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Art of the Bel Canto Singing Voice by Gio    R.M.S. Titanic  
Tenors--The Kings of Opera by Gio Jeanette and Nelson--Two Singing Voices by Gio
Jeanette's Merry Widow by Ken Norton   Maytime, The Perfect Movie-by Gio
Five Magical Words-by Gio Ah, How Sweet You Sang Jeanette!
Happy Birthday Jeanette #102- The Queen of Hollywood-by Gio Nelson--Silver Screen’s Golden Baritone Article-by Gio

Golden Art of The Silver Screen Greatests



Photo Gift from Ian





Two Great Voices  

Photo Gift from Ian




(C)2004 All material is protected and is not to be duplicated

in any form or by any means without the author's permission.

Like all great singers, Jeanette’s voice matured with time. Nelson, at the age of 35, when he made his screen debut, had just entered the stage of "maturity" for a singer’s voice. Jeanette was still a couple years away; however, by the time she did Maytime, The Firefly, San Francisco and Sweethearts she had entered the mature phase of her singing voice that would skyrocket her as the greatest singing star ever on the Silver Screen.

A brief description of the workings of the human singing voice will be helpful. A major misconception the public makes is that just because one sings opera at 22 or 28, the body and vocal mechanism has reached its peak maturity stage. This is the furthest from the fact. Listen to any singer, and compare their voice before 35—and then from 35 to 45, and you will see a world of difference. It is this age-range, from 35 to 45, in which a singer enters the second stage of voice development. During these years, the voice fills out and becomes stronger and more colorful; and yet, the voice is still growing. A singer reaches full maturity around 45, when the voice is at its most colorful stage. After the age of 55/60, the voice begins to decline. The vocal bands are not as flexible and the voice has become weighty, producing at times a slight wobble in the vibrato.

Jeanette came directly from the musical theater to the silver screen in 1929, having developed a solid foundation to her voice. It had a bright and full tonal quality; whereas, the typical female singers in the movies had mere children’s voices (12 to 22) that were stretched to try to emulate the great "Jeanette MacDonald Sound." But, the copy is never as good as the original, and in this case, it was impossible to achieve. Where Jeanette possessed a lovely, angelic, and full voice, these young imitators had high, thin, and colorless voices. It is not until one hears these same singers in their 30s that we notice how much better they sound. This is because the young girl’s voice is now a mature woman's voice.

Thanks to men like Douglas Shearer, who received an Oscar for improved sound techniques in Naughty Marietta, and others in the movie industry, by 1934/35, the female voice no longer sounded as if she was singing into a tin can. In the Merry Widow (1934) we are able to enjoy the real true tonal qualities of Jeanette’s beautiful voice. It would be a voice that would last forever in the hearts and souls of millions who heard her. The world can honestly say there is only one Jeanette MacDonald, and we were so fortunate to capture her on film and records.

In the case of Jeanette and Nelson, Jeanette continued to develop her voice, enabling her to go on to singing opera, where she could have easily sustained a successful career on the operatic stage. Her light, lyrical, soprano voice was the voice of choice in the operatic world, that was before 1947, when Callas came upon the opera scene with a dark and powerful coloratura soprano voice. It is this mark in opera history that we see the third great change in opera. The first was when the female started to sing opera. Up until then the male "Castrati" sang the soprano’s role (soprano is a masculine name in Italian). Next came Gilbert-Louis Duprez who was the first tenor, in the 1850s, to sing an open-throated "high-C"—a truly great feat. Up until that time, tenors would sing the upper range in a falsetto voice.

Jeanette was a perfect candidate to sing opera. As she reached her forties, her voice had matured, still maintaining its pure, angelic tone, and she embarked into the world of grand opera in a major way, performing with the greats, like bass-baritone Ezio Pinza. The rave reviews she received for her stage presence, vocal artistry, angelic voice and acting were an indication that a new operatic star had arrived. Those in the opera world realized that in time her voice would develop even greater. A true artist, who practiced the discipline of her art, she trained with the great Lotte Lehmann who helped strengthen her voice.

For Nelson, it was a different story. Coming from the opera stage, like so many other opera singers had done in the movies, Nelson had to change his vocal style. It was a wise move upon his part. Unlike other male singers from the opera world who sang full voice for the screen, they found their screen careers short-lived because this style of singing made them look stiff and awkward. Nelson toned down his voice and adopted a mezza-voce (half-singing) voice style. It can be said that he crossed-over from opera to the more popular style of singing started by Bing Crosby "The Crooner." The crooner sound of the 30s brought a tender, romantic tone, which was smooth and floated softly in the head.

Nelson, in 1935, was entering his mid-thirties and could feel his voice growing stronger. With this maturity and heavier tone, he realized his vocal range was changing to that of a bass-baritone; thus, he began to lose his upper range. He had to make a modification, and he did! He took on the French Nasal Style of Singing, which helps soften the voice and lets it float more to the head, giving him the soft, floating qualities suited for the screen and the movie-going audience of the time. Making the cross-over, it is this voice we have come to love to hear.

However, there are glimpses that we catch of Nelson's real voice. One of these moments is in New Moon, when he is fixing the glasses and is lightly singing. Here we hear a deep bass-baritone voice. One usually hums or sings lightly in the vocal range that is most comfortable to them. Again, we hear him in Balalaika—and it is pure bass-baritone Nelson is singing. There are no signs of his lyric baritone after 1938. We can see him changing his vocal style in Maytime and later in The Girl of the Golden West.

Two great stars of the Silver Screen--starting out in one direction, and by their mid-thirties, we see them reversing roles--one heading for opera—and the other turning to the more popular style of singing.

Whatever style Jeanette and Nelson sang, they were truly the greatest singers to graced the Silver Screen; and for this, we have been truly fortunate to have seen and heard them—two singers, two voices, two artists, and forever the Silver Screen's Sweethearts.




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