A search for an extended physical interpretation of contemporary vocal music and opera

Silje Aker Johnsen, Oslo National Academy of the Arts, Academy of Opera

What possibilities does a singer have for physical interpretation of the musical material, role material and subtexts in contemporary vocal music, opera and Baroque music? How can one expand the singer’s potential of movement and choreography towards becoming a more complete performer? How can the performer be a resource for directors, choreographers and composers in the development of new material? How far can we go in striving for a “physical opera”- genre?

The work will focus on:

  1. Work on already existing contemporary vocal music with new choreography
    How can a physical expression contribute to create different subtexts that supports or contrasts the music, the text – or the lack of text- in sound? How can the energy and functions of a voice in a body initiate movement? On this subject, I will work on pieces for solo voice and small constellations; duo/duet constellations singer-dancer and singer -instrumentalist with choreography or physical concepts.
  2. Pieces and mini operas with choreography developed especially for this combined format, also commission and development of new pieces.
  3. Work on opera roles with focus on movement and physical interpretation of role- and musical material. In the expression “physical interpretation” I include what kind physical “signatures” a character can have generally or in different scenes depending on what actions and processes the character goes trough. What gestures, what movement material, physical Leitmotive can be found in the text, what can be found in the music? I will investigate aspects like the complexity of the character vs rhythmical and movement complexity, f ex in maid roles vs heroin roles. What kind of possibilities does characters like spirits, animal and mythical characters (non-human characters) open up for?
  4. Development of exercise material to expand the singer’s potential of movement.
    Existing exercise material will be adapted and new material developed. There will be a focus on developing multitasking abilities in combined vocal and physical improvisation.

My focus will be on the performative aspects of the finished work, on the performer’s potential role in the development of new pieces and a continuously development of interdisciplinary competence.

I will work on the role of the performer in developing new opera and new music pieces, in f ex work shop situations. Can we develop a greater consciousness on movement as a part of a role characteristic? How does the vocal interpretation affect or create frames and possibilities for a choreographer or director? How can we develop our abilities to improvise and come with scenic offers in the creative process of a stage concert or an opera? I will try to document and reflect upon my own work in these kind of situations in opera projects and scenic pieces I will participate in between 2014-2017 and interview composers, directors, choreographers and other interpreters on the subject.

Dance theatre, music theatre and opera often wish to use more voice and a more extended physicality. With some exceptions, it still is a tendency that the elements live side by side, f ex in double castings, than that they unite in one complete expression in each performer. I seek the point of confluence where the performer work toward uniting the elements of vocal and physical performance in a natural fusion.