I’m so happy that I had the opportunity to see the current production of Candide at the Kennedy Center Opera House. My good friend has season tickets for opening night at the opera and invited me to join her for this show. I will admit upfront that I am not very familiar with Candide except for the soprano solo, “Glitter and Be Gay”, and knowing that it is a Leonard Bernstein piece. I do know that Candide has been done at opera houses around the world as well as with musical theatre or light opera companies. The Kennedy Center’s casting reflected this with both renowned opera and Broadway performers.
The two main vocal components I want students to focus on are:
Diction: There are a lot of fast moving lyrics throughout the score for Candide and it’s of utmost importance that I can understand the storyline. The Washington National Opera uses the screen for most songs so you can read along the lyrics (as they do with all operas especially those not in English), but musical theatre companies will not have this so I believe that crisp and clear diction is paramount. We sometimes have vowel modifications based on vocal range and resonance, but these modifications should not change the word in a way that the listener cannot understand you. Practice speaking the lyric clearly and fast then sing the lyrics with special attention that you’re not getting sloppy with your diction.
Tone Quality: There is no doubt that a legit sound is used throughout Candide. I might emphasize open vowels, a relaxed throat, and low, open breath throughout the score. Sopranos will be head-dominant whereas all male roles have a classical chest-dominant sound. There are great pieces in this score that are reminiscent of classical musical theatre including Bernstein’s other works, Rodgers & Hammerstein, and Lerner & Loewe. It’s certainly advantageous for musical theatre performers to have a diverse skill set and study pieces from more classically based productions.
Think about what other shows might bridge the opera and musical theatre worlds. Perhaps The Merry Widow or Pirates of Penzance (both light operas). Find a song to sing from this genre and see how it challenges you vocally!
I took my two year old twins to see Arts of the Horizon’s production of Nutt & Bolt last week. I had the opportunity to watch two artists tell an awesome story about working together without using any words. My two young boys that are usually running around like crazy actually sat still and were mesmerized by the thirty-minute show.
These two actors were communicating solely using their voice, simple instruments, and their bodies. This is important to my voice students because I am constantly talking about inflection in my studio and how we not only need to understand the meaning of the lyrics, but also the intent behind those lyrics. How can we vocally communicate frustration or excitement or timidity? When Nutt was upset at Bolt, we knew this from the tone of his voice (he may have sighed or grumbled) as well as from his body language and facial expression, two things that are also vital to my musical theatre singers.
An exercise for my readers: Pick your favorite song and tell the story without using any of the lyrics. How can your face, vocal sounds (not words), and body language communicate what is happening in the scene? After that, read through the lyrics as a story and be aware of your vocal inflection in each phrase and what that says about your character.
Arts on the Horizon produces theatre for ages 0 to 6, both in Alexandria, VA & Washington, DC. Check out their website for more information on their upcoming programming.
The fall is here and I have students performing in productions all over town in lead, supporting, and ensemble roles. I’ll be writing about many of these shows over the next month, but have decided to start with a professional staged reading that I saw at Signature Theatre this October.
I am a strong advocate for new musical theatre, learning about new composers, new shows, and new repertoire. As I discover new material, I also develop opinions on these pieces. It may be apparent that a show needs a lot of work (re-writes, cuts, edits) before heading to a larger venue or it may be ready for something more and leave you (the audience member) excited about this new show. I always consider whether a show has something unique to offer our contemporary musical theatre world and whether the storyline is compelling.
On October 22nd, I had the opportunity to see a staged reading of Light Years at Signature Theatre as part of their SigWorks: Musical Theater Lab. Watching a bare space with 6 actors sitting in chairs behind music stands in everyday clothes, I was captivated by these artists that brought this story to life through vocal inflections, pacing, and simply telling the story.
Robbie Schaefer, who wrote the book, music, and lyrics for this show, also performed the role of Older Robbie and played guitar (the main source of accompaniment with some piano). This was a brand-new show to me in every way. I did not know the composer or the story or even the style of music. The score had a folk influence and feel (and if any of my students were auditioning for this show, I would look beyond musical theatre and find a song that is folk or country). It was directed by Eric Schaeffer (a big name in the musical theatre biz) and the music was beautifully and seamlessly connected with the book.
This was my first experience with SigWorks and I can’t wait to see what is next. They are creating art and bringing to life new musical theatre works that need to be seen and heard. Being in this small audience on that Saturday afternoon was a joy and I soaked in every minute. Don’t be afraid to see a show just because you don’t know anything about it! It’s important to support new musical theatre and to be open to these new and exciting works of art.