Opera Brain Food: Study Materials

So, I’ve got this project that I often think about (each time I need to learn a new part, specifically). I’ve got lots of ideas, and maybe it could be profitable one day, but for the moment, it’s just a thing I think about. If you like the idea, let me know! Invest in it!

For a long time, I thought I had a bad memory, or that I just had trouble learning and memorizing. More specifically, I’ve found that preparation of operatic roles can be quite a challenge. Fortunately, I’ve learned that it’s just a matter of exercising the brain to be better at this. You can do it too!

As I’ve learned to get better at this, I’ve come up with a little pile of Study Materials that can help tremendously along the way. I had been considering starting a business for this service, but it hasn’t gotten far enough along in the process yet. Here I’ll proceed to outline some of the items that I use.

  1. Condensed score for role(s) or voice part(s). This condensed score has all of the music associated with a role, but minimizes the space needed by the piano and by other vocalists. This helps my eye to be able to concentrate on just the part intended, and makes a very handy reference for notes or staging rehearsals. (ex. When I did Traviata last summer, I got the role of Germont down to 12 pages)
    1. This could be done for any edition of the score your company has chosen to use.
    2. I could easily include personal notes if a singer were to supply them.
    3. Multiple roles can be featured through highlighting.
    4. Staff order can be adjusted at the singer’s discretion (ex. if you always want your vocal line to be at the top of the system, this can be easily achieved)
    5. <EXAMPLE>
  2. Rehearsal Audio/Video. Any singer-submitted video or audio recording could be trimmed down to isolate the portions that include the role. This can also be helpful with chorus parts. These submissions must obey all copyright law. (ex. In Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers, the chorus may be on the stage for 48 total minutes, but if they’re only singing for 22 minutes, that is all that their repetition material needs to include) In the long run, the shorter this recording is as a whole, the more times you can get through it, and more repetition thusly.
  3. MIDI accompaniment recordings (with or without MIDI vocal line)
    1. This would be a basic computerized accompaniment (strictly following the printed tempi) for singers who don’t have an accompanist or piano at their disposal.
    2. This allows the singer to hear notes as they exist on the page, intentionally excluding popular performance practice or stylistic preferences. This way, the singer can learn the foundation of the music before adding their own ornaments and embellishments.
    3. Variable speeds of recording available, allowing the singer to slow the piece down for tricky passages, or to speed through for more repetition.
    4. UPDATE: Due to a recent software discovery, I have found a new improvement to the MIDI recordings. Most MIDI software will play back your song using MIDI instruments, but this new software will actually sing your music, providing you supply lyrics in the MIDI file. It doesn’t sound anything like a real person, but I prefer this to recordings where I can’t necessarily trust the rhythms or the pitches from the singers on the recordings.
    5. <EXAMPLE>
  4. Lyrics “Cheat Sheets”. With opera choral singing, I learned that once I knew the notes, it was very helpful to stop using the score as a crutch. For me, though, that process isn’t nearly as scary if you can still have the lyrics in front of you. In addition, I personally found that I needed to keep challenging myself:
    1. Your lyrics are condensed onto as few pages as possible, and come in 3 sizes: Full Page, Half Page, and Quarter Page (pocket-size).
    2. You start with the Full Page (or perhaps Half Page if your eyes are young and spry), and then gradually advance to each smaller size – when it’s smaller (i.e. harder to read) your brain will be more inspired to learn it rather than struggle to read it.
    3. <EXAMPLE>
  5. Aria Lyric Posters
    1. Size-adjusted and full-justified to maximize full usage of media and top visibility and uniqueness of each line. Emphasis can be placed on more important text if preferred, but the idea is to give a memorable visual idea of each line.
    2. Could even be framed and more attractive to look at, so you can leave them hanging about your place for extended periods of time and your walls won’t look as much like you’re trying to solve a crime (I tend to just scotchtape sheets to the walls all over my place: living room, office, in the shower – it can start to seem untidy).
    3. Size options: Prints in 8.5×11, 8.5×14, or 11×17
    4. Painting (much more personal touch – great for a gift)
    5. <EXAMPLE>