by Bruce Schoonmaker

Opera is different from any other professional or educational musical activity, especially in how we succeed in it. Unlike your responsibility in choral groups, your attitude as an opera performer must be much more active and self-motivated. In choral groups, you can show up at each rehearsal and learn the music and what you need to do for the performance to succeed. In opera, what you do between rehearsals is as important as what you do during rehearsals. You cannot learn your part in rehearsals. Rehearsals are the place where you learn how to relate to what your colleagues do. You can do that only after you are competent in your role, musically and dramatically. An opera director can push you only if you have your role memorized securely, because each step toward characterization challenges memorization of music, words, and blocking. Therefore, you help the stage director to do her best by memorizing your role as soon as possible.

1. Learn music accurately: Notes, rhythms, pronunciation of words. Know what each word means.

2. Memorize as soon as possible. Set a date to complete your memorization and then divide your role into segments that can be memorized each day in order to reach that goal.

3. Use the "Rule of Three" to memorize. This is the fastest, most time-efficient method of memorizing. Learn a phrase and repeat it over and over until you sing it perfectly (from memory) three times consecutively. Do the same thing for the next long phrase. Then do the same thing, treating the two phrases as one segment. Build phrases and segments in this fashion until you have an entire section of your role memorized, then repeat that entire section until you sing it perfectly (from memory) three times consecutively. Build by sections until you have memorized the entire role.

4. Memorize "the easy parts" or "the prettiest parts" or "your aria" last. Take the two hardest pages of your role and memorize them first; get them out of the way.

5. Always arrive early to each rehearsal. Arrive early enough to unpack your score and pencil, to stretch and talk with your colleagues, to make yourself comfortable or ask any questions of the director or stage manager, before the rehearsal begins.

6. Bring energy to each rehearsal. Bring self-confidence. Bring your voice rested and refreshed. Try to feel drained and fulfilled at the end of each rehearsal, just as you would after a satisfying performance.

7. Sing at all times as a soloist. Do not blend when singing with others. Do not subordinate your color or phrasing to another vocal line.

8. Try as soon as possible at rehearsals to stop rehearsing and start performing.

9. Respect your colleagues on stage. Compliment them when appropriate. Cheer their successes.


1. What does your character learn during the opera? How is he/she different at the end from the beginning?

2. Decide the motivation for each phrase you sing and for each action you perform. Make strong choices.

3. At each moment in the score, ask yourself "What do I want the audience to think I'm feeling?" Answer with a strong, emotionally descriptive word. What can you do to evoke this response?

4. Make a list of all of your props. How often does your character handle each prop? What difference in your character's life does each prop make? Give important props a history.

5. At each moment, ask yourself "How do I want to make the audience feel?" Answer with a strong, emotionally descriptive word. What can you do to evoke this response?

6. Have an affect (feeling, emotion) for each phrase you sing. Choose how to feel that moment-it need not be a final choice; you can change your mind as you rehearse, but make a strong choice emotionally for each phrase you sing.

7. In each scene in which you appear, decide your character's objective for that scene. Does your character gain/accomplish that objective? What is her/his response to gaining/not gaining the objective?

8. How does your character resemble you physically? How does she/he differ from you physically? Does your character have any unusual physical characteristics? How do they affect him/her psychologically? What are your character's religious and ethical beliefs?


1. Musical coaching: Learning and memorizing your music. Learn to phrase and to create affect in each word and note you perform.

2. Blocking rehearsals: Learning and memorizing the staging. Begin relating to colleagues on stage.

3. Stage rehearsals. Having gained confidence in your memory of lines, music, and blocking, you begin to risk emotional involvement each moment of the drama.

4. Orchestra rehearsals. Sing your role from memory. Make mental note of where orchestration is heavy, where you will need to project more. Build confidence in memory.

5. Stage rehearsals. The drama takes on its own life. Rather than performing from memory, you "perform by heart." You no longer rehearse; you perform. You make it difficult for the conductor or director to stop in mid scene because you are so "into" the drama and the music.

6. Tech rehearsal. Where you very patiently help the production crew prepare for staging the performances.

7. Performances.

8. Strike. Immediately following the final performance, the entire cast, staff and crew of the show break down the scenery, return lighting instruments and make-up to storage, and prepare costumes for return to the rental agency. Strike is another time to express your appreciation and support to the technical staff.


Bring something new to each performance.

Give more energy and project more feeling as you know your role better.

Consider: "How can I make my performance better?" each time you perform.

Remember: More relaxed=more energy and focus.

Subsequent performances either improve or grow stale; they never remain the same. They become better only by conscious effort and hard work.


Day before the performance: Eat well. Avoid or limit your use of alcohol, caffeine, tobacco. Avoid strenuous exercise workouts.

Day of the performance: Eat well. Avoid alcohol and tobacco. Avoid strenuous exercise. Limit your use of caffeine. Avoid starches, sugars, and any food that coats your throat. Get plenty of rest. Avoid stress. Do not sleep within four hours of the performance. Don't sing so much before the performance that you wear out your voice.

Before a Matinee Performance: Go to bed early the night before. Sleep a little later than usual. Eat a large breakfast. Eat a light lunch. Vocalize in short segments, beginning well ahead of the performance time.

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