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Sunday, April 14, 2013

Child Singers On The Rise, I: Elena House

Today, I wish to begin a new short series on Great Opera Singers, dedicated to current child singers whom I see as “on the rise,” which is to say either already established or in the process of becoming known, such as Elena House, the subject of today’s presentation.

One of the truly refreshing things about Elena is that she presents herself for exactly what she is—a 14-year old girl who is multi-talented and making her first tenuous steps into an extraordinarily demanding profession.  She is not yet a fully professional singer, although some of her performances equal what some young professionals do.  She is at a tender stage, both in her growth and her training.  She is being very wisely taught by a teacher who knows what he is doing and does not push her one little bit past what is prudent and appropriate for a young teenager.  Children of this age are all about growth and tender first steps.  I’m sure we have all heard the horror stories—promising children pushed too hard, too fast, in an attempt to sound older than they are.  Near-toddlers trying to sound like Marilyn Horne; exercises in self destruction.  Some astonishing artificial effects can be created in such cases, and they draw an instant curious attention.  However, what they are is vaudeville acts.  A few fast dollars, a few rave notices, and then oblivion.  This applies not only to child singers, but very young musicians of all kinds.  Elena’s voice is very light, with a certain attractive breathy quality—at least at the moment—but one where growth and potential are everywhere to be seen and heard. She is very light in the lower and middle register, which is appropriate, and then, with no strain whatsoever, can soar (as much as is appropriate for a 14 year old girl) and she suddenly lights up in the high register.  We will hear a fine example of that in the first video, where we see a hush grow into a very convincing high B natural at the end of her song. 

Her first presentation is a sultry femme fatale rendition of Giuditta’s aria “Meine Lippen Sie Küssen So Heiss.” Well, as fatale as a femme can be at 14, I suppose:)  Some might see this as a bit on the far side of propriety, but theatrically, I would say that it is justified by her exceptional beauty and marked acting ability.  She also moves with a dancer’s grace.  When I first saw this video I was reminded of words I wrote in this space when discussing the young ballerina Diana Vishneva and spoke of her “spunk and sparkle.”  Here is Elena House:

Talk about attractive!  I call your attention again to the perfectly in-line B natural and the sudden appearance of the potential coloratura sound at the end.  Not yet developed, obviously—she’s 14 for Heaven’s sake—but I hear what is on the path to development in another 4 years! And the acting and looks speak for themselves.  She captures the essence of the young seductress, both visually and vocally.  The breathiness will disappear on its own in a few more years.  Or, she may wish to cultivate it for pop music.  No law says she has to become an opera singer.  At the moment, there are many possibilities.  Here is an attractive rendition of “Think of Me,” from The Phantom of The Opera”, complete with her own little promotional ending, directed to an obviously very young audience.  Not only is it as cute as can be, but listening to her drives home  just exactly how young she is, and can make us appreciate even more the sophistication of some of the presentations for one so young.

That’s quite charming!  What calls my attention, again, is the ease with which the light, admittedly breathy low and middle registers blossom, with the first rise of the voice, into the legitimate sound characteristic of the transitional and upper register.  To my ear, this is proof positive that her teacher knows what he is doing.  All the vocal musculature is poised, ready to spring into action when called upon.  A little more age, a little more work, and a different voice is going to start to emerge, one that will be solid and well protected from harm, because not a bit of strain will have been introduced during the earliest preparatory years, where Elena currently finds herself.

Finally, a single operatic piece which will stylistically tolerate the light treatment which can be given by a child at this stage of her development.  I hear real potential here!  I can see this kind of repertoire coming on faster than one might think.  I call your attention especially to one passage and one note.  Check out the phrase leading to the A natural, starting somewhere around 2:20, when she stands up and the music swells.  All of a sudden, at that point in particular, I hear an older girl, and the beginnings of vocal drama, and this is where I hear the genuine operatic potential.  Here is “Poveri Fiori.”:

This is a talent that bears watching closely over the next several years.  We need to remember that children grow up, and that every great singer was once a child!    Miss Elena House!


