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.  

June 6, 2018


Chinese Students and CLA


Each summer Classic Lyric Arts Italy brings twenty aspiring singers from all over the world to the beautiful town of Novafeltria in the Emilia-Romagna region. They perfect their skills in the exacting discipline of singing Italian Opera and Art Song, studying with master teachers and interacting with the community. In the video above, four Chinese students of the program discuss their experiences with this program and the unique challenges they have encountered.

Testimonial: Briana Hunter

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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.

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"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."

In Memory of Michel Sénéchal

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.