NYFOS@Caramoor 2024: Day 4

Written by Steven Blier

Artistic Director, NYFOS

In category: Blier's Blog

Published March 15, 2024

It has been wonderful to work as a group and to let all the singers—and Amber, our pianist—watch each other’s coachings. Bénédicte and I hope that they enjoy being privy to their colleagues’ progress, and that they relish having a front-row seat at the Steve and Béné show. And yes, everyone seems invested in seeing their fellow cast members fly into new terrain. Still, no matter how pleasant and supportive the atmosphere, rehearsals involve a fair amount of sitting around. I comfort myself that at least they are not doing so in lunky, uncomfortable costumes or fending off a disagreeable conductor.
Today, though, we decided to work one-on-one for part of the day. Bénédicte went to the upstairs piano, while I stayed in the hall. There are some issues—musical, vocal, language, style—that benefit from a little privacy. When there are other cast members in the room, I can never quite let go of my need to keep them entertained. Alone, I have no problem about doing a phrase seven or eight times. If I want to explore a vocal issue, I don’t feel self-conscious. Nor does the singer. In front of their colleagues, they would feel they were in the hot seat. Alone with a coach they trust, they are safe in an incubator. 
A day of intimacy, then, and a day of extraordinary progress. Béné took Amber through every beat of Wolf’s “Ganymed” and opened up a world of sonority, timing, musical spacing, flow, and drama. (Or so I heard—of course, I wasn’t there.) And I spent some quality time with Shan, a high coloratura with a substantial sound in her middle range, almost like having two voices in one. “I was a mezzo when I started school,” she told me. A mezzo? Oh, that explained everything—now I knew where the path was.  Would I have learned this if I were working in front of the whole cast? Unlikely. Everything started to line up—and soar.
And so it went with Scott, who located a new sweetness in his sound that I knew was lurking—and Michael, who went even deeper with his Granados song than yesterday. There was just one weird issue with a couple of measures at the beginning, where his legato sounded a bit artificial. Somehow the syllables seemed overextended. It was a tiny thing, but it bothered me since every other phrase was perfect. I took advantage of the fact that we were alone to ask what was going on. “Oh, I do that because a coach told me my Spanish sounded like Italian. So he told me to sing it that way, with very long vowels.” “No no no no no—your Spanish is beautiful, don’t mess with it!” The easiest fix of the day.  
Sometimes a singer will know what a lyric is saying, but not quite what it means. Or what it implies. This always gives me a chance to utilize my greatest skill, the ability to spin off from a line of poetry into a crazy improv monologue. Mostly these are unpublishable. But sometimes I can bring other singers into the free association game. Shan wasn’t quite landing a line in the British jazz tune that ends our concert, “Tell Me the Truth About Love”: “it wasn’t in the chicken run.” 
“Scott—show Shan the chicken run!”
“Be a chicken?” 
“Well, that’s who’s there!”
Scott obliged, good sport that he is, bending over and trotting up and down the stage with his arms bent into wing shapes. Shan will never trip on that line again.
In a day filled with beauties too numerous to mention (including Sophia singing her Spanish song with astounding beauty and style), one stands out. I had been trying to find a way to get Shan to sing like a jazz musician, a tough enough enterprise for any operatic soprano and even harder for a non-native. I’d asked her to listen to Eartha Kitt, but it didn’t provide the spark I hoped it would. Finally today, I said, “Shan, sing it in the most ridiculously stereotypical sexy voice you can imagine. Over the top. ‘Happy birthday Mr. President,’” I cooed, in my silliest Marilyn Monroe imitation.
“Marilyn Monroe?” she exclaimed. “I love Marilyn Monroe!”

Whereupon Shan spun out her verse in a sexy, tremulous whisper unlike anything I’d ever heard her do. Her singing slithered and seduced. (So did she.) I’m praying she’ll do it again tomorrow. Once was not enough.

PICTURED: Sophia, Michael, Béné, Amber, Scott, Shan. Et moi. 

author: Steven Blier

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Called “the coolest dude in town” by Opera News, master collaborative pianist and coach Steven Blier is the co-founder and artistic director of New York Festival of Song. Here on No Song is Safe From Us, Steven blogs about the NYFOS Emerging Artist residencies, writes the engaging and erudite program notes for our Mainstage concerts, and has contributed many Song of the Day entries.


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