International Opera Program, part 2

On Thursday I have been to another master-class in the International Opera program.

As before, due to reasons of traffic, I had to arrive some time before the actual show started. It being a warm day (outside. The AC inside worked fine, but I did have to cross from the car to the hall), and me being a little thirsty, I decided to take a risk and sample the food stand they opened up in there.

So I went for the iced-vanilla drink. On the good side, it didn’t taste just like chicken. On the bad side, it wasn’t all that iced, and worse – it wasn’t all that vanilla. It did have an odd sweet and sticky taste reminiscent of cheap artificial-vanilla-flavour powders that I didn’t get to try for years and years. Next time, I’ll drink before going out.

There was a fire hydrant outside which was spilling a lot of water all over the place, making a huge pond in the park’s grass (The conservatorium is located inside a small public park). We went to look for someone in charge of the facilities, and failing to find anyone we went to the musical admin instead, and informed a guy who said he’ll pass it on. [update:Been there again today for another master-class. As we went out, we saw the same fire hydrant happily leaking water]

[update: Forgot to mention the bit in this paragraph on the original post] When we entered the hall we found two women sitting in our seats. And the seats are numbered, and issued on the ticket. We double checked the row and seat numbers, which matched what we recalled. One of the women pulled her own tickets, and showed us they listed the same row and seats. What she didn’t notice was that her tickets had the wrong date. Once we pointed out this minor detailed they found their actual tickets and moved. They didn’t show any inclination to go do something about the already torn tickets, but I hope they did or they won’t be able to use them on the actual date.

The master-class was taught by John Norris. He does not work with the singers about their singing, but rather on acting, and pose. While some of the older members of the audience seem to be stuck in the opinion that nothing besides singing matters, thing beside singing do matter. The singers have to appear as if they’re convincingly singing what they’re actually singing. Seeing a passionate love song sung in a completely indifferent face is bad, and quite jarring.

Not only that, but by making the singers concentrate on what the aria is about, they also sing it better, in a way which is more fitting of the mood and atmosphere. So while he doesn’t directly work with them on the singing, it is still affected.

This time all the singers, except one, were not Israelis. The all came from the area of the Americas. There was also one less singer, since one did not arrive due to reasons which were not specified to us.

On a further technical issue, the lighting were arranged wrong, and it was hard to see the singers, so after the first one we took an early recess while it was being taken care of.

Lea Friedman, from Hawaii, was the first singer, singing Juliet’s Waltz from Romeo and Juliet by Gounod. She had a very clear voice, but sang a little bit too quietly. She was also too wound up and tight, and this is what John worked with her on, trying to get her to loosen up, so she could express more of the joy that the aria should have.

The first trick included letting her fall backward a bit, let him catch her, and push her back up. The sensation of falling is liberating, and it’s enough of a shake to make it hard keeping too tight. He told her to just drop back whenever she felt the need, and that he’ll catch her. This worked very nicely, except this one time when he a little farther than usual, and gave her a start when he only caught her up a bit after she expected…

Also, to get from her the proper posture and behaviour she should have when thinking of a handsome guy she may meet at the ball she’s invited to, he told her to imagine that someone she believes attractive is standing there, and they settled for Brad Pitt. It was amusing, and she did perk up properly.

Another thing the did near the end was to get her spinning several times, and at a point he had her throw off her shoes before spinning. Not something she should do on an actual performance, of course, but a good way on practice to get into the feeling of the proper mood.

Pascale Beudin from Canada came next, singing Pamina’s aria from The Magic Flute. She had a bit of an overly squeaky voice. Mostly John worked with her on getting a more emotional response, fitting the different stages in the aria.

He used a common technique, getting someone else to sit on the stage, to serve the role of Tamino. Since the point in the aria is for Pamina to get Tamino’s attention, Tamino sat with his back to her, and she had to act like she’s trying to get him to notice her and turn around.

They went over the aria, going through the several different emotional states, pausing occasionally for her to say and act in her own words what Pamina says in the aria. This is also a very common technique, and helps the singer see how their body language relates to the words. It’s easier to connect to emotional phrases in your native tongue. Since she’s a Canadian he gave her the option of going with English or French, and she decided to go with English.

He went with her over several different kinds of moods/attitudes that could fit. One was an attempt to show Tamino what will be denied him. Which rolled the crowd in laughter with her modern version, “No nookie for you!”.

Another amusing part was near the end, at the death threat. After saying “I’ll kill myself!” in the spirit of the aria, there was a comment (I don’t remember if from Pascale or someone else) “I’d actually rather kill him”. After the laughter subsided John replied that it may be so in “modern times, but in the olden days” it was different.

Rachel Mondenaro, from the US, sang Violetta’s first aria from La Traviata. She had a strong and deep voice, but somewhat too breathy, and she mostly looked like she was singing to the floor. John worked with her on trying to appear more dazed, more shocked, as she contemplates Alfredo and the discovery that he so deeply loves her. During the aria he had her act like she’s almost fainting and falling on a chair (which she did far too carefully and daintily, but it’s a start). Later on they went through sobering up, and at the end of the aria, when Alfredo arrives, he said that she should show some strong reaction. It can be either a good one, or a bad one, to be suddenly confronted by Alfredo and the reality, but there should be a reaction.

Angel Ruz, from Mexico, sang Quanto è bella, quanto è cara from L’Elisir d’Amore (Love Potion). He was the only male singer this evening, and a sole Tenor against all the other Sopranos. Even the singer who didn’t arrive was a soprano. His singing originally wasn’t entirely smooth, like there was some noise in the background of the sound (A poor description, I know, but the proper terms seem to elude me for the moment). He also seemed totally unconvincing as he sang the self deprecating love song from Nemorino to Adina.

Here John also used another person to sit on the stage as Adina, and give him focus. For most of the, very short, aria they worked on getting Angel to say the words in his own language, so he could put himself on the proper posture and expression.

One amusing part was when john, trying to help him understand what he wants him to say, told him to say in his own words something like “I’m pathetic, I suck”. To which Angel, the Mexican, replied with “What does it mean suck?”.

Most of the times his Spanish versions of “you are so beautiful” etc, were very much inane instead of passionate, but on some cases he did loosen up with his Spanish ending up with much more… er… powerful descriptions, which amused the crowd to no end.

Most importantly, the guy did improve noticeably afterwards. Not only did he looked to be far more into it, but his voice became more appropriate and more clean.

As a side note, someone looking very much like him (Well, it was him, but since I’m not 100% sure I don’t want to say it) was wandering around before the performance started, holding tightly and kissing some good looking girl. So supposedly he should be capable of expressing his love.

Next on the printed plan for the evening is Gal James. [update: fixed an uncertainty about her name I had in the original post]She sang Adriana’s Aria – Io son l’umile ancella, from Adriana Lecouvreur by Cilèa. She had a good deep voice, but sounded like she tried to avoid going to the high notes.

She did well, and John mostly worked with her on properly portraying the Diva part. There were improvements, but nothing too exciting happened during that part of the performance.

Overall, again, a good and enjoyable show.

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