Joyce DiDonato Carnegie Hall Masterclass

On Friday, January 8, 2016, I attended Joyce DiDonato’s master class at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute. It took place in the Resnick Education Wing, Weill Music Room, which is located in the building right next to the famous Carnegie Hall.

This was the first installment of a three-part series spanning the entire weekend, and it included four participating artists: Amalia Avilán Castillo, soprano; Miya Higashiyama, mezzo-soprano; Daniel Moody, countertenor; and Anthony Robin Schneider, bass.
The series’ four participants ranged in experience from an undergraduate (Higashiyama) to a third-year resident artist at the prestigious Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia (Robin Schneider).

The two accompanists were Justina Lee, who is currently the principal coach at Maryland Opera Studio, and Adam Nielsen, who is on staff for Juilliard Opera and serves as accompanist for the Dallas Opera Guild Vocal Competition.

I would have attended all three classes if I could have, but it was a special treat to see the freshness on opening night with which these four singers interacted with DiDonato, whose treatment of their work was more akin to mentoring than mere pedagogy.

For those singers out there interested in some of the diva’s main points on singing and artistry, here they are (paraphrased):

  • Take nothing for granted in your arias - Every phrase is art.
  •  Never stop the breath with your throat - you have to release it.
  •  Staccati need to be very clear - this puts you in control vocally.
  • For operas that are done a lot, as a performer, you should pay extra attention to what is written in the score and do what is written there. Do these things with powerful attention and intention. This will make your role fresh (believe it or not).
  •  How do you actually see your character? If you haven't thought about this, the performance will be generic. Remember, the character creates the music, so your interpretation has to be totally specific.
  • When performing Mozart, simplicity gives him room to come in. This music comes to life when there's nothing nebulous about it: legato is legato, staccato is staccato.
  • Trusting the voice more means giving yourself over to the breath.
  • In the words of Donald Palumbo, "Never sing pass the point of beauty!"
  • Let Handel give you the gift of just breathing his music.
  • When you sing, don't try to make sound. Sound is your end product. If you start with the end product in mind, you miss everything that makes it up.
  • Know your strengths and weaknesses and how to use them.
  • Posture should open you!
  • When breathing in, imagine opening up a little behind the nose.
  • Treat your instrument with love and care: To warm it up, lip trills and tongue trills help connect you to your breath because your larynx doesn’t have to do anything, and the breath starts moving -- Singing on “ng” is also a good exercise.
  • To connect to the breath, try lip-trilling on the line you’re practicing to sing.
  • Sing what you sing better than anyone else, even if it doesn’t all stick to one fach.
  • As soon as you start manufacturing your sound, there is something wrong.
  • Remember that the best minds want great ideas, openness and creativity from the people they work with. So don’t be scared to share your ideas!
  • Amidst all the pressures of training, competitions, auditions, and school, singers need to protect that innocent part of themselves that loves to sing.

I got to ask Ms. Joyce a question at the end about how she went from being a student, to understanding the fine points and nuances of performing, so much so, that she can now apply this knowledge to works other than her own repertoire (as in when she is coaching other singers in her classes). In essence, how did she go from being a student, to being an artist?

Her answer can be summed up thus:
    ▪    Have longterm goals and a disciplined work ethic. Go step by step. This work of becoming an artist doesn’t happen overnight. It takes years! But be consistent and work on things slowly and thoroughly, but steadily.

If you’re interested in watching the entire class (and if you’re a singer, I can think of few things better worth your time), as well as videos of the other two classes in the series and Ms. Joyce’s master class series from last year, click on the Source link below. Enjoy!