Monday, April 18, 2022

The Liberated Voice

Today I take up pen (OK, fingers, but that somehow sounds inappropriate) to write about the lovely and talented Claudia Friedlander and her web site, The Liberated Voice.

Photo blatantly ganked from web site
No attribution given there
First, I must confess that I studied with Claudia for several years. Her knowledge and her approach to teaching were a perfect fit for my over-thinking head, but I know she teaches people with all different kinds of learning styles. There has been only one other teacher in my long experience of teacher-hopping (possibly a totally different article) who was such a good match, and that dear lady is, I hear, no longer in this world. The reasons I am no longer studying are simple: Claudia charges a reasonable fee for an accomplished and experienced voice teacher in NYC, and I could no longer afford it, and I never ask anyone to work for free; and then I left NYC. (She now also teaches online.) 

We have kept in touch over the years, and I appreciate that very much. Recently Claudia provided me with a review copy of the online course based on her book, Complete Vocal Fitness. (I do not have an Amazon affiliate link, but if you know someone who does and want to look at this book, please support your friend with an affiliate link.) This online course contains instruction videos, downloadable PDFs, and audio files. It also contains Q&A videos which I find particularly useful, because they are personal interactions with the people who submit questions. One often hears a difference in that student's singing between the beginning and the end of the video. One thing I especially like is that Claudia asks the student to verbalize his/her understanding of how a change was achieved.

As I said, Claudia's teaching style with me personally always worked with my over-thinking brain. In consideration of that, I can see that some might not want to hear or be able to absorb in just one hearing all of the technical knowledge that is presented here: respiration, phonation, resonance, articulation, etc. However, as I have heard said, patience and perseverance made a bishop of His Reverence. (Say it as if you're British, and it rhymes.)

All teaching is about eliminating barriers and increasing efficiency. There is no getting around it. To some this comes more easily than to others. That is also a fact of life. I myself find that a combination of scientific knowledge and imagery work best in my own singing. That might not be true for every singer. I believe Claudia has a sense of how to approach every singer who applies to her for guidance.

In summary, I must say that I highly recommend this online course for those who are able to access it. Because I was provided a review copy, I do not know the retail price. However, access to her web site is free, and there you will find a blog and lots of other information. Please take a look.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Lessons Learned

For some reason I have been watching a lot of Joyce Didonato master classes on YouTube lately. They are wonderful. At one point, I think I approached her people with the idea of watching them all and distilling her teaching into one article, but that never happened. 

Well, it's happening now.

Everything comes down to these principles:

  1. I used this photo a number of years ago
    for another article. 
    Photo:  Paul Dukovic
    Make sure your technique is rock solid. Do what it takes, even if it means making a painful change in your life. Your vocal technique must be so automatic that you no longer think about, while still thinking about it all the time.
  2. Do the work, do the work, do the work. Know what you are singing so thoroughly that you can sing it backwards hopping on whatever foot a director asks you to, on alternate Tuesdays and Thursday upon presentation of visiting card. (A quarter for anyone who gets that reference.) Practice 40 different ways to interpret each phrase, and then practice 40 more.
  3. Use the language. Know which words deserve special emphasis. Make yourself uncomfortable with how much you emphasize the language. Use the consonants while keeping phrasing and legato and a sense of arc for the entire aria or role--it's not a contradiction if your breath is moving in a healthy way. People will rarely advise you to do less. 
  4. Take the right actions and let go of the results.  True for all of life, really.

There. Feel free to pay me $200/hr now, like many teachers and coaches charge.

Many great artists give similar advice, but few do it so eloquently and with a such a sense of understanding for the process of a young singer that we hear from dear Joyce. 

I am, and have always been, Pro-Joyce!

Here is an amazing example:



Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Philippe Jaroussky, I still love you. But....

I have always loved countertenors. I don't know why (and I don't especially want to hear anyone else's theories on the matter), but there it is. I love the repertoire, I love the sound, I love the technique. Surely it is not unrelated to my being a hard-core Anglophile.

A few years ago I was sent a CD by the amazing Jakub Józef Orliński to review. My life was in turmoil at the time, so it never happened, although I do recall that listening to this recording gave me great joy. For some reason, I now find lots and lots of this gorgeous young man's YouTube videos recommended to me by the Almighty Google Algorithm. I don't mind. Just listen to this!


Could there be anything better?

