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My name is Rolando Villazon. I'm an opera singer,
and I'm a tenor.
HE SINGS LA DONNA E MOBILE FROM VERDI'S RIGOLETTO
'Being a tenor can provide the ultimate in job satisfaction.'
You get to sing some of the most beautiful music ever written,
in the world's greatest opera houses.
Some people see the tenor's voice as the most captivating and demanding,
but believe me, it takes dedication and a lot of hard work.
This is the empty stage of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
Huge, isn't it?
Walking onto it with the lights shining on you, knowing that you
have to give absolutely your best is a daunting prospect.
Most of the greatest tenors in history have performed here.
They have all received deafening applause
from the audience out there.
The tenor voice can move audiences and fill opera houses,
and the great ones have become global superstars
way beyond the confines of the theatre.
In this programme, I want to explore
the phenomenon of the tenor in all its facets.
I'll be looking back at some of the legendary voices of the past,
as well as at some of the amazing singers performing today.
From Caruso, Wunderlich and Pavarotti,
to Domingo, Florez, and Kaufmann.
But what is it that made them stand out from ordinary singers?
What is it that gave these extraordinary tenors
that star quality?
Let's start with the basics.
At the two extremes of the singing voice, we have the bass,
all the way down there, and then up, we have the soprano.
This is the highest note of the soprano,
this is the lowest note of the bass.
In between, we have baritones, altos and tenors.
So, what it the range of the tenor?
Here I go. Starting with that C.
HE SINGS A SCALE
And that was the famous high C.
In order to sing those high notes,
the tenor needs to be in total control of his instrument.
The high C, for most of us, is our highest note.
The image of any tenor is more often than not
associated with the quality of his high notes.
For better or for worse, it's almost like a measure of his greatness.
Tenor has to come and deliver the good top high note,
then everybody's going crazy.
Our high notes, if they're bad, are possibly screechy and possibly
unattractive, but a tenor's high notes if they're bad
are usually cracking or non-existent.
I mean, the pressure, they have to sing under pressure
and they have to perform under pressure all the time.
Without high notes, it's very difficult to be a tenor.
Many people even don't care about the rest, they just want that note,
and if that note doesn't come right, they could even boo you,
even though the rest was beautiful.
You need to have good nerves
to be able to sustain a career made of pressure.
One opera that really piles on the pressure for any tenor
is Donizetti's comic masterpiece La Fille du Regiment,
The Daughter of the Regiment.
If you don't have those high notes secure,
you will be crazy to sing that opera.
You will be really, you know,
committing psychological suicide.
This aria, Ah! Mes Amis,
sung by the character Tonio, is known for its many high notes.
Ah! Mes Amis is an aria that requires very bright, very shiny,
very luminous high notes.
Where do you put that note? You don't know.
In a piano, you know where the notes are.
In the voice,
it's somewhere there, but there's a space for that high note
where it comes shiny, loud, bright.
You have to put it in that position, and a little higher is wrong,
a little lower is wrong, a little to the side is wrong.
So, there's a lot of control going on,
but you have to sound and look like you're having fun.
But let me tell you, it can't all be fun,
because this part of the aria has an incredible nine top Cs.
Tonio is from Tyrol. That music is a yodel.
So it's supposed to be...
This is music from his country.
Nowadays we have turned it into a...
Laser beams, which people like.
I don't think they will like any more... HE YODELS
They would, "Come on, man, sing!"
That shows what amazing things the human voice can do.
But to be able to sing with this power and control, we need to use
more than just our vocal chords. All singing voices have different
zones, and it is the job of the professional opera singer
to make the transition from one zone to the other seamless
so that we keep the same colour of voice from bottom to top.
Let me demonstrate.
In the tenor voice, there are three recognisable zones, the low zone...
There I am mostly using my chest resonance. The middle zone...
I am using a combination of head resonance and chest resonance.
And then we go to the famous passaggio.
200 years ago, tenors used to sing his high notes with falsetto.
Today we use our full voice, we bring the chest voice
and we help it with the resonance of the head voice.
The passaggio is an Italian term used to describe the notes
which act as a bridge between the chest voice and the head voice.
Much of a tenor's training is to make this transition
as smooth as possible.
