Vincenzo Bellini

The shock of the old: Rediscovering the sounds of bel canto 1700–1900

An Australian Research Council funded Discovery Project bringing together singers worldwide to resound admired vocal practices from the period 1700–1900.

Bel canto—beautiful singing—describes a forgotten tradition epitomising clear communication of expression and meaning of text. This project aims to generate new research-based knowledge of bel canto sound vocabulary, music, and history to inform future scholarship and creativity in singing. 

Project aims

The main goal of this research-based creative project is to recover knowledge of bel canto practices and, through practical experiments, to develop a model that informs future advancements in vocal performance.

The project will investigate the varied sound effects and colours that singers of bel canto employed in songs, and recitatives (a style of singing ordinary speech), arias (compositions for a single singer), cantatas (compositions in several movements with accompaniment), operas (theatrical works set to music with singing parts), and oratorios (large concert works with solo singers, choir, and orchestra). It will investigate how these sound effects and colours were achieved in practical terms.

The acquisition and dissemination of this knowledge is directed by world-leading experts in archival research, historically informed performance, practice-led methods, and performance science, working with an international community of vocal practitioners (professional and higher-tertiary level singers) guided by the project aims:

  • to explore historical styles for bel canto repertory through implementation of a new multi-modal methodology combining recording emulation, and practical and collaborative active experimentation
  • to generate a taxonomy of bel canto sounds and practices documented in research-based exemplar recordings, made in a range of settings, to inform and expand classical singing practice, teaching and scholarship
  • to foster and influence change in classical singing, disseminating the project’s approach and findings (through symposia, written outputs, and video and audio recordings) to networks of educators, practitioners and industry in Australia and internationally.

This project seeks to re-invigorate bel canto, to illuminate new ways of performing, understanding, and hearing its music. The project will lead to the acquisition of new knowledge of this significant era in music history, and test and disseminated that knowledge through experimental research-based interpretations captured in recordings, and written outputs.

The project is funded through the Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Project (DP) scheme under the number DP220101596.