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Overview This is an e-book version of the biography of Edgar Evans, the principal tenor at the Royal Opera — and, later, a teacher at the Royal College of Music. However, it is far more than a thorough, engaging and at times very amusing biography of an acclaimed principal tenor at one of the world's top opera houses in the 20th century.
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It is also an insightful account of what national and international artistic life was like at the time. Woven into the account of Edgar Evans' life are fascinating anecdotes about famous people of the day set against a colourful local historic background. The stories are made all the more intriguing by the inclusion of copies of scanned documents and black and white photographs of performances and performers.
What the reviewers said. I can only wish more books of this kind were written. I enjoyed it. I loved it! What may interest you about the life of Edgar Evans. In all, he sang some 45 roles — most of them major ones - at Covent Garden from - when, as one of its three principal tenors, he became a founder member of the Covent Garden Opera Company — to his retirement in In that time, he sang more roles and more performances at the Opera House than any other artist.
Subsequently, he conducted his share of masterclasses and adjudicated at singing competitions. Even in his later years, he had a regular procession of singers all anxious to learn his secrets of vocal technique and his opinion of their vocal talents and abilities.
For ten years he taught vocal technique there and many singers can pay tribute to his masterly teaching.
Among those to whom he felt he owed a special debt of gratitude was Peter Gellhorn who, as a repetiteur and conductor at Covent Garden, taught Edgar the part of Hermann in 'The Queen of Spades' in the remarkably short time of just 14 hours. Hence the general prejudice among educators against elocu- tionary training ; and not until we eliminate the sort of training above described can we hope — or deserve — to see this prejudice removed. I would not be under- stood to decry all reciting or declaiming. If a girl recites from the standard poets or other good literature, or the boy declaims selections from good speeches on questions of the day, the practice is valuable in many ways.
But in the schools generally, is there not too much mere declaiming? Cannot instruction in public speaking be made more practical? Why not give pupils training in that sort of speaking they will be called upon to practice in actual life? Let the pupils have practice in telling what they know, without memorizing the language in advance.
This plan has the further advantage of requiring no special training on the part of the teacher. How the plan can be adapted in a par- ticular school is, of course, for the individual teacher to work out. Some general suggestions, however, may Ipful. When no regu- lar instruction is provided, let fifteen, twenty, or thirty minutes be set aside on two, three, or even the five days of the school week, and immediately following the open- ing exercises, for what may be termed " morning talks.
Several mornings, for example, might be devoted respectively to Shakespeare, Emerson, Longfellow, and other noted authors. Let one pupil give a brief biographical sketch, another a history of a certain play, or poem, or book, another a quotation therefrom, and so on with other productions of the author. With a view to leading up to extempore speaking proper, several more mornings might well be devoted to calling for miscellaneous quotations from standard authors, two or three such periods, perhaps, being assigned to the class in English literature. And then a large number of exercises could be devoted to talks, each about three minutes in length, on current events and questions of the day.
The exercises could occasionally be varied by having debates, preferably on questions of local interest, assigning in advance the affirmative and negative leaders and their respective colleagues. In conducting these exercises, eliminate, so far as possible, the horror which the average pupil feels to- ward rhetorical exercises.
Do not call the speakers to the platform, let them simply rise from their seats and speak with the audience about them, as they would in a class recitation. The interest should chiefly center in what they say, and the aim should be to direct the pupils' minds to this point of view. If the schedule of recitations will not permit these morning talks, substitute similar exercises, at least occasionally, for the Friday afternoon rhetoricals.
In order to allow more, or all, of the pupils to take part, the school may be divided into as many sections as there are teachers, each teacher meeting one of the sections in his or her recitation room. The individual teacher will, of course, devise other means and ways to meet local conditions. In any event, some such informal talks as have been suggested will be found a vast improvement, in interest and in practical results, over the usual school rhetorical.
Again, the question arises. Can we learn to speak extempore.? Is it a thing that can be taught at all.? Is it an art natural to some, but incapable of acquire- ment by others? In answer to these queries, let us 1 At the Ithaca N. High School.
Pericles, the greatest of Greek statesmen, was also according to tradition the greatest orator of his day. Like Aristides, Themistocles, and the ancient orators, he improvised after laborious meditation. Doubtless most of their orations that have come down to us were carefully written out in advance. So manifest was the preparation of Demos- thenes that other envious orators ridiculed him, saying that all his arguments "smelled of the lamp. When time permitted, Cicero's orations were usually written and delivered from memory, but when pressed for time he spoke extempore, and with the vanity natural to him he commended some of his extemporized speeches as superior to his written productions.
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Paul, Chrysostom, Peter the Hermit, Savonarola, Bossuet, and Martin Luther, let uS take two or three examples from the orators of the eighteenth century. Mirabeau, ugly but powerful, is typical as an orator of the French Revolution. Most of his famous speeches were written out in advance, but he never was confined to his prepared text. It is said that he would receive notes as he ascended the tribune and weave them, with- out apparent reflection, into the texture of his discourse.
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Powerful as Mirabeau was in his premeditated discourse, his extempore utterance was irresistible. His habitual grave and solemn tones were gone, and in their place rang out accents of thunder and heartrending pathos, and all without losing his self-control. But these im- provised efforts were short, and wisely ended when the blow was struck. He was not subject to the common infirmity of extemporaneous speakers, not knowing when to stop and how.
In his speaking Pitt habitually employed the extempore method. Along with his gifts, natural and acquired, he had a marked susceptibility for being aroused by the occasion. His overwhelming spontaneity and high per- sonal character swept everything before him. Mansfield was preeminent as an extempore speaker. At an early age he gave promise of that ready com- mand of his mother tongue which was later shown in his speeches.
This was secured by a constant trans- lation and retranslation of Greek and Roman orators, which also gave him a knowledge of the principles of eloquence, a study which he began to pursue with all diligence upon his entry into the university. This he continued after beginning his law studies, especially in the practice of extempore speaking, for which he pre- pared himself with such fullness and accuracy that his notes were useful to him in after life, both at the bar and on the bench.
The fame of Fox as a parliamentary orator and de- bater is well known, although he began awkwardly and abounded in repetitions. He was an extempore speaker solely.
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