Bernard Gabriel; 30; Great Singing Today and Yesterday -- Judith Raskin
This is Bernard Gabriel Rossini the composer of The Barber of Seville once said that to be a great singer you needed only three things. Voice voice and more voice. Well Judith Raskin one of the current delights of the Metropolitan Opera and who is now sitting beside me certainly feels that bill she has plenty of voice in lyric soprano pure crystal clear fresh and of the most ingratiating quality. But she has much more to offer than that. Because those who have witnessed her performances on stage will agree with me that she positively radiates charm and personal beauty and she's a most convincing actors besides. And when it comes to the very difficult matter of giving a song we sidle the New York critics fairly go out of their collective minds and words of praise. Judith Raskin I've had some very nice things about this. Thank you indeed. But you know they're all perfectly true. I'm just trying to be as objective as I
possibly can and to try and state the facts as they are. I'll buy that. Well I was really most anxious thank you. Thank you very to get you to the microphone because I know that you have some very decided opinions on the art of singing today particularly in comparison with the art of singing of perhaps yesterday. And I wanted to get some of your views on that matter also your career is such a notable one that I feel sure that we'll have a great deal to talk about. Let me ask you first a question that has always puzzled me now singing as compared to the artificiality mastering the technique of an instrument such as a violin a piano flute or what have you. Singing is a natural human skill after all just about everybody can sing a little. Not everyone can play the violin a little. So how come it's so difficult to really sing properly. Well if I answer that question and you all go away thinking that this is gospel I have to clarify
myself this is only my theory my opinion and my opinion is that it isn't so difficult to sing. It's just that we aren't hearing the kind of great singing that we heard in the past and that's what is difficult. The question I think should be asked what has happened to the state of singing why has it deteriorated if it has deteriorated now. I have unfortunately not heard in person because of my age some of the great singers of the past. But I've looked at the music they sang and I think it's very difficult now too. Sing this music if you don't have the kind of vocal technique that is necessary to sing it. But my opinion as to why singing might be considered difficult is that our instrument is ourselves and the human being is an emotional person I mean it with the violin as a piece of wood that's carved as well as one can do it. But the human being is an emotional thing and therefore since we carry our instruments around with us perhaps what is necessary is to free ourselves so that we can sing
better because we are not hung up by talk technical problems. I don't know if that makes any sense but I believe that it is not as difficult to sing as it is to be taught to read different opinions. Well it does seem however that almost no one ever sees things entirely correctly now. I remember reading a not long ago about Jenny Lind certainly one of the all time great soprano history and late in life she confided that she herself never felt that her middle register had been produced quite properly. Imagine. Yeah it is this thing that everybody just you know thought was so so fabulous I wonder what her emotional problem was about her mental rest. Well I say you didn't sing softly frequently nearly as well as he did when going at full blast and I think if you take each of the greats you'll find that there's usually something wrong about the voice somewhere. Isn't that true. Well perhaps I again go back to the fact that because we are humans that we can't be
perfect I mean I think though that certainly Jenny even had what they considered to be a very fine technique the fact that her middle voice bothers her makes a lot of sense to me because it is the most difficult part. Always to train yes I mean the the middle is the balance and the balance is slightly off at one time it will show in the middle which is for a soprano not the most gracious ingratiating part of the voice too so I think a dissatisfaction with the middle register where the middle voice is more likely to happen with the soprano. As far as Caruso is concerned I read a book recently in which they said that he sang extremely well when he was younger but that he began to push the voice a little bit to make it a more dramatic sound this was again a theory and that in so doing he had pushed the boys into the category of dramatic tenor and then perhaps it was harder for him to sing piano I'm not convinced they said something about his use of the chest register he had gotten too strong and then you can't sing piano. This was an interesting theory. Toscanini said that he was at his best in one thousand two before he came to the Metropolitan and
that he had deteriorated constantly from then on. And the funniest thing is if you listen to some of the early Caruso records including those of about 19 to 93 they're just absolutely not in the class with his later recordings and yet he has yet that I can understand that if this theory is correct they also went on to say that they thought he had something the Wright matter with his lungs even possibly lung cancer because of. He did have an operation for now and I know it's too well that would certainly explain why he might not be able to sing piano. But again I want to say that there I don't think that you can ignore the fact that you can't be perfect if you're human Oh no. All right I want to point out for a moment because the great technicians of the Violin and Piano don't seem to have any discernible flaws now you can take the technique of Heifetz and put it under a microscope or a telescope for I don't know any kind of amplification and you just can't find any flaws and I think that can be said very frequently of Oistrakh and among pianists you certainly could take much of the playing of Hoffman and some of the people of today and you know you don't say well he's great but he's
