Katherine Liggins: Five things I learnt at BYO
Earlier this week we visited the The Peacock Theatre to catch British Youth Opera's opening night of The Rake's Progress. BYO are a fantastic organisation providing excellent training and performance opportunities to young singers and emerging artists. Earlier this summer soprano Katherine Liggins joined them for a week of workshops. Here she tells us about the experience.
Last week I attended an excellent workshop with British Youth Opera led by Mark Hathaway and Rob Bottriell, with movement sessions led by Maria Koripas. The focus of the week was improvisation and characterisation. Each singer in the group (there were seven of us) brought two arias to work on. We also worked on staging a chorus from Mozart’s Idomeneo, and we did some straight acting using a few scenes from Shakespeare.
These are the top five (of many!) things I learnt:
1. Say it as it is!
While it is necessary to have a word-for-word, accurate translation of your arias, it is also important to have an idea of how you as a person would deliver each line of text in your native language. When people found a sentence in English that summed up a particular phrase and said it how they would in real life, it became much more realistic and relatable when they then went back to singing the foreign text.
Expression is not just in the face. The whole body is involved, with your core taking the lead. An audience member sat in the back row is unlikely to be able to read your facial expression particularly clearly, so using your body is the only way you’re going to reach them. It is incredible how much can be communicated with the body when you leave the face out of it completely!
3. Different sets of ears
It is so important to have different people listen to and critique your singing, especially if you are a current or recent music college student. It gave me a different perspective on my own singing, and highlighted some areas that people at college hadn’t necessarily picked up on before. Or perhaps it was hearing similar points expressed differently by someone new that helped me to better understand what they were getting at.
Improvising can be terrifying, but it is also much more freeing to walk on stage without a plan of what you’re going to do in each aria. When you start improvising you are being more spontaneous and infinitely more believable than if you were to decide exactly what you are going to do before you do it. And it’s actually way more fun and rewarding!
Thinking about how an aria might be directed in a full production is useful when you are preparing to stand and sing it in a recital or audition setting. If the scene has other characters in it, this is especially useful as it means you have a clear idea of where those characters are in relation to you. This doesn’t mean you can’t still improvise and be spontaneous: in fact, it gives you more confidence to take risks in performance because you have a deeper knowledge of the drama of the scene.
Those are just a few things that really resonated with me. It was a seriously inspirational week, and I would encourage every young singer to audition!
Katherine Liggins, soprano