Italians on Italians
Beyond Toscano

Singing the truth about Bel Canto

Singing the truth about Bel Canto
Italy’s a nation of passionate musicians, with a love of music and the arts running deep in our culture. In fact, there’s a well-known saying about the ability of Italians to carry a tune – ‘Bel Canto’, which literally means ‘beautiful singing’.  But while it’s true we have more than our fair share of musicians, it’s stretching the truth a little to give the impression that all Italians have a singing voice like honey.

The term Bel Canto originated in the 17th Century world of opera, where it stood for a very particular style of singing. But over time the meaning evolved. Today, it’s used more as an expression of general beautiful singing, as opposed to being versed in any particular style, although a good variety of tone and style has much to do with being classed as having a bel canto voice.

As ever, you can blame TV and the movies for giving the impression that all Italians can sing. From Venetian gondoliers singing Neapolitan folk songs, to grand dames hitting the high notes and shattering champagne flutes at parties, the myth that we all have Bel Canto has been spread far and wide. We may have passion, and many of us be willing to improvise a tune at the drop of a hat, but in reality we can’t all sing like birds. More’s the pity.