So You Want To Be An Opera Singer

October 12, 2014 — 65 Comments

 

Opera-Singer

When I first started singing I had no idea where my love for this beautiful art would take me, I only knew that the sheer joy that I felt when I sang was a feeling that I never wanted to lose.   I discovered Disney Sing-Along-Songs when I was two or three and would dance and sing as I watched them, gradually during my time at school my musical awareness widened as I was introduced to different musical genres.

Ariel

I loved to perform and found the work involved in learning more demanding pieces very exhilarating, constantly seeking help to improve my technique and challenging myself to explore new songs.  Eventually in my early teens I remember being told that my voice would probably develop into that of a “Soprano” although several competition adjudicators thought I may fall between “Mezzo-Soprano” and a “Soprano” and though I wasn’t quite sure exactly what that all meant I was very excited at the prospect.:)

Since then I’ve heard my voice develop and though I know that it will constantly change over my career at the moment I am considered a “Lyric Soprano”.   So for a young aspiring opera singer just how important is your voice type.?

Well to answer this question you have to go back to the end of the 19th Century when the Germans developed a method of categorising a singer’s voice, this was then used to improve the auditioning process in German opera houses.  It allowed for the pre-selection of a group of singers prior to auditions based on a range of their vocal characteristics.

range – the notes your body can produce
weight – light voices, bright and agile; heavy voices, powerful, rich, and darker
size – the amount of sound you can produce and your voice’s dramatic effect
tessitura – part of the range which is most comfortable to sing
timbre or colour – unique voice quality and texture
transition points – points where you change from chest, to middle, to head register
vocal registers – how extended each register is
speech level – speaking range
physical characteristics – height and build age and experience

I’m sure that many composers had a particular voice type in mind for the roles they created in their operas.  They were artists who painted with sound and created beautiful stories using a range of characters to bring their work to life.

Wagner - The Ring Cycle

The Ring Cycle – Wagner

When a Director or Conductor is set the task of re-creating the story so imaginatively created by the composer they know that selecting the right singer for each role is so important. The Fach system can help in this selection process, allowing the Directors and Conductors to audition singers on a role by role basis using a very strict set of vocal characteristics. They can then use the audition to look for that little something extra that the singer can bring to the role safe in the knowledge that the vocal requirements of the part can be undertaken by each auditionee.

VocalRange

The system starts with three female voice types and three male voice type. They are Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano and Contralto for the female and Tenor, Baritone and Bass for the male.

Each of the voice types are then broken down into more specific groups of characteristics, for the Soprano for example we have :

Soubrette – Young, light, bright
Lyric Coloratura Soprano – High, bright, flexible
Dramatic Coloratura Soprano – High, dark, flexible
Lyric Soprano – Warm, legatto, full
Character Soprano – Bright, metallic, theatrical
Spinto /Young Dramatic Soprano – Powerful, young, full
Dramatic Soprano – Powerful, dark, rich

Mozart - The Magic Flute

The Magic Flute – Mozart

If opera is a new art form to you and you still need persuading of its purity and beauty then over the coming months I will try and convince you by writing about these different vocal characteristics and the roles associated with them, the great singers who have performed them and the beautiful operas that they come from.

On the other hand if you adore the art form then please feel free to join in with your comments and help me to persuade as many new people as possible to come and watch. After all one day I hope that it will be me on the stage, singing with all the emotion and colour that my heart will allow and I would love to see you all in the audience.

To close this post I can only say that I find this whole process so exciting, not quite knowing what characteristics my voice will take on makes my training so much more interesting. Working on my technique with experienced and supportive teachers helps me to understand the processes involved with my singing and I hope that it will allow me to improve my performances and paint with vocal colour. As to what voice type I will enter my professional career with, I still do not know but I can tell you whatever it is I intend to enjoy every second of it 🙂

Charlotte_Close_Up_01

La Rondine – Puccini ( my first chorus role in an opera )

65 responses to So You Want To Be An Opera Singer

  1. 

