. Apparently they have short memories.”

      • la vociaccia

        Its actually totally hysterical. But the greatest is when Marcella Pobbe gets fed up with Zucker’s shit and “I don’t even know what chest voice means.” Barbieri getting plastered is still the best though.

        • kennedet

          Agreed. How can you take someone seriously about an important subject when you’re that drunk? Famous diva or not.I felt sorry for Zucker at that point.

          • la vociaccia

            Oh I don’t know….she gets a free pass in my book in that regard, and Zucker asked some pretty awful questions. I mean, really, what is the meaning of asking a couple dramatic mezzos about their use of chest voice? “Did you ever use it?” I don’t know Stefan…do you have f*cking ears? Seems like a pretty inconsequential and redundant thing to ask. If Zucker is the expert on vocal production that he claims to be, I’m pretty sure he could tell for himself whether or not they utilized “Voce di petto.” Gavazzi actually gets in some interesting comments that aren’t related to her chest…the Amami Alfredo demonstration is really quite wonderful.

          • kennedet

            O.K,Fine, but I was seriously considering it from a voice technician and vocal student’s point of view. Also, the topic presented to us. It can be a very important question, if inquiring minds really want to know and it can have a special significance if the great divas who supposedly used it gave us important feedback .WRONG!!

            However, Im not naive enough to know that many of these famous singers don’t have a clue about what they do technically and unfortunately teach vocal students the way they think they produce their glorious tones. Maybe I took it too seriously.”Great Singers on Great Singing” will “knock your socks off”

  • Archaeopteryx

    A favourite theme of mine, thanks for putting this into discussion!
    In terms of “chest voice -- yes or no” one famous name comes to my mind: the great Dame Janet Baker. I NEVER understood how she used her lower register and sometimes I find it really annoying. Don’t get me wrong, I love her dignity and the true “royal” sound she produces, but I often miss this extra chest voice sound. Or could anyone explain to me what she is doing at the very bottom of her range?

    Best part of course 3:52-4:14 and 6:32-6:37.
    In my opinion, only the low G at the end is clearly sung in chest, the rest mixed or whatever.
    What do you think?

    • kennedet

      Loved it. Maybe it annoys you because many Mezzos always use a manufactured chest sound and it is accepted. However, after many years, depending, the bottom is the first to go and you eventually hear very little chest at all.It’s a sacrifice but you’ll sing longer.

  • LittleMasterMiles

    And by “singing” of course we only mean singing Western art music, ca.1700–1950.

    It’s all a question of color and tessitura, surely…

    • Since you’re taking it out of the realm of Western music, you wanna hear chest?

  • Orlando Furioso

    At first I was unsure which was supposed to be the “canard” — the idea that chest voice is to be avoided, or the criticism of that notion.

    Most of the real old-timers seemed to think that chest voice was essential for all voices — I guess the disputed territory is female voices. Of course it can be abused or misused, but that’s not the same as use. (Is it a typically modern American point of view that if misuse of a property is harmful, then even moderate use should be forbidden?)

    In Opera News, 25 December 1993, Conrad L. Osborne’s article “French Heroes” (about the big-voiced French singers of a century and more ago) he wrote the following about the “strong lyric” sopranos from that time and place:

    There is a bright, firm tone with a strong core, anchored by a taut, “singy” chest voice regularly employed up to the vicinity of E above middle C — and not only at forte. These voices have ease and balance, but not “relaxation” of the latter-day sort. They never slacken, but hold to a sculpted line, with the words etched deeply into it. This “set” is essentially different from that of the modern soprano. To sing from a clear, tensile chest voice that is perfectly equalized with the notes just above it is to have a grounding, a launching pad for strong, accurate leaps and darting excursions into floridity that is never attained, or soon lost, by voices not so equipped.

  • Baltsamic Vinaigrette

    At a time like this I fall back on The Simpsons:

    Homer: Oh, I almost forgot. While I was at the court house, I had them change your name.
    Marge: To what?
    Homer: Chesty La Rue.
    Marge: CHESTY LARUE?!??
    Homer: Just try it for two weeks. If you don’t like it, you can be Busty St. Claire.
    Marge: I don’t want to be Chesty La Rue or Busty St. Claire.
    Homer: Fine. Hooty McBoob it is.
    Marge: [Pause] …Goodnight, Homer.
    Homer: Goodnight, Hooty.

  • laddie

    Speaking of chest voice, here is Jamie Barton, round 1 of the Cardiff competition:

  • Archaeopteryx


  • Archaeopteryx

    Regarding the over-use of the chest voice please look at this (starts 53:56):

    Unfortunately I think her voice has suffered a lot of it… :(