Performing Lieder: Expert Perspectives and Comparison of Vibrato and Singer's Formant With Opera Singers

J Voice. 2015 Sep;29(5):645.e15-32. doi: 10.1016/j.jvoice.2014.10.020. Epub 2015 Apr 11.


This article reports three studies about performance of lieder, and in particular in comparison with opera performance. In study 1, 21 participants with experience in music performance and teaching completed a survey concerning various characteristics of lieder performance. The results showed that there was consensus between the literature and the assessment of an expert panel-that a "natural" and "unoperatic" vibrato was favored, and that diction, text, and variation of tone are all important aspects of lieder performance. Two acoustic analyses were conducted to investigate genre-specific differences of the singer's formant and vibrato parameters. The first analysis (study 2) used 18 single quasi-unaccompanied notes from commercial recordings of two lieder, and, for comparison, 20 single unaccompanied notes from an opera. Vibrato rate was statistically identical between the two genres at ~6.4 Hz; however, lieder featured a longer delay in vibrato onset. Vibrato extent was smaller for lieder (~112 cents) compared with opera (~138 cents). The singer's formant, which is generally associated with opera, was at times observed in the lieder recordings; however, this was at an overall significantly weaker intensity than in the opera recordings. The results were replicated in study 3, where recordings using only singers who performed in both lied and opera were analyzed. This direct comparison used 45 lieder notes and 55 opera notes and also investigated three different methods of analyzing the singer's formant. A number of consistencies and inconsistencies were identified between acoustic parameters reported in studies 2 and 3, and the beliefs of singing teachers and scholars in the literature and study 1.

Keywords: Expert panel; Lieder; Opera; Singer's formant; Singing; Vibrato extent; Vibrato onset; Vibrato rate.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Acoustics
  • Auditory Perception*
  • Humans
  • Judgment
  • Signal Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Singing*
  • Sound Spectrography
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Voice Quality*