“I then have the music of the whole work played for me on the piano, so as to discover its trend and meaning—its content. If the composer is available I ask him to do this. I next begin to study my own part in detail, not only the important sections but the little bits, which seem so small, but are often so difficult to remember.”
Under this head the singer spoke at length of the difficulty some singers encounter when they endeavor to portray character, or differentiate emotions. There is endless scope in this line, to exercise intelligence and imagination.
“Some singers,” continued the artist, “seem incapable of characterizing a role or song. They can do what I call ‘flat work,’ but cannot individualize a role. A singer may have a beautiful voice yet not be temperamental; he may have no gift for acting, nor be able to do character work.
“At the present moment I am preparing several new roles, three of them are of old men. It rests with me to externalize these three in such a way that they shall all be different, yet consistent with the characters as I understand them. Each make-up must be distinctive, and my work is to portray the parts as I see and feel them. I must get into the skin of each character, so to say, then act as I conceive that particular person would behave under like circumstances. Many singers cannot act, and most actors cannot sing. When the two are combined we have a singing actor, or an actor-singer. Once there was a popular belief that it was not necessary for the singer to know much about acting—if he only had a voice and could sing. The present is changing all that. Many of us realize how very much study is required to perfect this side of our art.
“In this connection I am reminded of my London debut. I was to make it with the Royal English Opera Company. They heard me three times before deciding to take me on. With this formality over, rehearsals began. I soon found that my ideas of how my role—an important one—was to be acted, did not always coincide with the views of the stage director, and there were ructions. The manager saw how things were going, and advised me to accept seemingly the ideas of the stage director during rehearsals, but to study acting with the highest authorities and then work out the conception after my own ideas. Accordingly, I spent an hour daily, before the morning rehearsal, with one of the finest actors of comedy to be found in London. Later in the day, after rehearsal, I spent another hour with a great tragic actor. Thus I worked in both lines, as my part was a mixture of the tragic and the comic. I put in several weeks of very hard work in this way, and felt I had gained greatly. Of course this was entirely on the histrionic side, but it gives an idea of the preparation one needs.
“When the day of the dress rehearsal arrived, I appeared on the scene in full regalia, clean shaven (I had been wearing a beard until then), and performed my role as I had conceived it, regardless of the peculiar ideas of the stage director. At the first performance I made a hit, and a little later was engaged for grand opera at Covent Garden, where I remained for ten years.