octaves or bass doesn't have a trill or something. Many of the technicians seem to be just about as perfect as you can imagine so I think that perfection seems to be either easier when it comes to instruments or as you intimate the technique of singers and reply Well that's what I was going to say I've read some books also from the earlier centuries and apparently those singers of the past and I really mean like you know 300 years ago were pretty perfect. And that is to say. Again you're listening to music and perfection is something which is also artistic I mean I agree with you or do I know about it but we're talking about purity of technique and if you define the vocal technique as the ability to sing high and low loud and soft fast and softly crescendoing And do we know entering Missa the votes are there. If this is your definition there shouldn't be any reason why we can't do it. And I believe that in the old days they did do it and so I'm inclined to say that
oddly enough the technique of physical things like playing the violin with your fingers and brain of course somehow or other that ability to be taught is still very much with us. I think that something has happened and I have I have a feeling that. One of the problems with teaching of singing has been too many opinions and not enough standard whereas I think if you sit down for violinists you they probably. Maybe I'm wrong but they probably have a slightly better idea of what they're talking about than singers I mean. You mentioned a word to singers and 15 different explanations what its placement and 17 answers you know. But I think some of your colleagues wouldn't agree with you that there has been this decline in singing. Isn't that true. I know because what I'm talking about technique I think even there. Yeah. Well let them disagree and I think that actually if you can name the singer today you can sing Mr. DeVoe Che all the way up and down the scale and sing a perfect trill all the way up and down the scale and make a full bodied tone that also can be made in a way that I don't know I'd like to I know that there are singers who can do some of
those things but I can recall on the recordings of God of course she for example she did all of them. And she's not that old in historical time. But I agree with you that you don't see a violinist or you don't hear about a violinist who has made a big success who can't accomplish anything that was ever that's written about Melba you know she wasn't too kind to her colleagues you know she thought she was just a rotten singer and I'm quoting. But in speaking of Patti whom she had heard once she said she had heard she heard her take a trill and started very softly. And swell on it with this mess of the boat and go backwards and then go back to a P.A. you know and she had the perfection of the way in which she did this was enough for her she said. Had it been about. Yeah well that's what I'm talking about I don't think anybody by the way I will say that the interest in establishing better vocal technique is here with us that's why people would argue with me because we have singers now who are certainly coming close and not only are they coming close
but they have inspired us I'm talking about Beverly Sills Marilyn Horne Joan Sutherland Nielsen these are singers who who make it possible for us to understand that certain things are still possible for all of us you know what I'm trying to say here that I don't want to eliminate these people who I think anybody can sing chromatic scales like Joan Sutherland us or Beverly deserves credit and you know Marilyn Hunter is rather impressive. But what we're now talking about a comparison of the singers of the present day with some of those of the past. It seems that these comparisons are of really great interest to people in general and to critics and to singers. Also this interest extends itself to sports and so many people are always wondering how would Tilden for example make out today with some of the top flight tennis players are those who say oh he wouldn't have a chance you know if Laver or some or one or two of the others others say you have a Laver wouldn't have a chance with Dylan and the few movies that were made show so
little lass that you can't judge it that way and again Babe Ruth. Well now how did he make out with the Yankees or the Mets today. So this is a matter of interest to everybody now the statistics keepers in sports those who measure records like the how far you the broad jump and how long it takes to run the mile and a hundred yards things like that. They can point to the fact that people are constantly breaking records and improving so that the person today I believe the broad jumper of today or the one who holds the record he actually has done it better. Faster further than anyone in the past but I want to ask you this rationing do you think that the effect of records being broken all the time necessarily applies to other fields. If you mean music you know because I don't think there's any need I mean what I mean I tell you right now. I know but I think that one thing I want to say you know that technique is that I use for an end the end is
music and you can't break any records in music either sing beautifully or you don't. Now you can sing a little higher a little lower a little louder a little softer but who the hell cares if it isn't music. And so therefore I must say and this in defense of the modern singer that although technically we seem to have trouble we are certainly better trained with and language and repertoire we have more repertoire to learn so we have broken a record I mean did you ever hear of you know Poppy sing Batti Batti That's a funny story I heard that she doesn't do anything resembling what we consider Mozart's style. So we broke that record. But I'm inclined to think that the only thing I'd like to see is perhaps a combination of the great technique of the past with the extraordinary musical background of today. How about that that would be something to be desired. Okay let's wait. Do you know how far back to your own operatic memory take you that is live performances Who are some of the first great ones that you what you know really I have a very funny back on the first great singer that I ever heard was that the poet and the poems was my
