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Elisabeth Harris: Mezzo in Manhattan

My first semester at the Manhattan School of Music has been a whirlwind of experiences.

After auditioning fresh off the flight from New Zealand, I was fortunate enough to be offered places in both Dona Vaughn’s Opera Workshop, centred around the Art of Auditioning, and in the Opera Scene programme. Together with a full range of compulsory classes, I have felt fully immersed in an environment where I can hone every aspect of my performing skills.

The MSM’s Opera Scene programme comprised staged performances of scenes from four operas. I was cast in two of the scenes: as Mrs Meg Page in Verdi’s Falstaff Act III, Scene II, and as the cover of Iphigénie in the opening scene of Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride. For the role of Iphigénie I concentrated on honing my upper passaggio and the finer details of French diction. In contrast, the Falstaff scene really honed my musicianship skills: the complex polyphony of the final fugue section demands great confidence because it is impossible to hear anything at all! I was pleased to receive a mention in Meche Kroop’s review which described my role as ‘well sung’.

Additionally, working with Ms Vaughn has been a real highlight of my semester at MSM. In her classes, singers perform arias and art songs in audition attire, with feedback covering everything from singing and characterisation to suitability of attire and hairstyle, and I feel that I have gained great insights into the whole business that is Opera in the 21st Century. The MSM graduate program also includes compulsory classes and I have particularly enjoyed the Italian and English diction classes. In Italian I have worked on balancing my vocal sound in terms of the bel canto concepts of scuro (darkness) and chiaro (brightness). In English, working with renowned diction coach Kathryn La Bouff, I have learned the International Phonetic Alphabet, figuring out how to ‘hear’ sounds with reference to American Standard pronunciation.

I have also taken part in the Advanced Acting course in which we have been working on scenes from Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. It is wonderful learning how to apply acting techniques from the theatre in Opera. Another high-point has been the weekly Movement classes. Having the chance to work specifically on the dance forms that appear in opera with a teacher who understands that opera singers are not always the most coordinated of movers has been such a fantastic opportunity.

Just prior to Christmas I flew back to New Zealand to sing the Alto part in Handel’s Messiah with the Auckland Choral Society. I thoroughly enjoyed the privilege of working with Uwe Grodd and the other soloists, and was most impressed with the standard of the choir and orchestra. Here is a review from William Dart at the Auckland Herald.

In the coming semester, MSM will be presenting Rossini’s La Cenerentola as their main-stage opera. After auditions and callbacks during the busy week of finals, I have been cast in the role of Tisbe (one of the step-sisters) and I am so looking forward to learning it and perfecting my coloratura.

As well as all these performance and learning opportunities at MSM, New York City provides a smorgasbord of world class opera and concert events. I have been lucky enough to attend the Met Opera’s stunning productions of Les Contes d’Hoffmann, Norma, The Merry Widow, and the US premiere of Thomas Adès’ Exterminating Angel. These have featured singers who I have long admired from afar, such as Vittorio Grigolo, Sondra Radvanovsky, Joyce Di Donato, and Susan Graham, and later in January I am terribly excited to be hearing Jonas Kaufmann at Carnegie Hall! Seeing and hearing these great performers live is so thrilling and I find myself learning and assimilating at a much deeper level than I ever could from recordings.

As we welcome in another New Year, I want to take some time to reflect on all that 2017 held and I feel so immensely grateful to each and every one of you for your unique and special support which is enabling me to live this dream of studying in and experiencing New York City. This incredible opportunity is shaping me further as a singer and musician, as I strive to learn all I possibly can in the desire to develop my artistry to the highest level.

I wish you all a very joyous 2018.


Elisabeth x


Greetings from Guildhall


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