Russian Liederabend to showcase Yale Opera singers

On Wednesday, Dec. 5, Yale Opera will present a Russian Liederabend (“evening of songs”) featuring a wide array of Russian vocal music, from solo songs and arias to ensemble pieces. The program will include works by such composers as Tchaikovsky, Borodin, Glinka, Shebalin, Pakhmutova, and Rachmaninoff.

With Yale Opera’s production of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin slated for two performances in February, Russian was a natural choice for the language of this year’s Liederabend. Integral to both projects is Emily Olin, Lecturer in Voice and Opera at the School of Music, who organized the Liederabend and will perform as the evening’s collaborative pianist. Olin put together the concert program with current Yale Opera singers in mind, tailoring musical selections to students’ individual voices.

In addition to her musical guidance, Olin has taught weekly Russian language classes and diction coachings throughout the semester. Soprano Laura Nielsen ’20MM described Olin as “an incredible resource” for the singers in the opera program. “In addition to her warm and loving personality,” Nielsen said, “she has a wonderful way of communicating subtle differences in pronunciation and helping us non-native speakers improve our Russian.”

Singing in Russian presents challenges for many singers. For Nielsen, one of the most difficult aspects of learning Russian music has been becoming proficient in reading Cyrillic. “I have only just started to be able to absorb this new alphabet and the new sounds that it includes,” Nielsen said. “I have to do so much extra work in reading that it makes learning a piece much more challenging than learning a piece in English, Italian, or French.” In many undergraduate vocal programs, it is not unusual for students to focus on Italian, French, and German repertoire, and to skip Russian works entirely. “I am so grateful to have been exposed to so much more Russian music this year,” Nielsen said.

In addition to showing off their newly enhanced Russian language skills, Yale Opera singers look forward to sharing rarely heard repertoire. “I am singing a wonderful aria from a Russian adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew by Vissarion Shebalin, written in 1957,” Nielsen said. She hopes people will come to broaden their musical horizons and to hear “the best of what each of the singers has to offer.”

Yale Opera’s Russian Liederabend, on Wednesday, Dec. 5, at 7:30 p.m., in Morse Recital Hall in Sprague Memorial Hall, is free and open to the public.

Published November 29, 2018
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Soprano Leah Brzyski ’19MM, on preparing for Yale Opera’s Fall Scenes productions

Leah Brzyski

Each year, Yale Opera presents two programs of scenes from beloved and important works. Parts are assigned at the beginning of the academic year, giving singers relatively little time to learn, memorize, and inhabit their roles—sometimes more than one and in different languages. We spoke with soprano Leah Brzyski ’19MM about her preparation for this year’s programs and about developing as a singer and performer here at YSM.

Q: What roles will you be performing in this year’s Fall Scenes program, and what has the preparation experience been like?

A: This year I could not be more excited for our scenes production because I have the opportunity to perform two of my dream roles: Blonde from Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail and Ophelia from Ambroise Thomas’ Hamlet. While the characters are quite different, each has such a strong willfulness and passion about them that makes digging into their music so appealing. The preparation for my roles this year has been really rejuvenating. After being gone all summer, coming back to dive headfirst into these powerful pieces has been such a driving force behind the semester.

Now that memorized runs are done, we’re into our staging period, which is my favorite! We finally get to explore not just how [the characters] speak and sing, but how their bodies would react to a situation or another person. Not to mention our Stage Director, Chris Murrah, is one of the most artistically genius people I have ever met. He is full of unique insights and always allows us the freedom to explore and play rather than micromanaging every action we do on stage.

Q: What is the benefit and what are the challenges of having to learn multiple roles, in different styles and in different languages, in a short amount of time?

A: Every year we are assigned our roles and are given three weeks to learn and memorize all of our music. At the end of the three weeks we perform a memorized run for the voice faculty so that they can see how we’ve progressed. This process is always more than a little hectic—to memorize the notes, rhythms, language, but more so the characterization of your assignments in such little time. Just being able to physically produce the right sounds is nowhere near enough. You have to know what motivates [the characters], how they interact with the other characters, why they say and sing what they do, and so much more.

