Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Jonathan Lemalu masterclass

Last night Jonathan Lemalu gave a Masterclass at Marama Hall in Dunedin. Three young men - two baritones, Sam Madden and Tyler Neumann, and a bass singer whose name I missed - were given individual coaching on songs they presented to the audience (a much smaller audience than you would have expected, unfortunately).

Tyler was up first with The Roadside Fire from Vaughan Williams' Songs of Travel. Like all the singers he was asked what the song was telling us, the audience. What story was he communicating when he sang? How did the accompaniment add to what was being said in the words of the song? How could he portray more by his stance, his intensity, by thinking himself into a kind of dramatic view of the song? And much more. He also sang Bright is the Ring of Words from the same song cycle a little later. 

Lemalu gently worked with each of the young singers, not concerning himself too much with their technique or musicality, but with their storytelling. Sam Madden sang Comfort ye, my people from the Messiah. Even this was seen as a 'character' (in this case, God, or his prophet) telling the audience something specific. 

The bass sang a solo by Dr Malatesta, from Don Pasquale. In his initial rendition of it he gave a 'performance', in Italian, but the message wasn't too clear. It helped to have Lemalu tease out what he was meaning, why Malatesta spoke/sung as he did, how this could be better conveyed through a more dramatised version of the song rather than treating it as an aria. It helped also when Lemalu became a 'character' onstage, helping the focus. 

It was interesting to see how the performers' interpretations changed substantially once they thought about what they were saying and how to put that across. Lemalu gave them all sorts of ideas, and let them hold onto particular ones at different times. It changed the substance of what was being sung considerably. He also played with them including while they were singing, which helped ease tensions but also made them focus differently. 

Lemalu is full of ideas, modest, still learning (he said this), changing approaches that seemed set in stone, being more relaxed while maintaining a very high standard of preparation. He's also a great entertainer. 
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