Testimonial: Briana Hunter – Mezzo-Soprano
CLA Alumna and mezzo-soprano Briana Elyse Hunter takes us with her on an inward journey reflecting on her experiences as a three-time participant of our training programs.
Recent credits include Carmen (Carmen), Mercédes (Carmen), Cendrillon (Cendrillon), Ida/Prince Orlofsky (Die Fledermaus), Laura (Iolanta), Rosa Gonzales (Summer and Smoke), and Sarah (Ragtime). She has worked under the direction of The Royal Shakespeare Company as both actress and vocal soloist in an original production For Every Passion Something that premiered at the Fringe Festival in Scotland. She was a 2014 recipient of the Lys Symonette award in the KWF's Lotte Lenya Competition. In 2016 she competed in the Mid-Atlantic Regionals of the Met Competition at the Kennedy Center. She has been on the rosters of Santa Fe Opera, Knoxville Opera, American Opera Projects, Opera in the Heights, I SING BEIJING, Sarasota Opera, El Paso Opera, and Music Academy of the West where she sang the title role of Carmen under the tutelage of the great Marilyn Horne. Ms. Hunter also serves as Artistic Director of Bare Opera In NYC.
"When I met Glenn, I was a student in his beginner Italian diction course. I had just graduated from a small liberal arts college famous for its rigorous academics, and I was ready to take on this new academic setting with the same headstrong, nose to the grindstone attitude. I was acing my IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet), and I had a natural knack for languages. However, I was not soaring above the rest. Good grades were not making my voice great. Seeing my frustration, Glenn approached me about a program he had started in Italy and said I would really profit from it (naturally, like most, I was in love with Glenn at this point and probably would have followed him anywhere). In our brief sessions in his class, I found I responded well to his style of coaching, so I wanted more of that, plus the wine and the food sounded like a good deal. I was great at school so I would be great at this.
So what does make a great singer? Lately, I’ve read a lot of articles citing the death of classical music in America, and the dearth of great dramatic voices–-basically what is lacking––but very few actually offer up a reason or any kind of solution. Tenor Michael Sylvester’s recent blog post really breaks that mold and, I think, is right on the money. He says:
'Today’s singers expect it to be fed to them. They think if they get good grades and do the work put forth for them in college, they will succeed. As a group they take little initiative to teach themselves. And if you want to be a real singer, you have to teach yourself. Listen to the great singers of the past and present. Understand their style. Empathize with their voices. Work at your languages, don’t just be prepared with your IPA. That’s merely a tool. When you study a piece of music, understand the text. Make it yours. Know its roots.'
He goes on to say:
'We... somehow believe that we can teach someone in an hour a week and make them great. If you look back you will find singers that went off to study with this or that great master and they speak of having a lesson every day, of singing only scales for a year, of long discussions with their teacher on the subtleties of music and singing. Music has long been a mentored craft. Teacher passing down to student, who in turn passes it down, and so forth. Modern life seems to thwart this kind of apprenticeship.'
This is exactly the service CLA provides. The opportunity to work closely with the masters on a daily basis in the birthplace of the music itself. The daily one-on-one grueling yet delicious work of understanding the style and the nuances of the language. Listening to Michel Sénéchal tell stories about singing at the Paris Opera with Montserrat Caballé and how she proposed to him twice, or hanging out with Poulenc. Hearing Ubaldo Fabbri’s infectious laughter and listening to the Italian language just dance around gloriously in his mouth. Listening to the recordings they recommend to you with a new attentiveness to their artistry and diction. Sitting in the garden or the piazza and contemplating what kind of artist you want to be, meditating, and asking yourself daily if this is something you really want and if you have what it takes to work for it. Listening to the recordings of your own lessons that day and figuring out what works for you. Also, realizing you are not the only one who struggles with all of these things, as you get to know your colleagues and watch them work and at times get frustrated. That’s where the wine and the food become crucial.
When Glenn said I would profit from that first experience which then turned into three (two in Italy and one in France), I doubt even he knew the magnitude of his contribution at the time. He sent me thousands of miles away on an inward journey. To an Italian village seemingly untouched by modern times to get to the heart of the art form, the essence of the language, and find how it speaks to you and what you can uniquely bring to it. Like the Cat in the Hat taught us, “There is no one alive who is youer than you!” Therefore so much of the journey must be inward, and that’s the most difficult road to take. CLA has been a huge part of my inward journey, and I am extremely grateful to Glenn and all of his colleagues who have accompanied me."