Creating a Structure for Opera Role Learning
If you are anything like me, and by that if you happen to have a like number of chromosomes and have opposable thumbs, you seek order and structure. Ok, maybe you also like chaos, I do too, sometimes. Way too often that chaos comes into my musical world. Sometimes it comes from an external source in unorganized rehearsals, late unprepared colleagues or bizarre company practices. I can't really do anything about this, but sometimes it is internal. It comes from my own distraction, or finding myself overwhelmed by the many many things I have to do, and the unopened score. The unopened score is our equivalent to the blank canvas or plank page. It symbolizes an enormous undertaking and journey. I will freely admit, I have not always taken that journey in a manner to which I feel proud today. BUT. I have developed a little mapping practice that makes that journey a little more sensible.
A few days ago I got the score to Carlisle Floyd's The Prince of Players. I am under contract to sing in the New York Premier of this next month with the Little Opera Theater of New York. As it is new, I had no idea going in what I was getting into, and there are no recording or even a wikipedia article about it, I had to start from total scratch. I decided this would be the perfect time to share with all you good people the way I go about planning that learning.
So here is what we know. It is 2 acts, the current version of the score is 172 pages (this is actually my second score, the first one was taken back when we got the new revised edition). I am singing the role of Hyde which is on the I would consider a featured as opposed to leading role. I have a couple of nice lines, but the weight of the show doesn't fall on my shoulders..
I thought in this case the best thing to do was to go through and see what pages I am actually singing on.
Hyde sings on Pages: 59, 61-62, 71-72, 79-80. That is it his voice appears on 7 pages of the opera. That is totally manageable and much different beast than 172 pages.
Now the Ensemble is on pages: 81-82, 84-85, 121, 167, 169, 171-172. 9 more pages. So we have a grand total of 16 pages of music to learn.
Does that mean once I learn all of that I am done, heck no. This is a my path to satisficing for the the first rehearsal. Satisficing is a term coined by Nobel Prize winner Herbert Simon, and it basically means it isn't the best possible, but does it at a level that is good enough. In this world today we have so much information and so many paths that we can go down in learning about music, or any topic really, so that we need to pick our battle. This is the first battle of the opera for me, learn and memorize these 16 pages on which I sing.
Once that is done I can start to get all the other aspects done, as I will have done a good enough job in it that I am actually doing the job. Does this scale with other pieces? Absolutely, listing out all the parts on a separate piece of paper can make even the most daunting piece of music or opera within reach. Give it a try with one of the roles you have been itching to learn and break it down, see how making that checklist will actually let you make it happen