Sunday, May 24, 2015

Reading List: Master Singers

I jumped at the change to review the recent volume: Master Singers: Advice from the Stage. The structured collection of commentary from professionals at varying stages of their careers is designed to bridge the gap between academic methods of singing learned in the studio, and the practice of singing on the opera and concert stage. This is not to remove one jot or tittle of the law, but rather to add to it. Advice from a starry host is then thematically organized by chapter, which adds to its usefulness for the singer. Enthusiasts, like myself, might find the most interest in the first three chapters, as they focus on the craft that results in what we see and hear.

The text is edited by Donald George and Lucy Mauro, a singer and a pianist, respectively, and both professors. A lot of work has clearly gone into this, as the chapters are subdivided into helpfully specific sections on, e.g., passaggio. Each such section is framed by a question posed to the singers--whether in person or in writing--who could then choose whether and at what length to respond. (The introduction observes, naming no names, that some answered every single question, which strikes me as positively saintly.) The conversational tone of each singer seems to be preserved with often startling immediacy; George and Mauro say that they edited the singers' words as little as possible.  The contributors, as well as topics and operas covered, are indexed and cross-indexed for reference. Although Americans predominate, the singers come from a variety of linguistic and national backgrounds, offering a helpfully diverse range of experiences and traditions. Christine Goerke, for example, in responding to a question about creating varieties of tonal color, observes that "Americans have fallen into this 'make beautiful sounds all the time' thing." Singers from multiple fachs respond, and David Daniels and Ewa Podleś add the perspectives of countertenor and contralto to those of sopranos, mezzos, tenors, baritones, and basses.


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