The Female Voice of the Garcia School

Research on opera vocal techniques from
a gender perspective


  • Lead school Bern Academy of the Arts
  • Institute Institute Interpretation
  • Research unit Performance and interpretation
  • Funding organisation Others
  • Duration 01.10.2015 - 30.09.2018
  • Project management Dr. Ingela Helene Tägil
  • Head of project Dr. Ingela Helene Tägil


lts starting point is Manuel Garcia's lrealise on singing, published in 1840/47. Despite its orientation on the male voice, the most successful pupils of Garcia's school were female singers, among them the Swedish soprano Jenny Lind. The Garcia school remains topical today. Same aspects of it are still used in opera training, while others have died out. 1 here consider three of the «vanished » techniques: coup de la glatte, the lateral breathing technique and the voix blanche, which may all be significant faclors why lhe Garcia school was extraordinarily successful with female singers, especially high sopranos. This project has a gender-theoretical approach. Empirical data will be collected and analysed on the basis of current gender-critical discussions of opera and voice, primarily by Susan McClary. She laid lhe foundalion for musicological gender research in opera by exposing musical gender codes. McClary shows how men and warnen throughout the centuries have been represented by musical stereotypes that have generated their own musical gender system.

Course of action

According to the gender-theoretical framework outlined above, 1 will treat the empirical data by regarding female opera singing as having been adapted from conditions defined for the male voice, both in matters of technique and in the music scores themselves. In my thesis ((Jenny Lind - the impact of her voice on media idenlity» (2013) 1 developed a method of analysing voices from contemporary reviews combined with my own vocal experiments. 1 will use this method in the present project. The empirical data will be collected in three stages. First I will examine vocal techniques of female singers from the first generation of the early 19th century such as Maria Malibran, Pauline Viardot-Garcia, Henriette Nissen and Jenny Lind. Then I will compare these results with the techniques of singers from the second generation that can be heard in early recordings, such as Nellie Melba and Ellen Beach Yaw. Finally I will conduct vocal experiments on my own voice. My glollis will be filmed while I sing using Garcia's techniques. This part of my research demands practical vocal knowledge and will be treated as a self-experiment.


This project aims to determine both whether Garcia's «extinct» techniques may be regarded as the main reason why he succeeded with his female students, and how female opera voices might be affected by vocal techniques originating in the male voice.

This project contributes to the following SDGs

  • 5: Gender equality