La Danza…. Mamma Mia!!!

Before we go on you need to see this. JUST LOOK AT THIS

You’ll notice that he is already sweating before the music even begins. Me, too, Pav….me, too…

Now, this song can be a bit overwhelming with the wordy Italian and quick tempo, but I promise that is just a party once it’s learned. In order to do this right, we all need to channel our inner Italian grandmother. Here are some things that come to mind for me.

Understand that Italians love their language… which is not necessarily something American English speakers can relate to. A teacher once told me that “There has never been an Italian who mumbled.” You can see in the video that good ol’ Pav devotes all of the energy in his entire body to his mouth. His stance and even his expression hardly change at all. He is completely still, though we know under that cummerbund there is some major support going on. You get the sense that the words are so important that he wants you to understand every single one, even if you don’t speak Italian 🙂

There has been some spirited discussion among voice teachers about the official practice track and not a single teacher I’ve spoken with feels that the practice track does the Italian diction (pronunciation) justice. I have feelings about this that I won’t share here, but will instead teach you all what I am teaching my own students and I will be consulting with my Region to try to ensure that, if they decide to audition a cut from this song, students doing the correct pronunciation will not be penalized because it is different from the practice track.

I even devised a pronunciation guide for my own private voice students which you can purchase here.

A Few Simplified Rules

S.A.T. word of the day: penultimatemeaning second-to-last. The stressed syllable in a multi-syllable Italian word is frequently the penultimate (so if there are 3 syllables, the second) such as in the word danzare. Stressing the correct syllable will be the best way to sound Italian when pronouncing these words.

The exception will be in words with an accent grave which in a multi-syllable word indicates stress, such as in the word salterà.

Vowels are the life-blood of the Italian language. When Italians want to emphasize something they elongate the vowels as opposed to in English where we spit out consonants to emphasize something. Try saying “I hate you” as if you really mean it.

As an American: [aee HHHayTTee YYooh]

As an Italian: [AAAAEEEEE hAYYYYYte YYOOOOOOOOOOH] (In my head it sounds like someone’s last words as they fall down an echoing rocky abyss.)

One big error, in my opinion, on the practice tracks ignores both the vowel elongation and the stressed syllable rule….that is the treatment of the word mia. First, these two vowels together create a diphthong, meaning that this teeny three-letter word is actually two syllables, with the stress being on the first. The integrity of the ‘i’ (sounding like [ee] must be maintained instead of being turned into a ‘y’ sound or the word sounds like something else entirely.

The word is pronounced [meeah] not [myah] and in occasions where this word takes up several beats or notes, they should be allocated according to the importance of each syllable. You’ll notice Pavorotti takes care to show the stress on the first syllable before leaving it. I’ve approximated the rhythm of the diphthong here:

Mia 2Mia 3Mia 4

Doing otherwise makes about as much sense as pronouncing the English word my as [mahee] instead of [mahee].

Consonants are also kind of tricky in Italian. As a general rule, consonants in clusters (multiple consonants in a row) are more important than single consonants. There are three things to focus on here: Flip/Rolled ‘R’, Double Consonants, and ‘G’ sounds

The letter ‘R’ when beginning a word is rolled while final ‘r’ is flipped. A flipped ‘r’ sounds like [duh] or [dih] depending on the context but must actively leave the mouth and be followed by a shadow vowel. A rolled “R” is basically several of those sounds in quick succession, though for people who are able to roll their ‘R’s it is a different action entirely. Some people cannot roll their ‘R’s and will need to practice stringing together lots of [duh] sounds to create a similar effect.

If an ‘R’ is next to another consonant (such as frinche) it is rolled, whereas an ‘r’ between two vowels (such as danzare) is flipped.

The rules are similar for double consonants (two of the same consonant in a row). First, a double consonant in Italian is not made by saying the thing twice but by holding on to the consonant for twice as long. This is achieved by actually creating a bit of stoppage or silence, before releasing the consonant and moving to the next vowel. Experiment with the word mamma. The two ‘m’s in the middle is where the double consonant sound goes. Pick a comfortable pitch and sing the word. When you get to the second sylable, before you say the second [ah] sound, pause for a moment on the ‘m’ with your lips closed as if you are humming.

There are a few double consonants in this piece, so mark them carefully, else you may be saying another word entirely. For example if you say “mamma” without the double consonant you are actually saying the word for “love” (m’ama) instead of the word for “mom” (mamma).

‘G’ sounds are also tricky, but the thing to make sure you understand is that there is no [ʒ] sound as in the English word television or the French word jardin. Italian words like gia and giocondo absorb the ‘i’ into the ‘g’ sound to create a hard consonant, like our ‘j’ in English as in the word jar or joe.

If you’d like more specific pronunciation and phrasing help, download our pronunciation guide. 

Mmmmm…..all this talk makes me hungry. Spaghetti, anyone?

Arrivederci and ciao!

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