Tips on Acting Given Singers by Lillian Gish (Chicago Tribune 1940)

Chicago Tribune – Wednesday August 28 1940 – Page 20

Tips on Acting Given Singers by Lillian Gish

“If you ever saw a performance of ‘La Traviata’ forget it. If you ever saw Lillian Gish act, remember it.” The words were those of the Chicago Opera company’s new associate director, Martin Magner, yesterday to 45 young men and women of the opera’s chorus on the huge sceneless stage of the opera house.

Because opera has been described as too often good singing and poor acting, the Chicago company this season will stress dramatic as well as musical ability. It opens on Nov. 2.

Lillian Gish, movie veteran and stage star whose theatrical experience dates back to a stage trunk as a cradle, was present to give advice to the young men and women of the chorus who have concentrated on musical scores during the last six months. Her entrance was even a lesson in theatrical technique.

She was exactly 15 minutes late. The interlude heightened expectancy among her prospective pupils. Suddenly she appeared in the stage doorway dressed in deep blue and startling white. A fluffy white Scotty posed at her feet. She dimpled, as in the old days of “Orphans of the Storm,” and broke the silence which greeted her entrance.

“Opera is even a broader medium of expression than the legitimate theater,” she told the chorus members who crowded around her like a group of school children. “It should therefore permit a broader form of acting. Wagner wrote out of the passion of his day when he set down instructions for his actors.

“Too long have opera stars followed in this outmoded tradition. Modes of life are continually changing. If Wagner were alive today I think he would write a new set of instructions for his scores. Since he isn’t, it is up to the individual opera singer to give naturalness to Wagnerian actions or to those of any opera in any language.”

The chorus was selected from 600 singers in six auditions last February and March. Mr. Magner quietly explained their status to his guest. He added: “I’m glad of their youth and inexperience. Now I can mold them to the new opera, the opera that is as much the theater as it is the score.”

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