Many of us who studied classical singing with old-style “bel canto” teachers are familiar with the Concone books of solfeggi, the most famous of which is probably Opus 9: “Fifty Lessons.” With all of the modern “state-of-the-art” vocal training available in this day and age, it is easy to discount the value of this classic opus.
Giuseppe Concone, born in 1810 in the city of Turin, had his musical education in his home town where he continued to live until moving to Paris 1837. In Paris he gained notoriety not only as a teacher of singing, piano and music composition, but also as a composer in his own right. His most famous compositions were five books of vocalizzi and solfeggi which have remained, to this day, a standard in the study of classical singing.
In his Opus 9, Concone makes use of modified opera melodies, along with gorgeous flowing accompaniments, to train the singer in various elements of vocal technique, including legato line, messa di voce, marcato, staccato, coloratura, melisma, and all the ornamentation that is standard in vocal literature of the Classical and Romantic periods. Each lesson isolates a different vocal challenge for the student in order that they may perfect their vocal technique. According to Concone, these vocalizzi are meant to be sung on open vowels; additionally, the first 25 lessons may also be sung on standard solfeggio syllables (do, re, me, etc).
These lessons are intended to be used to train the “middle of the voice.” In other words, the primo passaggio, or first passage, is constantly worked in a myriad of ways. Therefore, it is recommended that the singer choose the volume in the appropriate keys to address this part of their range, rather than expecting to use these lessons to “stretch” either the lower or upper end of the range.
Another point that should be made is that Concone’s dynamic markings are a vital part the lessons themselves, rather than mere suggestions, and should thus be observed from the onset of the study of these etudes. The dynamics are used as vital tools to build and refine the voice, and careful study of his markings will yield the best results.
The value to the classical singer of Concone’s Fifty Lessons should not be underestimated. There is a reason that many singers who were “brought up” singing Concone continue to use the lessons daily throughout their careers.