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.

Monday, January 11, 2016


Anthony Robin Schneider and Joyce DiDonato

Joyce DiDonato's master classes are legendary. She has a marvelous manner with young singers, using every tool at her disposal to bring out what is best and most uniquely theirs. Having attended her master classes before, we began to see a pattern. She seems to emphasize authenticity from moment to moment so the aria or song seems to be composed on the spot--never labored or "worked over".

She began the class by praising Carnegie's Weill Music Institute, calling attention to many of their outreach programs. Then she began working with mezzo-soprano Miya Higashiyama on Cherubino's aria "Voi che sapete" from Mozart's Nozze di Figaro. Clearly Ms. DiDonato had given a great deal of thought to Cherubino's background, present state, and desires; she worked diligently to get the student to sing with intention.

This does not call for excessive gesture or over-acting, but rather to knowing internally what Cherubino is feeling and what he wants.  The metaphor she used was wonderful; Cherubino is trying to draw the Countess in like reeling in a fish!  And the legato vocal line becomes the fishing line. She advised less concern on vocal production and more on simplicity and authenticity.  Something between excitement and restraint is called for. How many actors have heard the refrain "Be it, don't show it!"  Well, that applies to singers as well.

Colombian soprano Amalia Avilán Castillo worked on "Addio, senza rancor" from Puccini's La Bohème. Her vulnerability was praised and she was given permission to enjoy her "big moments".  Several methods were illustrated to increase the resonance by being on the breath, starting with humming. She was encouraged to keep the resonance up in the mask and to stop and start over if the voice drops. If a note is repeated, one must recreate it anew each time.

Which brings us to a most important point.  If a singer "gets it right", s/he should not repeat him/herself but rather repeat the process leading up to the success.  A fine point, but a worthwhile one.

Countertenor Daniel Moody sang an aria from Hãndel's Giulio Cesare. In his case also, simplicity was encouraged, allowing the voice to deliver the music.  Living in the moment is a great idea, not just in life, but in singing. He was advised to abandon his musicality and to work on his breath. The technique is interesting and yet familiar. One begins by hissing the breath and keeping it steady to achieve a legato line.

Once that is established, one can move on to singing on a vowel before adding the words. The breath must be constantly engaged with vowels maintained in the same spot. Intake of breath must be easy; gulping breaths or breathing into the collarbone area just won't do. Every phrase can be deconstructed in this manner so that the muscles will remember. 

The final singer on the program was bass Anthony Robin Schneider who sang "Vi ravviso" from Bellini's La Sonnambula. Clearly Mr. Schneider has a very sizable bass and he was encouraged to sing brighter with a more slender sound, a more youthful sound. Ms. DiDonato pointed out that young basses are often encouraged to imitate older basses with huge voices; but by placing the resonance higher, more colors can emerge.

The technique used to achieve this was to sing on the sound "ee". Indeed, the audience approved of his easier fresher sound although he was not yet comfortable with it himself. Ms. DiDonato seems to have a bag of tricks at her disposal and knows exactly which one will be the key to open up the possibilities of each individual singer.

Accompanists for the class were Justina Lee and Adam Nielsen. The four students had prior classes with Ms. DiDonato on the two preceding days.  We wish we had been free to attend; we can see a great deal of value in observing the singers' progress over a 3-day period.

(c) meche kroop

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