Recitative: three top tips

Recitative moves the plot along and is one of the most exciting features in an opera. If you’re looking to improve your skills in Italian recitative, keep these three top tips from our coaches in mind.

Pacing is key. Consider the trajectory of each section: is there a particular point that the rhythm of the music or text is driving towards, or that the content of the words, or perhaps the harmony, indicates is a highpoint? Know where each section is headed, and you’ll create more excitement for the audience and give more structure for your continuo player to work with.

Speed isn’t an end in itself. Recitativo is a sung musical line much the same as any other, requiring the same attention to phrasing and cadence. You have near unlimited scope to play with tempo, timbre, and dynamic, but recitativo secco feels its most fluent and engaging when the exchange of line between singers makes musical sense.

Recitative is not the same as speech. Recitative is still sung language that needs to be clearly expressed and projected in a performance space, and it should be approached in the same way as an aria. While recitativo secco may not have melismas and coloratura, its syllabic, fast pace still requires advanced and controlled articulation of the language, particularly the correct articulation and sequencing of long and short consonants. Meanwhile, simpler tessitura means there is more flexibility for singers to experiment with the brightness or darkness of vowel timbres as an expressive tool.

Keen to know more?

If you’d like to develop your skills in Italian recitative, why not attend one of our biannual Art of Italian Recitative weekends? They include one-to-one coaching sessions focusing on diction, expression and phrasing, and the preparation and performance of well-known recitative opera scenes to put your learning into practice. Find out more here.

We welcome your feedback and queries about the content of this blog post and sung Italian in general – contact us.