“Heavy vibrato” operatic soloists compete to out scream each other

I don’t buy the marketing propaganda used to promote singing with vibrato to unthinking people (sheeple), who apparently don’t possess any critical thinking skills at all.

Hola a todos. As with many other things in these Orwellian times, people with an agenda say anything to promote their agenda. They engage in lies, fictional stories, ridiculous excuses, distortions, half-truths and brainwashing to accomplish their agenda. In this instance, I’m talking about the Vocal Pro-Vibrato Agenda, which might sound silly to some, but nevertheless it is quite real and often based in biased ideology, rather than scientific evidence. It seems that many people enjoy listening to a voice wobble, flutter, quiver and in many cases (what sounds like) screaming. It’s usually called opera. And frankly, I think there’s a class-ist social-standing factor connected with opera which is why some people think they are supposed to like it. To appear “well-heeled,” (roll eyes) and part of the luxury upper class, Dahling. Translation: Pretentious, superficial and snooty, in many instances.

One wonders why opera singers use such heavy vibrato when they don’t need to? With few exceptions, why do they sound so shrill (especially soprano and tenor voices) and harsh as if “pushing their voice so hard” which is not good for the voice by the way creating lots of tension, and seemingly without the ability to sing quietly or for any extended period of time?” One also wonders why opera singers use such heavy vibrato if we’re not sure it’s more so-called efficient” as they like to say? “Efficient?” That’s a new one. Probably because they’ve been brainwashed to sing that way — it’s expected — because that’s how many Conservatories and Schools of Music Voice Departments train their students. String players use vibrato but one never finds their use of vibrato the least bit offensive. I’ve never heard a string instrument that sounded like it was screaming, wobbling, quivering or fluttering or obnoxious.

According to the Vibrato-bots — they’re the disciples of vibrato who enjoy vocal soloists (especially barrel-chested sopranos) who rear way back and belt-out this harsh, shrill, forced ugly screaming sound they mistake for singing beautifully — they would have one believe that orchestras don’t have the ability to accompany a singer(s) and play quietly underneath the singer(s) as a gifted and skilled pianist does when accompanying a singer. Such thinking about the supposed ineptness of orchestras is such an insult to the fine musicians of orchestras for one to say that about them. I have the upmost respect for orchestral musicians.

In all the concerto performances I’ve seen/heard, the orchestras were quite skilled at accompanying. Sometimes one can barely hear them while the featured instrumental soloist is playing. The Vibrato-bots fail to understand that orchestras have a full volume range from barely audible to full volume filling a concert hall. Where have the Vibrato-bots been and what podunk school did these people train in not to know this?

Mi amigo/My friend cannot stand to listen to most vocal soloists in classical music performances because they’re from the screaming opera genre. To him, their vibrato is annoying and “like nails on a chalkboard.” He says it sets his ears off including his tinnitus. It’s rare that he likes any vocal soloists, and especially the “heavy vibrato” singers screamers. I pretty much feel the same way although probably because of my musical background and training I have a slightly larger threshold for obnoxious/screaming soloists when the Orchestra Chorus is singing underneath them. I’m able to “tune out” the soloist(s) and listen to the Chorus. He can’t do that. He hears it all the same. He listens to listen. I do that too, but I also listen to analyse. In that context, I will say to him, “Did you hear the pedal point in the double basses?” in the Brahms Ein Deutches Requiem And I explain to him what pedal point is. Or, “Did you hear that fugue in the Chorus?” also in the Brahms Ein Deutches Requiem. But on another piece, we both liked the soloists in this superb Händel performance from Frankfurt, Deutschland. Who wouldn’t like most of those soloists? Answer: The Vibrato-bots probably. Why? Because none of those soloists sounded like they were trying to blow out every light fixture in the Concert Hall. So when we watch performances together, I now know to skip over any movement or section of a work that has a vocal soloist as part of it, such as the solo parts in the Brahms Ein Deutches Requiem, for example. There is an exception to that though. I occasionally listen ahead without mi amigo/my friend joining me and I “audition” the soloist to see how much vibrato he or she sings with as I did the other night with another performance of the Brahms Ein Deutches Requiem. In that performance, the bass soloist sang beautifully. He was fine. He sang with just a little bit of vibrato but it was not at all offensive, in fact, it sounded very natural for him and part of the music, even to mi amigo. It wasn’t this forced, unmusical, fake vibrato that so many vocal soloists seem to think they must use and is required of them in a performance. But the soprano soloist was another story. As is usually the case with soprano soloists for some reason. She was doing all right but sort of on the edge of being a turn-off until she got to the highest note and she had to rear back and wobble (almost screaming on that top note, I think it was a high B Flat). That’s when I’d had enough of her and I knew that mi amigo certainly wouldn’t be able to take that. But near the end of her solo (which was also with the Chorus singing under her), where she sang more quietly, she went back and forth from vibrato to a straight tone. So I played that part for mi amigo with a warning to him. He said, “Why didn’t she sing her entire part with a straight tone when she can sing with a straight tone (as they all can if they want to)?” I agree. It would have sounded far better if she had. No one needs to do all of that wobbling and fluttering, or what amounts to unmusical-sounding screaming.