Last year I remember feeling like it was an impossible feat, but after hours and hours of weekly coaching, lessons, group rehearsals, and individual practice time, the music becomes so ingrained in you that every year we all manage to meet the deadline, (sometimes to our own surprise!). This quick learning process has actually benefited me in so many ways. Oftentimes, last minute opportunities to sing a concert or a role come up and you might only have a week or even a few days to accept and learn your music. Practicing that skill in a comfortable learning environment makes taking on professional tasks like that so much more manageable. This summer it helped me learn five roles in just a few months and prepare arias in different languages without much stress at all. This year, I noticed that the memorization of my music was so much easier, even though I had much more to learn. It’s a skill most of us don’t get to practice on our own time, so having it as part of the curriculum makes it a mandatory part of our skillset.

Q: What’s required of you, in terms of moving from one role to another in the course of one Fall Scenes production? How do the faculty help with this process?

Brzyski as the Queen of the Night in Yale Opera’s 2018 production of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute”

A: The ability to switch back and forth between such contrasting roles is absolutely demanding. To go from singing a role in French about a woman who has gone mad to the point of suicide because of lost love to suddenly switching to singing a comedic maid who is cunning and pedantic and lighthearted in German is one heck of a transition. But, in a way, all of those unique qualities help you differentiate as a performer what it feels like to be one character versus the other. Last year, singing the all-consuming and powerful role of Queen of the Night as well as the loving and tender Fairy Godmother in Cendrillon at first seemed like an overwhelming transition. But those qualities help make up the identity of each character. After living in her shoes, I would never start thinking in French or singing in the same Fairy Godmother-esque floated lines when performing Queen and vice versa. At the end of the day, it’s the differences that make the switch easy. The faculty all help in this process of course, perfecting our diction, demonstrating style differences between composers, and creating characterization of our roles.

Q: In what ways have you learned from your peers throughout this process and in the Yale Opera program in general? How, in the past year, have you developed as an artist and in what ways has YSM’s opera program informed that growth?

A: I don’t even know where to begin when it comes to this amazing group of artists. There is never a rehearsal or recital or class where I don’t learn something from my peers. We all come from such unique and enriched backgrounds that it’s like a treasure trove of skills all sitting in the same classroom. I might hear someone singing an aria I have learned but they do something different in a cadenza or approach a note in such an amazing way that I can use and apply to my own singing. So often in our movement classes, when we’re improvising, someone will take a risk and do something completely unexpected, which makes you feel more willing to take risks yourself and work off of that energy. Many people here also speak several foreign languages and it’s so amazing to be able to ask for insight on translations and specifics on pronunciation from someone who is native to that language.

I owe the Yale Opera program so much of who I am as an artist. In our undergrad training, we broadly cover so many topics, languages, requirements, etc. But here, there is such great attention to detail given to specific skillsets that are absolutely necessary in order to succeed as an opera singer. French, German, Italian, and Russian diction are taught with such finesse and accuracy that sometimes I wonder how I stumbled my way through before my two years here. Most important, however, I have grown because I have been given the opportunity to act as an artist and take artistic liberties that I wouldn’t have been given at another university, such as picking my own recital repertoire, teaching voice students, singing for top managers in the business, and performing mature roles that challenge me. Not only am I a more technically savvy singer because of the skilled guidance of my voice teacher, Doris Yarick-Cross, but I am also a more confident and independent musician. Our faculty members are some of the most experienced, intelligent instructors in their field. Learning from them every day has most definitely paid off.

Yale Opera presents its annual Fall Scenes programs on Friday & Saturday, Nov. 2 & 3, in Morse Recital Hall. 

DETAILS & TICKETS

Published October 24, 2018
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Doris Yarick-Cross and Richard Cross to retire at year’s end

Richard Cross and Doris Yarick-Cross

For decades, the Yale School of Music’s voice and opera programs have developed remarkable artists who have graced the stages of the world’s most prestigious venues and performed with celebrated opera companies and instrumental ensembles. Doris Yarick-Cross and Richard Cross, who have served on the School’s faculty since 1983 and 1995, respectively, have been an important part of those achievements. Today, we offer our gratitude to Doris and Richard, who, together, plan to retire at the end of the current academic year. Doris and Richard will teach currently enrolled students through the completion of their degree programs.