This famous aria by Donizetti presents a challenge for any tenor.
It starts on an F, the beginning of the passaggio.
And then it moves up, where I use my head resonance.
The full-throated tenor voice as we know it today
is a relatively modern phenomenon,
synonymous with the hero or the great lover.
It didn't quite start that way.
To trace the evolution of the tenor voice,
we need to go back all the way to the 18th century.
It's an interesting period for the tenor voice.
In opera, one has to say that the tenor voice is relatively unimportant.
The tenor often has a more subsidiary role,
often the baddie is the tenor
not the romantic lover, as one might expect in modern opera.
'In this aria by Handel, you can hear that
'he has written music that sits quite low in the voice,
'and the colours are darker than what we're used to.
'This was a typical use of the tenor in operas of the period.'
The heroic male singers of the time were castratos, men who had been
castrated before puberty to preserve the purity of their high notes.
These castrato singers had tremendous power.
They were, in a sense, singing the tenor type of role one octave higher,
and this is quite interesting, so these male voices had all
the thrill of the high notes of the soprano but the physique of a man.
It was capable of singing very florid, virtuosic music
and, of course, these singers were the great superstars of their day.
HE SINGS FALSETTO
Well, there are no castrati that we know of singing nowadays,
but the closest we get to what they might have sounded like
is when a man sings falsetto, known as a countertenor.
Listen to the extraordinary voice of Christophe Dumaux
in this production of Handel's opera Giulio Cesare.
But after Handel, composers such as Donizetti, Bellini and Rossini
did begin to incorporate high notes for tenors in their operas.
To tackle these, the tenors would use a falsetto voice.
When was the modern tenor born?
When was that moment when he started to use all the parts of his body
to sing the way we tenors sing today?
Well, the origins of it are a little bit mysterious,
but in the early 1830s, you get Gilbert-Louis Duprez,
the great French tenor, coming to Italy,
studying with Donizetti and so on,
and he discovers that he can extend this chest sound
much higher than was previously done.
We mark it with his performance in 1837 of William Tell in Paris.
The performance was a sensation, as the tenor Roberto Alagna explains.
Obviously there were no recordings at the time,
but from this performance by Chris Merritt,
you get an idea of just how startling it must have been.
# Oggi fatal...
# Oggi fatal...
# Oggi fatal...
# Fatal cosi!
# Oggi fatal...
In 1837, nobody had heard a tenor ever sing like this before,
but not everyone was convinced.
Rossini hated it.
He thought it was like a capon having his throat cut.
But certainly after the late 1830s, once tenors had sung up there,
there was no going back because it was such a sexy thing, that they all had to do it.
Tenors enjoy, I would say, the greatest success. There's a reason why when you go to restaurants
nobody ever plays a soprano voice, they don't play lower voices either. They play the tenor voice.
# Libiamo, libiamo ne'lieti calici
# Che la belleza infiora
Does repertoire play a role here?
Does the music written for the tenor voice
make that voice stand out from the other voices?
It certainly does. Tenors have the most fantastic tunes.
I mean 200 years ago, people would come to the opera,
listen to the tunes and have a cup of tea during the boring bits.
People would leave the opera house humming, whistling the tunes.
The tenors had all the best tunes because they had the best roles.
So, tenors were now the heroes but the roles on offer suited some voices better than others
and three main types of tenor voice emerged.
The first is the lyric tenor.
As the name suggests it describes a clean, elegant and beautiful sound.
This is the impreccable Fritz Wunderlich, singing Mozart.
# Ich fuhl' es
# Wie dies Gotterbild mein Herz... #
Wunderlich was one of the great lyric tenors and by that I mean that his voice had a charm,
a sweetness, a masculinity, that was completely natural and unforced.
He sang so beautifully and so well that there was no separation between the charm of the man
and the charm of the singing, the personality was allied to the voice, nothing got in the way.
# O, wenn ich sie nur finden konnte!
# O, wenn sie doch schon vor mir stande!
A great Mozart tenor, or a great lyric tenor if you like, will always have beauty of line.
Imagine if you were to press all the toothpaste out of a toothpaste tube
and it just went on coming out and it never stopped.
