So You Want to Sing Light Opera: A Guide for Performers

By Greschner, Debra | Journal of Singing, September/October 2018 | Go to article overview

So You Want to Sing Light Opera: A Guide for Performers


Greschner, Debra, Journal of Singing


Lister, Linda. So You Want to Sing Light Opera: A Guide for Performers. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2018. A Project of the National Association of Teachers of Singing. Paper, xix, 267 pp., $37.00, ISBN 978-1-4422-6938-5. eBook $35.00, ISBN 978-1-4422-6939-2. www.rowman.com

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 csárdás frequently employed by Franz Lehár. Lister includes a list of forty roles for dancers, but underlines that all performers in light opera should be comfortable executing basic dance steps. …

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