    Hello Charlotte

    Although I thoroughly enjoyed your recital in Bury, earlier this year, I still have to say that the world of opera is a closed book to me, and not one that I ever seriously see myself opening.

    That doesn’t diminish my appreciation of your passion and insight in respect of your chosen art, nor detract from my admiration and respect for your undoubted abilities. Pieces like this demonstrate just how much you are putting into something that is so clearly not just a career for you, but a Life, and I wish you every bit of the success you want for yourself: to perform the roles you desire to tackle, to give them every bit of your talent.

    I’m very glad you chose mine among the blogs you visited when you were setting this up. I am far from your natural constituency, but I’m among those who will be wishing you forwards.

    And anyway, we Scorpios have to stick together, don’t we? A special birthday coming up.

    Martin

    • 

      Thank you Martin what a wonderful comment, I shall have to treble my effort with you and bring you along with me over the next five years 😀.
      You’re not alone my parents dreaded taking me to watch my first opera performance for my 18th, I’m slowly convincing them that’s there’s more to Opera than they originally thought.
      We Scorpios certainly do!
      Best wishes
      Charlotte

  2. 

    Excellent piece Char, really interesting read.

  3. 

    Some of the most powerful stories are told through classic operas: Otello, William Tell, Macbeth….Do you have a preference between Italian, French, or English operas?

    • 

      No preference I adore Italian repertoire, singing in English may sound easier but it isn’t, this question has given me a great idea for another blog post thank you.
      Best wishes
      Charlotte

      • 

        You are most welcome! 🙂

      • 

        I know–English (and German) take a lot of work to sing clearly. So often you can’t understand an operatic song in English any better than one in a foreign language! But for me, that’s an inspiration; English opera is my personal favourite to sing and I dream of someday being renowned as a remarkably clear English opera singer, no matter how much work it takes. Italian has its own set of challenges, though, and French yet another (I think; I haven’t done much singing in French yet, either). But isn’t it wonderful that we all have different challenges and aspirations that call to us? It would be awfully boring if everyone wanted to sing the exact same repertoire–and hard on the composers who wanted to write something different!

        All the best,

        Cate

      • 

        Hi Cate, to have good diction when singing so that you can hear every word clearly is a great goal Cate. It would be boring if everyone was to sing the same repertoire although sometimes it’s nice to hear different interpretations of the same song.

        All the best
        Charlotte

  4. 

    Love your passion for your art. The reward is definitely worth the effort.

  5. 

    Congratulations Charlotte. What you say is beautiful. Yes opera is a mixture of sculpture and color, in fact as an hologram. And your voice alive with you by scisellant over time. And, for those who do not know, one of the magic of opera is that the vibration of singing liryque are perceived by the skins, bones and body. Thus, even the deaf can follow an opera thanks to modulations of vibrations. While some modern music are just boom boom boom boom ….. Thank you for this wonderfull sharing !!!

    All the best for you !

  6. 

    A very informative post! Thank you! 🙂

  7. 

    How wonderful to live your dreams every day as you get closer to realizing your full potential! To do what you love and was meant to do is a blessing in life. Not everyone gets to do that.

    You are truly gifted and blessed! Best wishes always! Xo

  8. 

    I loved learning about voice types here! I so enjoy your blog. When I was a teenager I took voice lessons and my teacher told me I was a dramatic soprano. Now I know what it means! xx

  9. 

    and now I know 😉 thanks, I hadn’t a clue of the ranges as described. I however lament there is not one description of the rusty bucket and it’s tangy range…for this I fear is my singing range 😉 make the houses echo.

  10. 

    Go ahead without me. Way too hard.

  11. 

    Very interesting. I’ve heard most of these terms before, but didn’t know what they meant.

  12. 

    I hope may you success in your every songs

  13. 

