Recently, a WikiHow article entitled “How to Sing Opera” has been making the rounds on all my friends' timelines --- mainly for the purpose of making fun of and/or expressing outrage its hysterically oversimplified and often incorrect or incomplete advice, not to mention the creepy anime style illustrations.
It's not all bad advice --- the 15 authors did "source" their material from a lot of reputable writers on the topic, including Claudia Friedlander, Classical Singer Magazine, and, well, yours truly, if I can be considered reputable. But it's just pieced together, general info without any substance or real understanding behind it, and it was apparently written by people who have no understanding of opera, the voice, or vocal training; and who, quite frankly, are terrible writers. I’m not all that familiar with WikiHow, but it appears to be the sort of thing where any moron with internet access can edit an article --- no expertise required. It’s a “collaborative writing project”. What does this tell us? It tells us that if you take advice from WikiHow, you get what you deserve.
So, for your reading pleasure, I'm taking my red pen to this mess; and my friends and colleagues over on the New New Forum for Classical Singers (yes, it’s a thing, 3000 members and counting, READ THE DESCRIPTION before you ask to join, you have been warned) have gleefully contributed memes. I’m only publishing the cleaner ones. If you want the good stuff, you’ll have to join the FaceBook page.
"Whether you want to become a professional opera singer or you just want to sing as a hobby, practicing the art of opera can improve your singing voice."
Um, maybe. If it's done correctly, sure, you can improve your singing voice. If you try to learn to sing opera from ... oh, I don't know, some article on the internet, or a DIY recorded "method", chances are you're going to screw up your singing voice pretty seriously.
Learning and perfecting any skill requires a lot of practice (DUH), but the results will be worth all of the hard work you put into learning to sing opera. Again --- maybe. See above.
PART I - LEARNING ABOUT OPERA
Familiarize yourself with classical singing. Establishing good general singing technique can help you succeed in all genres of vocal music. Actually, without a good technique, you are unlikely to have much success in singing ANY genre. You may want to read the Wikihow article on classical singing. I'll save you some time --- if you're serious about learning how to sing, skip the article and go find a good teacher.
Listen to opera recordings. Familiarizing yourself with the way opera sounds will help you be successful. In fact, if you don't know how opera is supposed to sound, it is highly unlikely that you will be successful at singing it. Was this written by a monkey?
Look for videos or audio clips online, purchase a CD recording of a famous opera performance, or check your local library for recordings of operas. OK, so far, so good. It's a wonderful idea to listen to the great singers and to compare their sounds and techniques. Just don’t try to imitate. There are right and wrong ways to sing, and good singing starts from the inside. You won’t sing well if all you do is imitate others singers without understanding why and how they do what they do.
Be sure to look for videotapes or DVDs as well as CDs. Seeing other singers’ posture and faces will help you learn about the body language that is expected of an opera singer. Whahuh? There is no special "body language" that is "expected" of an opera singer. There are optimum embouchures for singing, which depend on a wide variety of factors; and there is good posture; and there is ACTING. Baritone claw is an unfortunate side effect, not a requirement.
Attend live opera performances. Watching videos can help, but there is nothing quite like going to a live performance to truly experience opera. Most big cities have opera performances seasonally, if not year-around. I'm not sure that "most" big cities have live opera, but a lot of them do, and this remark otherwise gets an A+.
Learn about common operatic languages. Many operas are in other languages, and being familiar with the language often makes the singing come more naturally to you. No, sugar bear. Being "familiar" with the language does not "often" make the singing come more naturally to you. If you want to sing opera either as a professional or as a serious hobbyist, you must have a working knowledge at minimum of Italian, German, and French. That means you have to understand the basic grammatical structure of each of these languages and have enough vocabulary to be able to translate your own scores. (Using the Nico translations exclusively doesn't count --- they're a tool, not a substitute for doing your own translation). You must know what every single word you're singing means, and what every single word your scene partner is singing means. You also must have creditable diction in the language you sing in. You must understand the cadence and flow of the language. Otherwise, nothing you do will make it sound natural or authentic.
Operas are often in Italian, German, or French. Yep. Also English, Czech, Russian, and Spanish. Get to work, bitches.