favorite and I heard her on record so when I was old enough to go to the opera she was the first person I heard in mock me. But I have very little background listening to opera I must say I was mostly interested in symphony and response were you writing that. Yeah well I just wasn't an opera lover. Now I am but I still think that it was funny sometimes some of the performances I have done were operas that I've never seen that's a pretty unusual thing I mean I the first time I saying oh yes I had seen that opera but there are others that I haven't seen at all and I'm pretty sure it's just my own interesting background you know. Well I know that you've listened to a great many historical recordings of some now legendary names and how do you react to them. Well as I say First let me say that I know that the technique of recording has changed and so you have to learn to listen to what you don't want to hear and you have to not hear the sound of it you know and the mystical phenomenon but I certainly I mean nearly laymen singing mocking are often is pretty staggering and in my aims that seems
and rose upon so of course is a better recording that I have of that but I'm just absolutely astounded and I'm always. Fascinated by what I hear which is a very full bodied tone up and down the scale. A very beautiful sound up and down the scale the ability to sing softly too but also a splendor in the singing which I you know this is what started me thinking about why. Why don't we hear that now. Individuality very well you know it's interesting because the individuality is in the individual voice but there's no individuality in approach in other words I hear today everybody who is individual has a different way of singing it's as though the style of singing is an individual thing whereas in the past they pretty much sang with a similar technique but the individual voice and musicianship were different. You know what I'm trying yes I do that nowadays when somebody says oh but I heard so-and-so has a beautiful alone note and you think well but it's the way this particular note is being produced that's so individual I don't know if the sound is so unusual maybe it isn't. You know if we have an even as of technique therefore
individuality is less interesting I think if the technique were a little bit more together for all of us we'd have more individual voices coming through. Tell me how did your first metropolitan contract come about and what was your first role. Well my first role was on in The Marriage of Figaro and it came about with a phone call. I was asked did I think I could put together in three weeks time the Marriage of Figaro in a tag in this was my manager called me and I said what I had done it once an Italian and three weeks out about like what I could do. So I did. Except you didn't have to audition or anything. Oh I had been auditioning for you. Oh you know I had you well I had sung at the auditions of the era Mr. being at her I mean I was a terrible audition the I got to the finals I got so scared I really wasn't much good. And then about 10 years later I sang an audition on the stage and I had been heard by the management and performances of the City Opera but it was more of as you say the city. Yes I sang at the New York City Opera and I had done this particular role so I was known for it but my debut was a telephone call Could you get ready in three weeks in
Italian which was quite a. Brain breaker because design is 87 minutes. But I did it I did it through very hard concentration. And as I said I had learned the row and had done it twice. Ten years be not ten years about four five years before the date. That's kind of an unusual way of getting to the Metropolitan. Yes but it was a new idea and history has done more of it instead of an audition it was a guest appearance so that if I made out well on the guest appearance a contract would be waiting for me and that's exactly what happened he liked the way I did it and so he added you feel that first. Because it. Was there when three things were exciting in my life. You travel nervous you know I was just so geared due to getting this thing right that I just got out there and somebody said it's like a clock that had been wound up and unwound all evening because it just was I was programmed to do well and it was the greatest What did you how many rehearsals did they give you. None and watch Never Are you went out into the hall that had the memories of Caruso for the first time in my life. And the first time without a rehearsal of that record on stage without a dress rehearsal with an orchestra rehearsal. How did you know when I have been very well trained
as I told you I've done this role a number of times and I had I had I have a very good memory a risk that well this was kind of my trial by fire it was my risk and I would step onto the stage to check the props before each act. I didn't get my makeup completely on until the third act but you couldn't go out in that hole and try your voice. I did audition at it so I just did it twice not the same sound as a full house. But you don't think about it you just get out and sing and so you don't think at all about whether it's carrying and since then it's been a procession. Well I was very fortunate because I did have one contract after another. I remember a few years ago here you as smart that's where that really second year my middle son was singing right then are there now and then right after that was the great fall staffs and he was on the road and you have a lawyer I know you have a man that's right the Sofi which sure is the flats that I know there is a little higher I think yeah.
