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, January 20, 2017


Margo Garrett, Madeline Skettedahl, and Dorothy Gal

Last night, the second of three master classes was held with esteemed collaborative pianist Margo Garrett providing invaluable instruction to singer and pianist alike. The master classes, if you didn't already know, are part of The Song Continues 2017 at Carnegie Hall, a series of events through which Marilyn Horne does everything humanly possible to advance the art of the song recital.  Young singers and collaborative pianists get an opportunity to perform for a standing room only crowd of lieder lovers and to receive advanced instruction that will take them to the next level.

Last night we heard tenor Ricardo "Ricky" Garcia tackle the very difficult Schubert setting of Goethe's text "Erlkonig". What makes the song difficult is that the singer must assume several voices--that of the narrator, that of the father, that of his child, and that of the evil Erl King. Much of the momentum of the father's mad ride is supplied by the piano-- in this case, by Nathan Raskin. Ms.Garrett pointed out that the Germans love stories, especially supernatural ones!

We sensed that Mr. Garcia wanted to convey the different voices but was not totally successful, except for his appropriately colored baritonal father.  After some coaching, he was able to make the narrator less passionate and more even. The child needed a lighter but frightened sound, while the Erl King needed a measure of seductiveness. The father needed to be more tender and legato.

An interesting method of practicing this was given--the singer can sing all the lines of one of the characters in succession in order to master the build up of intensity for that particular character.  After establishing the vocal arc of each particular character, then the entire piece can be put together. This makes perfect sense and is a point we will be thinking of every time we hear a song with more than one voice.

It was a lovely dramatic experience to hear soprano Caitleen Kahn perform a satirical and allegorical song by Dmitri Shostakovich entitled "Misunderstanding".  It was the story of a rake who mistakes a woman's recitation of erotic poetry for an invitation to intimacy. Ms. Kahn is a born storyteller and had a very clear understanding of the background of the song's composition and the text as well.

She was coached to use her voice and face as well as gestures to convey the sense. Pianist Zalman Kelber got some valuable tips about achieving a less obvious doubling of the vocal line. An equally valuable tip for the singer was to practice singing into the piano (with the lid raised high, of course) with the piano playing octaves above and below. These are the "pearls" that only a master of coaching would know!

Bass-baritone Ted Pickell performed "Wenn ich mit Menschen und mit Engelszungen redete" from Brahm's Vier ernste Gesange, accompanied by Katelan Terrell. Mr. Pickell has a marvelous instrument to work with but needed coaching in putting some feeling into the text. Ms. Garrett suggested that he focus on the loving feelings. We were not feelin' it! To us it just sounded like preaching, which, of course, it is--Paul preaching to the Corinthians.

Ms. Terrell needed to lighten up on the keys and Mr. Pickell needed more color, more contrast between verses, and more attention paid to the consonants, particularly the double ones.

The evening ended with soprano Dorothy Gal, whom we have heard and enjoyed in French and Italian songs. She sang Hugo Wolf's "Geh, Geliebter, geh jetzt!" in which a woman urges her beloved to leave before he is discovered.  Clearly she doesn't want him to leave! The song is notoriously difficult with its syncopated rhythms and off-kilter entrances for the singer. This gave Ms. Garrett an opportunity to bring up a most interesting concept.

This is the issue of whether the pianist leads the singer or vice versa. In this case, the pianist must be led by the singer's entrances. Collaborative pianist Madeline Sletterdahl was instructed to emphasize the left hand over the right one.

Ms. Gal was given advice to be clearer with the consonants. We had a piece of advice for her ourself. We would like her to complement her lovely voice with some meaningful gestures. She seemed not to know what to do with her arms and hands and the gestures that were made seemed not to connect with the text. That addition would make her performance perfect.

There will be one more master class tonight--Dame Felicity Lott. We will be there with thirsty ears!

(c) meche kroop

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