Know the most popular operas. You need to be conversant about the most commonly performed operas. Familiarize yourself with the music, composer, and basic performance histories of the most famous operas. But not just the most "popular". It's important to know those to be a well-educated professional or fan, but as a pro or dedicated hobbyist you also need to know opera history and a wide variety of literature.
Determine your vocal range. If you plan to market your talent, you will need to know how to identify yourself as a singer. Yes, eventually. But #1, your "vocal range" is not your voice type or Fach --- it is one of the many factors in determining Fach and not even the most important one. #2, figuring out your Fach can be quite complicated and it is not something beginning singers need to worry about. First, learn to sing. Then, figure out what you sing well and what people want to hear from you. For a professional singer, quite frankly, the market will decide what your Fach is.
Opera singers are often categorized as soprano, mezzo-soprano, contralto, tenor, countertenor, baritone, and bass. "Often"? As opposed to what? The monkey should lose a banana for that sentence.
Learn how to read music. If you do not know how to read music, you may need to learn, especially if you plan to sing professionally. Let me see if I can put this in a way even people who are taking vocal advice from WikiHow can understand. The word "may" does not belong in the previous sentence. Unless you are Pavarotti, you effin' need to know how to read music. You can get away with musical illiteracy if you're in a church choir. Anything above that and you won't get far without knowing the cornerstone of your craft.
PREPARING TO TRAIN YOUR VOICE
Learn about breathing and posture. OK! Good idea! Where? Maybe from ... a qualified teacher?
Before you sing your first note, you may want to work on your breathing and posture. Taking very deep breaths is a necessary skill for singing opera, and a relaxed but upright posture is important for effective vocal delivery. Hmmm ... so all I have to do is breathe deeply, stand up straight, and not get tense? That sounds so EASY! But when I take those deep breaths, I get really tired from my shoulders jumping up to my ears and from my rib cage slamming up and down! In fact, all this deep breathing is making me dizzy! And on the videos I watched, that soprano was lying on a couch with her head hanging off the end while she sang high notes. SHE didn't have an upright posture. WHAT DO I DO NEXT, WIKIHOW?
Break any habits such as “sucking in” your stomach or holding tension in your throat as you breathe. But how? What if you can’t get a sound out without sucking in your stomach? What if you can only hit high notes if your throat is tense” WHAT AM I DOING WRONG, WIKIHOW?
Practice taking deep breaths first slowly and then more quickly without introducing tension in the throat or abdomen. But when I do that, I can't sustain a pitch. You're letting me down, here, Wikihow! Also, is it required operatic body language to put my hand on my chest and close my eyes while singing? 'Cause that's what all your illustrations show.
Look, these bits of “advice” are meaningless without a thorough understanding of vocal anatomy, support, and breath. But where can you learn those things? Wikihow to the rescue!
Find a good vocal trainer. Or as we call them in the opera world, voice teachers. The best way to learn to sing to the best of your ability is to hire a qualified vocal trainer. Voice teacher, dammit. She will be able to work with you one-on-one to make you the best singer you can be. Assuming she actually is qualified, and is the right teacher for you.
Find a professional coach. Great idea! Every singer needs to coach with someone who knows language, style, performance practice ... oh, wait. We're still talking about "vocal trainers", right? In other words, voice teachers? Musical theater and pop singers refer to their teachers as vocal coaches, but in opera, there is a different between a voice teacher (from whom you learn vocal technique) and vocal coaches (from whom you learn just about everything BUT specifics of technique).
Amateur voice coaches may be more affordable, but they may not give you the same results (there's that word "may" again!) and they could even harm your vocal chords. What are vocal chords? Unless you're a Tuvan throat singer, you're not going to be able to sing chords. Perhaps you mean vocal cords, or as they're more properly called, vocal folds. It's true that your vocal folds can be damaged by bad technique, although it doesn't happen overnight and quite honestly, it takes a great deal of abuse to seriously damage your cords, unless you're unhealthy. The most common outcome of studying with a bad teacher is that you will just learn really crappy technique.
Use the same vocal coach that professional opera singers in your area use. News flash: unless you live in or near New York City, or another major city and musical hub, the professionals who happen to live in your area probably don't study there. Some of 'em do. Most of 'em don't. Also, all the professionals in your area do not use the same teacher. If they did, that teacher would probably be too busy to take on a beginner.
