UVAA alum Jonah Hoskins with Placido Domingo after winning second place at Operalia 2021 in Moscow. Jonah won the Met Nationals in 2020 and will make his Met debut this season. He studied with Dr. Hurtado for five years at UVAA.
Isaac Hurtado created UVAA in 2011 with a goal to help build Utah's next generation of performers by providing conservatory-level vocal instruction and performing opportunities to all ages. He organized the UVAA Summer Opera Festival that first year, which has now grown into an international training program with an artistic staff that includes multiple operatic superstars, coaches, agents and teachers. In 2015, Dr. Hurtado expanded UVAA to include several other teachers who specialize in musical theater and contemporary styles in addition to classical. He takes great pride in selecting talented teachers with excellent training, performing abilities and personalities. He trains UVAA teachers in the key aspects of his vocal method that apply to all styles of singing.
Since the early days, UVAA has helped hundreds of singers discover and develop their voices in amazing ways. Our past and current students include several winners at all levels of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, a second-place winner of Placido Domingo's Operalia competition, a Richard Tucker study grant winner, and a myriad of awards at every level of the NATS, Classical Singer, and Schmidt competitions. Our singers now grace the stages of the Metropolitan Opera, Santa Fe Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Wolf Trap Opera, Central City Opera, and Utah Opera, to name a few. They have been accepted into nearly every major undergraduate and graduate vocal program in the country, including The Juilliard School, Curtis Institute of Music, Eastman School of Music, Manhattan School of Music, Indiana University, Rice, Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, New England Conservatory, etc. Our musical theater and contemporary students frequently perform locally for Hale Center Theater in Orem and Sandy, Scera Theater, and school productions. They also win NATS competitions, and include multiple pageant winners (Miss Utah, Miss Springville, Miss Provo, Miss Utah's Outstanding Teen, etc). They perform professionally in venues extending as far as New York City.
What accounts for the remarkable success of our students? Certainly a variety of factors play into student success, including the wealth of talent in Utah, and the hard work and commitment of our students. But what sets UVAA apart from most everywhere else is the vocal method that Dr. Hurtado has studied, developed and mastered over the last 15 years.
Through deep study at BYU, Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, Florida State University and later with private teachers including Darrell Babidge and Cesar Ulloa, Dr. Hurtado honed his ear for elite singing, and developed a technique based on principles of vocal science and practical experience. He discovered for himself the vital importance of singing with a low, stable larynx position in 2002, which was the subject of his 2005 doctoral treatise for Florida State University. Dr. Hurtado teaches: "When the larynx is anchored low by the breath and becomes free of tongue, neck and jaw resistance, every other needed vocal skill becomes possible. With a stable, low larynx position, all voices sound more beautiful, can access a wider range, and develop greater stamina--in any style! " Dr. Hurtado's teaching approach has helped hundreds of singers sing with more freedom and resonance by overcoming laryngeal elevation. While many singing teachers admit the importance of a stable larynx, few are able to address it directly, speedily, and effectively.
UVAA and the Great Italian Vocal Tradition
If it is rare to find teachers that truly understand and effectively address laryngeal positioning, it is even more rare to find those who understand the Italian vocal principles that created the greatest opera singers of past and even recent generations. What do Enrico Caruso, Beniamino Gigli, Giacomo Lauri-Volpi, Maria Callas, Mario Del Monaco, Franco Corelli, Renata Tebaldi, Mirella Freni, Renata Scotto, Salvatore Fisichella and Luciano Pavarotti all have in common, besides being some of the greatest voices to ever utter a note? They all studied a historic Italian 'laryngeal school of singing' that is not commonly taught today in the United States. This method has its roots in the era of the great castrati of the 18th century taught by Nicola Porpora and Giovanni Ansani, who passed down their methods to Manuel García, who taught his son Manuel Patricio Garcia. The younger García's method produced multiple world class performers including Jenny Lind, and was perpetuated by his pupil Mathilde Marchesi, who's students included Melba, Alda, Calvé, and about 40 other world famous singers. Later teachers took these principles and adapted them for use in larger opera houses with larger orchestras. These included Antonio Cotogni (teacher of Gigli, Battistini and Lauri-Volpi), and later Arturo Melocchi (Del Monaco and Corelli to an extent), and Arrigo Pola (Pavarotti), Ettore Campogalliani (Pavarotti, Freni, Scotto, Tebaldi, Bergonzi, etc.), and Maria Gentile (Salvatore Fisichella, Marcello Giordani).
All of these traditions were uniquely passed down to Gioacchino (Jack) LiVigni by his father, Salvatore Lauro LiVigni. Salvatore trained at Rome's Santa Cecilia Academy where he received the hallmarks of Antonio Cotogni's methods. He later became a student of Arturo Melocchi. Jack was taught extensively by his father and later worked directly with Arrigo Pola, Franco Corelli, Carlo Bergonzi, and more recently with Salvatore Fisichella. Mr. LiVigni currently teaches at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, and the Royal Opera House in London. He also teaches many of today's most elite international opera stars and founded the Mediterranean Opera Studio Festival in Sicily, Italy, a well-known training program for aspiring opera singers world-wide.
Dr. Hurtado has studied extensively with Mr. LiVigni since 2019, and serves along side him on the voice faculty at Mediterranean Opera Studio festival. Through his intense work with Mr. LiVigni, and extensive subsequent research, Dr. Hurtado has become a master of the Italian Vocal Tradition possessed by so many great singers and teachers in the past.
