Sunday, January 25, 2009

Countertenor Andreas Scholl master class, soprano Noa Bizansky

German countertenor Andreas Scholl is in Israel conducting master classes from January 25 through January 28, 2009 at the Jerusalem Music Centre; he will also be performing a concert in Tel Aviv. The repertoire sung by the eight young singers taking part in the master classes is largely that of Baroque music.

Soprano Noa Bizansky, a Tel Aviv resident, sang “Ah Belinda!” from Henry Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas”.

‘Ah! Belinda. I am prest
With Torment not to be Confest,
Peace and I are strangers grown.
I languish till my grief is known,
Yet would not have it guest.’

After Noa had sung through the aria, Scholl began by asking her who “her” Dido was, a Dido not a part of Noa’s own person, but a concept of the character as separate from herself. He talked about the singer having courage to communicate and to be someone else. They then began to work on the way “Ah!” should be expressed or sighed, what kind of grief it represented and Scholl encouraged Noa to experiment with it, saying that experimenting was more important than “getting it right”, that it involved micro-adjustments of mouth and lips and finally deciding which version one liked.

Dido is singing to her servant Belinda, so Noa should be aware of communicating with her, difficult as it is without her physical presence.

Discussion now turned to how to express despair in one’s body language and Scholl suggested Noa sit, showing her that the many poses adopted in sitting can be more expressive than when one is standing; the more we use our bodies the more human we sound. Thinking in the Romantic style, and not in Early Music idiom, could give the emotion more strength, allowing Noa to draw from her own experience as a human being, creating an opportunity of adding a little lifelike roughness to the performance.

Scholl talked much about “breath” as a theatrical form of expression, giving the performance a hypnotic quality, suggesting that singing this aria with a breathy quality could bring out the despair Dido is experiencing. Before repeating a phrase, the time taken for the breath itself can be exaggerated, becoming the energy for expression. Taking time to breathe is the singer’s form of “conducting” and having the instrumental ensemble well synchronized with the soloist.

Discussing key words, Scholl thought “torment” could be stretched in order to heighten its emotion, “languish” could be more open and English-sounding; brightening “Yet would not” might create a lighter moment of courage.

Scholl talked about the singer having a clear vision of what he or she intends to do and being well prepared for each gesture, yet sounding spontaneous in performance; singing, he said, goes beyond producing soft or strong sounds - the singer should play with colors and be warned not to become a slave to “Baroque affectation” in Baroque music. A fine example of using the latter piece of advice was adding a little vibrato to a messo di voce passage Noa sang, giving the crescendo color and direction. Singing meaningfully means trusting one’s voice, Scholl advised; connecting to one’s voice helps the singer connect to one’s emotion. One should flow with the music and not adjust each sound individually.

The final subject for discussion was on how to produce a more intense “piano” suitable to the end of this tragic aria, not a tranquil or flat piano but one of energy. This sensation can be evolved from working with our “sound fantasy” and can then be remembered as a sensation. We tend to talk about visual fantasy but a musician needs to develop “sound fantasy”.

Noa Bizansky’s flexibility and open mind, together with her creamy voice and ability to reproduce the tragedy of Dido’s predicament, were impressive, and Scholl’s comments, suggestions and vocal demonstration made for a fascinating hour at the JMC.

Andreas Scholl-countertenor (Germany)
Master classes at the Jerusalem Music Centre
January 25, 2009.

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