Respiro Reflections IV

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Respiro Reflections with Soprano Amanda Blue

Meet one of Respiro’s most enthusiastic alumna, soprano Amanda Blue. Amanda and I had a chance to catch up and talk about her experience during and after Respiro. Following her time at Respiro, in the fall of 2017 Amanda was cast as the New Prioress in Westminster’s production of “Dialogue of the Carmelites” by Poulenc. She went on to place in Fort Worth Opera’s McCammon Vocal Competition. Currently Amanda is implementing a recital series in NYC area hospitals which will launch this spring. She continues to work with Respiro faculty David Holkeboer and Deb Birnbaum. 

Amanda mentioned several times during the course of our conversation how amazed she was with the growth that took place in just 10 days. From the beginning nervousness of the “meet and greet” to the confidence radiating from the singers and the whole hearted way they engaged with their roles during the final performance she found was just remarkable. She also noted that although the singers came in at different levels, the faculty met everyone where they were in a non-judgmental way, thus giving each participant permission to risk and explore something new. 

Amanda came to Respiro by recommendation of her vocal coach. The description of the program also attracted her because she wanted to know more about her body have a better awareness of her instrument. Amanda admitted until the intense body work of Respiro, she had an ambiguous idea as how her singing body functioned. Her expanded sense of self not only helped free her body, but her entire approach to singing became more fluid. Amanda felt what she learned in Respiro literally unstuck her and moved her to a new level of communicating. 

Starting each day with yoga was also a part of the program that Amanda really appreciated. It was great to come together in a group activity that opened the body, activated the breath and united body/mind/spirit. It also was a quiet moment to set the intention for the rest of the evening.

She vividly remembers her “ah-ha” moment. It took place the first evening. She got up to sing her aria with rather slouched shoulders and in an almost apologetic way. Body Mapping instructor Jan Prokop came up to her in the break and said “Don’t ever apologize for what you have to say. You are worth listening to. Walk into your space with confidence.” That comment set the tone of all that Amanda would explore during the program.

Amanda called her time at Respiro, “life changing.” The information she received continues to play a huge part not only in her musical preparation, but her outlook on life. We wish Amanda continued success!!! 

Respiro Reflections III

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I sat down with Respiro alum tenor Morgan Manifacier to hear what he thought about his time at Respiro now that 4 years have passed. Currently Morgan is working towards his D.M.A. in vocal performance at Stony Brook University. Since his participation in Respiro, Morgan has sung several tenor roles including Don Ottavio, Ferrando, Sultan Soliman, Tamino, Pygmalion, Dr. Blind, Borsa. His love of art song earned him a professional fellowship at SongFest where he worked with several of today’s leading art-song composers. He also teaches and frequently presents lectures on notable French composers. 

How did Morgan first come to Respiro? His voice teacher at LIU Post recommended he apply. She thought it would be good to experience Alexander Technique so that he could receive the physical feedback, or “hands on” support for what she was teaching. Morgan said it was the master classes and group sessions with AT instructor Bill Connington and the Body Mapping with Jan Prokop that solidified a lot of those concepts.

Morgan’s “ah-ha” moment occurred during a group class with Jan Prokop. The exercise she introduced got him thinking about different aspects of the breath. He realized how a slightly different way of looking at things could make a tremendous shift for the better. 

One part of the program Morgan enjoyed a lot was the focus on text and communication. Respiro’s schedule is arranged so that after the initial session which focuses on text, word by word translation and historical setting of the opera and libretto, the coachings and stagings wrap around and build on this initial exploration. In addition, each revisit adds the character’s connection to breath and body. 

Morgan appreciated Respiro’s supportive atmosphere not only from the faculty, but also between the participants. There was no competition, rather a camaraderie and a group spirit encouraging everyone to succeed. As for his teaching career, Morgan says Respiro has given him tools not only for his own growth, but also given him creative ways to share the basic building blocks of a good vocal technique with his students. 

We look forward to hearing more from Morgan and the day when we call him, Dr. Manifacier!