Vocal Principles of the Italian Tradition Taught at UVAA
The 'laryngeal school of singing' as Franco Corelli called it in Jerome Hines' book Great Singers on Great Singing, involves several principles that, when implemented properly, produce some of the most glorious and thrilling sounds the human body can make. A few of these principles include:
Low Larynx Position: For opera singers, the larynx should reside low within the neck in the location where it nestles during a deep inhalation during all singing, regardless of pitch. Musical theater and contemporary singers should strive for a neutral larynx position, similar to where it rests during healthy speech patterns. In all styles, the neck, tongue and jaw muscles should not contract while singing, and the larynx should not rise with pitch or onset of tone. This fundamental principle is taught with high priority at UVAA.
Mastery of the Laryngeal Tilt: A lower vertical larynx position within the neck is only half the battle. The Italian tradition emphasized the horizontal tilting action of the larynx as well. When the larynx tilts forward in the neck, it elongates and thins the vocal folds, making it much easier to sing high pitches and sustain higher-sitting passages. The Italians understood that the position of the beginning-of-the-yawn assists this tilting action. They taught that a tensionless yawn should be combined with firm cord closure, and they initiated the yawn well before the register breaks in the voice. At UVAA, we teach this vital concept to our classical singers. With our contemporary singers, we teach laryngeal tilt, but without using much of a yawn position, in order to keep the resonance appropriate for the style.
Firmer Onsets and Phonation with Gentle Emission: The Italian tradition utilized a firmer onset, akin to a very light glottal stroke in order to acquire complete vocal cord closure and more brilliant resonance. Sometimes this onset was nearly imperceptible, and other times it was quite obvious. This slightly firmer cord closure was then continued throughout the phrase. Essentially, this resulted in vocal folds that are more often in a closed position than an open one during the vibratory cycle, producing far more brilliant resonance. Elite singing almost always exhibits this firmer closure, but it must be carefully taught under certain parameters and close supervision. If taught incorrectly, harsh onsets can result, and problems may occur. Manuel Garcia and others understood this principle well, but a few throat doctors and voice scientists of Garcia's day criticized the method and were responsible for nearly stamping out the concept in modern times with their writings. Today, voice science (and by extension, the typical American voice teacher) favors of a softer onset and an airflow-based phonation. Flow-based phonation can produce a relaxed sound and is ideal for choral singing, but great opera (and even great contemporary) singers tend to utilize a firmer phonation whether they realize it or not, at least in climactic passages. Those who are not taught firmer phonation and don't find it on their own, generally will not have sufficient resonance for a distinctive vocal career. This firmer onset and phonation can and should be accompanied by a feeling of gentle sound emission created by singing on only the thinner edges of the vocal folds and a feeling of almost drinking the sound inward, as opposed to blowing sound out of the body. Singing in this manner allows the vocal folds to maintain a supple feeling even in demanding, dramatic passages. At UVAA, firmer onsets and phonation are introduced to students once they have acquired the requisite skills to make the concepts successful.
Mastery of 'Squillo' Through the Gathered Sound, or 'Suono raccolto:' The brilliant, ringing quality that allows opera singers to sing unamplified over a large orchestra is known as 'squillo' in Italian. The teachers of the Italian tradition produced this quality in luxurious amounts in all the great singers. In fact, this quality is largely responsible for the great fame of the singers in all ages. The great Italian teachers taught that 'squillo' was created by utilizing the position of the 'oo' vowel, particularly when ascending through the upper middle voice and into the top. Essentially, singers were trained to constantly maintain an 'oo' position within the pharynx and larynx cavities, while allowing the front of the tongue and jaw to articulate the actual vowel being sung. The 'oo' position creates a certain shape within the resonating chambers that amplifies particular harmonics of the voice that carry over orchestral textures. Modern teachers often favor the idea of placing the voice 'forward' or in the 'masque' for resonance. The great singers of the old school utilized this gathered sound, opting for a more vertical resonance than a forward one. Contemporary singers have no need to develop this 'squillo' quality since they use microphones. As such, forward singing that emphasizes the mouth and nose cavities for resonators is the preferred method for those styles. UVAA classical singers typically sing with plenty of 'squillo' and a balance of bright and dark colors. They immediately distinguish themselves in competitions and auditions due to this exciting resonance.
Using Less Aair, Not More: The Italian tradition emphasized using very little air during singing. In fact, air should almost feel as if it were being suspended in a state of inhalation during each phrase. High notes do not need more air, rather less air with better compression. Proponents of the airflow-based phonation commonly taught today recommend releasing more air through the tone, particularly on higher notes. The result is an impure tone with far less resonance. Air that slips through the vocal folds will not result in sound that carries into the theater. The principle of using less air applies beautifully in contemporary and theatrical singing. Too much air triggers the vocal cords to adopt a thicker configuration in order to resist the extra pressure. This disturbs efforts to mix the voice properly or belt with success. Less air pressure allows the cords to thin out when singing high, while still maintaining the speechy quality essential in contemporary singing. UVAA singers of all styles are taught this incredible principle of breath management.
UVAA's students have accomplished great things, whether winning international competitions, performing in operas or musicals, or simply improving their talent of singing. God-given gifts, hard work, and extremely high quality instruction are the formula for success. All styles of singing benefit greatly from several of the Italian Tradition principles, but not all can be applied the same way. At UVAA, all of our teachers are trained to some extent in these methods. Discover for yourself what these concepts will do for you!