Evelyn Lear and Thomas Stewart Master Class

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Russell P. Allen - National Endowment for the Arts and Opera America consultant, general manager of Atlanta Opera, Virginia Opera, and numerous symphony orchestras, reviews Opera Music Theater International's Evelyn Lear and Thomas Stewart Master Class at the National Museum of Women in the Arts under the direction of James K. McCully.

The Opera Music Theater Institute (OMTI), under the direction of James K. McCully, presented a master class by Evelyn Lear and Thomas Stewart, renown singers and educators. The master class occurred at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington D.C. and was presented as a part of the Opera Music Theater International's Marjorie Lawrence International Vocal Competition. The master class was underwritten in part by the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, USAirways, and Yamaha Artist Services, which provided a Yamaha C-7 Conservatory Concert Grand for the event. Working with Ms. Lear and Mr. Stewart were accompanists Moshe Landsberg and John Bowen.

The Master Class took place in front of a "standing room only" audience. Following a major ovation for the duo, Ms. Lear and Mr. Stewart began the Master Class with comments on their perception of what a master class hopes to accomplish. Ms. Lear often works with talented singers in this format and she and Mr. Stewart hope to offer a little advice that will plant a seed from which the artist can grow. As she said specifically, master classes offer the new masters an opportunity for a little insight from the old masters.

With today's master class, Ms. Lear and Mr. Stewart both commented on it being focused on helping to educate singers on the total concept of performance rather than a specific focus on vocal technique. Mr. Stewart commented that they would today try to help the singers be better performers. This definitely includes making the singing experience a bona fide communication opportunity. It is a singer's mandate to transport the audience - accomplished by effective communication beginning the moment the singer steps on-stage.

Mr. Stewart augmented Ms. Lear's remarks by analyzing the process of competition. Whereas practicing vocal scales and building technique will help one as a singer, competitions and auditions can help one as a performer. Performance is all about effective communication, competitions and auditions are simply good opportunities for training oneself as a communicator. So a singer who competes, gains valuable experience about the art of communication and becoming a well-rounded performer. They also offer the opportunity to make a singer more marketable. The better the performance in general, the more opportunities to perform may arise.

Both Ms. Lear and Mr. Stewart commented on the process of communicating to the audience beginning the moment the singer stepped on stage. It is important, they advised, to be clear as to who you are, express yourself positively and confidently, and build an immediate rapport with the audience as soon as possible with your statements and body language. This is particularly important in competitions and auditions. Competitions and auditions will be the jumping off point for much of what you will do as a professional singer.

Laura Zuiderveen, mezzo-soprano,
"Hore mit Sinn"
Gotterdammerung - Richard Wagner

With Ms. Zuiderveen, it was clear that this was already a very talented singer and that there was a great deal training apparent in her delivery. Ms. Lear primarily focused on diction with Ms. Zuiderveen. She used Ms. Zuiderveen to emphasize the importance of significant gestures and movement in a singer's delivery and efforts at communicating with the audience. Equally as important however, Ms. Lear continued, was incorporating such gestures as naturally as possible. Effective communication demands as natural and realistic delivery as possible.

Mr. Stewart addressed with Ms. Zuiderveen the importance of making the emotional delivery of the performance as natural as possible. In order to do so, he continued, emotions must be logically expressed and the emotional content of a work must be analyzed thoroughly in order for that to happen.

Both Ms. Lear and Mr. Stewart emphasized using good diction as a significant aid in being expressive. Good diction demands clear well-articulated consonants. Ms. Lear spent some time with Ms. Zuiderveen analyzing the inherent origin of singing. The strength of a singer comes from performing with one's entire being behind the effort.

Ms. Zuiderveen's performance, which was strong from the beginning, became even more glorious with her lovely sound and growing intensity of interpretation. She has an impressive range and clearly has the inherant ability to communicate to an audience.

John Weber, tenor
"Celeste Aida"
Aida - Giuseppe Verdi

Ms. Lear and Mr. Stewart began their comments on Mr. Weber by again emphasizing the importance of beginning one's performance from the very moment that the audience first sees the performer. She also followed up with some of her co mments on Ms. Zuiderveen and the importance of diction by exemplifying with Mr. Weber how to utilize diction even more effectively as a tool for communicating emotion and intent. Ms. Lear also commented on the need for singers to be sure to open up and project the voice to aid in communication with the audience.

Mr. Stewart further utilized Mr. Weber to exemplify proper projection. Effective projection, Mr. Stewart continued, will provide energy and focus to the performance. Proper breathing will enhance the ability to ensure that there is strong projection and that the voice is being properly utilized. Breathe well before you sing, Mr. Stewart advised. Effective utilization of vowel sounds will also help in the sustaining of the phrase and will help open up the sound. The audience will get the sensation when effective projection is part of the performance combined with good diction.

Mr. Weber's has a strong, dramatic voice. His diction improved during the course of his session with Ms. Lear and Mr. Stewart. Also, he benefited from Mr. Stewart's remarks by improved phrasing.

Jennifer Wilson, soprano
"Dich, theure Halle"
Tannhauser - Richard Wagner

With Ms. Wilson, Ms. Lear again emphasized the importance of diction. She utilized Ms. Wilson in exemplifying aspects of pronunciation and phrasing. Ms. Lear offered many specific examples on both as she worked with Ms. Wilson on examining pronunciation and phrasing throughout the entire aria.

