Auditioning in Italian: three tools in the text

Auditioning in Italian: three tools in the text

Auditioning in Italian: three tools in the text Melofonetica

Beyond demonstrating language ability, how can good diction help the singer in an audition scenario? Matteo Dalle Fratte, Melofonetica Founder, discusses three tools in the text that can help singers to both feel fully in control of their performance and to sing with greater impact:


In sung Italian there are specific tools directly linked to diction that can be very powerful in tackling the challenges of an audition. They are equally as important for performing in other settings, so I really encourage singers to master these.


Firstly: first impressions really count. It’s important for singers to use the text to fully engage the panel right from the very first word. That’s why the attacco del suono in Italian, meaning the ‘start of the sound’, is fundamental. This means articulating the beginning of the first line (and indeed subsequent lines) with well connected breath support and clear intention, both musically and dramatically. In the Melofonetica Method, the attacco del suono is usually achieved by using a long consonant at the beginning of a line – or preceding a vowel with a long glottal stop.


Secondly, a skilful use of rubato really makes a performance shine. In Italian, this means understanding which sounds in the text can be correctly lengthened to enhance expression without compromising diction. Sometimes this occurs on vowels, other times on consonants. This is where a singer can really add depth and emotion to their performance – and where the distinctive phonetic pattern and musicality of sung Italian truly emerge.


Thirdly, when put together, the sequence of long and short consonants that characterises the Italian language creates a roadmap through the score. Once the singer has identified all the long consonants in their text (including written double consonants and those applied for expression or emphasis), they can use these as anchoring points through the piece. These points help the singer to know where they’re heading, create more confident phrasing and make better use of tempo, timbre and dynamics.


We know that good diction in sung Italian isn’t just a nice addition but is integral to technique and overall performance. Many methods of singing over the centuries have mentioned the range of technical benefits that singing with good diction brings. As Pacchierotti, renowned 17th century singer and singing teacher famously said in his memoirs, “Chi sa ben sillabare e ben respirare, saprà ben cantare”, meaning he/she who breathes and articulates well, will sing well.


In a demanding audition scenario, it’s also reassuring for the singer to be able to draw on very specific tools within the phonetics of sung Italian in order to communicate their aria expressively and confidently to the panel.


For one-to-one audition preparation coaching in sung Italian – contact us for full details.

The benefits of vocalising with text

The benefits of vocalising with text

The benefits of vocalising with text Melofonetica

Matteo Dalle Fratte, Melofonetica Founder, explains why vocalising with text is such a valuable exercise for singers:


Singers vocalise to warm up, build singing technique and grow vocal stamina and strength. Singers usually vocalise using vowels; consonants are rarely used in vocalising exercises but if they are, they’re typically used without vowels such as exercises with the rolling r and constrictive consonants such as vv and ff. Singers don’t often vocalise using text or lyrics, but in the Melofonetica Method, we believe it’s really useful to practise vocalising with text for a number of reasons:

1. When we perform we need to do so much more than just vowel vocalisation: we use all the phonetic elements of text, even in coloratura arias where there is still text in the ornamentation.

2. By vocalising with text, singers can focus on one combination of phonetic elements at a time, singing notes and intervals across the registers with an awareness of how different vowel and consonant sounds relate to each other and how airflow needs to be balanced and adjusted appropriately across the different sounds.

3. In sung Italian, vocalising with text gives us the opportunity to practise distinguishing long and short consonant sounds, which is fundamental for good sung Italian diction.

4. Singing long consonants well creates more resonant vowels!

5. Using the full range of Italian phonetic elements actually helps singers to maintain a healthy vocal system. The correct production of long consonants in particular helps to:

  • Maintain an active and high tongue position
  • Reduce tension in the tongue root
  • Keep the soft palate flexible
  • Activate the muscles engaged in breath support
  • Optimise the pharyngeal space
  • Find the best formant frequencies for operatic sound

Vocalise like the great Italian singers!

There are some popular lines that have been used by singing teachers for a very long time, some of which have been handed down to me from my singing teacher, the bass Paolo Badoer, who studied with Gilda Dalla Rizza. Dalla Rizza was Puccini’s favourite soprano and a singing teacher at the Venice Conservatoire. She trained many successful singers, including coaching Maria Callas for her role as Violetta in La traviata. Dalla Rizza’s teachings on singing technique were in turn passed down from famous singers before her, such as Adelina Patti and Giuditta Pasta. Popular lines that these great Italian singers would use to vocalise included:

O che bel sole
È primavera
Un giardin di rose

It’s really beneficial to practise these lines, with a simple triad of notes, focusing each time on the different sequences of consonants and vowels. Using lines from famous arias that combine different phonetic elements is also a great way to vocalise, such as the line Vissi d’arte, vissi d’amore.

