The Golden Age
For those of you who may not know, “the Golden Age” was a period in the first half of the 20th Century which produced hundreds of phenomenal vocal talents. These talents included the likes of Enrico Caruso, Beniamino Gigli, Luisa Tetrazzini, Rosa Ponselle, Titta Ruffo and Giacomo Lauri-Volpi, just to name a few. Every voice was different. Some were low, some were high, some were big and dramatic, and some were light. Yet there was a similar quality amongst all of these voices in terms of the ease and control with which they were produced.
The vocal delivery they used had descended from the “Bel Canto” style of singing which dated back years earlier. Bel Canto was considered so natural and pure that many of its exponents did not even consider it to be an actual technique. The reason for this was that the word ‘technique’ implied that one had to learn something mechanical, foreign, or difficult. While there are certainly difficult aspects to overcome in Bel Canto delivery, the basic approach draws on instinct and logic.
It is important to realize that the voices of the golden age were far superior to almost any voice heard today regardless of the genre. Today we hear a voice with a slight bit of power and we are impressed, yet even the lightest voices of the golden age would make the majority of today’s singers sound weak. The reason being is that most of the singers back then were trained in a way that did not use any artificial manipulation of the throat or breathing apparatus. As a result their voices had more freedom and they were able to open up their vocal tone a lot more. The voices of the golden age were often louder and bigger and could project more easily than voices of today. In addition, they were often stunningly beautiful, having a quality that was round and rich, and at the same time radiant and ringing. Many of my singing students are actually quite shocked when they listen to some of these golden age voices for the first time. They can not believe how different they sound compared with the singers we have today, especially the opera singers we have today. One thing that people often notice is how much less ‘wobble’ the voices of the past had. By wobble I am referring to what many Singing Teachers or Singing Schools today regard as ‘vibrato’. But in reality, the vibrato that many opera singers have today is actually a wobble. If you listen to Caruso or Ponselle, you do not hear anywhere near as large a vibrato. Their vibratos were much tighter and more balanced, and the sound was a lot cleaner and steadier. As a result, when you listen to these great singers you don’t mistakingly think that someone is trying to start their forty year old car on a cold winter’s morning, which is what the ‘vibrato’ of some singers of today sounds like.
In the past, singers would use one technique for each and every genre of music that they would sing, and there was no significant difference between a voice that sang classical or a voice that sang popular music. Singers were expected by their audiences to sing all types of music, and they did.
Below is a list of some of the most legendary singers that ever walked the earth. Please note that I do not personally condone the vocal technique of every single singer on this list, as some are here due to their brilliant musicality or artistry as opposed to completely natural voice production. I strongly urge you to have a listen to all of these great singers if you have not already done so (if you have the time!), even singers from musical genres that you aren’t normally interested in. It’s important to broaden your horizons and explore other art-forms, which actually expands your creative potential and expressive capabilities in your own singing. You won’t regret it!
Opera Singers and Classical Singers:
Tenors: Enrico Caruso, Aureliano Pertile, Franco Corelli, Giacomo Lauri – Volpi, Galliano Masini, Mario del Monaco, Beniamino Gigli, Tito Schipa, Luciano Pavarotti, Giuseppe di Stefano, Jussi Bjorling, Mario Filippeschi, Alessandro Valente, Antonio Cortis, Miguel Fleta, Francesco Tamagno, Lauritz Melchior, Francesco Merli, Giovanni Martinelli, Andrea Bocelli, Juan Diego Florez, Achille Braschi, Jose Carreras, Giacomo Aragall, Mario Lanza, Antonio Paoli, Giovanni Zenatello.
Sopranos: Renata Tebaldi, Maria Callas, Rosa Ponselle, Toti dal Monte, Luisa Tetrazzini, Birgit Nilsson, Kirsten Flagstad, Dame Joan Sutherland, Eva Turner.
Baritones: Riccardo Stracciari, Benvenuto Franci, Lawrence Tibbett, Joseph Shore, Tito Gobbi, Titta Ruffo, Pasquale Amato, Sherrill Milnes.
Mezzo Sopranos and Contraltos: Rise Stevens, Kathleen Ferrier, Cecilia Bartoli, Marian Anderson.
Basses: Paul Robeson, Jerome Hines, Ezio Pinza, Cesare Siepi.
Rock Singers, Pop Singers, Soul Singers and R&B Singers:
Freddie Mercury, Robert Plant, Aretha Franklin, Christina Aguilera, Michael Jackson, Marilyn Monroe, Joe Cocker, James Brown, Ray Charles, Janis Joplin, Mariah Carey, Jeff Buckley, Elvis Presley, Bono, Beyonce, Adele.
Jazz Singers, Blues Singers and Swing Singers:
Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Michael Buble, Sarah Vaughan, Dean Martin, Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Tony Bennett, Yvette Johansson, Nina Ferro, Billie Holiday.