Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Opera Guidelines - A few helpful tips for opera pianists and singers

The following is collected from information I have used in the past while working with pianists and singers in opera training programs.  Some of it may even have been posted here in the past.  

No one has ever said that opera is easy.  In fact, to do it (as with almost anything else) WELL, takes a lot of hard work and determination.  Here are just a few thoughts and suggestions on ways to work productively both before and during rehearsals.


Role of the opera pianist:

Rule #1:  The pianist always rules the rehearsal

            Both musical and staging rehearsal time  is always minimal and often very valuable.  There is little, if anything, that a stage director, conductor or the singers can do if the pianist is fumbling or unsure to any extent.  Since the pianist is expected to be able to follow a conductor, play the score with great security and virtuosity (sounding like the world’s greatest orchestra) and catch all mistakes the singers are making in pitch, rhythm, text and diction and be able to sing any missing vocal parts when necessary (while continuing to play),  the pianist must then be the most prepared of anyone in the room. 

The pianist’s role is to be subservient to the conductor’s musical vision and instruction, but must not rely on the conductor to provide all musical information or correct all mistakes.  The pianist should be the most knowledgeable about the score and the text and use his/her skills to assist the conductor as much as possible.  The opera pianist will regularly correct the mistakes of the singers, without waiting for the conductor to address them.  The pianist often helps to control the pacing of a rehearsal too.  The pianist can help to prevent a rehearsal from getting bogged down in silence or indecision by anticipating where the conductor or stage director may wish to begin after a pause.  This sort of ‘telepathy’ is achieved when the pianist has a very thorough knowledge of score and libretto and has paid careful attention to the singers, and to the discussions of the stage director and conductor during the pause.

In summary:  The rehearsal pianist is extremely active, never passive.

Rule #2:  Rehearsal #1 = Performance #1

Not just in opera, but in any collaborative situation, there should be one guiding rule:  Be prepared for your first rehearsal as though it were a performance. 

With rehearsal time always at a minimum, the coaching or rehearsals are not the place for the pianist to be learning his/her score.   When coaching singers individually, the pianist is solely responsible for progress in the rehearsal as there will usually be no conductor (or anyone else) present.  The pianist’s job is correcting all pitches, rhythms, text and diction.  Moreover, it is the pianist’s responsibility to make sure the singer has thoroughly studied the character and made strong musical decisions based on their decisions of character.   Since the pianist will, in fact, lead the singer through all facets of preparation (technical, dramatic and musical), the pianist must have a complete knowledge of the score, the language, the libretto, the characters, the performance traditions AND be able to play the score and sing all parts with perfection BEFORE meeting for the very first rehearsal.

Summary:  The pianist must be as prepared for the first rehearsal as he/she would be for a performance

Rule #3:  Be methodical

Because there is so much information and material for an opera pianist to master, it is essential to be very organized and disciplined in the way one prepares.  With experience, everyone will come up with a method of practice and score study that is most useful, but the following is an example of how to gain the most BASIC of preparations.  Note that the pianist is responsible for the information not just for pianists, but for being able to lead the singers through their preparations as well.  In other words, everything the singers are asked to do must also be done by the pianist:

Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’amore (The Elixir of Love)
Recommended process for learning this score:
There are several steps necessary to gain a thorough knowledge of a work before setting foot in the rehearsal room.  While you may find your own method more suitable,  the following is intended as one suggestion for learning an opera score for those that may have little or no experience.
Materials needed:
·      Piano/Vocal score (Ricordi edition is preferred)
·      Full Score, if possible (Ricordi publishes an affordable edition)
·      CD Recordings
·      Libretto which includes both the original Italian text and a good (preferably literal) translation of the text.  The best source is Nico Castel’s literal, word-for-word translation.
Steps for score study/preparation:

1)    Read through the entire libretto first to acquaint yourself with the story and the characters.
2)    Start from the beginning, and read through the translation of the text for each section (ie. Chorus, aria, trio, etc.)
3)    Write the word-for-word literal translation into your score.
4)  Speak, out loud, the Italian text for this section
5)    Listen to a recording of this section
6)    Work through the piano part, learning all notes, rhythms, fingerings, etc.
7)    Play through the vocal part(s), singing along, making sure to learn the Italian text as you go.
8)    Listen to the recording once again, this time following along with the full orchestra score (if you have one).  Pay particular attention to the sounds of the orchestra, noticing as much detail as you can about the sounds of different instruments, etc..
9)    Play through the section again at the piano, trying to imitate the sounds of the orchestra as much as possible while also trying to sing/”hear” the vocal part as you play.
10)    Listen to the recording once more while again following along with the score.

 For Singers:  

The singers prepare according to the following guidelines.  However, the pianist may need to assist or even teach much of this to them.  Therefore, the character study section is very important for pianists to think about before coaching as well. 

The following are suggestions to a singer as to how to prepare his/her role in Mozart’s Die Zauberflote:
Steps to Preparing Your Role:
1)  Read the libretto (not just a synopsis) in its entirety at least twice.  Do this before doing ANYTHING else.
2)  Translate the entire score
--word for word (which you will write underneath each word of the original). Translate everything your character says AS WELL AS everything your character would overhear other characters saying on stage. (In other words, don’t translate only half of a conversation!)
--in a loose translation of all that is said when you are not on stage:  even if it is not your material, you MUST understand the whole opera to be able to know your character’s place in the story and relationship to other characters.
3)  Listen to recordings (always listen to more than one recording!!!)
            --NOT TO LEARN THE ROLE but to get an overview of the opera.
--Follow along with your score. Pay attention to the orchestration and how it will influence/impact your vocal performance (e.g., thick orchestra vs. light orchestral color; pizzicato vs. legato playing from the strings, etc.)
            --Listen/watch videos of the opera in the original language.

4)  Historical Research
--social situation:  Understand the place your character holds in society and what that means with respect to the way you interact with social superiors, equals or underlings. (For example, if your character is a servant, does he/she bow to others? does he/she look a superior in the eyes?)
--literary influences:  Is this work based on a book, a legend or some other kind of story?  If so, how is it similar, or how does it differ from the original or different versions?
--composer:  Who was Mozart?  What do you know about him, his personality, his life?  What is his musical “style” and what is characteristic about his music?  
--librettist:  Likewise, who was the Emanuel Schikaneder?  Did he write this story?  If not, how did he change the original story?  What was his relationship with the composer?
5)  Style
--music:  What is the appropriate musical style for this work (for example, do we sing using  portamenti, ornamentation, cupa, etc.)?  How do you sing Mozart differently than Puccini or Massenet?
--physicality:  what are the physical demands required to safely and effectively sing your role?  (For example, does your character often have to sing while fighting, or crawling on the ground?)
--costumes of the period:  How might your character be dressed on stage and how might this affect your movement/physicality. (For example, are the ladies wearing corsets? If so, how will this affect the way you breathe?  Men:  Will you have heavy costumes that require extra strength or breath control?)
--artwork of the period:  A helpful way to learn the aesthetic of the Classical period is to look at artwork (paintings, sculptures, architecture) from that period.  Often that can tell us some things about the style, people and music.

*Questions to answer about your Character:  
Sometimes the libretto/story tells us many things about our characters.  However, sometimes it does not tell us everything we need to know.  When you cannot find information in the libretto, you may be required to either find the answers somewhere else OR to make up the answers for yourself.  While a big part of this program will be helping you to do this, it is important that you already begin to understand your characters as much as possible by asking yourself many of the following questions and finding the answers.  Read through the libretto, maybe the answer is there.  If not, sometimes that historical research will tell us.  If that doesn't work, then just think about your character and decide for yourself.  This will all be very important to how you move on stage, how you act and even how you will sing!

