Joyce DiDonato Masterclass (Milton Court Concert Hall, 15 April 2015)
JDD is back in town this week for a series of things. Today was the Masterclass – quite literally “hands on teaching”. JDD held the singers by the hands, swung their arms about or made 8 figures in the air with them often to unintetionally humorous results but always with good reason. There were four young singers and the arias they chose were: Ah, chi me dice mai? (Donna Elvira, Don Giovanni), Hai già vinto la causa! (The Count, Le nozze di Figaro), Caro nome (Gilda, Rigoletto) and Prendi, per me sei libero (Adina, L’elisir d’amore). Avid JDD Masterclass followers should be happy to learn the whole thing was recorded and will find its way online (probably on the Guildhall School’s ‘tube channel?) at some point.
JDD started by reminding us that masterclasses are sandboxes, with experiementation rather than polishing a performance as end-goal. She mentioned that auditions (like all interviews) are unnatural occasions, where singers are supposed to create the effect of the entire scene by themselves. This was the reason why she physically engaged with the singers; so they could forget all about the fact they were formally singing and get into character and react in a more natural manner instead. During Ah, chi me dice mai? she even “goaded” the young Elvira by singing DG’s sarcastic lines.
One interesting thing JDD returned to a few times during the class was building one’s savviness about what you can or cannot portray (at a certain moment in time). You need to know your strengths and weaknesses in general but also because you will be typecast, that’s what auditions are all about.
I myself have changed my mind on this issue over the years. Initially I was in the death to typecasting! camp but now I’m thinking that’s not always a bad idea. Different singers are better at drama or at comedy or at expressing elegance or on the contrary, at coming off as grubby or awkward. Even the way a singer moves when not singing will help create (or ruin) the character. So JDD told the singer who performed Caro nome to take off her high heels and remember what it is to be a giddy (if a bit too earnest) teenager by acting out a “friendly gossip about the cute chap” together. The whole point of Rigoletto’s sheltering his daughter is for her not to be too worldly.
She told another singer to imagine where in the story the character is during any given aria, as a performance won’t gel if the singer doesn’t have a clear idea of what they want to get out of every scene as well as what the whole thing builds up to. This tied in to a question about whether directors are friends or foes 😉 Her advice was predictably to try and be open to different takes on the character even when they are very different from your own as they can help you achieve a more layered performance in the end. This, of course, she went on to say, is what you do in preparation, on stage you should always surprise yourself as well as your audience with your character’s decisions – since most of us already know who and how they will get the ax in the end. Easier said than done 😉 but it’s worth repeating. Everybody recalls those perfect moments when a well known aria rings fresh as a Summer morning (speaking of the early Summer we’ve been having here in London).
As usual during masterclasses, students were reminded that at this point in time they should be taking singing to another level, ie trust what they have learned (technique, breathing) and start working on interpretation, as this is what sets competent singers apart from future stars. Her illustrated jabs at note-perfect but lifeless singing got the hall cackling and were some of my favourite moments of the afternoon.
You know JDD is a born educator (I would say she missed her calling as self-help guru but that’d be a bit cheeky at this point 😉 ), so you don’t have to be a singer to get something out of her masterclasses. I for one had a bit of a revelation that I could be having a lot more fun in my chosen profession if I challenged myself more. I know, duh, but there you go: it took JDD to spell it out to somebody else for the bulb to light up in my own head. So let this be JDD’s gift to me this year and I hope I can honour it.