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David F. Ostwald, Acting for Singers: Creating Believable Singing Characters.

David F. Ostwald, Acting for Singers: Creating Believable Singing Characters. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. Cloth, xi, 252 pp., $29.95. ISBN 0-19-514540-2

In the introduction to his book, David F. Ostwald cites the controversy that is as old as opera itself: Is the form primarily a musical or dramatic genre? The author maintains that opera is undeniably a theater form; he gathers singing stage work (including operetta, music theater, vocal recitals, and performance art) under the umbrella term "music-theater," and addresses all of them in this volume. He provides insight and exercises helpful in the creation of believable characters on stage, while recognizing the complexities posed by singing, rather than speaking, the character's utterances.

The volume has three main sections. The first is devoted to the tools used to be believable on stage. Ostwald draws upon Constantin Stanislavski's magical if, which encourages actors to enter the character's reality by completing the phrase "I'm going to behave as if ..." This section includes a discussion of the role of improvisation and the importance of concentration while in character.

The second part of the book focuses upon creating a character. Ostwald begins with the universe in which the character exists: the drama. He provides guidance in creating a theme statement for the story, as well as understanding the character's objectives--both the super objective, as well as objectives for specific scenes and songs. Suggestions for fashion ing subtext and internal dialogue are applied to all forms of music theater, including art songs.

The final section deals with some of the practical issues of performance, such as heightening a dramatic interpretation to match a particular space or type of production. (For instance, playing a large outdoor stadium demands a different portrayal than that presented in an intimate black box theater. Similarly, farce or melodrama calls for a stylized interpretation.) Ostwald also offers invaluable practical advice for every aspect of performance: from the audition, through the rehearsal process, to the production itself. He leads the singer-actor through an audition step-by-step, including how to develop a public persona, what to wear, and what to do in the event of a mishap. Rehearsal expectations and protocol are explained, such as the difference between a Sitzprobe, Stellprobe, and Wandelprobe. Troubleshooting suggestions include tips for dealing with a weak partner or a difficult director. Nor does the author overlook the performance itself; he leads the reader through preparation and potential pitfalls (such as trying to repeat a success).

Each chapter ends with a brief summary and a series of exercises. The exercises contain a clearly stated objective and detailed instructions. In the first of five appendixes, Ostwald offers ten maxims for believable singing acting. The other appendixes proffer a wealth of information including a glossary of stage terms, recommendations for analysis and preparation of vocal material from a dramatic viewpoint, and resources for researching period pieces. The final appendix advises teachers and directors in the use of the exercises.

Acting for Singers by David F. Ostwald was published in the same year that Hurricane Rita forced the evacuation of cities along the Gulf Coast. While there is no cause and effect between the two events, the ensuing disruptions in mail delivery in the area (where this reviewer resides) may have been the reason that this valuable book was not reviewed immediately after publication. The adage "Better late than never" is apropos; singers and their teachers will benefit from this useful text that details the process of bringing believable characters to the stage.

Debra Greschner holds the Bachelor of Music and the Bachelor of Education degrees from the University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, and the Master of Music degree from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She was selected as one of the twelve participants for the 1994 NATS Internship program in Boulder, CO. A lyric soprano, Greschner's solo appearances include those with the Nevada Symphony, the Symphony of Southeast Texas, Nevada Opera Theatre, and Chamber Music Southwest. Greschner is currently Lecturer of Voice at Lamar University in Beaumont, TX. In addition to managing the "Bookshelf" column, she has written book reviews for The Opera Journal.
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Author:Greschner, Debra
Publication:Journal of Singing
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 1, 2012
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