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.

Friday, June 30, 2017


Richard Cordova, Hector Manuel Mir, Brian Major, Jane Eaglen, Angela Lee, Melanie Ashkar, and Joshua DeVane

They probably don't teach first graders with the "See Dick, See Jane" books any longer, so please pardon our silly title. There was a bit of silliness last night (leavening some very serious teaching) at Jane Eaglen's master class, given for the participants of Martina Arroyo's Prelude to Performance program. Ms. Eaglen, world famous for her Norma and her Isolde (among other roles) had occasion to mimic the very forward and very even vowels of Italian and comparing them with the similar (!) use of the mouth in English speech from Birmingham, from whence she comes. Innocent merriment!

Ms. Eaglen is a very funny and jolly person but highly serious and perceptive in her teaching. Much of what we heard was of universal value--the looseness of the jaw, the resonance in the mask, keeping vowels vertical rather than horizontal, supporting until the end of any given phrase, finding the place of resonance first before establishing the shape of the vowel, keeping sustained notes alive, and expanding the top note with some bloom.

There were also a few tips that we hadn't heard before but which also served the singers well. We had never heard of "shadow vowels" before but couldn't help but notice how much cleaner the line sounded when they were eliminated. 

Another newish concept was creating pianissimi by narrowing the column of sound, not by using less breath. Yet another was to use portamenti only as a means of getting to the next note, not as an end itself.

All five singers had sufficiently dramatic presentations so there was no need to ask them to think about what was intended by the characters they were portraying.  As a matter of fact, some singers were asked to take it down a notch. Much elegance can be found in stillness!

Baritone Joshua DeVane sang "Largo al factotum" from Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia and he sang it with maximum personality.  He was exceptionally fine in the "patter" part, particularly after taking the advice to bring the sound forward and to sing it more piano. This created a better line. If you haven't yet gotten your tickets for Gianni Schicchi for 7/7 or 7/9, you'd better move quickly because Mr. DeVane will be spectacular in the title role.

On the same program will be another opera from Puccini's trilogy, Suor Angelica, and mezzo-soprano Melanie Ashkar's talent will be seen and heard in that piece. We have enjoyed Ms. Ashkar's singing on a few other occasions and expect a splendid performance from her. Last night she sang "Cruda sorte" from Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri which we enjoyed even more when Ms. Eaglen coached her to voice all the very short notes and to brighten the "ah" on a descending scale.

It was here that we picked up a good practice tip--sing runs with misplaced accents and with varying rhythms.  Seems effective but also kinda fun!

Mezzos need to focus on the mix of head and chest voice and to ascertain at what point to bring in the chest voice, surely never too high in the register.

Tenor Hector Manuel Mir will be singing in the Carmen on 7/6 and 7/8 and the pleasing vibrato of his voice should be great for the character of Remendado. Last night he sang "Spirto gentil" from Donizetti's La Favorita, moving us to get better acquainted with that opera.  It was fascinating to hear Ms. Eaglen describe a voice as an hourglass with the passagio being the narrow place. She wanted the vowels in the passagio to be narrower (more vertical). This sounded great in Mr. Mir's performance.

Soprano Angela Lee sang one of our favorite Mozart arias--"Giunse alfin il momento...Deh vieni non tardar" from Nozze di Figaro. She was coached to brighten her vowels and to speed up the recitativo toward the end to match the tempo of the aria. She was asked for more legato and less portamento.

Another singer you will enjoy at the aforementioned Carmen is (bass)baritone Brian Major who will appear as Escamillo. For the class he sang "Votre toast, je peux vous le rendre", otherwise known as "The Toreador Song".  He and we learned about the position of the head on the neck. It is easy to grasp the concept of what happens to the throat when the head is tilted too far down or too far back. Finding the sweet spot made all the difference. Releasing the jaw results in a freer sound,

It was a fine class and left the students happy with the subtle changes they made. Maestro Richard Cordova did his customary fine accompanying on the piano. The only thing missing was hearing Ms. Eaglen sing!

(c) meche kroop

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