Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Woman Who Teaches the Divas; the World's Grandest Opera Stars Regularly Make Their Way to a Modest House in North-West London for Singing Lessons, Says Michael White

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Woman Who Teaches the Divas; the World's Grandest Opera Stars Regularly Make Their Way to a Modest House in North-West London for Singing Lessons, Says Michael White

Article excerpt

Byline: MICHAEL WHITE

WILLESDEN Green is one of those socially indeterminate tranches of north-west London where the front gardens house either a new Mercedes or an old bath. It's the home of prosperous newsagents. Or plumbers.

Not a place you would expect to feature prominently in the diaries of the opera world's most glamorous and dazzling divas.

But it does, because one of the Green's quiet backstreets turns out to contain a transplanted fragment of Mittel-Europa: a house with deeply upholstered furniture, a big, old grand piano, and a mass of photographs, either of opera singers in their roles, or of royalty. Queen Fabiola of the Belgians features prominently.

It's the house of Vera Rosza, who is arguably the most distinguished singing teacher in the world today.

Young hopefuls find their way to her from Venezuela, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, and established stars like Kiri te Kanawa, Karita Mattila, Anthony Rolfe Johnson and Anne Sofie von Otter have been turning up on her doorstep since the early days of their careers. She pulls the best.

And meeting her, it isn't hard to understand the power she exercises over all these people, although it is hard to put it into words. Especially her own.

Ms Rosza is a small, frail-looking lady who dispenses tea and biscuits with a strong Hungarian accent so profoundly colourful and curdled it belies the fact that she has lived in England now for half a century. "Fifty years? Yes maybe," she admits with caution. "When was Coronation? I get here just after.

But we don't talk of this. And don't ask my age because I don't tell you, or if I do, I lie. I'm very vain."

Nobody knows Ms Rosza's age, and I don't presume to speculate.

But she was a student of singing and composition at the Liszt Academy in Budapest before the war, and got married there to a fellow composer who subsequently died in a concentration camp. She herself became a fugitive from the Gestapo, hiding in a forest, and refuses to be drawn on what happened to her except to say that "it was terrible experience. Terrible.

And it leave me with medical problem of diaphragm, so I sing no more. No breath. No power."

After the war she married a British military intelligence officer and moved to England, where she started teaching. And it wasn't long before word passed around that she was something special, with a genius that attracted genius.

Her young hopefuls turned into stars.

And because singers tend to carry on with lessons throughout their performing lives - having their instrument inside them, they need a second pair of ears for guidance - the stars keep coming. Kiri te Kanawa has studied with Vera Rosza since the 1970s; the mezzo Sarah Walker since the 1960s.

It's not easy to get Vera Rosza to explain just what she does with her celebrity clients. …

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