Norman Cooley

Norman Cooley

Stage Director

Acting for Opera
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«"Norman's performance coaching work here was very well designed and adapted closely to the requirements of the course. He was happy to work with colleagues to adapt and refine and his work with the students was pitched at the correct level. The course developed over the two years and students worked in the second year to build on the topics covered in the first year. This was largely to teach the vocal students dramatic and interpretive skills to prepare them for the operatic stage. His teaching was very successful with the students; their skill set improved dramatically and it gave them a firm basis on which to build for their first stagework in opera chorus during Year Two. He is a constructive, positive and collaborative colleague."»
«"Norman’s Acting for Opera workshop has been so helpful to me as a young opera singer. The class has given me the skills to really start to play with my repertoire. Whether in the practice room, in rehearsal or in performance, I now feel that I now have a basic box of tools to help communicate what my character is saying. Whether in opera or song, I am looking at texts in a new way, trying to understand what, why and how it is that I am communicating and through Norman’s guidance am letting the emotion flow through that, rather than the other way round. This has had surprising extra benefits to me as not only is this helping with clarity in my performance, I feel that it is helping me learn and memorise music faster and helping battle against performance anxiety too. I can’t recommend the course enough to singers starting out in the profession as well as those singers working professionally who want to develop their acting skills."»
«"Amazing and succinct, back to basics "how to" book for anyone looking to enhance their craft of acting. What a clear, succinct, and great back to basics book for singers interested in performing opera. I recommend it to all who are interested in completely learning the entire craft of performing opera. What Mr. Cooley is saying could have come out of my own mouth and has many times. Acting is acting. There is no separate kind of "acting" for opera. It is definately not becoming emotional, which affects the voice, but learning how to truthfully portray the emotions so you can take your audience on a journey. After all, that is the job of all performers, telling a great, honest, believable story while taking your audience on this amazing journey! ​Buy it!!"»


I've been involved in the area of performance since I was 12 years old.  I have a  B.A. in Theatre from the University of California at Los Angeles (1975-79) and trained as an actor at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School (1980-82) and worked professionally as an actor for over 20 years.

I've trained hundreds of singers in my workshops, in private lessons, at the Wales International Academy of Voice, the Royal Northern College of Music, and at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire, and by coaching opera companies. I'm often surprised by how little singers actually understand of what they are singing about. Their focus is almost entirely on the technicalities of how to sing, and almost never on what the aria or the scene is about.  They rarely understand any of the dramatic content, the character, the relationships.  Invariably this means the singer has no real connection to the music and the result is dull and academic.  It's uncanny how when a singer understands what is compelling their character to sing, the relationships, the dramatic conflict, and learns to sing with their head, heart and guts, the voice opens up and real singing power can be achieved.  It can be startling.  My approach, methods and exercises are designed to unite the imagination with physical expression, as well as to encourage emotional commitment to the music, character and story.  

I saw my first opera at the age of 12 and the following year I performed and sang in four operas professionally.  I have seen first-hand the value of good storytelling and excellent acting  in operatic performances all over the world and conversely I have also seen why performances do not work due to poor or minimal acting skills at hundreds and hundreds of performances.  Combining my life-long knowledge of opera with my very deep understanding of acting and performance I have successfully trained many singers with my story-based approach. 

As an actor, I worked in the West End of London, in repertory throughout the UK and Europe as well as television work and countless advertisements in the UK and Europe.  My theatre direction training was with Michael Gordon, a noted American theatre and film director whose work included many Broadway productions and in Hollywood directing the film Cyrano de Bergerac with Mel Ferrer and numerous well-known films in the 50s and 60s including the romantic comedies Pillow Talk and Move Over Darling.  At the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, I trained as an actor with perhaps the greatest acting teacher of all time, the legendary Rudi Shelly who numbered among his students Patrick Stewart, Jeremy Irons, Daniel Day-Lewis, David Calder, Stephanie Cole, Alex Jennings, Sophie Thompson, Anthony Hopkins and many others.  My training is a combination of Rudi's teachings adapted for the opera house, as well as the work of many other fine teachers I was lucky to study with including the brilliant Michael Gordon.

Acting in opera should be completely integrated with the singing and support and empower the work of the singer.  It should be as effortless as possible to provide a safe harbour for the singer to sing at their best while creating a fully satisfying performance.

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