Wagner masterclass in Ojai focuses on big voices

Sherry Hutsonby Sherry Hutson

Our events moderator attended an unusual master class in June, and gives us a hint of how the day went.  Congrats to all involved, in what sounds like a very successful event!

This email grabbed my attention immediately:

Wagnerian Soprano Legend Jeannine Altmeyer and Virginia’s Maestro
Peter Mark offer a half-day Masterclass for bigger Voices and Repertoire in her Ojai home Saturday June 21 at noon (lunch included) accompanied by Wagner Veteran Roger Cantrell…”. 

I had attended the last master class Peter Mark gave in Beverly Hills in March, and found it very informative as well as enjoyable:  Peter and his host always have a nice reception where delicious food and drink are served, and participants and observers can interact after so much music-making.  With such a nice memory in mind, I accepted the invitation immediately and made my plans, opting to make the 90-mile drive the night before and stay with family.

Corrina Quilliam and Erin Murphy work through their duet from 'Aida', with Roger Cantrell at the piano.
Corinna Quilliam and Erin Murphy work through their duet from Verdi’s ‘Aida’, with Roger Cantrell at the piano.

The class started at high noon on Saturday, June 23, with Peter introducing himself and then Altmeyer, Cantrell, and the two singers who would receive the coaching: Corinna Quilliam (soprano) and Erin Murphy (mezzo-soprano). These ladies are slated to sing together in Skagit Opera‘s production of Aida in Washington in November, and that opera is a key connection for them — the women met 8 years ago during another Aida production, and although they were not in the same cast, they enjoyed each others’ singing and have kept in touch over the years, making the new project a sort of culmination of an already long friendship.

The first half of the master class was dedicated to duet between Aida and Amneris:  Erin has been working with Jeannine over the last two years, and so her understanding of Erin’s voice made her comments even more precise.  Although Corinna had not worked with Jeannine before, Jeannine was able to offer her valuable, precise information as well, and always in an excited, engaging fashion, and demonstrating her points with a voice still ringing with beauty and grace.

One of the things Corinna shared us was that recently that she, like Erin, struggles with the “muscle memory” she developed from her performance of this role 8 years ago; Corinna weighed over 300 pounds at that time, and found that her size had made supporting her sound easy, but after her Lap-Band surgery she lost 150 pounds, and had to learn to support via her musculature, which was an incredible adventure.  Peter jumped right in and gave her some great tips about how she could bend her arms and legs in practice, as if she was weight lifting, to engage her muscles.  She shared how her new body has made her much more mindful of these issues, and has helped keep her on the right track since.  (During lunch, I spoke with Corinna and asked if she would mind if I shared her inspiring experience with Lauri’s List readers, and she gave per blessing wholeheartedly.)

The ladies finished off the duet successfully, incorporating the comments from Jeannine and Peter.  The results were thrilling to hear, and showed that Peter and Jeannine are a great tag team.

Masterclass instructors Jeannine Altmeyer and Peter Mark
Masterclass instructors Jeannine Altmeyer and Peter Mark

At 2pm we all filed into the kitchen (bigger than some apartments), and enjoyed a sumptuous meal of broccoli casserole, ham, two salads, and sweet, locally-grown fresh strawberries, served with fresh cream and sugar.  Guest were encouraged to imbibe wines, lemonade, and Bloody Marys, according to their tastes.  After lunch, we met Jeannine’s donkey and goat, and nibbled on kumquats growing in the yard.  She and her husband spent many years living on a farm in Italy growing grapes for wine and raising goats, and shared that she had no doubt that farm life was the right choice when they returned to the US.

In the second half of the master class, Erin and Corinna worked individually on arias.  Erin sang some of the Wagner rep that Ms. Altmeyer is famous for;  Corinna worked on her big arias from  AidaAgain, Peter and Jeannine gave the ladies some great insights that really polished both performances.

Peter Mark will be teaching a series of three masterclasses in Beverly Hills this summer, on July 20, August 17 and September 21.  They are listed on the Lauri’s List  calendar.  Learn more about Peter and his workshpos by visiting his website.

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