But to begin at the beginning. In answer to my first question, “What must one do to become a singer?” Madame said:
[Illustration: MARGUERITE D’ALVAREZ]
“To become a singer, one must have a voice; that is of the first importance. In handling and training that voice, breathing is perhaps the most vital thing to be considered. To some breath control seems to be second nature; others must toil for it. With me it is intuition; it has always been natural. Breathing is such an individual thing. With each person it is different, for no two people breathe in just the same way, whether natural or acquired. Just as one pianist touches the keys of the instrument in his own peculiar way, unlike the ways of all other pianists. For instance, no two singers will deliver the opening phrase of ‘My heart at thy sweet voice,’ from Samson, in exactly the same way. One will expend a little more breath on some tones than on others; one may sing it softer, another louder. Indeed how can two people ever give out a phrase in the same way, when they each feel it differently? The great thing is to control the management of the breath through intelligent study. But alas,”—with a pretty little deprecating gesture,—“many singers do not seem to use their intelligence in the right way. They need to study so many things besides vocalizes and a few songs. They ought to broaden themselves in every way. They should know books, pictures, sculpture, acting, architecture,—in short everything possible in the line of art, and of life. For all these things will help them to sing more intelligently. They should cultivate all these means of self-expression. For myself, I have had a liberal education in music—piano, harmony, theory, composition and kindred subjects. And then I love and study art in all its forms and manifestations.”
“Your first recital in New York was a rich and varied feast,” I remarked.
“Indeed I feel I gave the audience too much; there was such a weight of meaning to each song, and so many! I cannot sing indifferent or superficial songs. I must sing those which mean much, either of sadness or mirth, passion or exaltation. No one knows (who has not been through it) what it means to face a great audience of strangers, knowing that something in you must awake those people and draw them toward you: you must bare your very soul to them and bring theirs to you, in answering response, just by your voice. It is a wonderful thing, to bring to masses of people a message in this way. I feel this strongly, whenever I stand before a large audience, that with every note I sing I am delivering something of the God-given gift which has been granted to me—that I can do some good to each one who hears. If they do not care for me, or if they misunderstand my message, they may hate me—at first. When they do understand, then they adore me.