|Kelly Lin, Eric Lindsey, Jenny Lindsey, Anna Cley, Elizabeth Tapia, Natasha Noviskaya, and Thomas Gruenthal at National Opera Center|
We have often wondered what brings singers to attend master classes. After all, they have teachers and they have coaches. Is it the opportunity to work with someone renowned like Marilyn Horne or Joyce Di Donato? Is it the wish to take their singing to another level? Is there some gap in their teacher's knowledge or skills? Is there some block they have been unable to remove?
Someday we would like to interview students before they take a master class and then conduct an "exit interview" to see if they achieved the results for which they hoped. Last night we sat in on a master class conducted by the very French Anna Cley, focusing on French opera and art song. There was no doubt about what she had to offer and what her students gained.
Of course there was the usual work on the line, with a terrific visual image offered of a string of beads. Of course there was the customary and valuable instruction to speak the text first, to vocalize the melody, to speak and sing the text with only the vowels, and only then to drop in the consonants.
Yet, Ms. Cley's special tutelary offering concerned those very same vowels and consonants which so greatly confound American singers, who all seem to make the same mistakes. The vowels in French are very particular and do not employ diphthongs as English does. The consonants make much more use of the lips and teeth with less movement of the jaw.
To listen to and learn from Ms. Cley was a highly rewarding experience both for us and for the five excellent singers we heard. To set the tone for the class, Ms. Cley herself performed Dubussy's "Nuit d'étoiles" far lovelier than we have ever heard it sung before.
Soprano Jenny Lindsey followed, working on "The Jewel Song" from Gounod's Faust. She formed an impressive connection with the character, showing the bedazzlement of an innocent. In our mind's eye we could see the mirror in which she was admiring her unexpected treasures. She sang in a bright clear voice with a fine trill; her work with making the consonants more explosive and a little trick about the "k" sound took the performance to a new level. Learning the correct pronunciation of the nasal in "charmant" was helpful.
Thomas Gruenthal performed "Intimes IV" from Poulenc's cycle Tel Jour Tel Nuit. The chanson is otherwise known as "Figure de force brûlante at farouche" with text by Paul Éluard. The text made no sense to us but it did to Ms. Cley who explained it to Mr. Gruenthal and urged him to show the despair and darkness of it. They worked on the final "e" and we learned a new tip about singing two adjacent consonants like "pl".
Mezzo-soprano Natasha Noviskaya exhibited a lot of strength in the lower register in the card scene from Bizet's Carmen. We learned the correct pronunciation of "sais" without a diphthong and did some work on "la mort".
Bass Eric Lindsey performed "Épouse quelque brave fille" from Massenet's Manon, in which Le Comte des Grieux tries to convince his son to abandon the religious pathway, to get married to a suitable girl, and to continue the family name. (Manon succeeds on the first account where Papa has failed, as you all know.) It was an excellent authoritative performance and needed only a few hints.
Soprano Elizabeth Tapia gave a bright and lyrical performance of "Elle a fui la tourterelle" from Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffman. By the end of the class, we noticed that the final students had already profited by listening to the pointers given to the first few students. We were hearing more differentiation between "d" and "t", longer vowels, and consonants formed more in the front of the mouth.
Frankly, we have always praised singers in French for singing so that we could understand the text. Now we know a bit more about what to listen for and are afraid of being overly critical. But it is these fine points that differentiate a good enough performance from an accurate one.
The excellent accompanist for the evening was Kelly Lin.
We hope to attend more of Ms. Cley's upcoming master classes and urge all singer who sing in French to seek a place in her classes.
(c) meche kroop