I am most grateful to Rory Musgrave, Steven Pitkanen, and Marina Theodoropoulou, as well as their accompanists, Charles Marshall, Jennifer Mitchell, and Mark Hutchinson, for the performances on this website. They all generously donated their time to learning the old bel canto style (in addition to the other activities they had as postgraduate students), and I thank them for being willing to commit their performances to disc.
Each singer received weekly coaching for about three months, with the modern piano as the accompanying instrument, and the recordings were made in single two-hour sessions, using the equipment available at the institutions where we worked. The Royal Irish Academy of Music, as well as the Department of Music at the University of York and the Don Wright Faculty of Music at Western University, graciously provided rehearsal space and allowed us to record in their concert halls.
The following principles governed our work:
- words delivered prosodically, with syllables stressed as in speech so that unaccented final syllables are sung softly and die away, particularly before rests and other places where breath is taken. Occasionally, these final syllables are barely audible without the use of headphones.
- cadence employed throughout (the fall of the voice on the final word or words of a phrase), and the last notes of phrases have been abbreviated, except for the ends of periods. Many of these notes have a gentle swell applied to them in the manner suggested by Domenico Corri, "only as much as to accent the sound, and immediately die it away" (1810: 52). Generally, the final notes of the arias have been held the longest.
- important words receive emphasis, and on occasion when words are repeated, the emphases are varied. For example, in the accompanied recitative "For behold, darkness shall cover the earth," the phrase "and gross darkness the people" is stated twice between 0:51 and 1:06; on the first utterance, the word "darkness" is emphasized but on the repeat the word "gross" receives stress.
- highly articulated delivery with the inclusion of frequent pauses derived from speech.
- messa di voce applied liberally, both to single notes and across phrases. Breath is taken before long notes requiring messa di voce, even if the breath separates words normally joined together (see, for example, measures 9-10 and 25-26 of "Angels ever bright and fair," where "your" and "care" are separated).
- legato and staccato mixed in certain vocal lines, especially in "Your tuneful voice" on the repetition of the words "in pity of my sad despair" between 4:19 and 4:29.
- portamento and tempo rubato used frequently. Notes are shortened and displaced to relegate unimportant words to their proper place in the hierarchy of emphasis (for example, in the opening measures of "Lascia ch'io pianga," the word "la" is shortened), and when the singers apply rubato to entire phrases, the displaced notes often spill over to the next bar or section, particularly at the ends of phrases (numerous examples of this occur in "Ombra mai fù," "Your tuneful voice," and "Angels ever bright and fair.").
- tempo fluidity within periods of the arias and the accompanied recitative "For behold, darkness covers the earth," as well as tempo changes between sections (see, particularly, "The people that walked in darkness," as well as the middle sections of "Lasacia ch'io pianga," "Angels ever bright and fair," and "Your tuneful voice").
- recitative delivered ad libitum, with frequent alterations to pacing and dynamics in accordance with the sentiments expressed in the text
- voice register: in "Frondi tenere," "Ombra mai fù," "Your tuneful voice," "For behold, darkness shall cover the earth," and "The people that walked in darkness," the singers shift between chest and head voice, often singing higher notes with the lighter quality associated with the voce di testa.
- vocal ornamentation in "Armida dispietata," "Lascia ch'io pianga," and "Angels ever bright and fair" based on period sources (the accompanist devised his own embellishments), but in "Ombra mai fù" and the da capo of "Your tuneful voice," the singers supplied the ornamentation, even a rapidly reiterated pitch (akin to "vibration") on the second syllable of the word "amabile" at 3:57 in "Ombra mai fù" and on the word "tell" at 5:04 in "Your tuneful voice."
- a second, "as written," version of "Ombra mai fù" was recorded for comparison with the bel canto performance.