This site is honored that Berta Calechman has agreed to answer questions relating to music,
especially one of Anthony's favorite subjects, OPERA.
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Facts and figures, information and anecdotes, observations and answers to your questions
about operas, operettas, and other musical offerings.
I think three Anthony offerings is much too few, so you have to think really hard, and come up with something that you could never do without, and would upset you if you thought you'd never hear it again." BTW, at this moment, my three selections would be "The Lord's Prayer", "Una Furtiva Lagrima", and "My Heart and I" And since I'm the moderator, I'm adding one more...."Terence's Farewell".
"Desert Island Anthony"
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What are three songs and arias you couldn't do without...if he made a CD?
To answer your question, the word "ping" is used to describe a quality in a good singer's voice. It's not really a musical term, but all musicians know what it means. The Italians use the word "squillo." I can think of two analogies which may help describe what is meant by a ping in the voice. Think of the sound made when you flick your finger on a fine piece of crystal. Or think of the sudden blinding light that a mirror takes on when the sun hits it. It's like a brilliance of tone, along with a crystal-clear quality, that the finest singers have. And when you hear it in the voice, you know it! Hope this helps.
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(Click here to learn more about the Anthony Kearns Music Fund.)
Congratulations on submitting the first question! I wish I could say that you've won a prize, but the Anthony Kearns Music Fund had the best prizes.
What is "ping"? Is it something in the voice?
Also, is it a "real" thing or just something made up?
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OPERA
ARENA
Please understand that in all answers, I'm speaking for myself, not for anyone else. Of course, the first thing I'd do, is learn the notes. Some singers play the piano well enough to sit down and accompany themselves. I don't, so I'd just sit at the piano, and pick out the notes. If it's a famous song or aria, you'd have some idea of how it should sound. Otherwise you're really at square one. And here's where the grunt work comes in. You just keep at it, until you know the music well enough. Usually by then, I'd also have a pretty good handle on the words. At that point I'd work with an accompanist, to get the right tempi, the right dynamics, the right inflection. Then it becomes easier, and more fun. You can work on it, until it gets into your voice. If it's a well-known song or aria, it often helps to listen to a CD of another singer. (sometimes to hear how NOT to sing it!) And of course if it's in another language, it's important to at least know what the words mean, so you can convey them to the audience. And your diction in any language has to be very good. In the past, American singers were known to sing English very poorly, probably because they figured that since it's their native tongue, they didn't have to work at it so much. That's gotten much better lately. That's kind of the "capsule version" of learning a song. But one of the marks of a great singer, is that they walk onstage, and sing a song or aria, as if it was second-nature to them, and they'd been singing it all their lives. The audience should never know all the scut work that went into the performance.
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How does a singer go about learning a new piece of music he or she has ever sung before?
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OPERA ARENA
SPECIAL EVENTS
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Anthony is known for his excellent breath control. What sort of breathing exercises does a singer do, and how often, to develop and maintain good breath support? Does expanding the lungs cause a singer's rib cage to expand, too?
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Anthony does have phenomenal breath control. Singers and voice teachers differ on the importance of superb breath support. I can only speak for myself. My voice teacher believed that proper breath control and support of the voice is the number 1 priority for a singer. It's the foundation of a good vocal technique, and without it, no matter how beautiful the voice is, it can't withstand the rigors of singing. On the other hand, a rock solid vocal technique, with great breath control, can many times get a singer through a performance where either he, or the voice, is not in optimum condition. There are many exercises a singer can do to learn proper support. It's very important to strengthen the abdominal muscles. I've seen singers lie on the floor with a stack of books (NOT paperbacks!) on their stomachs, and practice lifting the books using only the stomach muscles. One of my favorite exercises involves expanding the rib cage and stomach muscles, and singing scales, while visualizing the path from throat to pelvic bones as one column of air, through which the voice travels. There are lots of ways to work on support. Usually a singer and a voice teacher will come upon one and tailor it to the individual. And you should work on these exercises every day, even when you're not singing. Expanding the rib cage expands the lungs. And expanding the lungs means more breath.
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Do you think that Anthony should have recorded a solo CD by now so that people can listen to his lovely songs? Also, do you think he should be doing more opera?
