|William Kelley, Joe Eletto and Gerald Finley|
Every master class is different but they all share something in common. A famous singer with the ability to impart his/her knowledge works with a few different students, usually for about a half-hour each, and tries to give each one something useful. Some students readily pick up on these gifts and others seem unable to grasp them, possibly because of the stressful circumstance of learning in front of an audience.
Yesterday's master class at Juilliard was exceptional in that baritone Gerald Finley possesses not only a great knowledge of his art but also the ability to find a point of entry to reach each student. The other reason it was exceptional is that the students of Juilliard's Ellen and James S. Marcus Institute for Vocal Arts are preternaturally receptive and relaxed in front of an audience.
Most master teachers have a main theme to convey and Mr. Finley's had to do with the many aspects of intimacy. In contrast with the expansive "reaching out" of opera, lieder singing is an "inviting in" kind of performance. The singer must express who he/she is as an artist, emphasizing simplicity and vulnerability. It's a "heart-to-heart" kind of thing, an expression we ourselves have used to describe a number of Juilliard-trained singers. The singer must be the music and be the emotion so that the members of the audience can feel those feelings. We are totally in agreement!
The first student was bass Daniel Miroslaw, working with collaborative pianist Valeriya Polunina. We were delighted that he chose to sing a song in his native Polish entitled "Whence the First Stars" by M. Karlowicz. Ms. Polunina was coached to begin with a note expressing the distance from the stars; one could hear the distance as this set the stage for Mr. Miroslaw. She also was coached to slow the tempo just a bit.
Mr. Miroslaw has a wonderfully rich instrument and he was coached to take his inspiration from the text and reminded to focus on the tone and the line, especially when singing his own language. Rests in the music become a cue to express emotion. He needed to ease up on the effort and this made an impressive difference. By the end of the half-hour we could feel the remoteness of the heavens!
The second singer was countertenor Eric Jurenas with Juliana Han at the piano. They began with Henry Purcell's "Sweeter than Roses". Mr. Finley instructed Mr. Jurenas to sing his English as if it were Italian, shifting the English "O" to an Italian "AW". It is always advisable to go by how it feels in the body rather than how it sounds. Since and open vowel resonates better less air is needed. Furthermore, it was advised to take more breaths and to make them meaningful. Ms. Han did so well with the Baroque style and the pair worked very well together.
Baritone Joe Eletto performed next with the always wonderful William Kelley producing marvelous colors on the piano. They performed "Schöne Fremde" from Robert Schumann's Liededrkreis, Op.39. Mr. Finley made an interesting point about knowing what came before a particular selection within the cycle. He emphasized the necessity, when singing German lieder, to be totally aware of the text and to sing the words "immaculately". Every syllable requires vitality and energy.
In this song, the poet is expressing the strangeness of being in a foreign place; the place is indeed beautiful but overwhelming in its strangeness. After this bit of coaching we could indeed feel these unique feelings and were reminded of some of our stranger travels. Mr. Kelley sustained this mood right into the postlude.
The final student was soprano Christine Price who possesses an instrument just made for Strauss. She sang the moving "Mein Herz ist stumm, mein Herz ist kalt" from Sechs Lieder aus Lotosblätter, Op. 19, accompanied by William Kelley. The same advice about opening the vowels served here as well. How many times have we heard voice teachers saying to avoid widening the mouth on "AH". Attention was paid to the final consonants and their strict enunciation.
It was a master class in which each artist grew in intimacy and communication--a worthwhile class for both artists and audience.
(c) meche kroop