Hey everyone! You guys ask me often for advice on learning a new role. In this video I share methods that I’ve learned over time, for studying music on my own whilst on the road, preparing it efficiently, and having it memorized for the first day of rehearsal. Last year alone I sang 5 new roles. This season I’m doing 4, one being Massenet’s MANON, a taxing role with significant musical and textual challenges. I was able to put all my methods into practice for this one, so it will be my example.
This video is focused on musical preparation and memorizing. Of course there is a lot more that goes into role prep, like historical research, dramatic/character work, reading the book/play the opera is based on, etc. That’s a subject for another video. So I hope you can gain some tools for your own musical prep and share ideas in the comments below!
ARC OF THE CHARACTER: 2:05
Assessing the character’s overall presence in the opera, and their significance; locate potential challenges.
READ THE TEXT: 2:37
Next I read the entire piece all the way through, as if it were a play, and get the full story in my head.
Being proficient in operatic languages cuts my practice time in half. Take the time and make languages a priority.
MY BOOKMARKS: 4:49
I organize my score with tabs to find my character’s entrances easily.
Helpful to hear orchestration, ensembles, operatic traditions, and if there is a singer I admire, to know what they did as an example. But there are often mistakes, cuts, inconsistencies, and I want to keep my choices my own and not imitate another singer.
HARD PARTS FIRST: 8:09
I always tackle recits, ensembles, and finales first, and save the arias for last. Recits take the most drilling, and ensembles must be rehearsed carefully since you’ll be learning them alone.
This is one of the main reasons I don’t rely on recordings. The score may have a time signature that sounds nothing like what the music seems like it should be.
Though they may be the hardest to sing, I find the arias the easiest to learn. Unless there are several, such as in a Handel part, with da capos. In that case, I tackle the arias first.
RECORD YOURSELF: 11:13
If there is a bit of music that I find extra tricky, I record myself on my phone singing/counting it, in key, so that I can have it for easy repeat listening later. Isolating a section of music like this helps me fill in the gaps.
With music that changes time signatures a lot, this is extra helpful. Remember that you’ll have to count and watch a conductor on stage. I find that putting music into my body with a gesture, like conducting, can help me memorize it faster and make fewer mistakes.
WORK BACKWARDS: 14:08
I often break up my music and learn it in backwards order, particularly if there is a long section. I memorize faster by always learning the next phrase!
WRITE THE TEXT: 15:19
As I’m getting to the point where I’ve been with the role for a few weeks and am starting to memorize, I close my score and write down my text, scene by scene, in its original language. For this, having a literal translation in my head is vital.
SPEAK THE TEXT: 19:11
An efficient way to get the language feeling natural is to speak the text, in rhythm or not in rhythm, both are helpful. There have been situations where I’ve been asked by a director to recite text as though I were in a play.
CONCENTRATED PRACTICE VS. DISTRACTED PRACTICE: 20:02
Concentrated means I do nothing but practice, without distractions, for a period of time: study, learn notes, sing, and repeat. Distracted practice means I’m practicing in my head but doing something else, such as running, doing chores, watching TV, etc. When I’m distracted I discover where the holes in my prep are, and tackle those in concentrated sessions.
WHEN TO PRACTICE: 23:34
I’m freshest in the morning, so that’s when I do most of my studying. I also find that if I glance through something just before bed I wake up with it strongly ingrained in my memory the next day.
GETTING IT INTO MY VOICE: 25:20
To keep from over-using my voice, I don’t sing through the role too early on. I like to get a mental grasp of the role before I start working it into my voice. I sing through a role after I’ve done all of the major bookwork, and I work it into my voice as the last major step in my preparation.
EVERYTHING CHANGES: 27:38
I can’t stress enough how much things will evolve from the time you start singing a role on your own, to the time you put it on its feet in rehearsal with your colleagues and conductor. I find that if I have built up too many habits before I get there, it’s harder to undo them once we get into rehearsals. Also the set, costumes, acoustics, staging…many things will affect your performance. So I try to be ready for anything. Prepared, but neutral!
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