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Thread: Opera Singing vs. Musical Theatre Singing

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    Default Opera Singing vs. Musical Theatre Singing

    Why do they sound so different? Even the singing in older works like Rodgers and Hammerstein seems to have a different quality to it. I am not particularly familiar with technical aspects of singing, though it's something that interests me quite a lot.

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    Why do they sound so different?
    Because the singers are trained differently. What people often call "opera voice" is more properly called classical voice training, used in classical music outside opera as well. Musicals singers don't learn the same way and if they do, they still don't use all they have (or should have) learned when they perform on musical theatre stage.
    Last edited by Aramis; Nov-10-2013 at 22:01.

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    How does the training differ? What sort of learned skills would get used in opera that aren't used in opera? And why does this difference come up? (Sorry for the cluelessness. )

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    Opera singers, not using microphones, have techniques designed to make the voice much bigger via projection and resonance (resonance is like, sometimes in a bathroom you know how you can just barely hum a note and it sounds huge, like the walls itself are singing the note with you? Same principle as how a flute works too).
    These techniques include developing muscles in your throat to keep your larynx low in your trachea, keeping the soft palate (the soft, mushy part in the upper back part of the inside of your mouth) lifted, and per a paper I read a few days ago there are certain flaps in your larynx that normally life and are activated in screams, to add more volume to your sound. Bringing all these techniques under control in order to create maximum volume is a significant part of classical voice training. There is far more to it, of course -- classical singing requires far more technique. Learning to trill, controlling your vibrato, having nice tremolo, developing agility necessary for coloratura passages -- all challenges that "normal" singers don't need to know and so likely never learn.

    In stage singing, everyone is miked so you can just sing without training and be heard by everyone in the audience. Heck, as long as you have a passable voice, any old person off the street can sing in My Fair Lady.

    e: as for why older musicals sound different than modern singing -- vocal amplification is a fairly new trend, relatively speaking. Any singers from the 50s or earlier likely received some training to learn how to amplify their voice since they too would need to project -- wireless microphones certainly weren't around then
    Last edited by rgz; Nov-10-2013 at 23:17.
    -Ian

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    When I studied voice, in high school and college, it was in order to sing the Broadway musical theatre repertoire. I started listening to opera in college and immediately noticed both similarities and differences in the vocal production for both genres. One major difference, I think, is that Broadway singers have always had a "simpler" sound than opera singers have. The standard sound for Broadway is a more "forward in the mask" sound. I know that opera singers are also told to sing "in the mask," but Broadway singers have an even more "forward" resonance and, conversely, less "back" (i.e. back of the mouth) resonance; the standard sound for Broadway is more slender and less round. This is due as well to language differences: compared to Italian (on whose vowels all of classical singing is based), English has vowels that are less open; the less-open vowels allow less sound to come out, and the result is a less "complex" sound.

    And in good Broadway singing, there is always that sense that the singer is not using any more sound than he/she really needs in order to illuminate the words.
    Last edited by Bellinilover; Nov-11-2013 at 03:42.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bellinilover View Post
    When I studied voice, in high school and college, it was in order to sing the Broadway musical theatre repertoire. I started listening to opera in college and immediately noticed both similarities and differences in the vocal production for both genres. One major difference, I think, is that Broadway singers have always had a "simpler" sound than opera singers have. The standard sound for Broadway is a more "forward in the mask" sound. I know that opera singers are also told to sing "in the mask," but Broadway singers have an even more "forward" resonance and, conversely, less "back" (i.e. back of the mouth) resonance; the standard sound for Broadway is more slender and less round. This is due as well to language differences: compared to Italian (on whose vowels all of classical singing is based), English has vowels that are less open; the less-open vowels allow less sound to come out, and the result is a less "complex" sound.

    And in good Broadway singing, there is always that sense that the singer is not using any more sound than he/she really needs in order to illuminate the words.
    Or, if you're in Australia...any old TV star is good enough for Gilbert & Sullivan/Rodgers & Hammerstein etc
    This space for rent.

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    Sorry I'm still learning how to work this forum. Ok So "a complex" Sound. Each technical genre has its own set of complexities. Classical singing is much less forgiving than Musical theatre. I would prefer that than using the term complex when comparing vocal styles. I am a classically trained singer and one thing I have learned is that word choice is EVERYTHING! I am very careful with how i present a new technique with a student. So if I were to say, "Musical Theatre singing is much less complex." What that says to the student is..."Oh I don't have to work as hard." That is exactly the kind of thinking I would want to avoid from my students because that would invite laziness which does not bode well if they are pursuing such a thing in a professional sense.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Siren View Post
    Sorry I'm still learning how to work this forum. Ok So "a complex" Sound. Each technical genre has its own set of complexities. Classical singing is much less forgiving than Musical theatre. I would prefer that than using the term complex when comparing vocal styles. I am a classically trained singer and one thing I have learned is that word choice is EVERYTHING! I am very careful with how i present a new technique with a student. So if I were to say, "Musical Theatre singing is much less complex." What that says to the student is..."Oh I don't have to work as hard." That is exactly the kind of thinking I would want to avoid from my students because that would invite laziness which does not bode well if they are pursuing such a thing in a professional sense.
    I don't mean complex in the sense of difficulty; I mean complex in the sense of a tone with a great deal of heaviness and depth. So when I say "a simpler sound for musical theatre," that has nothing to do with laziness; instead, it has to do with the fact that the tone itself is lighter and has less depth and roundness to it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by rgz View Post
    In stage singing, everyone is miked so you can just sing without training and be heard by everyone in the audience. Heck, as long as you have a passable voice, any old person off the street can sing in My Fair Lady.
    I dispute this. Whereas today musicals are usually miked, they weren't in the past, and the original interpreters of My Fair Lady (Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison) would have had to sing unmiked. I've heard some with passable voices attempt the roles of Eliza and Freddie (who sings On the street where you live) but they weren't very good.

    The role of Emil de Becque in South Pacific was written for Ezio Pinza, and has also been sung on stage by such as Giorgio Tozzi and Justino Diaz. PInza would also have had to sing without a mike, as would his co-star Mary Martin.
    "It's not enough to have a beautiful voice." Maria Callas

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    This might prove illuminating: Barbara Cook, original performer in Bernstein's Candide, singing "Glitter and Be Gay." It's a wonderful high soprano voice, but still strictly Broadway technique:



    And here is an opera singer, Diana Damrau, overacting and oversinging (in a native language not her own) with an operatic technique the same song:



    Ms. Cook gives primacy to communicating the words, and thereby the drama and humor of the text, above all else.

    Ms. Damrau gives primacy to a beautiful legato line, wonderful high notes, and making sure the top of her dress stays up.

    Kind regards,

    George
    Last edited by Barelytenor; Yesterday at 19:30.

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    You might like to listen to yesterday's BBC Radio 3 Building a Library, where Candide was the work being considered. The chap doing the choosing seemed to be very much on the side of broadway, and the benchmark Bernstein/LSO operatic performance was frowned upon. From the clips, I actually disagreed with what he was saying, Bernstein/LSO sounded wonderful to me, the "broadway" performances just sounded rather rough.

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