Image: Beth White

There’s so much on tap during an Aspen summer that it’s easy to attend some of the big-name concerts and other performances, or visit the most popular trails and locales like the Maroon Bells, and come away satisfied. But underneath that top layer of attractions lies a secondary layer that can be just as, if not more, appealing.

I was reminded of that when I watched an opera master class given by renowned soprano Renée Fleming during the Aspen Music Festival and School’s season last year. For the packed house watching at Harris Hall, the class was part opera appreciation, part insider’s look at what’s required of singers when they audition for parts.

Working one at a time with four lucky students from the Music Fest’s opera program, Fleming addressed elements like body language, emoting, vocal technique, stage positioning, and pronunciation. To help one young woman develop her “middle voice,” Fleming had her sing while clutching a pencil between her teeth. Anything was fair game for Fleming’s conscientious, well-intentioned critiques— she even commented on how one student’s towering high heels didn’t allow her to be fully grounded as she sang.

Equally interesting: the insights into the mechanics of opera singing—I’d never realized what a hindrance the tongue apparently is—and the difficulty of combining various elements—singing, acting, communicating in a foreign language— into one memorable performance. Even Fleming, a seasoned pro, said at one point, “I don’t know how anyone can do this well. It’s so hard.”

As she dissected and analyzed the students’ performances, spending about 20 minutes with each, it was gratifying to witness the transformation—physically, emotionally, and while singing. And that moment of pure joy when a student nailed it was contagious.

It’s these behind-the-scenes moments that we tend to overlook when gravitating toward the bigger, splashier events of the summer. Luckily, in the culture guide that arts writer Andrew Travers compiled for this issue, he includes both types. By all means, check out Lionel Richie at the Jazz Aspen Labor Day shows or Ai Weiwei at Anderson Ranch. But don’t overlook traveling down to the Glenwood Vaudeville

Revue for a screening of the 1926 silent- film classic The Great K&A Train Robbery, accompanied by Vaudeville owner John Goss sharing stories about the movie’s local shoot. Go to one of the public panels during Summer Words and listen to one of this year’s faculty authors (maybe Anthony Marra or J. Courtney Sullivan) talk about their craft, or get up close and personal in the small confines of Belly Up with a lesser-known band like the Kills.

Oh, and do yourself a favor: attend a Music Fest master class this summer. You may be just as transformed as the students onstage.

 

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