Mr. Stewart also exemplified through Ms. Wilson the importance of breathing and phrasing. He showed her through her demonstrations specifically how breathing can positively impact phrasing and improve effective delivery. He too worked with Ms. Wilson on diction and interpretation.

Ms. Wilson exhibited excellent tone quality and intonation. Her diction improved during her work with Ms. Lear and Mr. Stewart. Ms. Wilson is clearly a natural talent and an inherent ability to communicate with the audience.

Brendon J. Cooke, bass-baritone
"Signore, di fuori son gia I suonatori"
Le Nozze Di Figaro - W. A. Mozart

Mr. Cooke's first rendition of his aria sounded somewhat rushed. Ms. Lear began her remarks by commenting immediately of the importance of line and calibrated motion. Pointing out the importance of better breath control and diction, Ms. Lear exemplified through Mr. Cooke how to stretch and enhance vocal production. She commented that he should take his time and be sure that he gets into the role. Use diction to enhance the delivery and to emphasize the importance of what's being said.

Mr. Stewart advised Mr. Cooke to just let it happen. His message was clearly to go with the flow and sing more smoothly. Mr. Stewart utilized Mr. Cooke extensively to demonstrate effective use of legato and did demonstrations himself to emphasize his point. Mr. Stewart also discussed the added importance of line and legato when the accompaniment is particularly rhythmic, as is the can with Mr. Cooke's selection. Mr. Stewart also returned to his concept of effective utilization of vowels.

Comments made by Ms. Lear and Mr. Stewart significantly improved Mr. Cooke's performance, particularly in his phrasing. Improved breath control also improved Mr. Cooke's pitch quality and diction, both of concern in his initial presentation.

Michelle Kunz, soprano
"Mi chiamano Mimi"
La Boheme - Giacomo Puccini

Ms. Kunz's initial performance lacked full confidence in the characterization of Mimi. Though she delivered her rendition with good vocal quality and diction, Ms. Lear immediately commented on the importance of characterization and fully understanding the role and context of the aria.

Ms. Lear utilized Ms. Kunz to showcase moments where more effective acting would help communication with the audience in this specific aria. If the singer gets the role and context right away, Ms. Lear continued, the focus on communicating will come more naturally. Under-standing the character helps improve all aspects of singing. Also, it helps make the performance flow more naturally. Ms. Lear offer advice and guidance on pronunciation as well.

Ms Lear led almost all of the session with Ms. Kunz. In his brief remarks, Mr. Stewart augmented what Ms. Lear had to say with comments on phrasing and forward motion of line. He encouraged Ms. Kunz not to sit on notes and one tone, but to keep it going. Ms. Lear emphasized to Ms. Kunz the importance of visualizing the role in recital or concert. She offered how imagination of the setting also added to a singer's ability to communicate.

Ms. Kunz benefited from the comments made. Her diction definitely improved, as did her phrasing. She seemed much more comfortable in the role and more ably expressed the character of Mimi. She exhibited a beautiful tone and excellent range.

Hyun-Min Lee, soprano
"Je dis que rien ne m'epouvante"
Carmen - Georges Bizet

Following a pleasant performance by Ms. Lee, Ms. Lear focused immediately on pronunciation of the French and overall diction. Mr. Lear utilized Ms. Lee to again exemplify the difference in levels of communication to the audience when diction is clear and correctly pronounced. Ms. Lear also again focused on a singer's ability to get into the role and how that will aid significantly in selling the aria. Ms. Lear worked with Ms. Lee on phrasing, specifically talking with leading a line to the next phrase and keeping the directional excitement with this forward motion. Ms. Lear also worked with Ms. Lee on her visualization of the setting to help in emphasizing the characterization and communication.

Ms. Lee exhibited an improvement in breath control and diction during the course of her session with Ms. Lear and Mr. Stewart. She has a nice voice and showed greater strength as a performer a result of the increased focus in her performance brought about by the advice of Ms. Lear.

Throughout the Master Class, both Evelyn Lear and Thomas Stewart were very encouraging and positively impacted these beginning performers. There was an easy and natural camaraderie built by Ms. Lear and Mr. Stewart with each of the singers. Both were very personable and helpful with their specific demonstrations. They clearly enjoyed working with the singers and well expressed their support of such learning activities as master classes.

The Master Class itself was a good example of two significantly gifted performers offering positive guidance and advice to aspiring professional singers. Those in attendance were able to readily identify with the comments made by Ms. Lear and Mr. Stewart because of the clear-cut manner in which they were communicated. There was definitely a great deal of good advice and information resulting from the Master Class that made the session beneficial and enjoyable.

Opera Music Theater International, a nonprofit organization, sponsored the Evelyn Lear and Thomas Stewart Master Class at the National Museum of Woman in the Arts in Washington, DC; and the Ryan Edwards Master Class at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC as part of the Marjorie Lawrence International Vocal Competition.

Marjorie Lawrence International Vocal Competition
http://www.OMTI.org/scholarships.html

Marjorie Lawrence Vocal Competition Was Clearly A Success
http://www.OMTI.org/competitions.html

Ryan Edwards Master Class
http://www.OMTI.org/REMC.html

Everlyn Lear and Thomas Stewart Master Class
http://www.OMTI.org/LSMC.html

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James K. McCully