Our Melofonetica courses always include sessions on vocalising using text to warm up and feedback from singers is highly positive – watch this space for a CD of vocalising exercises!

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Sung Italian: what matters in a large performance space

Sung Italian: what matters in a large performance space

Sung Italian: what matters in a large performance space Melofonetica
Sung Italian: what matters in a large performance space Melofonetica

Melofonetica’s Founder Matteo Dalle Fratte is a Visiting Professor at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama (RWCMD) in Cardiff. He discusses what’s important for singers when working in a large performance space, drawing on a recent coaching session with RWCMD postgraduate vocal students:

I did some interesting work recently with a group of singers from the RWCMD. We were lucky to be able to use the beautiful Dora Stoutzker Hall pictured above. This concert hall seats up to 400 and has incredible acoustics. It provided a great opportunity for the students to experience Italian coaching in a large performance space and to work on achieving the connection and energy that are needed in a space of that size. It’s only when you are performing in a larger space like this, as the singers noticed, that you really understand how you need to use your breath support and the text to maintain your line of singing with energy and control.


Out of necessity and practicality, singers often need to practise in smaller acoustic spaces where it is less demanding to deliver the text. But it is very useful to be able to work in larger spaces that allow singers to understand the job of a professional opera singer who needs to deliver the text to the audience in an opera house, accompanied by an orchestra.

The students each sang an aria and they were able to ‘feel’ the space of a real concert hall. I asked those listening to stay towards the centre of the auditorium, about 20 metres away, where the acoustics could really be enjoyed and where it’s possible to gauge how much of the voice and text are being delivered.

This work really required a shift in acoustic awareness from everyone – I also had to shout quite a lot in my coaching to reach the singers! The singers started to experience how effective use of the text really helps to carry the words to the audience. In Italian, this means creating a very clear distinction between long and short consonants and allowing the consonants to provide a framework to shape the vowels and melodies.

In Italian, this means creating a very clear distinction between long and short consonants and allowing the consonants to provide a framework to shape the vowels and melodies.

We worked on different pieces by Handel and Mozart and it was interesting, in particular, to work on Handel’s aria Svegliatevi nel core, furie dell’alma offesa. In this piece, we focused on the alliteration of the long fs: in furie (the f is lengthened for emphasis, what we call a ‘melo-gemination’ in the Melofonetica Method®), offesa (a double f, written in this case) and far di un traditor (a co-gemination between the a and f, creating another long f). We tried to make the listeners aware of the pattern of these three long fs and it was challenging to begin with. The singer needed to make them more audible and she initially felt she was doing too much. But after we worked a bit further and she achieved this, she felt that she was able to anchor her singing, control the sound of her voice and play with dynamics in a much better way. Additionally, those long fs also created a particular colour in the melody which was perceived by the audience in the auditorium. With a real focus on the the three long fs as implosive long consonants, each with an agogic accent, the audience was impressed with how much they could enjoy this alliterated pattern of sound.

We also worked on other pieces where we had the typical elegant Italian effect of a long consonant on an upbeat and short consonant on a downbeat (what I call the ‘Michelangelo effect’), where we needed to make the upbeat really accented and smooth instead of the downbeat. This needed a lot of care and attention from the singers to make sure they were really long on the long consonant and very, very short on the short consonant. This is a key characteristic that makes sung Italian so beautiful but also really effective in a performance space. It seemed exaggerated to the singers themselves at times but those listening said the distinction was just enough to be audible!

As opera singers, we need to remember that using the phonetic structure of the Italian language properly – in particular all of the long Italian consonant sounds – not only helps us stay connected and deliver the text effectively in a performance space but also helps us with emphasis, interpretation and characterisation. When we do this, we not only achieve the idiomatic sound of the language but we also create an exciting and enjoyable experience for the audience, even in a large acoustic space.

Thank you to the RWCMD and well done to the students involved in the session.

Interested to know more?

The Melofonetica Method® is a method of improving sung Italian, based on Dr. Matteo Dalle Fratte’s research into the phonetics of the sung language. It helps singers to achieve better diction, expression and projection in a performance space. Find out more here.

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Recitative: three top tips

Recitative: three top tips

Recitative: three top tips Melofonetica

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 at

The three musical effects in sung Italian

Matteo Dalle Fratte, Founder of Melofonetica, shares insight into the musicality of the Italian language:

As part of my research into sung Italian, I’ve come to realise that while the beauty of the sound of the language may seem to lie in the sound of its oral and pure vowels, it is, in fact, the pattern of consonant sounds – and the effects they create in combination with vowels – that create the unique musicality of the language.

