Sunday, November 30, 2014


Tonight David and I saw an exciting production of Pericles, ostensibly by William Shakespeare, at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. Probably Will wrote only the last part of the work and the rest may have been written by George Wilkins. The director was David H. Bell, who brought a lot of excitement and energy to the production, including energetic dancing and acrobatics as well as a fine cast who performed with all sorts of excitement.

The costumes, set and lighting were all excellent by Nan Cibula-Jenkins, Scott Davis, and Jesse Klug. The excellent cast was led by Ben Carlson as Pericles. The rest of the very large cast often played more than one role and were superb.

   Ben Carlson

I'm not a Shakespeare expert, but I agree with Wikipedia that the first part of the play was weaker writing than the second part, which is more apt to be Shakespeare.

I had never heard of this play until now and was surprised how well it came off.

We followed it by a fabulous dinner at Rive, also on Navy Pier, where I had Dover Sole that was out of this world.

A perfect Chicago evening!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

For crying out loud!

Talk about 'full-throated singing!' Tonight the Chicago Lyric Opera put on a tour de force' production of Verdi's Il Trovatore. And I do mean FORCE.

The entire cast had vocal pipes that could be heard in Kankakee. There were some excellent voices with some problems in several cases.

The best is my opinion was Yonghoon Lee, tenor, as Manrico. This is a superb voice which was beautifully used. He sings with great flexibility and incredible shading but can still deliver the dramatic high note in spades whenever needed. This is a tenor to watch.

Amber Wagner as Leonora has a rich Dramatico Spinto voice of large proportions. Her acting leaves something to be desired. At times she just didn't seem to know what to do. Several of her high notes were pushed beyond the point of any return to say nothing of beyond the point of beauty. She wisely left out a couple of climactic high notes that I have heard other sopranos take and to which I was looking forward. One high note could almost be called a scream.

Image result for stephanie blythe

I was expecting more from Stephanie Blythe as Azucena than I heard. Not more volume. I heard her just fine. Hers was the largest and loudest voice on the stage but she just didn't seem warmed up enough for 'Stride la vampa' early on. Much of the high work was flat. Later on she seemed to get into gear and produce some better singing but I thought she was disappointing at the end of the opera when she tells Count di Luna that he has just killed his brother. The ending lost drama in the way it was staged.

Quinn Kelsey as the Count di Luna sang very well throughout and was able to match the other voices in the ensemble numbers; the last act trio, for instance.

Andrea Silvestrelli has a very impressive bass voice which sometimes sounds as if the voice had him rather than he having the voice.

J'Nai Bridges sang well in the role of Inez with a fine sounding mezzo voice.

All in all it was an exciting evening. Of course with this opera it's hard not to have an exciting evening, but Chicago Lyric put on a good production with an imaginative set and good lighting.

And then, of course, there was the 'Anvil Chorus' with several hunky choristers beating on anvils. Not too bad!


Monday, November 3, 2014

Breathe deeply

A long-time student of mine recently gave me a 'Shout-Out' on Facebook. It was a very flattering opinion of my work as a teacher of voice over the last 64 years. My, that's a long time!

He called me 'A brave soldier in the fight against vocal ignorance'. I guess that maybe he is correct. I like to teach singers who do smart things.

Herbert Burtis

Throughout my teaching career I have tried to make singing easy, comfortable, musical, emotional, fun for all of my students. Sometimes I have even succeeded! 

I have been amazed at how many professional singers have come to me with vocal problems that we have been able to solve simply by teaching them how to take and use a 'Singing Breath'. There is no great mystery to this; but so many singers seem to avoid doing it correctly that it puzzles me.

Without this kind of breath, you may just as well forget good singing.

The longer I teach, the more simply I teach. I have been known to say that I am like a gardener; I weed voices, throwing away the things that don't work and trying to plant ideas that do.

I have heard horror stories from students of past vocal lessons they have taken with other teachers that leave me breathless. I can't imagine how anyone can sing going through all of these un-necessary vocal and physical gyrations. I try to give students a sure-fire, easy method of 'singing breathing' that always works.

The exercise is this:
1. Blow out all your air.
2. Inhale, listening to the sound the air makes as it passes down your throat. It should sound like 'aw'.
3. Immediately blow some air out using an 'H'. This is what I call the 'Bernoulli Action'.
4. On this moving column of air, sing a vowel.

It will automatically release the sound freely and focus perfectly without you getting in the way.

This is always lesson #1 in my studio.

Try it. You may like it!

Once you make this a habit, a muscle memory, you can add notes, words, drama, emotion, what ever you wish and you are singing beautifully and freely. 'Art is the emotion expressed on the technique.'

It is at this point that you can follow my dictum:
'Just sing the damned song!!'