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.

Thursday, June 19, 2014


Ira Siff, Master Teacher (amongst other things)

Since the very first time we attended a performance by the young artists in Martina Arroyo's summer program we have been convinced that opera will survive the many threats people talk about--financial and artistic.  We found ourselves marveling over each performance, saying to anyone who would listen "Wow, that was the best Contes d'Hoffman (insert anything in its place) we have ever seen!" or "I never enjoyed L'Elisir d'Amore that much".

It Italy under Berlusconi, funds for "high culture" have evaporated and the patrimony of that country is nearly on its deathbed.  But here in New York opera is alive and well in the hands of the conservatories giving exceptional training to ambitious young singers and in the hands of small opera companies giving these artists opportunities to be on stage.

Prelude to Performance is a program that provides comprehensive post-graduate training to these gifted young artists.  Those talented and fortunate enough to get accepted receive the most refined training free of cost over a period of six weeks. The roles must be memorized in advance so the students can focus on stagecraft, movement, dramatic interpretation, psychological motivation of the character, diction and even historical perspective.  This is a total immersion program!

Individual coachings are augmented by master classes given by superb teachers like the beloved Ira Siff who spent three hours yesterday coaching the singers who will assume the roles in the upcoming La Traviata and Il Barbiere di Siviglia (July 10-13) and also to those who will cover these roles.  

We were fortunate enough to sit in on Mr. Siff's class and were duly impressed by the wisdom and experience he offered so generously; we were equally impressed by the alacrity with which the students absorbed his suggestions given in the most supportive and unthreatening manner without a trace of any attempt to control.

We were particularly impressed by his work with soprano Cecilia Lopez who will be singing the role of Violetta.  She sounded completely amazing to our ears at the beginning but after working with Mr. Siff there were numerous subtle improvements based on a deeper understanding of the character's psychology.  

In "E strano...Ah forse lui" Violetta can deliver the first one rather matter
-of-factly to set up the repeat in which she realizes just how strange her unexpected feelings are. She is struggling with her ambivalence and Verdi's elaborate markings of the score, when obeyed, are blueprints for the illustration of her emotional state.  For example, there are several instances of three staccato notes followed by two accented notes--a heartbeat motif.  We have never heard this before but we certainly will be hearing it from now on!

In the "Sempre libera" there are also staccato notes that here indicate Violetta's frenetic state as she builds up a case for being a party girl.  This is the only act in which our soprano gets to use her coloratura for which Ms. Lopez has great aptitude.

This was only one of five coachings in the three hour session but we hope we have given you a flavor of the finely detailed work which took place.  

If you are in town in July you needn't complain about the dearth of opera.  You will have an opportunity to hear opera the way it is meant to be heard and seen--with sets and costuming (always apropos) and full orchestra at the Kaye Playhouse of Hunter College.  DO NOT MISS!

One final point given to you (unsolicited by Ms. Arroyo)--all donations to the Martina Arroyo Foundation are tax-deductible and support opera the way YOU want to see and hear it with fresh young voices given the finest training.  Do consider this!

© meche kroop

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