Research project

”Pendular Movements” by Wilhelm Carlsson

Researcher: Wilhelm Carlsson

“Pendular Movements – Transformations of the Vocal Expression in Opera and Theatre” is a research project by Wilhelm Carlsson, Professor of Musical drama.

If we listen to old recordings of actors from the turn of the previous century we can hear how they are using a voice technique that is similar to the one of opera singers. The old theatre voice is chanting, with an elevated expression, as if the actors were moving in a borderland between speech and singing. We perceive this way of using the voice that way as old fashioned and “theatrical”. On the other hand the opera singer is still today supposed to move freely between speech and singing. But we often think of the opera singers spoken word as artificial, not “true”. The opera singer is continuing the singing expression even when speaking but without giving full attention to the content of the text. The acting ideal of today is often to sound as natural as possible, having almost an everyday vocal manner on stage, even articulating the words indistinctly. In my research project we are trying the opposite way by exploring how the actor, using a voice technique similar to the opera singer, can move towards singing to find new levels of expression without sounding obsolete. We are also examining how the opera singer can use acting techniques for deeper understanding of the text without losing vocal power and create seamless transitions between speech and singing. I have therefor created a laboratory together with actors, an opera singer and a composer, to explore how to express a dramatic text both through speaking it and singing it. Basically, my research project is about how mental and emotional rooms can be created by actors and singers through the voice, giving expression to dimensions in a strongly dramatic text that otherwise would have been hidden if using a more restrained or reduced vocal expression.

Aim and research questions

My project is researching the voice as one of the most powerful and meaningful forms of expression that humans have explored. I want to reflect upon our need to hear our thoughts and emotions expressed in speech and singing. I want to examine what is demanded from the voice that makes us listen to not only the text itself but also the inner thoughts, emotions and memories that singers and actors have fought to express to touch us through centuries from the stage.

Research implementation and anticipated impact

Me and my co researchers have done a series of workshops that we now are finalizing by working on scenes from Antigone. We will try to perform the text seamlessly from simple speech to an elevated singing expression, some parts being composed music. Our working process will be presented in a voice seminar, discussing the vocal expression in both opera and theatre. The full documentation of my project will be published in the Research Catalogue. I will also write a text, focusing on our working process and reflect on the development of the vocal expressions in theatre and opera. My research project puts the speaking and singing actor/opera singer in the centre of attention investigating how the human voice can communicate in a theatre space. It raises questions of what is nature and what is elevated expression and why vocal elevation is needed in performing arts to shed light on our reality. In this way my research reaches deep into what is essential to opera and theatre: the performing art of the actor and the singer.


Co researcher in my project are the actors Nina Zanjani, Magnus Roosmann and Jennie Silfverhjelm together with opera singer Johan Schinkler and composer Jonas Forssell.




Image: Johan Schinkler, Opera singer and co-researcher