Friday, October 30, 2009

Monologues for Opera Singers

Friday musings....

The audition season is upon us and once again, I have been working with and helping opera singers with their auditions!

One this that opera is now asking for in the audition in most cases- be it summer program or grad school or stage - is a monologue along with the arias.

Many of you have stage experience but no straight theatre experience so this can be daunting and just knowing where to look, how to look, what to look for is as nerve-wracking as a non-singer being asked to sing!!!

So, with all respect, I would like to share with you some suggestions that if you can use, please do!!! And if you are an opera singer in need of a monologue and you'd like further help, don't hesitate to email me!

First, know specifically what the audition is asking for. If they ask for a 1-minute monologue, that's what they mean. They don't want a 2-minute one...stay within the perimeters of the audition requirement!

If you have NO straight theatre experience or training, DO NOT do classics like Shakespeare or Ibsen or Shaw!!! This would be like an actor who needs to sing for an audition choosing an opera aria when he's never trained!! If you have not trained in theatre and in classical language, text and physicality, leave it to the people who have!!! There is SO MUCH monologue repertoire out there that can work for you and not against you!

Start using your aria text as monologue. This should be happening anyway. Opera is theatre after all!!! Work with your aria text without music. Create the scene with the language ONLY. This will allow you more depth in your presentation, but also begin to acknowledge language as craft, as well as VOICE and MUSIC. Get used to language without your singing voice so you become less constricted and self-conscious.

Find contemporary monologues that use language you understand and language that is physically comfortable. Structure is KEY. You will be able to assimilate the physicality of language into your body with less stiffness, if the structure and release of the language is closer to how you SPEAK! Then it's not "acting", but rather, conversational. It will sound more real and more true.

Allow the monologue you choose to reveal an angle of the fach you sing, and for even more contrast, try to contrast the monologue's energy and focus with what you sing. If you are a full lyric soprano singing all the "death" roles, find something that shows a lighter side of you in a monologue - a bit of humor, a bit of light.

If you are a soubrette and sing the great character roles and humour roles, find a monologue that is fresh and ingenue-like, but maybe shows a deeper more serious tone - or shows crazy - something that the soubrette in your audition arias does not!

The audition as a whole should show dramatic range, not put you in a box!

Choosing your monologue should be like choosing your arias - know what each one does and what aspect of you and your technique it evokes. Show what you do best, not what you'd like to do!

Perhaps you'd like to be a great Shakespearean actor, but if you have never studied Shakespeare in an acting situation and never put it in your body and up on its feet, you can't just DO it!! If you want to learn it, then take some classes, coach with an acting coach and LEARN THE CRAFT!

As much of your audition repertoire is not within the 20th/21st century, this allows you to choose a contemporary monologue from these centuries!

Just as any craft, learning how to DO is crucial! Reading plays, even working through monologue books to associate yourself with the repertoire will be helpful.

The public library can definitely help you in this regard. I also recommend to every singer to check out NYC's Drama Book Shop whether you live in New York or not!!! The staff is brilliant and can be so helpful either in person, online or on the phone. Utilize this resource!

There are online sites that will give you access to monologues - sometimes brand new ones, sometimes, with permission by the publisher or the author.

Don't exclude monologues from screenplays and novels which can be easily worked into an audition. There are great scenes to access here too!

As a singer, it just requires and tasks you to think in the spoken word for a bit...and explore a portion of your craft that is accessible but underdeveloped.

A great place to start is to make a list of characters in books you have read and movies you have seen that you are drawn to. Then acknowledge their "type" and see if it relates to your fach. Then revisit their character to see if there is a monologue - 1 - 3 minutes, or even 45 seconds that is powerful enough to stand alone.

This can then lead you into the realm of theatre and you can explore from Noel Coward to Neil Simon to Tom Stoppard to David Mamet and beyond and through!

Enjoy this crucial and exciting discovery as an acting singer!!! Opera is not just park and honk. It is theatre, and in the 21st century, singers must have a sense of their theatricality in voice and acting, and then a working knowledge of it. GO GET IT!


  1. There is a very good series of books published under the title The Best Men's or Women's Monologues of ... Here is a link to the Men's version for 2008

    These make it easier to find something which is suitable to you.

    May I also throw in this thought? If you have more than a couple of auditions that will require monologues, hook up with an acting coach. Here in Toronto, it is easy to find good actors and directors who coach monologues on the side, and it can be invaluable, especially for singers who are not used to performing without the extra 'information' that the music gives.

    In a monologue, you are obliged to find the subtext, the pace, the rhythm, the dynamics, the sense all by yourself. Make that process as easy as possible, by working with someone who is accustomed to having to find that information all the time.

  2. thanks Doug - that series is good and one of MANY!

    And of course get a coach!!!!! It is IMPERATIVE!!!!!!!!!! Thanks for just saying it!

  3. Susan,
    Do you have good online resources to recommend besides the Drama Book Shop? If you don't live in an English-speaking country materials aren't as readily available in hard copy.

  4. hi Danielle,

    I can appreciate your dilemma! Drama Book Shop ships worldwide. Also in every country can access these books for you!