Falsettone is a term used in modern Italian musicology to describe a vocal technique used by male opera singers in the past, in which the fluty sounds typical of falsetto singing are amplified by using the same singing technique as is used in the modal voice register. The result is a bright, powerful tone, often very high-pitched, although the sound is still different from and more feminine than that produced by the modal voice. The term falsettone is also used for the mixed vocal register that can be achieved using this technique.
History and description
According to various authors, baroque and neoclassical tenors simply used falsetto to sing high notes, with the exception of hautes-contre, who could reach up to B♭ in what was claimed to be the modal voice register but was really a "mixed head and chest voice, and not the full chest voice that Italian tenors would develop later". (Here, "head voice" refers to falsetto and "chest voice" refers to modal voice.)
Nowadays, the falsettone register is seldom used: such notes as high C, C-sharp, D and E♭ are usually sung in the modal register (or, as it is sometimes misleadingly described, "from the chest"). Even the famous F5 of Bellini’s I Puritani, which used to be left out or sung falsetto (for example by Luciano Pavarotti), has often been performed with modal voice by the new bel canto tenor generation of the late twentieth century.
In that same period, Italian musicologist Rodolfo Celletti, who was also an amateur singing teacher, tried to restore the falsettone technique, training the tenor Giuseppe Morino, who made his debut singing the tenore contraltino role of Gualtiero in Bellini’s Il pirata, at the Festival della Valle d'Itria in Martina Franca.
- Caruselli, Grande enciclopedia, vol 4, p. 1196, article: "tenore"; Celletti, Storia, p 167.
- Potter, pp. 19/23; Grove, vol. 2, p. 113, article: Falsetto
- Potter, p. 23. Such mixed register does not seem, after all, very different from that described by Celletti and the Grande Enciclopedia.
- Rodolfo Celletti, A History of Bel Canto, Oxford University Press, 1996, ISBN 0-19-816641-9 (quotations from the Italian edition: Storia del belcanto, Discanto Edizioni, Fiesole, 1983)
- Salvatore Caruselli (ed), Grande enciclopedia della musica lirica, Longanesi &C. Periodici S.p.A., Rome, vol 4 (Italian)
- John Potter, Tenor, History of a voice, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2009, ISBN 978-0-300-11873-5
- Stanley Sadie (ed.), The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, Oxford University Press, New York, 1992, 4 volumes, ISBN 978-0-19-522186-2