Why we think certain voices captivating? This question is hard to answer, but it doesn’t hurt to think about it. When we say a voice captivating, it must have some features that meet a certain standard of “captivating” inside of our minds. Attracting us to listen in a single cycle, for example, can be a standard, alluring us to sing along can be another, and provoking communal emotion can also be one. The voice singing behind L'amour est un oiseau rebelle, known as Carmen: Habanera, is a good explanation of captivating voice in that it depicts images and tells stories.
Carmen: Habanera is the entrance aria of the title character (mezzo-soprano) and one of the most famous arias from Georges Bizet's 1875 opera Carmen. Here’s a link to a MET Opera version sung by Elīna Garanča’s.
We say a voice effective if it conveys information. The most captivating thing about Habanera is its outstanding capability of depicting images which contains key information about the owner of the voice, the "gypsy girl" Carmen. So-called gypsy style of music is highly distinctive by its uses of "Gypsy" idioms which include variable pitches and improvisational tempos. These characteristics give "Gypsy" musicians a high level of “freedom” when performing. In Carmen: Habanera, the mezzo-soprano singer uses different musical elements to convey information -- expressing herself and establishing a figure of an untamed, freedom-seeking Gypsy woman. When we see a clear, vivid image of this woman upon hearing her voice, we say the voice captivating.
How did she do this? This exhibit shows the vocalist’s use of different musical elements and their different approaches to demonstrate Carmen’s characteristic. To be specific, we analyze the effect of lyrics, vocal ornamentations, tempos, vocal accompany and breathes. Lyrics play a leading role, directly sending out the idea of “love is a color bird”. Ornamentations include various different vocal techniques and the remarkable one used here, the glissandos, is a vivid expression of teasing. The unstable tempo symbolizes the character’s unstable love towards men. Both the singing company and the intimacy make the voice a special mezzo-soprano and demonstrate the Gypsy style of unique.
The following entries further discuss the way the voice express itself by comparing and contrasting with other audio examples.
One reason we think the opera piece Habanera captivating is the content of its lyrics. Lyrics play a leader's role in listening to music. According to some researchers, musical lyrics have an impact on attitudes towards others, emotions felt and how frequently they are experienced, and how the world is perceived. In the case of Habanera, the core meaning "love is a rebel bird" is widely known by people in all over the world. Upon hearing the lyrics, audiences are led to the ideas that love is rebellious and actually start feeling indomitable.
While in the acoustic Habanera, there are no spoken or sung words conducting people's feelings. People may simply enjoy the melody, or they may picture the scene as they like. They may think there are two people dancing with this melody, having dinner with this background music, or maybe quarreling. People do not know where to get to. So we think the acoustic Habanera lacks the ability of bringing the audiences to a collective emotion.
2. Ornamentations - Glissandos and Teasing
An indispensable element of a captivating voice is the ornamentations in it. A noticeable ornamentation in this mezzo-soprano is the use of glissandos. In the short interview with a violin professor Mrs. Robinson, she talks about the uses of glissando -- a representation of crying, teasing or pleasing -- and here in Habanera, they are interpreted as Carmen teasing the male soldiers that they love her but she does not love them back. All these vocal ornamentations bring a lot more exaggeration to the theme of the opera aria and make it captivating.
This recording is a violin solo of Introduction and Rondo Capriciosso. The point here is the change of tempo in a single musical sentence. A constant beat is edited into the audio, so people can clearly distinguish the parts of a set tempo with parts of casual tempo.
Similarly in Habanera, the change of tempo is a remarkable factor that makes the piece captivating. When reaching a inner climax, the singer would break the constant beat and put on a casual tempo (often a ritardando) to fully express her emotion and characteristic -- capricious and unsettling. The change of tempo gives our a sense of freestyle which is a reflection of the character Carmen.
Interestingly, the violin piece Introduction and Rondo Capriciosso tells a story of Spanish people who are more or less identical with the Rom ("Gypsy") people represented in the opera Carmen as sexy and energetic. Both of the pieces use a lot of ritardandos.
4. Singing Together
Compare the Toreador Song which is another famous aria in oepra Carmen with Habanera. Both of them have singing together parts, while they work differently. In Toreador Song,the bass-baritone voice actually "sings together" with the crowd in same rhythm and mostly same pitches. It works in a strengthening way, strengthening the manliness of the toreador. However in Habanera, the mezzo-soprano sings "seperately" with the crowd in a different mood and tempo. This singing together is more like a contrast, using a casual tempo to convey Carmen's characteristic of capriousness. Thus we come back to our last entry about tempo and rhythm.
There are many ways a voice can be perceived as intimate voice. In the case of Habanera, the obvious breath taking is a sign of intimacy. In normal opera singing, people see the least noise of breath as the best. For instance in this O Sole Mio, the voice of Pavarotti is near perfect. These kinds of "perfect" voices send out an idea of restriction and piety. Yet when Carmen is singing, things are different. As Carmen is a character of freedom, her voice is not limited in terms of rhythm (as we discussed in previous entries) as well as breaths. The audiences feel the intimate presense of this charming "Gypsy" woman when hear her taking a breath, and that is just the picture that the opera writer wanted his audiences to get. Compare and contrast the classic piece O Sole Mio sang by Pavarotti with Habanera, we get a clear idea that breaths make a piece intimate.