[Positive, constructive or informational comments may be accepted, at my personal discretion.  Please be understanding if any particular comment, however well intended, is not published.  I have very strict standards where children are concerned, both as a critic and a parent!]





Anonymous said...

“Thank you for your comments on Ms. House. I look forward to further blogs on other young, rising talents. You give well-informed thoughts and advice that I hope the young people read and understand. It will help them to sing age-appropriate music, preserve their voices, and avoid some of the pitfalls that others have endured.”

J.D. Hobbes

Edmund St. Austell said...

Thank you very much, Mr. Hobbes. I always look forward to your comments, and I certainly do appreciate this one! Thanks again!

Unknown said...

I thank you for your comments and insight on the talents of the young Elena. While I am not versed in the ins and out and finer points of Grand Opera, I know and hold dear Elena and her singing, acting,dancing, gymnastics and martial arts skills. I have called her my surrogate granddaughter for some time and have made some of the same remarks to her (though lacking in your skilled and knowledgeable style) about remembering she is barely a teenager and her skills, while phenomenal to me, are continuously growing and improving. I have noticed such a dramatic change over the last year and hold hope that the progress continues.
When you have the chance to spend time with her and her family, you can see that while massively supportive they are, her mother and father also help keep her feet firmly rooted in reality. Her angelic smile and happy nature are quite infectious. So yes, she is a rising star to watch for but is also still a young girl who loves running through the mall with friends.
I feel that her name will be one on everyone's lips within the next ten years
Thank you again for your accurate and honest review

Edmund St. Austell said...

Thank you very much indeed. Such a lovely comment! It was a joy to read; very well written and very sympathetic. You hit all the right notes, you would be a good singer youself:-) Thanks again!

Didier said...

Hi Edmund,

To think that last time I went to write here was to comment on the God Lauri Volpi you had the kindness to pay a tribute to says much about the importance of the occasion that brings me back - also my intention of seeking some forgiveness for not coming earlier I must admit ! lol : you dedicated a full chronicle to my dear hope Elena, for which I won't ever express enough gratitude. And your thorough knowledge of the subject makes it all relevant, from the diversity of the videos you picked to show the versatility of her contributions from light musical to more spinto repertoire, to some more specifically technical remarks, about her breathiness in the low/medium registers for instance. This breathiness is very common particularly in young female singers and is due to the tenderness of the arytenoid cartilages and the interarytenoid muscles that activate them, which causes an incomplete adduction of the vocal folds. This weakness is exacerbated in the lower half of the voice by the decrease of the antagonism thyroarytenoid/cricothyroid which softens the cords and disappears gradually as pitch rises and the antagonism regains tension - as you judiciously pointed out. As you also said, this artefact of youth disappears with age as the intralaryngeal musculature strengthens with training.

Thank you warmly again dear Edmund for the honor of juxtaposing my protege to your Pantheon of glories, whom I kindly invite her to discover through your loving and documented chronicles.



Edmund St. Austell said...

Vous êtes à féliciter, Monsieur! Vous faites un travail merveilleux avec Elena. L'amélioration est tout à fait remarquable! Vous êtes un très bon professeur; je suis certain que Elena a une vie professionnelle devant elle. Well done! It is so nice to see sensible pedagogy for a change. It seems there is no area of musical instruction more prone to gimmicks and quackery than vocal pedagogy; someone always has a "better" idea, when in point of fact, l'art du chant has been well known since Manuel Garcia wrote the book of the same name over a century ago! I congratulate you.

Didier said...

Those who have ideas are charlatans indeed; I have none ! lol How should one have after Porpora made Farinelli and Caffarelli or Cotogni (who sang with Moreschi by the way) Gigli and Lauri Volpi ? THEY had the ideas ! Our role, vocal teachers, isn't but humbly investigate and gather as many of their findings as possible. We can't do any better.

