The “Chill” Diva: Ana Maria Martinez Leads Master Class At USC

Martinez, currently starring in Carmen, worked with four singers from University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music on Friday afternoon.

An operatic diva is constantly on the go. From rehearsals to coachings to performances, it  can be difficult to balance a professional life with the personal.  Though it is certainly a skill one can stabilize, it’s important not to burn out or to wear all hats at the same time. That’s the message soprano Ana Maria Martinez conveyed to a group of university students on Friday afternoon.

Ana Maria Martinez works with soprano Bianca Orsi and pianist Sky Haneul Lee

Martinez, who is currently starring in Carmen, hosted a public master class at University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music on Friday, Sept. 29., working with four singers from the program in various repertoires and styles. Martinez is very relaxed in nature, almost suave in her mannerisms. She encouraged the upcoming singers to not let the setting intimidate them, and to have fun on-stage.

“I’m a chill person,” laughed Martinez. “I want [the master class] to be chill.”

Martinez worked with four sopranos during the two-hour master class. She began with Vincentia Geraldine and pianist Sky Hanuel Lee, who performed Norina’s aria from Donizetti’s Don Pasquale. Using the back end of the piano, Martinez asked Geraldine to lean against the piano to help navigate her support. Martinez used this technique for all four singers.

The word of the afternoon was “cucina,” a term Martinez uses to describe the stomach. She mentioned to all singers, not just the ones participating in the master class, to “embrace the cucina,” and to keep the core strong, yet not stone-hard.

“It needs to be soft,” Martinez said, noting also that yoga and Pilates were a great way to keep the core powerful. “I don’t mean a six pack … just keep the core squishy, because you need that when you’re doing panting or need to take a quick breath. When you’ve got a six-pack, that’s almost impossible to do.”

Next, soprano Joanna Ceja and pianist Luis Reyes-Duarte performed “Ah, Love, but a day!” by 20th century composer Amy Beach. Ceja demonstrated great promise, and possesses even tone throughout her large range.  Martinez was impressed by Ceja’s ability to diminuendo notes above the staff, as evident in the song’s climax.  The first half of their coaching together was devoted to warming up Ceja’s plushy chest voice.  Martinez suggested she use caution when approaching her lower register and to not exaggerate the sound.

“Just let it be,” Martinez said to Ceja.

Martinez was also impressed by Ceja’s knowledge of the voice itself, and asked her to focus on aligning her instrument while maintaining support and resonance. After a few exercises, the overtones in Ceja’s voice fluttered through the back of the hall. Martinez added: “When you’re making a small shift in vocal focus, the whole scope changes … you want to aim for the least effort with maximum result.”

Soprano Bianca Orsi was the third singer to perform, with an impressively large voice that is ideal for Liù music from Puccini’s Turandot.  As with the others, Martinez encouraged Orsi to sustain support from the beloved “cucina,” noting that Orsi found it in the beginning of the aria, but needed to maintain the support through its entirety.

The last singer to perform was Kiley Hazelton and Jasper Jimenez at the piano, performing “Du gai soleil” from Massenet’s Werther. In working with Hazelton, Martinez asked her to concentrate in placing the voice in the “mask” to tap into her resonance. In regards to her own voice, Martinez noted that she wouldn’t say she has the “big” voice usually associated with the types of roles she sings, such as Cio-Cio San or Nedda from I Pagliacci, but that resonance allows her voice to be heard over a larger orchestra.

“You have to have an incredible relationship with your voice,” Martinez said.

Following the class, Martinez answered questions from the audience. When asked how she balances her superstar career with her personal life in Houston, Martinez was candid, saying that it can be a lonely road ahead away from family and other loved ones. She also urged budding singers to not exert themselves beyond their limits, and to know when to say no.

“You can have it all … You can be the best friend, the best wife, the best husband, the best colleague, the best performer, the best mother …. But you can’t do it all at the same time.  Give yourself a break.”

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