We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Saturday, January 21, 2017


Erin Alcorn and Dame Felicity Lott

The final master class of The Song Continues 2017, formerly known as Marilyn Horne's Birthday Week, was conducted at Carnegie Hall in the Education Wing, by the much honored soprano Dame Felicity Lott who wowed the audience with her very British sense of humor. Her style of teaching was completely different from the prior two master teachers. She was generous in her praise of the four young singers we heard (we shared her opinion) but very nit-picky about the text, teaching with the score in hand.  Her command of languages is as formidable as her command of musicianship.

Her first student was soprano Erin Alcorn, accompanied by Katelan Terrell.  Ms. Alcorn's first selection was Richard Strauss' Standchen, the one we know and love well.  A man tries to persuade his sweetheart to sneak out of the house to meet him in the garden for some passionate kissing. Ms. Alcorn used her brilliant voice brilliantly and performed with ardent expression. It was a persuasive performance.

Dame Felicity's suggestions were to keep the tempo up so that the energy would not flag. Both piano and voice need to be light.  There were a few words that Dame Lott wanted Ms. Alcorn to enjoy-- "zittert" is one we could really appreciate. The second "mach auf" needed to be more intense than the first. A change of color was needed for the final verse of von Schack's text; it must not lose intensity but should be still and legato.  And the "hoch gluhn" at the end must be very passionate with a glorious end on "Wonnenschauern der Nacht".  What a gorgeous phrase that is and Ms. Alcorn sang it gorgeously.

Although her instrument is clearly made for Strauss, she did a fine job with Debussy's "Vert" from Ariettes oubliees. There was some urging to get her French more forward in the mask and the need to change color from the offering of vegetation to the offering of the poet's heart.  Indeed! There were phrases to stretch and phrases to build up and relax.

Mezzo-soprano Marjorie Maltais also had the opportunity to perform two songs. She sang "Danse macabre" by Camille Saint-Saens with its difficult text by Henri Cazalis. The composer did an excellent job of applying music to the very wordy text and conveying the spooky mood. Mezzo Marjorie handled it beautifully, creating a mood of grotesquerie

Nathan Raskin handled the wild piano part quite well but was instructed to hold back the sound whilst Mezzo Marjorie was singing so that the text could be understood.  Both artists should expand the final "Oh! La belle nuit".

By the end of the song, Ms. Maltais was warmed up enough to tackle Richard Wagner's "Traume" from Wesendonck Lieder.   The coaching was to be ecstatic, not sad. Those thoughts would surely change the color! The singer must draw the audience into this world of dreams!  And, must do it with the voice, not gestures. Mr. Raskin was coached to play more ethereally and this made a world of distance as he complied.

Tenor Patrick Shelton sang "Let me enjoy the earth" by Gerald Finzi, with a text by Thomas Hardy. He was advised to avoid meaningless movement and to color his voice with wistfulness, not sorrow. In our opinion, Mr. Hardy's splendid poetry did not ask for music and we didn't find that Mr. Finzi'a music did much for the poetry. But Madeline Slettedahl played it well.

We enjoyed Mr. Shelton's singing more in Liszt's "Comment, disaient-ils". We do believe that Victor Hugo did not want to have his poetry set and yet, to our ears, Liszt's music added a great deal!  Dame Lott worked with Mr. Shelton on some finer points of French diction, particularly on softening the elided "t" in the oft-repeated phrase of the title. She worked also on rhythm and on changing the colors from "ramez" to "dormez" to "aimez"--all great improvements.

Soprano Anne Wright closed the class with a pair of songs that showed off her versatility as well as her impressive instrument. Henri Duparc's gem "L'invitation au voyage" is a setting of a gorgeously sensual text by Baudelaire. Significantly, we could understand nearly every word of Ms. Wright's French, even at the top of her register. The knowledge that she translated both songs herself reinforces our impression that she understood every word she was singing.

Nonetheless, Dame Felicity was there to iron out some small issues with French diction, and some suggestions about where to breathe. She wanted Ms. Wright to enjoy the text (we sure did!) and the changes of color in "luxe, calme et volupte". The singer must not demonstrate but must invite the audience in.  (Where have we heard that before??) Zalman Kelber's handling of the rippling piano completed the effect.

In Strauss' "Cacilie" from Vier Lieder, Ms. Wright conveyed all the intense passion and ecstasy of Heinrich Hart's text. What a splendid evening, discovering four fine singers and two very promising Straussians.

(c) meche kroop

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