Sunday, 1 May 2011

Song School Week One

Vodka Anyone ! Light Opera Day

To Arms ! song from The Gypsy Baron

Lunchtime respite for the accompanist.....................

It was a fantastic 2 weeks. Each singer in each week was so up for the challenge of being masterclassed, and they were all such sports, and willingly had a go at everything I threw at them!

We had, in the first week, a group of 9 ladies and 2 guys, lucky men I hear you say, they had to be all the male characters in any staging, or partners in any dancing, so they were well and truly used to their full capacity!

We had some fantastic repertoire, much of it standard, but great music, and the first day which is opera or oratorio brought some wonderful arias from each genre. 'Oh Had I Jubal's Lyre' by Handel springs to mind instantly for various reasons. It was so beautifully sung, and when we gave our fabulous accompanist the cue to double the speed it danced along like a musical joke, which I feel sure is what Handel wanted! One lady, who has rather a retiring personality, and is quite low in self confidence sang 'Musetta's Waltz Song' from La Boheme by Puccini. This was where the men came into their own! How she sparkled when made to flirt with them, and what a difference in sound. Suddenly not only the person, but the tone and volume rose markedly and she probably would have shocked her husband with the heat of her seduction!

There was a glorious 'O Mio Babbino Caro', sung in a slightly lower key for a warm and caressing mezzo voice. We were all moved by the depth of heart which the singer produced when faced with singing the aria face to face with someone she did not know – a little bit cruel, but always destined to 'hit the spot' in terms of reality and integrity of performance.

I love any pieces where I can add 'context' – it is like a magical formula, everyone reacts and raises their game when they have to a) Move, and b) Interact. The singing becomes almost secondary and we see, and hear the whole performance how it was meant to be heard. That is when the magic happens!

There were some fantastic Art Songs in the week, some wonderfully classic Michael Head, including the gorgeous 'Sweet Chance that Led my Steps Abroad'. One tweak in terms of support and muscular refinement gave the singer the immediate ability to allow the note to 'live', but also to have much more air in reserve so the phrases became endless.

Both chaps sang the Vaughan Williams 'Bright is the Ring of Words', a complete favourite of mine, and always a cause of frustration amongst mezzos. Ladies just can't sing it!! I was utterly desperate to add it to my repertoire when a young singer, but I would have been laughed off the stage if I had tried. The performances were so different, and so each came with it's own colours and strengths. One was faster and bolder, and the other softer, slower and more fluid. That said, I would have paid good money to hear either of them!

The light music day brought a host of fun items and one intensely moving moment. One singer sand 'Send in the Clowns', by Sondheim. She has a beautiful voice, although I felt that the performance was rather 'big'. It was the perfect moment to talk about 'the power of SMALL'. We honed it down and down until it was such a personal and intimate performance to a small group of 'close friends' that there were tears around the room in profusion.

I love ensemble day, and this year the variety was astounding. From Bach to 'Chess' via Cimerosa. We also had a septet of ladies singing The Seal, and again we honed it down so that the singers were just an accompaniment to the piano solo, and the effect was of shimmering water with a small seal flying above the shimmer. A truly wonderful moment.
The duet 'I Know Him so Well' from Chess is a real party piece, but when was the last time that you actually heard each individual part as a heartfelt solo ? Well we did, and all around listeners were so surprised as to what they had missed in previous hearings. We need to hear and feel each of the women's thoughts so we feel much more impact. It worked like a dream.

The final day was very diverse, each sang their own favourite genre of song, and we swithered from Handel to 'Art is Calling Me', through English Song and more oratorio. I was completely taken aback by a most cleverly rewritten lyric to the famous Prima Donna song – all about me! Not, you understand that I was ever a PD, but it left me with absolutely nothing to say – which I think was the intention! It was a good job the singer was my erstwhile curly headed soprano duet partner of 300 years ago! Only she could have got away with it!


  1. Oh Ann, it all sounds absolutely fabulous!

    Thank you for sharing the happenings. It makes me feel that I'd really liked to have been there too. :)

  2. I agree, it sounds wonderful. Having seen you take just one small masterclass I know that you will have transformed each and every person there.

  3. How very kind you both are! Considering it took so long for me to blog about it! I love masterclassing and watching singers grow!