Diego Cossu: Like any instrument, the voice must be trained from a technical point of view, in order to achieve the ergonomics of the vocal signal, i.e. the maximum performance result with the minimum tissue effort.

Born in Genova in 1961, Diego Cossu, after the Degree in Medicine and Surgery with full marks took his specialization in “Phoniatrics and Audiology” with full marks, honors and dignity of print.
He also attended the Master’s Degree in “Diagnosis and treatment of swallowing disorders”.
Diego Cossu is Director of the VoceInForma International Vocal Center of Turin.
He is also in charge of “Voice and Swallowing Clinic”, at the S. Croce Hospital in Moncalieri and member of the faculty of the Theoretical and Practical Course of Phonosurgery at the “Bufalini” Hospital in Cesena, with master classes on phonosurgery in singers and professional voices.
He is Assistant Professor of “Voice Anatomy and Physiology” for the Courses of “Higher Education Degree in Music” at the Conservatory “N. Paganini” in Genoa.
He has been in charge of Voice and Phonosurgery Ward at Kamol Hospital, Bangkok, and in charge of the “Phoniatrics and Logopedics Ward” at the “Koelliker” Hospital in Turin.
He also has the Degree in “Lyrical Singing” at the Conservatory “A. Vivaldi “in Alessandria in 1990 and he has been Chorus Singer at the “Regio Theatre” in Turin; at the same time performing as phoniatric expert in Artistic Voices. He also worked as Chorus Singer at the Choir of the “Opera House” in Genoa. Diego Cossu has performed more than 5000 endoscopic diagnostic tests among videolaryngostroboscopy) and endoscopic studies of swallowing, and he is now considered as one of the best doctors in Italy for dysphonia and dysphagia.
He took part in more than 1000 surgical microlaryngoscopies for diseases of the Voice, artistic or otherwise, with excellent results, stable at follow-up.
He is also one of the most respected phoniatric specialists in the field of the Voice related to gender identity disorder. This Topic has aroused much interest, especially by Italian media who have dedicated considerable airtime to this highly specialised activity. He has written monographies concerning the Voice for the medical and scientific journal “Medicine and Culture” and I’ve translated into Italian, for the publishing house “I Care”, the scientific part of the book “Diagnosis and Treatment of laryngeal paralysis.” He has developed the S.H.I. test (Singing Handicap Index), the first self-assessment test of voice disorders in singers, presented in 2005 at National Congress of Phoniatrics in Tivoli and validated in 2010 with the name of SHI-10. Among his publications, we recommend the retrospective study “Efficacy speech therapy in the Singer”, published in Acta Phoniatrica Latina in 2009, and “The Voice”, co-author with Prof. Oskar Schindler, ed. Piccin 2009.

Thank you very much, Mr. Cossu, for accepting my invitation! The charm of opera definitely comes also from those like you, who guarantee the health of those to enchant us on stage! First of all, for those of us who may love the opera, but are not so familiar with its insights, what does phoniatrics mean and what’s your purpose in the lives of the singers?

Phoniatrics derives from ancient Greek and literally means doctor (iatròs) of the voice (fonè). In an extensive and modern sense, the term Phoniatrist means a medical figure specialized in the physiopathology of human communication. Currently in the skills of the Phoniatrician there are diagnosis and treatment of diseases of communication, voice and swallowing. In the extremely broad field of the voice, there is a super-specialization that is Vocology, and, even more specialized, Artistic Vocology, which is that branch of Phoniatrics that deals with the diagnosis and therapy of the professional voice, both spoken (actors, teachers, telemarketers, etc.) and sung (from CCM -Commercial Contemporary Music- to Opera). It is obvious that the approach to the singer requires from the Phoniatrist a deep knowledge of genres and styles performed, and then the doctor who treats a singer should have a deep knowledge of musical language (theory, solfeggio, harmony), the history of music, the evolution of musical genres and know very well the dynamics (sometimes very little considered) of a theater (from performance spaces to the rehearsal floor, rehearsals, etc. …). This knowledge is fundamental for the Phoniatrist, especially because in this way the same “communicative code” is used with the Singing Patient, so that Doctor and Singer speak the same “language”, greatly facilitating the anamnesis, the diagnosis and, above all, the outcome (medical, rehabilitative or surgical).

Since we can’t ignore the tough times that we’re passing through, we usually ask the singers we interview about the way they spent their time during lockdown. It would also be interested to know what a phonistrist did and what you missed the most about your job during this forced break.

During the lockdown period for the SARS Cov2 pandemic the whole world of live performance had to stop. This caused a great deal of suffering not only performative but especially psychological in voice professionals. The fear of not being able to return to singing and of losing the vocal skills acquired were the main sources of stress on which we Phoniatrists were called to intervene. In a few words, little Phoniatrics and a lot Psychology. But recently the opening of the theatres, even if with many restrictions (from the capped audience to the use, much discussed also in the medical field, of the mask during the performance), has given back some serenity and tranquility to everyone. The return to professional vocal activity, however, has highlighted (as for all professional athletes) a significant difficulty in returning to the quality levels of before the pandemic, and then the task of the Phoniatric Vocologist (that’s why you need to know well the vocality….) is to suggest the best vocal modalities to regain lost skills, a sort of rehabilitation of the voice through the use of particular vocalizations aimed at reinforcing and re-acquiring the correct pneumo-phono-resonantal dynamics, which are fundamental especially in opera singing.

Read the entire interview here, in the 5th/2021 issue of OPERA Charm Magazine.

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