Wednesday, November 30, 2011

London Again!

I have just returned from ten days in Merrie Olde England, mostly in London at the Park Lane Hotel. London is getting trimmed within an inch of its life in Christmas holly and everything else imaginable. It's a great time to be there.

I had some interesting musical and theatrical experiences while I was there.

First was a master class in voice led by Roderick Williams held at the Royal College of Music. He is a lyric baritone who has sung at the English National Opera, Covent Garden and on the continent. He taught a spirited class of singers, mainly working with interpretation, stage presence and the like. Not much was said about vocal technique.

 The first to sing was a young Asian tenor who performed 'Ah, mes amies' from La Fille du Regiment of Donizetti. He certainly had the high 'C,s' in abundance needed for this aria but they were a little hard on the ears. Williams tried to get him to ease up a bit through what he was doing physically in interpretation. It didn't help a great deal. The voice was still overly bright and pushed. In fact all of the singers had this quality, what the British call singing with 'Blade'. Blade is right! It cuts right through your ears!

I was attending the class with my friend and former student, Nigel Brookes, who is a graduate of the College. I asked him if it was the accoustic of the room or simply the way they were singing that made the sound so edgy. We decided it was the singers themselves.

Then a young Irish soprano with a really lovely voice sang 'Ch'il bel sogno' from Puccini's La Rondine. She is a very good singer, but again pushes the top where she really doesn't need to.

Then a tenor, who was the singer I liked best, sang 'Fatto inferno e il mio petto' from Rodelinda of Handel. His voice had more color and freedom than any of the other singers.

Then followed a soprano, another tenor, and a mezzo, none of whom was impressive. The mezzo in particular had vocal problems that suggested tension and a lack of freedom. She was developing a wobble, which at any age, but especially in a young woman, is not a good thing.

Mr. Miller bounded on and off the stage with an ease that I envy and congratulated all of the singers on how well they sang. I can't bound anymore, and I had a very different take.

I attended a performance of The Lion in Winter by James Goldman at the Theatre Royal Haymarket starring Robert Lindsay as Henry II and Joanna Lumley as Eleanor of Aquitaine. Both excellent actors in a well staged production. It was interesting to compare it to the film with Katherine Hepburn and Peter O'Toole.

Then, a night at the Opera! The ENO, or English National Opera, for their production of Eugene Onegin. It was sung in English as are all their productions but it might as well have been sung in the original Russian for all the words you could catch. Fortunately, there were super titles! It was an odd production which has not had wonderful reviews. The first act takes place in a barn for some reason instead of Tatyana's home. Tatyana was sung by Amanda Achailaz, who sang with lots of 'BLADE'! A review refered to her voice as steely, which it was, and is totally wrong for the role. The Onegin of Audun Iversen was very well sung and acted. The star, to my way of thinking, was Toby Spence, who looks like a young Robert Redford and sings like a young Jussi Björling. What a great young singer-actor. The score is to die for; Tchaikowski at his most romantic.

Toby Spence         

 Audun IversenAudun Iversen

One more musical evening found me at Crazy for You!, a Gershwin musical that never really was. I think someone has taken a lot of Gershwin's songs and put them together into this flimsy pastiche of a story. But who cares? S'wonderful! Sean Palmer is  the perfect leading man, dark, handsome, and he can really sing and dance, Claire Foster plays the hometown girl he falls in love with way out west. Guess what? She has an abandoned theatre so they put on a show.  And what a show it is. It was a very gay final evening in London.         

Monday, November 21, 2011

E Books

Thanks to my technical mentor Ryan Salame, my two most recent books are now available as E Books from Amazon.

Case Studies in Vocal Pedagogy deals with the voice teacher as psychologist. As an E Book it is $9.99. If you would like to order a soft cover copy, it is $20.00.

Take Two Deep Breaths and Call Me in the Morning, is a singer's guide to deep breathing.
It is also $9.99 as an E Book and $20.00 as a soft cover copy. I have dedicated this book to my dear friend, Phyllis Curtin, on the occasion of her 90th Birthday. Happy Birthday, Phyllis!

To order on line  Select 'Kindle Books' and type in my name. They will download automatically.

To order a soft copy of either book by mail, send a check made out to Herbert Burtis, to 53 Rood Hill Road, Sandisfield, MA 01255.

My previous books are all available in soft cover only.

Sing On! Sing On!  is $15.00
Vocalizing from the Ground Up!  is $35.00
How to Make your Arm into a Wet Noodle is $40.00.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Lorraine at BAM 1994

Coda Medee thmb 1211 In the recent issue of Opera News Philip Kennicott has written a wonderful article about repeatedly seeing Lorraine Hunt as Médée at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1994. I remember these performances well. On one occasion, I met several of my vocal students in Brooklyn for dinner and we went to a performance afterwards. It was mesmerizing. Kennicott speaks of the emotional impact her performance had on him, as it did on the entire audience. We all went backstage afterwards to give her hugs and kisses.

Always, within a voice lesson, Lorraine never held back or 'marked'. She poured her heart and soul into every note she sang. We would sometimes work for three hours at a clip. We were always equal partners, rather than teacher and student. We both had the same aim in view. Musical, vocal, and emotional perfection. As emotionally involved as she was in every lesson, each time I would later witness her performance on stage I was blown away by the power it contained. She would turn a performance into a living breathing moment of joy, sadness, anger, whatever. She left you spent, having merely been in the audience.

She sang for Les Arts Florissants  for several seasons in Paris as well as several times at BAM. William Christie, the director of the group, had studied conducting with John at Harvard years before.

John and I, along with my brother and sister-in-law, went to Paris a year or so later, for her début at the Salle Garnier in Hyppolite et Aricie, again with Les Arts Florissants. It was an evening I will always cherish.

It makes me both sad and happy when something like this article brings her back into my life. Sad that she is gone, and happy that her great art has stirred the emotions of so many people.

She was unique.

I hope that you will read the article.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Caballe at 79

Tonight on Connecticut Public Broadcasting featured Nicolay Baskov, tenor with guest artists Monserrat Caballe and her daughter Montserrat Marti.

Baskov is a handsome young tenor with an Italianate voice. In the 'Libiamo'  from La Traviata both he and Monti take superb high 'c's' at the end of the duet. Otherwise he seems to favor Italian popular songs. But the man can sing. He is a cross between Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Andrea Bocelli. He has the looks and white hair of Dmitri and a much better voice than Bocelli. Apparently in real life he is a blond.

The program seemed to be a mish-mash of operatic arias and duets,  Italian songs, and Broadway hits. Marti, at the end of one duet from an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, wound up screaming the final high notes.

Caballe appeared with him in a silly sort of duet called 'Kalinka' and proved that at age 79 she can still sing. She laid out a high 'A' at the end that many of today's sopranos half her age might envy. Nikolay apparently studied with her. Not a bad teacher to have!

I would love to hear him minus the big Radio City production and without a microphone. This was what killed Bocelli when he appeared in Detroit un-miked in an opera and no one could hear him. Nikolay has performed at the Bolshoi in Yevegny Onegin, Prince Igor, Traviata, and other legitimate operatic roles so I presume that the voice is the real thing. I look forward to hearing him in a live situation.

It's quite a voice!