Les participants se tenaient sur la scène ou autour du public pour suivre les exercices de leur formatrice Leah Hausman (en noir) ©A.deLaleu/RadioFrance
Les participants se tenaient sur la scène ou autour du public pour suivre les exercices de leur formatrice Leah Hausman (en noir) ©A.deLaleu/RadioFrance

Festival d' Aix: How young singers learn movements on stage

The Aix-en-Provence festival program offers three open-air master classes destined to young singers from the Academy, all open to the public. We sneaked into one on the sessions on ‘’movement’’, where singers learn how to move on the stage.

“As you may have noticed yesterday in Pelléas and Melisande, opera singers are real athletes". With this opening sentence choreographer and director Leah Hausman begins her outdoor lesson on body and movement. In trainers and tracksuit, perched on a small stage, she gives a course to the Académie du festival’s (1) thirteen students, helping them to prepare for their next stage performance.

In the audience, about a hundred people came to observe and understand how artists work their roles. And it starts with "freeing your body," explains Leah Hausman. In sports outfits, young singers start running in the sunny Mozart residence courtyard. They jump, raise their arms and warm up "to feel their heart beat and become more self-aware’’. 

Different energy stages

When the warm-up is over, and the cheeks are already reddened, the artists return to the stage to work on what the choreographer calls "dramatic tension". For about twenty minutes, they do several routines, including dropping their heads abruptly and gently lifting them, or work on strength balance with sticks." These movements’’, says Hausman,"allow the artist to physically embody vocal intention, and energize the performance.’’

The lesson continues with the "seven stages of energy’’, designating seven moods found in each opera role. Leah Hausman asks students to perform successively perform each of them, only using their bodies: softness, neutrality, excitement, secrecy, authority, tension and victory. During this silent moment, where only gestures are expressed, artists show impressive interpretation skills. The audience is amazed and laughs, applauds as the class becomes a show of its own.

Generating feeling

"Feelings spark from movement’’. This is what Leah Hausman wants to demonstrate in this session. And it is surely confirmed within the last minutes of the Master Class. Two students are given a mask with grotesque features and must imagine their character’s bodily attitude. One chooses a dictator, the other a shy man, and the result is quite striking.

What the audience witnesses there are two real actors as well as skilled vocalists, as Leah Hausman indeed reminds us. She then asks Swedish soprano Cornelia Beskow to interpret "Ah, che mi dice mai " from *Don Giovanni, highlighting each different "energy stages » involved in this role. Each of them offers a different vision of Donna Elvira's character. The audience is enchanted, as is the teacher, who in one hour has succeeded in proving the importance of body language in the singing profession, but above all of having fun “because acting is above all fun".

(1) The Festival Academy is a place of interpretation training which welcomes young singers from all over the world. Here they were young people from the Mozart residence, who came to work on the composer's repertoire during the festival.