But anyway you know those are my roles and I also didn't mention them there is another I mean I met Falstaff. Well since you mentioned the old house and I know that you've been singing at the new as well in the last two years now or three about three years ago. Oh yeah 66 Well how do you feel. How would you compare the experience. Well of course I was as they say about the old house of his so much memory there and I couldn't help feeling that is uses the same stage in which the great song but acoustically the new house is so beautiful and much much more comfortable in terms of dressing room areas and scenery not being backstage. Yes one performance and it seemed so. Septic Yes well it will take a little while for it to get. Never will be like the old house but you know we had very special problems in the old house and not the least of which was a fire hazard. Your little dressing to remind me of cabins on ship. That's right but they can be comfortable too. I like them and I really do like the new house and I think basically it's the
acoustics that I like. If you feel that even in singing Oh yes you do feel it's a very live house and as large as that is it is very resonant. So if you have to have an opera house that size you might as well have the Metropolitan Opera. It's just too big in the other house felt even bigger. When I phoned you the other day I was told that you couldn't talk on the phone because you were singing that night at the Metropolitan. Now is the day of a metropolitan performance a silent one for you. Very often as silent as I can make it that day I also had an infection in my tooth so I wasn't terribly happy. But I try not to do very much a part of that is it is not just to rest the voice but to rest the mind and to kind of be in the frame of mind I'm different from other singers I know other singers who locked the piano and don't sing a note and really are silent I'd like to warm up a little bit. But I do find that it's a quiet time because I have a big job to do and I restoring the day and my time I'm full of energy vocalize it all before a performance yes I do a little warming up in the morning and a little warming up just before I get on the stage.
And I think you're having a meal afterwards. You know I usually eat. I don't need any heavy meals these days I'm generis. Right I usually have a substantial meal about 4:00 or 5:00 o'clock and then that means by the time I get my make up on a date my stomach isn't full. And then afterwards but it's usually a light supper because I'm up all night anyway after a performance I'm so excited. I remember saying that she never tried out her high voice but only her low because she felt that if the low tones were right then there would be no trouble I know what she's talking about. I mean I mean I do a thought. Well I think I know what she means because especially a voice like that. The the bottom the foundation of the voice. She really had it right didn't she. Yes and she also was obviously at that point working in a register that was indicative to her and everybody has their trick I don't you tell what hers is that she's got with you Beverly still tells me if she can sing those high notes then she knows she's going to be all right and I I find there are certain things that I do that I will indicate if I can sing a piano and then crescendo and come back to it I know even in the middle of my
voice that the rest of the Rubinstein thing television you know he showed he played a passage in the past you know he said for some reason or other this had always given him trouble and he found that if he could play this thing well and do it easily then the rest of us don't. OK I think this is like tests Mill Road about the human element out there capable of doing a lot more than we trust ourselves to do so we give ourselves around food and are asking do you have any pet remedies for nervousness. Yeah you're going to sing well before going on stage or even during a performance I think if you know how to sing well you just get out. I'll come then some of the greatest performers have been among the most nervous and I can mention their roles up sell a lot when I can speak a lot in your heart I know but I can't speak for them I can only tell you how I feel. As far as you're well prepared and we're prepared and if I feel my voice is in good shape I'm not nervous and I can't speak for anybody else as a cure for for nervousness really and maybe something that has nothing to do with with the voice that manage to do with
the fact of being a performance performer is difficult for some people I know about these cases I think that's terrible because I think I think memory is a big worry with a lot of people. Yeah I mean you're going to get a stand that I never bothered you I have not had that as a problem. You were lucky singers you got Mr. Petrone whom I talk you know. And I will tell you that I think something. TIME That's a nuisance if you really know you well no that doesn't bother me but if you should get lost in the prompter doesn't give you exactly what you're waiting for that's even worse. But I think memory is something which you know one person will have a problem with and another not just so far have not been in that particular. I have nervousness about when I get a certain sound out that's different but I'm not about memory generally. Oh no acting doesn't mean I can act on Usually that's just has to tell me about the last season or two what in addition to your metropolitan performances has been keeping you busy. When I was in Chicago at the Lyric during Don't drive on the with directing and also