“In her initial contract, Doris was given the responsibility of establishing a professional opera program in the School of Music,” YSM Dean Robert Blocker said. “With her vision and leadership, Yale Opera has become an internationally renowned program where singers come to launch their careers as vocal artists.” Richard’s “inimitable teaching style and gift for languages has given generations of Yale Opera students unparalleled lyrical training,” Blocker said. “In partnership with Doris and our other stellar voice faculty and staff, Richard has played an essential role in shaping the lives of hundreds of ascendant singers.” MORE

Published October 16, 2018
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In Yale Opera’s “Hansel and Gretel,” the witch personifies the internet

In reimagining Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel for Yale Opera’s spring production, director John Giampietro found inspiration in the technology that consumes us even as we recognize the benefits of being so thoroughly connected.

In the libretto, written by the composer’s sister, Adelheid Wette, and based on the fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm, Hansel and Gretel are sent into the forest by their mother to pick strawberries, and to give her a break from their rambunctiousness. Learning this upon returning home, the children’s father expresses concern about a malevolent witch who lives in the forest, and he and his wife set out to find their children.

Giampietro wanted to ask, by way of the production, “How is this immediate to our world and our experience?” The Brooklyn, New York-based director pointed out that “in our modern-day world, we’re sort of lost as a civilization,” we’re having “our lost-in-the woods moment,” consumed by technology and asking ourselves, “What is real?”

In the Yale Opera production, the mother hooks the children up to a virtual realty game in which they enter a forest depicted by projected designs. To find and rescue their children from danger, the parents, too, have to enter a virtual reality and play the game.

Like the forest in the story, the internet, Giampietro said, “can be full of wonder. It can be full of magic. It can also be treacherous.” The witch, in Giampietro’s turn at Hansel and Gretel, is the personification of the internet’s harmfulness. The web “can consume us,” much like the witch tries to do to the children in the story of Hansel and Gretel, he said. In the Yale Opera production, Hansel and Gretel have to free themselves from the clutches of technology and return to reality.

As a society, Giampietro said, “we’re losing touch with what is real, which is human-to-human contact.” And in that regard, he said, “I think we all have the same fears and experience. I wanted to see how these morality tales or cautionary tales still apply to our world.” The irony of the internet, he pointed out, it is that while it is designed to bring us closer together, what it is really doing is creating gaps between us, leaving us starving for contact and meaningful relationships.

Yale Opera presents a fully staged production of Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel on May 4&5 in the intimate Morse Recital Hall.

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Published April 27, 2018
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Guest post: baritone Zachary Johnson ’17MM ’18MMA, on performing Opera Scenes

Baritone Zachary Johnson

On a chilly day in February 2015, I walked into Doris Yarick-Cross’ office for my audition interview. Nervous, and very excited, I answered a series of well-thought-out questions about my education, musicianship, and hopes for the future. I remember the interview well, but there will always be one question that sticks out to me: “Can you learn and memorize music quickly?” I answered, sang my audition, and later accepted my position and moved to New Haven the following September. Within the first week of school I was given a large envelope of music for my first production at Yale: Opera Scenes. I was to perform four different roles, in four different opera scenes — two in Italian, one in German, and one in English. I had just over a month to learn the repertoire, work with coaches, and sing the music from memory. I had my work cut out for me, but I thought back to that interview question and knew that this is what is expected from a singer in this program, and I was not going back down.

“Così fan tutte,” 2017

Opera scenes are an incredibly useful venture for singers, especially young singers intending to pursue a career in opera. While teaching us how to learn multiple styles of music in multiple languages at once, they also help us develop the skill of switching gears emotionally, mentally, and physically as we jump from character to character. I can remember transforming from an eccentric, dancing butler to a slow, dim-witted carpenter all in one night. What is unique about the Yale Opera is that the scenes programs are fully costumed and staged, so each snippet of these incredible operas can stand alone and tell their own stories. We get to work with incredibly talented vocal coaches that help us achieve a deeper understanding of the music and text so we are fully prepared to step on stage and bring these stories to life. Strengthening the ability to jump from character to character and language to language is an extremely useful skill for all opera singers, and Opera Scenes is one of the best programs for that. Following our scenes program in the fall, we perform a complete, fully staged production at the Shubert Theatre. The work chosen is usually one we performed a scene from the previous semester, which is an incredibly useful feature of the Yale Opera program. While developing the skill of balancing multiple roles is important, diving into an entire role and being able to understand the growth and trajectory of a single character is equally as vital for a young singer. the Yale Opera provides its singers with opportunities for both, and you will finish this program with a quicker mind, a thicker resume, and the skills you will absolutely need to balance the multifaceted workload of a professional opera singer.

