—Shelén, mezzo-soprano Maggie Reneé, and pianist Yihao Zhou were doing decently well with a Granados duet, but Béné and I both felt it lacked spice—a paëlla that needed saffron. We both went to work on it. Béné diagnosed it as a problem of rhythm, and of musical energy that flagged before the phrase was over. She was correct in her diagnosis, and the piece started to sizzle a bit. But the two women still sounded a bit too serious. I sprang into action. “You know what you need? The umlaut of superiority,” I told them. “WHAT?” I couldn’t explain it in words—it’s something I’ve heard in the classic recordings of Spanish song by Victoria de los Ángeles and Montserrat Caballé, a vowel nuance that instantly conveys a kind of self-satisfied, feline flirtatiousness. The only way to get them to do it was to sing it to them—“cerca nacida de la Moncloa o la Florida,’ I cooed—except when I sang the last word, it came out more like “Flo-rü-da,” to which I added a sly little portamento. Before their very eyes I had become a stuck-up 19-year old chica boasting about her slender feet. And soon, Shelén and Maggie also sounded like stuck-up Spanish teenagers—except, of course, they also looked like stuck-up Spanish teenagers!