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Opera superstar Joyce DiDonato offers Master Class guidance to UMKC student Chris Carr. Photos by James Allison

Crossing the Bridge from Student to Artist

Opera Superstar Joyce DiDonato Offers Guidance to UMKC Conservatory Student

“Choose every note; choose every syllable. Make it come alive!” the superstar soprano said to the gifted young baritone.

The soprano was internationally acclaimed opera star Joyce DiDonato. The young pupil was Chris Carr, a master of Music Performance student at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music and Dance.

The scene: a Master Class for gifted young performers, conducted by DiDonato at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Downtown Kansas City. The class was part of the Inside Music Series sponsored by the Kansas City Symphony.

For the class, Carr and two other students performed arias from classic operas while DiDonato offered advice and critiques. Carr chose the “Largo al Factotum” from Rossini’s Barber of Seville.

DiDonato smiled and nodded through Carr’s initial performance of the aria. Afterward, she provided Carr with insights into the character of Figaro and the value of a “less is more” approach to conveying the character’s personality.

“Don’t waste a single gesture,” she advised. “I’d rather see you do fewer gestures and make them sharper. This is scarier. It’s a little more difficult to stand still. So when you do a gesture, really do it.”

As she did with the other two students, DiDonato talked about the difference between technical proficiency and vocal talent, and true artistry.

“This is where you cross the bridge from being a student to being an artist,” she said earlier, urging another student to show more emotion. “Show us why this aria has to be sung.”

With Carr, she urged him to experiment more with different approaches to conveying emotion. “See what you can do with just your eyes, or just one hand,” she said. She urged Carr to convey emotion with his voice as well as his body. “If people know where you’re going with it, they won’t listen. I’m not asking you to distort it, but make it fresh.”

The Master Class opportunity for Carr came just two months after a similar opportunity for another UMKC Conservatory student,Wei Shen, who participated in a Master Class at the Kauffman Center with virtuoso cellist Yo-Yo Ma (read story here).

UMKC’s situation as an urban campus in the heart of a major city is critical to creating such opportunities, which only arise at an urban campus with access to a major performing venue of the caliber of the Kauffman Center.

Such opportunities would be expected to increase if the proposal for a new UMKC Downtown Campus for the Arts comes to fruition.

Vinson Cole, professor of voice at the Conservatory and Carr’s primary teacher, said many classical music artists are eager to work with young people when opportunities occur as they travel to major performing venues.

“You want to be able to give back to a certain extent, to further a young singer’s knowledge, to give what you have been given,” Cole said. “If you don’t give it back, it’s going to just stop. Classical musicians see themselves as part of a continuum, something that is being passed along from one generation to the next.”

Before the class began, Carr said he was extremely grateful for the opportunity.

“Joyce is a spectacular artist and has she is very important in the opera field,” he said.  “Hearing feedback from someone with her experience and knowledge of the field is a great opportunity for me. The more opinions you get the more you learn.”

UMKC recently hired Helix Architecture + Design, Integra Realty Services and HGA Architects and Engineers to complete a feasibility study for a downtown UMKC Arts Campus. One of the "Big 5" ideas championed by the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, the UMKC Arts Campus plan would relocate the Conservatory of Music and Dance, UMKC Theatre and other arts programs to a new downtown location, reinforcing the university's missions to advance urban engagement and excel in the visual and performing arts. The UMKC Arts Campus could bring as many 1,000 students, faculty and staff downtown each week.

If the feasibility study proves the UMKC Arts Campus to be a worthwhile investment, the preliminary goal is to raise between $50-80 million for the move. Funding will rely almost exclusively on local revenue streams.

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"This is where you cross the bridge from being a student to being an artist."

Joyce DiDonato

Chris Carr emjoyed an animated interaction with Joyce DiDonato