How Not to Lose Your Voice
Heinrich Schlusnus was a late starter for those days - already 27 by the time he made his debut in 1915 at the Herald in Lohengrin in Hamburg - but he was ready, and by 1917 he was at the Berlin State Opera as Wolfram in Tannhäuser, with Rigoletto, the Count di Luna, Germont, and Renato in Ballo under his belt in the meantime. He was still singing Germont and Rigoletto onstage almost up to his death in 1952. In between he made so many records (516 commercial ones, according to German Wikipedia, plus uncounted broadcasts in his later years) that it’s easy to forget about the first ones, still made in the pre-microphone era. This is one from his second session, the big aria from Il trovatore recorded just a year after his Berlin debut.
One of the most interesting things about studying the history of singing is finding out which present-day assumptions were age-old truths and which ones weren’t. In the second category comes the idea that singers should start in lighter roles and progress to heavier ones. That almost never happened a century ago; most singers found their repertory early and stayed in it for life, as Schlusnus did. I’m glad they didn’t tell him to “wait” for the great Verdi roles, because this is about as good as it gets in Trovatore.
And is Verdi dangerous for a young voice? Not if the technique is right. Schlusnus channels his strong, focused sound into perfect legato and never pushes it in the Verdi aria, and his voice never lost the clean definition, pristine surface, and easy vault into the top range heard here. Proof of method? One of Mahler’s Wayfarer songs recorded 33 years later.
Teatro Nuovo puts great emphasis on learning from the singers who had never heard, or heard of, microphone singing - primitive recordings from more than a century ago, forming a link to the traditions of opera’s heyday and the infinite potential of the natural, unassisted human voice. Check this space regularly for samples, and click here for some pointers on how to listen.