Review – Joyce DiDonato Spotlight Masterclass (Milton Court Hall, Wednesday 15 April 2015)
It’s rare to come away from a masterclass feeling that – as a non-singer – I have learned something other than the importance of the technique required by singers. But Joyce DiDonato’s masterclass, as part of her highly successful residency at the Barbican, was one of those rare occasions where you it felt less like a ‘lesson’ than watching a conversation.
And above all, it felt like a complete privilege.
I readily admit I am a massive fan of Joyce DiDonato – both of the performances themselves and the great joy and wonder that she communicates when singing. And during the masterclass, not only was that joy and wonder ever present, but both also true sense of humility at the gift she possesses as well as the hard work and hardship that singers must endure.
It must be daunting for young singers to participate in any masterclass but all four – Francesca Chiejina, Dominic Sedgwick, Alison Langer and last minute replacement Eliza Safjan – took the occasion in their stride.
With each and everyone, Joyce DiDonato achieved immediate and noticeably positive results regardless of the fact that they weren’t all in her specific Fach. For each young singer, she offered advice that was a combination of technique, character interpretation and often through creative visualization. For example, when talking of breath control with Dominic Sedgwick and Eliza Safjan. With the baritone it was how breath control would enable a smoother legato, even in the recitative of Mozart’s Hai gia vinto la causa. With Ms Safjan, it was about the relationship between dynamics and breath control that saw immediate results with Adina’s aria Prendi per me sei libero from Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’amore.
With both Ms Safjan and Alison Langer’s Gilda, DiDonato also discussed the words themselves– not only the meaning but also the context. This enabled both singers to bring their performances more to life. This was particularly evident in Langer’s Caro nome when Ms DiDonato had the soprano sing the aria as if trying to convince a skeptical friend. It brought a whole new dimension to the performance and I have to wonder how long it will be before we see Caro nome as a conversation on stage somewhere. It could be highly effective.
But above all Joyce DiDonato also discussed the importance of taking risks. And the most interesting and insightful discussion on this happened with the most memorable singer, Francesca Chiejina. This young soprano has the most amazing voice – rich, warm, even through it’s range and matched with very strong technique. Donna Elvira’s Ah, chi mi dice mai is clearly an aria close to Joyce DiDonato’s own heart and at Milton Court her discussion of the aria with Francesca paid incredible dividends. A discussion of context, the words and the vocal line that Mozart had written, revealed not only the mastery of Mozart’s ability to create a flesh and blood character through the music, but also Joyce DiDonato’s ability to reveal it to both singer and audience. In the first section of the masterclass, the two singers discussed motivation as well as the musical requirements of this aria, and DiDonato was able to coax Francesca Chiejina out of her comfort zone and transform her first rendition of the aria – impressive and solid as it was – into the kernel of Chiejina’s own interpretation of one of Mozart’s most famous heroines.
It was nothing short of revelatory and I have no doubt that Francesca Chiejina has a remarkable career ahead of her.
And a special note of thanks to the two pianists – Dylan Perez and Harry Sever. Their playing was exemplary.
Surprisingly, two hours zipped past without anyone noticing and at the end Ms DiDonato took some questions from singers in the audience. At no point during this session, did she sugar coat her answers – indeed, her honesty was refreshing. But it was the final question that summed it up for me. What’s at the centre of Joyce DiDonato’s being? What keeps her going?
Music. And with a passion, commitment and talent such as hers – and all three she shares so selflessly – I do believe music could change the world for the better.