Arts & Culture

Big voice, big heart

3 min read

Opera virtuoso Dominique Labelle teaches a master class with brio at the Memorial Church

While the word diva is often used to describe opera stars whose egos compete for equal time with their voices, such is not the case for soprano Dominique Labelle.

Gracious and genuine were the words that came to mind last week (Oct. 21) at the Memorial Church as the diminutive singer with the big voice and heart to match lent her guidance and encouragement to young Harvard singers at an afternoon master class.

The Office for the Arts at Harvard and the Harvard Baroque Chamber Orchestra sponsored the event.

The Quebec native, who now makes her home in Massachusetts with her husband and two children, was unassuming, with sparkling earrings the only hint of glamour.

“It’s very special for me to get the chance to help you sing,” said Labelle, who admitted that her busy performance schedule means she has little time for teaching, something she loves.

The soprano hugged each student after the young singer performed a prepared piece, offered warm praise, and asked earnestly, “How can I help you?”

Working with Robin Reinert ’12, Labelle encouraged her to connect to the music’s emotion and its tale of a first kiss in an effort to convey a sense of passion to the audience.

“[Henry] Purcell is so sexy, it’s unbelievable,” Labelle told Reinert, who sang the British composer’s “Sweeter than Roses.”

“A rose, it’s so delicate,” she said of one of the song’s lyrics. “We have to hear the petals in your voice. Really live it!”

Labelle’s appearance was part of a Harvard tradition, the Learning From Performers program created by the Office for the Arts in 1975. Each year the program hosts 15 to 20 artists involved in music, dance, theater, film, television, visual arts, and interdisciplinary arts. The artists interact with undergraduates through lectures, seminars, master classes, workshops, and residencies.

“Students really benefit from working with professional artists. Too often, young performers get locked into a certain way of working that may not best serve what they are trying to accomplish,” said program manager Tom Lee, who has managed the series since 1994.

“The experience creates a spark — an arc of learning — that can really make a difference. That arc is the ‘through line’ that runs throughout the entire Learning From Performers program.”

Upcoming in the series are workshops with Felix Barrett and Maxine Doyle of the British theater group Punchdrunk, singer and songwriter Suzanne Vega, and actor and playwright Eisa Davis ’92.

For a complete list of upcoming events, visit the OfA Web site.