Opera Studio masquerade: notes in the air
September 30, 2021 – 9:43 AM
The late 16th century facades of via il Prato are significantly preservative according to Florentine standards. One imagines that the structures, with their imposing entrances and sharp rectangular lines, could have been models for New York banking establishments at the end of the 19th century. Traffic and pedestrians pass by as the light beige, block-long facade shimmers in the morning sun against a pure blue Tuscan sky. The local pastry shop, Gamberini, swarms with customers, while a street clown frolic, arousing the admiration of all who are lucky enough to be there.
View of Palazzo Corsini, Florence, which houses the Masquerade opera school / ph. Marco borrelli
In the midst of this sweet cacophony, however, I hear accents of a mezzo-soprano singing Charlotte’s aria ‘Letters’ from Jules Massenet’s tragic opera. Werther, and again it seems to me that Florence is where the idea of opera was invented. In the late 1500s, a few blocks away, the Camerata de ‘Bardi, a group of avant-garde Florentines gathered at Palazzo Bardi to passionately discuss music, literature, science and art. The members included musician Jacopo Peri, writer Ottavio Rinuccini and even Vincenzo Galilei, Galileo’s lutenist father. Together they talked about the communication of emotions in music using the dramatic structure of ancient Greece. They developed the idea of the sung recitative, where dramatic dialogue was set to music rather than rhymed stanzas. With a small production called Dafne, by members of Camerata Peri and Rinuccini, about a love story between the ancient god Apollo and the namesake Dafne, the very first “opera” using this new form of musical storytelling was staged at Palazzo Tornabuoni in the center of Florence on December 26, 1598. And with that, the opera, as we know it, was born.
Florence is the cradle of countless creations that change the world. As well as being the cradle of the opera, it is also the cradle of the pianoforte (Bartolomeo Cristofori at the Uffizi, 1700), so it seems quite natural that a new musical change could take place in Florence at this time. same.
Ensemble coaching at the Masquerade opera school / ph. Marco borrelli
While I’m the sound of the mezzo singing Werther, I am led into a large entrance on via il Prato, the glorious Palazzo Corsini, the original seat of the noble family, which dates just after the opera Dafne had its first. What hides behind the austere facade resembles a fairy tale. A large living room with several pianos opens onto the famous gardens, with their breathtaking flora and Renaissance statues, some of which have even made their way to adorn the Ponte Santa Trinita. To the right, in one of the beautifully decorated 17th-century frescoes, a group of advanced singing students listen to American mezzo-soprano Maria Miller working on Massenet’s aria with Italian coach and conductor Jonathan Santagada. Sound, character, dramatic form, and performance are all discussed. The students listen attentively, all masked, but no one takes their eyes off the debates. It’s the Masquerade Opera Studio, a dream newly born in Florence of the president of the Masquerade Foundation, Maximilian Fane. Max is tall, extremely well built and barely 30 years old. I met Max in London four years ago; he came to sing for me when I took the stage in the West End as Tchaikovsky. Max has a beautiful, light tenor voice and is a natural musician, who also had a dream: to create a new kind of opera studio, where the emphasis is on collaboration, understanding, generosity and sharing. The world of music, and opera in particular, is so difficult that a bad day can lead not only to a missed passage, but perhaps a complete misrepresentation of one’s art and inner self, because there is no purer expression of music within than that of the human voice. In fact, the expression that every instrumentalist uses to describe true communication in music is “let her sing”.
Maximilian Fane, President of Mascarade Opera Studio
Max wanted the world around him to ‘sing’ so he started recruiting people he came into contact with throughout his period of study in the UK and abroad. He was born in Dublin Julia lynch, pianist and vocal coach, who taught Max at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, musical associate at Bayreuther Festspiele in Germany and now musical director of the Masquerade Opera Studio. There are Dr Ralph Strehle, the studio’s program director, a tenor of German origin, who is interested not only in music and performing practice, but also in musical psychology. (He once phoned a famous sports psychologist to initiate a discussion about the care and manipulation of athletes, given the pressures they are under.) After all, the pressure on the body to create enormous amounts of sound, building character, maintaining dramatic arcs and dealing with criticism is huge. Dr. Strehle’s work focuses on understanding how to manage these pressures of art and business. It’s a new approach, a humanist approach that suits Florence.
Julia Lynch and Ralph Strehle
There are ten resident artists, eight singers and two pianists from all over the world. These accomplished postgraduates are in this unusual territory between school and the professional world–ready to audition, but not yet enough professional experience to ensure success, or at least avoid pitfalls. Last season, 550 artists auditioned for the ten available scholarships. The lucky few arrive in Florence, looking after their own accommodation with help from the studio, and engage full-time in performance studies, analysis and a supportive environment. Everyone I spoke with noted that this was the most important part of it all: learning to deal with tough times and difficult people, supporting each other and always focusing on the purity of. the art form.
Max and company are create relationships with some of the best operas in Europe, where houses and productions would have access to studio singers, ensuring that they would be heard by general managers, conductors and directors on the best stages in the world and, if they were lucky, would be employed by opera houses. One of these associations has already been solidified–with Teatro La Fenice in Venice–is home to many world premieres, such as Verdi’s La traviata, who now appears 169 years later on the stage of the Maggio Musicale in Florence. Programs like this have been around for a while, but they usually focus on the one opera they are related to. (the Metropolitan Opera in New York, the well-known San Francisco program, or anywhere) and young artists must be available, ready or not, for the role they are called upon to fulfill. In Masquerade, I am told, no one is forced to do something that they are not ready to do or that they are not comfortable doing. In the world of art and its pressure, it is indeed a rarity. This program may well give young artists the opportunity to make their voices heard more widely across Europe, and perhaps the doors will open more generously. It is hope.
Programs like this take considerable time, trial, error, and effort to find their way around and perfect their balance. Max and his company of artists– guest coaches, conductors, theater directors –test the waters, giving young artists the opportunity to perform in Florence and beyond, whether in concert or in full productions. Above all, the studio’s ethic seems to be one of discovery, balance, support and a strong commitment to musical creation and support for artists. All of this takes place in the very neighborhood where the opera itself was born, in a place that exists as beautiful as it is, just down the street from where the first dramatic words were sung, in a quest for to bring forth the human soul and spirit in an honest and moving way.
May the newborn grow and flourish and bring beautiful things to the world.