Saturday, June 15, 2019


Pei-Wen Chen, Joan Dornemann, Melanie Spector, Diana Soviero, Emilia Poma, Cloe San Antonio, Jennifer Jaroslavsky,
Zachary Sebek, and Clara Iranzo

We have lost count of all the master classes we have attended. We have noted that each master teacher brings something else to the table. Some focus on role interpretation, some on language skills, some on stage presence, and other aspects of performance.

Last night, as part of the International Vocal Arts Institute at Mannes College for Music, we became acquainted with the unique style of superstar soprano Diana Soviero. Ms. Soviero is a "character" and we mean this in the best possible way. She is fearless in her attempt to get her students on the right pathway, even at the expense of making funny faces and saying funny things, and contradicting "received wisdom".

The true measure of her method is the change in the sound of the students. The six people we heard were all excellent to start out with but achieved a far fuller sound under her tutelage. We would say that they did the work and we had the fun but, truth to tell, they seemed to be having as much fun as we did. Ms. Soviero stands right next to the student and moves their arms, conducting them as they sing. 

Rather than describe what each one sang, we will share with you some of the valuable tips we gleaned. We confess that some of the tips exceeded our modest understanding but most of them made sense to anyone with a basic knowledge of vocal production.

Before the singing began, the arrival of a few latecomers became an opportunity to tell the singers to never turn their backs to the audience but to stand and wait, in character, until the audience settles down. She also pointed out how the orchestral introduction tells the singer when and how to begin. Never begin by belting the note but slide into it.

Of course, everything starts with the breath and most singers have an unclear picture of the role of the diaphragm and have been ill-advised to "push the breath". Ms. Soviero is careful not to label anything as "wrong" but prefers to call things "misunderstood". One way to keep the larynx and diaphragm down while going up is to try to lift the piano!

Some of the singers needed to be told not to hold back but to send the sound out. We have always heard the instructions to send the voice forward but her instructions were often to send it back. For our understanding, this would require a bit more explanation but it certainly made a positive difference. 

To achieve a diminuendo, she instructed the student to send the sound out with energy so it vibrates, and then to bring it back in. Another tip for a dry mouth is to suck in on your cheeks.  That's one we never heard before!

In a trill, the singer should put the lower note on the beat. That was a good one!

Since the tongue connects with the larynx, it is important to avoid mouth positions that tense the tongue. The upper molars should be well separated from the lower ones. "Nyeh, nyeh" is a good way to find the right place for the tongue.

It isn't necessary to open the mouth wide to get a big sound. We've never heard a teacher focus on the embouchure but she described the upper lip as a steering wheel that directs the sound. Singers should be careful about jutting the jaw forward.

Before going higher, lift the palate first. 

To find the center of the pitches one can practice humming them first. Hum the upward jump, then open the mouth. Keep the vowel in place for upward leaps.

Much of this comes from the Garcia technique, of which we have never heard; but since it worked so well for these six singers it would be valuable to learn more about it.

Beyond the technical aspects there were a couple acting strategies that we'd like to share. In "Stridono lassù", the soprano should not keep looking up. A flock of birds doesn't remain overhead, they sweep across the sky. The singer can follow them just for a brief moment only! We never heard that before but it makes so much sense.

Also in Pagliacci, when Arlecchino serenades Columbina, he should be very relaxed and can . "tune the lute" before he begins to sing. It's these little gestures that make a performance believable and we were so glad to be made aware of them.

We expect big things from these six promising young singers!

We plan on attending the concerts of arias and opera scenes for the rest of this 10-day institute about which we have written a great deal in the past.  So should you!  Particulars are on the IVAI website.

(c) meche kroop

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