The latest shallow fad: Sing Scream with Vibrato

From my research, it seems that one of the latest silly fads at this time is to sing scream with vibrato. It seems that many (stupid) people watch pop culture singers on television. The pop star (or wannabe) looks like s/he is nearly swallowing this large microphone that they’re holding. His/Her tongue is fully exposed with eyes closed and with a pained expression on the singer’s face. The singer is looking towards the ceiling while singing screaming with vibrato. I’ve seen this “sing-acting” countless times on the corporate media because pop singers all copy each other. They think they’re expected to do all that sing-acting nonsense in order to be taken seriously. After their performance, on production’s cue, the audience screams wildly — one hears the high-pitch screaming of young girls — in approval, regardless of the quality-level of the performance they just heard. Viewers at home envision themselves singing screaming exactly like that person — dream on! — so they too want to start singing with vibrato, but they don’t know what that vocal technique is called. After learning the musical term vibrato, they say, “I want to add the warmth and vibrance of vibrato to my voice.” “Warmth and vibrance?” Where on Earth did they get that marketing language to describe vibrato? Vibrato has about as much “warmth and vibrance” as — in the case of opera and depending upon the opera diva — the sound of a loud, high-pitched screaming baby or a loud siren on an emergency vehicle passing by. But I suspect they got that marketing language from the Vibrato-bots themselves and in this instance they are using words that are the opposite of what (operatic) vibrato really sounds like. Even if one enjoys being screamed at, would one call that sound “warmth” and “vibrance?” Ludicrous! I swear, people say anything these days! Unfortunately, this vibrato fad is yet another example of shallow people and their shallow and superficial fads especially here in the shithole US where there’s no shortage of stupid people and silly fads.

While researching this topic, I learned that little has changed unfortunately in the Voice Department scene since the days I trained between the — what I’ll call — two schools of thought: Singing with vibrato (to be seen as “in” and “cool” here in 2018, if not before) versus singing with a straight tone which has a very pure sound. A straight tone is especially ideal for the perfect blending of voices (perfect intonation) in a Chorus and many of the finest Choruses around sing with a straight tone:

Regarding vocal/choral vibrato from Vocal Technique Instructor, Karyn O’Connor:

“There are situations in which vibrato is an undesirable effect. In choral work, vibrancy rates among individual choir members may differ either slightly or enormously, and vibratos that aren’t synchronized can destroy the quality of a soft, unison passage. Wide-swinging vibratos that aren’t squarely on pitch in one singer can throw off the pitch of other singers standing next to them in the group. Most choir directors make the decision to have everyone sing in a ‘straight tone’ to avoid such inconsistencies in the overall sound of the choir. A straight tone can help singers in a large group blend more easily with each other. Therefore, tempering how much vibrato a singer uses or has, if any at all, is a valuable skill in an ensemble situation.” [Source: Singwise: An Information Based Resource For Singers By Vocal Technique Instructor, Karyn O’Connor].

Adding to what Karyn said: With a well-trained Chorus, each section of the Chorus (meaning soprano, alto, tenor and bass) is supposed to sound like one voice, which can only be achieved by singing with a straight tone. Singing with vibrato does not allow for the perfect blending of voices as Karyn explained in the paragraph above. One should not hear individual voices in a well-trained Chorus. So for example, if there are 20 sopranos in the Chorus, one should not hear — what sounds likes — 20 different voices. That’s tacky, very amateurish and it’s a sign that the Chorus Director hasn’t a clue what s/he is doing. Instead, one should hear 20 perfectly blended voices creating one pure sound as if it’s only one soprano voice singing. Not 20. Mi amigo/My friend has said to me on occasion when listening to music, “That soprano has a lovely voice.” I asked him: What soprano? He said, “That soprano singing.” I said: That’s not one soprano singing; that’s the soprano section you’re hearing and their voices are so perfectly blended together/trained that they sound like one voice, which is what you thought they were! He was stunned that the soprano section sounded so perfectly like one voice singing. And that’s how his ear began to be trained for listening to choral music and the best trained Choruses. It’s just like the string sections in a well-trained orchestra. Even though there are many violins in the orchestra, they sound like one violin when they all play perfectly blended together. The same for the cellos and basses. One does not hear the sound of each violin, or each cello or each bass.

