Portamento (plural: portamenti, a noun meaning literally "carriage" or "carrying") is a musical term that describes pitch sliding from one note to another. The term originated from the Italian expression "portamento della voce" (carriage of the voice), denoting from the beginning of the 17th century its use in vocal performances and its emulation by members of the violin family and certain wind instruments, and is sometimes used interchangeably with anticipation. It is also applied to one type of glissando as well as to the "glide" function of synthesizers.
In the first example, Rodolfo's first aria in La Sonnambula (1831), the portamento is indicated by the slur between the 3rd and 4th notes. The second example, Judit's first line in Duke Bluebeard's Castle (1912), employs a short, straight line between the fourth and fifth notes to indicate a steady rise in pitch. If the composer desired the pitches to be, variously, raised and lowered between those two notes, the wavy line would additionally be curvy, conveying an approximation of the pitches intended. Portamento may, of course, also be used for descending intervals.
Opinions of vocal portamento
Although portamento continued to be widely used in popular music, it was disapproved of for operatic singing by many critics in the 1920s and 1930s as a sign of either poor technique, or of bad taste, a mark of cheap sentimentalism or showiness. This is not valid criticism of a performer when portamento is explicitly specified in the score or is otherwise appropriate. However, when there is no such specification, the singer is expected to be able to move crisply from note to note without any slurring or "scooping".
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