Renée Fleming, famous American opera singer and soprano, gave a master class in Pick-Staiger Concert Hall on Monday, Oct. 27. A four-time Grammy winner, Fleming most recently won the 2013 Best Classical Vocal Solo Grammy award. In 2010, she was named the first-ever creative consultant at Lyric Opera of Chicago. In the master class, Fleming gave master students practical skills guidance and advice.
The master class is a opportunity given to students by an expert of a particular field, usually music. In a master class, students performs one piece they prepared and a guest expert takes one student at a time, giving the he or she advice on how to play it.
After Ashley Ellen Mann, the soprano in her second year of the Bienen School of Music master program, finished her performance "Chi il bel sogno" from La rondine, Fleming asked her to bend down and take a deep breath to let her voice come out and project on the ground. She also let Mann sing sounds like "yao" or "kao" to release back her tongue.
"You see, we sing much better when we do these, she said.
She said that there are so many muscles involved in singing. Doing exercises like push-ups stabilizes your muscles and adds depths to the singer's sound, she said, which is why she asked second-year master baritone student Nathaniel Hill to get on the floor and do some push-ups. She also mentioned about the emotion part of Hill's song choice, "Ah! Per sempre" from I puritani by Vincenzo Bellini.
"Let's see if you are really upset that you would punch the wall," she said.
She had the young singer speak out the lyrics in Italian, then in English, to feel the emotion in the lyrics – and actions. Grabbing a pencil from the audience, Fleming asked Quinn Middleman, a first-year master mezzo-soprano to put a pencil or a finger in her mouth and sing.
After giving class to the four master students in Bienen, Fleming answered questions from the audience about singing skills, performance and the situation of opera.
"It is amazing to have opportunity to see the famous singer here," Bienen and Weinberg senior Eilis Lombard said. "Renee Fleming made such accessible critiques. They are not general ideas, but specific suggestions."