Dame Joan Sutherland - Notes for Young Singers

An extract of an interview with Dame Joan Sutherland by Martin Kettle from the Guardian UK, dated 9 May 2002, entitled "I am afraid that young singers today do not develop  a basic vocal technique"

Dame Joan Sutherland  1932-2007

Technique is something Sutherland cares about very much indeed. Since she retired she has sat on dozens of singing competition juries and heard a new generation of singers whom, she fears, neglect the technique that helped keep her at the top for so long.


“I’m afraid the rot is setting in. Today the young singers do not develop a basic vocal technique. They don’t know how to breathe and support and project the sound. They breathe from here” – she puts her hands on her breast – “and they don’t support anything. They sing from here” – this time she indicates the throat – “but they don’t project the sound into the cavities of the mouth and use the high palate. You see them holding on like this, down in their throat. It’s so unrelaxed. There seems to be no repose, no feeling of ease, no feeling of continual line, of breathing and projecting the sound, and the excitement of singing and giving it to the public.


The old manuals were right. Garcia, Lamberti, the others. People don’t learn to breathe, support and project. And they don’t sing vocalise. There are great volumes of vocalise, singing exercises that give you the legato line and help join the middle voice to the upper voice. But now they sing down here … and then they stab at the top. They don’t know how to get there properly, and they pay the price in the end."


"I don’t know where the teachers have gone,” she says. She has discussed this recently with other singers of her own era, such as Sena Jurinac and Birgit Nilsson, and with Ileana Cotrubas from a later generation. “They are all giving masterclasses because they find too many young singers just don’t have the technique. Contrubas said to me: ‘I had a hard job learning my technique. They don’t want to have a hard job.’ They just want to read the music, learn it and go out and sing it.”


If anyone is interested to read the complete article, the following link is provided.


Luciano Pavarotti and Joan Sutherland in I puritarni by Bellini (1976)

Luciano Pavarotti - Tenor (1935-2007) 

His thoughts on singing for young singers


In Luciano Pavarotti and William Wright's book My World, first published in 1995 by Random House Australia (Pty) [3]. Pavarotti shares a number of his thoughts on singing. I can highly recommed this book to any serious student of singing. It contains sound advice to young singers from this great bel canto singer.


I have listed three important examples, in Pavarotti's own words taken from his book:


The need to do regular technical exercises to sing well:

"When I started serious study, I spent the first six months vocalizing only with vowel sounds. This was not a very intresting way to spend six months, but my teacher, Arrigo Pola, believed it was essential. And he convinced me. Over the years, I have become even more convinced of the importance of this.  Anyone who wants to be a singer must learn to not only manage the voice but must also learn to sing words."


The importance of the passaggio:

"Probably the most difficult thing to learn for the beginning singer is the importance of the passaggio (Intermediate zone). Everyone has two voices, the lower and upper registers. If you start singing from a low note and go up the scale, you will feel the place where you switch from the lower and upper registers. The passaggio lies between these two registers. The professional singer must learn to manage this transition without any sign of change. Learning to control the  passaggio is very difficult and it takes much time and work. I struggled with this problem for six years before I really had it under control. If you do not achieve this result, you will never have any vocal security."


Learn to breathe properly and to learn how to give full support from your diaphragm:

"The other most important thing for the beginning singer is to learn to give full support from the diaphragm. People think that you sing from the throat. but you actually sing from the throat and the diaphragm working together. I was a few years into my career before I understood how important this was.


I learned this important aspect from Joan Sutherland when we toured Australia together in 1965. Her brilliant use of her powerful diaphragm was what made it possible for her to sing at the highest level night after night. I asked her to show me her secret, and she was only to happy to do so."


Recommended Reading


[3] Luciano Pavarotti & William Wright, My World first published in Australia 1995 Random House Australia (Pty)