Also, when one sings with a straight tone, there’s no doubt over which pitch one is singing, assuming one is on the correct pitch/note to begin with. However, the same cannot at all be said about vibrato and opera divas where that’s often a case of (what sounds like): “Guess what pitch I’m singing?” as the diva’s voice quivers, flutters and wobbles back and forth between or in between (meaning s/he is sharp) two pitches/notes.

The Vibrato-bots and their agenda

From my online research, the Vibrato-bots are these self-appointed authorities engaged in brainwashing people that one must sing with vibrato otherwise one will supposedly harm one’s voice. (roll eyes) They are as rabid about their pro-vibrato agenda as the far-right is about their agenda. Reading comments from the Vibrato-bots, one is left with the impression that anyone who sings with a straight tone runs the risk of ending up in the nearest medical centre’s Intensive Care Unit, or even dead. One can hear someone asking, “Why did she die?” The Vibrato-bot responds: “Well, the poor dear was singing with a straight tone the other night and it absolutely killed her. We Vibrato-bots have known for a long time about the dire consequences from singing with a straight tone.” (roll eyes) People make up all kinds of loony stories and lies to justify their agenda, and there’s no doubt that the Vibrato-bots have an agenda. That is obvious from my research. They are best ignored. The Vibrato-bots refer to the “vocal apparatus” and that vibrato “brings warmth to the voice.” Mi amigo/My friend said: “Vibrato brings about as much warmth as a jet engine does to one’s ears.”

The Vibrato-bots say that one needs to sing with vibrato “to compete with a large orchestra.”

To “compete” with an orchestra? Is that what you think you’re doing, Mr/Ms Vibrato-bot when you perform with an orchestra? You think you’re “competing?” Why is one of a competitive mindset? Why is one trying to “compete” with the orchestra? I doubt that the orchestra feels that it’s a competition. Mature musicians — which would seem to exclude many if not most Vibrato-bots — are supposed to be working with the orchestra. Not competing with it. Idiots! It would appear that Ms/Mr Vibrato-bot is not clear on the concept of what music-making is all about. It’s not about competing with anyone. But I must say that “competing” is often the impression one gets from these screaming opera singers/divas who are invited to scream out the solo passages in choral symphonic works. Take Beethoven’s Ninth (or his Choral Fantasy), for example. The quartet in the final movement never (or very rarely) seem to try to harmonise with each other. Instead, it becomes a screaming match. They seem to try to compete with each other to see which of them can out-scream the others. Someone made a comment about this online in reference to “heavy vibrato.” The person wrote that he had never heard the quartet in Beethoven’s Ninth sung where it didn’t sound like a train wreck. Yes, I’m glad someone else has noticed that finally. Mi amigo and I recently watched a performance of the Ninth and the soprano soloist seemed determined to out-scream them all. She was awful. Her harsh screaming ruined the performance. She reared back and tried to out-scream and dominate the other soloists. She made no attempt to harmonise with the other three soloists. The tenor came in as a close second to her. It’s most unfortunate that these screaming Vibrato-bot soloists don’t understand what music-making is about. It’s not about competing and trying to dominate and overpower one another. It’s about musicians making music in solidarity with each other. Where did this competing nonsense come from? We all supposedly/hopefully want a perfect performance — or as ideal as possible — without one person such as a self-absorbed vocal soloist diva thinking that the entire concert is his or her personal recital and with little regard for the other musicians on stage, as if having to outdo all the rest.

What about in a recital?

When an opera diva gives a recital, it’s usually with piano accompaniment. Well, these opera singers screamers could easily blow the piano off the stage with their obnoxious, harsh-sounding voice. And with vocal screamers, there’s no “competition” with the piano. There’s no “singing over the piano” in part, because the best piano accompanist plays “under” the musician one is accompanying. An accompanist does not try to overpower or “play over” the person s/he is accompanying. Therefore, in recital, an opera diva or another vocalist who is hell-bent on — what sounds like — screaming using wobbling, quivering and fluttering vibrato can instead sing with a beautiful, lovely straight tone on pitch (hopefully), because there’s no accompaniment to “compete” with or scream over. The excellent piano accompanist plays quieter than the singer, except when s/he has his/her moments when the diva is not singing. But of course we’ll never see what I’ve suggested happen. But this blows yet enough hole in the Vibrato-bots marketing propaganda.

