The MET Quartet
Voice professors (pictured above) David Holloway, Richard Stilwell, Michael Best and Judith Haddon are known as the MET Quartet at Roosevelt University.
By Laura Janota | From the Fall 2011 issue of Roosevelt Review
Leila Bowie stands erect, her focus turned inward, as Roosevelt University Voice Professor Judith Haddon begins the warm-up.
“First of all, let’s pant,” says Haddon, who has performed leading roles on opera stages around the world as well as on PBS Television’s internationally celebrated “Live from Lincoln Center” broadcast as Giacomo Puccini’s quintessential Madame Butterfly.
Exaggerating her huffs and puffs until Bowie pants adequately, Haddon begins the drill, playing a scale on her Chicago College of Performing Arts (CCPA) studio piano that cues the young soprano to lightly roll her tongue for the “brr” sound that begins her gentle warm-up.
A new chord on the piano prompts Bowie to sing “gede, gede, gede,” gradually waking up her voice. A lower key on the piano follows, signaling the Roosevelt singer, who recently won the $10,000 Lynne Harvey Scholarship prize from the Musicians Club of Women, to extend her lower range for a “hum, hum, hum.”
Exercising the voice’s low end, its mid range and finally its upper reach, the drill takes the better part of 25 minutes. “What I like about Judy (Haddon) is that she’s very careful in guiding my voice, and she really has taught me how to live for my voice and how to protect it,” Bowie says at the end of the lesson.
“But it’s not about me,” says Haddon, who is marking 20 years of teaching at CCPA. “What did Hillary Clinton say? ‘It takes a village.’ And here at CCPA, we have a village.”
Besides Haddon, accomplished opera professionals who teach regularly at CCPA include:
- Richard Stilwell, a 40-year veteran baritone whose leading roles have included Pelleas in Claude Debussy’s Pelleas et Melisande, Billy Budd in a Benjamin Britten opera of the same name and Count Almaviva in Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro;
- David Holloway, a baritone with a 30-year international career and 75 major roles, including Figaro in Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Figaro and Count Almaviva in Le nozze di Figaro and Giovanni in Don Giovanni; and
- Michael Best, a tenor and principal artist for 22 years with the Metropolitan Opera in New York whose major roles have included Toby Higgins in Kurt Weill’s Rise and Fall of the City Mahagonny and many, many more.
“We call these four professors the MET Quartet,” said James Gandre, provost and executive vice president of Roosevelt University. “That’s because they sang together at various points at the Metropolitan Opera before re-assembling at CCPA to pass on their craft to our students.”
What’s unusual about the MET Quartet, as well as CCPA’s overall 13-member voice faculty, is its willingness to collaborate. “Voice professors tend to stay in their own studios with their own students. They don’t normally share their ideas with each other or with a colleague’s student or students,” said Gandre, who previously was dean of CCPA, dean of enrollment and alumni at Manhattan School of Music and had his own career in voice as well.
At CCPA, voice faculty members are available to assist any and all of the department’s 100-plus undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate students. These professors regularly give advice to students they don’t personally teach, work together in performance classes and during vocal seminars and refer their own students to one another for advice when the situation dictates. “That kind of collaboration is unique and really quite extraordinary for performing arts higher education,” Gandre said.
Haddon, who came to Roosevelt in 1992, was the first MET Quartet member. A rising star who sang with many of the world’s greatest singers on stages all over the world, she had left the frequent travel her career entailed in order to spend more time raising her daughter.
“I remember Judy coming to my office and telling me that she wanted to teach,” said Earl Schub, former dean of CCPA, who hired Haddon on the spot. “I had heard her sing at the Lyric Opera in Chicago and I was really impressed. She had the energy and the ability and I knew she’d be a strong anchor for our voice faculty,” he said.
The transition from singing to teaching was difficult at first for Haddon. “It took me awhile to learn how to put into words what I knew how to do,” she recalls today. “But as I stayed with it, it became apparent that I had a knack for teaching as well as a way to make my life count by helping young people achieve their dreams,” she said.
After she was appointed full-time in 1999, Haddon began recruiting colleagues she had sung with at the Metropolitan Opera to CCPA’s voice faculty. The first was Stilwell.
