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.

Monday, January 30, 2017


Christopher Cooley and Pauline Taumalolo

We love master classes for many reasons.  We love hearing singers we may have never heard before; we learn a great deal about the art of singing that we can apply in the future; we learn the subtle features of a variety of arias and art songs, subtleties we can listen for the next time we hear them performed. We were happy to accept an invitation from the Metropolitan International Music Festival to observe.

Last night at the National Opera Center, conductor Gregory Buchalter shared some very valuable instruction with a group of singers we hadn't heard before but hope to hear again.  At three hours without a break, it was rather intense but the time flew by as eight singers absorbed enough tutelage to improve their performances dramatically--in both senses of the word.

There was, of course, a continual thread running through the entire evening--instruction we have heard over and over again. It is probably the most important feature of singing--the emphasis on connecting the vowels by singing on the breath, singing through the consonants to achieve a legato line.  Once one hears what it sounds like, one can never be satisfied with anything short of that.

The first student was soprano Alejandra Flores, whose interpretation of the role of Norina was first-rate. She delivered a sparkling and playful performance with great dynamic control and excellent coloratura technique. She was counseled to omit repetitions when auditioning and to introduce herself simply. She learned to emphasize the dotted rhythm of the cabaletta. Donizetti, Don Pasquale's composer, was one of the three great bel canto composers and the coloratura is there for a purpose--that of limning the character. Ms. Flores was instructed to minimize her gestures.

Soprano Susan Fletcher sang "Rejoice greatly" from Handel's Messiah with book in hand; the first suggestion she got from Maestro Buchalter was to "lose the book". We cheered inside when we heard that because it turned us off so much that we could not even concentrate on her singing. Once she "lost the book", we could relate to her lovely voice and expressivity without distraction. This is a common complaint of ours and hearing it from the Maestro left us feeling vindicated. Ms. Fletcher was counseled to stand up straight, to provide contrast for repeated phrases, and to add some embellishments. This made quite a difference and we were able to observe her superlative diction, making every word clear.

Soprano Silja Aalto gave a lovely performance of Mimi's aria from Act I of Puccini's La Boheme. We loved the change of colors as Mimi's character emerged from simplicity to flirtatiousness to radiance. She was advised to keep the momentum going and also to abandon most gestures.

Dramatic soprano Cheryl Warfield sang Turandot's aria with great power.  The walls were vibrating, we are sure. The Maestro was pleased that she conveyed the vulnerability behind the character's iciness, and the fear behind the anger. She was instructed to give more direction to the line and to emphasize the important words in any given phrase.

Contralto Pauline Taumalolo has a voice that, once heard, will be long remembered. The closest we can think of is Ewa Podles. She performed Brahms' "Wie Melodien zieht es mir" which we just heard last night sung by a mezzo-soprano. We have never heard the song performed in this key and it sounded totally different. The singer was instructed to make her breaths part of the phrase and to breathe with the piano. In order to make these luxurious phrases seamless, she was taught to omit the bar lines. The text called for more flavor.

Soprano Elizabeth Klimek performed Lauretta's aria from Gianni Schicchi and the first thing she learned was to never apologize. The audience will believe only what you tell them. An anecdote about Dame Kiri Ti Kanawa was shared and we all had a good chuckle. Some singers were advised to gesture less but Ms. Klimek was advised to gesture more. The other good tip she got was about dealing with Italian's double consonants to avoid misunderstandings.  Puccini's phrases must have a sweep to them.

Mezzo-soprano Zi Yang gave an affecting performance of Sesto's aria from La clemenza di Tito in which Mozart's embellishments must begin lighter and grow into grandness. Ms. Yang imbued the lengthy aria with some excellent changes of color that revealed the conflict of Sesto's character--his masculine strength, his love for Vitellia, and his fear of the awful act he was going to commit for her. Although Ms. Yang does not have much English, her Italian was splendid.

The lone male on the program was bass Nika Kolkhidashvili who sang Banco's aria from Verdi's Macbeth, in which he warns his son Fleanzio to flee. The tremolo in the orchestra sets the mood for the aria. The singer was advised not to lean to the side and to find the key words in each phrase to emphasize. The aria needs shape to build the tension and there must be a contrast of coloration when the key changes to major.

It was a valuable class with lots of "take-home" points to think about. It is always gratifying to watch an artist being taken to the next level by a fine teacher. The excellent accompanist was Christopher Cooley.

(c) meche kroop

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