The Role of Cuperto
in the Italian School

By David L. Jones

The term cuperto in the old Italian School meant "singing through a tiny mouth space with a large throat space." What is the result? A blending of the registers and the exercising of the thin edges of the cords from the high range to the low range. When Dr. Van Lawrence (laryngologist for the Houston Grand Opera) first saw the cuperto function on the fiberoptic camera, he said it looked as though the cords were receiving a massage. While doing graduate research at the University of North Texas, Dr. Barbara Mathis of Lamar University discovered that singing the cuperto exercise actually strengthens the "thin edges" of the vocal cords.

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 "Cuperto" allows the voice to sing in a "protection" (without direct pressure on the cords) so that the singer can gain vocal endurance. It also aligns all the vowels in the same pharyngeal space; Mr. Lindquest called this "vowel line-up". If I were to describe "cuperto", I would call it achieving the smallest part of the head voice register with great vocal freedom. Many vocal professionals call this the "whistle register". I personally like the term cuperto because it indicates no image of the sound or how it should be produced. It must stay with its purest identity with a large opening in the throat.
What is the result of using the cuperto? It solves problems such as wide vibratos, unbalanced head and chest registers (especially in the female middle voice) and lengthens the vocal tract which creates more resonance.

Cuperto is an old Italian word which is no longer used in the language. It is the very secret to giving a singer a professional sound without creating layers of tension on the larynx. We may wonder why so many great Italian singers sang so consistently right after the turn of the century. Most voice scientists think that it is due to the use of this vocal function. Even in its one-octave version, (published in William Vennard's book in 1967) it is very effective. It was Alan Lindquest who extended it to two octaves and used what he called "separating the registers in order to blend them again from the top down". His voice teacher at the time was the famous John Wilcox. When Wilcox heard how healthily the two-octave version performed, he adopted the exercise in his own teaching. In male voice, exercising the cuperto strengthens the cords and makes the hole at the glottis gradually smaller. This allows easier access to the high changed voice. In female voice, it releases the high voice by exercising the "thin edges" effectively. This creates more accessibility to the high pianissimo. Monserrat Caballé was trained this way. It allowed her a high pianissimo that she used as her trade mark.

Cuperto training is responsible for so many healthy aspects of good vocalization. I am grateful to Alan Lindquest for reviving the use of such a wonderful tool in the training of a new generation of singers. William Vennard (teacher of Marilyn Horne) adopted this exercise after studying with Lindquest in 1955. Lindquest and Vennard collaborated on developing teaching techniques throughout the 1950's.