Opera is a synthetic culmination of many forms of artistic expression; a complete work, Der Gesamtkunstwerk to Wagner. During the rehearsal period for an opera production, the students and I explore a myriad of elements as they master the challenges of this unique art form on their way to becoming well-rounded and versatile performers.
The operatic vocal repertoire is inherently demanding of the “soloist” requiring that each singer be completely secure with their own part while also depending on others. Operatic singing also asks young singers how to “balance” their voices with others while retaining the individual quality of their instruments; bridging the gap between solo recital singing and choral singing. Opera presents important challenges in the declamation of rapid speech-like patterns in Italian, German and French. Singing operatic recitative in any language requires skill and experience, even in English!
Once the vocal music has been prepared, the languages memorized and studied, and the musical material mastered, the student is now asked to MOVE around the stage! Operatic staging involves remembering where and when to move, being aware of the others on stage and, at times, it borders on choreography. But simply remembering where to go isn’t enough, we also ask the students to motivate those movements with an emotional intent: acting. During rehearsals we write character autobiographies, examine the relationships of the characters, and discuss the character’s motivation for the movement and dialogue. Operatic acting involves inflecting the language and music with emotional intent, using your body language and posture to create a physical presence and maintaining a commitment to “keeping it fresh.”
Opera wouldn’t be complete without the visual element provided by the sets and furniture, costumes, props and lights. Throughout the rehearsal process students develop spatial awareness as the furniture materializes and the floor space changes in each rehearsal space. Students help gather, make and alter the props you see on stage, and they feel the difference when we move from miming “air” props to using real props. Collecting and making costumes for this production adds another important layer. Although they may not be historically accurate, costumes, hair and make-up encourage the students to hold their bodies differently, walk differently and move differently than they would in everyday clothing. Lastly, the students are exposed to budget concerns, advertising and promotion, fundraising efforts, programming, community involvement and scheduling.
I love to watch these young performers grow musically, physically, and emotionally during our rehearsal period. Many become aware of personal areas for development and begin the process of making them better. Others have yet to realize their full potential on the operatic stage, but perhaps this experience has primed them for the next time. Staged productions, of opera or musical theater, offer truly unique and valuable learning opportunities for our young singers they cannot find elsewhere.
I hope that CWU’s opera program continues to grow as it stretches and showcases our talented vocal students, while bringing delight to the audience as well. As either prospective students or prospective audience members please peruse out opera web pages and feel free to contact me for more information.
Please contact Dr. Gayla Blaisdell with any questions. We’d love to share the excitement of opera at CWU with you!
Gayla Blaisdell, Ph.D.
Associate Prof. of Voice and Opera
Central Washington University
400 East University Way
Ellensburg, WA 98926-7458