Or you were icing a cake and you pressed the icing thing down onto the cake.
A singer must think of their voice like that, not like little chipolatas.
And the greatest lyric singers have this flow of sound.
The notes are joined together in the most elegant and beautiful way.
# Un'aura amorosa
# Del nostro tesoro
# Un dolce ristoro
# Al cor porgera
The timeless story of Romeo and Juliet, as set here by the French
composer Charles Gounod, is a lovely example of the lyric tenor's art.
In the aria, Ah, Leve-toi Soleil, Romeo is waiting impatiently for the sun to rise
so that he can see his beloved again.
# Ah, leve-toi, soleil!
# Fais palir les etoiles
# Qui, dans l'azur sans voiles
# Brillent aux firmament... #
# Astre pur et charmant! #
The voice is really, in a sense, like a horse.
You have certain types of horse race and you need certain horses for those races.
A horse that is huge and has the strength and stamina to jump
the puissance, well that has a tenor equivalent - the dramatic tenor.
# Empi, spegnetela
# O ch'io fra poco
# Col sangue vostro
# La spegnero! #
Franco Corelli is one of the 20th century's great dramatic tenors.
As you can hear, his voice is big and powerful, a rich sound suited for Verdi's great hero, Manrico.
# Madre infelice
# Corro a salvarti
# O teco almeno
# Corro a morir! #
The part really calls for some steel in the voice, and it's traditional
to refer to this category of tenor as a spinto.
Now the word spinto is just the Italian word for pushed.
There is a power, an athleticism in the voice.
# Madre infelice
# Corro a salvarti... #
You sense the risk, you can't hide. It's not all done with smoke and mirrors, you've got to do it
then and there, and the public are there to see if you bring it off.
Of course if you do, it's just thrilling.
The German equivalent of the dramatic tenor is the Heldon, or heroic tenor.
During the 19th Century, the size of the opera orchestra had been growing.
Verdi's numbered around 60 players, but Wagner in his epic music dramas was using around 100.
These vast orchestral forces needed a new breed of tenor to ride this wave of sound.
But it wasn't just about volume, it was also a matter of sheer stamina.
Wagner's Siegfried lasts for four and a half hours, and the tenor is on stage for most of it.
It would be impossible to perform this or any of the roles we've seen
without a rock-solid technique, and one extraordinary singer shines out for his immaculate skill...
And now, the lion.
We go on the stage every night with the same feeling.
We are afraid, and if somebody tell you this,
that he is not afraid, it means he is a liar.
Luciano Pavarotti was a global sensation and not without reason.
His voice was a ray of sunlight. He had an immaculate technique.
Here we are, ready to go.
When he performed, you could see his eyes looking inside of himself and exploring every part of his
instrument that needed to be under control in order to sing perfectly.
# E te, beltade ignota!
# Cinta de chiome e bionde
# Tu azzuro hai l'occhio
# Tosca ha l'occhio nero... #
I've always said that Luciano was the example of the greatest technique,
of anyone I've always known or heardand again, it was just completely natural.
He may have worked like crazy to find it but he gave the impression easy and natural.
# La costanza tiranna del core
# Detestiamo qual morbo crudele
# Sol chi vuole si serbi fedele
# Non v'e ha amor se non v'e liberta... #
I always say technique in singing is a very personal thing, it's what you make
of your technique, it's what you make of the way you sing.
And Pavarotti, well, understood very well how to sing with his voice.
# Ed il mio bacio sciogliera... #
He used a certain technique in the passaggio.
He did the piano in a certain way.
# ..Che ti fa mia! #
He for example, breathed on his vowel A.
He opened it very much...
"Aaaaa", it was a way of freeing himself.
# Dilegua, o notte!
# Tramontate, stelle!
# Tramontate, stelle!
# All'alba vincero! #
His voice was, "Aaaah!" Pure sun.
# Vincero! #
Pavarotti's spellbinding stage presence was conveyed by the sheer communicative power of his voice,
but these days, the pressures on a singer's ability to act are bigger than ever.
We're under an almost cinematic scrutiny.
Many operas even make it to the big screen today.
There is a myth that pacing and expression is all done for you by the composer.
