For many circumstances, Recommendation 2a is far from practicable, so it is suggested that the following preparation is done:
1.Watch or listen to the opera
This will give the singer the overall shape of the opera, and an appreciation for where the individual arias fits into the overall plot as well as in the character’s experience.
Although many survey respondents are not currently doing this, from my own experience, and discussions on Facebook Opera Talk Page, I believe that a knowledge of the whole plot is crucial in gaining a sufficient knowledge of the character to give a good characterisation of a single aria.
2.Listen to all the arias sung by the character
After the whole opera, it is worth teasing out the character’s arias, and listening to them critically. Questions to ask : How does the aria to be performed compare to others sung by the character ? What is the character communicating in each aria ? Is it the same or different ? What are they saying in this aria that is unique from the others ?
An thorough understanding of the character’s emotional journey will inform the performance of the single aria. It certainly does not have to portray the entire emotional journey of the character, but the singer who knows the character as a whole will help to focus on the emotions of the particular aria to be performed in light of the rest of the plot surrounding that character.
For example, the three arias of Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni are fairly similar. Her final aria Mi Tradi has more desperation in it than the previous two, but generally her emotions are fairly constant throughout. She has been abandoned by Don Giovanni and is angry and desperate to be reunited. This means that in performing one of the first two, the singer may decide to leave out desperation in the emotions, as she reaches that emotional state later on in the narrative.