I have been teaching Opera and Concert Singing for over thirty years. I now live and work privately in Paris.
Unlike many other singers fortunate enough to have a successful career (see Biography) who turn to teaching only at the end of their careers, I started teaching, out of passion and a sense of vocation, starting in 1980. It was the period in which I sang Masetto in the Joseph Losey film of Don Giovanni, and was invited to sing Figaro in Le Nozze di Figaro at the Paris Opera and Leporello for the Metropolitan Opera Company. I then continued to divide my time between singing career and teaching until 1996, since when I have been teaching full-time.
I teach according to the old Italian school. My own teachers were Luigi Ricci, best known for his volumes of traditional cadenzas, who amongst other things was pianist at Cotogni's teaching studio and accompanist for Gigli on his recital tours; Herbert-Caesari, whose work was acclaimed by his own generation of singers, for example Gigli, Schipa, Tetrazzini, Mary Garden, Dinh Gilly, Joseph Hislop; and Otakar Kraus, the great Czech-born singer and teacher, who himself studied with Fernando Carpi.
The extraordinary fact about opera singing is that every now and then a singer appears whose exceptional qualities are not due to any training at all. The “born singer” gives us pause for thought, because the implications are that the human body possesses this potential within itself, even if it gets realised to the full very rarely indeed. This fact, coupled with my practical experience, gives me the basic premise of my teaching: that just as the sculpture is already within the stone, the voice is waiting to emerge naturally from the dynamic patterns of the body. That doesn't mean I think everyone could sing, given the chance. It takes a sculptor to get the sculpture out of the stone, and it takes a singer to get the voice out of the body.
Owing to the psychophysical complexities of singing, very few aspiring singers possess that balance of all the elements necessary to produce a free operatic voice spontaneously. But many do have enough talent to be more than half-way there even before training. These are the students in conservatoires and academies throughout the world who will come through with flying colours whatever teaching they receive. Others, less well prepared at the start, will be lucky to receive the kind of instruction that can let them find their natural resources and fulfil their potential.
The student's voice is inevitably limited by the condition of the instrument that creates it: the body. I therefore put the accent on getting the body to a state in which it is capable, like any other instrument, of “being played”, in other words of handling those necessary dynamics that lead to good singing. We wouldn't expect a violin student to make much progress on a warped and cracked fiddle, fingerboard loose on the body and so on, with a mangy bow to boot. What would be the point of demanding good tone, accurate fingering, smooth bowing, musical pfrasing? In the same way, I could ask my student for a certain specific vocal result, let's say more anchored tones in the passaggio. But what if the student's instrument (= body organisation) is incapable of giving it to me? No amount of trying or practice will get us anywhere. Or, worse still, by forcing and distorting, a "result" is achieved at terrible cost to the rest of the timbre, and the singer’s body, as it struggles against the odds.
Often, in working with a pupil, seemingly insurmountable limitations in the body's ability to carry out the technical instructions will reveal themselves, sometimes gross defects, sometimes very subtle. This can equally apply to very gifted students or even experienced professional singers. To handle this kind of pedagogic challenge I make use of a sensory and neuromuscular re-education method: the Alexander Technique.
This Technique's contribution in the field of singing can be considerable, first and foremost because it guarantees a profound and practical knowledge of the workings of the human body on the part of the teacher. Being qualified in AT, I can, as an expert, identify and help resolve problems of coordination, posture and unwanted tension patterns that in many cases represent serious obstacles to good vocal functioning, and that are difficult for the layman even to detect let alone correct without the necessary know-how.
Using this tool, I am able to give my pupils a more advantageous body functioning by bringing them back to the body's natural organisational patterns. As the muscular conflicts steadily diminish and finally disappear students will be more and more able to benefit from the actual vocal technique teaching and at the same time free their inner artistic expressivity. So, for me, this process represents the shortest and most efficient route to optimise a pupil's potential.
It's important to help the pupils' mental approach both to the act of singing itself and to singing in public, giving them not just physical but also psychological control. Here again, I find the Alexander Technique very useful. One of the most appreciated aspects of the AT in the musical field is its effect of expanding the musician's awareness and improving her or his ability to handle the mental challenges of singing or playing an instrument. Pupils learn to acquire an extended field of attention that allows them to be aware of the overall patterns of their activity, including their interaction with the world around them, while engaged in the specifics of playing or singing (and acting, in the case of the opera singer). This inclusive awareness promotes better control, which in its turn increases self-confidence and helps to eliminate performance nerves.
It's not by chance, then, that many of the most important music, theatre and dance institutes throughout the world have Alexander teachers on their permanent staff. At the Royal Academy of Music, London, for instance, there are no fewer than five.
My teaching is based on certain fundamental principles which form the background of the practical work. Here are the main points. I call it Singing Undivided:
In order to achieve this, we have to realise that:
As regards the training or correction of the vocal instrument itself, we have to realise that: