Just after Magda Olivero’s 102nd birthday, (on March 25), the Corriere della Sera went to visit her. This remarkable woman still has a lot to say. While many of her opinions are maybe inevitable for someone of such an age (the Milanese are no longer well-mannered; modern opera productions have gone downhill; there are no outstanding singers nowadays), many of her comments contain an element of truth, and are not just the rantings of a fuddy-duddy. Here is Olivero on listening to young singers:
So far nobody has left me speechless. They sing, but without technique. The problem is that there are many singing teachers, but few of any worth. They don’t teach that to sing you must breath and support the voice: a wonderful rule that isn’t taught. The foundations are not firmly in place when the singer already starts confronting opera arias. We used to spend years doing vocal exercises. Only in this way can a voice become uniform, smooth and increase its range, and you learn expressiveness. Today no-one sings with expression; it seems they don’t understand what interpretation means. And everyone immediately wants to tackle the most difficult composers, like Verdi. I hope that a young singer manages to find someone who knows how to spot defects, and can explain how to intervene. And when someone tells them that they have a beautiful voice to not be big-headed but understand that they must continue studying, you never stop learning. Today, however, they want to get there fast, which is sad because they end up ruining their voices.
She then she revealed that on the day of her birthday… she sang! Photo from the Corriere della Sera
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.