Barbara Hannigan Masterclass (ROH, 16 May 2018)

We all want magic

Carly Owen soprano
“I want magic” from A Streetcar named Desire

A good aria to start off with, even though during a masterclass we’re actually hoping to disassemble the magic and see what makes it tick. That’s the curious thing about their appeal: you’re going all cerebral about things that make you feel. Understanding why you feel something (or hoping you do) often enhances the feeling. And masterclasses have an uncanny way of making you (me?) like even things I don’t normally like. Sometimes for a very short period of time, other times for good, you do catch a glimpse of the composer’s reasons. (I don’t think you ever quite get what makes it tick, but picking the composer’s brain for a few moments is the next best thing).

Hannigan advised Owen to show Blanche’s vulnerability without losing her strength, which I think is very good goal to strive for, as it asks for a lot of maturity from a performer.

The pros and cons of being a decent person

Edmund Danon baritone
“Within this frail crucible of light” from The Rape of Lucretia

pro: the world needs more of you
con: doesn’t come in handy when you’re playing the bad guy

It’s interesing observing someone who’s picked a bad guy aria but then turns out to be not particularly comfortable being creepy. I mean this aria is Creepology 101 (but brilliantly written, chapeau, Mr Britten).

Q & A (paraphrase): should we go all method actor on something like this?

Q & A (tl:dr): when you’re young and don’t have much experience with the (big, bad) world, you can use anything at all that works for you to get in that place where people believe what they see/hear, even if for you it’s all abstract. But playing an antagonist will bring out the not so nice side of you (for the time you have to play said character – hopefully, only for that time).

The common sense advice given to anyone interested in acting is: watch/listen to people. There are going to be all sorts of people around with, with all sorts of reactions and MOs. You don’t have to be them but remembering them when needed will be of great help to build a character that is far from your usual self.

For instance: I mentioned elsewhere that I happen to know a very unsavory character. Now the most important thing I take from our (thankfully) occasional interactions that would be of use here is the tension he carries with him. If you could transfer even half of that tension to your public I think you’d be doing a very good job at portraying a creep. I’m not saying it would be easy – especially doing it in front of others – but then you did pick an intensely unplesant person to inhabit… and actually, it is interesting testing your own limitations of “bad” – unless you find out they extend much further than expected. But at least you’d be aware you have a problem.

The pros and cons of presenting an aria the singer had created

Lorena Paz Nieto soprano
The mad scene from Written on Skin

pro: being able to talk to the person who’s created the role.
con: it must be so much harder to have only one option out there if your imagination is running low.
pro: it must be so exhilirating not to have 348638578436 other singers to be compared against or be blocked by there not being all that much new to say with this role.

It’s useful, I think, especially for a young singer, because it reminds you that a successful performance goes beyond technique. Hannigan advised to bark out those lines, which perhaps doesn’t sound nice to a young singer who has thus far been instructed to make sure their performance in front of an audience is neatly packaged. Though, again, you did pick a mad scene. Going overboard in a mad scene I think is generally approved by all audiences – especially if you made sure your high Cs remain intact.

She mentioned being smart about picking your audition aria (ie: short, expressive). She went on to imply you don’t have to worry too much about the second one, as they would’ve made their decision after the first 30secs but if you have something cool and way out there, do put it in (basically to show off your mad skillz). So, mezzos going in with Parto: stop after the second parto and go home, nobody’s going to listen to you for 6min+ 😉 that being, said, Parto has been a staple for a long time, so someone’s listening, at least for a while. For sopranos she actually recommended S’altro che lagrime – I, of course, was happy to hear a Tito nod from her. I also agreed – as a young soprano, you probably have everything you need to show in that aria.

The tenor still gets the most attention from the public

Satryia Krisna tenor
“Here I stand” from The Rake’s Progress

Here’s the short and sweet aria where it’s going to be immediately obvious if you’re right for it. Krisna sure looks the part and I for one liked his interpretation. Smooth but not overly polished because, hey, this Rake is in progress 😉 I can’t remember what Hannigan told him to work on but I’m sure you’ve already got the gist of her wisdom if you made it this far.

As a general piece of advice she told students to try and be very desciplined and organised in the way they approach their career. Ah, don’t we all wish we could’ve followed that advice at that age? I hope this crop of students do because Hannigan is a living example of how far you can get if you do (and are a bit lucky, too).

This Masterclass was held at the Linden Studio at the Royal Opera Ballet School, which is a very fine space.

About dehggial

Mozart/Baroque loving red dragon

Posted on July 30, 2018, in 20th century, live performances, masterclasses and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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