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, December 11, 2015


Theo Hoffman and Joyce DiDonato

Master classes give us a thrill like no other and the ones given by mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato are always a special event. Her astuteness in diagnosing the singular thing that will take a student from a four-star performance to a five-star performance is remarkable. Furthermore, her warm and engaging manner promotes a special bonding with the student, a trust that allows them to take risks.

We confess that we would have been satisfied with the four-star performance. It being Juilliard Vocal Arts Department, we daresay that their pre-coaching performance is superior to most singers. However, it was only after we heard the difference made by her coaching that we realized how much better the student sounded. These are no ordinary students; they are working on their Master's degree and already singing all over the world and delighting audiences here and abroad. They collect awards and grants the way most people collect knick-knacks.

Baritone Theo Hoffman is a case in point. He sang an audition piece that we are sure is responsible for his getting a lot of work--"Dorma ancora o son desto" from Claudio Monteverdi's 1640 opera Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria.  In this introspective recitativo-like aria from Act I, the hero (usually sung by a tenor) awakens on the beach. Mr. Hoffman sang it with such depth of feeling that we were deeply moved. He used his impressive instrument with agility and dynamic variety.

This was not enough for Ms. DiDonato! She worked with Mr. Hoffman on being IN the harmony of the "orchestra", singing INTO what was going on underneath the vocal line, in this case the marvelous piano work of William Kelley whom we much admire. This is an exquisitely fine point about which we knew very little.  We so greatly appreciated the opportunity to learn along with Mr. Hoffman about playing with the "temperament" of the note.  And we always thought a note was a note!  Oh, no!  That's where the color comes from.  Great lesson for Mr. Hoffman and for us.

We do love the counter-tenor fach and have enjoyed Jakub Józef Orliński's voice on a number of occasions. His instrument sounds like the voice of an angel, if one tries to imagine what that would sound like.  He sang "Agitato da fiere tempeste" from Händel's Oreste and impressed us, and Ms. DiDonato, with his musicality. She observed that he sang it like an instrumentalist.

But that was not enough. She was looking for some legato passages to work on and asked him to sing his other selection "Vedro con mio diletto" from Vivaldi's Giustino. She picked up some tension and resistance that she tackled by dancing him around the stage. She worked with him on releasing the breath and sighing it out without effort. He could work on this by slurring instead of singing each note.  Indeed it made a difference as he relaxed his effort and achieved a more spontaneous sound.

Soprano Christine Price tackled a difficult Mozart aria--"Ach, ich liebte" from Die Entführung aus dem Serail.  Most of the lesson revolved around using the mental image of opening up spaces in the mask, thereby keeping the voice out of the throat.

Mezzo-soprano Samantha Hankey worked diligently on "Allez, laissez-moi seul" from Massenet's Cendrillon.  Most of the work was on moving the energy. It was helpful when Ms. DiDonato spun Ms. Hankey around the stage. Perhaps this strategy works so well because the singer is distracted from making efforts toward perfection. She was further instructed to keep strictly to the tempo, to keep moving forward and through the consonants to the end of the phrase.

In all four students we noticed subtle improvements that were very gratifying. The Collaborative Piano Department provided the wonderful Mr. Kelley who played for all the singers except for Mr. Orliński, whose piano partner was Michal Biel. They make a great team.

(c) meche kroop

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