August 22, 2011
Last week was a bumper week for Opera Auditions at Sternberg Clarke - that was mostly thanks to our latest work placement Hero Elspeth Marrow. Elspeth is a student on Royal Holloway's prestigious music course. An accomplished Opera singer herself, we tasked Elspeth with finding us some of the best singers in London for work at some upcoming corporate events in the coming months.
Though we like to think we're pretty knowledgeable on all forms of entertainment, we still don't have the same degree of specialist knowledge as Elspeth - so we asked for her help in singling out the Top 5 Qualities to Look Out For in an Opera Singer and we thought we'd share some with you, the faithful blog reader. Grab your Viking Helmet, strap on your metal chest plate and do the third thing that opera singers to before they sing opera... maybe we needed Elspeth's help more that we realised.
Granted, this goes for most acts and we've spoken before about the importance of looking the part when you come in for an audition, but with Opera Singers it's especially important for them to look as good as they sound. Nicely made up, hair off the face, neat and tidy but still colourful and appealing. Keeping hair off the face is a key point due to so much of an operatic performance being down to facial expressiveness, an opera singer is going to need every inch of that forehead to get across the drama of their chosen piece.
Opera Productions are often hailed for their imaginative set design and use of the stage, and rightly so Opera Holland Park's recent production of La Wally has been justly llauded for it's richly romantic set design (On a side-note, Martin Lloyd Evans, uncle of our very own Ben, directs.) But when an Soprano performs at a Corporate Event, she has none of the lavish backdrop of La Wally to distract from her otherwise pretty static performance. In this context, it's more important than ever to have a bright, magnetic stage presence in order to hold the attention of the audience. And that's not to say that an opera singer on stage has it easy - trying to wrestle people's attentions away from sweeping cloth-mountains and hand animated thunderstorms is no easy task.
It doens't take an expert to tell you that Operas are often sung in other languages, and sometimes those other languages aren't entirely understood by everyone in the audience. Because of this, an opera singer needs to be an expert storyteller who is able to convey emotions and plot thorugh nothing but their voice and gestures. Even the most beautiful voice can be hampered by a stony expression and rigid posture. Even the slightest moves and expressions matter and the true masters of the craft understand the importance of using the eyes to tell the story.
Breathing and Phrasing
This may seem like an obvious point to anyone with a background in opera, but a singer's breathing is always something to look out for in an audition. If the performer's breathing is snatched and rushed, it can subtly alter the performance and consequently, the crowd. It may seem like something only an expert would pick up on, but if a singer is snatching breaths or running out of steam towards the end of phrases, a certain uneasiness is carried over to the audience. Similarly, good breathing can put an audience at ease and allow them to relax and enjoy the performance - something that's vital at corporate functions and networking drinks receptions. It's one of those things that no one notices if it's done right, but none the less crucial to the performance.
A broad and wide ranging repertoire is vital to success in the Corporate and Wedding Markets. Not everyone audience is going to be filled with opera afficionados; so beloved cult favourites from obscure composers or pieces that require a deeper appreciation of the music to fully enjoy aren't always going to be suitable. On the other hand, a repertoire made up of nothing but crowd pleasing Susan Boyle-esque tunes is never going to please an audience of opera fanatics. A good singer can shift gears between mainstream and obscure pieces without any snobbery or guilt. It's as important to be as comfortable singing in front of a crowd at a Rugby Stadium as singing at an intimate dinner event and a good repertoire is key to that.
Have any tips of your own for spotting a great opera singer? Let us know in the comments!