CLA France

CLA France Blog: Poets in the Making

This week, the advanced French class is studying surrealist poetry.  After some conversational practice, we take turns pronouncing and translating French texts.  To supplement our studies, we translated an excerpt from André Breton’s 1924 manifesto on surrealism.  He puts forth that an artist should first clear their mind from sublime intentions and earthly distractions.  Once this state of openness has been achieved, the writer should allow their pen to simply follow the mind’s musings.  

We practiced this method of composition, and I think that we were all pleasantly surprised by the results.  Here are some of the poems that the class wrote - don’t worry, I’ve also roughly translated them to English!

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Le café
Me donne du bonheur
Couchant dans ma tasse blanche
Les fleurs se réveillent en chantant pour son énergie
Les sons hauts et lourds
Quand arrive le soleil, le café sourit
Ah, j’ouvre mes bras
J’ouvre mes yeux
J’ouvre mon cœur
à ton pureté marron
Les paysans et les rois, tout le monde peut t’avoir
Mais tu es le mien seulement
Le mien

Coffee
Gives me happiness
Sleeping in my white cup
The flowers awake singing for its energy
The high and heavy sounds
When the sun arrives, the coffee smiles
Ah, I open my arms
I open my eyes
I open my heart
To your brown purity
The peasants and the kings, everyone can have you
But you are mine only
Mine
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Les roses sont une rivière
La montagne est un forêt
Je me suis jetée dans la piscine
Dans cette journée trop bleue
Le soir je me suis réveillée
D’un songe magique et puissant comme mon cœur
Ce cœur qui batte trop forte
Dans cette journée trop bleue.

The roses are a river
The mountain is a forrest
I fell in the pool
In this too blue day
In the evening I woke myself
From a magical and powerful dream like my heart
This heart that beats too strong
In this too blue day
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Que faites-vous, vous qui courrez?
Avec vos nouveaux chaussures
Écrivant sur la rue
L’encre gris-noir
Que dessinez-vous
Qu’est-ce que vous voulez dire au monde?
Si vous devez partir,
Pourquoi pas
Soyez un oiseau et
Voler?
Les dessins des pieds sont plus jolis dans le ciel.

What are you doing, you who runs?
With your new shoes
Writing on the street
The dark grey ink
What do you draw
What do you want to say to the world?
If you should leave,
Why not
Be a bird and
Fly?
The drawings of feet are more pretty than the sky.
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CLA France Blog: Joyeux Anniversaire

Today, I celebrated a wonderful 23rd birthday in France!  I don’t typically initiate grand birthday celebrations.  In fact, I wasn’t even sure if I would tell the other singers about my birthday - I didn’t want anyone to feel pressured to make my birthday special.  To my surprise, I already felt so close to the other singers by the second day, and I knew that I wanted to celebrate with them.  It’s also hard to hide one’s birthday when our conversations are filled with horoscope signs and birth months!

My first birthday indulgence was the opportunity to sleep a bit later.  Some of us stayed awake playing ping pong and foosball until midnight so that we could ring in the special day with a very dramatic rendition of Happy Birthday.  I awoke ready to enjoy an exciting and relaxing first day off in France.  We had planned a morning excursion to a market in Issigeac, a local town.  When I joined the breakfast table, I was sad to spot cold rain outside.  The market is located outside, so another dreary day would not bode well for our excursion.  As we ate, the rain started to lighten, and we decided to proceed with the trip.  

Hélène, one of our wonderful coaches, drove Temple and myself to the market in her car.  This was a great opportunity to practice some more French conversation and get to know Hélène a little better.  Since so many languages are represented among our singers and faculty - English, French, Spanish, German, and more - we have a very symbiotic linguistic community.  I feel further supported in my French studies when I can help Hélène and other French speakers with an English translation here and there.  

Issigeac offers a quaint, rustic appeal, but the market itself was immensely popular. (Quaint is one word that was completely new to Hélène!). It was difficult to maneuver oneself around the many attendees within the narrow streets. This was my first experience with a market that strings along various streets.  I have visited many farmer’s markets in the United States, which often fill vacated parking lots, as well as other European markets that sprawl around an entire square.  The linear rows of stands along the town’s streets allowed us to appreciate the surrounding buildings and picturesque alleys that branch out from the city center.  The vendors offered a diverse array of products, from foie gras to leather bags.  I certainly enjoyed many of the edible samples that were on display.  I was so pleased to find one of my favorite pastries, a canelé, at one stand.  This is one of my favorite treats, and I was able to buy a massive, delicious pastry for about one quarter of what it would cost back home in Virginia.  It was already turning out to be a wonderful birthday. 

