|Chungfeng Li coached by Maestro Richard Bonynge
A few fortunate folk got to sit in on Maestro Richard Bonynge's master class, presented as part of the intensive training given to the lucky young singers participating in Martina Arroyo's Prelude to Performance program.
The famous conductor and recording artist speaks softly and carries a big stick! No, not the baton; we mean it figuratively. He is quiet but very firm, insisting the students repeat the same phrase until they get it right. An acknowledged bel canto specialist, his gentle corrections made a noticeable difference in the students' performances. He is not at all like other master teachers who fawn all over the students telling them how marvelous they are and suggesting they add just one tiny thing "if it works for you".
No! Mo. Bonynge does not even listen to the entire aria. He will stop a student immediately and get to work. He is not there to praise and support but to teach. There was a theme running through the afternoon. Almost all the singers were trying too hard; they were going for volume and big effects and Mo. Bonynge persuaded them to "bring it down a notch". This is bel canto and going for the "bel" seemed to be the message.
Maria Brea opened the program with "Par le rang et par l'opulence" from Donizetti's Fille du Regiment, which will be presented at Hunter College on July 10th and 12th, the culmination of the months of work by the students in the program. Ms. Brea worked hard on observing the piano markings on the score. Master and student also worked on extending the vowels and achieving more flow through the cadenza.
Hyo Chang An sang "Pour me rapprocher Marie" from the same opera and was instructed to work on his legato and to lighten up the finally "e" at the end of several words. This was another theme on which we heard a great deal. Singers were mistakenly emphasizing that final syllable and were instructed to just touch it. He was also instructed to control the decrescendo in the descending scale passage and to open the vowels a bit more
Karolina Pilou has a large deep voice with an interesting quality. She sang "Fia dunque vero?...O mio Fernando" from Donizetti's La Favorita. She was instructed to eliminate the crescendi and the extra breaths which she consequently wouldn't require. She was also taught to not rush or push and to save something for the cabaletta.
Spencer Hamilton performed "Ah! mes amis....Pour mon âme" and he too had to work on decreasing his force and increasing the tonal beauty with rounder vowels. It seemed that pushing the end of the phrases was not at all helpful.
Claire Coolen and Jacopo Buora performed the duet "La voilà...Au bruit de la guerre" from Fille du Regiment and again we heard quite a bit about lightening up the final "e". We began to wonder whether another coach had insisted that they all work on emphasizing it! Ms. Coolen worked on eliminating the crescendo on her trills and indeed they sounded much better. Her vowels also needed to be rounder.
Chungfeng Li sang "La calunnia è un venticello" from Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia. He sang it so well that he was not interrupted. The only suggestion he got was to pay attention to doubled consonants, a feature of Italian to which all singers should attend.
A lot of Mo. Bonynge's corrections were performed by the use of his expressive hands which meant that his often inaudible words were unnecessary. We got his very important messages. At the piano, Ed Bak performed in true yeoman fashion, serving each singer and his/her material.
Each singer progressed and we hope they will continue to work on these corrections that made such a difference in their performances. Tickets to Madam Butterfly and Fille du Regiment are going fast and if you plan on being in town in July, these two operas could make a profound difference in an operatically barren summer.
(c) meche kroop