...was how the
great mezzo-soprano chose to call the occasion of her visit to San Diego,
California in the fall of 1998. It was greeted by much enthusiasm by "students"
and audience alike; she was last in town back in September 1980 when she
came to direct the San Diego Opera production of Richard Strauss' Elektra.
It was a lesson in language
- as in Italian or French or German, and yes, as in word definition and
and diction. Singing, Ms. Resnik said, is slow-motion speaking. She asked
each singer to tell the audience in English what the aria he/she just sung
was all about, and she was quick to catch lapses in diction, and just as
quick to give tips on how to correct them, when to stress a vowel or a consonant.
And in the process we learned that in singing, it is as important to comprehend
the words - context, pronunciation, and nuances of meaning - as it is to
know the music.
time around, she came to San Diego as the first honoree and guest
lecturer of the series Visions and Voices: In Celebration of Women
(the others were writer-speaker-pediatrician-activist Helen Caldicott
and film director Joan Micklin Silver). Ms. Resnik's "lectures"
took the form of master classes: two 3-hour sessions with two sets
of students, conducted over two afternoons. Ms. Resnik preferred to
call the sessions encounters with a master teacher, explaining that
time constraints did not allow for the breadth and depth of coverage
of the traditional master class.
The first group of students were made up of the young professional
singers of the San Diego Opera Ensemble who bring live opera productions
to schools and other locations in San Diego county. Students from
the University of California and the San Diego State University comprised
the second group.
It did not matter
that one was a professional or a student, Ms. Resnik gave each singer
the same undivided attention. Each singer had about 40 minutes to
sing an aria and be critiqued by the master teacher. And what an education
each 40-minute segment was - presumably for the singer and most certainly
for the audience - as if a chapter of a great book on the art of singing
came alive before one's eyes (and ears)!
It was a lesson in the mechanics, if not the anatomy, of breath and the
human voice. Ms. Resnik instantly recognized a good voice, and suggested
ways to make it more beautiful. Pointing to the area between the abdomen
and the neck, she repeatedly stressed that the voice must originate not
from the throat but from deeper within the body. Cognizant of individual
idiosyncrasies, she would ask one singer to relax or stand a certain way
making sure the spine is straight, another to sing with arms akimbo, and
yet another to smile while singing a certain line - whatever it took to
bring out a fuller, more polished sound. And like magic, her prescriptions
worked without exception - one could tell the difference between "before"
and "after." Again, in the process we learned that voice projection
is all about breath and diaphragm control - over the volume and passage
of air from the cavity within up through the organ of voice.
And of course, when all discussions of rhythm and tempi and melody, of fortissimo
and pianissimo, of phrasing and stylistic embellishments, of legato and
portamento and staccato are taken into account - the sessions added up to
one big lesson in music given by a true master teacher who amazed everyone
- with the acuity of her mind, the sharpness of her wit and fantastic sense
of humor, the breadth of her knowledge (she knew from memory the words to
every aria whether soprano or mezzo or tenor or baritone - a dozen altogether
- and every marking on the score!), and the impassioned devotion to her
art that moves her to pass this knowledge to today's generation of singers.
(Here's a quick paraphrase of some of her words of wisdom:
at the poetry, at how the words are written, and know what the composer
is asking you to do; and when you have the role in your voice, then
think how to act....
Be technically sure of what you want to do with your sound.... e.g.,
Mozart's Queen of the Night aria is for the dramatic voice and not
for a young voice or a coloratura.... Don't forget that everyone in
the audience is paying to get every note!
The voice is like a string of pearls... as a singer you should spend
your life making each pearl creamy - that's what studying is all about,
making the most beautiful sound you can make.
The 2-day encounter with the master teacher was capped with the presentation
of a gift of appreciation and an award in her honor which read as follows:
Visions and Voices
Steven H. and Alida Brill Scheuer Foundation
University of California, San Diego Extended Studies & Public
Visions and Voices seeks to highlight women whose artistic and intellectual
contributions have transformed the map of twentieth century creative
life. With our first participant, we celebrate the life and work of
Resnik's stellar operatic career - beginning with her dramatic debut
in 1942, soaring with her defining role of Carmen in the mid-1950's,
and continuing with her countless interpretations of traditional and
contemporary roles through the 1990's - truly places her in opera's
pantheon. Her rare gift has been to combine this great talent with
enormous generosity in her devotion to her teaching career. Through
her teaching and directing, she inspires the next generation of singers
and musicians, as both mentor and model.
Therefore, we, today, at this Master Class on November 7, 1998 proudly
inaugurate the Visions and Voices program with Regina Resnik, who
has given so much of herself to all of those who love opera.
Regina, it is the breadth of your vision and the spirit of your voice
that give us the great privilege of bestowing this honor upon you.
Mary Lindenstein Walshok,
Associate Vice Chancellor
University of California, San Diego, Extended Studies and Public Programs
Alida Brill Scheuer,
The Steven H. and Alida Brill Scheuer Foundation