After helping my friend pick out a light linen dress, I stumbled upon a stand featuring wooden watches and sunglasses.  The watches charmed me, and I couldn’t resist purchasing one as a birthday present to my self.  The market was a success!

We enjoyed another lovely lunch upon returning to Les Jouandis.  All felt normal, but there was a surprise brewing.  I was shocked that the staff had planned for a cake to be shared in honor of my birthday - with candle and all!  They also guessed my favorite flavor - lemon.  I received another dazzling rendition of happy birthday, and all I could think about was my gratitude for the kindness and generosity from my fellow musicians.  

Long warm naps, sunbathing, and pool volleyball filled the rest of our sunny day off (there may have been a bit of score study squeezed in there too).  I enjoyed yet another stunning afternoon walk before dinner and was so grateful for the company of my new friends.  I am still blown away by the excitement and energy that everyone shared with me.  I think that this speaks to the kind character that fills the chateau’s halls, and I’m looking forward to reciprocating the warm camaraderie that I received today.  With an extra year added to my age, I am feeling ready to take on a great week of music -  and, our first concert on Friday!

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CLA France Blog: Singer Spotlight - Temple Hammen

Today’s post features the first spotlight on a member of this year’s CLA France family.  I checked in with Temple Hammen, a soprano from the United States (she is also from my home state of Virginia!) to see how she is enjoying the CLA experience thus far.

Why did you choose to attend CLA?
Last year, I started coaching with Glenn, who told me about the program.  When he invited me to come to France, I knew that I couldn’t say no to the opportunity to immerse myself in French repertoire and language.  I felt and understood that this would be the best next step for me in my career as a young artist.

What has been your favorite moment so far?
I have loved getting to know the other singers, and the one time that we’re all together is meal time. The first dinner that we had at the chateau was so beautiful and very memorable to be all together. You could see the excitement and joy in everyones eyes. Since then, the times that we meet at meals are special because we are able to relax. It is so simple, yet so great for all of us to gather as a group. 

What is one important thing that you have learned already?
For me, the linguistic exposure has been the most impactful and important aspect of the experience thus far.  I feel like I can already look at a piece of music and more easily and clearly speak the French text.  This is extremely important because as a classical singer, I must develop clear diction to be the most effective performer I can be.   

What has been your biggest traveling faux pas?
If you had a chance to read the first blog post about a girl losing her bag on the train, that was me. I was on the train coming from Bordeaux to Bergerac with two other singers in the program, and I left my seat to use the restroom. I left all of my belongings behind. I started to leisurely walk back to my seat when I heard the two girls yelling to tell me that our stop was here and I had to get off the train. I noticed that they had retrieved my belongings, so I ran off and immediately the doors closed.  Once I gathered myself, I noticed that they had forgotten my suitcase, and it was still on the train. Immediately, I panic. All of my gowns and clothes for the entire month were in that suitcase. I was able to get a train conductor’s attention. She called over to the conductor of our departed train and has asked them to pass the suitcase to an incoming train in the opposite direction. (I must mention how appreciative I am of the kind and punctual French train staff.) After a stressful half hour, my suitcase was delivered to the platform of the incoming train…the connection worked!  I was beyond relieved, and I made such great friends with the conductor who truly saved the day!  I am very thankful. 

What are you most looking forward to in the program?
I am looking forward to my French improving and becoming more innate within my singing and personal life. The venues in which we are going to perform look beautiful, and I’m very much looking forward to performing in them. I am also so thrilled to be connecting with the other singers and coaches in so many ways and developing wonderful long-lasting relationships. Everyone has been so lovely, and I can’t wait to grow together even more!

Where will you be after the program?
I will be beginning my Masters degree in Voice at Mannes in the fall, studying with Diana Soviero. CLA has already been a great spring board into the next step of my vocal studies.

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CLA France Blog: First Impressions

After arduous travels, most of the singers arrived yesterday at our location: the cheateau Les Jouandis. For some, the trip was not as peaceful as the calm rolling hills that now surround us. We flew, navigated the French train system, and, due to rail construction, took the last leg of our journey by bus. One singer even left her suitcase on a departing train. On my end, I narrowly caught my train in Paris with only one minute to spare. However, I can confidently say that the hours of cramped leg room and rushed connections faded away as we discovered Le Jouandis in the heart of the French countryside.

