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Subject: WNO Master Class with words of wisdom by Francesca Zambello (11-2-17)
From: Alan Savada <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Alan Savada <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Fri, 3 Nov 2017 09:32:46 -0400

text/plain (39 lines)

Last night a couple dozen folks assembled in the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater's (where Washington National Opera's ALCINA opens tomorrow) rehearsal room for a truly wonderful master class by Artistic Director Francesca Zambello with four of our talented young artists, all new to the program this fall.

While we have all surely attended or experienced master classes, this was novel as I can't ever recall attending one by a director; they have all been by singers and indeed approach the class from the technique side of singing. 

Ms. Zambello started off by saying that the four arias chosen all have extensive recitatives and that was what she planned to be working on. Her statement that, "if the recit doesn't go well, then the aria is going to be a trainwreck..." was exemplified in how she tried to get the singers to set the scene and show the audience where the character is coming from. Again, while novel for a master class, she explained at the end (in the Q&A) that sometimes a director will indeed spend hours working with a singer(s) to really get the message across, so we the audience, can get a fuller understanding of what is being presented.

Tenor Alexander McKissick started off with "De' miei bollenti spiriti," Alfredo's opening Act II aria from Verdi's La Traviata. Other than attending a workshop of some new operas several weeks ago, this was my first real hearing of this brilliant young tenor who filled the room with his gorgeous spinto tenor voice. Ms. Zambello stopped him right off the bat (she indicated that she would later allow each singer to complete their area), to advise that Alfredo is here in ecstasy over his relationship and that this must be the primary feeling presented. It's amazing how much one can learn (as a singer and as an audience member) in a mere 25 minutes. We all appreciated each character so much more by the end of each session as I am sure the singers did, and I have to say, that I personally, will surely be more cognizant of how a singer presents themselves during the recit in the future.

Eliza Bonet, our newest mezzo-soprano took on "Je vous ecrit de ma petite chambre," from Massenet's Werther, the excruciatingly revealing "Letter Aria" where her soul is truly revealed and her predicament becomes unlivable.

Her warm mezzo voice is perfect for this part, and again this really was a wonderful introduction of her first outing in the WNO YA Program.

Baritone Michael Hewitt only found out he was to join the program about 2 months ago as he finished off a spectacular summer at Glimmerglass starring as Jud in Oklahoma, not to mention as the king in The Siege of Calais. His Count's Aria, "Hai gia vinta la cause...Vedro mentr'io sospiro..." from Le Nozze di Figaro, had Ms. Zambello telling us that this is one of the top five audition arias one hears these days, and the singer had best come in with a good impression. I loved the way she coached Mr. Hewitt into interspersing his feelings of what was happening with English commentary during the breaks of the music in the recit. What a difference it made, and Mr. Hewitt ended up really giving us a great portrayal, even if the aria is a bit overheard!

Finishing the evening was soprano Madison Leonard, fresh from multiple successes this summer with the Wolf Trap Opera, with "Glitter and Be Gay" from Bernstein's Candide, another piece that always pleases. Here, Ms. Zambello reminded us of the character's severe depression of her circumstances and that the aria itself is so misleading with its flourishing coloratura, that Ms. Leonard handled with ease. While I have seen Candide many many times (it returns to WNO this spring), I have indeed always known the setting and did understand the character, but I do have to say that perhaps deeply underneath, while she is being abused, she somehow likes the baubles and benefits. I loved it when Ms. Zambello explained that Cunegonde indeed is being molested by two old ugly men, she really cannot be a happy glittering person; it was indeed a true statement about the situation of women, which even today we sadly are seeing in the news every day. 

Four oh so different characters which were given such new faces in only 100 minutes; wow what an evening.

Kudos to WNO Young Artists' Program Director Robert Ainsley who excelled at the piano, repeating a lot, and never ever losing his place; he is a consummate pianist, accompanist and program director and we are oh so lucky to have him here!

ALAN SAVADA of Washington, DC

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