Respiro Reflections II

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Meet soprano Taylor Deane Haines, Respiro participant in 2016. Directly following her time with Respiro, Taylor was accepted into the studio of Deborah Voigt, American diva, at the San Francisco Conservatory. This past spring she finished her graduate degree “Older Alyce” in the school’s production of “Glory Denied.” In January 2019 Taylor placed second in the Metropolitan National Council regionals in Los Angeles. She placed third in the Palm Springs Competition 2019. 

Taylor signed up for Respiro after participating in a “mini Respiro” movement class in the Itlian summer program Lingua e Canto founded by her undergraduate voice teacher Dr. Robin Fisher on the Sacramento State faculty. Stretching my role as vocal coach/pianist, I introduced the singers to the various tenets of each of Respiro’s body work: breath, body alignment, basic anatomy. She was eager to find out more about the mind/body connection as well as the physical anatomy. Respiro Opera, NYC definitely met and exceeded her expectations! 

One aspect of Respiro Taylor really got a lot out of was the body mapping work with Jan Prokop. Learning how the feet could directly affect the neck muscles or how the intercostal muscles helped move the diaphragm or how the head could balance on top of the spine were just abstract concepts up to then. Taylor’s “ah ha” moment was when she was working with Deb Birnbaum. Deb asked her to slightly change something in her body alignment, and out came this easy amazing sound. She also gave credit to Deb for helping the tenor sing with a richer fuller sound so much so, that the group started calling him “Pavarotti!” 

I was very happy to hear that Taylor still uses yoga instructor Barbara Fusco-Spera’s “SAT NAM” breath exercise! 

Compared to other programs she has been a part of, Taylor liked that fact that everybody was able to participate in every master class. The small group size was a wonderful way to get to know everybody and make life long friends. She enjoyed all the musical coachings and the in- depth work on the different characters she was presenting. 

Taylor considers Respiro an investment in one’s career. She said, “Respiro is about learning to fish, rather than hoping you catch a fish.” What a wonderful analogy! The tuition fee was “money well spent.” 

We wish Taylor continued success as she moves ahead in her career!

Respiro Reflections I

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Our first Respiro alum to sit down and discuss his thoughts about Respiro is baritone Liang Zhao, summer of 2017. Liang is currently an artist diploma student at The New School Mannes. Immediately after Respiro, Liang went to sing with Cedar Rapids Opera. 2018 he participated in “I SING The International Young Artist Festival” and will be returning with the program in London to sing at the Chinese Embassy. This spring Liang will be singing the role of Mr Olsen and covering the role of Frank Maurrant in Kurt Weill’s Street Scene at Mannes School. 

Looking back over the 10 day program, I asked Liang what he liked best. His first comment was that Respiro was “a full circle.” “You go in as a singer, explore the breath, learn more about the breath and body movement through the various master classes and one on one sessions, and then incorporate the new ideas as the program progresses until for the final performance, you are back to being a singer, but a singer with much more awareness.” He said now when he was performing, he knew how to sing eliminate unnecessary tension. He continues to practice Tai Chi as his body work of choice. 

Liang also mentioned the opening night welcome and improv games as being a great ice breaker for the group. It immediately created a cohesiveness among the singers. He especially appreciated the name game which insured that everybody knew each other’s name from the first night. 

What was his “ah ha” moment? Working in master class with our Vocal Consultant/agent Dillon McCartney. After singing an aria from the standard repertoire, Dillon asked Liang to sing a song in his native language of Chinese. Dillon wanted him to connect with the emotion of the song instead of presenting a “voice.” I remember that moment clearly because all of us had tears in our eyes from the sheer beauty and expressiveness of his voice. Liang said from then on, he resolved to find the kernel of truth in each of the arias he was offering. “It needs to be my personal story. How can I connect to people to make them laugh or cry? But, you can’t totally forget your vocal technique.” Our Alexander Technique instructors would applaud the concept of balance in all things! Liang enjoyed the coaching sessions and felt totally supported by our faculty. Thank you, Liang Zhao! We wish you well in your future endeavors!!

- LeAnn Overton, artistic director Respiro Opera, NYC