As always, a great deal of meticulous planning went into the recent series of concerts by Marla Berg, a renowned opera and concert soprano from the United States of America, brought to perform in Calcutta by the Kolkata Classics Club. Berg's repertoire stems from her experience in the prominent and lead roles of the great classical operas as well as the famous Broadway musicals. As always, the chief organizer of these presentations, Jennifer Heemstra, was the accompanist and fellow artist.
First, there was a generous, hour-long master class offered to the students of vocals at the Calcutta School of Music on July 3. This long-planned presentation was, as usual, taken lightly by the CSM. A mere seven young singers dribbled in, there was no representation of the staff or the singing instructor, who finally showed up after the class was over. American punctuality was in evidence; Berg was strictly on time, cheerfully introduced herself and proceeded to conduct a delightful class with some stage performance pointers to the talented and eager young singers. She stressed upon the importance of the stage entree, posture and delivery, all of which she demonstrated in a delightful closing rendition of Mozart's " Un moto di gioia". It was an exciting and highly instructive session that was sadly lacking an audience, goodness knows why.
On the evening of July 6, at the ballroom at the Oberoi Grand, was held a concert by invitation with a view to attract an elite membership. It began with typically generous and delicious refreshments characteristic of the Oberoi Grand which the 'elite' tucked into with a kind of operatic fervour. The performance that followed fell short of expectations, owing mainly to the acoustics and perhaps a far-too-lengthy explanation accompanying each item. This was unfortunate, considering the purpose of the evening.
The main aim of these concerts is to bring about an awareness among children from all walks of life of Western music in all its richness and diversity. This season, owing to the heavy rains, not many of the NGO-run schools attended. However, on July 9 and 10, in the spacious auditorium of Kala Mandir, three scintillating recitals were given to a packed hall - 1,300 and 1,200 children, mainly from the Ashok Hall Group of Schools and a few NGO-run schools, were enthralled. Both Berg and Heemstra brought their formidable skills to the fore with great erudition and humour, inviting an active interaction between the audience and themselves. This was the most rewarding aspect of the series.
On the evening of July 10, a final concert was held for the public, who braved the weather to come and witness one of the most entertaining musical programmes, which included works by Mozart, Strauss, Puccini, Debussy and Fauré, as well as Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hammerstein and Leonard Bernstein. Berg's impressive operatic and Broadway experience gives her a smooth pedagogical skill combined with a charming, dramatic humour which was enhanced by the spectacular accompaniment by Heemstra.