singing the dawn and then I've had to resign and I was with the New York Philharmonic opening a new home in Ames Iowa last September and I'm going to be opening a concert series at the Huntington Hartford museum in the fall so I have my recycles and my orchestral dates. You're getting something right. Well actually I just that's I'm glad you reminded me because I didn't forget it. Hi I just wanted to save it for last I did a contemporary recording just recently of a psycho by Ezra Latterman one that was commissioned for me almost. Well August 6 8 years ago and now we've recorded the songs for Eve with a brand new piece on it that's a new thing I've never heard of anybody commissioned something for recording but we did it with the company's destiny when they were commissioned as were to write a new. Cycle and I'm singing it for the first time what are some of the significant records out there we ought to know is out on the day of RCA Victor which won a Grammy by the way prize and George Shirley and Cheryl Milnes and Jeroboam and surely that is the most
recent op or recording also the impresario of Mozart which is also another RCA recording and then I have those too. Well I have the Mendelssohn Mahler record for Epic which is still available and some can top as 51 the 51 on Decca and with the Cleveland Orchestra and Georgia Columbia and also the Mahler fourth on Columbia with the same band and the same leader have been. What I want to ask you a little bit I've also done the Orfeo would surely be doing more fair and since that's coming back to the net next year might be interesting for people to hear that. I think they played it recently. Wonderful. I seem to remember reading somewhere that you've been doing a lecture series you know what in the world. Well I don't want to teach yet I don't think these years are the years for teaching and every time I'm asked Would you like to teach I said I know I would like to talk to students. And actually what these lectures are more seminars or forums in which we discuss things like what is available in the way of opportunity for work in this country opera oratory or concerts.
And we are going to have a forum on vocal technique I want to know what we all know about vocal technique. As you see this has been on my mind. I'd like to know what young people think they're studying for and what these words of placement head voice chest register all these things that have been bandied about. What do we know about them not what do we know do we. Well I think you know word I don't know we'll find out I'll call you up but. You know I think I think we know a great deal this is a question of how do we know how to do and I'm not going to ask the students to do for me I think that basically I want them to be aware of what they are listening for in themselves I think we all have to. Direction of pseudo science and vocal. Oh yes it has I listened in to some lessons that in which the teachers swore he knew the secret and of course I never heard of this particular secret it just didn't seem logical at all but everybody has a great secret. I was so fortunate in that all the years I studied with Anna Hammond she was such a faggot you know she just taught how to sing. Right right.
You are so young that I'm sure with all your success you must still have some realized ambitions confide in us. Well I tell you I feel I'd like to be able to do what I described a little while ago sing Mississippi bocce up and down the scale through perfectly. And then if I can do that why then the goal or have you want if you do the repertoire Well I think all of us should have that goal to sing better and to work in that direction with all our might. And then to pick the music that we feel is suitable to what roles do you have in you that I mean I really don't know I might be anything from the marshaling to be elected depending upon what I know Bogner I probably would not that is a personal thing I just don't happen to like Wagner. But you know I really am sorry you look so shocked. Yeah but I find it long. This is again I told you all this is opinion. I'm not saying that you can like knocking around I said I think you write some beautiful things but it's all very long. Anyway I don't know whether my voice would be
right for Wagner but certainly there would be things that I am right in calling you a lyric soprano. Yes I think so but I think just growing a soprano is good and I've got a whole life from you. You know maybe maybe I don't know maybe a great butterfly. Maybe you see as I say I have to specialize somewhat in Mozart and leader and one cannot move into a new repertoire without at least getting the voice fully established. Louis Kraus the well-known pianist told me the other day that she practices eight hours a day every chance she gets but I'll bet you singers can't do that or you have learned. No we don't. We can look at music that long and I very often read through music quietly or practice it without singing you know but the voice can't be used too much. Two quick last questions and there you'll be glad that they all asked questions because you probably don't want to go into details any jealousies or Fuz backstage the banter is one happy family or just one happy family. Right I mean that last question I remember that Lisbeth reforge used to have a
- Bernard Gabriel
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- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 70-16-30 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
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- Chicago: “Bernard Gabriel; 30; Great Singing Today and Yesterday -- Judith Raskin,” 1971-00-00, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed September 20, 2021, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-k06x1v08.
- MLA: “Bernard Gabriel; 30; Great Singing Today and Yesterday -- Judith Raskin.” 1971-00-00. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. September 20, 2021. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-k06x1v08>.
- APA: Bernard Gabriel; 30; Great Singing Today and Yesterday -- Judith Raskin. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-k06x1v08