I think this is to way under-estimate the importance of the artist,
the importance of the interpreter,
and the extraordinary range of expression available
within what is notated on the page.
It's a world of expression that is vivid, powerful, intense,
and plunges profundities that the spoken word can't go near.
The opera repertoire places huge demands on the tenor.
He has to explore a vast range of human emotion in a myriad of roles.
From jilted lovers to princes to angst ridden poets,
and everything in between.
Opera was invented because the spoken word was inadequate.
But with that sung word comes a whole new form of theatre.
The singing voice is like the mask in an Ancient Greek theatre,
it's an additional level.
For a tenor, one of the most interesting acting roles
is in Bizet's opera Carmen, that of Don Jose.
Here you have a respectable soldier who's bewitched by the sensual gypsy, Carmen.
The part of Don Jose is an emotional roller coaster
and tests your acting skills to the limit.
In this Royal Opera House production
he is played by my great colleague Jonas Kaufmann.
I always admire the French way of doing an opera.
They were much more driven by expressing the emotions,
the development of a character in different steps.
So in Carmen,
for instance, the Don Jose starts as a very smooth, handsome guy
who feels quite secure.
You can hear that in the duet with his girlfriend Michaela,
that he's typical lyrical tenor with smooth phrases.
And then as soon as he gets really involved with Carmen,
the emotions change.
He's not calm any more.
You already hear a different tenor.
He is a little bit stronger, a little bit heavier, shows emotions easier.
And then you go to the third act, where he's jealous
and the jealousy makes him really be even more aggressive,
and then you have the final scene
where he really, really sings the hell out of it.
If a character has a development, it's much more interesting as
an actor to interpret,
than one that ends the same as it started.
In Carmen, Bizet wrote an aria for Don Jose that highlights
the acting skills a tenor needs to inhabit a character.
Don Jose had been sent to prison because of his love for Carmen.
On his release the first thing he does is to find her
and declare his love, with this aria, known as the Flower Song.
When you look at this Flower Song from Jose,
I think it is not typical for a man
to describe so specifically his emotions.
For him this relationship with Carmen is his first moment where he feels real passion.
And so that makes him start to tell about his emotions.
Knowing this background, there's an enormous influence in how to interpret this aria.
It makes it not easier,
because it means that you start very softly,
that you have to first get used to that fact
that you're actually talking to a woman about your emotions.
And then he's growing and growing
and then he starts to tell how he feels, how he felt when she gave him the flower,
that the flower was with him all the time in prison.
That every time he took it out, the smell of the flower made him crazy.
And he realises that he really has to go for it and he tells her,
"I love you",
which is extremely hard for him to say, I'm sure.
So obviously, what you have to avoid is to be too loud at the end,
because that's what Carmen squeezes out.
That's all she wanted.
In this opera there are so many emotions involved.
You tend to lose a little bit
self control, which is good.
You have to, because otherwise it's not credible
if you only fake the whole thing, you lose the interest for the audience.
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
To become a great tenor, you need a combination of everything we've seen.
A voice, obviously, but with a good technique,
acting skills, musicality, and never-ending hard work.
For me, the artist that possesses all these elements to the greatest degree is Placido Domingo.
He has sung more roles than anybody else, and his artistry is unsurpassed.
You are very much aware that you are working with a god!
The stage presence is quite extraordinary.
I remember one night forgetting to bring the orchestra in
for an aria because I couldn't take my eyes off him.
# Parigi, o cara
# Noi lasceremo
# La vita uniti
# Trascorreremo... #
Placido Domingo has sung over 130 roles
in almost 3,500 performances.
From the Italian repertoire of Verdi and Puccini...
..to Mozart and Wagner.
# ..Sange suss ertont
# Holde Dufte haucht er aus
# Seinem warmen Blut entbluhen wonnige Blumen
# Keim und Spross entspriesst seiner Kraft. #
He breaks all the rules of typecasting tenors.
When I started doing big mixed roles, people were telling me all the time
"It's impossible, you can't do it, you'll ruin your voice, it's wrong what you're doing."
Thank God there was Placido, we'd say, "You see, Domingo did it,
"he's still there, he's still singing,
"and he's still in good shape. What do you want?!"
It's hard to pick any one role from this great array that really shines for Domingo.
