Opera North Masterclass with Angel Blue

Lessons from a Masterclass with Soprano Angel Blue

"I hope Opera North will invite ME to sing with you sometime!"

That's what Metropolitan Opera star Angel Blue said, after marveling that the five Opera North Resident Artists were able to participate in her masterclass less than twelve hours after performing opening night for La Boheme. Artistic Director Louis Burkot hastened to confirm he would, with the very appreciative audience of about 100 as his witnesses.

Ms. Blue began by saying, “I am so honored to be here. I love opera. I love singing and I am also a fan. I am excited to hear others sing. To hear what the human voice can do.’

She spent a quarter hour with each singer, working one-on-one on the stage at Lebanon Opera House with five participating Resident Artists Jacob Surzyn, Matthew Soibelman, Andrew Pardini, Sam Mathis and Corey Lovelace, plus Ashley (? ) whom she coaches. Each sang an aria through, accompanied by pianist Noriko Yasuda. Then Ms. Blue offered tips to help their performances. As she worked through each performance, she made suggestions about posture, embouchure (the shaping of the mouth to affect the sound) and each singer’s focus. And somehow, shaping those seemingly technical details she helped the artists transform their arias, making a difference in the intimacy, force and appeal of each performance that the audience could immediately appreciate.

With baritone Andrew Pardini, Minnie, the object of his affections in Puccini’s Fanciulla del West, seemed to take almost visible form in the empty chair before him because of the emotion he began bringing to his phrasing.

Baritone Jacob Surzyn’s Count in Le Nozze di Figaro became more authoritative by speaking his Italian text a bit more clearly.  “You’re a good actor,” said Blue. “I enjoy that.

"Sometimes you see people in opera who just stand there, do the job and get their checks. The most exciting nights are with those who are invested in their acting. They are more energized and more focused.”

Bass Matthew Sibelman’s Mefistofeles became more menacing after following the advice that “Satan doesn’t bow to anyone. Put that intensity in every ounce from your feet to your head… Breath must be in motion,” Ms. Blue told him. “It has to go somewhere. It cannot be stagnant.” She also said, “One of the tricks for your toolkit is to follow the markings the composer has given the orchestra. ‘Forza’ means you can go there, too.”

At the beginning of her masterclass and throughout the session, Ms. Blue repeated what her father told her in her first voice lesson at age 6: “If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.” Her father continued, “if it feels good, it will sound good.”

“I am here to encourage you and to lift you up, not bring you down in any way shape or form. If something I suggest doesn’t work for you, don’t do it. “

Encouraging all of the singers to take their time and to open their posture to better merge the resonance they feel between chest and head, she said, “Every singer finds his voice by its voice” – by the physicality of where the voice can be focused to project the sound and musicality best. “We find our voices as we go on this journey,” she said.

With soprano Ashley [name?] whom Angel Blue has coached along with Resident Artist Arianna Rodriguez at her Opera Training Studio, the suggestion was to take a different approach to her embouchure [the shaping of mouth and lips]. “I know you use that for focus, but I’m seeing tension in your jaw. You do not want tension. You won’t be heard. It will hurt; and you probably won’t be able to speak by the time you come offstage.” She suggested Ashley hold her hand on her jaw as a reminder that “The jaw is not involved at all. Every breath supports the connection between the chest and the mask [the resonance in the skull].”

For tenor Sam Mathis the lesson was in “scooping.” “You have to come from the top of the note, not from underneath. Be on top of the note before you sing it,” said Ms. Blue.  After complimenting his “Una furtiva lagrima” from Donizetti’s L’Elisier d’Amore, saying “It’s really a treat to hear a familiar aria sung so well,” she said, “Don’t change the intensity – that’s wonderful – just change the color.” And all of a sudden, his character and his story were even more alive and compelling.

Soprano Corey Lovelace found her B-flat by taking her time to feel rooted and centered before she sang. And then, rather than a “slow crawl” up to the note, she nailed it.

After two and a half hours, it seemed each artist, including Angel Blue had found a richer voice by “drinking in new information and new influences" on their work. For even those unversed in the technique of opera singing, the afternoon was filled with revelations – and new appreciations for the art, skill and hard work the Resident Artists bring to Opera North and their careers.