Ngoc Lan’s forte is her stunning timbre that can be considered as one of the best among the sopranos in Vietnam.
Her voice is soft, warm and smooth like a stream flow, as if it belonged to a aristocratic, snobbish, high-bred lady.
Listen to Ngoc Lan’s “Anh thì không” in comparison with My Tam’s version and notice the difference.
Ngoc Lan is a pure-metal light lirico soprano, that her voice is bright, delicate and clear, yet not at all sharp and hard like other metals.
This is the peak in Ngoc Lan’s voice.
Light lirico sopranos are usually mixed with the timbre of metal, water or wood so that they sound softer and warmer, however make their voice sounded darker than it supposed to be (for example: Ho Quynh Huong’s voice is a half-metal-half-water one).
When a light lirico soprano is a pure-metal, their voice are mostly shrill or sour (Thu Minh, So Hyang).
However, this sour and shrillness does not happen to Ngoc Lan. Her voice is warm and deep enough to compliment lyrical songs.
At low ranges, Ngoc Lan can sing low notes at the words with the 3rd tone mark (acute accent) which is a high-tone mark in Vietnamese.
She can also sing with head voice at low notes, sometimes even with mixed voice by the mixed-dominant method, although mixed voice is normally used for high or middle-high range only.
Ngoc Lan usually vibratos with her head voice at vowels, which compliments the songs, makes them sounds sweet and lyrical and becomes her signature singing style, makes her voice sound more full and soft. Listen to the bellow phrases and check:
From 4:01, Ngoc Lan gently used head-dominant vibrato at A3, C4 and piano head at A4 that soften the vowels, make them sounded silky and melodious like the stream flow.
Feminine psychology proved that all female artists will try to bring their own femininality into their work of art in one way or another, yet not any one can manifest themselves at the fullest. Ngoc Lan is one of a minority of female singers that can uphold her own feminine qualities in singing and developed a new way of singing - a “mannered” way of singing - which compliments light lirico sopranos like her excellently.
To be honest, there is hardly any singer that can sing in the “mannered” way as good as Ngoc Lan, that she made it a “secret weapon” for all the other female vocalists, and Như Quỳnh, Minh Tuyết, Y Phương are the most successful ones to take over it.
Any female singer can sing mannerly, yet not everyone can adjust the manner perfectly like Ngoc Lan, since going overboard with “manner” in singing can sometimes give the listeners some bad impressions, for example Mắt Ngọc or Thu Minh.
On the other hand, the “manner” in Ngoc Lan’s singing style is always well-controlled by charming techniques, that makes her voice more natural, soft and emotional just like some love stories.
Moreover, this way of singing can even help her show the brightness in her timbre.
Listen to 2 versions of “Lại gần hôn em” by Ngoc Lan and Thu Minh and notice the differences between the natural, well-controlled “manner” and the forced “manner”.
To master this way of singing, Ngoc Lan tends to move her placement onto her head whenever she phrases vibrato so that her voice is always spongy and sweet. She also usually sings with her mouth narrowed, stresses at closed consonant and gently glissando,creates grawing, tormenting melodies.
Let’s listen and notice the words: “đau”, “cao”, “sâu”, “gối”, “hỡi”, “úa” from 3:06 to see what they mean.
Ngoc Lan is also famed for the permanent sorrow in her singing voice, that can even turn the up tempo melodies into somewhat sad songs, despite her efforts to keep them bright and blazed up.
This is shown in the performance of Black is Black:
Ngoc Lan usually sings in a vacant way, extends the last consonant of a word to create the desperate, sorrowful feelings. For example, she sang this song in the way that sounded like a person who is about to commit suicide:
The inborn sorrow in her songs makes her the Queen of sad music. It is hard to find a singer that can sing the sad songs as sorrowful as her.
If it was not thanks to Ngoc Lan, the songs like Mưa trên biển vắng, Mùa hè năm ấy, Tuyết rơi… will easily become cheesy instead of embracing haunting dejection. The natural sorrow in Ngoc Lan’s singing style can actually take the listeners out of this world, that no one can actually copy.
Despite being a light lirico soprano, Ngoc Lan can sing low notes comfortably and play with the low range in a long period of time. That is why her natural bright voice can still be considered deep and heavy, and definitely not a shallow one.
The song “Revoir” is the biggest proof of her colourful vocal range: she totally played with her voice and made the performance sounded like a duet between 2 singers.
That Ngoc Lan can master the low notes was claimed to be due to her natural, gifted talent. Her can support till A3, B3 and phrase F3 with comfort. Ngoc Lan is always able to connect her ranges naturally without being fail or twitchy.
The lower range is connected with the higher range, which makes it comfortable to hear.
She usually uses it for C5s with vibrato but with extra small volume and shelted with the melodies so it becomes hard to be recognized.
Ngoc Lan does not use her full mixed voice, but she usually use her light mixed voice with a steadily-rising softness to brighten her voice at light parts, not to show off her voice at high notes. Let’s take a look at these clips:
3:06, 3:21, 3:30
In the aspect of French music, Ngoc Lan also has the ability to vocalize polished and seductive, also is one of the best singer to do it in VN. There are some French songs of her that showed this quite clearly: Encore, Lui, Comme toi, Femme amoureuse…
What can also be inferred from those songs is her nasal voice (a French’s specific in vocal) is extremely subtle, luxurious and aristocratic, that is absolutely comparable to famous divas such as Celine Dion, Lara Fabian,..ect. Let’s take a closer look at this:
She can hold notes with ease with light-mixed.
The first names come to mind when people hear about Trịnh Công Sơn’s music (Trịnh’s music) are Khánh Ly, Hồng Nhung. In my opinion, the third place for this list should be Ngoc Lan. Ngoc Lan was the one who brings a new life to Trịnh’s music by her own singing style. If Khanh Ly sang Trinh’s music with her natural feminine alto, Hong Nhung sang Trinh’s music with her tough dugazon soprano, then Ngoc Lan choose to sing this type of music with her natural sorrow that came from the fragileness and solidation in her singing voice.
The image of roses are usually mentioned in Trịnh’s music, then who else should be able to transfer the meaning in his songs better than this “singing rose” Ngọc Lan?
Let’s listen to some Trịnh Công Sơn’s songs like Diễm xưa, Chiều một mình qua phố, Tuổi đá buồn… to see how excellent she is, not only at the pronounciation but also the way she used her mixed voice at middle ranges and brang a new life to Trinh’s music.
The way she stresses the close vowels instead of going straightly to open vowels sometimes makes the song become prolix and sometimes cheesy. For example, when singing “ơi”, she tends to stress at /i/ before lengthen “ơiii”. Or for the word “yêu”, she usually sings it “iiiêu”, “đâu” turns to “điâu”, “đôi” turns to “điiiôi”, “bến” into “biiiến”, “vẫn” into “viiiẫn”…
She has a soft and light way of pronouncing, yet sometimes make her sounded tiring.
Her vocal range, tessitura and supported range are not so wide that sometimes make it hard for her to handle the song.
Her health and larynx are not well, plus she tends to sing with her neck instead of her diaphragm and doesn’t control her breathe correctly, hence her voice is quite weak, cracky, strain, push and severable,...ect. In a nutshell, Ngoc Lan is more of a natural vocalist than a skillful one.
In conclusion, with her own specifics, Ngoc Lan have made a new school in music called “Ngoc Lan”.