The Third Line:
The Singer as Interpreter
THE THIRD LINE: Singers are inescapably actors as well as vocalists. In order to succeed as artists in an increasingly competitive field, they must be able to perform with greater dramatic depth and comedic skill than expected in earlier decades. Yet many have difficulty in attaining the twin goals of vocal excellence and credible acting. Most training emphasizes vocal technique crowding out the theatrical dimensions. This book argues that singers must take charge of their own professional education. Stressing interpretation, the book proposes that performers develop a “third line” that naturally derive form the interaction of the two lines provided by the librettist and the composer. This third line includes subtext, focus, movement, facial expression, and vocal inflection.
THIS BOOK AIMS AT DEVELOPING ACTING SKILLS IN ADDITION TO VOCAL TECHNIQUE, AS WELL AS AT THE ACTUAL CONSTRUCTION AND USE OF A THIRD LINE FOR A GIVEN ROLE. IN ADDITION TO TECHNIQUES OF INTERPRETATION THE BOOK DEALS WITH CAREER-BUILDING STRATEGIES AND WITH BACKSTAGE SAVVY. IT ALSO PROVIDES GUIDANCE IN DEALING WITH VOICE INSTRUCTORS, COACHES, CONDUCTORS, AND DIRECTORS AND IT OFFERS SUGGESTIONS ON HOW TO BEST APPROACH AUDITIONS, RECITALS, AND COMPETITIONS.THE TECHNIQUE OF 'THIRDLINING' IS EQUALLY APPLICABLE TO MUSICALS, SONGS, AND ALL OF THE "SINGING THEATER" SISTER ARTS.
An opera singer is a singing-actor, both elements essential for the functioning of the medium and proper performance of this great art. It is abundantly documented in the correspondences of Mozart, Verdi and Wagner that the perfect balance of these two abilities was a serious an urgent concern for them. The Third Line is the only book, to my knowledge, that attempts to fill the inexcusable vacuum left by most conservatories and academies and far too many vocal coaches on the hapless students they loose upon the opera world convinced that all they need, to effectively play Violetta or Siegmund is a throat. Mr. Helfgot’s profound knowledge and love for the medium is only matched by his musical and theatrical scholarship, and, being a world renowned director, a tremendous sense of practicality and immediacy for performance. Opera is Theatre. If it isn't theatre, it's not opera. To the bizarre but by no means rare statement that opera is about singing I will say that the only opera I know about singing is Die Meistersinger von Nüremberg. And song there is used as metaphor.
—LILLIAN GROAG, DIRECTOR, PLAYWRIGHT
Whether anyone likes it or not, Helfgot and Beeman are right: in order for opera to continue as a viable art form, it must grow and change, and singers must adapt to these demands and become complete singer-actors. The Third Line provides excellent advice on doing so…
—MARIA CIACCIA, AUTHOR, PERFORMER
When the University of Michigan School of Music presented Mozart's Don Giovanni, I was outraged that the singers made no effort to use their bodies to convey the meaning of the words which they were singing. When I voiced this protest the response I got was: 'Well, they have to sing, so they can't act'.
This, according to the authors of The Third Line, is nonsense. Of course there are physical limitations on what a singer can do and still be able to project, this does not mean, however, that singers are prohibited from acting by the fact that they have to sing. The title of Helfgot book is a reference to 'the third line' of interpretation which a singer needs to add to the existing two lines of music and text. The book itself is a guide to writing that third line.
An actor/singer needs freedom of the body, understanding of music, and familiarity with the cultural context of the text. For the first Helfgot recommends martial arts or gymnastics; for the second, training at playing a musical instrument or some other introduction to musical theory; and for the third, library research if the composer and librettist are dead - but direct interaction with a living composer and librettist is even more effective.
The two things which Helfgot considers absolutely necessary for a singer who wishes to be able to write the third line and incorporate it into her/his performance: money and time. Opera singers who want to be interpretive performers need voice instruction, voice coaching, language coaching, acting coaching, style coaching, and information, very little of which comes for free. The need for all of these different kinds of training means that 'an independent income is almost a requirement for developing a career' .
Helfgot never suggests that it is easy for a singer to become a complete performer. No single component of operatic acting is easy, and the combination makes the career a dauntingly difficult one, even leaving aside the state of the profession.
It is to the would-be producer of, or actor in, a modern production that The Third Line is most inspiring. Yes, says Helfgot, this kind of theater is difficult and demanding and it is possible to fail spectacularly and bore your audience to tears. That doesn't mean it can't be done well. It takes commitment, resourcefulness, time, and money. (Persistent application of the first two will eventually lead to the latter.)
'No composer ever thought of his operas as works that would be preserved under glass like some precious porcelain', Helfgot writes. The acting style of fifty years ago are inappropriate in an opera performed today, regardless of when it was written. Performance is about a relationship with an audience. You could do a lot worse than to read The Third Line.
FROM A REVIEW OF THE THIRD LINE BY SALLIE R. GOETSCH
UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN, ANN ARBOR