The world-renowned soprano Dawn Upshaw gave a Master Class to voice students (and others) at CMU this afternoon. Along with insightful comments for the vocalists, like thoughts about diction, phrasing, emotion, and motivation, she also let it be known that she was frustrated with the recital hall's lighting, so we all moved to the recital hall across the hall.
I also really appreciated the fact that Ms. Upshaw stressed the importance of the composer's intentions, that 'we' (being composers) write music for a reason, down to each little slur and hairpin crescendo. She also joked that she just doesn't choose to work with anyone anymore who doesn't have good reasons for the way they write their music. She mentioned in a Q & A that when she prepares for a performance, she'll research the history of the piece (even if it's a tiny art song, let alone her premiers of 4-hour operas), learn about the composer, study the basic harmonic structure of the song, listen to recordings, and translate every word of the text, or write it all out to internalize it, and then ponder how to communicate this work's meaning to the audience. This all happens before she begins to sing one single note.
But most importantly, Ms. Upshaw brought a surprising amount of energy to the room, to the audience, and to the singers baring their all (only to be criticized, and then built back up again). She didn't have to move much, but her voice was eloquent and thoughtful, well-spoken (well, I would hope so), and her body had a certain energy to it when she would illustrate a point that I think only comes from years of loving music and knowing it inside and out. I don't ever want to be in a German diction contest with this woman, either.
On a visual note, I think Ms. U was wearing this same necklace this afternoon as this picture, courtesy of wikipedia. Cue the fashionista voice: Girl, I could make you some jewelry that would pop the eyes out of those grey-haired Met Opera grannies. You jus' gimme a call, mmkay? This one's a little too quiet for you. I'm thinking lots of feathers and baubles as big as your operatic fists. The diva must have the perfect necklace to boot.