Edmund St. Austell said...

Well said, my friend, well said!

Zalkatt said...

Elena House has an Angelic Voice. I would love to see her playing the lead in one of the great Opera's presented at the Met annually. I believe she will be known world wide for her talents. Elena God Bless you!!


Unknown said...

Alas sir it is only with writing I can process notes. I have been involved, in my spare time,in another branch of music very far removed from Opera and hold no illusions as to my abilities. While a tenor range, my vocal skills are more apt in scaring cats than charming audiences, so I stick with my personal enjoyment of playing instruments and doing a little backup singing from time to time, deftly using others to camouflage my lack of ability.
I only write what I truly believe. I became acquainted with Elena almost 2 years ago and have been very fortunate to have developed a friendship with her, her charming Madame Ling and her long suffering father (but a truly lucky man) Robert. I have truly enjoyed watching her talent grow so rapidly under her obviously skilled coach and mentor.
Once again thank you for your critique in its honesty and promotion of her skills and areas to improve. I do believe we shall be seeing a very phenomenal career spring from this young lady, regardless of which form of music she finally settles into and then again why settle if you can do it all?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the article, the subject ( voices of 14-year-old girls) is new to me; I thought that mainly boys’ voices are very fragile at this age. Yes, Elena is a very talented artist; you described her voice correctly. Her acting is quite good, her appearance is perfect and charming, and the high notes are impressive. I hope she’ll become a famous singer.


Edmund St. Austell said...

Thank you my dear friend. I always value your judgments very highly, because you are so knowledgeable and have such elegant taste. That makes what you say important, because we are dealing here with helping a talented child singer, who will read these comments and take heart from good ones, and I can assure her and all concerned that yours is indeed a VERY good one! Спасибо, мой друг!

JING said...

Edmund, I congratulate you, not only for this fascinating article and vocal selections from Elena House, but also for the series (Child Singers on the Rise). Though I have nothing against pop music/rock/blues and all the other proliferating genres, your initiative here provides a great model and reminder for young artists (as well as their support communities of family, friends and professionals) that among the whole range of career possibilities, there is still a place for the art of beautiful singing, together with an appreciation of the critical importance of vocal training in the hands of wise, skilled and compassionate teachers. Good for you!

Edmund St. Austell said...

Thank you very much, my dear friend. I really appreciate that beautifully written comment, which says is better than I could. I wish I had written it!

Mark Hall "dieselheart001" said...

My first hearing of Elena's lovely young voice was on YouTube. A light-hearted rendition of "Lida Rose/Will I Ever Tell You", featuring Elena, the remarkable Julien Neel, a "one-man barbershop quartet" in his own right, and Christy-Lyn, a charming young lady from South Africa
accompanying Elena and Julien on piano. At first, Julien performs "Lida Rose" in four part TTBB harmony with absolute aplomb, then vocally leads in for Elena, who sings "Will I Ever Tell You" with such beautiful resonance, and a youthful breathiness that make her rendition absolutely mesmerizing. I listened with rapt attention to every note, word and nuance, then Julien and Elena combined their vocal efforts in a duet of both songs. Listening to them separately was wonderful, but to hear both, a delight beyond my pitiful abilities and the English language to describe! I pray that Elena is allowed to develop her talents as naturally as possible.
She will be one of the world's greatest sopranos, with no doubt. It is my dearest hope that I may be able to be present for one of her performances, one day. If hearing Elena by means of media such as YouTube, and others, elicits this degree of admiration from me, I would probably be speechless, and captivated if I were able to see, and hear her perform in person. The pleasure would indeed be all mine. God bless, dear girl, may He watch over you! If Heaven condescended to grace this mortal with just a bit of angelic song, it has, through your voice!

Mark Hall, bass/baritone

Edmund St. Austell said...

Thank you very much, Mr. Hall! That is a lovely testimonial indeed, and one dedicated, I would say, to a worthy subject. I'm sure Elena will be thrilled to read it! Thanks again!