“Don Quichotte,” 2016

In my third year here at the Yale School of Music, I still think back to that interview. I think back to that question. I will admit, in February 2015, that my answer lacked confidence. I was unsure if I possessed what it takes to be an opera singer. If you were to ask me the same question today, another chilly day, in November 2017, I would smile, think back on the incredible amount of opportunities I have been given in this program to develop as a singer, a musician, and a human being, and give you the most confident “Yes.”

LEARN MORE ABOUT THE NOV. 3 & 4 FALL OPERA SCENES PROGRAMS

Published November 2, 2017
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Yale Opera prepares for Fall Opera Scenes programs

Richard Cross, left, and Doris Yarick-Cross

Shortly after arriving at the Yale School of Music to study in the Yale Opera program, ascendant vocalists are handed an envelope containing the repertoire they’re expected to learn and memorize for the Fall Opera Scenes performances. This year, those concerts take place on November 3 and November 4 and feature excerpts from classic and contemporary operas.

The repertoire is chosen by faculty soprano and Yale Opera Artistic Director Doris Yarick-Cross and YSM faculty bass-baritone Richard Cross with each student’s development in mind. That approach, Yarick-Cross said, is “how we can best get them ready for their future. We choose the roles that we feel will give them the best opportunity to progress.

“What we try to do is give them the tools to be professionals,” Yarick-Cross said. “Our students get hired because they’re prepared.”

And that means going beyond the vocal parts, “to break through inhibitions,” Cross said. “To become a convincing character on stage” isn’t just about singing and acting, he said. “It’s also internalizing the repertoire” — “to get them into the habit of meeting the demands” that will be placed on them throughout their careers, Yarick-Cross added.

As much as the repertoire for the Fall Opera Scenes programs is chosen with pedagogy in mind, the Yale Opera audience is also part of the programming equation. While “La Bohème is perfect for young singers,” Cross said, pointing out that the characters in that opera are themselves young, it’s long been an audience favorite, too.

Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking, based on Sister Helen Prejean’s 1993 book of the same title, has been appreciated by audiences since its premiere in 2000 at the San Francisco Opera. The New Haven audience, Yarick-Cross said, will be “overwhelmed by the Heggie.” Likewise, she said, the first act of Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos will appeal to local concertgoers. “I think they will really like it,” Yarick-Cross said. “It will be new to most of them. There’s a lot going on” and “There is some wonderful singing.”

On Friday and Saturday, November 3 and November 4, the Yale Opera presents performances of scenes from Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte and Don Giovanni, Heggie’s Dead Man Walking, Massenet’s Cendrillon, Puccini’s La Bohème, Humperdinck’s Hänsel und Gretel, Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia, and Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos

DETAILS & TICKETS

Published October 26, 2017
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Convocation 2017 defines YSM as place for “Music Among Friends”

School of Music Dean Robert Blocker often describes music as “the currency of hope” and has long championed the School’s commitment to inclusivity and diversity. That commitment was reiterated emphatically on Thursday night in his 2017 Convocation speech, “Music Among Friends,” in which he celebrated “courage, inclusivity and diversity, connectedness, tolerance and respect, and compassion.” Upon its founding, he said, “the School of Music opened wide its doors and heart to all those who brought their gifts of talent and intellectual curiosity to campus.” Today, Blocker pointed out, the School stands in solidarity with those whose place in our community hangs in the balance.

“All of us bring anxieties, concerns, and even fears about the human condition to this room tonight,” he told new and returning students, faculty, staff, alumni, and guests, “for we live in a time in which human dignity and indeed humanity are being assaulted throughout the world. Nothing, I think, is as incomprehensible and unimaginable as the vengeful rescindment of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, known as DACA. Now, these young people we call Dreamers live with fear rather than hope. This action touches our community profoundly because we are witnesses to the deep grief and stressful uncertainty these Dreamers and their families suddenly face. I do believe reasonable and compassionate leaders among us hear and feel the anguished cries of Dreamers and that they, with our encouragement and support, will find a way to keep their American dream alive.”