Les Jouandis, our cozy campus for the next three weeks, is a peaceful paradise. The chateau sits atop a hill and overlooks the rolling fields of grass and wheat. The property itself features beautiful foliage and rustic charm. Despite its aged beauty, the buildings offer a variety of amenities, including a sauna, outdoor hammocks, and an impressive pool, which made us all very sad to learn that our second day will bring rain. We were greeted by the owners with a basket filled with ripe cherries - hand-picked on the property, of course. After enjoying our first nibbles on the large outdoor dining area, our jet-lagged spirits were already inspired for three weeks of beauty, music, and community. Personally, I found Le Jouandis to be even more impressive than I could have hoped.

The only excitement equal to discovering our beautiful home was the experience of meeting each other. We represent many backgrounds and personalities, including heritage from Mexico, Switzerland, Ukraine, and the United States, in addition to the largely French staff. It was exciting to take part in the beginnings of our CLA community, and I’m looking forward to the great friendships and collaborations that will develop. I was particularly struck by the thoughtfulness of the musicians around me. It is clear that this year’s students and faculty prioritize kindness and inclusion. Even while sunbathing by the pool, I listened to productive conversations about what it means to be an effective and authentic artist.

Finally, we celebrated all together at our first group dinner prepared by the wonderful cooking staff Benoit and Emmannuel (much more on delicious food in future posts!). The faculty welcomed us and spoke about their priorities for the next few weeks. They stressed the importance of a supportive CLA community and the pleasure of performing. These two ideas are very important to me as an artist, and I was so excited to hear that they will be the foundation of the CLA experience. I feel that competition, ego, and distrust too often seep into our educational experiences as young singers. Even more so, I find that, among our studies of technique, diction, and interpretation, we easily forget to take pleasure in our performance. CLA seems to steer clear of these pitfalls, and it is clear that this will be a time for detailed work, as well as a comfortable opportunity to take risks and truly enjoy our craft.

I’m looking forward to sharing my experience at CLA with you all through this blog. If you have any questions about the experience here in France, please reach out at wesley.diener@gmail.com with questions or suggestions. More to come soon!

Sunday Reading: French History from a Donor

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Contributing Editor and CLA supporter Marshall Berland writes about the little known Boulanger Sisters of Belle Epoque France--Nadia, arguably the greatest composition teacher of the twentieth century, and her younger sister, the tragic Lili, who died at the age of 24 and yet left an impressive body of work still being discovered and appreciated today. Grab your coffee and head to Paris for the afternoon!

Reflections: CLA France 2018

A snapshot of the countryside by the chateau.

A snapshot of the countryside by the chateau.

Reflections:  CLA France 2018

Life is loud.  In the city, working a graduate program, running errands, the daily stuff of life, it is all part of a rhythm.  I am thankful for all of it, because the routine is part of happiness and a life as a singer.  We are always up and moving, meeting new people, acquainting ourselves with new repertoire, blending backgrounds to make some good music.  

I was down in Charleston recently for a series of performances during the Piccolo Spoleto Festival.  We did a send-out concert at the beautiful Mepkin Abbey, a place rich with musical history.  The leading monk there was a career organist and pianist before turning to monastery life.  On the way back to our cars, we walked down the pathway lined with live oak trees. One of us commented on how quiet such a life would be.  No technology, no connection to the outside world — just the work.  Folks go on meditation retreats to have this great escape.  A place to reset, a haven.  In the life of an artist, we rarely get the chance.

When I woke up today, I opened my window out to the Dordogne hills.  Other than the birds singing, the occasional distant car driving down the country road, and the voices of the 10-12 singers that have come here to the chateau, it’s just us.  There is still the intensity of learning all the new repertoire, but the hassle is gone.  Food is provided, we don’t have to go anywhere (only to go for morning jogs next to the cow pastures...)  It is a retreat, and there is nothing but the language, the music, and the landscape.  

M
June 6, 2018

 

In Memory of Michel Sénéchal

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In French song, the singer becomes a painter, describing a landscape, suggesting an emotion…One must use the entire palette of colors of the voice…”
— Michel Sénéchal

From the program’s beginnings in 2012 to the year 2014, we had the great honor of having the distinguished singer and teacher Michel Sénéchal to offer daily coachings to the participants, sharing his vast experience and passion for the art of singing in French. An undisputed master of the French repertoire, he was intimately connected to the great composers such as Charpentier, Hahn, Honegger, Messian, and Poulenc, as well as the renowned master teacher Nadia Boulanger. A student at the Paris Conservatory along side Régine Crespin and Gabriel Bacquier, he studied with the great French baritone Camille Maurane, as well as Gabriel Pollet, the last disciple of Fauré, Duparc, Satie and Debussy.

