Dawn Upshaw gives master class to Swarthmore singers

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Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Acclaimed soprano Dawn Upshaw gave a master class yesterday in the Friends Meeting House to a small audience. Student singers Mark Thatcher ’06 (singing a cabaret song by William Bolcom entitled “Oh, Close the Curtain”), Ben Mitchell ’05 (singing Caccini’s “Amarilli, mia bella”) and Tamara Ryan ’06 (singing Charpentier’s “Depuis le jour”) were joined by alums Julie Gregorio ’03 (singing Offenbach’s “Elle a fui”) and Joanna Curtis ’01 (singing Donizetti’s “Prendi, per me sei libero”).

“I’m not going to spend much time talking about technique. I’m more interested in…interpretation and text.” Upshaw began. She questioned all the singers on the texts of their songs, and worked with them to integrate the drama of the text into the music. “Don’t think so much about presenting something,” she told Gregorio. “Instead of singing for us, sing to us.” “Why is that note so long?” she asked Curtis. She encouraged all the singers to find the song’s emotional world as well as its notes. “You can be freer,” and “trust it more,” were frequent comments.

As well as focusing the larger dramatic pictures of the songs, Upshaw helped the singers with the small things. Frequently prefacing her comments with “I’m going to be incredibly picky about this…” she focused on the details that make a performance individual. Though she isn’t a singer, Qian Li ’05 found the master class valuable to watch. “It made me think some about composing for singers and how much a composer in on her side and how much a singer puts in on her side,” she said.

Upshaw has won three Grammy awards, has sung almost 300 performances at the Metropolitan Opera, created roles in four new operas, and has recorded many CDs of opera, art songs and popular music, including the million-selling Gorecki Symphony No. 3. She gave a recital in Lang Concert Hall last Sunday to a full house.

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