ELISABETH HARRIS

Mezzo Soprano

SPRING UPDATE

Greetings from New York!

Spring-time in New York is a veritable sensory delight as the city bursts into glorious technicolor on every street corner and in every park. Seemingly unaffected by a series of nor’easter storms bringing record late snowfall accumulation to the city, the cherry blossom, daffodil fields and brightly coloured tulip plots thrive as the mercury rises, school finishes, and we move into the warmer months.

My second semester at the Manhattan School of Music (MSM) has been an exhilarating experience as I learned and performed the role of Tisbe in Rossini’s La Cenerentola for the School’s main-stage opera. During the short Winter break, I spent a week familiarising myself with the score, transcribing Nico Castel’s phonetic alphabet and English translation for ease of pronunciation and understanding. This background work proved extremely beneficial as I entered the rehearsal process prepared to take the next step with the tutors and coaches in perfecting my Italian diction, and my ability to communicate in a foreign language. Prior to this Opera, I had performed many significant roles including: Cherubino - Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro; Madame Larina - Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin; and Orlofsky - Strauss’ Die Fledermaus. However, all these operas had been performed with an English libretto. As a result, this was my first time negotiating not only Italian recitative within an opera setting, but also the concept of playing comedy in a foreign language, and what a delight it proved to be! In preparation for this role, I worked in detail with MSM diction coaches William Tracy (Head of Opera Musical Studies) and Glenn Morton (Italian diction coach) on the pacing, delivery and style of the various recitative sections in the opera. Under the direction of Jay Lesenger (former General Director of Chautauqua Opera) and Maestro Gary Thor Wedow, I learned so much about the style, delivery, interpretation and character of comic Italian Opera and I know this will have a profound effect on my future operatic work.  

Building upon the foundation of learning from the Fall, the Spring semester concluded with a Voice Jury in which I was required to prepare six pieces for the Voice Faculty Panel. In a format identical to my entry audition two years ago, I presented a range of languages, two arias, and a contemporary piece by a living composer. As my first selection, I sang ‘Non so più’ from Le Nozze di Figaro, and in contrast, the panel chose my contemporary song, ‘Amor’ by Bolcom. I am thrilled with the final result of the Jury, in particular the comments I received from faculty members who served to confirm and support the progress I have been making in the studio of Ms Shirley Close. Together with my wonderful coach Kanae Matsumoto, Ms Close and I are continuing to work on detailing aspects of musicianship, language and characterisation to create a warmer, richer, ultimately freer sound. It feels a little scary at times to trust that my technique is there to support me, and instead focus on how I want to communicate via the text and the music, but I am excited about the possibilities of vocal nuance and colour that this is opening up to me.

I have also thoroughly enjoyed the progression of learning encapsulated within my English, Italian and Acting electives. Following on from study of the International Phonetic Alphabet in relation to American Standard pronunciation, this semester in English diction we have been working on RP British diction and Mid Atlantic dialects. It is unsurprising that I have found this much easier due to the similarities with my own accent! For RP, I have been singing repertoire by Benjamin Britten, and focussing on subtle differences between historic and modern accents. A Mid-Atlantic dialect encompasses all Oratorio works, and I have found it incredibly beneficial to further detail all of Handel’s Messiah arias for mezzo-soprano as this is an Oratorio I will sing many times over the course of my career. Complimentary to the ongoing diction work in La Cenerentola, my Italian class continued to broaden my awareness of the nuances inherent within the language as I sang recitative, arias and songs. As a result, I know I have gained an invaluable skill set for my future Italian singing. Finally, in Acting Class this semester we have been working on one of my favourite plays - Hedda Gabler by Ibsen, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Shakespeare. This scene work has given me such an appreciation for how to apply theatrical acting to the operatic stage and I found I approached the role of Tisbe with a different set of objectives which proved highly successful. Alongside my Voice Jury and performance in the opera, I am pleased to report that I have received all A gradings for these classes.

Although my school workload has been more intensive this semester, I have still managed to attend a range of performances throughout the city as I strive to make the very most of all that New York has on offer. Indeed, I feel that it is imperative to assimilate all I can from artists who are just starting out, to those who are at the top of their game; because I know I have so much to learn from their singing and performances. Of particular note was Renee Fleming’s performance in Carousel - the emotive delivery of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ was impeccable. On a personal level, it was also special to hear the song ‘Mr Snow’ sung in this Broadway musical. Many years ago this piece not only pulled me out of my shell as a shy teen singer, but it won me my first First Place in a singing competition and obtained me a position in the Canterbury Opera Youth programme. Continuing the theme of Cinderella, I enjoyed seeing Joyce DiDonanto in the title role of Cendrillon, and her duets with mezzo-soprano Alice Coote were mesmerizing - I’m not sure which role I would rather sing! Performances by Jonas Kaufmann in Concert at Carnegie Hall; Vittorio Grigolo in Tosca at the Met; the Cleveland Orchestra at Carnegie Hall; singers in The Metropolitan National Council Audition Finals; and students in a production of Britten’s Turn of the Screw directed by our very own James Rodgers at MSM were also highly memorable.

Over the summer, (it is still very surreal that summer is in June!) I will be learning the role of Dorabella in Mozart’s Così fan tutte for a programme with Mark Oswald. This will involve a concert performance in late August at Opera America in New York. I am delighted to have yet another opportunity to learn a role at the heart of standard mezzo-soprano repertoire and am very much looking forward to applying all I have learned to date, whilst gaining new skills in the rehearsal and performance process. In addition to ongoing lessons and coachings, I will be making a start on learning new repertoire for my upcoming final recital, as it is important to get a head start on what promises to be yet another learning and performance packed second year at the Manhattan School of Music.

Once again I would like to extend my deepest thanks to you all for your ongoing support, interest and investment in my singing career. In a myriad of ways, you have facilitated my incredible journey here in New York; one which is continually broadening my horizons as a singer, performer and musician.  I am so excited for all that the future holds as I continue to strive for excellence in my studies and move into auditioning and beyond.

Gratefully,

Elisabeth x