The title of David Adams’s book A Handbook of Diction for Singers, discussed in yesterday’s blog, is followed by a subtitle “…Italian, German, French.
Despite the critical comments I made about it yesterday, I repeat that it is in many ways an excellent piece of work. (Thanks to Jill House for first bringing it to my attention.)
By “diction” Adams does not mean what literary types mean, namely choice of words, choice of means of expression — he means pronunciation and clear articulation, and in particular how to infer the pronunciation of Italian, German and French words and phrases from their spelling. I know of no other work in English that offers such a comprehensive, and as far as I can tell accurate, account of these spelling-to-sound relationships.
Here are some of the points he makes about Italian, seen from the point of view of the AmE-speaking singer. (In what follows, the phonetic transcriptions and the bracketing are those used by Adams. Let’s not get hung up criticizing this or that detail of the transcription system.)
• In pietà [pjeˈta] and fiore [ˈfjoːɾe] we have the glide /j/. To pronounce it as the vowel /i/ “is a common error that must be corrected”.
• Furthermore, when the vowel-letter i follows c or g it is important to recognize whether it “has a vowel function” or whether it is silent, serving only to soften the c or g.
gioco [ˈdʒɔːko], but magia [maˈdʒiːa]
• Italian u is never “silent as in French”.
French qui [ki] vs. Italian qui [kwi]
French guerre [ɡɛːr(ə)] vs. Italian guerra [ˈɡwɛrra]
• Adjacent vowels separate into different syllables under various (specified) circumstances.
pa-u-ra [paˈuːɾa], compare au-ra [ˈaːuɾa]
Conversely, when they come together across word boundaries they form “phrasal diphthongs” or “triphthongs”.
La donna è mobile
…finchè l’aria è ancor bruna
“A characteristic of English is that words beginning with vowels are usually articulated with a glottal stroke. Students must learn not to do this in Italian, but to connect the words smoothly.”
• The letter h is always silent. After c and g it indicates “the hard sounds of those consonant-letters”.
• The combination gn “results in” the sound /ɲ/, and -gli- in /ʎ/ (doubled unless initial).
gli uomini [ˈʎwɔːmini] (“It is absolutely incorrect to pronounce the i when gli is followed by a vowel…”)
And there’s everything you would expect about doubled consonants, including those resulting from raddoppiamento sintattico.
It’s all tied in with extracts from musical settings by classical composers. Note the syllabification here in my all-time favourite aria: sia il makes a single syllable. There are fifteen pages devoted to the musical treatment of vowel sequences, diphthongs and triphthongs, in words and in phrases. Another fifteen are devoted to Guidelines for Determining Open and Closed [sic] e and o in the Stressed Syllable.
Just what the classical singer wants.
Still to come: Adams’s treatment of German and French.