However, there's no doubt that his portrayal as Otello
in Verdi's opera is a highlight of this amazing career.
I have to say something, that it is amazing.
Yes, perhaps Otello is one of the most difficult operas
in the whole repertoire to sing.
But I have to say that there were many occasions
which I was so involved in the characters,
so involved in the acting,
that I forgot about the difficulty of the role singing.
Many people have told me, many other singers have said, it's one of the most remarkable things about Placido,
is the that when you stand next to him, you don't think it's a very big voice.
It doesn't sound much next to him, but he has what I call blade.
The voice travels like an Exocet, you know, like Halley's Comet.
It goes into the auditorium, and that's a great gift, a great skill.
In this scene, Iago has sown the first seeds of jealousy in Otello's heart.
See how Domingo totally inhabits Otello's character.
He is a most musical Otello you can imagine.
He is wonderful musician.
I love working with him,
because he's the most precise musician as I am,
and that makes life so easy,
and the personification of Otello is really wonderful.
Domingo's artistry is his innate ability to fuse the text,
the music and the acting into a complete performance.
This is what makes him great.
Throughout his long career, Placido Domingo has taken on new roles and challenges every year.
These days, he's an established conductor,
he encourages young musicians,
and is a champion of broadening the repertoire.
# Dame verguenza lo que he llorado
# Solo en mi alcoba
# Sabiendo lo mala
# Que es esa loba... #
It was a particular pleasure of mine to be able to collaborate with him
on an album of zarzuela music, Spanish folk opera.
# Y eso ya lo tenemos! #
Today we tenors sing not only for the few who can get to the opera house.
This extraordinary music we are lucky enough to perform
now reaches a far broader audience.
We have added to our repertoire folk songs, popular hits, modern music.
The tenor is now an established part of the entertainment world.
But how did we get here?
The wonderful Jose Carreras is a tenor with a legendary voice,
and a glittering career
covering a vast breadth of the opera repertoire.
When he recorded the musical West Side Story under the direction
of its composer Leonard Bernstein in 1984,
many people thought it was a bold move.
But the recording was a mainstream success and it captured the public imagination.
# Maria, Maria
# Say it loud and there's music playing
# Say it soft and it's almost like praying... #
But wasn't so unusual. It was just another step
in a revolution that started at the beginning of the century
in the earliest days of recording.
And the tenor voice was to play a pivotal role.
# Maria... #
The walls of this part of Covent Garden are covered with the pictures
of some of the most important opera singers of the past.
Once of the greatest tenors of all time -
and certainly one of the loudest - is this man, Francesco Tamagno.
Verdi knew him and in fact Verdi wrote Othello for him,
and we're about to listen to one of the first recordings
ever made by an opera singer.
1903. And here it is, Tamagno's voice.
This was probably not the darkest voice
we have ever heard in this role.
But his ringing sound was superb
and I'm sure that's what made this voice so loud, so present.
How they must have marvelled at hearing just the different styles of vocal.
Because you've got to remember the amount
of the population that were going to see an opera in the opera house
was probably 0.02% at the most,
so just hearing those voices must have been like an alien experience.
The earliest recordings were on wax cylinders,
and it was this technology that was to transform the status
of the operatic tenor.
I have the impression there were a lot of tenor recordings.
Is there a reason?
The range of frequencies that these machines can capture
sits quite well in that area.
-The harmonics, the overtones that give you that quality
and the emotion of the piece
sit well within the boundaries that this can record.
If you, for example, record a soprano,
those things disappear above the range that this can cope with.
And I suppose this obviously had an amazing effect on the celebrity
of the opera singers that did record?
Before this point the only way that you could
make more money out of your work was to perform more,
and there's a limited amount of times that you can perform a week.
The one tenor to really break out from the opera stage was undoubtedly
the great Enrico Caruso, whose fame spread,
thanks mainly to his numerous recordings
which made him a household name, and the first operatic superstar.
Caruso recorded time and time again.
By 1914, Caruso's royalties had added up to 1.8 million.
Wow! Can I have a go?
These phonographs had a dual function.
Not only did they play the music,
but by swopping the horn they could record it as well.
And we should be ready to record you. Right.
