By Catherine May, 7 June 2015

A wide-ranging discussion about the role of the Vocalist within Opera

Present: Carlene Tim Catherine Toria Lindy Di Clare Daniel Lore

What is the value of the vocalist within the process?
How do we draw creativity out of the singer?
Should we be concerned with the singer's creative process within the rehearsal period?
Is the role of the vocalist/singer even a concern within this broader discussion of opera?
Why are there so few singers at this event?

A more collaborative approach would draw greater creativity out of all participants. It is not just singers who can feel marginalised. The example of costume designers and their products was cited.

Singers can feel that they don't have a voice - ironically - within the discussion of the future of opera. But what is opera without the singing?

The role and behaviour of the director was widely discussed, as well as the director's impact (positive and negative) on the singer's experience. The rehearsal room dynamic and hierarchy is key to the singers' experience.

Do we need a shift of power away from the director? The amount of time (or lack thereof) given to musical direction within a total rehearsal period was discussed. Two little time is given for rehearsal between the conductor/musical director and the singers.

Discussion of the historic role of the singer in relationship with the composer. Are the singer and composer in conflict today? Should the singer be the servant of the composer? Or the muse and inspiration?
The collaborative power stands presently as: composer-director.

Is a solution to strip opera back to the singing and music and spend less time/energy/money on production?

Directors were stood up for by a plea to not conflate the director's role with only production values.

Tangential discussion began about treatment of women in the rehearsal room, and misogyny within the field of opera. The roles for female singers in traditional opera are mostly to die, to go mad or to acquiesce. Contemporary opera should act to re-define the roles for women onstage. We should have a separate discussion about WOMEN in opera. (this may indeed be another session so look for that report).

Should all singers step forward more with their creativity? Do we need to enter the rehearsal room with more swagger? What does it mean to be a diva (in the positive sense)? Give permission to yourself to step forward and don't wait for the invitation.

The presence of a TV industry person within the discussion provided opportunity for comparison and contrast of industry practice. How does TV production help to facilitate people to bring their creativity out in the work space? The director coordinates this in TV.

In order for the opera to live onstage, the performers must have ownership of the piece, so helping singers brings the opera to life.

Singers are in danger when they are only or mostly concerned with the sound. How do we balance this with the development of and respect for the craft of singing? Training should try to integrate the acting technique with the singing technique. Singing students (and singers in general) can have a block about going beyond the sound. They want to improve their acting, but can't always take the steps beyond sound. Conservatoire training must address this. This process can be full of fear for the singer and the rehearsal process doesn't generally allow for the discoveries necessary to go beyond that fear. Revivals don't encourage creativity either.

Spirited discussion followed about whether we should be striving for naturalism in acting for opera. Perhaps a journey of discovery through movement would be more productive? Use body intelligence. Or both styles (theatre/acting-based and dance/movement-based) should be used as they both could yield positive results for the singer.

We should acknowledge that the singer uses a unique set of muscles in a way that an actor doesn't.
Should we re-consider gestural language to help the communication of the singer? Is it really a bad thing to be “operatic” when singing?

Is the influence of theatre (and theatre directors) on opera good or bad for singers? Do they bring the baggage of theatre into opera?
We should try to draw on and enhance the natural skills of the singers. Acknowledge that singers come to the rehearsal with more than the ability to use their voice.


singer, rehearsal process, bel canto, vocalist, Opera, opera

Comments: 2

Edward Lambert, 8 June 2015

Very interesting points here - I wish I'd been there. I've long felt productions often aim for too much naturalism and that artifice and stylisation suit opera rather well. But then I also like the dichotomy between recitative and aria, which has long since gone out of fashion, too...
sarah grange, 10 June 2015

Better roles for women (and esp. older women) was indeed a big topic over in the Women session. The report includes some ideas for improving the situation.