Digging deep into a new operatic character can be fun and rewarding, but it also takes work and research. The best performers prepare a new role by studying the music and by looking at what makes the character special. A thorough development makes your presentation of the role sincere and unique. Here are some tips to help you transform into your character.
First and foremost, research the opera and your character. Many operas are based on a play or novel; if that's the case with your opera, the best way to learn it is to read it! You will definitely discover new insights into your character and their interactions with the other characters, as well as the plot. There are also plenty of operas based on historical events, so some history books might also be necessary. The next step is to read the entire libretto in your native language. Nico Castel's translations are great resources. You can also find other helpful resources online for libretti translations. Once you understand the plot and the translation, watch different productions of the opera, many of which can now be found online to rent or watch for free on YouTube. If needed, look for videos that include supertitles.
Once you know the ins and outs of the opera, you can now thoroughly analyze your character. There are various methods and worksheets to help you analyze your character, one of which is the GOTE method (Goals, Obstacle, Tactics, and Expectations), developed by Robert Cohen. What is your character’s main goal throughout the opera? What is your character’s goal in a specific scene or during the aria? What is the obstacle preventing your character from achieving the goal? Is it another character? If so, how does that change your relationship with that character? What are the tactics you character uses to reach their goals? How do these tactics affect your character’s personality? Finally, what are your character’s expectations in successfully reaching their goals? Sometimes characters never reach their goals, but your character doesn’t know that in the moment. By analyzing your character in this way, each scene and musical number will have a purpose that directly affects your acting choices.
Of course, there are other ways to analyze your character, but be sure to consider the following:
What is your character’s relationship to the other characters?
Is your character physically different than you? Would they stand or walk in an interesting way?
How does your character’s music help define the character?
What is the central theme of the opera, and how does your character relate to this theme?
Create An Emotional Map
Now that you have all of the ground work in place for your character, it’s time to work on the character’s emotional path within the music. Start with the aria(s), if your character has any. Break down the word-for-word translation of the text into phrases. For each phrase, decide a specific emotion that would be appropriate for your character to feel in that moment. Find a subtext that also works for that phrase. For example, in "Ach, ich fühl's" from Die Zauberflöte, Pamina may be saying, “Do you not feel love’s longing?” but her subtext probably means, “You don’t love me anymore?!” By breaking down the music phrase-by-phrase, you can be more specific in your emotion and subtext.
Once you have tackled your aria(s), be sure to create an emotional map for your other music in the ensemble pieces and recitative. Since you have analyzed your character’s personality, goals, obstacles, tactics, and expectations, you have a clearer idea of how the character experiences emotions and grows as a person.
By using these methods to dig into your character, you can create a more believable character who you understand. Specificity in a character’s personality and emotions makes for a memorable performance. By researching, analyzing, and creating an emotional outline for your character, your audience will enjoy your performance, and you will have more fun by immersing yourself in a well-developed character.