The Vibrato-bots go on about “Utilizing technique” as if the voice is a machine. Someone wrote in an online comment: “Vibrato is not used in Renaissance music.” Well it’s not supposed to be, but they sing with fluttery, quivering and annoying vibrato in some Renaissance music at La cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris, of all places! I’ve heard them do so on multiple occasions and was quite surprised by it. I was surprised that they didn’t know any better considering they’re in a Choir School. This has been pointed out to them and one of their choristers admitted that vibrato is not to be used in Renaissance music, yet one hears vibrato in Renaissance music on occasion in their Liturgies.

The Ugly Politics in some Conservatories of Music

My research on this topic brought to mind my training. At the Conservatory of Music I graduated from the politics there were quite ugly, immature and intense at times and very uncomfortably so, which I didn’t find was very healthy for the students, including myself. The politics were based in a lot of immaturity with the professors of the Voice Department. All of the choral ensembles in the Conservatory sang with a straight-tone (no vibrato), and from what I remember most of the voice students did as well. This was not the case with the voice professors who mostly all sang with some or “heavy vibrato.” I don’t remember a professor trying to instill vibrato in a student’s voice who naturally sang with a straight tone. Even the lead role for one of the Puccini operas we did sang her role with a bright straight tone which was her natural voice. Nevertheless, the professors not-so-covertly went after each other and with each professor having their own disciples/students as their supporters. They argued and trolled each other over who was correct in their teaching, breath support and vocal style, and who was wrong. There was lots of immature chisme/gossip. The politics were the absolute worst in the Voice Department between those professors who taught a “dark tone” and open throat (think: the rich and warm/dark sound of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus under Robert Shaw) versus those professors who taught a “bright tone” (and presumably a closed throat?) I happened to study with the two “dark tone” professors. In hindsight, I’m glad that’s the way it turned out. But my voice professors were in the minority — and they were the ones hated on — because the majority of the voice professors taught a “bright” tone which I found rather ugly in sound. When I heard the bright tone vocalists sing, their voices sounded tense, tight, shrill and at times like cackling (especially the sopranos in their upper register) with wobbling and screaming-sounding vibrato. With one of the soprano voice professors, I remember that whenever she sang in performances on campus her face turned bright red while she was singing cackling/screaming. During my years of training there, I heard nasty comments made about how such and such professor is “not singing correctly and ruining the voices of her students” and “her technique is so bad.” One professor said that before changing her way of singing (from a bright tone to a dark tone and open throat) that she was spitting up blood. Was that true or a lie to make a point? In hindsight, it was all rather immature. I got sick of it. And the Keyboard Department wasn’t much better in the politics department. One school of thought and playing (such as The Russian School, for example) versus another school of thought and who was studying with whom when they should be studying with “my professor” who’s the best. Some students fed into this nonsense. It was all too much at times and I hadn’t expected that before I entered the Conservatory. But I suspect it’s the same at other University Schools of Music and Conservatories. A lot of immaturity and insecurity is what it boils down to.

One wonders what the politics, gossip and competition are like between Boston University’s School of Music (which is a Conservatory environment) and Boston’s New England Conservatory of Music? Or between the Manhattan School of Music and The Juilliard School in Lincoln Center?) Mi amigo/My friend said: “I would think they would like each other since they’re all pursuing the same thing: Music.” Well, perhaps. But it usually doesn’t work that way. Even though music is the international language there’s often competitions between schools, with “[name of Conservatory] is better than [name of Conservatory], why aren’t you studying there?”

If one is secure in one’s training and style of performance, what does it matter what someone else is doing or saying? That’s them. If they are critical of your training, ignore them. That’s what secure people do. If one does not like the way someone is being trained or the way someone performs, then find someone you do like and listen to them.

The Vibrato-bots repeat the same brainwashed script: Vibrato is necessary to “sing over the orchestra.”

What a pathetically lame excuse for claiming one must use (screaming) vibrato. But it’s a standard excuse with the Vibrato-bots. Has it never occurred to these people who are in love with “heavy vibrato” and promote it that the overwhelming majority of the vocal students trained to sing with “heavy” vibrato will never, ever, sing with an orchestra? Has that never occurred to these people? Only a chosen few in the big scheme of things — who have “made it” — and who have an artist agent perform with orchestras. So why are most voice students taught to sing this way when most will never have to worry about “singing over the orchestra?” I suppose voice professors would say, “well you never know who will ‘make it’ and who won’t so everyone is trained to sound like they’re screaming by using ‘heavy vibrato.’”

