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 8, 2017


Lynnesha Crump, Sharon Sweet, Woo Young Yoon, Molly Burke, Spencer Hamlin, and Zaikuan Song

We almost always enjoy master classes. It is exciting to learn things we might not pick up on our own. We can feel personally satisfied with a singer's performance of an aria but when the master teacher makes some changes we hear the aria again and recognize what we may have missed the first time.

We are planning to attend as many Prelude to Performance master classes as possible this month to prepare ourself for the upcoming season at Hunter College--7/6-7/9. We love getting to know the singers better, to hear what they are capable of, and in what way they can improve their performance.

Legendary soprano Martina Arroyo knows how to select the very best master teachers. It was truly a coup to enlist another legendary soprano Sharon Sweet to teach these five impressive artists who are now headed for major careers--at least, that is our opinion! Some master teachers make nice and fall all over themselves complimenting the students and just tentatively offering some little change "to see if it works" for them.

Not so Ms. Sweet! With high spirits and great humor, she "calls 'em as she sees 'em". She is direct but never offensive. The best support one can give, after all is said and done, is honest feedback. All five of last night's students profited greatly from the work they did with Ms. Sweet. There was no "boilerplate" that was given to all.  Each singer got something special and unique.

Woo Young Yoon sang first with "La fleur que tu m'avais jetee" from Bizet's Carmen. His sweet ping-y lyric tenor grabbed us from the first note and held us captive 'til the end. But in the process of his highly individual instruction, he and we both learned something new that took the performance to a new level.

We had never heard the phrases "onset" and "offset" but they deal with the initiation of a phrase without "scooping" and the ending of a phrase without trailing off.  Also, there are places in the line where the singer must not take a large inhalation but rather permit a subtle release of the abdominal muscles. When one does take a full inhalation, think about the entire phrase. Ms. Sweet does not speak of "legato" but rather of singing a phrase horizontally, not vertically. We understood exactly what she meant.  Great advice!

Soprano Lynnesha Crump blew us away with "Senza mamma" from Puccini's Suor Angelica, one of the operas to be performed in July. Ms. Sweet asked her to create a backstory for Angelica and to portray the vulnerability of a woman who has just been shocked and grief stricken to learn that her illegitimate son has died, and also disappointed that the visit from La Principessa had a cold, rejecting, and strictly practical object. 

Ms. Crump was urged to get down on the floor and to feel her inner thoughts. We were blown away with twice the force! And there was a technical issue that we would hear again later--using the tongue to articulate, not the jaw.

Just imagine two fine tenors in the same class. Spencer Hamlin, who will be singing Renuccio in Puccini's Gianni Schicchi during the July season, gave us a foretaste with "Avete torto...Firenze e come un albero fiorito". Mr. Hamlin possesses a fine squillo but sounded even better after his work with Ms. Sweet.

He was advised to take his time in the recit whilst scolding his squabbling family. There was a lot of emphasis on rhythm. Dotted 1/8 notes are not to be sung like triplets. Grace notes must be brought out. He was also urged to sing the aria with his hands in his pockets, acting solely with his face and his voice. We heard about the jaw again as well. And we heard some general tips about never clearing the throat or drinking water, both of which are abrasive to the vocal cords..

Zaikuan Song performed Leporello's "Catalogue Aria" from Mozart's Don Giovanni and was admonished to pay more attention to the rhythmic markings, i.e. singing the "ma" off the beat. It is necessary to count the beats carefully in Mozart! Also we heard a suggestion about double consonants which are best sung connected to the subsequent vowel. Mr. Song came prepared with his "catalog" in hand which the audience loved. Ms. Sweet urged him to act less with his body and more with his voice, for example in the repeating phrase "La piccina, la piccina, la piccina". Mr. Song (how well named he is!) has a wonderfully full bass and we are looking forward to hearing his Zuniga in Bizet's Carmen during the July season.

Last on the program was mezzo-soprano Molly Burke who performed "Acerba Volutta" from Francesco Cilea's verismo opera Adriana Lecouvreur. Her voice struck us as a force of nature with a future in Wagner. (Let us hope!) Her performance launched a valuable discussion of using the head voice, and of not being afraid of the passaggi. She was given vocal exercises to deal with the descent from pure head voice and taught how to move the same amount of air faster. The other great tip was to create space for the highest note in a phrase during the inhalation. The singer needs to start with the palate elevated.

There was one exercise that seemed helpful for all the singers--the lip trill. Singers can practice doing a phrase with the lip trill before adding the words.  They can learn thereby when and where they run out of breath.

Accompanist for the evening was Dan K. Kurland who was ready, willing, and very very able.

(c) meche kroop

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