Marilyn Horne is one of the rare few performers who can be a world-class talent for over 40 years, inspire thousands and pass on her talent — all with grace, wit and good humor.

Horne graced the stage at Sprague Hall Monday to teach a master class for members of the Yale School of Music Opera Program. The students performed arias from operas by artists including Mozart, Brahms and Debussy. Horne guided students through the nuances of their complicated pieces, offering advice on everything from facial expressions to fermatas.

“You’ve got to take the audience with you,” Horne said. “It’s not just dynamics. It’s how you keep going.”

Horne entertained the audience of gathered music students and New Haven citizens with her candor and endearing anecdotes. After a 40-minute wait for the singer, who was caught in traffic, the audience still greeted her with rousing applause and visible enthusiasm. It’s not every day that the New Haven community gets the chance to watch someone who Doris Yarick Cross, artistic director of Yale Opera, called “one of the most distinguished singers of the world.”

The 67-year-old mezzo soprano’s career has brought her onstage at famous performance venues all over the world, in roles like Mimi in La Boheme, Marie in Wozzek and Carmen in Carmen. In 1981 “Opera News” called her “probably the greatest singer in the world.”

At Yale, Horne demonstrated her teaching ability and her capacity to be down-to-earth and funny. When guiding Jan Kvistborg MUS ’02 through a difficult section of Puccini’s “Che gelida manina,” Horne told a story she once heard about another singer.

“When you’re learning to be a really great tenor, it’s that F sharp that gets you,” Horne said. “Martinelli woke up every day and played an F sharp. When F sharp was in place, he was ready for anything.”

Though Horne sang little herself, the talent of the opera students and Horne’s warmth kept the audience in their seats for well over two hours.