That way, you know the coach is good. No, no, you don't. While having a number of successful professional singers in the studio is one indication of being a good teacher, it's not the only one and it doesn't mean that person will be good for a beginner. Sometimes, teachers develop a reputation and end up teaching pros who have learned the bulk of their technique elsewhere. Sometimes, people talk a good game and don't have the goods to back it up. Sometimes, they really are amazing, knowledgeable teachers who attract a lot of successful students. A beginner doesn't have the perspective to know the difference between someone who really knows their stuff and just talks a good game. Finding the right teacher is a process.
The best way to find a good teacher is to find singers you admire and find out who they work with. You cannot assume that because someone teaches at a big university or conservatory, or is famous, that they are good teachers. They may be, but they may not. Talk to singers who work with them. Find out where those singers are working, whether they’re winning competitions, getting into YAPs. Ask to book a trial lesson (for which you should assume you’ll pay) with the teacher. Have a few lessons and see how you like working with that teacher. Evaluate your progress regularly. Your relationship with your voice teacher is highly personal and it’s important that you work with someone who not only knows what they’re doing, but “clicks” with you and believes in you.
She also may be able to introduce you to other people in the opera world. True enough.
If you use an online database or a website to find a coach, be sure to read reviews or testimonials. Better yet, research the singers whose technique you admire and who are singing consistently, and find out who their teachers are. If those are not available, contact the voice coach and ask her for a few references. Yes, by all means, cold call Bill Schumann or Mark Oswald or Inci Bashar and ask them for references. I am sure that will go over well. No, no, my little sugar bears. We do not contact prominent voice teachers or coaches and ask them for references. We do our research. We try to find someone to introduce us. We book a trial lesson which we fully expect to pay for. We see whether we like working with the teacher and whether the teacher likes working with us. If it's a good fit and the teacher has room in his or her studio, perhaps we may continue.
You can use online databases, but other ways to find teachers include:
- Calling your local university, conservatory, or opera company and ask for recommendations.
- Looking up your local chapter of NATS (National Association of Teachers of Singing). They may have a list of local teachers you can try.
Do not use a vocal trainer who pushes your voice too hard. A voice coach who pushes you or your voice too hard can cause damage. While this is technically true, it’s very general. Someone who teaches you bad technique can damage your voice or make it very difficult to unravel the bad technique. It takes a great deal of dedication and time to unlearn bad vocal habits and to rehabilitate an injured voice.
If you often find that your voice is sore, let your teacher know right away. Your voice cannot be sore. Your voice is a sound. Your throat, on the other hand, can be sore. However, if singing hurts, you should stop right away and you should certainly let your teacher know.
This helps her know where you are comfortable and where in your range to work. No. This helps her to know that you're doing something wrong, or that you're sick or injured. Upon further investigation, it helps her to figure out whether you should continue at the moment at all; or if you need medical treatment or a special series of corrective exercises. Your physical comfort may play a part in determining the correct course of action but if you are in pain when you sing, continuing to sing in a range that is not painful does nothing to solve the problem.
If your voice is consistently sore, then it's possible that you're singing too high or too low, out of your core range. By "core range", I assume they mean tessitura. And if you're working with a teacher who knows what he or she is doing, you're not going to be assigned pieces that are in the wrong tessitura for your current abilities. If you consistently experience pain when you sing, there is something seriously wrong with you medically, or with your technique, and it's a lot more complicated that singing too high or too low.
Sign up for a group class. A more affordable way to work with a voice coach would be to find an opera singing class. Check with local music schools. If there isn’t a class, suggest one and recruit a few other people to ensure that the class “makes.” I've never heard of an "opera singing class" but there's a first time for everything. When I was on faculty at St. Edward's University, I taught a Fundamentals of Voice class, and such classes can indeed be a good first step for beginners. But classes can only teach you the basics. If you're harboring a hope of singing professionally, or getting to the point where you can sing roles with a community theater, there is no way around private lessons.
Use vocal training software. If you can’t afford a vocal coach or if you aren’t available to take lessons during normal business hours, consider using vocal training software. Please don't. It's a complete waste of your time and money. You need live feedback from a qualified teacher to learn to sing properly. There is no shortcut.
