Notes on Meeting with Susan Bullock and Richard Berkeley-Steele, Toronto Wagner Society Feb. 21, 2018

(Text by Frances Henry)

Our last meeting was rather sparsely attended due to a change in time and day of the week and competition from the Toronto Symphony so the turnout was small. However, those in attendance were treated to a rare and quite unique discussion about the mechanics of Wagner singing. We really learned what it takes to sing Wagner and why singers need to be in the forties before tackling some of the big roles. Both Ms. Bullock and Mr. Berkeley-Steele have obviously studied these issues very carefully, more so, I dare say than many performers.

Both emphasized how the Wagner scores actually need to become imprinted within the body because it is not only the tiny vocal cords in the throat but the entire body needs to know what to do to make those glorious sounds. Both also emphasized the need to study a new role for at least a full year with a teacher or coach before essaying it on stage. And they were adamant about the need for constant and lengthy rehearsal periods. Ms. Bullock also discussed in detail the role of the conductor whom, she considered far more important than the director. Conductors who do not look at the stage nor attends rehearsals were severely criticized. A singer needs to know that the conductor not only sees them but that they are in tune with his demands. A non-caring conductor can ‘make or break a singer’. Directors, on the other hand, they maintained can be asked to make changes or failing that ‘we ask them to show us how to do things’ and when they themselves have to actually do the stunt required many of them change their plans.

Both English performers, who are a married couple who met at the COC’s first Ring production in 2006, are beginning new careers. Ms. Bullock has given up the big roles and now sings smaller, character parts while Mr. Berekely-Steele has become a professor of Music Training. Both feel that it is now up to younger performers to take over.

All told a very informative and productive meeting.