Taking an opera class from Marilyn Horne would be like having Robert De Niro as your acting tutor. You might be daunted as hell, but at least you'd know you were in the hands of a master.

Over the course of a career that spans nearly a half century, the American mezzo-soprano has performed at New York's Metropolitan Opera, the San Francisco Opera and La Scala in Milan, Italy. In 2001, she received a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award.

Horne, 68, splits her time between New York City and Santa Barbara, Calif. She spent this past week in residence with Portland State University's Opera Theater, teaching two public master classes. She's also serving as artistic consultant for a five-show run of Gioachino Rossini's 'Cinderella.'

Of her approach to teaching master classes, Horne says, 'I call myself a voice coach. I only become a voice teacher if I run into a problem that's technical. You can't get into the artistic side until the technique is solid. It's like trying to play the piano without knowing how.'

Having played the role of Cinderella herself several times, Horne should have the magic touch for guiding the PSU performers through the artistic challenges of the show. 'It's a delicious comic opera,' she enthuses, 'but it's tough to get it right. The technical demands are great. You have to sing the notes easily and with bravura. At the same time, you must get into your relationships with the other characters.'

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