Analysis: In-depth interviews with audience members

Footage of In-Depth interviews – Audience Members

The purpose of these interviews was to gain a small insight into the expectations of audience members when going to watch both opera and opera arias in concerts.

As per the in-depth interviews with singers, I gave plenty of opportunity for the respondents to give expansive answers, so did not keep to a strict question and answer format.

Below are the key questions that I covered :

1. In your opinion, what are the differences between an opera and a concert of opera arias ?
2.  What are your expectations when you watch an opera ?
3.  What are your expectations when watching a concert ?
4.  In a concert, what is your opinion of the singer verbally introducing their arias verbally ?
5.  When are aria is sung outside the whole opera, do you like to know the plot and expect to hear it as if it were from the opera, or can you accept a broader meaning, simply taking the aria on its own merits ?
6.  Do you need to know the whole plot to enjoy a single aria in a concert ?

Although a small sample of two, and not central to this discussion, it is relevant that the two members who were questioned raised similar points to those of the singers.

It was refreshing that neither respondent talked about vocal technique or the quality of the singers’ voices.It was an unsaid assumption that they were going to hear good singing, even if they did not necessarily appreciate all of the repertoire.One can forget, as a performer, that audiences, generally, want to enjoy themselves and be entertained. The first respondent even prepares in advance, by revising complex plot lines, or listening to recordings.

There was little appetite for researching original source texts as a general rule, although it was not ruled out for particular favourite operas or academic study.The second respondent, who had a wealth of operas, competitions and concerts to draw from, sympathised with the complexity of trying to sing beautifully whilst superimposing the particular character’s traits into the voice, ‘…that’s the skill of the concert artist…’ to do both of these at the same time?!’[1].

In terms of verbal introductions, both respondents felt that it depended on the context.It was thought that a larger concert with an orchestra was a less appropriate context in which verbal introductions would be given by the singer, and that singers who were not skilled at public speaking should not do so. However, a good introduction can add to the overall enjoyment, as audience and singer are able to connect in a way that is not possible in an opera.

The second respondent, particularly, mentioned the overall concert programme as being important, avoiding too many consecutive ‘showy arias’.He suggested that the usual narrative would involve a build up of emotion from slower arias in the first half, to ‘showy’ ones in the second.An example was given where too many ‘showy’ ones early on in the concert made the audience feel exhausted by the interval.This underlines how much the audience are affected by the performer, and care must be taken in planning the journey on which they are taken.

Dress and props were only mentioned in the fact that they are usually absent from concerts. It was noted that a convincing singer, who inhabits their character fully, can become believable as the character a concert, even without these visual clues. Click here to view the clip of Madame Mao’s aria, which was mentioned, from the Cardiff Singer of the World Competition 2011, as an example of best practice.

From the beginning, it can be seen that Jung uses a strong posture to show the powerful character. She holds the the Little Red Book’[2], to give a flavour of the character, and the rest of the characterisation is achieved in her fierce vocal attack, and facial expressions.It is evident the character is important and used to people listening when she speaks.The colour of her dress also adds to the intensity of the aria.I find this an extremely convincing performance.

Click here for the next section: Analysis: Singers and Singing teachers’ surveys

[1] See Appendix 1.

[2] This book contained quotations and selected statements from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung, which was widely distributed in China during the Cultural Revolution (1964-1976).

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