Malcolm Arnold, Acting for Singers Specialist

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Malcolm Arnold, Acting for Singers Specialist, has created a learnable training method that addresses and synthesizes all the unique elements required of the modern singer-actor.  Among these tools – all of which should share equal importance to vocal and musical training are: establishing the integrity of the text, determining or inventing the character, defining intention and motivation, identifying who is being addressed, altering the subtext, interpreting the vocal line and accompaniment’s intention and its influence on interpretation and training the body to participate in a meaningful, unobtrusive way, and ultimately – combine all these skills to present an emotional experience for the listener.  Even for those singers with a mastery of vocal technique, proficiency in these vital elements will separate the artist from the singer.  In this age of HD broadcasts, more than ever, singers must inhabit their roles vocally, physically and dramatically.  Arriving at this process is based on the experience of having performed, directed and instructed for close to fifty years and led to incorporating these concepts in his book, “The Complete Singer-Actor”, which will soon be available at no cost on the Complete-Singer Actor website.

As a singer, Mr. Arnold ‘s career encompassed seventy-nine leading roles in opera, operetta and musical theatre ranging from Papageno (Magic Flute) to Scarpia (Tosca), from Ko-Ko (Mikado) to Sweeney Todd.  He performed opposite such artists as Renato Scotto, Marilyn Horne, Alfredo Kraus and James MacCracken.  As a stage director, he has staged over thirty productions including La Bohème, Barber of Seville, Don Pasquale, Romeo et Juliette and many others – often with singers from the Metropolitan Opera, La Scala and the Bolshoi.  For many years, he has maintained a voice and acting studio.  In that capacity, he has presented workshops in New York, Florida, Montreal, and Providence.  His students have gone on to perform on Broadway, with the Chicago Lyric Opera and Cirque du Soleil. At this point of his career, he is devoting his efforts into developing singers into complete singer-actors.



It would be impossible to produce a manual that would cover every aspect of the art and craft of the singer-actor, and I do not presume to have written it.  This book was written for those aspiring to become complete singer-actors, and hence the title.  I have always felt that talent is given too much credit for the success of a performer and that a large part of a performer’s craft can be learned.  Over the course of my career as a singer, director, teacher, conductor, actor, cantor, and pianist, I have been insatiable in my efforts to acquire and implement that knowledge and those skills.

That knowledge is responsible for my frustration with the pervasive type of performing and the current methods of teaching singer-actors, and is what drove me to write this book and to provide workshops based on its content.  I find nothing more dismaying than hearing a magnificent voice producing mindless content.  It is sad when a singer limits their means of expression to tone quality, pitch, and dynamics.  The development of these skills demonstrates many years of commitment to the vocal studio and mastering them is imperative and obvious.  However, the system fails in that it leaves the singer ill-equipped to sing with meaning, to inflect the emotional and personal significance of the text or, on a larger scale, to portray a character on the stage.  For all the years of vocal study, the singer is incomplete.  He or she knows how to produce a beautiful tone, but has never been taught how to interpret text or music, how to include their body as part of their instrument, or how to provide a glimpse into their own soul.  Instead of developing the singer’s ability to interpret and bring the written form to a living form, the singer has been programmed by their teachers and coaches with the teachers’ and coaches’ interpretation of the music.  They are merely following the instructions of someone else.   I am constantly disappointed by what is considered beautiful, meaningful singing.  Audiences will accept the bare minimum of commitment from the singer and think it is acceptable.

Given the resources, there is no reason why singers can’t develop their art and become true singer-actors capable of creating a unique perspective on the music they perform.  This book introduces and explains the elements of singing other than vocal production in an effort to complement or complete the training of the singer-actor.

I have written this book for individuals pursuing either careers in opera or careers in musical theater and purposely use the terminology interchangeably.  The lessons directed to the latter are of great value to the former and vice versa.  Opera singers tend to hide behind their art, the language, the vocal challenges, and the fioratura.  If one plans to undertake the challenges of singing operatic repertoire, one’s technique must allow transparency – the direct communication of text and emotion.  The wealth of information and musical devices provided by the composer of operatic literature are there to unlock the imagination and creativity of the singer if that singer understands how to bring them to life.  Music written for the Broadway stage is more direct. While not burdened by the musical complexity or vocal demands of opera, the singer of musical theater faces the challenge of suspending the audience’s conscious awareness that the text is being conveyed by singing.  While students of musical theater seem to have more exposure to acting classes than opera-voice majors, those classes are focused on the spoken word.  Rarely are those skills focused on the very specific requirements of a singer-actor.

One final word of warning: the process of incorporating all the elements described in this book is not simple.  We are talking about ‘art’ and producing art that will compel the listener to understand, to be emotionally moved and to be drawn inexplicitly to that performer.  This is not an easy feat.  The techniques described in this book are not a shortcut but rather a process.  They are not particularly difficult, but they require considerable effort, study and creativity.  Singing in public and portraying a role requires far more than learning the words and notes, memorizing them, and then going to a coach to be instructed how to sound as if you were inhabiting that role.


Malcolm Arnold can teach you the skills required
to become a professional singer-actor!

