So You Want to Sing Light Opera: A Guide for Performers.
Since the first title of the So You Want to Sing series was published in 2014, the volumes have been appearing at an average pace of two per year. The genres addressed in the books are numerous and varied, as evidenced by the list of titles below. Certain aspects of the series are formulaic, such as the chapters by Scott McCoy and Wendy LeBorgne that address the topics of voice science and vocal health, respectively. Some features of the texts have changed; for instance, the subtitle morphed from "A Guide to Professionals" to "A Guide for Performers" after the third book in the series. All provide access to supplemental online material.
So You Want to Sing Light Opera differs from other books in the series, however, in that the genre is confined to a specific historical period. Light opera, which author Lister describes as "both progeny and progenitor" of opera and music theater, was written from the middle of the nineteenth century to the middle of the twentieth century. That is not to say that the repertoire is limited in scope or variety. Matthew Hoch, who serves as editor for the series, contributed the chapter "Defining Light Opera," in which he identifies the subgenres encompassed by the term light opera: intermezzi, Singspiel, opera bouffe, Viennese and American operetta, English comic opera, and zarzuela. The characteristic common to all, notes Hoch, is that they are escapist entertainment sung in a classical style.
Lister devotes a chapter to each of the three components of light opera: singing, acting (including its characteristic spoken dialogue), and dancing. She describes the attributes of each voice type (which are the same categories of soprano, mezzo soprano, contralto, tenor, bass baritone, and bass used in classical opera), and suggests ten representative songs for each. A useful addition is a list of notable ensembles, ranging from duets to ensembles with eight or more singers. However, it is not only necessary for singers to fit the vocal requirements; they must also fit the characters. The stock character types are presented in the vocal categories listed above, some with as many as five subsets (such as an ingenue in the soprano category, buffo roles within the tenor classification, and the "comedian" designation in the baritone Fach). In addition, there are spoken and silent roles.
Unlike most opera, light opera includes dialogue. Lister acknowledges that this may be challenging for singers who have not been trained in speaking for the stage, especially female singers who must find the optimal speaking range that is neither too high nor too low. In a nod to the current ubiquitous use of it, Lister specifically states that light opera performers must scrupulously avoid vocal fry. Performers may also be required to use an accent; Lister recommends the use of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) to shape this specialized pronunciation. The dialogue itself may be in the original language, or (as is the case in many North American productions) in English, requiring the singer sing in one language and speak in another. If the dialogue is presented in the original foreign language, it is incumbent on the singer to learn not only the correct pronunciation, but also word stress and pace that is idiomatic.
Dance is an important component of light opera, and the author identifies and explains the basic dance steps: waltz, can-can, and fox-trot. There is also a brief overview of the primary European folk dances that are used, such as the csardas frequently employed by Franz Lehar. Lister includes a list of forty roles for dancers, but underlines that all performers in light opera should be comfortable executing basic dance steps.
While light opera is perennially popular with audiences (the author cites statistics to demonstrate frequency of light opera performance worldwide), many of the works reference a specific period or culture. "Light opera can reflect the outdated views of a bygone era," writes Lister, and everyone involved in a production must avoid cultural insult. Research into the historical context is critical for all performers in the genre, and requires study of the time and place in which the work is set. In the chapter devoted to stylistic considerations, the author identifies the institutions and cultural mores that are satirized in the major works (such as those by W. S. Sullivan and Arthur Gilbert or Jacques Offenbach), and the nationalist bent that is characteristic of Viennese operetta. She also underlines that singers must have an awareness of the social customs that governed personal interactions, especially romantic relationships, for the time periods represented in light opera libretti.
Many singers, including Lister, make the transition from performer to director of light opera, and the author shares her experience on the other side of the footlights. As mentioned earlier, directors must avoid cultural insensitivity when dealing with a score that contains racist or sexist references that were not frowned upon in the nineteenth century, but are no longer socially acceptable. As well, many directors opt to update libretti, either by inserting contemporary references, or by changing the time in which it is set.
Emerging artists will welcome the chapter that offers advice in auditioning for light opera. The information is thorough and detailed. Lister delineates the audition venues (opera company, light opera company, theater company, or competition) and then offers specific advice for each, including repertoire selection and monologue choices. The author interviewed a dozen directors whose experience range from collegiate to professional opera companies, and shares their insights in the section entitled "Advice from the Casting Table."
One of the light opera companies mentioned in the audition information is Teatro de la Zarzuela in Madrid. Singers who wish to audition for this troupe, or to perform in this genre, will welcome the chapter written by Christopher Webber that focuses on this popular light opera in Spanish. Webber, who is the author of The Zarzuela Companion (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2002), proffers a well written and concise overview that traces the history of the form, offers performance advice, and lists resources for additional study.
The book concludes with five appendixes. The first is a listing of more than 900 light operas, organized by subgenre into the categories of German Singspiel, French opera bouffe, Viennese operetta, English operetta, American operetta, and zarzuela. The second appendix contains a listing of the ten most frequently performed operettas worldwide, and a separate listing of the most frequently performed in several subgenres. Audition arias, arranged by voice type, comprise the third appendix. The fourth is a selected discography and filmography, while the final appendix lists light opera companies in North America and Europe.
So You Want to Sing Light Opera is well researched and well written. Lister, who has extensive experience in this genre, provides a wide range of information for performers who are interested in light opera. It is highly recommended.
The titles in the series include:
So You Want to Sing Music Theater, Karen Hall (2014; reviewed in JOS 71, no. 2 [November/December 2014]).
So You Want to Sing Rock 'n' Roll, Matthew Edwards (2014; reviewed in JOS 71, no. 5 [May/June 2015]).
So You Want to Sing Jazz, Jan Shapiro (2015; reviewed JOS 73, no. 1 [September/October 2016]).
So You Want to Sing Country, Kelly K. Garner (2017; reviewed in JOS 74, no. 1 [September/October 2017]).
So You Want to Sing Gospel, Trineice Robinson-Martin (2016; reviewed in JOS 74, no. 2 [November/December 2017]).
So You Want to Sing Folk Music, Valerie Mindel (2017; reviewed in JOS 75, no. 3 [January/February 2018]).
So You Want to Sing Sacred Music, Matthew Hoch, ed. (2017; reviewed in JOS 74, no. 4 [March/April 2018]).
So You Want to Sing Barbershop, Diane M. Clark and Billy J. Biffle (2017; reviewed in JOS 74, no. 4 [March/April 2018]).
Debra Greschner is Instructor of Music at Lamar University in Beaumont, TX where she teaches applied voice, vocal literature, and voice pedagogy. 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. She holds the Bachelor of Music in Performance 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. Greschner was selected as one of the twelve participants for the fourth annual NATS internship program in Boulder, CO, and currently serves as Past President of the Greater Houston Chapter of NATS. In addition to managing the "Bookshelf" column, she has written book reviews for The Opera Journal.
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|Publication:||Journal of Singing|
|Date:||Sep 1, 2018|
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