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March 5, 2010

Marilyn Horne dispenses wisdom and humor in master class at Peabody Conservatory

Marilyn Horne, the mezzo-soprano whose sumptuous tone provided many a vocal thrill during her heyday onstage, spends a lot of time sharing her knowledge and insights with the next generation of singers. Thanks to the Levi Family Distinguished Visiting Artists Fund, Horne did some of that sharing Thursday afternoon during a master class at the Peabody Conservatory.

I was able to catch a portion of it and, like the rest of the packed house at Griswold Hall, I hung on every word, and also enjoyed some good one-liners -- as when she encouraged mezzo Jennifer Hamilton to put a more seductive spin on "Mon coeur s'ouvre a ta voix" from "Samson et Dalila." Horne asked the student to imagine herself singing "to a nice, sexy tenor -- good luck finding that."

It had to be extra nerve-inducing for Hamilton to sing an aria that used to be one of Horne's calling cards, but the young singer

held up well and proved adept at adjusting her tone, breathing, phrasing and tempo, per Horne's requests. (Hamilton's accompanist, Aaron Herzog, had to do the same, as Horne didn't miss a note of singing or playing.)

Every time she interrupted to say "A tiny thing..." or "It's a very small point..." it was anything but; there was a lot of valuable information behind each observation she made. And, let's face it, there was a lot of weight behind it, too. When someone can preface a remark with, "As my dear friend Joan Sutherland used to say...", you're talking a voice of authority.

I was especially impressed with soprano Melissa Wimbish, who sang "Ah, non credea mirati" from "La Sonnambula" with considerable assurance -- and, at first, considerable animation: "You've got a little too much energy for a sleepwalker," Horne told the young soprano. The famed mezzo also helped bring to the student's work an enhanced sense of style, pointing out the small details that make a big difference in how such an aria registers. By the time this session was over, Wimbish was cranking out the bel canto with extra "bel." A master class, indeed.


Posted by Tim Smith at 4:24 PM | | Comments (0)

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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