Connecting YSM’s values to its mission, Blocker said, “music teaches us that every voice is distinct and important, that each is necessary for harmony, and that is precisely why we know that our combined voices will help repair our troubled world.”

Following University Provost Benjamin Polak’s installation of the incoming class, whose members come from five continents, 25 countries, 26 states, and 58 institutions, Convocation attendees sang Schubert’s An die Musik (with Franz von Schober’s text, as translated by YSM faculty bass-baritone Richard Cross), as is School tradition. Blocker then delivered his remarks before introducing the faculty, alumni, and current students who performed as part of the ceremony.

Violinist Daniel S. Lee ’06MM ’08AD, a newly appointed faculty member in early music whose ensemble, The Sebastians, is in residence at the Yale Collection of Musical Instruments, performed Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber’s Sonata No. 3 in F major, C. 140 (from Sonatae, violino solo) with faculty harpsichordist Arthur Haas. Bass-baritone Dashon Burton ’11MM sang “Grosser Herr, o starker König,” from Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248, and “Mache dich, mein Herze rein,” from the St. Matthew Passion, BWV 244, with pianist David Fung ’11MM ’13MMA ’17DMA. And violinist Sirena Huang ’19AD performed Tchaikovsky’s Valse-Scherzo, Op. 34, with pianist Lam Wong ’18MM.

The performances added punctuation to Blocker’s remarks, which concluded with him telling members of the incoming class that “here at YSM, you will experience fully the gift that is ‘Music Among Friends,’ and encouraging all in attendance, referencing a favorite story about Robert Louis Stevenson, to “take hope, and make holes in the dark with the beauty and light of your music.”

Photos by Harold Shapiro

Published September 8, 2017
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Paweł Konik reaches finals of “Le Grand Prix de l’Opéra”

Paweł Konik | Photo by Anna Płóciennik

Paweł Konik | Photo by Anna Płóciennik

Earlier this month, bass-baritone Paweł Konik reached the final round of “Le Grand Prix de l’Opéra,” the International Voice Competition organized by the Bucharest National Opera. Konik earned a special Excellency Prize, presented by the Russian Embassy, for his interpretation of “Aleko’s Cavatina” from Rachmaninoff’s Aleko. He also performed “Vedro mentr’io sospiro” from Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro and “O du mein holder Abendstern” from Wagner’s Tannhäuser.

Konik, a native of Poland, is a member of the Yale Opera program, where he studies with Doris Yarick-Cross and Richard Cross. Konik also worked on his competition repertoire with YSM faculty members Douglas Dickson, Timothy Shaindlin, and Kyle Swann. During the 2015-2016 concert season, Konik appeared in Yale Opera productions of Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Massenet’s Don Quichotte. Prior to coming to Yale, Konik attended the Karol Szymanowski Academy of Music in Katowice. MORE

Published August 24, 2016
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[ in the press ]

Arts Journal: Opera at Old Eli

Photo by Matt Fried

Photo by Matt Fried

Opera Sleth | Arts Journal
By Speight Jenkins

Doris Yarick Cross for more than thirty years has directed Yale Opera, a division of the Yale School of Music. She and her husband, Richard Cross, serve as the voice teachers for the program, a mammoth task. Such major artists as Matthew Polenzani, Patrick Carfizzi, Tamara Mumford, and Christian Van Horn have graduated from the program, which in every school year has fifteen artists, chosen from hundreds of applicants.  All of the singers in this “class” are working on their Master of Music degrees.

Three days in New Haven demonstrated to me the viability of the program,  allowed me to experience two performances of opera scenes, and have several hours with all the young artists involved. Though the majority of artists, all in their twenties, come from the United States, recruitment is international.  Young singers from Poland, China, Italy, and Canada joined their American colleagues. The two evenings of opera scenes at Yale’s Sprague Hall, fully staged and costumed, surveyed the repertory from Handel to Britten.

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Published November 18, 2015
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