According to the Vibrato-bots, orchestras can’t accompany. That will be news to orchestras.

I was asked recently why vocal soloists in classical music performances — and not necessarily opera — use such quivering, heavy, wobbling, fluttering, annoying vibrato when they sing? Well, it’s technically called “singing” but often resembles out-right screaming especially at a loud decibel level. The excuse given for that historically is that as orchestras became larger with added brass sections, as an example, vibrato was used to “sing over the orchestra.” Sing over the orchestra? That implies that orchestral musicians are stupid and don’t have the talent and ability to serve as an accompanist, which is rubbish. Orchestras serve as accompanist all the time when they accompany in concerto performances, for example. They have the ability to “stay under” the soloist and bring their volume level back up when the soloist isn’t playing. So there’s no need for a soloist to “sing over the orchestra.” And I hope they don’t mean that literally because in non-operatic performances the traditional placement of soloists is in front of the orchestra on the edge of the stage so in that setting there’s no need for them to “sing over the orchestra.” They’re singing over and into the audience. In opera performances, the orchestra is in the orchestra pit.

One of the Vibrato-bots wrote that “They (Opera singers) have to use the technique that they use because they have to be able to project their voices without a mike over an orchestra without forcing or straining their vocal apparatus.” What? You’re quite ignorant even though you try to speak with such authority. Again, just like the other Vibrato-bot, you too are saying that orchestras don’t have the ability to accompany. Apparently you’ve had little to no experience with orchestras. And for the thick people — specifically the Vibrato-bots — if a soloist or soloists are performing with an orchestra, a well-trained orchestra automatically understands that they are in an accompanying role and they play more quietly as I’ve seen in countless concerto performances. Orchestras are not stupid, Mr/Ms Vibrato-bots. The stupid one here is you with your vibrato brainwashing. Apparently none of you Vibrato-bot idiots possess any critical thinking skills whatsoever because all you do is regurgitate your pro-vibrato brainwashed script based in bias ideology. All of you fail to understand the role of accompanying that orchestras are quite capable of. Therefore, there’s no need for any soloist to “sing over the orchestra.” Or more accurately put: To scream over the orchestra with such an ugly vocal sound that would break out every light in the house, and especially operatic soprano divas that feel they must rear way back and “let ‘er rip” as I’ve seen countless times.

I watched a flute concerto earlier this week, and then a guitar concerto. Neither soloists were closely mic’d. They were both near the conductor and the audience had no trouble hearing either the flautist or the guitarist — neither of which are really “loud” instruments, especially the guitar — because the orchestra played more quietly since they were in an accompanying role. Why can’t orchestras do that for singers screamers? They can and do. Then vocal soloists can start singing musically and lovely, or is that no longer the goal? Is it now all about “competing with the orchestra” as the Vibrato-bot idiots talk about?

While writing this, I watched a performance of the Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 3. The pianist played well, although her posture at the piano was absolutely horrid — doesn’t her back ache by her not supporting her back and being all hunched over? — and she went for speed in some passages over accuracy. But the orchestra stayed under her and accompanied her nicely. She didn’t have to “scream” the piano over them or “compete” with them. She played with them. Because the performance was held in Fort Worth TX here in the shithole US, on cue she got the perfunctory, tiresome and predicable standing ovation which seems to be a US thing only. I rarely see standing ovations in Europe, fortunately, no matter how superb the performance is. And in this performance, the conductor, James Conlon, kissed her hand during the bows. A rather outdated gesture. If the pianist had been a guy, would he have kissed the guy’s hand? I. Don’t. Think. So. The chauvinism is noted.

The Vibrato-bots and their Lies

Then there’s the Vibrato-bots and their ridiculous fictional stories hating on people who sing with a straight-tone. Someone online said “straight tone” singing left her voice tired. Why would she attribute her “tired voice” to singing with a straight-tone? It sounds like she wasn’t singing correctly to begin with. But what she said is part of the Agenda of the Vibrato-bots. People have been singing with a straight tone since people began singing. And if one is singing correctly — singing with an open throat and with proper breath support — singing with a straight tone singing will not leave your voice tired. You’re doing something incorrectly and it has nothing to do with your straight tone. I know from years of Orchestra Chorus experience where all the Choruses I sang with sang with a straight tone so that we had perfect intonation, the perfect blending of voices which a Chorus cannot achieve with wobbling and fluttering vibrato.