“Judy called me up and asked me to join CCPA. It so happened that at the time I was teaching at another university where I wasn’t happy,” said Stilwell, who had sung with Haddon for a production of Madame Butterfly in Tel Aviv, Israel. “I decided to accept her invitation and have found CCPA to be a good fit, particularly because I get to work with friends whom I have sung with on many occasions.”
In 2000, Holloway joined CCPA’s voice faculty department, becoming its chair a year later. “I would say that Judy was the catalyst for our collaboration,” said Holloway, who also continues to perform and is the director of Santa Fe Opera’s Apprentice Singers Program, which is one of the most prestigious young artist programs in the world.
“She invited me to join the CCPA voice faculty, and then I invited Michael Best to come on board,” Holloway said. “At that point, all of us agreed to help one another teach and to collaborate in training our students as well,” he said.
Since then, members of the MET Quartet have been sharing teaching techniques with other members of CCPA’s voice faculty, including another Metropolitan Opera star and more recent addition to the faculty, operatic bass Samuel Ramey, who is known for his devil roles in Faust, Date with the Devil and The Rake’s Progress and still sings internationally.
“Sam is a wonderful addition to the faculty as his brilliant opera career has taken him all over the world. We are so fortunate that he is able to share his years of knowledge and experience with our students,” said Haddon.
Since the collaboration among voice faculty members began, the number of voice students in the program has more than doubled, while the quality of those who apply and are accepted into CCPA has risen dramatically.
“One of the strengths of our voice department is that the professors are willing to work together,” said Henry Fogel, dean of CCPA. “They talk to one another and they listen to each other. It has created the kind of positive learning environment that growing numbers of young artists want to be part of.”
Another major attraction for Roosevelt’s voice students is the possibility of being selected for the two-year Professional Diploma in Opera program that CCPA offers in conjunction with Chicago Opera Theater (COT).
More than 100 singers from around the country applied to the program last January. Out of that pool, 10 Roosevelt students auditioned and three of them were selected to start in the fall of 2011 in the diploma program that provides full scholarships for study with CCPA’s voice professors and professional experience as a young artist with COT.
“It’s one of the only programs in the country to offer a hybrid of conservatory training and professional experience,” said Scott Gilmore, assistant professor of opera and vocal coaching and director of the diploma program. “As such, it’s extremely competitive and only the best are chosen for it.”
So far, approximately 14 Roosevelt students have gone through the six-year-old program that began in 2005. “We’ve come far with the program to the point that it’s known around the country,” said Brian Dickie, general director of COT. “As a result we are seeing the quality of our applicants rise and we hope to continue to see the quality of the program increase in the years to come.”
Roosevelt alumnus Lucas Harbour (MM, ’07) is a 2009 graduate of the young artists’ diploma program. “I’ve had lessons with just about everyone on the voice faculty, and the thing that has made it so great is that they all have performance backgrounds,” said Harbour, who studied with Stilwell and received significant advice from Holloway, Best and Haddon as well as others on the CCPA voice faculty. Since then, Harbour has enjoyed a meteoric rise as an operatic bass baritone with roles on stages all over Germany and beyond.
“I was able to hear the first-hand experiences of professors who had sung at some of the same opera houses I’m singing in now,” said Harbour, who has had roles at the Deutsche Opera Berlin, Teatro Regio in Turin, Italy, the Opera House in Heidelberg, Germany, and the Karlsruhe Opera House in Germany.
“It’s the kind of advice I couldn’t have received anywhere else and I credit my Roosevelt professors with giving me what I needed to get me where I’m at and where I’m going,” he said.
Last year, all five candidates in the CCPA-COT Professional Diploma in Opera program were selected to participate in prestigious residencies with professional opera companies. One of those candidates was Leila Bowie, who starred as Fiordiligi in Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte at the Green Mountain Opera Festival in Vermont and as Bess in Mark Adamo’s Little Women at the Sugar Creek Symphony & Song Festival in Watseka, Ill.
The singer calls Haddon her “queen bee of vocal technique”; she credits Stilwell with taking what Haddon taught one-on-one to new levels of character development and artistry in a performance-class setting; she thanks Holloway for giving her much-needed, real-world advice on a variety of topics, including auditioning; and she cannot forget Best, who motivated and encouraged her to keep going against all odds.
“There’s a great team-teaching effort going on at CCPA,” said Bowie. “And honestly, I don’t think I would have come this far if I’d only had private lessons.”