The Site is honored to have Berta Calechman, who has Juilliard among her many musical credentials, as one of our staffers. Besides providing reviews from an expert's perspective, Berta has agreed to answer questions relating to music in general, but especially on one of Anthony's favorite subjects...OPERA.
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I am a big fan of Anthony Kearns. My first love of great voices is Mario Lanza. This question may not come out right but here goes...
Take any one song or aria and have two great tenors sing it in it's original key. If all notes are equally hit, what would be the difference between them other than different voices?
What comes to my mind is "feeling" or what should we be looking for if not feeling? Thanks.
First of all, it's very interesting that you say your first love in voices belongs to Mario Lanza, and you are a big fan of Anthony Kearns. Anthony has always said that Mario Lanza was his favorite tenor, and that Lanza's voice was very underrated in the opera world. And Anthony programs at least one Lanza song in almost every solo concert he sings.
The voice is the most personal musical instrument, as I'm sure you know. If you have two great tenors who can hit all the high notes brilliantly, with the squillo (or ping) that distiguishes a great tenor from a good one, there would still be a world of difference. Of course the timbre of the voices would be different. The weight of the voice would be different. The facility with languages would be different. The singing style would be different. For example, Juan Diego Florez is one of today's great tenors, but his singing style is very different from Mario Lanza's, or Anthony Kearns'. But music is one of the most subjective of arts. And to me, beautiful voices, and high notes not withstanding, the most important thing to be looking for is......whether or not a voice "speaks" to you, the listener. If a voice speaks to your heart, then that singer is a favorite. It's what makes someone choose Placido Domingo over Luciano Pavarotti, or vice versa. And the first time I heard Anthony Kearns sing, it was with The Irish Tenors. I heard them on TV, and I didn't know who they were. All three men have beautiful voices, but Kearns' voice took hold of me, and over the next 10 years, I heard his voice mature, get bigger and more beautiful, and now, I'm watching him make great strides in the opera world.
So I guess the short answer would be.....all other things being equal you'd be looking for that special something in the voice that speaks to your heart.
What singing techniques has Anthony mastered that make him
stand out as a tenor? His voice is wonderful, but other than the
sound, what makes him unique? For example, I read or heard somewhere that all tenors could sing b flat (or something) but
that few are able to do it in a soft voice as Anthony can. As a
opera novice as you can tell by my question, it would be nice to
know what to listen for when I attend his concerts or one of the
Before I mention the outstanding characteristics of Anthony Kearns' voice, which set him apart from 99% of today's tenors, I want to say a word about something you kind of glossed over, in your question. You said..."other than the sound, what makes him unique?" The sound, or timbre of a singer's voice is very important. It's part of what makes each voice distinctive, and easily recognizable. Some singers, like Maria Callas, did not, by nature, have a pretty sound. Yet it was distinctive, and easily recognizable, by other singers and fans all over the world. And how she was able to move audiences with her vocal acting, was a big part of her greatness. Her "rival" at the time, the great Renata Tebaldi, on the other hand, was not the world's greatest actress. But the sheer beauty of the sounds that came from her throat, made her arguably, the greatest soprano of her time. The infamous rivalry between the Callas fans, and the Tebaldi fans made headlines, any time they were in the same city at the same time. The sopranos themselves were not enemies. But their fans insisted on generating a conflagration, each time one of them sang. Especially since they sang largely the same repertoire.
That being said, Anthony Kearns' voice has a beautiful timbre. The tones are unfailingly lovely, and he's always on pitch. That may sound like a no brainer, but trust me....it isn't. Anthony doesn't have the bad vocal habits that many singers (but mostly tenors) have. He doesn't slide up to high notes, they're always there, first time out. If you've ever heard a tenor continually do that during a concert, it becomes increasingly annoying. I've mentioned many times, his rock solid vocal technique. His breath control is fabulous, and that alone, makes him stand out. It allows him to sing long phrases on one breath. This is definitely not something all tenors can do. But it's essential in Verdi, and especially in Mozart. This summer, when he sings the role of Don Ottavio in Ireland, he will have to perform two of the most difficult arias ever written. Gorgeous, to be sure, but able to take down tenors in one fell swoop! "Il Mio Tesoro" is a killer, plain and simple. It has extremely long lines of tenor coloratura, which have to be sung on one breath. This is not to say that some tenors have not cheated, and slipped in a breath or two, but when you're singing in the big leagues, you have to do it the correct way. All musicians know the pitfalls of that aria, and would know the tenor couldn't quite cut it. The other aria, "Dalla Sua Pace," is only marginally less difficult.