Michel Sénéchal led a brilliant career, starring on the world’s most prestigious stages including the Paris, Vienna, Salzburg, Berlin, Milan, London, Bruxelles, Moscow, Madrid, Barcelona and San Francisco opera houses as well as the Metropolitan in New York. He can be heard on over a hundred recordings. Renowned for his impeccable style and dramatic presence, he was one of Karajan’s preferred singers. The maestro invited him to perform in Mozart’s greatest operas in Vienna, where he also took on many other prominent roles alongside the most celebrated singers of our times, under the most renowned conductors.

Michel Sénéchal was born in Paris.  During his childhood, he sang as an alto in the choir at his grade school and at his church; then after a period of classical study, he entered into the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris where he studied voice with Gabriel Paulet.  He won the 1er Prix de Chant in 1950 and was immediately engaged with the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels where he made his début in Mârouf.  Two years later, he was the [star/high?  brillant laureat] in the Concours International of Geneva.  In 1958, he made his débuts at the Paris Opera and at l’Opéra-Comique where he excelled at his chosen repertoire:  Mireille, Mignon, Lakmé, Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Les Indes Galantes, Cosi Fan Tutte, Le Compte Ory, Platée, L’Incorrazione di Poppea...  

While his light tenor voice was perfectly suited to leading roles of Mozart and Rossini which he sang in his early career, he dedicated the second half of his career to the repertoire for character tenor.  Thanks to his unique artistry and exceptional humor, he became the premiere performer of these roles.  An unforgettable interpreter of the [heros/heroine/title characters] of Jean-Philippe Rameau, he was saluted by the public and the press as the most beautiful interpreter of Platée.  In international news, he was remarked for his musicality and his [investment scenic/stage presence/character] in the title roles of Compte Ory of Rossini and of Platée, but equally those of Georges Brown from La Dame Blanche, of L’Innocent in Boris Godounov, and of Gonzalve in L’Heure Espagnole.

He sang alongside Régine Crespin, Andréa Guiot, Robert Massard, Jane Rhodes, Gabriel Bacquier, Roger Soyer, Denise Dupleix, Michel Roux, and Placido Domingo, Renée Felming, Mirella Freni, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Luciano Pavarotti and many other illustrious artists.

He performed in the world’s premier opera theaters: At Vienna Opera, he was one of the few French tenors to have sung Tamino in Die Zauberflöte, but also Le Compte Ory, L’Heure Espagnole, L’Enfant et les Sortilèges, Il Matrimonio Segreto.  At Madrid Opera, he sang Le Nozze di Figaro.  At the Metropolitan Opera, from 1982 onward he performed regularly in Les Contes d’Hoffman, Le Nozze di Figaro, Falstaff, La Forza del Destino, Eugène Onéguine, Andrea Chenier, La Fille du Regiment, Manon.  Since 1989 he sang at the San Francisco Opera in Capriccio, Le Nozze di Figaro, La Fille du Regiment, Andrea Chenier, Der Rosenkavalier, Russalka, Madama Butterfly, Manon, and Les Contes d’Hoffman.  He also participated in productions in the most prominent international festivals, such as Aix en Provence (Platée), Glyndebourne and Salzbourg where he made a revered interpretation of Herbert Von Karajan.

From his extensive discography, we note Dialogues of the Carmelites, Chérubin of Massenet, L’Heure Espagnole and L’Enfant et les Sortilèges, Platée, L’Enfance du Christ, Le Compte Ory, Mireille of Gounod, Roméo et Juliette of Berlioz, Anthologies of the Mélodies of Francis Poulenc with Dalton Baldwin; and most notably, the recording of La Dame Blanche.

Established as an absolute master of French singing, he was professor and director at the Opéra de Paris School for fifteen years, being instrumental in the evolution of many of today and tomorrow’s stars including Roberto Alagna, Nathalie Dessay, Uria Monson, Ludovic Tésier and Renée Fleming.
He offered classes at Columbia University and New York’s Mannes College. He also gave master classes to young singers at the Metropolitan Opera and San Francisco Opera and taught at the International Vocal Arts Institute in Montreal.

After making his debut in 1950, he continued to be active for over 60 years as a performer and master teacher.