Fine tuning

Benton Hess is among the specialists who’ll be helping budding opera singers nurture their inner voices at this year’s IVAI summer program.

311_Benton Hess (photo credit: Courtesy)
311_Benton Hess
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The International Vocal Arts Institute (IVAI) runs its annual educational program in Tel Aviv between July 7 and 31, for the 24th time now. Headed by its fiery artistic director, Metropolitan Opera coach and assistant conductor Joan Dornemann, the faculty consists of distinguished artists, teachers, coaches, directors, conductors and managers from many major international opera houses.
The program includes fully staged operatic productions, concerts with both piano and orchestra and a series of masterclasses, and ends with a gala concert. The repertoire includes operas by Mozart, Puccini, Walton, and others. For young aspiring vocalists, coming to Tel Aviv from all over the world, this course guarantees an encounter with the top specialists in the field, which most probably will leave an indelible imprint in their development as artists. And for opera aficionados these classes and concerts provide the thrilling experience of meeting young talents-in-the-making and give a rare opportunity to look into the very “kitchen” of the opera world.
One of the masterclasses will be given in by Benton Hess, a professor of voice and the Musical Director of the Eastman Opera Theater at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. He’s also the co-artistic director of Mercury Opera, Rochester and one of New York City’s most sought-after vocal coaches.
“The level of both the students and the faculty is exceptionally high,” says Hess in a phone conversation with The Jerusalem Post last week, adding, “Also, I adore Tel Aviv, which is a wonderful city, and where I have quite a few friends – so there’s no reason for not to participate in this course.
“But above all,” he adds, “I simply love singers.
They need to be well read, to know history, to be dedicated to the music to reach the level where the are; they can be funny, but they are fascinating people, and it’s a pleasure to work with them.”
SINGERS STUDY their entire life, so what can be achieved in the few weeks of a summer course? “There’s nobody in the world who has all pieces of the puzzle,” Hess replies. “Singers never learns to sing from a voice teacher or from a coach – but rather in a practice room. I always say to singers: No matter who you study with, you study with somebody who does not play your instrument. So singers in their formative years need to receive as much information from different sources as possible and to figure out how it applies to their body, to their voice, to their personality.
“Usually, these people study with the same teacher, which is great. But here, with all these coaches, stage directors, experienced opera singers coming together and saying probably the same thing, but slightly different – it can create a drastic change in their understanding of things.”
And what can be achieved in the brief duration of a master class? “Of course I do not think that I’m able to really advance a student in 25 minutes of an open lesson,” says Hess. “What I try to do is to help them try and see the familiar piece in a slightly different way and maybe to inspire them to do so in the future.”
Hess believes that, nowadays, singers are better than ever: “They travel more, they have a larger repertoire and they need to be self sufficient to keep learning by themselves. I think that this is what the best teachers and coaches try to do – to constantly challenge singers to go further, to be better musicians, better actors. I think this is my job.”
I ask Hess what advice he gives beginner singers.
“I usually say that if there is something else you would be happy to do, you should probably do it,” he says. ”But if singing is something in your inner soul that you need to nurture it, just don’t give up.
You might not find yourself singing in La Scala, but there is plenty of singing on different levels to be done in this world.”
Betnot Hess presents a masterclass on July 8 at 7:30 p.m. at Levine Music Center in Jaffa.
For the detailed program: For reservations, call (03) 521-5200.