Anthony also has something I've only heard from one other tenor......a trill. I know I explained what a trill is, in an earlier Opera Arena question. Basically it's two notes, next to one another, which are sung in rapid succession, and in a good trill, actually sound like both notes. Many sopranos possess good trills, but in my estimation, it's much rarer to hear it in the male voice. I've never heard Domingo or Pavarotti sing a trill. The only other tenor who has an actual trill, is Nicolai Gedda. It's kind of like 2 cherries on a sundae. Or extra whipped cream.
And you mentioned reading that all tenors could sing B flat. I certainly hope so, because many of the famous arias have B flats, B naturals, high Cs, and even C#s and high Ds. At the very least, a tenor has to have a solid, ringing high C. So many of the arias we've heard Anthony sing have included high B flats, B naturals, and the famous high C, in Faust's aria "Salut Demeure." If a tenor can't bring a high B flat, or high C to the table, it's time to go back to the drawing board.
Anthony Kearns' glorious "mezza voce" is one of his most important vocal attributes. A singer also has to sing with style and variety, which would include facility in singing high notes softly. This he is able to do, seemingly effortlessly. Whether or not it is effortless, the audience must never suspect the singer is working hard, or worse yet...struggling. You might remember that old deodorant commercial, with its catch phrase....."never let 'em see you sweat."
I should also note that Anthony Kearns has excellent diction, especially in English, which is one of the hardest languages to sing in. And he pays attention to the words, which is very important. If your audience doesn't know what you're singing about, a beautiful voice doesn't mean much.
So that, in slightly more than a nutshell, is some of what makes Anthony Kearns' voice so special. But my advice to anyone attending one of Anthony's solo concerts, is not to look for anything specific. Just relax, and let those beautiful tones surround you. Allow him to share his immense gift with you, his audience. He loves to do it.
I had to miss Anthony Kearns spring concerts, and I've been
reading all the "reviews" that were posted. They all mentioned
the translation of the Rachmaninof song as Oh Cease thy
Singing Maiden Fair. I looked it up and found another translation.
It's interesting that all the posts listed the English translation of
the Rachmaninov song as "O Cease Thy Singing, Maiden Fair,"
when Anthony never mentioned the English title. There are
other translations that can, and have been used, such as "Do
Not Sing My Beauty." Although my friend Nicolai Gedda sang
it in Russian, his programs listed the translation as "O Never
Sing to Me Again." And the Rachmaninov Society says that
this is the actual translation of the words. The translation I used
in my review was John McCormack's own translation, which I took
from my own sheet music!
In your previous reply to someone’s question you explained that well-known opera singers, such as Domingo or Fleming, can tell an opera house that they want to do a certain role, and the opera house will often mount the opera for them. But lesser known singers must wait to be asked to do a particular role. Since Anthony divides his time between the Irish Tenors, his solo concerts, Hallelujah Broadway, in addition to opera, will he be able to secure a big enough name for himself in the opera world to request roles he would like to sing?
A good question. Most opera singers also do solo concerts, along with their opera dates. And of course Domingo, Carreras, and Pavarotti performed many concerts together, and as we all know, they were the role models for The Irish Tenors. Being proficient in several genres at the same time, can only help Anthony, as long as he keeps his voice in tip top shape. And as long as he pays attention to the different styles he's singing. He'll acquire a wider audience. People who wouldn't be caught dead at an opera, happily embrace The Irish Tenors. And folks who love the operatic roles he's been singing, will want to hear his solo concerts.
Securing "a big enough name for himself in the opera world to request roles" will not depend so much on how he divides his time, but on consistency, and how often (and well) he sings in the opera. Consistently good reviews, and positive word of mouth will help enormously to enhance his persona and popularity. And as I said in my previous reply, opera houses will want to mount a production for an artist who fills the seats.