Apparently, in Classical and early-Romantic Italian opera (the "bel canto" opera repertoire), the ideal kind of vocal colour was a so-called chiaroscuro sound. The chiaro- part translates as "clear" or "bright", while the -scuro part translates as "dark".
However, no two different sources I've found agree as to what is actually meant by chiaroscuro. I have found interpretations along the lines of each of the following:
- chiaro- refers to squillo*, while -scuro refers to the presence of "chest voice".
- chiaro- refers to the presence of "chest voice", while -scuro refers to a low larynx.
- chiaro- refers to the larynx being not too low, while -scuro refers to the larynx being not too high.
- In terms of the aspect of perceived "brightness" or "darkness" of vocal timbre that relates to how much the larynx is (respectively) raised above or lowered below the most relaxed available position for the pitch being sung, chiaroscuro refers to "darkening" the timbre as you sing higher. So,
- for higher notes, chiaro- refers to the higher pitch while -scuro refers to the darker timbre;
- for lower notes, chiaro- refers to the less dark timbre while -scuro refers to the lower pitch.
- A special case of number 4: chiaroscuro refers to a fairly constant absolute height of the larynx.
(Furthermore, one sound that I personally find quite beautiful is the combination of the "clearness" coming from a larynx that is in - or is at most only slightly lowered below - the most relaxed position for the pitch being sung, together with the pleasant "darkness" of a chest-voice-ish sound as in number 1. So I also wonder whether this might have been what the chiaroscuro ideal was.)
What actually was the chiaroscuro sound that was considered ideal in Classical and early-Romantic Italian opera? In fact, did this "ideal vocal colour" even exist, or is the whole thing just operatic folklore? And if there was much belief in an ideal vocal colour, was there ever a reasonably consistent view as to what the ideal vocal colour should be, or was there significant variety of differing opinion?
I would appreciate, please, if anyone giving an answer that claims to know what the ideal chiaroscuro sound was could back this up with reasonably convincing historical sources and/or citation of the research of experts in historical performance.
*squillo apparently refers to the "ringing" quality associated with overtones within a certain range which some people take to be around 2-5 kilohertz (roughly A6 to E8) although others seem to take it to be a narrower subrange of this.