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Classical 101

A Master Class with Marilyn Horne

The great mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne comes to Oberlin College every October for a week of private lessons and public master classes. I generally take a van load of OSU kids up there to hear the classes. If the beauty of Oberlin's campus in mid-fall tends to lull us into a happy stupor, the energy of this lady, certainly the most astonishing vocalist I ever heard "live," is a terrific tonic. Now in her seventies and with cancer of the pancreas in remission, Miss Horne looked great at the most recent classes.  Here are my notes of what went on: To a young soprano singing "Prendi, per me sei libero" from Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore: "Wonderful! Just great. I really don't have much to say. Now listen. When you do that descent on 'prendi,' the very first word, give me more D in 'prenDI. A little bite here is good. Listen, you're an attractive girl.  I want you to use that bod you've got! You gotta pick it up a bit because the pitch will sag otherwise. Now look, you have a lovely voice, but I want you to sing louder. I don't mean to push or force in any way, but you are being a little to careful. Sing out!" To a young soprano singing "Porgi amor" from Le nozze di Figaro: "Well! you have a big voice, don't you! Wonderful! There aren't that many out there.  But you are singing this too carefully.  It's perfectly fine to sing this with a big voice.  But use it! ...Oh my, I'm getting a wiggle in your voice.  I think it's because you are holding back.  Don't.  Sing it! Also, be very careful of your placement. C'mon! Right here! Right between the eyes.  See?  You sang out and no more wiggle! I want you to be very aware of that.  You can fix it. Breathe low and support.  You need to fill yourself with that good, compressed air. Keep feeding the breath slow and steady.  Look, this is a difficult aria.  It's the first thing she sings and must be rock steady.  It's really all about technique.  But with a big voice like yours you really have to use it all,  or else we get that wiggle. You can fix that. Your voice is wonderful! A young man came out and sang Richard Strauss's "Befreit."  This is a long, highly emotional and dramatic lied. The voice was good and the musicianship very good.  I'll bet Dieskau himself found this lied a challenge. This young man was twenty-two. To him,  Miss Horne said, "Great! Wonderful! Just great. I really have nothing to say except, Congratulations!" Here's an audio clip of Marilyn Horne at Oberlin coaching a young mezzo in the "Habanera" from Carmen. It's a long clip but you'll have more fun and learn more about Carmen than you ever knew. Enjoy! http://www.wosu.org/audio/classical/2009/marilyn_horne_class.mp3