Be sure you have all of the necessary equipment to use the software: at a minimum, a computer, a microphone, and speakers. A voice teacher is a much more necessary “piece of equipment”. But if you’re naïve or stupid enough to think you can learn to sing from a computer program, you probably need to be told to assemble all the necessary components before you begin.
The software will “listen” to you sing and help you learn to sing on pitch. It may also help you learn to read music. You might learn to match pitch with such a program, but it is highly unlikely that you will not learn to produce that pitch in a technically sound way. And while the software may help you learn to read music --- and it's fine to use software for that --- that is a different skill set than learning to sing.
Teach yourself how to sing. Terrible plan. Sing for fun if you want to, mimic what you hear on recordings if you enjoy it, but do not fool yourself into thinking this is learning how to sing.
While this definitely not the best way to learn, teaching yourself is an option, particularly if you do not wish to become a professional opera singer. No. No it's not. Unless the only place you want to sing is in the shower and you don't really care about technique or, you know, doing things the right way.
(Note: some voice experts say that you should never try to sing opera without a trained voice teacher.) That's because you need a trained ear AND eye to evaluate and help you learn to distinguish correct and healthy technique. You cannot learn this from software or a book.
Continue listening to opera and try to mimic what you hear. This is a TERRIBLE idea. Your body will do its best to do what you ask it to do. It'll find the easiest, most efficient way to do it. But your body doesn't have an opinion about vocal aesthetics. It won't necessarily find the healthiest or best way to produce the sound you want to make. Also, it takes some time and experience to develop perspective about your own singing. What singing sounds like outside your body and what it sounds like from inside your body are two different things. If you want to learn to sing properly, you have to learn the difference, and you won't just by listening.
Videotape yourself singing and watch it, paying attention to your posture, breathing, and pitch. This can be a good tool, but how will you judge your success?
Be very careful not to push yourself too hard and damage your voice. How will you, a beginning singer, determine what is damaging to your voice? How do you know how much is too much?
Singing smoothly and avoiding notes that seem to hurt your throat will help maintain your vocal health. What does it mean to sing smoothly? If the writer means legato, which is necessary for healthy, proper, and beautiful singing, that takes excellent support and breath control to execute. And if singing certain notes hurts your throat, you've got a technical or medical problem. As an opera singer, it's not possible to only sing certain notes. Singing opera requires command over your entire range.
TRAINING YOUR VOICE FOR OPERA
Practice your singing posture. You should sing standing, keep your head facing forward, keep your jaw loose (not jutting out or pulled back), and try not to tilt you head up or down. Because we only ever have to sing standing up straight and looking forward. Seriously, beginners should practice while standing until they establish good support and breathing --- then it's fine to sit down. But opera is also stagework, and you need to learn to sing in all kinds of positions.
Experiment with how wide you should open your mouth. You want your voice to resonate in your mouth, and it needs to be wide enough to let the sound out, but not so wide that you lose articulation of the words. Actually, what you want to do is maximize the acoustical advantage, depending on where you are in your range and what vowel you're singing on. It's true that you don't want to exaggerate how open or closed the mouth is while singing, but when you're singing words it will constantly be in motion. Your lips and jaws must be facile enough to pronounce words clearly without interfering with your legato.
Recording yourself singing with different mouth openness can help you evaluate your volume if you can’t tell while you are singing. Whahuh? While your voice may be a muffled if you close your mouth while phonating, volume is more a function of how you use your breath than how open your mouth is. Also, the term you're looking for is embouchure, not "mouth openness". You just lost another banana, writer.
Train your ear for pitch. The embellishments of opera—as well as the demanding music—require you to be able to make very minute variations in pitch. Yep. Singing in tune and singing all the notes is pretty essential. We don't go in much for Autotune in the classical arena.
You need to have very good relative pitch if you wish to sing opera. Yep. You need to understand the relationship between notes in order to sing.
If you can develop perfect (or nearly perfect) pitch, you will be more successful. Nope. You can't develop perfect pitch. You either have it or you don't. Perfect pitch (absolute pitch) is a specific term which refers to the ability to produce a named note, or name a produced note, without a reference. What the monkey writer probably means is developing what musicians call a "good ear" -- among other things, the ability to tell whether you're in tune or not. This can take years of training, so it’s a goal to work towards: don’t get frustrated if it doesn’t come easily.
