Yannick Nézet-Séguin and vocal technique – the row resumes

Yannick Nézet-Séguin and vocal technique – the row resumes


norman lebrecht

October 12, 2019

You may recall that we posted a video from a Youtube channel called ‘This is Opera’ which contained some unflattering comments and demonstrations of the expertise of the Met’s music director in vocal technique. The post attracted 143 heated comments.

After a couple of days, both the original clips and the video’s comments (though not SD’s) were deleted, presumably under some form of pressure.

Nevertheless, the eruption touched a chord.

Now the doyen of opera critics Conrad L. Osborne has weighed in, and at impressive length, on the subject.

Conrad writes: The inconvenient thing, though, is that slapdash and rash though they sometimes are, “This Is Opera’s” arguments are, broadly speaking, correct….

With this as cautionary background, let me turn to the work of Nézet-Séguin with the Juilliard singers, all striving for the best without greatvoiced models before them…

Read here.



  • double-sharp says:

    ‘This Is Opera’ is a nutjob and a charlatan.

    • Ken says:

      As is CLO.

      • justsaying says:

        No idea where “Ken” comes by his authority to judge, but he’s talking about someone who has earned and sustained an extremely high reputation since sometime around 1960, and is one of the sanest commentators on opera in general and on voice in particular.

  • Olassus says:

    This “doyen of opera critics” appears to confuse “mezza-voce” [sic] with messa di voce.

    • Novagerio says:

      If any “doyen of opera critics” knew what the devil he or she wrote about, he/she would not be a critic, but an artist and perhaps even a real pedagogue.

    • Robert Manno says:

      I see no such confusion. Singing with half voice and using the expressive device of swell and diminish are two separate devices. Osborne does not imply any such confusion with the terms.

      • Olassus says:

        Since when has singing half-voice been a “device”? (He’s talking about Gigli’s “once-ravishing” messa di voce.)

        • justsaying says:

          No, he is talking about Gigli’s once-ravishing “mezza voce” – which literally means “half voice,” and has been an Italian term for very soft sweet singing for a couple of centuries at least. A lot of self-confidence among the ignorant here!

  • sam says:

    “some influential entity (presumably the Met, but perhaps Juilliard) exerted sufficient pressure on YouTube to have [the videos] taken down

    … the reportedly lively thread of comment at slippeddisc.com (which I came to the party too late to view) was withdrawn.”

    The first claim is based on zero evidence and patently absurd. Neither the Met nor Juillard has enough capital, political or monetary, to exert any influence over YouTube whatsoever.

    The second is flat wrong. The link provided by SD above is very much alive, he can in fact still contribute to it.

    With such dubious and unsupported inference, and slapshot reporting, of basic facts, how can one trust his assessment of the historical record of singing and his judgement on the more technical matters of singing?

    • LewesBird says:

      “The first claim is based on zero evidence and patently absurd. Neither the Met nor Juillard has enough capital, political or monetary, to exert any influence over YouTube whatsoever.”

      The claim above is based on zero evidence and is patently absurd. Either Julliard or the Met would have owned the copyright of the original footage of the Boy King imparting pearls of wisdom from his well of singing knowledge; the “This is Opera” people have no doubt used that footage without permission to create their own video, and that would have been grounds enough to demand that YouTube take down the video. No money or lawyers required. Any private person can do that and YouTube will be exceptionally responsive about it, provided the claimant can provide reasonable proof that their copyright was infringed.

      So there. Stick to your knitting, ok?

      • David K. Nelson says:

        Critical comment is one of the recognized “fair use” exceptions to copyright, and so is research and scholarship, so the Met and Juilliard would have had an uphill battle here. One of the tests is the amount and substantiality taken from the original (which as many have pointed out, makes it somehow more “fair” to only partly quote the subject of your criticism and then throw shade on them than to show the entirety of what they said, which might actually weaken the argument).

        Having said that, a person with a perfect Fair Use defense might not care to go to the expense – and risk however slight of being wrong – of defending it to the full against deeper pockets who have a shaky case.

        And if course for its own reasons YouTube may well prefer to cave rather than assert other people’s Fair Use arguments for them.

    • Eric says:

      Contrary to what you claim both the youtube link and the original clip have been taken down. There also used to be a similarly critical video on the same site of Pappano coaching a singer which has also been removed, as has another negative video on K-F Vogt. So someone, somehow must have applied pressure as these videos are neither overtly insulting, racist, homophobic or whatever which would cause youtube to remove them of its own accord.

      And what accurate reporting has to do with a knowledge of singing technique is a mystery to me.

      As Mr. Osborne grudgingly admits the ‘This is Opera’ site is usually correct in its assessment of singers, although sometimes overly critical and bitchy. It’s about time someone addressed the issue of what’s wrong with modern singing technique even though diehard fans of some of these people will take offence.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        Reading the whole thing from Mr. Osbourne, he mainly concedes that the issue is to do with taste rather than something technical about singing. The only thing that he really criticises, is the believe that the chest voice is necessarily weak (but this are immature singers, so N-S may not have wanted to push them into straining their voice).

    • V.Lind says:

      I think you mean slipshod, or possibly slapdash or scattershot, not slapshot. The latter is a very difficult manoeuvre in hockey (or, as the Brits refer to it, ice hockey) much admired for its ferocious accuracy in teh hands of an expert.

  • M McAlpine says:

    We know that ‘This Is Opera’ is an anonymous site and who with any sense takes notice of potentially libellous attacks posted anonymously? Give Osborne at least the credit of having the guts to put his name to his criticisms. However, he is a critic and, as we all know, music critics are generally people who have never made it in their particular field, else they would be practicing musicians not critics. Critics know what failure is therefore tend to harp on about it and try and pick holes in their betters. On the strength of experiencing Nézet-Séguin’s conducting of Turandot and hearing the reactions of the professional singers who worked with him I would sooner take his word above a critic and infinitely above some disgruntled sniper on YouTube

  • justsaying says:

    The comments so far suggest, above all, that a nerve has been struck. It is perfectly fine to believe that the singers coming up for criticism are just as good as the ones of the past – everyone has a right to believe anything, and perhaps an argument could also be made that horsemanship and Latin are as strong among university graduates in 2019 as in 1819. No problem! What is less acceptable is slinging insults at critics whose arguments one is unable or unprepared to answer.