    I’ve never really considered being an opera singer myself, but I have a ton of respect for people like you who work so hard to become just that. Looking forward to your next posts; this is more fun than most of my music theory classes in middle school. 😉

    • 

      Ha thanks Stephanie, it’s so important for musicians to be aware of the structure of music, it’s something I wish I’d started about the age of 7 🙂

      Best wishes
      Charlotte

      • 

        It does help a lot; I started music theory when I was about 6, and that came in very handy when I started piano lessons two years later. 🙂

      • 

        Theory can help solve a lot of a students problems. Sadly I still had some holes in my understanding but the teachers at the RCS are brilliant at supporting you. Without my theory knowledge I couldn’t sing the repertoire I perform today. 🙂
        All the best
        Charlotte

  14. 

    I was wondering if it’s possible for a singer to purposefully pursue one type of characteristic within a voice type. For example, what if you were told you were a “Soubrette” but you wanted to be a “Dramatic Soprano”…could you change your voice over time to fit the characteristic you really want to be? Or is your voice already established and you simply have to find out what it is?

    I look for different types of music for stories. When I watch movies, it’s more interesting to have that ‘epic’ feel through opera-styled music in certain stories.

    I didn’t know this subject was so complicated. I’m happy that you found what you love to do at an early age and wasted no time pursuing it. This can be a tough accomplishment to attain in anyone’s life. So, I think it’s a blessing for you. Keep up the good work.

    • 

      Hi Eric, there are certain characteristics about the way that you sing that you can alter through training and I am sure that there will be many arguments from both sides as to the merits of doing so. I am still discovering what my voice can achieve comfortably as it will change over the course of my training and future career. It is not just about hitting a note it is also about having the stamina and control to be able to do so for the duration of an opera, recital or concert. But it is great fun 🙂

      Best wishes
      Charlotte

  15. 

    Fabulous piece Char very interesting xx

  16. 

    No counter tenor for the chaps? I remember the first time I heard the Queen of the Night’s aria from Zauberflöte and I went out and bought the whole opera on cassette (it was the 1970s) and played it over and over again. It is as close to heavenly music as I have heard in almost 60 years. Just don’t ask me to sit through Wagner 🙂

    • 

      Originally it would have been at the top of the sub-categories of the ‘Tenor’ fach Andrew, though some people would categorise it separately. I shall have to ensure I have a wide repertoire so there’s something for everyone to enjoy 🙂

      Best wishes
      Charlotte

  17. 

    I love opera and would go very often if I could afford it. I have lots of opera cds and they have to do. My husband doesn’t like opera very much and would rather not come with me but my mother and eldest daughter are always happy to join me. A really interesting post. I truly hope your dream comes true. You certainly work hard enough and your voice is beautiful.

    • 

      I love that it’s something you can do with your Mum and daughter, my Mum and I love to see live ballet but my Dad doesn’t really enjoy it, although he did take us to see Jewels at the ROH. Thanks Clare your support means a lot.

      Best wishes
      Charlotte

  18. 

    I will be in the audience, I promise!!! LOL Great post! x

  19. 

    Well said Charlotte!Many people ask me about range in teaching and this explains it perfectly!Opera is where my voice can grow and I understand your love of it!I sing Coloratura .
    Love your posts!
    Leila Keith
    Voice teacher/Performer
    Calgary,Alberta,Canada

    • 

      Hello Leila,

      Thank you for your feedback 😊. I was a bit nervous about writing my own interpretation of vocal ranges but I thought ‘why not give it a go’. Coloratura! That certainly is something I am looking into this year, to work on flexibility 😀

      Best wishes
      Charlotte

  20. 

    I love to wake up tomorrow and have this amazing talented gift of being an opera singer 🙂 For me I go to shows and admire the talent performing on the stage. It’s goose bump, hair raising stuff and I love it! 🙂 x

  21. 

    It’s so good to see all these terms laid out so clearly. I am nearly as excited as you are about the road you are travelling. We will be there one day.

  22. 