Vocal training software can help you identify and even visualize your singing pitch. Yes. But again, this is not vocal training --- this is musicianship and it is a different skill set.
Learn to sing a trill. OK. While an accomplished singer should be able to trill, it's not really one of the first things I'd worry about when learning to sing. I'd start with vocal anatomy, breath, support, embouchure, pure vowels ... trills would be pretty far down the list.
A trill is a quick alternation between two notes. To sing an effective trill, be sure you can sing each note with good pitch and tone. To sing effectively period, make sure you can sing with good pitch and tone.
Trill notes are often a half or a full step apart. Often? How about always?
The trill indicates an increase in emotion --- maybe, maybe not --- and shows off vocal mastery.
Learn the art of coloratura. Coloratura is one of the defining elements of opera. Yes. Wagner and Verdi and Puccini are just full of coloratura. No coloratura, no career.
It is the inclusion of special vocal improvisations within a musical piece. This may include scales, trills, arpeggios, and appoggiatura. Um, no it's not. Coloratura simply means florid vocal lines --- many rapid notes. While it's certainly possible to improvise coloratura, much of it is composed.
A scale is an ascending set of pitches. A scale is any set of musical notes ordered by fundamental frequency or pitch. It can be ascending or descending.
An arpeggio is when the notes of a chord are articulated, being sung one after another instead of all at once. Appoggiatura is a vocal embellishment where the singer begins with the “wrong” note (a different pitch than is required) but then slides her voice into the correct pitch—commonly thought of as a dissonance that resolves in a consonance. Appoggiature differ in style depending on the period when the music was written; but most often they take the form of a nonchordal or nonharmonic tone, usually a half step above or below the main pitch.
Sing every day. Opera singing requires a great deal of stamina. By practicing every day, your voice will get used to being used frequently and you will condition yourself to the hard work of opera. Rather, sing regularly and sing correctly. Otherwise you're just reinforcing bad habits. There are different types of practicing, too --- you can work specifically on technique, you can study language and work on diction, you can study music, you can work on interpretation. Practice sessions are not one size fits all.
You may not want to practice if you are sick, particularly if you have a lot of nasal drainage. The mucous could irritate your vocal cords. If you’ve got drainage, it’s going on your cords one way or another. Drink a lot of water and don’t do a lot of strenuous singing; but some isn’t going to hurt and can be very helpful. Professional singers perform when they’re sick all the day, and you have to learn to get through it. If you get hoarse or can’t phonate, don't sing. Otherwise, as long as it doesn't hurt, you're good to go.
Take the opportunity to practice informally too—for example, put on an opera CD in your car and sing along with it during your commute. This may not be a substitute for a more formal practice, but it will help. It will not help your vocal technique and will, unless you're careful and know what you're doing, encourage bad habits, especially if you’re singing in the car. If you want to sing along do it for fun or to help you memorize, but don't consider it to be part of your technical practice.
Record yourself practicing. Particularly if you are not working with a teacher, you need to get used to listening to your own singing and giving yourself constructive feedback. Listen for breathing, pitch, pronunciation, and tension in your voice. It's a great idea to record your voice lessons and even your practice sessions, but if you don't have the education and perspective to understand what you're hearing, it won't do much good. Self-recording is not a substitute for working with a teacher.
Sing from your core. Great! What does that mean?
Using your core muscles, rather than just singing in your throat, will help you sing louder and develop your stamina. Actually, if you don't support properly and "just sing in your throat" you're going to have a lot more problems than volume and stamina. You won't be able to sustain a line. You'll have problems negotiating your range smoothly and with hitting high notes.
Your core muscles are the most important muscles for opera singing, and you may want to strengthen them as part of your practice regimen. Well, great --- but what do you mean by core muscles, WikiHow? That's not a scientific term. (But at least you didn't advise singing "from the diaphragm"). In fact, most singers and teachers use the term "core" to refer to the abdominal muscles. And yes, they need to be strong, but not rigid. You don't "sing from" them so much as you use them for support, to control the speed and intensity of the breath. And how do you strengthen those pesky core muscles anyway? Sounds like a job for a software program voice trainer vocal coach voice teacher.
