Thursday, 23 June 2011

"We're more than mobile scenery"

Composers don't write character parts for nothing. These roles can be the pivot on which a drama turns.  Divas and divos get headlines, but character singers can make an opera work.

This month, three operas in which the character part is critical. In Tosca, it's the Sacristan, who is the counterfoil to Tosca's extreme emotion and Scarpia's cynical coldness. He shapes Act One, where he represents values of sense and reason. He disappears thereafter, but you don't forget what he means when all else goes haywire.  In Cendrilllon, it's the King around whom the high voiced hi jinks spin. In Madama Butterfly, it's the Bonze who appears for but a minute and seals Cio Cio San's fate, reminding us that beneath all that pretty fripperie, it's an opera about exploitation and cruelty.

Jeremy White sings all three parts, not quite at once. He's been singing at the Royal Opera House for 20 years, and before that sang with the BBC Singers, who are formidably good. Before that, he was one of the founders of the Tallis Scholars and also sang with The Sixteen. Extremely wide range and huge eperience. That's what goes into putting the character in character singing. It's a very different set of skills from ordinary singing because the parts are so concentrated. Dependable, flexible singing skills. Major acting skills, too.Lots of great character singers in the British tradition - John Dobson, Philip Langridge, Graham Clark, tenors. Eric Garrett, Gwynne Howell and to some extent John Tomlinson, baritones/basses. Please read more here, where Jeremy White talks about the specialism. 

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