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The New York Singing Teachers Association invited the incomparable Martin Katz to give a two-hour masterclass last night at Columbia Teachers College on 120 Street. I've heard Katz in recital many times over the years - most recently with Frederica von Stade at Carnegie Hall. Katz is a trigger happy man, that is, he wants to know what you are thinking about when you start a song. Katz was specific, working with each singer (there were five) to bring out the meaning of the text. Rise Stevens, the internationally renowned mezzo-soprano who had a 23-year career with the Metropolitan Opera, where she practically owned the role of Carmen during the 1940s and ’50s, died on Wednesday at her home in Manhattan. The daughter of a Norwegian-born father and an American Jewish mother, Rise Gus Steenberg was born in the Bronx on June 11, 1913, and reared in a railroad apartment there. According to Stevens, Schoen-Rene advocated a certain expression - a certain feeling in the face, which readers of this blog will know as the 'imposto' of Lucie Manen, an expression which Judith Doniger and Margaret Harshaw both demonstrated in this writer's presence without using Manen's term (I was present, however, when Harshaw held Manen's book in her hand and gave it her critique). In talking with other students, Stevens learned that her teacher taught each student according to their need.
The National Endowments for the Arts Opera Honors interviewed Rise Stevens in 2011, which you  can view below.
Brigit Nilsson was famous for saying that what one really needed for the role of Isolde was a comfortable pair of shoes.
The analytical mind closes the ear and face, pulls the head down, shortens the spine—which is the very opposite of extension, and dampens the sights and sounds of one's environment.
Singing requires an open-system response, one that involves both auditory and physical extension. Instead of experiencing extension, the singer who experiences effort feels the constriction of contraction. The Old School taught that singing should not entail more "effort" than what is needed to speak (speaking resonantly is its own teaching, it should be noted). Tomatis observed that the muscles of the ear have everything to do with the activity of extension and flexion in the body (stapedius & tensor tympani). I could have written something like: "What would Manuel Garcia think about a lip trill?" but that would have been a co-out.
When you obtain them, the rib cage is observed to refrain from wheezing or collapsing like a house of cards. In my last post, Mathilde Marchesi wrote about the student learning to 'close' the vocal folds after a few months of training. This was made possible since Katz is in town appearing with tenor Lawrence Brownlee at Zankel Hall.
To find the trigger, the thought that brings the song to life, you have to know the lyrics backwards and forwards. He emphasized the need for 'glottal' attacks in English and German repertoire, sustaining of the vocal line when the composer has placed a rest in the middle of the lyric ("You must make the poet happy: a rest is just a rest, not a lunch break!), bending the music to make sense of the words, and modulating the voice to bring out character.
Stevens was a superstar in an era when operatic superstardom was conferred mostly on soprano sand tenors.
Stevens was known for her acute musicianship, her expansive repertory, her accomplished acting and, in particular, her warm, velvety voice. Stevens appeared regularly with leading opera companies around the world, among them the Glyndebourne Festival Opera in England and La Scala in Milan. By the time she was 18, she was appearing regularly, sometimes in leading roles, with the Little Theater Opera Company, a Brooklyn troupe. Stevens helped support herself and her family by working in the garment district of Manhattan as a fur-coat model, an unenviable job in the days before widespread air conditioning. Stevens spent two and a half years at Juilliard, where she continued her studies with Mlle. Stevens entered the first Metropolitan Opera Auditions of the Air in the winter of 1935-36. Stevens returned to Europe, making her formal operatic debut in Prague, as Mignon, in 1936.
Stevens married Walter Surovy, a Hungarian actorwho was later her manager; they remained married until his death in 2001. Stevens assumed the presidency of the Mannes College of Music, a small, prestigious conservatory in Manhattan that is today part of the New School.
Stevens was the understudy for a woman that was studying with Schoen-Rene, so her future teacher attended the performance expecting to hear someone else. Then I saw her a few years later at a gala given for her by the Metropolitan Opera Guild at the Time Warner Building. This is a good thing if you are trying to parse the grammar of a sentence, write computer code, or figure out the plot to an Agatha Christie novel. Calling, psychologically speaking, is about connecting to another human being, which is why "call" and "response" is an ancient method used by vocal pedagogues.

If done with utmost and sincere attention, you will feel the spine extend both up and down, and the ribcage open.
If the poem is about a young girl, it really doesn't serve the text to sing with the rich tone of a mature woman, does it? Minnelli spoke about being specific when singing a song, and finds her triggers - to use Katz's word - by creating a song book. A Bronx native from a modest background, she was widely admired as a populist who help democratize the rarefied world of opera. Broadcast live on the radio, the auditions offered the winning singers one-year contracts with the Met.
She helped the college overcome a potentially crippling budget deficit and recruited world-renowned musicians, including the pianist Vladimir Horowitz, to the faculty. Afterwards, Schoen-Rene sent word that she "wanted to see that girl." Stevens went to Schoen-Rene's apartment and told her future teacher that she could not afford lessons. Stevens, buckling under the pressure, said that she couldn't do them, whereupon, Schoen-Rene stopped the lesson and told her to leave.
She appeared onstage, gracious and radiant, in a glittering gown after being introduced by her friend Van Cliburn.
She notes that the conservatory system, with its emphasis on scholastics, was not how she was trained. However, flexion is only half of the equation, extension being the necessary prerequisite for balanced movement.
As such, the mind is engaged in a closed-system response, one that crowds out a great deal of stimuli. If you are watching in a mirror, you will see the area around the eyes and upper lip widen. The subtle yet powerful changes in the musculature of the face are, for the most part, unconscious.
Having sung for him in a masterclass at Westminster Choir College when I was a graduate student, I knew what to expect: adroit, masterful instruction and text driven performance.
You'd think these things would be common sense, and that would be so for those who have studied their texts closely, but this is not always the case, especially for those with a 'voice,' or for voice teachers endeavoring to help singers with vocal technique, the latter sometimes forgetting the big picture. One side of the page contains the lyrics, while the opposite side contains the song's 'backstory' written in detail.
In 1964 she was named, with Michael Manuel, a general manager of the new Metropolitan Opera National Company, a touring ensemble. Of course, Stevens' training was of a very different nature than that of students today.
This is something classical pianists and singers could do as well. What's the point here?
She would take care of it, and did just that, obtaining a scholarship via Eleanor Steel, who was also a student, and the leading soprano with the Opera Comique.
After 10 minutes, Schoen-Rene let her back in with the proviso that she never, ever say the words 'I can't' again.
To my knowledge, Rise Stevens is the last remaining musical grandchild of Manuel Garcia and Pauline Viardot-Garcia. She had two lessons a week with Schoen-Rene at Juilliard, who, as I've noted, kept her on a diet of scales for a year before assigning repertoire.
It can suppose that effort is a sign of progress, a heroic journey, and something to be cultivated.
I can think of several reasons, the most important being that a lip trill doesn't teach the singer anything about vowels. She simply means that the vocal folds should adduct (see: I can use scientific terms, my head isn't always in the 19th century). Great art, regardless of its genre, is made up of emotion and meaning, and rooted in specifics.
Schoen-Rene discerned her true vocal register and helped lighten her voice for mezzo roles.
And so it began: Schoen-Rene told Stevens that they would work for a year and see what happened.
Everything had to be in the "mask," with Schoen-Rene prohibiting Stevens from using a "wide" sound as she went up the scale. Now, there is a graded system of repertoire that must be completed, often, at the expense of the singer's vocal technique, which is considered another cog in the wheel rather than the engine that keeps the car running.
This writer, of course, wonders if the difference in training is responsible for the much criticized homogeneous sound on today's stages.

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