Master your breathing. Deep breathing is important in opera singing. So vague, for a concept that is rather sophisticated.
So is singing staccato notes, which require quick stops of breath. This is like saying “Heat is important for baking” with no further elucidation.
Having full control of your breathing will help you be more successful with singing. Yes, having good breath control will help you be more successful with your singing, in the same way that breathing regularly will help you be more successful with staying alive.
Practice without a microphone. Unlike other types of singers, opera singers do not use microphones; instead, they learn how to amplify their voice so that it delivers clearly over a large space. True.
Find an acoustically appropriate practice space: a small room may cause you to limit your volume. But volume is relative, and isn’t especially important to a beginner. Being able to project your voice well is a function of good support, and understanding the acoustics of singing from the inside out --- how to use your mouth space, jaw, tongue, etc. If you sing exclusively in small spaces like practice rooms, you may develop a skewed perspective about projection and production, but it’s fine to work in small spaces regularly.
Try to increase your volume without straining your voice. What is this obsession with volume? How about just working on developing a good technique so that you can sing without strain?
Moving the source of your breath and song from your throat down into your core will help increase your volume. Let’s just call this what it is --- meaningless bullshit. You can’t “move the source of your breath”, and moving the “source of your song” is just nonsense. What does that even mean? You inhale through your nose or mouth, the air fills your lungs, your lungs expand, your rib cage opens, your diaphragm moves down and flattens out, and all the organs of your abdomen move down and out slightly to make room. You counter this movement with specific control of the abdominal muscles, keeping the rib cage open and the abs gently expanded while you sing. And that, children, is the nickel tour of support. Proper support and breath control, combined with an understanding of acoustics as related to your own voice, the use of the mouth, jaw and tongue, and the vowels and pitches your singing on, are how you change volume.
Consider singing outdoors or in a very large room. Practicing outdoors is not a good idea for a beginner. Without hard surfaces nearby for the sound waves to bounce back on, you can easily develop a habit of trying to “fill” the space and end up oversinging. The same is true of a big hall --- a rookie mistake young singers frequently make is trying to change the size of their voice to fit the hall instead of just singing “with their own voice”. Learning the difference requires perspective --- yours, and a teacher’s. In learning to sing, it’s much more important to learn how it FEELS to sing well than how you think it SOUNDS to sing well, because listening to yourself can be deceptive. You hear yourself differently than others do.
Develop effective practice habits. Begin by focusing and breathing, then set goals for the day’s practice. This is good advice, as far as it goes.
Be sure to warm up your voice fully before attempting to sing notes at the top or bottom end of your range. I would just say, be sure to warm up your voice fully before you attempt to sing repertoire.
You may find that your voice is different in the morning. Consider practicing later in the day. Yes, because there’s no such thing as a 10 a.m. dress rehearsal, she said sarcastically. How about you learn to be a real singer and work with your voice in the state you find it, any time of day? When you stayed up late the night before , or don’t feel well, or just got bad news? When you’ve got a cold or allergies and have just had a major visit from the Phlegm Phairy? As a professional singer, you’re going to have to deal with all of those. You don’t get to just sing when the stars align. Don’t be a fussy singer. Fussy singers are constantly worried and unhappy with the state of their voices. Learn how to manage your issues and learn how to work with the voice you have under the best of circumstances or the worst. That’s what a professional singer does.
DECIDING HOW TO USE YOUR TALENT
Become a professional singer. You may decide that you want to become a professional opera singer if you have a very good voice, great tone, and good pitch. Do these people get an extra nickel every time they wantonly insert the word “may”? You MAY decide you want to be a professional opera singer if you’ve got a good voice, but “great tone” --- what does that even mean? Does it mean a unique vocal timbre? That’s helpful, but not essential. “Good pitch”, by which I assume the writer means being able to sing in tune, is pretty much an essential. But these are the basics. You need to have a solid and dependable vocal technique. You need a strong grasp of languages, music history and theory, performance practice, history and literature, curiosity, perseverance, a thick skin, and luck. You need business savvy. You need to understand how to develop your brand and market yourself. And a few other things. Like, I don’t know, acting skills.
