Here's something you won't see on TV. Yesterday reader Carole observed the competitors in masterclasses given by Håkan Hagegård, Kiri te Kanawa, Marilyn Horne and Dennis O'Neill.
"Saturday is Masterclass Day. It wasn't possible to go to them all: they were being held simultaneously in the New Theatre and the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. I went to the ones in the New Theatre, where we saw Håkan Hagegård and Kiri te Kanawa in the morning, and Marilyn Horne and Dennis O'Neill in the afternoon. Simon Lepper accompanied the first two and Llŷr Williams the others. (We have been told that their page-turner is called Llŷr Simon!)
I was disappointed with Dari Kiri's sessions. She was working with two singers whom she had specially asked for because they had issues she wanted to address. With Davide Bartolucci it was breath control, and he frankly confessed that though he had been taught how to breathe he forgot what he had learned in the stress of performance. She had a measure of success here. Standing behind him with her hands on his torso, she told him when to breathe in and how to support his voice; she also told him to close his eyes. The result was that he produced a steadier and sweeter sound than at any time during the competition. With Susanne Braunsteffer she was less successful. She took her through Come scoglio, but with many interruptions, correcting faults which I really didn't understand; her conclusion was that there had been mistakes in her teaching which had gone so deep that they couldn't be sorted on on the present occasion, which was rather a negative message to give. I was interested, though, that she had spotted that Susanne had never sung the role of Fiordiligi in performance.
Marilyn Horne is enormously entertaining as a teacher. She also interrupts the singers, but with great warmth and much use of "honey". John Pierce flourished under her hands, as she encouraged him to project his voice more; this involved not only breath control but bringing his vowels to the front of his mouth. She advised him to learn Italian as a priority. With Sasha Djihanian she made a remarkable change in her performance of Brahms' Unbewegte laue Luft. She also pointed out that four-inch heels do nothing for a singer's posture.
Dennis O'Neill's approach was different. He had relatively little to say about vocal technique, but a great deal on the complex art of putting an aria over. His work with Leah Crocetto was remarkable, turning a very good performance of Surta è la notte into a great one. This may be some small consolation for her, as well as for us, that she didn't get into tomorrow's final. He then took Maria Radoeva through Mi chiamano Mimì; I still don't warm to her voice, but she is a responsive student and under his guidance she began to understand how to produce a performance guaranteed to conquer Rodolfo.
However, the 2011 Cardiff Singer of the World Masterclass prize goes to Håkan Hagegård, and if you ever have the opportunity to see him with young singers I would urge you to take it. He is warm, persuasive and insightful. In his hands Şerban Vasile blossomed, and showed that he had it in him to be masterful in The Marriage of Figaro and tragic as Rodrigo in Don Carlo. But it was with Olga Kindler that he had a really spectacular success. I said yesterday that I thought she would never be an endearing performer. It quickly became apparent that she is a charming, even rather giggly, young woman. What he did was to connect the woman with the performer. He asked her to tell him how she saw the setting of Im Abendrot: time of day, temperature, what she was wearing, and then to bear all that in mind as Simon Lepper played the introduction. Her face began to glow - it was a wonderful sight."