[Update: I forgot to link to the usual disclaimer, of why anyone reading this should not take it as a serious review of the singers who participate in the master-classes. I also cleared an ambiguity I had on the name of one of the sung arias, based on the comment by the singer]
The master of this day’s master class was Mignon Dunn, herself a very well known and accomplished singer.
I recall seeing that she has a master class in this opera program for years now, but don’t recall how far back. Every year it seems like she has just one master class, though. And until this year I think I never managed to see one.
The first singer was Angela Pihut (or Pihot, they spelled in different on the two master-class she was on), a Soprano from Moldova. She sang Donde lieta usci from La Bohème by Puccini.
She has a very lovely voice, nice clear high notes, and good crescendos. But she also suffers from a problem with the languages. Not only her English during the class, which was bad, but the impression is that she didn’t really understand what it is that she sang. And her diction could use some improvement as well, though that’s a part of the same problem.
Her acting during the aria was too sad. Since this aria is after Mimi (the character she’s singing) had a big fight with her boyfriend, and they broke up, being sad seems natural. But Mignon reminded her that in these circumstances people often don’t act as sad as they feel. “We all broke up with someone we love. It’s painful, and we want to make it as unpainful as possible”.
In the same vein, Angela’s tendency to look down during the aria was met with the comment “Don’t look at the floor, he is not on the floor”.
And again, something which happens to a lot of singers, she listened to herself while singing, trying to judge herself and decide if she’s good. But if a singer is too busy listening, they don’t put as much into their singing. “Don’t be your own critic. You are good”.
Another point, which Mignon raised with several of the singers, was that it is important that they’ll keep their energy while singing. Even if it’s sad, even if it’s supposed to be quiet, they should keep their energy. “Keep your energy. don’t relax for goodness sake”.
The second singer was Malena Dayen, a Mezzo-Soprano from Argentina, who sang in this master-class the aria Werther! Werther! (I think officially called Je vous écris de ma petite chambre) from Massenet’s Werther.
To clarify, unfortunately by this point I’m a little confused about what was sang originally. According to her she sang Werther! Werther!, and this is what I corrected my report here to say. I have no reason to doubt this, since I do believe she has a better reason to remember this accurately than I do, since the length of the aria does fit what happened on the stage, and since this aria does make more sense for her as a singer. In my original report here, though, I was under the impression that the aria was Vieni t’affretta from Macbeth by Verdi, which I explicitly do recall being mentioned on stage this evening. The reason for my confusion is that I’m not sure why Macbeth would have been mentioned when singing Werther, yet I really can’t figure out any other singer this evening that I may have confused it with. Possibly Mignon made some comment comparing a certain detail in this aria with the Verdi one, and this stuck in my recollection over what was actually sang.
This aria is very long. Mignon stopped Malena somewhere in the middle, and said that she won’t be singing all of it. This is also a problem with master-classes, because each of the student singers deserve their time, but there is a limit on how much they can stretch each session. So singers who choose a long piece often either have to only do half of it, or the form of the lesson is changed and they work while singing the aria the first time, instead of singing it straight first and then repeating while working with the master.
Much of what they worked with on this aria was also the issue of energy, and putting enough strength into the songs. Mignon’s phrases during this part included “Don’t relax, just don’t relax” , “It gets too sad, and sentimental, and I lose patience”, “Don’t not use energy, ever” (Yes, that’s a double negative. But no grammar aficionado from the audience complained, so I won’t either), “I know it’s piano, but don’t hold back with it”, and “For me it’s simply not enough. It’s not a matter of loud, just give a little more”.
As I said, Mignon Dunn seems to put a lot of weight on energy.
The third singer was Carlos Conde, a Baritone from Puerto Rico. He sang Hai gia vinta la causa from Le Nozze di Figaro by Mozart.
Mignon, and most of the audience, liked his singing. To me personally he sounded a bit flat, with little distinction between the low and high notes. A matter of taste, I guess. And the aria is supposed to be partially a recitative, so maybe it was even partially justified.
He also, apparently, lost 80 pounds during the past year. That’s some diet.
In this aria the acting should reflect the mood of Count Almaviva. On the one hand full of himself and vain, but on the other hand concerned about what others think about him, and also getting furious when he overhears Susanna and Figaro.
On the Count’s character Mignon had to say that “I think the count is really neurotic. Strong people don’t care that much what people think about them. But he does, too much”.
Mignon worked with Carlos on these acting bits, showing the different moods and personality traits that the count exhibits during the aria.
She also had a comment about the singing, which again could apply not only to this case, but in general. There is a part of this aria in which some sentences and sentiments are repeated a few times. And Carlos sang them the same. So Mignon said that “We do say things over and over and over again. But you have to get a little madder each time”. There should be some change, progress, growth. The repetitions aren’t done frozen with no changes.
The fourth singer was Laura Mohre, a Mezzo-Soprano from the US. She sang Svegliatevi nel core from Giulio Cesare by Handel.
She had a very good voice, and beautiful high notes. But she was a bit too quiet, didn’t project her voice well enough. It seems during her singing that she couldn’t take in enough air, and kept taking half-breathes instead of breathing fully.
This is a vengeance aria, starting with an appeal to the Furies to get him more riled up for his revenge. So Laura had to act, and sound, madder. “Stop thinking vocal production, and just be as mad as hell”.
After some prompting from Mignon she also improved her stance, which besides making her look better also made a noticeable improvement to her voice.
Usually I don’t mention the pianists in thes master-classes, because the main point is the singers. So as long as there’s nothing out of the ordinary with the music I just don’t pay attention (This is very different on music concerts, were I tend to notice way too much). But on this particular aria the pianist, Sasha Ivanov, missed quite a few notes. I assume he didn’t get enough practice time on the piece in advance.
The fifth singer should have been Juan Carlos Rodriguez, a Tenor from Mexico. But he didn’t arrive. Instead we had Thomas Wazelle, a Tenor from the US. He sang De’ miei bollenti spiriti
Libiamo ne’ lieti calici (Actually, he didn’t name the aria, and I didn’t write anything in my notes to remind me for sure. So I suppose it’s possible he sang De’ miei bollenti spiriti instead) from La Traviata by Verdi.
He had a nice voice, but he needs to work on his diction.
He also didn’t hold many of the notes long enough. But it’s not a matter of ability, since when Mignon pointed his attention to it, and told him to hold the notes, he did. And noticeably improved.
It did require him to breath a little more, but as Mignon said “Breathing is better than not breathing”. Hard to argue with that.
Another good evening on the opera program, and Mignon was certainly good enough to try and catch next year as well.
In this series (International Opera Program 2006):
- International Opera Summer Program in Tel-Aviv 2006
- Why my International Opera Program posts should not be considered to be proper reviews of the singers
- Sherrill Milnes – July 11th – International Opera Program in Israel 2006
- John Norris – July 12th – International Opera Program in Israel 2006
- Joan Dornemann – July 13 – International Opera Program in Israel 2006
- Mignon Dunn – July 16 – International Opera Program in Israel 2006
- Well, the singer is a her, but Sesto, the character, is a him[back]