VIBRATO OR WOBBLE?
One day, in the late 1980’s, a review in the N Y
Times of a recital given by that most magnificent
soprano, Renata Scotto, caught my eye, I had met
Renata when Beverly Sills had asked me to sing for
the re-opening of the fire damaged Wolf Trap Theater
and subsequently had sung with her at the Met, in
Francesca da RImini. The review was less than
flattering. I recalled, when first we met, Renata
saying she had heard I was a very good voice
teacher, so I sent off a note … and she called me
two days later.
Having listened to her in recent years and been on
stage wither, I knew her lovely vibrato had become a
less than attractive “wobble” and she had evinced a
decided, consistent break between high B flat and C.
In our first session, I taught her my sophisticated
breathing and support technique, which she assumed
without hesitation (solid professionals know
immediately when their singing is suddenly easier …
and also better … when they no longer have to
worry about getting a full breath).
Then told her, “And now I am going to fix your
wobble!” She almost left the floor with that one,
but I calmed her down by telling her I wouldn’t have
mentioned it, if I couldn’t immediately fix it.
Well, maybe not immediately …
Having shown her how to supply flexible breath
pressure on demand, I again had her stand in front
of the mirror and asked her to sing a straight tone
… no vibrato (wobble). It took twenty minutes for
her to sing a straight tone! Then I played it back
for her, on the tape recorder and asked, “What do
you think?” She uttered with some disdain, “Ma, che
brutta!” I said, “Yes, it isn’t very attractive,
but, uhn… where is the wobble?” Her smile was slow
in developing as she realized that, for the first
time, in a long time … she could take it out,
just by going toward a straight tone, firm tongue
holding the focused vowel in the “honk” (that is a
place where all good and great singers spin their
tones)! The realization is, that if one can take it
out, at will, they can put back as much or as little
vibrato as they choose.
I then had Renata release the pressure, just a tad,
and she had her lovely vibrato, rotated forward,
ringing where it always rang when she was in her
prime, rather than wobbling back in her throat. This
whole process took twenty-five minutes …
Then I addressed the break. I asked her to sing an
octave scale from C, an octave above middle C to
high C … watching to keep her mouth long and narrow.
Predictably, her voice cracked on between the A and
B, but the C was solid
I asked if she saw in the mirror, what she did and
she didn’t know what I meant.
I told her,
“You flinched (blinked) when you sang the A missed
the B, but sang the C.” (Parenthetically, she had no
trouble singing the higher C, D E flat.)
I had her sing it again … and the result was the
same. “You flinched again,” I said. “No I didn’t!” I
turned to her trusty, brilliant accompanist, Robert
de Ceunynck and asked, “Bob … did she flinch?” Bob
said, “Yes, you flinched!”
“OK … Let’s try it again, “ I continued, “only this
time, just as you sing the A to the C … open your
eyes.” “My eyes were open!” “Yes … except when you
blinked and couldn’t see the flinch.” I exaggerated
with my eyes flying open, “Like this!”
She then soared to the high C, eyes wide open … and
then another and another. She had conquered the
break. It took ten minutes!
That’s what you can do with great professionals who
really know their instruments … but who, through the
years, begin to lose the support concept they had
earlier in their respective careers, through
attrition. Then, the glorious balance that is the
vocal technique, suffers and things just start to
Many singers have trouble identifying their wobble.
One of the first clues is that many of the notes in
a song are decidedly under pitch. Singers often
become inured to that fact … because they have no
one to tell them how to fix it!
Of course, there’s more to it than just singing a
straight tone. To get the full effect, one should
also have the mouth long (not too long) and narrow,
the top lip down and threatening to tuck under the
top teeth. That configuration mechanically opens the
“honk” so that the tone can “rotate” forward and be
in that lovely place where all lovely tones spin
easily and freely. You can’t do it if you smile …
because your soft palate will come down … and the
tone won’t go forward.
But, then again … that’s for what I am … for!