--Where did he/she come from?
--How old is he/she?
--What is he/she like?
--How does he/she differ from “original” character (if the work is based on pre-existing story)? 
--How does he/she change during the opera?
--Where is he/she going?
--Where/when does he/she live?
--What are the social structures, standards, expectations of the period?
--What are you based on? (a fictional character? a legend? an actual person?)
--What do the other characters think about you?
--What do you learn as the character develops?
--What does the audience know that you don’t?
--Who are some of the past great interpreters of the role?
--What was their contribution to the role and what special qualities of voice did they have to help the character?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

UTOT Fall Casting

First of all, thanks to everyone for their attention and professionalism during auditions.  It really was one of the smoothest and most enjoyable audition experiences since my arrival at UT.  While life dictates that there will ultimately be disappointments, I couldn't help but be impressed with the seriousness with which everyone took these auditions.  In all honesty, there were several instances in which individuals did some of their most impressive work.  It was a pleasure to see and hear everyone giving their all.

Below are the cast lists for UTOT's Fall productions.

More information about the Medea workshop in particular will be available very soon!

All my best



Angelica:                                Theresa Dunigan,  Linda Brimer
Genovieffa:                           Maria Natale, Genevieve Kimbrough, Erin Underwood
Osmina:                                 Alex Engle, Adara Towler
Dolcina:                                 Annie Schwartz, Natalee McReynolds
Principessa:                          Cate Bolden, Martha Prewitt
La Badessa:                           Adara Towler, Holly Ownby
La Maestra delle novizie:   Sarah Fitch
Zelatrice:                               Susan Thieme, Julie Roy
Infermiera:                           Amanda Lovell
Cercatrici:                             Lauren Brown, Katie Merrell
                                                Rachel Goldsten, Hana Lamb
Converse:                              Bianca Griffin, Mariel Westervelt
Novizia:                                  Christina Marcenkus, Maddy Witt
                                                Jenna Weaver, Elizabeth Williams

**(All MEN participate in off-stage Chorus)**

NOTE:            CAST MEETING:  Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 7pm in AMB 50
                        More information regarding the content of this meeting will be forthcoming.

THE MEDIUM - G. Menotti

Monica:                                  Natalee McReynolds,  Genevieve Kimbrough

Madame Flora (Baba):          Martha Prewitt, Cate Bolden

Mrs. Gobineau:                    Alex Engle, Maria Natale, Annie Schwartz

Mr. Gobineau:                     Ryland Pope, Ian Richardson

Mrs. Nolan:                           Sarah Fitch, Susan Thieme

Toby:                                      Boris VanDruff, Ian Richardson, Kris Herron

NOTE:            CAST MEETING:  Monday, August 29, 2011 at 3:30pm in AMB 50
                        More information regarding the content of this meeting will be forthcoming.

MEDEA - L. Delinger

Workshop:  October 17-26

Jason:                                                 Kevin Doherty

Medea:                                               Susan Thieme

Creon:                                                Aaron Murphy

Older Boy (tenor):                           Kris Herron

Younger Boy (tenor):                      Cody Galyon   

Nurse:                                                Sarah Fitch

Tutor:                                                 Ian Richardson

Messenger:                                       Boris VanDruff

Chorus:                                              TBD

NOTE:                        More information regarding the score and workshop plans will follow.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

For UTOT: A Spittoon Chorus

Spittoon Chorus
A Hillbilly Opera that Kevin Class will probably 
never get around to actually finishing.
Guido Flarfenfarkenzamboni
(aka:  Kevin Class)

copyright 2011 Mountain Bean Publications

It has been said that "Kevin Class only composes on a dare."  This, I frankly admit, is true.  Even a good dare is rarely enough to get me to put on paper the freak show of musical thoughts that tumble around inside my head.  However, something is in the wind these days that motivated me.  In part a wedding gift (since I'm too cheap to send a real one) and welcome gift for James and Kathryn; a parting shot (mind out of the gutter) for Patrick, and a hillybilly hug for Eileen, this little video and the composition it features is my gift of all UTOTers past, present and future.


