Opera has long been condoned as one of the most difficult styles of singing to master, often because of the large levels of volume that your body has to produce in order to sing over the orchestra since it joins theatrics and classical singing together. Singers train extensively to learn how to utilize their sound and broaden their vocal range.
If you have ever been to an opera house and heard an opera singer, you may have considered becoming or learning how to be an opera singer yourself. It may not be easy to study opera, so here is a helpful beginner’s guide with some tips, tricks, and essential steps that can aid in getting you started singing opera.
FOUNDATION AND FUNDAMENTALS OF SINGING OPERA
The most important thing in developing your operatic voice is having a solid foundation in classical singing. Classical singers often have to focus on certain aspects of their voice including breathing and breath support, intonation, and vocal strength/stamina. It may first help to hear some of the great opera singers, and listen to their powerful voices, such as Franco Corelli, Andrea Bocelli, Luciano Pavarotti, Maria Callas, and Anna Netrebko.
Immerse yourself in the versatile world of opera music. Watch videos of their performances and learn how they present themselves on the opera stage; musical theatre is usually a large part of the performance, so it’s not enough to just have a beautiful voice – you need to know how to use it.
Singing high notes with power in vocal performance is the key to singing opera well, and to properly use this technique, it is best practiced by first finding your voice type and vocal range, often with the help of the right teacher and extensive training with voice lessons.
WHY TAKE VOICE LESSONS TO LEARN OPERA?
Vocal coaches often have singers start with warm-ups, and this is no different in learning opera. Warming up the vocal cords is the best way to do multiple things with your voice, and help to prepare yourself to sing for long periods of time without causing any harm. There are many things that a voice teacher or vocal coach can help you with your training:
1 – You will learn your voice type (Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Baritone, Bass) based on the extent of your vocal range, or your lowest note to your highest note.
2 – You will learn the proper vocal technique so that you can sing powerfully without strain, because a voice teacher can offer you tools to help you improve your voice overall, with a focus on trouble areas that you may have.
3 – You will learn how to read sheet music. You don’t have to learn how to sight-read perfectly or have perfect pitch in singing chords but you will probably do some courses with your teacher in basic music theory and how to recognize certain notes, key signatures, rests, and rhythms.
4 – You will learn how to identify your own difficulties in your singing technique and how to troubleshoot them for operatic singing, such as learning how to control vibrato, air, and even your mind, helping them all to work together in tandem for a performance.
Having the ability to pinpoint trouble spots in music and work on them is a great way to improve and turn your good voice into a beautiful one. Most people cannot do this on their own, or do it well on their own, so having an expert in the operatic field, such as for example, working with a professional opera singer or opera instructor if given the opportunity, is a great way to master this challenging style.
FOREIGN LANGUAGES AND CLASSICAL TECHNIQUES
Another important key to becoming a pro opera singer, or singing on an opera stage is through learning another language. Many famous operas are performed in Italian, German, and French. It is important to do some training in learning the basics of phonetics for those languages in order to perform opera songs well.
Having an American or English accent when singing in another language is to be avoided; telling the story of the opera in its own language is important and what makes some of the best opera singers. You don’t necessarily have to commit to learning or becoming fluent in another language, since that can turn into a long process, but learning certain aspects like diction and shaping of the vowels is essential.
Studying classical music and classical technique is where you want to put your focus in your voice lessons. Classical art songs are a great place to start because you can easily master the shorter songs before trying any long operas. The shorter classical songs can help you in building your stamina to reach that high level of strength for a bigger performance.
One type of operatic-style singing that is learned by most opera singers is known as ‘Bel Canto’ or “beautiful singing” in Italian opera. It was noted as an actual school of singing by the late 19th century when it was recognized as its own type of singing by writers because it was used by many singers in the late 18th and 19th centuries. The vocal style focuses on more legato phrasing and evenness of tone, used many times by male singers on stage.
Bel Canto singing encompasses:
- Using accent and emphasis, as well as matching register and tonal quality to the emotion of the words – used typically in musical theatre today.
- Varied use of legato and staccato, inserting pauses for more emphasis.
- Varies use of tempo for both quickening and slowing of time.
- Gesturing to enhance the vocal delivery, and strong vibrato to heighten words and hold notes.
The main thing when it comes to learning how to sing well and keep your strength in the music world is by practicing vocal health. Learning to sing opera can take a toll on your vocal cords and when working on that difficult Italian opera, you have to be sure that you’re not causing any harm in your practice. Voice teachers can help you learn how to take care of your musical instrument – because yes, your voice is still an instrument and it needs proper care.
The fact of the matter is, if you don’t have good vocal health, you won’t be able to sing well or improve your vocal performance. You need to be sure to take care of yourself both inside and outside, to sustain your operatic voice.
When working with an instructor or taking master classes in operatic style singing you can work extensively on your breathing techniques, learn tips for how to hold out higher notes with power, and try your hand at a vocal performance in opera, either in practice rooms or on the stage, when you feel confident enough.
The human voice is a powerful tool and must be nurtured, and working with a specialized opera instructor to learn to sing opera like some of the greats can be an incredible opportunity. With hard work and lots of practice, you might find yourself at the Metropolitan opera house someday, performing your story on stage.