    My friends love opera but I can’t get into it. Once every three years I’ll lend an ear to it. You’re a good singer. Good article in breaking down some of the fundamentals. Cheers.

  23. 

    I know what you mean about still trying to discover your exact voice type, Charlotte–I know I am. However, since reading your post and your detailed descriptions of the Fachs (you must have done a lot of research!) I’m beginning to think for the first time that I might be a Spinto, since I have a young-sounding voice, but it definitely carries, which worked well for me in Princess Ida earlier this year, especially since I tried to give Ida a more sympathetic character than she usually has–more romantic and youthfully idealistic but still impassioned. So maybe that’s what I am–although my teachers have all told me that I’m pretty good with the coloratura work, so I’m still not quite sure! But thank you so much, your post was certainly helpful–I’ve saved it to refer to whenever audition requirements are asking specific questions about range and tessitura! I agree with you that composers definitely must have had certain vocal styles and capabilities in mind for certain roles.

    And by the way, I grew up on Disney Sing-Alongs too. Now I can hardly ever watch them, since we couldn’t convert them from VCR to DVD format–do you know where they can be bought as DVDs now?

    Thanks again,

    Cate

    • 

      You get a feel for your fach Cate when a new song seems to fit your voice without too much effort. I have the same problem my Dad decided to give away all my Sing Along VCRs to a charity shop without checking with us first. If I see any DVDs I’ll let you know my favourites were “Under the Sea”, “Pocahontas” and the Christmas one.

      Best wishes
      Charlotte

  24. 

    Charlotte – Thanks for the wonderful analysis of the nuances of singing and vocal types. Great collection of photos. I especially like the one of ‘Der Ring’. Quite the dramatic staging. Let me guess: Götterdämmerung. Hagen calls the vassals?
    BTW have you sung much Wagner?
    I like Pascal’s description: “opera is a mixture of sculpture and color … a hologram.”

  25. 

    I took the photograph from an article I’d read in The Telegraph for the Mariinsky Ring Cycle at Covent Garden, I’m not sure of the scene but its a very powerful image. I listen to a lot of Wagner and I know a couple of songs but as I’m quite early on in my training he’s not in my repertoire yet. I like Pascal’s description too.
    Best wishes
    Charlotte

  26. 

    I love that you love what you do. My Mom was our choir director, but I couldn’t sing a note. She was so good at what she did, I did not realize until years later that I could not sing.

  27. 

    This was so informative! I hang around with singers and sing enough myself (in community choruses and occasionally community theater) to know the basic ranges, but the nuances were new to me and I didn’t really understand the difference between “lyric” and “dramatic.” I’m loving your blog and look forward to following your journey.

  28. 

    Hi Charlotte. You don’t have to convince me! My mother sang light opera, and when I majored in piano performance I was (by association with my fellow students) indoctrinated into the world of opera. Loved it from the first minute! I took a friend of mine to see an opera once, knowing she would love it too as she was a vocalist at our church. She loved the costumes, the drama, the sound. But when she asked me what language they were singing in, and I told her English, she was surprised. She couldn’t understand a single thing they sang. It was funny. I remember my mother talking to me about enunciation when singing, but since I was so used to it, I never realized until that moment that the more you listen to opera, the better your ear becomes at discernment. Thanks for this great blog.

  29. 

    Hi Charlotte. So nice to meet you and thank you for calling by and liking my poem ‘ Halloween!’ I find your post so interesting it is really nice to meet an opera singer I love most types of music Some opera prefer light opera. Classical music especially Handel and celtic music. I prefer writing my poetry. Love to see you perform but I live in the Uk. So I hope you will post some exerts from the shows. May I wish you well. Best Wishes. The Foureyed Poet.

  30. 

    Dr Napolean Hill in “Think & Grow Rich” has this to say: “Whatever the mind of man can CONCEIVE & BELIEVE, IT CAN ACHIEVE.”

  31. 

    Absolutely fascinated to learn this! Great post, Charlottle, and a great unique and different blog. Congrats!

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