The following is taken from the sleeve notes of a private CD

VIRGINIA OOSTHUIZEN, soprano

Virginia Oosthuizen was born in Stellenbosch and studied singing there with Margarethe Wandell and Fred Dalberg.  She then continued intensive study of the German Lied with Elena Gerhardt in London.  A further three years study at the Staatsakademie der Musik (Vienna) and the Mozarteum (Salzburg) followed.

This versatile singer is acclaimed as a Mozart interpreter of high accomplishment.  She has sung leading roles in opera for all five Arts Councils in South Africa, and counts Pamina (Die Zauberflöte), Fiordiligi (Cosi Fan Tutte), Konstanze (Die Entführung aus dem Serail), and the Countess (Le Nozze di Figaro) among her successes.  She was awarded the Friends of the Opera prize for Marzelline (Fidelio) and Micaela (Carmen), and has sung both Nannetta and Alice Ford in Verdi's Falstaff, Adele and Rosalinde in Die Fledermaus, as well as Hanna Glawari in The Merry Widow.

Besides her opera career, Virginia Oosthuizen has devoted herself to concert, oratorio and Lieder singing.  She has given over 300 recitals and appeared under conductors such as Erich Bergel, Janos Fürst, Enrique Garcia-Asensio, Michi Inoue, Jussi Jalas, Alberto Bolet, Werner Andreas Alberts, Brian Balkwill, Avi Ostrowsky, Peter Ronnefeld, Barry Smith, David Tidboald, Edgar Cree, and Sir David Wilcocks.  She has done many concerts and radio broadcasts with Albie van Schalkwyk, and together they were nominated for an Artes Award.

Virginia Oosthuizen has lectured at both Cape Town and Stellenbosch Universities, has given master classes at Pretoria University, and is a popular lecturer at the U.C.T. Summer School.

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The following is taken from Musicus, Volume 28.2 (2000)

Some advice to young singers
by Virginia Oosthuizen

‘When can I start taking singing lessons?’ I am often asked.  My reply is that an adolescent young woman should be physically well developed, and that a young man should be about 17 years of age, and that he should have completely rested his voice during the
breaking period.  The vocal material must be good.

I started taking singing lessons at the age of fourteen, at the Conservatorium of Music in Stellenbosch.  My teacher was the well known Margarethe Wandelt from Breslau.  She had turned me down when I was thirteen and sent me away with the tart injunction to ‘Do somesing about ze hair, Kind, you look like a seal, also.’  I was lucky to be accepted, as Miss Wandelt’s father had owned a theatre in Breslau and she had an immense knowledge of the arts in general.

It is not easy to find a good voice teacher, not all good singers can explain, step by step, how to build a sound technique.  There is the danger that promising young singers may be wooed by teachers with contacts, who promise them early careers.  There are those who do not nurture exceptional young voices with care, but rather, for their own glory, push them far too soon into singing dramatic arias and roles that can irreparably damage the voice.  I remember asking Miss Wandelt, at the tender age of fifteen, after having heard one of her advanced students singing it beautifully, whether I might learn ‘Musetta’s Walz Song’ from La Bohéme.  She laughed until the tears ran down her cheeks  ‘Aber, Kind, you know nussing about life.’  I found this rather hurtful as I thought that I knew everything!  I was given, instead, a new song called ‘Poppies for forgetting in the month of May’ which I detested!  But I was learning useful new techniques slowly!

A good voice teacher should be able to hear and know where the student is placing her/his voice and should be able to clearly explain and demonstrate how and where the tone should be placed.  She/He should be able to diagnose faults and repair them if possible.  Through careful repetition of appropriate vocal exercises and phrases of songs, the placing of the voice should progress until a balance has been achieved of mouth and nasal resonance and correct breathing, producing a beautiful silver centred, concentrated and resonant tone.

An experienced teacher will have a pretty good idea into which vocal category a young voice belongs.  Some voices, however, are not easy to classify, eg a soprano with a warm, rich timbre may sound as though she could mature into a dramatic soprano or a spinto.  The same applies to the male voice.  It is wise to train all voices lyrically and to let them develop naturally.  Some students have a tendency to shout, instead of sing, and choose completely unsuitable dramatic arias if they are told that they may develop into dramatic singers.

Remember quantity is worthless without quality.

I like to teach agility early as it is easier for young voices to attain flexibility.  Passages from oratorios make good exercises and are beautiful and inspiring.  It is ‘healthy’ to study Mozart.  His style is wonderfully vocal.  To develop a true Mozarteán style one must start early.  It is my belief that it is seldom possible for a voice schooled entirely in Italian and/or French opera, to later develop a perfect Mozart style.  Conversely, I believe it possible for a singer to grasp the Italian vocal idiom successfully having initially been trained on Mozart, Handel, Bach, Schubert etc.  That is why singers such as Dietrich Fisher Dieskau, Christa Ludwig, Herman Prey, Edita Gruberova, Kiri te Kanawa and many more excel as concert and opera singers.

The Cape Town Eisteddfod prescribed the Alleluja from Mozart’s Exsultate Jublate when I was 17.  This was my first taste of Mozart.  I slowly practised the coloratura-runs until I could sing them at the correct tempo.  My long suffering aunt drove me from Stellenbosch to Cape Town and sat through 23 Allelujas!  Happily I came second and we had reason to celebrate.  Mozart has to be impeccably sung, it is very exposed singing, with no room for ‘cheating’.  Once mastered the style benefits one in many other areas of vocal music: oratorio, Lieder and last, but not least, Viennese operetta.

A mirror is the performer’s most crucial tool.  There is no other way of controlling bad habits and affectations.  One should aim to have as natural a mouth position as possible.  Singers are entertainers and the audience has as much right to feast their eyes on a pleasant, expressive face and a beautiful gown as to listen to a beautiful voice.  Pulling the upper lip down over the teeth dulls the sound and looks ugly.  The tongue should lie relatively flat and a slight smile or ‘lift’ of the upper lip enlivens the tone and looks pleasant.  Stand still in front of a mirror when practising and cut out all unnecessary body and hand movements, (do not use your hand as a crutch for difficult notes or passages).  Watch the hands for tension which sometimes shows up in claw like positions.  If you follow this advice you will find that you give just the right amount of genuinely expressive movement when performing.

To develop into a technically secure proficient singer takes years of dedicated study, and there is a lot more to becoming a performer than being able to sing well.  Do not become too emotionally dependant on your teacher.  I had the privilege of studying German Lieder interpretation with Elena Gerhardt in London.  She had pioneered Hugo Wolf Lieder and knew Richard Strauss personally as well as other artists and composers of that era, I was overwhelmed!  Four new Lieder to be studied every week and four others to be polished.  Her personality and experiences were fascinating and I fell completely under her spell!  I prepared the work alone and with her pianist Robert Sutherland (who was later to accompany Maria Callas and Giuseppi di Stefano on their final world tour).  I learned a great deal from Mme Gerhardt’s wonderful artistry, but I also copied her beautiful mezzo-soprano voice by false darkening my voice.  Luckily no damage was done, three years in Vienna and Salzburg soon put that right and I was once again a lyric-soprano with coloratura, I had learned a lesson never to sing out of one’s vocal category.

A professional opera and concert career is tough, but what a privilege it is to be able to interpret the music of Mozart, Bach, Handel, Haydn, Schubert, Schumann, Richard Strauss, Hugo Wolf, Johann Strauss, Lehár and many many more, thereby enriching the lives of others and of oneself.
VIRGINIA  OOSTHUIZEN
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