Analysis: In-depth interviews with singers

Footage of the In-depth interviews with Singers

I wanted to give the respondents the opportunity to give expansive answers. I allowed each interview take its own shape, not insisting on staying to a formal question and answer structure.  This meant that each interview is slightly different.  In each interview, however, I ensured that I asked the following questions :

1.      What steps do you take to learn an aria ?
2.      Do you use youtube ?
3.     What are the challenges in characterising an aria outside the whole opera ?

They were conversant with the idea of an opera concert and had previously performed in one. It was evident, that all respondents had thought about the characterisation of arias to a certain extent, but not specifically in a concert. Despite this, they agreed (as did all the music students I attempted to recruit as participants) that it was a subject well worth investigating.

There was little nuanced thinking amongst respondents.They did touch on some interesting concepts, for example the possibility of ‘changing’ the aria in some way for a concert, but were unable to be more specific.Respondent  D focussed on the question of how much to move physically in a concert setting, and was able to suggest the dramatic idea that the external movements are a manifestation of the inner emotions.However, she was unable to give a firm answer as to the extent this should be done in a concert.

Respondent A believed that to know an aria, all the character’s arias in the opera must be studied.It was interesting to note that she was focussed on the preparation of a role for an opera, (as opposed to arias for concerts), and although identified key challenges with performing arias in concerts, she too was unable to give any firm suggestions as to a distinct approach.

They were all keen that a singer personalise their own performance, and to this end, they viewed footage from with a high level of suspicion, as it could lead to a pure copy of someone else’s interpretation.Several respondents mentioned the mistakes ( in pitch, rhythm and entry points) to be found in the footage of arias, and expressed the danger of learning it incorrectly from the footage.

These non specific replies which appear to result from the lack of any great depth of thinking on this topic begs the question: why are singers not emphasising the approach to characterisation in general, or for concerts in their thinking

There are many occasions when a singer is asked to sing an aria outside the opera (in a concert, workshops, competitions and auditions).  For these times, the implications of the findings are that singers have little to draw upon to help them with the characterisation of individual arias fro concerts.  This is particularly true for singers early in their careers who have sung few entire opera roles.  For established singers who have performed many roles, they may be able to recall the characterisation of the whole role, and make decisions on how they characterise the aria in a concert from their previous experience.  However, there will be times when they too are asked to sing an aria without having performed the whole role, and for these times, they will need an approach specific to singing arias in concerts.

In asking respondents about characterisation, I did not ask them how much emphasis they put on characterisation compared to the amount to time they spend on perfecting their vocal technique.  I would like to suggest that if I had asked this question, the answers would have highlighted the disproportionate emphasis singers put on achieving a good vocal technique, and may have explained why the respondents had not considered characterisation for arias in concerts more fully. However, without any interview data to support this hypothesis, I broaden my evidence by considering the major topics of conversation between post graduate students in my experience, and have compiled a list below:

    • A good vocal technique
      • Posture
      • Breathing
      • Jaw tension
      • Articulation
      • Vocal range
    • Translation and textual analysis of lyrics
    • Memorisation of music and text
    • Performance nerves
    • Relationship issues with the teacher and/or
    • Selection of teachers and/or coaches
    • Examined recital preparation
    • Money worries
    • Repertoire issues
    • Fach and/or voice type issues[1]

Click here for the next sectionAnalysis: In-depth interviews with audience members.

[1] This list is based on the issues discussed informally by post graduate vocal students at Trinity Laban during academic year 2011-2012.

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