Tuesday, June 12, 2018


Diana Charlop and Joan Dornemann

It's June busting out all over once again as the International Vocal Arts Institute offers its annual program of concerts, recitals, lessons, and master classes to young singers on the cusp of professional careers in opera. Under the guidance of Artistic Director Joan Dornemann, these young artists are poised to make a major leap forward, with tutelage from an impressive faculty. There are still nightly events open to the public and we deem them highly worthwhile. Were we not previously engaged we would have arranged to attend them all.

The institutes have been presented all over the world for over thirty years.  We are not sure how many years it's been since we first observed Ms. Dornemann teaching a master class but we well recall the contents; soprano Olga Makarina sang "Mi chiamano Mimi" from Puccini's La Bohème and Ms. Dornemann gave Ms. Makarina interesting pointers on interpreting Mimi's encounter with Rodolfo.  We can never watch La Bohème without recalling that special moment. Of course, Ms. Makarina went on to superstardom and is herself a master teacher.

Every master teacher has his/her own style. Ms. Dornemann doesn't waste time swooning over how wonderful the student's voice is but rather cuts right to the chase. She identifies one thing that needs work and addresses the issue right away--with humor and not harshness.

With baritone John Ford, she worked on how to walk onstage looking as if one belongs there. If a singer is auditioning, he or she must appear to be a winner! The singer must be in control and set the pace for the accompanist (in this case, the excellent Binna Han).

In Belcore's aria from Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore ("Come Paridi") sixteenth notes must be observed and not sung as grace notes. This sounded very difficult to do since the rhythm is different in the piano and the vocal line!  Every note must be vocalized and a good way to accomplish this is to practice on "Na"; at first on every syllable, then on every other syllable.

Soprano Dounia Behna was asked to think about what worked and what didn't work instead of just labeling a performance "good" or "bad". Many interesting subtleties of Puccini's writing for Mimi's "Senza rancor" aria were outlined, including an unexpected key change. 

Soprano Diana Charlop was coached to be less elegant in her role as Despina in Mozart's Cosi fan tutte  She was urged to pay more attention to double consonants, lest laughter be evoked in her performance of "Una donna di quindici anni"!

Soprano Lindsey Chinn performed "Ach! Ich fuhl's" from Mozart's Die Zauberflöte; the originalities in Mozart's cadences were highlighted so that certain notes could be emphasized rather than swallowed.

Soprano Isabella Lamadriz sang "Dearest Mama" from Douglas Moore's The Ballad of Baby Doe and gave Ms. Dornemann an opportunity to discuss the flow of language as it connects with the music.  This aria needed to be less "measured" and to sound more like speech.

Soprano Samantha Nahra had a great time with "I'm full of happiness", Lady Billows' aria from our favorite Britten opera Albert Herring. She was counseled to consult the International Phonetic Alphabet to get all the vowels and diphthongs of American speech as accurate as possible. We ourselves have often commented that American singers fail to make English clear.

Soprano HaYoung Jung performed "Deh vieni non tardar" from Mozart's Nozze di Figaro. A lot of time was spent on the meaning of the words --"giunse" indicates a very important arrival; "goder" indicates more than simple enjoyment.  Susanna is putting on a show for Figaro and laying it on with a trowel. She is getting revenge for her groom's mistrust.

At the conclusion of the evening, we realized that there is nothing Ms. Dornemann doesn't know.  She knows the subtleties of the score, the knows the meaning of each phrase of the libretto, she knows the characters and just how to reveal them. It was a most illuminating evening.

(c) meche kroop

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