Late October has come to mean Marilyn Horne's annual visit to Oberlin College.
If the beauty of the campus in mid fall tends to lull us into a happy stupor, the
energy of this lady-cetainly the greatest artist I ever heard live
(and I heard her a lot, praise God)is a terrific tonic.
Now in her seventies, Miss Horne looked great following a year battling health problems. She was radiant in attendance at the Florez recital that afternoon, and lavish in her praise of this great young singer. I remember a line from her memoir: "I've always been thrilled by great singing, period!" (Me too).
Miss Horne had been in Oberlin for several days of masterclasses and private coachings. I heard the last public masterclass, with an impressive crowd for a cold Sunday night. There were five students. All attractive, all musical and all blessed.
To a young soprano singing "Prendi, per me" from Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore:
Wonderful. Just great. I really don't have much to say.
Now listen. When you do that descent on 'prendi' the very first word.
Give me more D in prenDI. A little bite here is good.
Listen, you're an attractive girl. I want you to use that bod you've got!
Use your hands and your face.....OK. The coloratura needs more energy. You gotta pick it up a bit because the pitch will sag otherwise. Now look, you have a lovely voice. But I want you to sing louder. I don't mean to push or force in any way, but you are being a little too careful. Sing out.
(When she sang out it was a pealing, silvery voice. Exquisite)
To a young tenor singing Si ritrovarla from La Cenerentola
This young man met Juan Diego this afternoon. Juan Diego asked him what's your reportoire and I piped right up and said, "Yours!"
This was very good. But I want you to keep it Right Here..forward, in the mask-always. Especially with this, so much legato and then all that coloratura-you know I'm all about support. Your body has to work all the time, the entire body to provide the enrgy you need for this music.
(If this kid can bring some ring and support into his top notes, he'll go far. He's a baby still and his singing was mighty impressive)
To a young soprano singing Porgi amor from Le nozze di Figaro
Well! You have a very big voice, don't you? Wonderful. There aren't that many out there. But you are singing this too carefully. It's perfectly fine to sing this with a big voice. But use it....Oh, my I'm getting a wiggle in your voice. I think it's because you are holding back. Don't. Sing it. Also be very careful of your placement. C'mon...right here... right between the eyes. See? You sang out and no more wiggle. I want you to be very aware of that. You can fix it. Breathe low and support. You need to fill yourself with that good compressed air-and then keep feeding the breath slow and steady. Look, this is a difficult aria-its the first thing she sings and it must be rock steady. It's really all about technique. But with a big voice like yours
you really have to use it all-or else that wiggle. You can fix that. Your voice is wonderful!
A young man came out to sing Richard Strauss's Befreit. A long, higly emotional and dramatic lied. The voice was good and the musicianship very good. I'll bet Dieskau himself found this song a challenge. This young man was twenty-two. To him, Miss Horne said "Great. Wonderful. Just great. I really have nothing to say except congratulations!"
And last but not least, a young woman with another Strauss lied "Allerseelen". Her somewhat nasal production was attended to. Right here! A little higher, between the eyes. Miss Horne was big on using the entire body. No standing rock still for her.
You must engage everything. And very quickly, our Allerseelen artist came out with a march larger, warmer and rosy tone.
She also sang Allerseelen again, this time with real commtimewnt. In ten minutes there was a dramatic difference.
By this time it appeared Miss Horne was tired. It had been a long day. And certainly a wonderful day for music. The kung pao chicken at the local Chinese bistro wasn't bad either. And let me by all means acknowledge the gifted painists, Howard Lubin and Daniel Michalak, great musicans both, not fazed by anything, and totally in support of the young artists.
Now stop reading this and go play one of MArilyn Horne's recordings.