Renée Fleming stresses hard work and ease of production at Frost master class

By Lawrence Budmen

On Friday afternoon four students from the University of Miami Frost School of Music had the dream opportunity to receive coaching from one of the opera world’s superstars when Renée Fleming presented a master class at Gusman Concert Hall.

Fleming, who has done similar events at Harvard and Juilliard, was supportive and encouraging toward the young vocalists. “It takes so much courage to get up and do this,” she said. “Master classes are hard.”

The celebrated soprano was astutely analytical, stressing breath support. Fleming admonished “project without effort. The sound should ride on a wave.” She held up Luciano Pavarotti as a paragon of effortless, beautifully produced singing. The soprano exhorted the students (who comprised much of the audience) to watch YouTube videos of great singers of the past as a resource to study vocal technique and control.

When soprano Anna Hersey sang No Word from Tom, Anne Truelove’s aria from Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress, Fleming noted that it was one of her “obsessively favorite pieces,” and recalled hearing the late Judith Raskin sing it magnificently. “It must be super expressive,” she noted. “If you sing it like it is on the page, it will mean nothing. This music is similar to Mozart and you must make the vocal connection.”

Her advice was always pragmatic. When baritone Jeffrey Wienand chose Henri Duparc’s art song Phidyle, she recalled hearing the legendary French baritone Gerard Souzay sing at Wigmore Hall in London, praising his easily produced baritonal sound. Fleming noted that with art song, you can sing intimately when making a recording before the microphone but “in large concert halls, you have to give something for the audience, you cannot sing it for yourself.”

Within minutes of Fleming’s thoughtful critiques, each of the four singers exhibited greater confidence and more finely honed technique, particularly in supporting the tone. “Resonance makes for something extra or beautiful in singing,” she commented and added “you are responsible for your improvement. If you do not experiment, you will not grow.”

Working with mezzo-soprano Maria Fenty Denison, who sang an aria from Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera, Fleming suggested singers should warm up singing coloratura. She was also self-critical. “Singing the aria from Tosca, I imagine ten other singers who sound better than me,” she said. Repeatedly Fleming stressed ease of vocal production. She told tenor David Tayloe, who performed an aria from Mozart’s Don Giovanni, to “produce the most amount of sound with the least amount of energy. Singing is the most frustrating thing. Until you can do it, it’s hard to understand.”

Commenting on the contemporary opera world, she told the students that, today, “the total package” is necessary — voice, musicianship, appearance, acting, theatricality. “Preparation is everything. There is no substitute for hard work in the practice room. ”

Fleming had the highest praise for the UM vocal program. “Language cultivation and style is very high here. Aria appropriateness is off the charts.” (Rachelle Fleming, the soprano’s sister and a doctoral candidate in the vocal division at UM, played a leading role in organizing the event.)

Fleming concluded, “Don’t accept limitations–develop every aspect of your art.” Sage advice from one of the leading vocal artists singers of our time.

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Renée Fleming stresses hard work and ease of production at Frost master class”

  1. Posted Jun 10, 2010 at 5:04 pm by Jack

    Her new album “Dark Hope” is a must hear. I was surprised that she went this direction in her musical career but I should not have doubted her ability to pull it off. The new album sounds amazing. Check out the youtube video talking about the new album:

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