International Opera Program, Part 4

On Tuesday I’ve been to another master-class in the International Opera Program in Tel-Aviv. The second, and last, one by John Norris for this year.

There were only five singers on the program this time. Not only that, but John started off by mentioning that two of them wouldn’t show up and will be replaced by others.

And of course, right after I used the previous post to say how there is an oddly high ratio of female sopranos compared to the other singers, on this class there was only one female singer. Though a soprano.

The first singer was Andrew Sritheran, a tenor from New Zealand. He sang E lucevan le stelle, from Tosca, by Puccini. He had an excellent voice, clear and deep. He might have had a slight problem on the high notes, but overall sang very well. His main problem was being too tense and rigid, which mainly affected his pose, but also, a little, his singing.

John worked with him to have him relax, and to get into the rhythm of the piece. The singer was also acting like he was singing to the back wall, while the aria should have been directed more inside, as if singing to himself. This probably came from basic singing lessons where singers are often told to sing out to the audience. By the time they reached the end of the aria together, there was a very noticeable improvement.

The seconds singer (not listed in the program page, so may be misspelled) was David Baumine. He sang Avant de quitter ces lieux, from Faust, by Gounod. His singing was good, but he was acting too indifferent, without clearly expressing what was going over the character.

John said he needs to “bring the aria to life”. He worked on developing a spatial relation to the piece, choosing specific direction on stage where Marguerite would be, and where the other fellow soldiers would be. They then worked on the proper pose and expressions suitable for when speaking to each of these and when praying to god, and later on the transitions and places where more complex things needed to be expressed. Since this is a class, John had him go a little overboard, including putting his hand to his chest when turning to Marguerite, something he said he’d never let him actually do on stage in a performance.

The third singer was Andrew Heggie (Yep, we had two Andrews on stage), a Baritone from England. At least, on the program he’s listed as coming from England, but he deemed it important enough to inform us that while he does live in England for several years, he’s originally from Australia. He sang Deh vieni alla finestra, from Don Giovanni, by Mozart. He was alright, but not impressive at all. He sang too weakly, didn’t hold some notes for the correct length, and had a slightly brittle voice. He also seemed much too bored for someone singing a serenade to a women in an attempt to seduce her.

As it turned out, he was also not entirely aware what was happening in the aria, thinking Don Giovanni was going after Donna Elvira. John reminded him that he’s not serenading to her, he already has her and she just left for some time, but instead was trying to seduce her maid. He told him he should act more like a scene of seduction “One girl out of the way, another in the way”.

Trying to get Andrew to look like he’s lusting after a women didn’t work, so John introduced the theatre concept of substitution. Finding something else which can act as a substitute to what is needed. And decided to go with food. Probably because the two things do tie together, and the reactions are somewhat similar, and not just because Andrew looked like he really likes food.

So John said to Andrew “Tell me some things you really like to eat, which are really bad for you”, and then proceeded to indicate three separate area on the stage which Andrew was supposed to pretend contained one a pile of pizzas, the second a pile of spring rolls, and the third a pile of lemon-meringue pies. Some older lady sitting a couple of rows behind me said to someone in a low voice that they have very similar tastes.

And then John had Andrew sing the aria again, while constantly drawing his attention to the imaginary piles of food. Which did wonders, since the guy really did manage to put on an expression full of desire, as he was directing his gaze from one food to the next on John’s cues, “Feel the oil, the oil!”. As John commented “Sometimes substitution is better than the real thing”.

The fourth singer will have to remain a mystery. The guy didn’t bother presenting himself when he came on stage. Actually, he didn’t even presented the piece, which is a big huge no-no. With most other teachers, for example I explicitly remembering it happening with Joan a couple of times, he would have been stopped and instructed to do it properly. Now, normally I’d assume he is who the printed program said he is, Nimrod Grinboim, a tenor from Israel, except that we were told there would be two changes, and the following singer was exactly the one on the list. The guy was an Israeli, though, so it’s possible it was indeed him. In any case, what he sang was Una furtiva lagrima, from L’Elisir d’Amore (Love Potion), by Donizetti. He sang reasonably, but looked too happy and smug for the aria.

John tried working with him, as usual, on getting into the mood of the aria, and connecting to it emotionally. And failed miserably. Whatever John tried to do, the guy just wouldn’t get it. I seriously got the impression he came on stage wanting to sing to the audience, but wasn’t interested at all in learning anything.

The first thing John did was the tried-and-true method of getting him to say the words in his own language. The intention is not to provide a translation, but to “say it in your own words”, to get something with the same semantic meaning, but which it will be easier to relate to. Anyone who saw practically any of these master-class would have gotten the concept, anyone studying a little singing should have, and even the friend who came with me to this evening (and who was seeing something opera related for the first time ever) got the concept. Yet this singer didn’t. He used a translation which resulted in sentences so archaic that nobody would have been able to relate to them emotionally. Later on, when he had to do the same for some other words, he had very hard time of coming up with anything that he would say to a women who he loves and knows loves him back in turn.

It went like that for the entire lesson. Horribly bad translations, and total failure to connect emotionally on any level. Nothing, Nada, zilch. He just didn’t bother trying, and only kept going through the motions until he’ll be released. Either that, or he just finds the entire concept of love so foreign that there is nothing for him to relate to. Laziness and lack of care seem more likely, I think and hope.

The last singer was Rinat Moriah, a soprano from Israel. She sang Glitter and be gay, from Candide, by Bernstein. She has a good voice, and good vocal control, but she sang a little too quietly and weakly. At one spot during the aria she stopped for a second as she forgot the words, and John came to her rescue and provided it for her. Apart from that it was a good performance, and she did make an effort to show some emotions and match her mood to the aria. Very good potentional here, I think, once she’ll learn how to get more breath.

One thing she didn’t do quite right, but rather easily corrected once it was mentioned, is that she sang to the audience (as Joan Dornemann said on a past master-class, they should sing for the audience, but not to the audience), while in the aria Cunegonde was talking to herself. Other than that they worked on making the acting even more connected, and more appropriate to the nuances and changes in the aria. When the aria went about her looks and clothes, John told her to imagine a large mirror between herself and the audience, and observe herself in the mirror. Later on a similar part he had her examine her supposed jewellery, since even though the master-class was done without costumes, the character has them, and will have them during a performance.

Some of the ways to elicit the proper behaviour and emotional mood were somewhat amusing. Like the part she had to go from the self-reassuring happy thought about her clothing and looks, to a more sad and introspective mood, and he said “And then we see the first wrinkle…”.

A very good evening overall. Though we did come out confused over that mysterious singer who came for some unclear goal…

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