How Many Languages Do Singers Need to Speak? Part 2

In Part 1 you discovered just how skilled at foreign languages singers need to become. It takes a lot of work and it takes a lot of time to pronounce a foreign language accurately or to learn to speak it. One element is vitally important:

the meaning.

The meaning of the words and their expression is of utmost importantce in any performance, whether it's a concert with thousands in the audience or a nighttime lullaby for one little child.

This is a vastly different performance philosophy than the park-and-bark methodology of previous generations of singers (which still has a lot of influence today). The focus was on the costumes and the sound, but not necessarily on the meaning of the words and the emotional communication between the performers and the audience.

Here's a bad example:

The European Football League is an American football league (not soccer but real, American football). At one of their games in Frankfurt several years ago a vocal quartet sang the National Anthem just like we do here in the States. It's a meaningful anthem for Americans and it takes on a whole new dimension when you live in a foreign country. So while I was living abroad, every time I heard our national anthem I'd cry.

Except this time.

This quartet took it upon themselves to create a new arrangement in which the actual melody could no longer be distinguished and the harmonies were so crazy, no one could sing along. And trust me, Americans know their anthem well and they sing along no matter where they are in the world. The Germans in the stadium could forget seeing how much they could understand because there was nothing to understand. The beautiful meaning of our national anthem was gone. It wasn't there for the Americans in the stadium and it most certainly wasn't there for the Germans.

In fact, it was so bad that the native German woman standing next to me turned to me and said, "This doesn't sound right."

Here's a good example:

Listen to this, the "Song to the Moon" from the opera Rusalka by Antonín Dvořák, as sung by Leontyne Price. When you're done, scroll down.



Did you catch the passion? the longing? Incredible, isn't it?

Read a bit of the background of this piece and read the translation to the text here.

Yeah, that's what I'm talkin' about.


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