Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA)



Document Type



In the present culture of operatic performance, artistry is measured not only by singers’ musical interpretation and vocal technique, but also by their ability to communicate compelling characterization. This monograph explores a helpful technique for dramatic interpretation in opera. The discipline of musical performance provides helpful guides to characterization through elements such phrasing, rhythm, harmony, and instrumentation. Techniques borrowed from the spoken theater, particularly those pioneered by Constantin Stanislavski, include the Magic If, objectives, actions, and tactics. The literature on auditioning for the theater is useful for synthesizing these techniques for singers, because audition techniques emphasize compelling characterization with particular emphasis on an efficient preparatory process.

Audition by Michael Shurtleff, a text in common use by theater practitioners, offers insights into techniques for actors in the audition scenario. Shurtleff’s twelve guideposts outline a method for developing a viable interpretation of character without requiring an inordinate amount of time devoted to study of the given circumstances of the play. The guideposts are Relationship, Conflict, the Moment Before, Humor, Opposites, Discoveries, Communication and Competition, Importance, Find the Events, Place, Game Playing and Role Playing, and Mystery and Secret. Shurtleff’s book details how each of these can be used to guide character interpretation in a direction that serves the needs of the play and the dramatic medium. The effectiveness of these guideposts can be understood by observing that each can be viewed as a device which clarifies one of Aristotle’s six elements of drama: Plot, Character, Thought, Diction, Spectacle, and Song. Each of the guideposts can be used in various ways to understand the characteristics of the music in an operatic aria. This study explores the application of Shurtleff’s guideposts to five arias for soprano. The arias analyzed are ““Zeffiretti lusinghieri” i from Idomeneo, "Einst träumte meiner sel’gen Base” from Der Freischütz, “Quel guardo il cavaliere” from Don Pasquale, “Adieu notre petite table” from Manon, and “Monica’s Waltz” from The Medium. The result is an illustration of a useful process of dramatic interpretation character for operatic performers.



Committee Chair

Moon, Sandra