The following is a reaction to my post on filatura. Its author, a very experienced operaphile, wishes to be anonymous. NK

Interesting essay on an arcane subject to be sure. The examples help immensely.

I’m reminded by your essay and the examples given that filatura along with all the other vocal techniques remain secondary to the beauty (or lack thereof) of the singer’s god given vocal timbre and individual instinctive artistic expression.

Some of the greatest technical singers with a full arsenal of impressive vocal skills will dazzle and amaze the listener with their flawless musicality and beautiful flowing lines, Kraus or Schipa are prime examples. (They are like the woodwind section of the orchestra.) As pleasurable as they are they somehow fail to move the listener at a deeply emotional visceral level. When I listen to Schipa for example I am impressed with the subtlety of delivery and beautiful line he produces, but after a while, I am ready to go to sleep. The same for Kraus. I’m in awe of the high notes, the flowing, effortless, beautiful vocal production; but pretty soon it’s snooze time.

The stentorian virtuoso singers Corelli, Del Monaco, or even Tucker dazzle the listener with their power and squillo (the brass section?). But after they hit the aria out of the park, they usually return to earth for the rest of the performance.

The soothing and caressing singers: Milanov, Caballe, and even Price (the string section, like the cello, violin/viola, and bass?) give gorgeous pleasure like rich French food.

We’ll categorize Birgit (stentorian brass?), multi-purpose Joan Sutherland (flute to cello to trumpet?), and the baritones at some other time because we have now come to the heart of the matter.

Continuing the vocal/orchestral analogy, we do have that special instrumental category that is not really a part of the orchestral palette. This instrument like the voice, has a unique musical timbre that when combined with dynamics and subtle colorization produces a variety of musical emotions that are hard to achieve elsewhere. I’m referring to the piano.

In the hands of virtuosi like Kapell or Benedetti or Rubinstein more than other equally skilled technical masters, we experience music in a heightened and intensified state of emotional reaction. How they achieve this is for others to explain (if they can?).

The same is true for singing. It’s what sets my big three apart from the crowd.

1. Pippo
2. Schmidt
3. Björling

Pippo is the supreme example of this hard-to-define phenomenon which produces such a soulful emotional effect. His interpretations are so distinctive and involving. The Italian songs are a prime example. You hear things in his voice that stir and evoke feelings and images of the sun and atmosphere that raise these relatively mundane pieces to high art. You could say the same thing about Frank Sinatra.

One thing I hear in GDS that is virtually unique is his ability to use subtle inflection in the middle of a phrase. The 3rd act of Boheme or the last act of Tosca. Di Stefano is the only singer who makes the connecting bits of dialogue more beautiful and affecting than even the big set pieces. The way he will purposely vary the pronunciation of certain vowels such as the u in pura depending on the context is one of his distinctive interpretive touches. It’s his vocal signature. He is the only singer I have ever heard who does this with such effect. I think this is what is really extraordinary about him, rather than whatever was meant when critics referred to his excellent diction.

It’s as if he somehow mysteriously combines a blend of modulating dynamics inflective coloring, vocal techniques, a honeyed natural timbre, and expressive artistic interpretation to achieve effects that heighten the impact and understanding of what he is feeling as he sings. This results in an almost miraculously beautiful sound that somehow transforms the listener with a wave of emotional rapport with the meaning of what is being sung. Frequently Schmidt and Björling would do this at a level approaching Di Stefano. But Di Stefano is unequaled.

He was truly special, one of a kind. Somehow I felt all of this when I first heard him more than fifty years ago. I’m still having a hard time explaining him, but I think you know what I mean.