“Heavy vibrato” is mostly based in biased ideology rather than scientifically-based.—a singer from a major opera company admits

The Vibrato-bots say that “healthy vibrato makes the voice more efficient.” Efficient? They also say that this has never been proven. Heavy vibrato is mainly used in opera — I’m not at all into opera with its screaming divas and its heteronormative story lines — and the vibrato-bots have no shortage of theories as to why it’s important for one to scream oh excuse me, they call it “singing” with vibrato. But the reality is that vibrato is difficult to define as far as its effectiveness. There’s isn’t any empirical data for vocal vibrato, so it’s difficult to prove causation between vibrato and how effective it supposedly is. Some professional singers say, “My belief is very strongly that vibrato makes the voice more efficient.” There’s that “efficient” word again. Yeah, well, people can and do believe anything in order to justify something they like. But some (I suspect not a lot) of the same people will admit that there’s so much personal bias in favour of vibrato and so many historical aspects involved, and very little good science involved.

Then there’s the ideology involved, which is a major factor. That reminds me of the brainwashing used in organised religion. In the Church of Vibrato (as I call it), the opera diva rears back like Madame Queen as if she intends to blow every musician off that stage and she indeed comes close to doing so. One can’t distinguish her screaming shrill voice from that of the screaming sirens out in the street of the emergency vehicle passing by.

The other excuse for vibrato — which is just as lame — is that vibrato supposedly relaxes the voice and the throat. Really? That awful wobbling, fluttering, quivering sound where one can’t even tell what pitch the person is singing relaxes the throat and voice? Does anyone really believe that nonsense other than the brainwashed Vibrato-bots? They do admit that there’s no scientific basis or confirmation to their claim. It’s just something they choose to believe, and again, people believe all kinds of loony and ludicrous things these days where there’s no scientific basis or data for any of it. But one can’t tell me that all of that tongue wobbling and fluttering that one sees when the opera diva has her mouth gaping wide-open where one can see her tonsils — if she hasn’t already blown out a tonsil with all that screaming vibrato — is relaxing to the throat. To me, it looks like just the opposite of relaxing. It looks and sounds very tense and stressful. That’s because, in part, screaming (harsh singing) is hard/harsh on the voice. It makes one feel the need to “clear” one’s voice repeatedly.

Whereas a straight tone looks and sounds relaxed, refined and pure. It’s musical. There’s nothing musical about shrill — what amounts to — screaming! And there’s no doubt/no question as to what pitch the person is singing when one sings with a straight tone. The Vibrato-bots say that the “straight tone” is frowned upon, although they readily admit that choral ensembles are best when they sing with a straight tone in order to have perfect intonation. We agree on that, so finally, there’s something I agree with them on, which is why I can’t stand Choruses that sing with vibrato because their voices don’t blend perfectly. They do not have perfect intonation. I’ve written about a few Choruses that unfortunately sing with vibrato and I can’t listen to them.

“It’s a bit strong, isn’t it?”

I’ve seen some audience members sitting in the first row of a concert hall after a diva has leaned way back and sung screamed her first few measures. Looking at their faces, some audiences members have a facial expression as if they’re thinking upon hearing her, “It’s a bit strong, don’t you think? Do you really need to scream at us? Can’t you tone it down a bit? It’s a bit harsh. I didn’t bring any earplugs. I didn’t think I would need them for this performance!” Yes, one could say all of that, if one has any ear drums left from that shrill screaming you just had come at you from Ms Opera Diva (and it’s usually a soprano). They’re unfortunately invited to scream in a symphonic choral performance where the soloists should have come from the Symphony Chorus instead. It’s true that the opera diva’s obnoxious screaming voice can cut through everybody on that stage including the full orchestra and the 150-200 voice Symphony Chorus and with the full resources of the Concert Hall’s pipe organ being played. But who do you hear? You hear her. Her screaming.

