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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

On diction and eye jobs,
with classical music's agony aunt, ALICE McVEIGH,
live this week from Brighton pier

Dear Alice,
I have long been plagued by the comment, 'Super voice, rubbish diction', and indeed feel that this has held me back from getting many roles as a (very high, almost coloratura) soprano. I read in today's Times, however, that research suggests that this is a function of vocal production, and that some vowel sounds are incompatible with decent tone. Does this get me off the hook, or should I still be worried?
JP, Leeds

Dear Ms P,

Of course you should still be worried!!!! You're a soprano, a proper soprano, one who demands to be taken seriously????

Fact is, that you have the right, as a singer, to be constantly, neurotically, and even idiotically worried.

You have to worry, first and foremost about the weather, and therefore about whether you might be catching a cold. Beyond this you have to worry about whether or not you've learned your words, whether or not your costume shows enough bosom (and not too much tum), and about whether your current conductor loves your voice or secretly wishes he'd picked a rival instead. You have to worry about whether the piece you've chosen for your latest audition shows off (or shows up) your upper register, about whether you should be broadening out into Verdi or slimming down into Handel, about ageing, about whether your favourite wine clogs your chest voice, about whether or not your Italian pronunciation is up to scratch, about whether or not sleeping with the tenor is such a good career move -- and then, there in the background, the foreground and even the middle ground, there's that nagging worry about whether you might not be catching a cold.

However, nobody worries about diction. Lousy diction never stopped Kiri Te Kanawa, now did it? No, no. My advice is to go for the tone and make like a goldfish.

(And, by the way, good luck with that cold ...)


Ask Alice

Dear Alice,
I am an electric violinist and trying to become well-known here in Japan. My agent suggests that I have an eye operation to look more western for my career chances here and also abroad. This happens to models here. What should I tell him?
(Name with-held)

Dear violinist,

Personally I'd tell your agent to take a long walk off a short pier, but then, I don't know how hard it was for you to land your agent. In fact, to deal with this question adequately I'd need to know how highly you rate your agent as well as the shape of your eyes, the cost of the operation and who was to fork out for it (not to mention any risks it might involve), as well as how committed you are to the pop-violinist career. (Your agent might even be wrong about it. The Next Big Thing in Japan might be pretty, slanty, oriental-shaped eyes and then you'd feel pretty silly, wouldn't you???)

Oddly enough, I once had a similar comment made to me. I was seeing an ear, nose and throat specialist for some minor thing I can't immediately recall and he said, 'You know, you're a very pretty girl', which startled me a fair bit (though I was pretty, back when I was a girl). Then he added, 'why don't you let me shorten your nose for you?' At first I considered this the weirdest chat-up line I'd ever struck, but turned out it was a business-drumming-up line instead, because he had recently trained in nose corrections and was dying to practice on me.

Now I know my nose is too long (and my chin is too short and my eyes are too droopy) but, I mean, nobody's perfect. I told him my nose was just hunky-dory and I'll bet your eyes are just hunky-dory too. (On the other hand, had I allowed him to shorten my nose I might have become a famously stunning-short-nosed electric cellist and not be stuck here advising the musically agonised at So what do I know?????)


Copyright © 16 January 2004 Alice McVeigh, Brighton pier, UK

One of two piers at Brighton, UK. Photo: Keith Bramich

[Note from Keith to Alice: Just had a call from Basil. He didn't realise that you felt stuck here at M&V and says to call him -- he may be able to help. Also something about there being a pier at Southend too, which I didn't quite understand. Ooops! Shall I zap the bit about being stuck here?
PS I'm stuck here too, but don't tell anyone!]



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