Hipólito Lázaro: second advice
Spanish tenor Hipólito Lázaro (1887 – 1974), one of the main interpreters of verismo in his time and creator of the main role of the opera Il Piccolo Marat by Mascagni, which he premiered in Rome in 1921 with Gilda dalla Rizza, gives advice to future singers in his book My Method of Singing, published in 1947.
Most of the time, it is not singing that causes throat irritation; in most cases this is due to singers’ improper eating, because all the fermentation of the stomach and belly is eliminated through the respiratory system, and the exhalation of these gases or vapors irritates the throat and the nasal conchae, and when congestion occurs, as one cannot breathe normally, one must forcibly do it through the mouth, which causes all the indispositions of the larynx. Therefore, you should eat what I recommend below.
When you prepare to start a good season, and during it, abstain altogether from trying appetizers.
First: eat plenty of ripe fruit —whatever you want. You can eat them cooked if you prefer, as they are excellent, especially apples.
You can also enjoy, without any impediment, custard, cereals with milk sweetened with honey, tortilla, etc.
Midday meal: start with vegetables boiled with little water, especially chard, because they are the best for the voice due to their refreshing properties, and all kinds of vegetables, including onions and garlic; the former are beneficial for the liver and the latter for the bronchi; you will dress them with a little lemon juice and not a lot of oil.
Second course: I recommend grilled fish sprinkled with little oil and, if you like, you can include chopped garlic and parsley, as a garnish, but you have to skip the garlic on the days you sing, considering that your breath would not make your female colleagues very happy on stage.
Third course: tubers, cereals, pasta of all kinds, white rice, but you should not abuse all this because it produces excessive fat.
Fourth course: grilled or roasted meat —veal, bull, lamb, or chicken; refrain from eating pork, as it is very difficult to digest. Eat salads with tomato in abundance, seasoned with oil and lemon. The ancients said that tomatoes were beneficial to the vocal cords, even though they did not know the value of vitamins at the time.
Also give yourself plenty of fruits, but make sure they are ripe, because they are more nutritious as they contain more sugar than when they are green.
On days when you don’t have to sing you can eat nuts: almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, etc.; they are great for singers because they contain a lot of fat and phosphorus; but don’t eat them when you have to perform because these oily fruits provoke colds in your voice, the same as olives. Also do not eat artichokes, uncooked onions or sauces, which lead to irritation in the throat.
On days when you sing, you can eat oysters, clams, mussels, etc. But abstain from tasting lobster, prawns, crabs, crayfish, etc.
Eat fresh and soft cheeses that are not spicy. Don’t put spices of any kind in stews; you can only allow yourself the pleasure of tasting them when you don’t sing, as it is healthy to change foods.
If you follow my indications you will see that you will always feel good about your stomach, which is the key to a perfectly healthy voice.
On the day that you have to perform in front of the audience, you must eat several hours before, in order for you to sing on an empty stomach, because then you will not tire your breath and avoid the danger of forcing notes that would produce hoarseness.
Athletes in all their kinds and fields —swimmers, footballers, boxers, etc.— set an example when it comes to meals. The day they have to make public exhibitions they eat little and far from the time of the performance. Do not forget that your work requires a continuous effort of the lungs and nervous system. Remember that to sing you need more breath than those to fight, as fights or encounters last minutes. Your lung bellows and ribs are constantly working to give you the stamina you need during the hours of forced inspiration, especially in rehearsals.
At the great Teatro Alla Scala in Milan I rehearsed fourteen times the fourth act of the “Cene delle beffe,” by maestro Umberto Giordano with Sem Benelli’s libretto, which was directed on that occasion by the great maestro Arturo Toscanini. As I was saying, the rehearsal lasted from ten o’clock in the morning until one o’clock. At three o’clock that same afternoon we started all over again until half past eleven in the evening. So I sang continuously, in full voice, for eleven and a half hours. Therefore, you must know that a rehearsal is more tiring than singing a performance; and you must try to keep your stomach very light so that your breath doesn’t get tired —I repeat over and over again— so that you don’t make a mistake that can lead you to be indisposed.
You should eat bread as dry as possible, so that your teeth and molars work and you can keep them strong. I have already told you what could happen to you if you lose your teeth. You should chew your food well. I also recommend that you massage your gums lightly before you brush your teeth. With the tip of your index finger you will rub from the bottom up, and vice versa.
Text excerpted and translated from Mi método de canto, Hipólito Lázaro, Barcelona, 1947.