The voice is the instrument closest to the soul. It is the most fragile, but also the most powerful. It is the only instrument that is inside us and those of us who use it for singing have a strange relationship with it, as well as a very intimate one. It lives with you, breathes with you, rejoices with you. And cries with you too.
[When I first heard my first album] I was shocked because listening to it I didn't recognise my own voice.
Now you've recorded maybe more than any other classical singer.
Well, I think Pavarotti probably recorded more than I have.
Recording makes you a perfectionist. If you only sing on stage, you can lose some attention to detail. But the microphone picks up everything, even a wrong intake of breath. When the microphone is in front of you, you must have absolute control of your instrument.
I only listen to my old recordings… very old. That way I can say, “Oh well, I was so young that I hadn't fully understood what I was doing.”
Singing is about apnea. I know it may seem strange, but the main thing is apnea. What counts is calmness when you are not breathing, which is very difficult because, when you are in apnea you are anything but calm … and this breath control is also carried out in a theatre in front of an audience. You control your breath with the abdominal muscles, you are in apnea until the next breath and in the meantime, you have to make music as well.
There are documents from the 18th century about singing that were used by the great castrati – Farinelli, Caffarelli, Senesino. The maestri of vocal technique were Italian – in Naples at that time there were four conservatoires and in one of these the great Nicola Porpora worked – a singing teacher and composer.
[He put his students] in front of a candle, at a distance of about 40 centimetres, and the flame had to remain motionless. It required perfect breathing. The sound had to be measured and controlled so as to not move the flame.
You mentioned Farinelli.
Farinelli was a very interesting character. He was the Michael Jackson of the 18th century. But all the castrati at that time were popstars: flamboyant, but with incredible vocal technique.
Pop stars. Now classical singers have to curate their ‘look' more than ever before.
We're slaves to our iPhones, though if we're talking about CD covers that has become obsolete. My first album was recorded in the late 80s, at the exact moment when CDs were taking over from LPs. Now the CD practically does not exist anymore. It's all Spotify, and various other streaming services. We search out clicks on social media. So there has been a reversal for pop stars: they used to sell records and do very few concerts. Now exactly the opposite is happening.
But live music gives the only real emotion. If classical music has survived so far, it will continue to do so. If we still listen to and perform Claudio Monteverdi's music, there is a reason. [Music will survive] because it's heard live. We need to help the younger generations to listen to music, to go to the theatre. You have to make the public curious.
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.