The Dangerous Business of Being an Opera Singer

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In the old days, opera singers were expected to just "park and bark," as the static style of performing on stage is referred to within the business. But that’s a thing of the past. Singers now not only have look to like their characters, but also bound across raised platforms, fly through the air and undertake graphic fight scenes. With this growing emphasis on HD-quality realism, what physical skills must an opera singer have to make it today? Is opera becoming too dangerous?

Recent accidents in major opera houses have put a renewed focus on this question. In this podcast, we examine the question of physical risk-taking in opera with three experts:

  • Anne Midgette, the classical music critic of the Washington Post

  • Dale Girard, the director of stage combat studies at the North Carolina School of the Arts and a working stuntman

  • Laura Lee Everett, the artistic services director at Opera America, a service organization representing opera houses in the US

Weigh in: Do you think opera is becoming too dangerous? Or is some physical risk part of a singer's job? Take our poll and leave a comment below.

 

On the physical risks of being an opera singer:

Anne Midgette: As soon as you get a lot of hydraulic sets that move you get the risk of people’s legs getting caught in them or sets not being in place or people getting stuck up on top of sets...I don't see exactly what visions it serves to have singers that uncomfortable on opening night of a major work that needs a lot of singing.

Dale Girard: [Opera companies] are designing productions that try and compete with the film industry in the expectation of action and movement and storytelling. In that sense, the fights on the operatic stage are becoming more and more dynamic, to match the scope of the music, and the expectations of newer, younger audiences. So that is where some of the challenges are in trying to get singers to actually go through that expectation but still be able to sing at the end of the fight.

Laura Lee Everett: Shows are required to have a fight choreographer who comes in and does stage-safe training, so people are more likely to not injure themselves. Some of the onus is on the singers, more so than it was in the past. They’re going to be asked to do things physically and they need to be aware of how to do these so they don’t hurt themselves.