Across from me on the kitchen table are 2 tickets to tonight’s performance of Anna Bolena at The Met, which gets me thinking about all of the learning experiences I’ve had in NYC, outside of my day-to-day at Mannes. Let me list a few things I’ve learned:
- The world’s best cookie is found on W 74th St
- Dogs walk funny when they’re forced to wear dog shoes
- The post office is the 7th circle of hell
The Metropolitan Opera is a mecca for music students in this city, and rightly so. World class singing, some beauuutiful productions, and superb playing from the pit – what’s not to love!? (Of course there are some things I don’t love, but this is art; it would be boring if everyone liked the same thing! )
Isabelle and I went to almost every opera last season, and every time we went there was something new to learn, both from aspects we enjoyed and aspects we didn’t. Seeing Domingo sing in Verdi’s Ernani was a lesson in phrasing; Netrebko in Il Trovatore a lesson in commanding the stage; James Morris in Meistersinger a lesson in endurance. Yes, The Met is a place of entertainment, but for us it was also a classroom, with some of the best lecturers the world has to offer.
Masterclasses are the natural extension of this train of thought – singers, conductors, directors, teachers, and coaches taking time out from making opera to pass on their wisdom to groups of students. In NYC there are various masterclasses you can attend, and Opera America (operaamerica.org) hosts various lectures throughout the year. There are too many opportunities like this to list, but most (if not all) of the masterclasses that you can apply and audition for are listed on YAP Tracker.
— If you’re not familiar with YAP Tracker, find out about it. Every young singer I know in NYC is on it, and it’s how pretty much all audition information for Young Artist Programs is distributed these days —
We’re lucky enough at Mannes to have regular masterclasses by guest artists, each bringing a different piece to the much larger puzzle that is ‘having a career in opera’. It’s an incredibly difficult puzzle, but New York and the professionals making the industry thrive in this city are doing all they can to provide young singers with information and platforms to learn and improve.
I should briefly mention some other great sources of information that you can all access online. I’ve already spoken about Opera America and Yap Tracker, but here are a couple more useful links:
The blog posts by Wolf Trap Opera are awesome, and they have very handy audition aria lists.
I seldom visit this forum because when I discovered it through their Facebook version (The NEW New Forum for Classical Singers) I found it incredibly annoying, because of all the trolling. BUT I’m told that it has some pretty useful conversations on it, from time-to-time! And I guess some people also like trolls…
In many ways going to watch competitions is where I’ve learnt the most about singing and the process of developing and refining technique. When you listen to singers at The Met the standard can seem unattainable. But, when you watch singers who are closer to your level of training, the improvements you have to make to achieve their level seem within reach. I’d even go so far as to say that, because these competition arias are not necessarily “perfect” performances, you are able to more easily recognise what works, and what doesn’t. I confess, watching which singers are rewarded and which aren’t still baffles me. At the end of the day, judging singing is very subjective.. But, I have learned what I prize:
And I don’t think I’m alone. Above all people seem to desire uniqueness, something different, something individualistic. I think it’s wrong to shy away from popular arias just because they’re ‘always done’. Quite the opposite – if somebody hears an ‘Una Furtiva’ like they have never heard it before, infused with beauty and a singer’s individuality, that is often far more memorable that an obscure aria, from an opera that is never performed.
Actually, I take it back… when I said “competitions are where I’ve learnt the most about singing” I suppose that’s only half-true. Sharing that crown would certainly be the network of singers and musicians here in the city. The opera community is quite large, but NYC is geographically quite small, so you tend to know everybody! A friend from Mannes is friends with so-and-so, so so-and-so becomes your friend, and so-and-so and so-and-so’s friends learn with so-and-so, so you meet so-and…you get it. Everybody (at least everybody I’ve met), despite the intense competition of the industry, is there for one another and happy to lend a helping hand – to grab a beer after a bad audition, to recommend teachers and coaches, to email you PDF’s of full IPA translations, and to jump in a practice room with you to hear audition repertoire. More magical is that the people who are now revered and at the top of their game remember what it was to be a young musician, and how scary it is. So, they are willing to talk to you, should the opportunity arise. My experience has been that NYC is very communal, which was one of the more surprising things I learned about this city; which has a reputation for chewing up people and spitting them out.
Keep an eye out for next week’s blog, which will feature interviews with a few of my friends here in the USA – all young, foreign musicians, who are making it big in the world of opera!
Written by Richard Symons