Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Flatness

I was lazy about mentioning at this time, and moreover, I wasn't at a live show so what do I know--but it looks like Sieglinde protested here and here against all this ragging on SRad for being flat and I feel compelled to provide some solidarity.
Look, people: ragging on singers for being flat who otherwise give great performances is just lame. Are you Sondra Radvanovsky's rehearsal pianist? Do you have to sit next to her at choir? No. Then I guarantee whatever minor, subjective flatness you're hearing is not that big a deal to you. Obviously, I'm not saying that noone has pitch problems, but there's a difference between pitch problems that are obvious and pitch problems that only you and a handful of other people with magic bat ears like yours can distinguish. Pointing out the former is fair game, but one should think long and hard about how maybe so-and-so's voice just sounds like that before going to press with the latter.

8 comments:

Will said...

Agreed! I get very annoyed by all the crying of "Flaaaaaaaaaaaat" that pops up on opera sites. Of course, if it's an approved goddess, particularly one from the past (Tebaldi eg.) then it's just fine; I've noticed that, too.

Personally I know that I hear sharp more readily than flat, at least if all the flatness I hear about is really there. I certainly heard Nilsson going sharp frequently in late career.

Anonymous Soprano said...

Sorry - usually agree with you in most things, but not this. She has had consistent pitch problems for quite awhile. It's not magic ears hearing it - there's a technical problem there. And yes, it could be solved fairly easily with a good teacher. It's not unfair to expect a singer at that level to work on issues of that nature, although that's something that needs to be commented upon by her team, not anonymous opera fans. And I say that as someone fully aware of the multitudinous things that can potentially go haywire in a voice!

That said, I do find the sniping of and about singers generally to be tasteless and usually without merit. And yes, it's usually from people who aren't in a position to talk. And yes, they tend to listen through rose-colored hearing aids.

And even though she may have given a great performance, pitch issues are a pretty big deterrent for someone who has a decent ear for pitch. It's a pretty legitimate thing to critique, albeit maybe not with the vitriol that's usually spewed.

Mirto_P said...

I don't remotely have perfect pitch, but I'm usually *real* sensitive to the slightest flatness. Even singing that's just a hair "low" on the actual note, i.e. within a nominally acceptable range vibration-wise, can drive me crazy (nails on the blackboard, etc.). But unlike so many, I don't have this reaction to Sondra R. at all. Perhaps I'm "fooled" by the vibrato?

Will said...

Agreed about the vibrato. Sometimes a voice that vibrant can seem to have pitch issues but actually doesn't. I think someone who writes on Parterre recently followed the tape of a Radvanovsky performance criticized for being flat throughout with a pitch pipe and discovered that she was on pitch almost 100% of the time.

Anonymous Soprano said...

It's not the vibrato (although that can contribute) so much as the overtones. No singer (or instrument) makes a sound that's 100% on "pitch," as it were. And, in fact, a note that IS 100% on pitch would sound flat, unattractive, and, well, not on pitch.

A good tone, or intonation, if you will, is a note that has a full range of partials. What makes a singer sound flat, quite often, is that their resonance is not quite worked out, so while they are technically on pitch, they may often sound a bit off. It's also why sometimes live performances sound great, but recordings not so much - in a live room, the acoustics will contribute to the resonance, and fill in the gaps, whereas the recording may only be picking up certain frequencies.

Pitch is a lot about perception.

Will said...

AS, thanks for this last post of yours that confirms something that I have felt for a very long time -- that close microphone placement does singers no favors at all. I fairly often hear a singer in a role at the MET who sounds really good in the big house but is considerably less impressive during a radio broadcast in the same role.

I remember back in the 1960s and 70s when Mercury Records used to find the sonic focus point of a hall and hang two microphones there --no spotlighting of individual instruments or other trickery --and the sound was glorious with the balances the conductor had wanted, not the engineers.

The same was true for me with the old MET radio broadcasts from the 50s, and 60s -- there was a warmth to the sound and space around the voices and you didn't hear technical things you are not intended to hear -- Jonas Kaufmann is a good example; in the house, smooth and very beautiful, closely microphoned I hear all the little gear shifts and other technical tricks he uses and it destroys the experience for me.

Anonymous Soprano said...

It's also generally true that the larger the voice, the harder it is to get a great recording. The more ping/ring/squillo/chiaro/whatever your term du jour is that the voice has (basically, higher pitched overtones), the more likely the mic will pick up ONLY that and not the warmth/scuro/lower frequencies.

Great voice recording is honestly an art, even to some degree in these days of high tech equipment.

Ideally, a voice is going to sound smooth from note to note - the better the technique, the more true that is. And it should be true for larger voices as well. That said, what a mic picks up is not what you're going to hear in a house. A voice that sounds great up close and personal with a mic is probably not a voice you're going to enjoy much in a large space.

Too, in reality, no voice is going to be perfect every night, and that's sort of why everyone thinks singing sucks now and was so glorious Way Back Then. It's really not that much different - it's just that now, every little blurb, every moment of offness, and every bad moment is recording for posterity and posted on YouTube for the armchair quarterbacks to crow about.

If you listen through the archives from way back, there was more than the lion's share of mediocre singers (and often downright POOR), mixed in with the greats, and the greats weren't always great 100% of the time. It's the price of live performance. You sometimes take a chance on a mediocre performance to get that evening that shines perfectly in your mind's ear the rest of your life...

Alex said...

Damn, I go to Mississippi for a week and everyone has this great discussion in comments. Fascinating stuff, y'all.