Sarah Connolly Masterclass (ROH / NOS)

If there’s one thing that anyone will tell you about me, it’s how my unashamed mega appreciation of all things Sarah Connolly. There hasn’t been a single performance I’ve witnessed where I haven’t come away feeling totally inspired and wanting to find the nearest practise room to try things out!

Last night Sarah took a masterclass at the ROH with two mezzos (Hanna-Liisa Kirchen and Heather Lowe from the National Opera Studio), and I knew we were in for a treat. I sat, observed, felt green with envy and scribbled notes during the course of the evening. Apologies for the flurry of bullet-points – I hope you find these snippets ring true to your own singing, and you try applying a few in your next practise session:

  • Not all singers end up on the stage. Some end make successful careers as recitalists and chorus members. She had no idea what she wanted to do at 23/24, and it was only around the age of 32 where she thought she might like to dive into the world of opera.

Notes raised during Hanna-Liisa’s working session on Handel’s ‘’Where shall I fly’’, Hercules

  • What is your aria doing to you emotionally? What is it you are expressing? How can you emphasize things differently? Give your text reality and meaning.
  • Speaking your text through in a declamatory manner will allow you to find the natural rhythmic structure, and enable you to sing it as if it were spoken.
  • Don’t always worry about the meter in Handel; ensure you are always moving the text i.e. often you will discover that you must treat recitative accompagnato as secco.
  • Rubato is essential in all Baroque as it provides the music with a sense of expression and flow.
  • Don’t make your recitative appear to be ‘known’ – make it be the first time you’re having these thoughts. Think of your thought, and sell it!
  • Fill rests with energy and intention.
  • If you have awkward breaths to take, make them expressive. The audience probably won’t even notice.
  • Ornamentation: ensure you ornament on the correct part of the word. I.e the word ‘Pianti’, the ornaments should happen on pianti not on the weaker part of the word.
  • Make the most of explosive consonants ‘sposa’ – helps engage the support and natural flow of breath rather than wasting breath.

On the train journey home I mulled over all the musical and emotional responses I’d witnessed to Sarah’s guidance throughout the evening. I’ve no doubt that many of us have teachers that week in, week out, encourage us to apply these exact same notions to our own singing, but, witnessing the changes as an outsider really drives home just how important the emotional connection and consequent delivery is.

Personally, I’ve often caught myself feeling so totally obsessed with technicalities that I’ve often become somewhat apologetic about the emotional delivery for fear of the breath / ornamentation / expression / movement police. Perhaps we could all benefit from allowing ourselves practise sessions, lessons and coachings where the focus is on the sheer delivery of the aria (as if it were the actual performance) and seeing how this subconsciously resolves a lot of the technical issues we thought we had with ‘that particular phrase’.

My favourite part of the evening was Sarah exclaiming ‘’don’t worry about the possible car crash, I’m expecting it! Embrace it!’’ I think we all need to push ourselves to have that car crash, and explore all likely avenues – isn’t this singing malarkey meant to be fun, after all?!

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