As I said before, in answering questions for this site, I speak only for myself. Some questions are purely objective. There's a right answer, and that's what I try to give. In other instances, my answer would have to be purely subjective, written as both a professional singer, and a fan of Anthony Kearns' voice. This answer falls into that niche. Speaking subjectively...of course I think he should have recorded a solo CD! What a treat to be able to play "My Heart and I", or "Granada", whenever I wanted to. Or "Lagan Love." Or "Macushla." Or....or....or.... and I can only hope that in the very near future, Anthony will make a solo CD. But Anthony Kearns is a very smart singer. A singer knows his or her own voice better than anyone else, and if Anthony has his reasons for waiting, we just have to wait with him. He's still young for a tenor, not yet in his vocal prime. And he has an incredibly vast repertoire. What to choose? He's equally adept in many musical genres: Irish songs, opera, operetta, lieder, Gilbert & Sullivan, etc., etc., etc. It's a daunting task. So, as much as I (and indeed, all of his many fans) want a solo CD, we just have to wait until he decides it's the right time. Do I think he should be doing more opera? Again subjectively.... I certainly do! I've heard him sing many of the most famous lyric tenor arias in opera, and his voice is absolutely perfect for them. And he looks good onstage. That's an important thing. He moves well, and he's young enough to play roles like Romeo, Rodolfo in La Boheme, Faust, without straining the imagination. He also has good comic timing, which would stand him in good stead in the role of Nemorino, one which he has said he'd like to do. I think he'd be perfect, vocally and physically. But time constraints may be the culprit in this case. Between performing two major tours and a mini-tour with The Irish Tenors, recording with them, and his solo concerts, there just isn't enough time for a perfectionist such as Anthony to delve into an operatic role and make it his own. He has everything he needs for an opera career-except the time to have it! We have to just keep saying, "patience is a virtue, patience is a virtue, patience is a virtue."
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Where do all the extras you see in major opera productions, such as the men carrying the swords in Aida come from? Are they trained singers? Actors?
Many of the extras are voice or dance students. Especially children. The opera house sometimes has a list of frequent extras, with their "body-types.", and voice classification, if there is one. So if, for instance, they need a young boy, or someone very tall, they know where to look. Many dance students moonlight as extras, since the opera may need a "dancing couple", or something like that, and they can move a step upward to featured extra. There's a hierarchy among extras, too. There are walk-ons, featured walk-ons, someone who sings a note, or holds the soprano's hand as she dies. And there are children's parts in Carmen, Madame Butterfly's baby, (which is a featured walk on, and gets billing in the program). It's good training, since it gives a young performer stage experience, and some money. But the extras I knew when I was at juilliard, said the best part was the invaluable knowledge they gained from watching the stars of the opera work through a role. Imagine being onstage with singers like Domingo, Sills, Sutherland, etc, being able to watch them work, and hearing them sing. Not to mention all the backstage gossip you hear.
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Please describe what a singer might do the day of a big concert or opera, to be in top form for that evening's performance. For example, what might the singer eat and when? Would he or she practice singing that day, or save his/her voice for the performance?
First of all, it would depend on whether it was an afternoon, or evening performance. The routine would vary slightly. For an evening performance, a singer might get up around 11:00 am, or noon, and run a few scales, to test out the voice. If the voice responds, that's a plus. After a not-too-heavy breakfast, which might be protein, and no milk products, the singer might read over the music for the evening's performance, especially if it's something somewhat unfamiliar. Some of the singers I know would take a walk, if it was a nice day. It helps get the lungs in shape, it's good exercise, and it helps work off nerves. I know several singers who would come back after their walk, and take a nap. But my voice teacher used to say that sometimes, if you fall asleep, your voice goes back to sleep, too. So I never napped. A little later in the day, the singer might warm up the voice with more scales, and maybe run through some of the music for that night. Singer friends of mine would have dinner of a small steak and some pasta about 4:00 pm It's very difficult to sing on a full stomach, but you do need something in your stomach, for stamina. Then off to the venue, where, if it was an opera, they would get made up, and in costume. A very close friend of mine who sang at the Met, would sing a few scales in his dressing room, just before he went onstage. He felt that the difference in the temperature from the dressing room to the stage could often play havoc with a singer's voice. Otherwise,the singer would try to conserve his or her voice for the performance. So you need to warm up enough to feel confident, but not so much that you do your best singing in the dressing room! There's a story about a famous conductor and a famous tenor, who were rehearsing an aria for that evening's performance. Even though the tenor sounded wonderful, the conductor kept asking for "just once more." Finally the tenor had had enough, and he turned to the conductor and said "Maestro, I have one Top C left in my voice. Do you want it now, or at the performance?" If you ever went backstage before a performance, especially at the Met, you wouldn't believe your ears! From every dressing room, would come the sounds of singers vocalizing. Sopranos, tenors, baritones, basses. Sometimes it sounded like Old Macdonald's Farm! How could such beautiful voices produce such cacaphony?? But they did, and the end result was magnificent.
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When the Irish Tenors sang acappella on TV recently, Anthony started by giving them the pitch. I noticed he took a fraction of a second to find it by humming it. How does a singer know when he has the correct pitch? And what about what's known as "perfect pitch"? I'm wondering if Anthony has that gift.
You're very observant! Perfect pitch allows you to know exactly what note you should be singing, and how high or low it is, without benefit of any help from the piano, for instance. Let me say that those who have perfect pitch don't always think of it as a gift! A very dear friend who does have perfect pitch, hardly ever goes to concerts or operas, because it's painful to hear how off pitch some singers are. I'm not certain whether or not Anthony has perfect pitch. He may, or he may have relative pitch, which allows you to find your note in relation to another note. What he does have is a fabulous ear. This helps to pick things up very quickly. It may also help keep the sound of the notes in his head, so he knows just where to begin.