Monday, May 23, 2011

2011-2012 Season

By now most of you have heard that we have hired James Marvel to head our program as the new Director of Opera Theatre.  We will also be welcoming a new Lecturer-Coach/Accompanist to take over the reigns from Patrick Harvey, who is heading off to do great things for Houston Grand!  It is an exciting time of transition here at UT, and the coming season is sure to be tremendously rewarding.

James has introduced himself, to those of you who are returning, by announcing the repertoire we have selected for this coming season.  While much more information will be forthcoming from both of us, I would like to get a bit of preliminary information out to you regarding these works (for those of you who wish to invest some time in acquainting yourself with these scores).

Our Fall production will be a double-bill featuring Gian Carlo Menotti's The Medium and Puccini's Suor Angelica.  Incidentally, 2011 is the centennial of Menotti's birth!

The score to The Medium is published by G. Schirmer

The preferred edition for Suor Angelica is the Ricordi edition.

While you may use Schirmer, or any other edition you may already own, the source we will be referencing will be the Ricordi.  Page and rehearsal numbers used in notes and schedules will refer to this Piano/Vocal score.

Suor Angelica will be performed in Italian.  

You may access a literal translation, with IPA, by referring to Nico Castel's The Complete Puccini Libretti.   Music Library Reference ML49.P83 N53 1993

UTOT's Spring production will be Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro

This work will also be performed in Italian, and the Nico Castel translation can be found in The Libretti of Mozart's Completed Operas, volume two   
Music Library Reference ML49.M83 C315 1997

While any reliable score you may have in your library is acceptable, it is highly recommended that you consider investing in the Baerenreiter edition.  Baerenreiter is the most respected, authoritative edition of Mozart's works, and it will be the source referenced for questions concerning text, ornamentation, articulation, pitches, etc..  It is more expensive than other editions, but very much worth having in your personal library.
In addition to having a piano/vocal score, those who are cast in this production will be asked to purchase a copy of the full-score (Dover or other study score edition).  More information will be provided later, but plans are being made to incorporate group score study into the preparation process for this production.

Auditions for Le Nozze di Figaro will be held in October (date TBA).

There will be much more information to come throughout the summer.  I am working with James Marvel to plan and prepare our offerings for the coming season, so do make a point of checking in from time to time.

With all best wishes for a wonderful summer, I look forward to a fabulous season with UTOT.

                                                                              --- K. Class

Friday, March 18, 2011

UTOT Rehearsal Schedule Week of March 21-27

March 21-March 27

Note regarding musical work:
As we are “kicking into high gear” with work/run-throughs beginning this week, I have not added specific coaching calls for anyone this week.  HOWEVER, that does not mean that individual work is not needed.  We are trusting each one of you to take responsibility for your own comfort with your parts.  If you need help with securing portions of your role, please contact Shinyoung, Jonathan or Melony to set up some individual coaching time (during opera hours preferably).  A score such as Albert Herring needs consistent attention, so please take advantage of the resource we have in having these pianists at our disposal.  
As we continue to work and run larger portions of the show, I will utilize the blog for more musical notes and instructions.  It is important to work efficiently during rehearsals so that the vital staging work can get done.  Please make a habit of REVIEWING YOUR MUSIC before each rehearsal, and check the blog regularly for notes and comments beyond those communicated in rehearsal.
Thank you for your hard work and dedication!
-- K.C.

