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Masterclass Media Foundation


Thomas Quasthoff at the Verbier Festival Academy - Songs and Arias: Mozart, Schubert and Wagner – Singing Masterclass
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Laudamus Te from Mass in C Minor K427 (1783); Deh Vieni, Non Tardar Susanna’s aria from The Marriage of Figaro K492 (1786)
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Nacht und Träume D827;  Ich schleiche bang und still D787 (Songs composed between 1810 and 1828)
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Dich Teure Halle aria from Tannhäuser (1843, revised various times until 1865)
Thomas Quasthoff (baritone); Simon Lepper (piano); with students Pauline Sabatier (mezzo), Seil Kim (tenor), Yana Eminova (soprano), Sarah Szlakmann (soprano), Courtney Mills (soprano)
Directed by Mischa Scorer, produced by the Masterclass Media Foundation with the collaboration of the Verbier Festival Academy, director Christian Thompson
rec. live, Centre Culturel du Hameau, Verbier, Switzerland, 2007
Picture format: NTSC/Colour/16.9
Sound format: Stereo
Languages: English only; no notebook but includes a leaflet with original texts of the songs and arias with English translations


Experience Classicsonline

I am very partial to Thomas Quasthoff and all his endeavours. He is not only a wonderful singer but also a pleasant, kind and inspirational human being. This DVD, filmed live in Verbier, captures a singing masterclass that Quasthoff gave for the Verbier Festival Academy. Should one still be in any doubt, it proves exactly what I said about him, both as a musician and as a person.

The masterclass features five young aspiring opera singers, all very good and with potentially big careers in front of them, particularly mezzo-soprano Pauline Sabatier and tenor Seil Kim who possess voices of great beauty, and soprano Courtney Mills who displays a very powerful, far-reaching voice in its highest register. Each of the students sings a different piece but in most cases, as is usual in a masterclass, not to the end, presenting an extract, which varies in length.

Quasthoff listens intently and attentively to all of the young singers, displaying throughout a good sense of humour and a genuine, intense desire to help them improve. He effectively demonstrates that he takes music and singing very seriously but never loses sight that it should also be fun and that the students should enjoy themselves when they sing. He is demanding but fair in his comments and criticisms of the young singers, taking care always to be constructive and make them understand that he is not being negative but simply pointing out the aspects of their interpretation where there is still room for improvement. He is direct and candid in everything he says, equally addressing what he sees as slight imperfections and what is truly excellent, as he honestly compliments them on what he thinks they are doing very well. He comes across as considerate and caring, keeping a moving sense of wonder in the way he feels the music and in the admiration he expresses when confronted with the great voices among the students. He is the master but also the pupil and this view comes across clearly. Quasthoff is an excellent communicator and this fact is evident from beginning to end of the film, showing how he manages to put both audience and students at ease, effectively encouraging feedback and effortlessly making all those present actively participate in the discussion and share their views. I particularly enjoyed the moments when he turns to the audience with an expression of innocent admiration and genuine appreciation of the talent displayed by some of the students. His face opens up in a smile of wonder and he silently articulates the exclamation “Wow!” referring to their voices.

One of Quasthoff’s greatest qualities as a singer and possibly what makes the difference between a good opera singer and an outstanding one, is his pronunciation of the words and clear diction. Therefore, he places great emphasis on the students’ use of the language and the way in which they articulate the vowels, closing or opening them, as required. He stresses the importance of the sound of the words, highlighting that singing is not merely playing an instrument (the voice) to the accompanying music but it is the correct intonation of the words and the opening up of certain sounds, letting the vowels loose, as he puts it, which will make the distinction between an effective delivery of a piece and an unforgettable performance. Thus he encourages the students to strive for perfection, make an additional effort and go the extra mile. It was wonderful to see how his ideas were successfully put into practice by the students and watch them make progress, most noticeably in Pauline Sabatier’s, interpretation of Mozart’s Laudamus Te from the Mass in C major. It is visible throughout her performance that she loves what she is doing and that she takes it seriously. She listens eagerly to everything Mr Quasthoff tells her and applies it immediately. It is obvious that she has great respect and admiration for him and takes his comments to heart, looking back at him hopefully to see if he acknowledges her effort. He does and it is lovely to see how, towards the end, she lets her vowels loose and the piece begins to sound glorious.

Quasthoff proves that he is as good a teacher as he is a singer. It is a joy to watch him and his interaction with the students and audience, from beginning to end. He exudes warmth and kindness, is always inspiring, encouraging and motivating and does not shy away from expressing strong opinions on matters that are often ignored by other musicians, for fear of upsetting some people’s sensibilities. He makes this very clear during the performance of Courtney Mills who sings the aria Dich Teure Halle from Wagner’s Tannhäuser. Noticing a murmur in the audience when Wagner’s name is mentioned, Thomas Quasthoff immediately expresses the opinion that music and politics do not mix well and that nobody should forget that Wagner’s music was used by the Nazis for their own purposes and propaganda but that the music itself is beautiful, worthy and some of the greatest ever written.

Accompanists are often forgotten and not always acknowledged by the ones they accompany, as if their work is simply taken for granted. It is therefore commendable to see the way in which Quasthoff effusively thanks Simon Lepper, the accompanist at the piano to all the students, for his work. He acknowledges Mr Lepper’s dedication and wonderful contribution by saying that “if every musician were as supportive, passionate and friendly, always there for the students, like Simon … the musical world would be much more fun”.

This Singing Masterclass DVD is one of the best, most interesting and entertaining films I have seen from the Masterclass Media Foundation and this is mostly due to Quasthoff’s lively personality, his down-to-earth approach and his simple, pleasant, open manner, proving that great opera singers are not always “divas” or “prima donnas” in the negative sense of the words.

I thoroughly enjoyed this DVD and would recommend it to singing teachers, musicians or any member of the public who likes good singing and admires Thomas Quasthoff. As with any of these masterclasses, I cannot help but feel slightly disappointed at the end, as we never get to watch and hear the master perform even one piece in full. Had this happened it would have made this DVD very nearly perfect. It is, nevertheless, an excellent and entertaining document of Thomas Quasthoff’s artistic ideas, musicality and lively, warm personality. It therefore fully accomplishes what it sets out to achieve and fulfils the objectives that MMF describe as their aim for this series of masterclass films.

Margarida Mota-Bull


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