I have since found many amazing recordings, and I must say the fact that he's so easy on the eyes does not hurt his case. Observe:


But you know what's even better? He's young and dynamic is and is drawing more young people into the concert hall and opera house. Even if his singing sucked, which it certainly doesn't, I would say Bravo! for that kind of success.

I probably no longer have the CD I was sent several years ago, but I can say this: I have never heard a recording of this man's singing that did not leave me with delight at both the sound and the artistry. I can only recommend that you seek his recordings and videos and witness for yourselves. 




Thursday, March 3, 2022

A brief consideration of opera costumes and updating

I posted the following as a comment to a YouTube video about historical costume accuracy in movies, television, and theatre:

From Maria Stuarda at the Met
The costumes were highly praised,
but the confrontation scene only
happened in the novel. 

This was fascinating. You make me think of all the inaccurate opera productions--at every budget level--I have seen. A very low-budget organization can be forgiven for using what they have in their costume shop rather than going to the expense of making or renting a more accurate costume.  But really? Donna Elvira (Don Giovanni, late 18th century) dressed like Lady Bracknell (The Importance of Being Earnest, 1900)?  

Another questionable practice in the opera world is updating the historical era of the story, when in so many cases the relationships in the story only work in the original time period of the story. OK, Parsifal in a post-apocalyptic world can work because the story is sort of timeless. The Marriage of Figaro in Trump Tower--the infamous Peter Sellars production from the 1980s--or Elixir of Love that looks like the movie Baghdad Cafe? Although I have seen it work, more often than not the incorrect detail of the less remote historical period they have chosen (no, not every opera works with Jackie  O. fashions!) over the historical period in the original story is more distracting than clarifying. True, the original libretti and/or the literary works they were based on are often very inaccurate in portrayals of historical period or events, but this just adds insult to injury.

Your thoughts? 

Sunday, February 13, 2022

In praise of Florence Quivar

Whoa!  Two posts in the same month?  What is happening to me?  Am I getting motivated again?

I recently gifted a friend with a copy of this recording, only to later find the entire thing is on YouTube.  (Shhh! Don't tell them!)


But then I kept finding more and more links to amazing performances like this one:


And this one:


I first heard of this amazing singer when she was part of a recording of Porgy and Bess I had acquired. But her singing legacy goes far beyond that opera.  According to Wikipedia, that paragon of accurate sources of information, "Florence Quivar ...is an American operatic mezzo-soprano who is considered to be "one of the most prominent singers of her generation." She has variously been described as having a "rich, earthy sound and communicative presence" and as "a distinguished singer, with a warm, rich voice and a dignified performing presence." From 1977-1997 she was a regular performer at the Metropolitan Opera, where she gave more than 100 performances.

I think she's marvelous. What do you think?

Saturday, February 12, 2022

Lead with your strong suit

I recently saw two quite lovely recitals presented by a regional concert opera organization. I intend to speak about concepts here and not individuals, so I will name no one.

My title comes from a popular strategy in many card games--lead with your long suit.  Bridge, hearts, even spades--it's the same. Another card-game metaphor is very useful as well--a card laid is a card played. You can't take it back.

I mention two recitals. Both were quite lovely. For one of the recitals a highly skilled young gentleman sang a themed program based around his experience as a church musician and churchman. The selections were appropriate, and the performances were really quite nice. 

For another of the recitals, a young African-American opera singer presented arias and songs often associated, sometimes exclusively associated, with African-American singers we admire. I do not wish to be harsh, but without changing the selections, I would have ordered them differently. Some of the songs were by African American woman composers Undine Smith Moore and Justine Bonds. To my mind, these were the best part of the recital. There were other songs that showed the singer's gift with song. I would have preferred to have the operatic arias as encores to a regular program than as the first selections. I don't mean to suggest she performed these pieces badly, but merely that if they had been at the end of the program, an emotional connection between singer and audience would have been much more firmly established. (There is a chance that the heightened connection and the attention paid to the program up to that point would have had the singer in a heightened vocal state that might have delivered the arias even more effectively.)

I don't have the qualifications to offer advice, but if I had, these have been some of the suggestions I might use. Both of these singers are fine young singers. They are working singers, while I never was. But I have lived a much longer life than they have, and have spent a substantial amount of time in the auditorium and behind the table. 

I want to hear both of these singers again. I think they are both very good. 

Just one more thing, and this is just a personal opinion, so take it with a grain of salt. There is never, ever, EVAR! a reason to sing "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" on a recital.