In the shithole US, Boston seems to be the Vibrato-bot Capital. Perhaps that’s part of this vibrato fad I mentioned earlier. Even though vibrato is frowned upon in choral singing — as even the proponents of vibrato agree as I said earlier — all of the choral ensembles I’ve heard in the Boston area sing with vibrato, unfortunately. It’s as if they’re trying to copy each other. Or is the thinking: “Well Tanglewood sings with vibrato, so we should too, to try to be like them.” (roll eyes) And one of the worst is the shrill-sounding, cackling, wobbling and fluttering-sounding soprano and alto sections of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus (TFC), especially in their upper register (such as the cackling sopranos I heard in their performance of Beethoven’s Ninth; they sounded like they were screaming; there was nothing musical about it). They (the TFC) were one of my favourite Choruses at one time. I should add that they (the TFC) have never won a Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance, according to my research. However, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Chorus under Margaret Hillis won nine Grammy’s for Best Choral Performance. The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus under Robert Shaw and the San Francisco Symphony Chorus under Margaret Hillis and Vance George won multiple Grammy’s for Best Choral Performance. Chicago/Hillis, Atlanta/Shaw and San Francisco Symphony Choruses/Hillis-George all sang with a “straight tone.” In other words, the best Choruses — some of which I’ve heard in recent months from the Nederlands/Amsterdam and Deutschland — knew/know to sing with a straight tone to achieve perfect intonation; the perfect blending of voices which cannot be achieved with the use of vibrato. Vibrato is also heard in the soprano and tenor sections of the New England Conservatory Concert Choir. I was looking forward to watching their performance of the Brahms Ein Deutsches Requiem performance but because of the vibrato in the Chorus — which prevented the perfect blending of voices in each section (SATB) — I was unable to listen to it. And the soprano and alto sections of the Boston University Symphony Chorus are just as annoying with fluttery, wobbling vibrato. Their use of vibrato makes them sound nervous (that’s the best way to describe it) when they sing, although in their excellent performance of The Bells by Sergei Rachmaninov they sang with a straight tone. I wondered how that happened? But since then, I’ve not been able to listen to their performances — such as their Fauré Requiem — because of the annoying fluttering and wobbling in their voices.

A reader might be wondering: In a choral context, who do you like? Oh there are many Choruses that I like. For the Fauré Requiem, I prefer that sung by this superb Chorus (Fauré – Requiem Op. 48 – Collegium Vocale and Chapelle Royale, Orchestre des Champs-Élysées (Herreweghe).

I also like the Orchestra and Chorus (SymfoniOrkestret and KoncertKoret) of the
Danmarks Radio network. Their Concert Choir (Symphony Chorus) is superb of the performances I’ve heard from them. They sing with a lovely straight tone and have excellent diction. They perform in the new Concert Hall in Copenhagen.

As for vocal soloists that I like, here are a few artists: Andrej Bondarenko (bass soloist), Yves Saelens (tenor soloist) and Birger Radde (bass soloist), Clare Wilkinson (mezzo soprano), and maybe Liesbeth Devos (soprano) depending upon what she’s singing, Damien Guillon (Counterteno), Patrick Grahl (Tenor) and Victor Sicard (Bass) come to mind. One of the Classical Music Snots would likely groan to me, “Well these people are all right, but don’t you like any really well-known (unspoken: screaming and shrill) vocal artists like the ones I like?” You mean celebrity, big-name artists? I don’t choose who I like by whether they are a celebrity and internationally-known or not. I’m not pretentious or shallow like that, and it’s too bad if you are. I chose them for their voice and what I’m able to tell about their personality, not for how well known they are. I couldn’t care less about that.

And a more contemporary piece sung with a straight-tone by the 8 voices. Vibrato would have ruined this performance:

Like other things in the classical music tradition, there is so much ideological hokes-pokes bull shit involved here, and even some Vibrato-bots admit that.

Operatic divas should use wireless mics for opera and for symphonic choral performances

I told mi amigo/my friend about this suggestion and he dismissed it because as he said, “I think in the US, opera is all about screaming as loudly as you can.” That does seem to be the case. But if they wanted to change that negative and non-musical reputation, they could start using wireless mics: With wireless mics readily available, I guess that fairly soon opera singers won’t be screaming with vibrato because they can be mic’d just like some pop singers, no? Why not use wireless mics? Why can’t opera divas do that? Or would the response be, “Because of classical music’s many (stagnant, outdated and often silly) traditions, which in some cases make absolutely no sense, we can’t do that.” Unless it’s prohibitive because of tradition, opera singers can be wirelessly mic’d so that they won’t have to resort to that silly excuse of “singing over the orchestra” or “competing with the orchestra.” They can sing naturally with a straight tone and they’ll be heard just fine even with the most terribly incompetent orchestra incapable of accompanying a soloist [sarcasm intended]. Why can’t an opera diva do that, particularly in symphonic choral performances? Their straight tone will then match that of the well-trained Symphony Chorus. Of course I don’t expect what I’ve suggest to happen any time soon, if ever, because the screamers do so love their window-shattering vibrato.

And I guess the Voice Departments in Conservatories and University Schools of Music across the world would be in an uproar that they wouldn’t be able to teach screaming vibrato anymore.