Monday, March 21, 2011 3:40-6:40pm
Opera Room McConnell/Harvey  (Class w/ Orchestra)
STAGING                     Act III (cont.) Sid/Nancy/Mum/Vicar/Miss W/
                        Flo/Lady B; ADD Mayor/Budd @ 4:30; ADD Albert @ 5:30
Tuesday, March 22, 2011 6:30-7:30pm  McConnell/Class/Maness
Role memorization examEach cast member will be requested to sing, from memory, one or more excerpts, chosen at random, from anywhere within the scope of his/her assigned role.
7:30-10 p.m. Act III (cont.) FULL III Cast (no Kids); ADD Kids @ 9
Wednesday, March 23, 2011 3:40-6:30pm
Opera Room McConnell/Class/Kim
STAGING    Work/Run II-ii, III FULL Act II-ii/III Cast as called;
Thursday, March 24, 2011 7:00-10:00pm
Opera Room McConnell/Class/Harvey
STAGING     Work/Run Act II-ii/III FULL Act II-ii/III Cast as called

                                                                           Friday, March 25, 2011 3:40-6:40pm

Opera Room McConnell/Harvey (Class w/Orchestra)
STAGING Work/Run I FULL Act I Cast as called
Saturday, March 26, 2011 1:00-5:00pm
Opera Room McConnell/Class/Maness
STAGING Work/Run II-i FULL Act II-i Cast as called

Sunday, March 27, 2011 2:00-6:00pm
Opera Room McConnell/Harvey 
STAGING Work/Run II-ii/III FULL Act II-ii/III Cast as called

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Rehearsal Notes: Monday, March 7, 2011

Monday, March 7, 2011

Act II, Scene I
  • Florence p. 187 solidify rhythm “For three weeks..”
  • Cis p. 194 (3rd syst.) early on “hooray for the...”
  • Mum 195 watch conductor “very nice I’m sure”
  • Billows 195 don’t rush “Thank you children”
195 take time on “Thank you Miss Wordsworth”
198 in general, take your time. Well-poised; self-indulgent.
Fill out your long notes/vowels.
***** 201 (3rd syst.)  ***E-FLATS “and leave the rest to nature”
  • Tutti 201-203 “Hooray” - more energy, crisp rhythm on eighth-notes
  • Mayor 205-207 watch conductor coming out of fermatas
  • Tutti 208 do not slow down too much (too soon) “well done”
  • Mayor 208 keep rhythm clean “my council wishes...”
  • Florence 217 pitches “say thank you”
  • Tutti 218 secure entrances/rhythms
  • Tutti after #41 don’t drag; good, energized initial consonants
  • Tutti after #44 Review this music! (some staggered entrances were incorrect - pp. 227-228)
  • Florence 228 pitches “Go on Albert”
  • Tutti 230 (#46) Do not start glissando too soon (Hold pitch for one full bar followed by slow gliss.)
  • Tutti 231-234 Continue to review entrances for sake of security.  Overall tempo should be brisk but fairly accurate.
  • Cis/Em/Har “Tee hee...”:  start louder so it doesn’t get lost in the texture
  • Florence 234 Do not jump in too quickly “From the wrong side”  The tempo here is slower, so take your time

Thursday, March 3, 2011

UTOT Rehearsal Schedule Week of March 7-11


Monday, March 7, 2011 3:40-6:40pm
Opera Room McConnell/Class/Maness
STAGING  Work/Run Act II-i II-i Cast as called
Tuesday, March 8, 2011 7:00-10:00pm
Opera Room McConnell/Class/Kim
STAGING   Work II-ii Albert; ADD Sid/Nancy @ 7:30; 
ADD Mum @ 8:30
Wednesday, March 9, 2011 3:40-6:40pm
Opera Room McConnell/Harvey  (Class w/Orchestra)
STAGING     Begin III Nancy; ADD Kids/Mayor @ 4:15;ADD Sid @ 4:45; ADD Budd/Mum@ 5:30
S. Kim  Rm. 118
3:30-5:30 Albert
Ziegler  Rm. 41
3:30-5:30 Wordsworth
Thursday, March 10, 2011 7:00-10:00pm
Opera Room McConnell/Harvey
STAGING     Work III Nancy/Kids/Mayor; ADD Sid @
7:45; ADD Budd/Mum @ 8:30
Friday, March 11, 2011 3:40-5:30pm
Opera Room