The soprano Renée Fleming doesn’t have a lot of local performances on her list this season, but in tandem with her appearance at a Boca Raton winter festival she’ll be doing a master class at the University of Miami.
Her appearance is set for 2 p.m. Friday, March 5, at the Gusman Concert Hall on the UM campus, and there’s a meet-and-greet reception at 4:15. She won’t be hand for the event later that day, the Frost Opera Theater Benefit Festival, perhaps because she’ll be getting ready for her appearance the following night.
Saturday night (March 6), she headlines the first concert of the fourth annual Festival of the Arts Boca in a program of opera arias with the Russian National Orchestra under Patrick Summers. That concert unquestionably will be very well-attended, and I’m hoping she does some of the rarer things featured on her newest disc, Verismo, which won a Grammy last month for best classical vocal performance. She’s done a great service to music by composers such as Mascagni, Leoncavallo, Giordano and Zandonai by featuring their lesser-known work on this disc.
I’d be surprised if Fleming was anything but nurturing and kind during these classes, but the institution of the master class has long been associated with an exercise in intimidation and terror. Although I’ve seen a lot of master classes, and none of them involved any imperious stars yelling at students, it has to be a stomach-knotting experience to go up and show your stuff to someone who’s reached the top of your preferred profession.
But the beauty of the master class is not so much in the way a guest artist gets results or offers good advice on a specific problem. The best part comes in seeing that artist’s total approach to his or her craft. Somewhere out there is a film of the great pianist Artur Rubinstein giving a master class at the very end of his life to a student playing the Chopin First Ballade.
He gives the student pointers about the melodies of the work, about how to prepare for climaxes, but he never says anything about fingering, or pedaling, or anything specifically technical like that. And then at the end of the class, he speaks passionately about the art of music itself: It’s about nobility, he says. It’s an art form that is about emotion and it must always be noble.
I think that’s a wonderful thing to remember when you’re playing or listening to music, and it’s the kind of insight that we attend master classes for. I’m sure that Renée Fleming will impart something of lasting import to her students, and it might not be in anything that she says directly.