Skills that are part of the process:

  • • The stage as a comfortable workspace
  • • Processing the text of a song (independent of the music)
  • • Analysis of character and situation (still text oriented)
  • • Interpreting how the music affects the text
  • • Who are you addressing?
  • • Effect of changing the situation
  • • Understanding the motivation for each response
  • • Realizing the song’s purpose and personalizing through subtext
  • • Understanding the voice’s function as a responsive, expressive instrument
  • • Incorporating the visual, physical element to singing
  • • Removing and replacing unnecessary or meaningless gestures
  • • Working with a partner – duets, ensembles
  • • Combining all the skills in order to create unimpeded mirror to your soul

Potential Students (Opera and Musical Theater)

  • • Professional singers (opera/musical theater)
  • • Participants in Young Artist Programs
  • • Voice and theater majors
  • • High School Seniors seeking admission as a Music or Theater major at the university level.


At auditions for my show, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, I often wondered why a particular actor or actress compelled my attention, why the very air in the room became charged as they sang. Now I know the answer: they were utilizing the very techniques that Malcolm Arnold espouses so expertly in The Complete Singer-Actor Manual. Malcolm has thought deeply about the whole process of vocal communication, drawing upon years of experience and perceptive observations. The result is a richly-detailed, highly-readable text about how to give the words we sing “a message and a destination.” He shifts easily from musical theater songs to opera arias, and in several stunning examples, analyzes exactly what is going on, dramatically and musically, measure by measure. The reader learns to think like a composer and lyricist, then learns how to work with their own feelings and perceptions to fashion a performance that has rhyme, reason and emotion. In The Complete Singer-Actor Manual, Malcolm Arnold, with zeal and generosity, shows us how we can transform mere words and notes into something wondrous and magical.

— Jimmy Roberts composed the music for two Off Broadway shows: the long-running

I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change (Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle nominee for Best Musical) and The Thing About Men (Winner, Best Musical, Outer Critics Circle). In entertaining programs that combine classical and popular music, he has delighted audiences with his wit and special way with a song. Recent engagements include: Merkin Concert Hall, the 92nd Street Y, Steinway Hall and the National Arts Club.

Malcolm Arnold is an experienced actor, singer and teacher who skillfully offers real technique and fundamentals to performing artists at all levels. This is a serious textbook for serious students from a passionate and professional teacher.  There is so much here with which to explore and learn and improve your craft.

— Jason Alexander, Tony and Emmy award winning actor


  • QUESTION: “I’m a singer.  Why do I have to know about acting?”
  • ANSWER: Acting is required of singers.  In this age of specialization and politically correct job descriptions, we must rename singer to singer-actor.  The same hyphenation applies to a comedian who must act in order to draw you into believing a scenario.  He must transfer written material to a spoken (and visual) medium.  He must use timing, imagination, character, objectives, and on and on in the same way as an actor.  Yet we call him a comedian.  Similarly, a ballet-dancer must through movement, capture and communicate story, character, and emotion without words.  Without the acting, dance would be merely a shell of rehearsed, accompanied acrobatics.  What would differentiate the Swan Princess from the Firebird?  And yet, we likewise call this performer – a dancer.


  • QUESTION: “I’ve studied acting for years.  Are the techniques different for singing?
  • ANSWER: Yes, in many ways. 1). Singing is unnatural as a means of communicating. 2) The rhythms, melodies, tempo, key, etc. give us strong parameters to work within.  They also, to the experienced interpretive artist, act as a companion stage director or as a medium between the composer and performer.  3) The harmony, accompaniment, orchestration, plus all the above listed elements might suggest underlying emotion contrary to the text. 4) Music takes longer than speech.  5) Words are often repeated.  And probably most significantly, 6) in acting, one strives to lose oneself in the drama.  When singing, it’s just the opposite.  The song must be lost in the performer.  In other words, you are more important than the song you are singing.  It must appear that you are living and experiencing the moment yourself.


  • COMMENT: “I didn’t realize it took so much work just to sing a song!”
  • RESPONSE: Yes, singing takes a great deal of work, preparation and concentration beyond vocal study.  It is an art according to its definition:


art n.1. The quality, production, or expression, according to aesthetic principles

of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance. 2. Any

field using the skills or techniques of art.1


and, as such, requires finely trained and utilized skills.  Fortunately, all this work does pay off as the singer develops into a unique artist and realizes his or her power to transport and move an audience.


Several reviews demonstrating Mr. Arnold’s commitment to both the vocal and dramatic demands of the roles he played:

Tonio (Pagliacci): “Had the performance [of Pagliacci] not continued beyond the prologue, [it] would have sufficed as a textbook example of completely committed singing and acting.  Arnold delivered one of the finest prologues this reviewer has seen.  Every word, every gesture, and every phrase was precise and telling.”

                                                ITHACA JOURNAL

Marcello (La Bohème):   “The pleasing quality of Mr. Arnold’s voice seemed particularly well-matched to the sympathetic personality of Marcello, which he seemed to project effortlessly.”

                                                NEW YORK TIMES

Zurga (Pearl Fishers): “Arnold is perhaps the most accomplished of the three principals, affecting a perfect blend of singing and acting.  His voice is solid throughout and he uses it well and intelligently.”

                                                      MANCHESTER NEWS

Amelia Goes to the Ball/The Medium (twin bill): “Arnold’s transformation from Amelia Goes to the Ball [to The Medium] was startling.  Without the help of the program, one might not have known this was the same performer.”

                                                            DALLAS TIMES HERALD

Silvio (Pagliacci): “Arnold made an attractive Silvio both vocally and visually.  His approach to the thrilling love duet between Silvio and Nedda was sensitively sung and immediately captured the sympathy of the audience for his character.  This duet was the best singing of the performance.”

                                                            GANNETT NEWSPAPERS