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In Anthony's solo, The West's Awake, on the Heritage CD, it seems that his vibrato is more pronounced and consistant than in the past. Can you give us a lesson on verbrato and how it is developed and controlled?
he word "vibrato" means vibration in Italian. It's a difficult term to describe, or illustrate. The vibrato in a singer's voice is an extremely personal thing. It's almost like a fingerprint. No two singers will have the same vibrato. You can't really develop a vibrato, it's part of the singer's individual vocal makeup. And almost as recognizable in some singers as the timbre of the voice. What the singer has to do, is use his or her technique to control the vibrato, so it's just right. That's part of what constitutes what we think of as a beautiful voice. No vibrato, or not enough, and the voice tends to sound colorless. There are no gradations in the sound of the singer's voice.The only singer I can think of offhand, to illustrate what I consider a vibratoless voice" is Sarah Brightman. Her voice leaves me cold. Don't hate me-it's just my own opinion. Now sometimes, a singer will deliberately affect a vibratoless voice, for a role, or a particular song. But normally, the individual vibrato will show in whatever the singer is doing. To move to the opposite end, too much vibrato is not a good thing. Then it's called a "tremolo", and it sounds as if the singer has a wave, or a shake in his or her voice--almost as if the singer is singing more than one note at the same time. A wide vibrato can develop from a bad technique, or by pushing the voice to sing something not suitable. I'm NOT going to mention singers who have a tremolo! I'm not sure just what you mean by the statement that Anthony's vibrato sounds more pronounced and consistent on the new CD. I'm going to hazard a guess and say that why you think his vibrato sounds more pronounced, is because Anthony's voice has gotten darker and richer of late, and part of what makes a voice sound rich, or lush, is a wonderful vibrato. He does have that. Also, "The West's Awake", fabulous song that it is, is very difficult. Most of it lies in the middle and upper middle registers of the voice. Then at the end, the singer has an exposed high note, which comes out of nowhere. Not easy. As I said, it's difficult to really describe a vibrato. And remember, I'm speaking in eneralizations. But I will say that a beautiful vibrato adds so much to the music. It brings it alive, and it touches the soul. Sound like anyone we know?
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What is your favorite opera and why?
That's a tough question. There is so much beautiful music in the world. How can you choose between Mozart and Puccini? Or Verdi? The most beautiful stage presentation, coupled with glorious music and wonderful voices,I ever saw, was a production of Puccini's "Turandot" I remember from years ago, with Birgit Nilsson and Franco Corelli, two of the greatest opera stars of all time. The stage was awash with color, the costumes were gorgeous. I've never forgotten it. On the other hand I remember a performance of Mozart's "Abduction from the Seraglio" with Nicolai Gedda, that was absolutely sublime. I guess if someone held a gun to my head, I might choose "Madama Butterfly." With really good singers, who act well, the audience is sobbing at the end.
What, exactly, is a trill?
Due to the fact that in my review of the Meadowbrook concert, the last concert with the present IrishTenors, I noted that Anthony Kearns has a trill in his vocal bag of goodies, I have received many e-mails asking what exactly a trill is. So that question jumped to the head of the list of questions awaiting answers on Opera Arena.

The dictionary describes a trill as a rapid alternating of two tones, either a whole tone, or a half tone apart. There it is, in its simplest terms. But much easier said than done. A trill is an embellishment to a musical phrase, to give it more oomph. Sometimes the composer wrote the trill into the music, but more often a singer who has a good trill will insert it into the music, to add some variety to the piece. It must be quite difficult for a male voice to sing a trill, since so few actually sing one. Sopranos use it very often, with varying results. Instrumentalists use it all the time. The trick to singing a good trill is to be sure that it is sung rapidly, while at the same time, making certain that two distinct notes can be heard. It can't sound like a shake, or a wobble. Some of the most famous singers had no trill at all, or a poor one. I can't remember ever hearing Pavarotti sing a trill, for instance. Joan Sutherland had the most perfect trill I've ever heard. It really was two separate notes sung at the speed of light. And when it's done perfectly, to another musician it's breathtaking. Until last week, the only tenor I'd heard who actually had, and used a trill, was Nicolai Gedda. Now I've heard two. Anthony inserted a trill into "The Old Bog Road" and it was a complete surprise......even to Maestro Roth. When I mentioned it to Arnie, his eyes lit up, and he said "yes, did you see me look at him?" So, just when I thought I knew the extent of Anthony's expertise, he pulled another surprise from his sleeve!
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Would you please provide an explanation regarding what constitutes an aria and how it is distinguished from some of the other songs in Anthony's repertoire.
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The answer to that question is very simple. An aria is a piece of vocal music,
which comes from an opera or operatta. Other pieces which Anthony sings in Italian, and are showstoppers, are Italian songs. I know many people think that "O Sole Mio", "Mattinata", "Catari", and "Granada", for instance, are arias, because they're dramatic, and showy. But they're not arias.
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