How to Become an Opera Singer

By TACP Staff on August 18th, 2019

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Opera singers are classically trained vocal professionals who have mastered the art of acting and stage presence. On stage, the opera performer must sing over a full orchestra which is a highly-specialized skill involving an understanding of fundamental frequencies and their acoustic powers; elevated harmonics and resonance tuning.

1. Getting Started in the Opera

Opera singers are extraordinarily disciplined. Performances are generally performed in dedicated opera houses, often in prestigious cities around the world. Opera singers perform both live and recorded pieces. These works combine a musical score and a libretto, or text, and are typically accompanied by an orchestra. The live performances incorporate stage acting, costumes, scenery, and often dancing.

The traditional opera season lasts from about September through May. For singers who are booked with a show, their workday generally begins very early and can last well into the evening, with performance days often extending late into the night. They will have already memorized the entire opera before rehearsals even begin. When a performance is cast, the entire group begins with a run-through of the piece. They spend the next two to three weeks staging the opera. During the fourth week, called tech week, they move into the theater and practice the piece in costume for the first time, perfecting each note and each step using props and lighting. After that, opera singers will have one entire run-through with the orchestra, plus two dress rehearsals before the actual performances begin.

If a singer isn’t currently booked into an opera, that doesn’t mean they can afford to take time off. Opera singing is completely entrepreneurial, which means you must constantly be auditioning for new parts. Opera singers without current gigs spend their days taking voice lessons, practicing for recitals, attending performances, and learning musical pieces to use in future shows.

Typical Traits & Qualities of Successful Opera Singers

The most successful opera singers are driven, work well with other people, love to learn, and are self-motivated. Self-care is very important in this job, so healthy eating and exercise must be priorities. Great opera singers are versatile as well, and able to roll with adversity and adapt and overcome problems with good humor. Above all, it’s important for opera singers to always look for ways to improve. If a school doesn’t offer a class that’s needed for a particular part or show, finding an independent tutor to teach what needs to be learned is the usual course of action in order to be considered for a role.

Opera singers come from all over the world, and the great centers of opera are in countries around the globe, so as you advance in your career and gain a reputation in the world of opera, the more likely it is that travel will be a big part of your career.

2. Master the Fundamentals of Music, Language and Performance

Opera singers start training when they’re very young. High school is generally considered a late start into the profession. This is one reason why opera is often considered more of a calling than a career. During elementary and high school, budding opera singers should join glee club and take private voice lessons.  It’s also important to experiment with different types of music and genres within the field of music.

As part of a bachelor’s of music degree, many colleges and universities offer majors in opera, vocal performance or vocal study. An audition is usually required for entrance into a music school. Curriculum at this level typically includes a focus on stage and performance skills. Classes include vocal pedagogy, repertoire, and a vigorous focus on languages, including German, French, English, Spanish, and Italian.  In addition, you should take dance classes, theater classes, and even improv lessons.  Students will also participate in choral or ensemble performances and recitals, and workshops as part of their degree requirements.

Graduates who choose to continue their vocal training and education may enter a master of music in vocal performance and doctor of musical arts in voice performance and pedagogy or another closely-related degree field.  Coursework builds on concepts and skills learned in the bachelor’s of music program. A recital or final paper may be required for graduation.

European study is also important for opera singers, so study abroad options should be one of the considerations when choosing a school. Not only is Europe the home of opera, living in a different country allows individuals to grow and learn a different way of life and performance style. Broadening your viewpoint to include people from around the world adds value as a singer when applying to opera companies.

3. Build Experience & Continue Vocal Improvement

Amassing experience is the best way to learn and advance as an opera singer. Participating in as many performances as possible while in school, in community theater, in local choruses, etc., can all benefit a budding opera singer’s career. Opera houses often offer apprenticeship programs to opera students who are still attending school and for those who have already graduated. Once accepted, singers undergo intense training and opportunities to perform. Apprenticeships also provide exposure and invaluable experience.

Aspiring opera singers can also look for a Young Artists Programs. These programs are a bridge between the academic and professional opera worlds. Opera singers taking advantage of these programs are generally in their 20’s and early 30’s. They are in-residence programs that pay a salary to sing small background roles or serve as understudies for larger roles.

Networking is always at the top of the list of activities for acquiring more work. A contact you made five years ago can turn into an audition for a performance if the person in charge remembers you fondly as someone who works hard and takes direction well. Being a hard worker who’s willing to go the extra mile will earn you much respect in the business.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, (BLS) employment for singers (in general) is projected to grow only three percent between 2014 and 2024, which is much slower than average for all career fields. That said, opera is a specialized area within the general realm of singing, and there will always be fans who will pay to see a great opera. This is true also in Europe and elsewhere, so opera singers with talent, contacts and a stellar reputation in the field will always find work.

Helpful Organizations & Resources for Opera Singers

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