To understand this, firstly we need to understand that in Italian, meaning is made through the length of consonants. For example, if we say mamma with a long m, this means mother, while m’ama with a short m means he or she loves me. Unlike in English, German or French, lengths of vowels don’t change the meaning of words in Italian. The correct sequencing of long and short consonants is therefore fundamental for meaning in Italian – but it is also what gives Italian a specific phonetic pattern and musical rhythm.

The correct sequencing of long and short consonants is therefore fundamental for meaning in Italian – but it is also what gives Italian a specific phonetic pattern and musical rhythm.

Within this phonetic pattern, we find three specific musical effects: tenuto, martellato and staccato – terms that are well known in the instrumental world. While we can now identify these instrumental effects in the language, it’s interesting to note that at the time when opera was born (in the 16th and 17th centuries), instrumentalists were in fact seeking to imitate the complex sounds of the voice! As Barthold Kuijken says, “Instrumentalists were always required to take singers as their model, and indeed they will have needed to listen attentively to the singer in order to imitate or accompany well at appropriate places”.[1]

Tenuto effect: a vowel followed by a short consonant
Coraggio; Unaura amorosa

In Italian, short consonants allow the preceding vowel to be as long as the whole length of its note; the short consonant is then very short and pronounced very quickly at the beginning of the following note. The short consonant is so fleeting that there seems to be almost no interruption between the two vowels in the sequence. This effect is called tenuto, which means ‘held’. The first vowel sound is sustained and smoothly connected to the subsequent vowel sound via a very short consonant. This tenuto effect, when it occurs across a downbeat in music, creates an elegant way to sing through the important beat with an almost imperceptible articulation. Drawing a parallel to visual art, this would create a curve instead of an angle.

Martellato effect: a vowel followed by a long sonorant consonant (e.g., long l, m, n or r) or long sibilant consonant (e.g., long s or f)
Gli anni assieme

Martellato literally means ‘hammered’; if you think about the way we would imitate a hammer, we would use a sound such as ‘tang’ or ‘pang’. These sounds end with an ng that is a diminuendo, like the reverb of a hammer’s sound. This effect is what happens when we hear the sudden diminuendo of a sonorant or sibilant consonant following the active and supported preceding vowel.

Sonorant consonants are formed by a voiced sound and sung without any interruption, such as long l, m, n or r. Sibilant consonants are formed by a ‘hissing’ unvoiced sound with no interruption, and include long s and f.

Staccato effect: a vowel followed by a long stop consonant
Tutto acceso

Staccato is the most common effect in Italian, and the one that adds the most colour to the musicality of the language. It is simply created by a stop consonant which creates an occlusion, i.e., a stop to the airflow. The preceding vowel is interrupted by the onset of the stop consonant. The staccato effect is one of the easiest effects to identify in sung Italian because of the clear difference between sound and silence. In a group of consonants, a martellato often combines with a staccato effect to create a martellato-staccato effect, for example, in the word quanto.

Putting it all together
Let’s take the well-known line Bella siccome un’angelo. This includes a martellato effect on the double ll in bella, a staccato cc in sicc followed by a tenuto in ome, a combined martellato-staccato in the ang of angelo and finally another tenuto with the short l in elo.

The right pattern of musical effects comes naturally into place in Italian when singers learn to correctly articulate Italian sounds and, in particular, distinguish correctly between short and long consonants. However, an analysis of the text to find these different musical effects is a useful way to identify mistakes and polish the diction in order to achieve idiomatic and even more expressive sung Italian throughout the piece.

[1] Barthold, Kuijken, The notation is not the music: reflections on early music practice and performance, Indiana University Press, 2013, p.41

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

Rolling the r in sung Italian – a tried and tested fix

We are often asked about rolling the r (a vibrant consonant) in sung Italian as many singers find this challenging. But with regular practice and specific exercises, everyone can achieve a rolled r (provided that there are no physical impediments to the tongue). Here’s a very effective exercise that will help singers to quickly achieve a good, energised rolled r:

If you sing attro [at: tro] or a similar combination of a long t and r with a long stop before the r, this will trigger the air pressure to start flicking the tip of the tongue. Notice that the place of articulation of the t is already where the rolling r should be (alveolar/dental), therefore the pressure built will go straight to the right place.

Don’t forget to check that the stop before the r is done correctly, i.e., that it is long and connected. You’ll see that a flick and then maybe a couple of flicks will happen quite quickly. Practising this for five minutes each day should give you results within about a week.

When practising this exercise, it helps to relax the tongue but maintain strong breath support and a steady airflow to allow the vibration to happen easily at the tip of the tongue.

It’s better not to move onto different exercises for rolling the r before feeling comfortable with this one, in order to avoid creating tension in the wrong place.

Feel free to contact us to let us know how you or your students get on with this exercise, or if you have any questions or feedback.