You may want to develop your acting skills alongside your singing. Or not. If, you know, you don’t care about being a real artist, communicating with your audience, and having something original to say about the work. If you can even get hired, standing there like an expressionless lump and flapping your lips.
Find out where auditions are being held. Okay. Is there a Wikihow for this? Is this the next step after you’ve finished working through your “vocal training software”? How do you know which auditions you’re ready for? Even if you know about services like YAPTRacker , Opera America, and the Classical Singer listings, all of which are great places to get started finding auditions, one of the biggest mistakes inexperienced singers make is not researching opera companies and other singers to determine whether they fit into the business at this stage of their development. There are plenty of delusional singers sending their empty resumes in to the Met because their “vocal trainers” told them they were the next big thing. Learn your craft AND learn your business, people.
Be sure you know what you are expected to have prepared for the audition and be ready to perform your best. If you’re a professional singer, unless you are auditioning for a training program, YAP, or competition, you won’t be required to sing anything in particular. And isn’t “be ready to perform your best” kind of a no brainer? If you have to be told that, you’re not ready to do ANY audition, let alone a professional one.
Consider moving to an area where opera is very popular and more opera singing jobs are offered. This may mean relocating to a large city or even to another country. Are there cities where opera is VERY popular and does that correspond to more jobs for singers? Not so much. Opera is a freelance gig. If you have a Fest contract in Germany, you may stay put and work at one company in one city for a while, but even Fest singers guest at other companies from time to time. In the US, there is only one fully resident opera company. Professional soloists travel all over the world to work.
Find a community theatre. While community theatres may not host opera productions frequently, they will likely host several musical theatre productions each year. By host, I assume they mean produce; and it’s highly unlikely that a community theater will produce opera, unless it is a Gilbert & Sullivan Society. However, they certainly do produce musical theater.
Consider trying out for a part in an upcoming musical—you may even get free vocal coaching from the music director for being in the cast. This is a good recommendation. Community theater is a great way for young singers to get stage experience and put a few credits on their resumes. However, if by “vocal coaching” you mean technical advice, be very careful who you take it from. A community theater musical director may or may not be a qualified voice teacher and his or her advice may or may not correspond with your teacher’s.
Become a vocal coach. If you love to be around singing and singers but don’t want to sing professionally, consider training to become a vocal coach. You can help teach other aspiring singers how to use their voices beautifully. If you want to be a professional voice teacher, you yourself have to be able to sing well and have a good understanding of the business. If you want to be a vocal coach in the operatic sense, you need to be an ace pianist, specialize in at least one foreign language but be intimately acquainted with the diction rules of all the major operatic tongues, understand history, style, and performance practice, be very familiar with a great deal of operatic literature, and also know quite a lot about voices.
So, why get in a lather over a silly little article like this, anyway? Because somewhere, right now, there is a thirteen year old kid who saw Phantom of the Opera or heard a Jackie Evancho concert or whose aunt took him to see the kiddie matinee of The Magic Flute, and now he wants to sing himself. Or there’s a young woman who has heard it on the radio and thinks it’s beautiful, and dreams of wearing the beautiful dresses and making those beautiful sounds herself. Maybe these people have some talent. Maybe they even possess really good voices, voices of operatic quality. Maybe with the proper training and guidance, they could achieve their dreams. But there is a lot of very bad advice about singing out there, and it is easy to be misled. A good voice teacher’s heart breaks a little every time a good voice that has been ruined with bad teaching walks into the studio; because it’s very hard to reverse and most people frankly don’t have the time, money, or patience to do the remedial work that needs to be done to retrain. There is also a lot of bad advice about how to go about having a career. It’s not a straight, one-size-fits-all path. It requires a lot of research, networking, and elbow grease.
If you REALLY want to research how to be an opera singer, skip the Wikihow article and go right to its sources. Or help inform yourself by reading blogs and publications like these:
Tenor Talk (Jack LiVigni)
The Liberated Voice
Once More With Feeling
Kashu-do: The Way of the Singer
Classical Singer Magazine
Opera America Publications
The Sybaritic Singer
The Business of Singing
There aren’t any shortcuts to becoming an opera singer. It’s a difficult and rewarding career. If you’re interested, take the time to educate yourself and do it right.