Joan Dornemann – July 13 – International Opera Program in Israel 2006

This was the first of Joan Dornemann’s master-classes this year (Well, except for the opening night, but since I didn’t have tickets to it then it doesn’t count), and she was certainly up to par and as interesting and educational as usual..

Before I start I just want to point out again that these are not official or professional reviews, and actually aren’t really even reviews of the singers, so if someone interested in one of the singers (or who is one of the signers) got here, please don’t take anything personally, good or bad, OK?

The first singer of the evening was Amit Friedman, a Baritone from Israel. He sang Come dal ciel precipita from Macbeth by Verdi.

Apparently he came back after studying most of last year in Berlin. And there was an obvious improvement in his singing, though he still has much of the same posture and presentation problems.

He had a strong, clear, and deep voice, and projected it very well. But even though Joan said he looked less tense than last year, he stood rigid throughout the whole time, and kept looking at the floor too much.

He admitted that a part of the problem is that he has problems finding “placement”, and that he thinks about what the audience is thinking. This is a known problem with many singers, since being on stage makes people self-concious, and they concentrate on the audience instead of in their performance.

At one point Joan asked him how he thinks people sound like when talking to someone who is in danger, as the character he sings does in this aria. He started straight off being technical, thinking about it and answering with details such as that they’ll use darker tones, changes in tempo, and other details.

Joan stopped him in the middle of this explanation, telling him that “You’re too complicated”, and joking that he has been in Germany for too long. What she was aiming for, given his strong singing, was that the singing should be “Soft, you talk softer”.

Then, when he started singing and put a bit too much into it, she stopped him again with a comment that “This was a note, not a feeling”.

The aria is intended for a Bass, and Amit is a Baritone. Not a big problem, especially when singing an aria and not a part in the entire opera. But he tried to pull his voice lower, to bass level, a few times. He’s not a bass, though, so it didn’t came out right, and he had a problem keeping it, resulting in what Joan referred to as “vocal baloney”. She told him that there’s really no need to try and impress anyone with it, and added in jest that he’s just pulling an “I’ve got a low note. Do you want to hear it honey?” attitude.

She also mentioned that singing strong and loud isn’t enough, it’s also important in what voice and in what way. “It’s the quality of the voice, not just the amount”.

The second singer was Maya Lahyani, a Mezzo-Soprano from Israel. She sang Les tringles des sistres tintaient From Carmen by Bizet.

Just like last year, she had a good voice, and she acted well. She’s 24, and apparently also spent the year studying abroad, in New York (In the Manhattan School of Music? She mentioned a short nickname for the school, I think, and I’m not all that familiar with them all).

While she sang well, it was too “simple” for this aria, or for the role of Carmen. This is basically what Joan worked with her on during this part of the class.

A part of it was simply because this is a French opera, and everything in French is more complex and rich. Joan mentioned again the simile of cooking to using the languages. An Italian with an egg will make an omlette, or a hard boiled egg, and will add few spices, if any. A Frenchman with an egg will make something sophisticated, like a soufflé, and will use many spices.

And the language is the same. More subtle than Italian, the notes will not be as direct or as strong and loud. “All three arias in Carmen are written to be soft”.

In Carmen’s case it is compounded by the character, and should also go for the acting. The acting of Carmen should not be blunt and obvious. This aria is about seduction, but it’s not blatant, but a delicate and elegant seduction. And “It has to be sincere, it’s the only way lips work”.

The third singer was Lauren Jelencovich (Finally, a spelling. Last year I didn’t see her name printed, and wrote it as Yelinkovitz), a Soprano from the US (Yes, the name does sound Hebrew to me too. But she’s from the US, not Israel). She sang Chacun le sait From Daughter of the Regiment by Donizetti (It sounded like Rossini when she eventually said it, but I assume it was Donizetti).

She started singing without introducing the aria. So Joan stopped her and told her to do the proper presentation. So she said what she intends to sing, but did so quietly, and without looking at the audience.

Joan Stopped her again, and told her to look at the audience and to “Say it louder”. So Lauren looked at the audience, and loudly said “Louder”. Took her a moment to realize just why everyone was laughing, but she joined right in. Then she made a proper, and loud, introduction. Though, as I mentioned above, I still heard her say Rossini for some reason.

She’s young, and not very experienced, so while her voice is nice, it’s still not exactly it, and became a tad too sharp when she tried to reach the higher notes. But her voice did develop during the passing year, and she could reach operatic range. In a few years she may become a very impressive singer.

Joan worked with her mostly on the acting, since in this role she has to act more masculine, as someone who grew up around soldiers, and imitates them. This didn’t came very naturally to Lauren, who looked like a pretty cute girl, and her occasional looks of sheer frustration were amusing. She did enhance them for dramatic effect, though, so I’m not exactly cold and callous by being amused.

The fourth singer was Hagger Leibovich, a Soprano from Israel (Though she lives in New York). She sang Quando m’en vo’ from La Bohème by Puccini.

Her singing was a little bit too airy and held back for my taste. She didn’t project her voice well, and while it was possible to hear her it felt like like her voice was concentrated/directed downwards.

Joan repeated something she does a few times every year, explaining to a singer how to go about getting reviews on what are the things they need to work on. Not to ask people what they think overall, or what was wrong. Rather to ask specific questions, and positive ones. “What part of my voice/range/etc did you like best?” sort of questions.

And to ask several different people the same question. If everyone picks the same few things, then maybe it means something else is missing, whatever it is nobody said they particularly liked. But in any case to ask people what they liked more, not what they liked less, and deduce from that.

The interesting bit of this part of the class was that Joan went over the content of the aria, in which Musetta tells Marcello how everyone always notices her beauty when she goes out to the street, and told us all the hidden double-entendres. And there are plenty of them in there. The aria sounds half innocent, but apparently if you know the Italian used, and possible other interpretations of the same words (And Puccini did when he wrote it), it becomes quite racy.

The fifth singer was supposed to be Steven Long, a Bass from the US. But he didn’t show up, something about throat problems (an excellent excuse for a singer) and him being 22. I’d see him about a week later, though.

As an interesting observation, most days this year had five singers, and on those where six singers were listed, most had one cancel due to some sickness or another problem.

The intended sixth singer, who was the fifth singer, was Anita Watson, a Soprano from Austalia. She sang Ebben? Ne andrò lontana from La Wally by Alfredo Catalani.

According to Joan the selection of which singer/s to send from Australia is done based on a competition. The winners, supposedly the best singers of the group, get to come to these programs and the master classes.

And Anita was pretty good. She had a smooth, deep, and strong voice. Her high notes were beautiful. And I liked her crescendo near the end of the aria. But she need to work on her soft voice more.

Here Joan mostly talked about the composer, Catalani, and the written notes of the aria. The notes often carry with them signs which the composers used as a semi-private shorthand, using them so signify things beyond the regular meaning of the notes and signs, or for habits of the composer. And that these are usually best known by people who learned from people who learned from people … who learned from people who learned from the composer himself.

In Joan’s case, she also learned from someone who had Catalani up that chain. So she could explain to Anita some of these signs, and how to sing the aria closer to what the composer really intended.

Another issue Joan mentioned is that even during what are supposed to be rally quiet parts, the singing should still be strong enough for the audience to hear. “Can you sing loud, and look whispering?”

And so ended the first, short, half-week of the opera master-classes this year. One week and a bit more to go.

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