Despite the lying from the Vibrato-bots and where they essentially say that orchestras don’t know how to accompany soloists (including singers), here are some examples of orchestras doing just that and superbly so. Listen to these orchestras accompany the soloist:

Mozart: Flute Concerto No. 2 (3rd movt.) with Emmanuel Pahud, flute
Berliner Philharmoniker
Mariss Jansons, conductor
Recording from the Berliner Philharmoniker’s European Concert at Hagia Eirene, Istanbul,
1 May 2001

The flautist in the performance above is not directly mic’d anymore than the rest of the orchestra. It is a chamber orchestra but it would be no different than with the full Berliner Philharmoniker. Notice that when he (the flautist) plays the orchestra drops down in volume. When he rests, they bring their volume level back up as a good accompanist does. An opera orchestra — in an orchestra pit — can do the same when a straight-tone soloist is singing.

The Opera Diva’s Shrill Noise Pollution

Oh she was awful! Who let her out? I took a nap recently and woke up to opera over my speakers. It was dreadful. It was an operatic performance and the soprano diva was “singing,” if one can call that screaming “singing.” Honestly, it was unlike any singing I’ve ever heard and I’m not exaggerating, and I’ve heard a lot of singing in my life. She was way beyond screaming in fact. It was so annoying that I had to get up and decided to check the playlist to see who la mujer/the woman was. I have not heard such a harsh, unpleasant voice like her’s before. If you were to put her in a sound-proofed practise room in a Conservatory, you’d still hear her screaming voice throughout the building and clear on the other side! As I was telling mi amigo: If one had to write down the notes she was singing on paper (think: Dictation and Ear Training class in Conservatories), that would have been impossible even for someone with perfect pitch. One would know the general range on the keyboard of the notes she’s singing, but it would be impossible to know the exact notes because of her heavy-screaming vibrato and she was singing in between notes — meaning she was pushing her voice so hard that she was sharp — so she wasn’t exactly on the correct pitch. That also seems to be “in” now. Damn odd. The thinking seems to be: “Just sing anything — it doesn’t have to be the correct pitch — as long as you’re screaming. Nobody will know the difference.” Well, you can hear her scream in the video below (she’s in the black dress). I was lying there in bed thinking before I got up: She’s the worst I’ve ever heard and I can’t imagine who likes that “sound,” or rather that noise pollution. There was nothing musical about it whatsoever, other than the orchestra’s accompanying. But of course all those in the audience who enjoy listening to harsh high-pitched screaming and voices that sound like sirens on emergency vehicles adored her. They were gushing with applause. I had to click off. Here she is:

Chau.—el barrio rosa

2 comments on ““Heavy vibrato” operatic soloists compete to out scream each other

  1. Mary Jay

    I’m 94 years old. I have a group that I go to the symphony with, or used to. We used to go weekly back in the 1980′s, but then suddenly the music genres that we went to which were in the classical range started using vibrato to such an extent that it became unpleasant to listen to.

    Since the price of tickets keeps going up and the ongoing excessive amount of vibrato soloist insist on ripping our ears apart, our group only goes to San Francisco to listen to classical music performances about once or twice a year now. Far less than we used to. We have 12 people in our group and most of us have quit going because of the excessive soloists screaming and ripping our ears apart.

    Good article. I learned some things. I think we’re seeing the death spiral of classical music and the desperation of adding vocal soloists to try to save it.

  2. E in Sunnyvale (G**glevale?)

    - Listening to the Pahud clip above while typing this. I’m a flutist (or flautist, if you prefer) and deeply admire Emmanuel Pahud, and this piece was the first flute concerto I ever studied over two decades ago.

    This is why I often prefer older vocal recordings made before Extreme Vibrato(tm) became a thing. You mentioned the quartet section of Beethoven’s 9th: “They seem to try to compete with each other to see which of them can out-scream the others.“. So true… I’ve heard so many recordings of that work, but only a couple that didn’t sound like a train wreck. The first recording I had of it (it was long ago, so unfortunately I cannot remember what orchestra/conductor) could have been held up as a gold standard of how it can sound without screaming and excessive vibrato – it’s really very deeply moving. I guess I was spoiled with that first good recording because almost every one I’ve heard since then leaves me feeling… “less than moved”, to say the least.

    Not to suggest that the singers you are talking about are unskilled, but excessive vibrato and screaming is all too often used to mask flaws and intonation problems (also true of other instruments besides voice).

    At any rate, listen to recordings made before – just a guess – about 1965… especially those made in the early 20th century. It’s quite a contrast.

    ~E

Fin. The End.