Tuesday, October 18, 2005


Marilyn Horne gave a master class at Oberlin College on Oct 16, packing the large college chapel to the walls. Five students were selected to perform. Their ages ranged from 19 to 24. All were very talented, and all sounded dramatically better after Miss Horne was through with them.

To a young woman singing the Habanera from Carmen:

Ok, I can't see you breathe. Show me how you breathe. I'll say it again, I'm
all about support. Look, Carmen knows she functions as the entertainment for the girls in the factory and the fellas out in the square. So it's important that she establish a sense of fun with this piece, but also menace. Now, don't be too pretty here. And use your arms and hands! How old are you? Twenty-one? Sweetheart, it's fun to work on this but don't go near Carmen until you're twenty nine or thirty.
Carmen has to do so many things in character, the shouting, the dancing, things that are easy to lose control of, a young voice can be hurt. I know many ladies, fine singers, sopranos and mezzos who came to grief in Carmen. Now about that fun thing. Do you know Regina Resnik? She was a fantastic Carmen. She'd come out tossing an orange and catching it with one hand, very blase. In the old days it was the hands on hips and the rose in the teeth. We can't do that anymore. Now forward, honey. Put the sound higher, between the eyes. Don't growl. Sing those low notes with lots of support. Prends garde a toi! Be careful she says! That's a great line, you really need to balance the fun with a sense of menace.

To a young man singing Questo amor from Edgar-Puccini

I notice you are not observing the markings in the score. Now with Puccini you can be sure the markings are his. With Mozart, Schubert, even my Rossini, not so sure...I want you to take the 'ah' vowel high...place it up!
No, you are singing with your chin. Stop using your chin! Now, when you drop your jaw like that, so low you are throwing the sound to the back of your throat. Keep doing that and you will be in serious trouble in a few years. Do not throw your voice back. You are trying to manufacture a bigger and darker sound because you are young. Don't do it. Sing this with your voice. Okay, truthfully this piece requires more sound than you can summon at your age....I keep telling you to place the sound higher, but you don't believe me do you?? Look, just try it, just get it out of your throat.

To a young woman singing Come scoglio-Cosi fan Tutte-Mozart

You have a very beautiful voice. Wonderful. What is your comfortable top note? Can you sing an E flat? You can sing an F? Honey, then this is not for you. This is a dramatic soprano aria. It is not what I would have chosen for you now.
Good for you for wanting to work on it, but you need to sing lighter stuff, like Blondchen and Susanna very well first. This piece is a killer..You're a talented girl and I want you to do well.

Miss Horne and the audience seemed most taken with the final singer, a tall young baritone who sang Ah per semper! from Bellini's I Puritani. The sound was huge, too loud, unfocused and out of tune. But it was a wonderful sound even so! When she was finished this boy sounded like Titta Ruffo. She continued her mantras with this kid: "Support! Keep the sound out of the back of the throat! Focus!" He began to try her suggestions and suddenly all his pitch problems vanished. Horne would turn to the audience whenever a student did really well and say, "Am I right?"

"You don['t like the way I'm having you sound, do you?"
"Uh, no. It sounds very nasal to me."

"Good!" That's fine! Don't worry about it. It's a better sound out here, warmer, focused, large and honey, in tune!"

It was a great afternoon with a lady who, in the few bits she sang herself, showed she still got it. She was exacting, professional and warm to all.
I took some OSU students with me. On the drive home I played them some of her CDs. They had loved the classes but were too young to have
heard the lady herself. It was a WOW! for them.

No comments: