Hipólito Lázaro: fourth advice

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Spanish tenor Hipólito Lázaro (1887 – 1974), a celebrated interpreter of verismo in his time, gives advice to future singers in his book My method of singing, published in 1947.


Wagner’s repertoire needs specialized singers; I mean that if you don’t dedicate yourself exclusively to it, don’t sing it until you have a few years of experience, because it’s very central and destroys the high register, and these notes are —don’t forget!— the ones that provide great satisfaction and money.

Anyway, when you lose control for some reason that comes over you, or you get nervous, a symptom that will affect you all too often in your career, bite your tongue, which is an infallible remedy for you to calm down and get the saliva to prevent your throat from drying out. Consider that —as I told you— opening the sounds will make your voice shake and you will become hoarse; always think of this, as if it were your nightmare. If these mishaps happen to you, because you are not careful, you can say that your career is over; but if you remedy it with time —which is feasible, since it can be corrected instantly— you are saved.

About thirty years ago, the following anecdote occurred to me, which I will relate because it fits like a glove.

The morning after I sang Gioconda in the presence of my teacher, he said to me: “Dear Lázaro, your voice trembles.” I immediately corrected it by placing my breath well and by having a few days of restrained life, not leaving home at night.

If your voice shakes, a family member or a friend will have to warn you, because you won’t notice it.

In addition, there are other resources to avoid some of the mishaps I have pointed out to you. First of all you must know how to choose the repertoire, that is: operas that adapt to your voice, in this very important detail is the secret to last many years, otherwise you will have to withdraw from the theater four days after having started.

In this regard, I recall a regrettable event that happened to a lady who debuted with me. She had a splendid voice and seemed destined to make a great career; but she felt like singing Verdi’s Traviata —an opera that has removed from the theatre a respectable number of sopranos who had begun under the best auspices. I, by conscience, warned her not to sing it at all, but she did not listen to me. A few months later I heard that the girl in question had lost “a few” faculties. I felt it for her, because with absolute conviction I predicted a great career for her. A year passed and I heard about my former colleague again, who, although she persevered in the lirico leggero genre, had excluded Traviata from her repertoire, no doubt convinced of the hard experience she had undergone. I was extremely satisfied with this memory, but I haven’t heard from her anymore, although I would have liked to have her as a partner on stage again.

However, this silence around her name does not surprise me, because when you fall in the beginning, it is very difficult to get up in the theater, even having great merits. This profession is very ungrateful: you have to triumph every night and be ready to listen, with respect, to the good advice of the people capable of giving it. So stick to this lesson and be very careful in your debut! If you fail, it will be the end of your career.

Coming back to Traviata, I’ll expand my judgement on the influence it has on certain voices. It’s an opera that has to be sung after a few years of profession, when the vocal organ is absolutely educated, because, of course, regarding the production of sound, you can do with it anything you want, “if you have a good school.”

I dedicate the previous observation especially to all those who, at the beginning of their career, do not want to hear anyone’s advice, and do not even deign to listen to the professionals, not because they are any more or less intelligent, but simply because they enjoy a precious experience that they have accumulated throughout many years. Theatre teaches a lot. If I had the time, and the moment was right, I would give names and names of colleagues from my time who began very well and with all sorts of magnificent promises and who, for not listening to sound suggestions, they ruined their future.

Let these lines serve as a sincere and severe warning at the same time, for a timely reprimand is better than a late and, therefore, useless lament.

How many sopranos, who could have become dramatic sopranos, with their faculties and dark voice, don’t make a career because the first thing they want to sing is Puccini’s Tosca, and even if their teacher, relatives and friends try to get it out of their heads, this mania persists in the inexperienced singer, exactly the same as those who insist on singing The Lady of the Camellias, without taking into account —I repeat and repeat tirelessly— that these works can only be offered to the public as the fruit of a long experience! That is why we currently have very few artists who can go around the world to compete with their colleagues of other nationalities.

If those sopranos would start with the lyric genre, and then they would gradually start with the dramatic genre, we would surely get a roster of beautiful voices in our country.

Text excerpted from Mi método de canto, Hipólito Lázaro, Barcelona, 1947.