“Young singers ask me what vowels to use in vocal practice. In my own study I use them all. Of course some are more valuable than others. The O is good, the E needs great care; the Ah is the most difficult of all. I am aware this is contrary to the general idea. But I maintain that the Ah is most difficult; for if you overdo it and the lips are too wide apart, the result is a white tone. And on the other hand, if the lips are nearer—or too near together, or are not managed rightly, stiffness or a throaty quality is apt to result; then the tone cannot ‘float.’ I have found the best way is to use the mixed vowels, one melting into the other. The tone can be started with each vowel in turn, and then mingled with the rest of the vowels. Do you know, the feathered songster I love best—the nightingale—uses the mixed vowels too. Ah, how much I have learned from him and from other birds also! Some of them have harsh tones—real quacks—because they open their bills too far, or in a special way. But the nightingale has such a lovely dark tone, a ’covered tone,’ which goes to the heart. It has the most exquisite quality in the world. I have learned much from the birds, about what not to do and what to do.
“In taking up a new role I begin with the story, the libretto, so I may first learn what it is about, its meaning and psychology. I take it to bed with me, or have it by me if lying down, because I understand musical composition and can get a clear idea of the composer’s meaning without going to the instrument. After a short time I begin to work it out at the piano, in detail, words and music together. For a great role like the Somnambula or Traviata, I must spend three or four years, perhaps more, in preparation, before bringing it to public performance. It takes a long time to master thoroughly an operatic role, to work it out from all sides, the singing, the acting, the characterization. To the lay mind, if you can sing, you can easily act a part and also memorize it. They little know the labor which must be bestowed on that same role before it can be presented in such a shape as to be adequate, in a way that will get it across. It does not go in a few weeks or even months; it is the work of years. And even then it is never really finished, for it can always be improved with more study, with more care and thought.