The technology was simple but revolutionary.
All sound is vibration.
The vibrations my voice makes in the air
are converted through a needle which etches a groove onto a wax cylinder.
The louder I sing, the wider the groove.
The softer I sing, the thinner the groove.
When played back the original vibrations of my voice are reproduced.
SINGING PLAYS BACK
There is something melancholic, something nostalgic in the voice.
There is a dark sound in it, there is a special pathos in the music.
Probably because suddenly it sounds like an old recording.
Woah! This is great!
I can certainly recognise my voice there,
and yet it's not the same sound that people hear when they
hear me live, therefore we don't know exactly how Caruso sounded.
But thanks to his recordings, we know the kind of passionate performer he was,
his extraordinary musicality,
we can hear that beautiful, gorgeous dark sound.
He must have been an amazing, amazing live performer!
The gramophone was also a way of marketing a singer,
and it's not by chance that Caruso was the first big recording star.
The tenor voice is dramatic, it's romantic, it's lush,
it has everything that can turn people's heads with music.
Caruso became the first real superstar of the recorded world.
The fact is that those tenor arias and songs
were probably closest to what we call pop music now.
The format, they were three or four minute songs.
And I think that's how opera crossed over to a more mainstream public.
The Great Caruso became the image of the modern tenor for everyone -
strong, virile and romantic.
And his powerful voice upped the ante just as Gilbert Duprez had done
almost a century before.
However it wasn't long before a much more powerful medium
appeared on the horizon - the movies.
And a young tenor was to continue what Caruso had started.
He had the looks, he had the voice,
and Hollywood had a hot new property - Mario Lanza.
Mario Lanza started training as a singer,
but once signed by Hollywood his operatic career was over.
His movie debut, The Midnight Kiss,
made a hit out of Verdi's Celeste Aida
and he became an overnight sensation.
The illustrious conductor Toscanini
called Mario Lanza the greatest voice of the 20th century.
Some praise for a film star!
But who better to play that undisputed legend of the opera world?
'The colourful life and times of the fabulous Caruso spring to life,
'sparkling with the songs you've never forgotten.
'Spangled with the whips and brilliance of a wonderful era.'
The film The Great Caruso was another huge success for Lanza.
Here was a great tenor playing another great tenor,
and Lanza's portrayal cemented this ideal.
More than that, he inspired the next generation of opera singers.
Jose Carreras said, "If I'm an opera singer, it's thanks to Mario Lanza."
-But it wasn't only him.
When you became a tenor, did you study other great tenors?
I grew up with Mario Lanza.
I mean, my inspiration came from the recordings of Caruso,
and the Great Caruso, the film that he did.
Because when you hear it on the recordings and on the film,
it was such a powerful and the most incredible beautiful voice.
And I love his voice.
Mario Lanza was the first classical music artist
to sell over 2 million copies of a song.
A record none had achieved before.
But it wasn't with an opera aria, it was a musical number, Be My Love.
# Be my love
# For no-one else can end this yearning... #
The operatic tenor had crossed over into popular entertainment,
and these days it's not unusual
for a great tenor to be heard singing this sort of repertoire.
# Just fill my arms
# The way you've filled my dreams
# The dreams that you inspire
# With every sweet desire... #
I mean, a lot of people say that opera especially can't withstand the dilution of repertoire
coming from films or shows, but these voices are great voices
and there's no reason why they shouldn't sing the songs
that they sing in the shower or bath anyway. why shouldn't they sing on record?
# Walk on
# With hope in your heart
# And you'll never walk alone... #
When Placido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti and Jose Carreras
came together to form the Three Tenors,
their album was a phenomenal success.
A mixture of opera, Spanish and Italian song,
and favourites from the musicals.
# You'll never walk alone. #
More than anything, it showed that a great tenor could sing to anyone,
and it cemented the voice as part of mainstream popular culture.
So, what makes a great tenor?
None of the artists we have seen would have achieved stardom
without one extra ingredient - charisma.
Or as the Greeks define it, "a gift from the gods".
To have a gift and not share it with the world is not good for the world.
Opera requires a combination of many aspects of human talent
and that is why it is such a fulfilling art form.
I just love it!