What is an opera singer?
How do they learn to sing like that?
Are all opera singers sopranos?
Why Would someone choose to learn to sing opera?
Well, you are not alone! And we are here to answer these and many more questions for you.
Modern day opera singers are somewhat misunderstood. If you ask someone what image they most associate with opera or an opera singer they will most likely say, "a fat lady with horns singing so high and loudly that she can break a glass", right? (Be honest). Here are some answers to your burning "opera questions":
What Kind of Education and training do opera singers RECEIVE?
Opera singers are regular people who choose to study classical voice and at some point develop an interest in opera in particular for a plethora of reasons. After deciding to study opera, a singer will apply and audition for a college which offers a degree path in Vocal Performance. While studying for a degree in Vocal Performance, singers study: comprehensive music theory, comprehensive music history, foreign languages (Italian, German and French are typically mandatory), foreign language diction (not only the language itself but HOW to pronounce the languages properly), acting, vocal music literature, vocal pedagogy (how the voice works and how to teach it to others) piano as well as various other "typical" studies including English, Math and Social Sciences courses. Not all opera singers have Vocal Performance degrees though many do.
Upon completion of an Undergraduate degree in Vocal Music Performance, a singer will then apply for a Graduate Vocal Music program. Many Graduate Vocal Music programs are highly competitive. While studying for a graduate degree, singers focus intensely on performing and/or teaching. During Undergraduate and Graduate programs, singers typically take part in intensive study programs called Young Artist Programs. Many singers take part in many paid and unpaid Young Artist Programs through the course of their Young Artist careers (typically between the ages of 20-30). Young Artist Programs may take place in the summer or be year-long or multi-year long Artist-in-Residence engagements. Upon completion of Graduate programs and Young Artist Programs singers are usually ready to pursue a Doctorate of Musical Arts degree or to begin auditioning for artist managers, regional or larger opera houses throughout the nation and abroad.
Do opera singers sing loudly because they are big people?
Thanks in part to the introduction of the MET in HD performances (Metropolitan Opera Performances broadcast live in movie theaters throughout the nation) there has been an increased pressure for opera singers to be slim and attractive. However this is not necessarily a modern idea. We have many writings from composers such as Mozart and music critics and reviewers of the past who have pointed out the physical beauty of many male and female opera singers as one of their greatest attributes.
Opera singers come in all shapes and sizes just like any other professional. The SIZE of a voice is not necessarily determined but the SIZE of the person but rather how the singer uses their voice. Much of the technical education of an opera singer involves the singer learning how to use their body or parts of it to help increase it's ability to resonate well. James McKinney defines vocal resonance as "the process by which the basic product of phonation is enhanced in timbre and/or intensity by the air-filled cavities through which it passes on its way to the outside air." (source: McKinney, James (1994) The Diagnosis and Correction of Vocal Faults, Nashville, TN: Genovex Music Group).
That got a little technical. Just know that an opera singer's voice has less to do with how they look and are built and more to do than with how they have learned to use their voice.
do all opera singers sing high notes?
Not really. Due to their technical expertise, many opera singers have extended upper and lower ranges which allow them to access notes most other people can not reach and some only dogs can hear (just kidding). But there are many different types of voices in operas. Most voices are classified using the German fach system (see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fach for more in depth information). The fach system uses four main categories to describe operatic voices with MANY subcategories which help to more narrowly define voices. The four main fachs are: Soprano and Mezzo-Soprano for female voices and Tenor and Baritone for male voices. Again these are the main four categories but there are many others as well as hybrid voices. In a nutshell Soprano and Tenor voices are the higher voices and Mezzo-Soprano and Baritone voices are lower.
Why would someone choose to become an opera singer? Isn't it a dying art?
The only real answer to this is because they love it and they connect with it. Many people think they do not like opera but often times that is because they have not been exposed to it or maybe have not really learned much about it. Which makes sense. Opera is not necessarily widely accessible in today's society. Youtube and many online resources have helped a great deal but with the increase of internet access to opera and other classical media there has been a decrease in attendance of live operatic and classical music performances. Many times people are afraid to approach opera because they think they will not understand it because it is often in a foreign language (though not always) without knowing that most performances will have English subtitles or sur-titles running while the performers are singing in an alternate language AND/OR there will be a detailed synopsis to accompany the performance. People may shy away from opera because they think they may be long and boring. Some are. Just like some movies are very long and boring but most are so relatable and applicable to even our modern lives they fly by like an instant. Our modern minds are used to being able to pause things, we're used to being able to get up and walk around, we're used to doing multiple things at one time. It can be hard to sit quietly and focus and really think about what the composer and or performers are trying to communicate with you. Even the PERFORMERS will admit that. We can lay partial blame on our culture at large for this.
But opera isn't dying. It's changing. Performers and directors of opera and opera houses alike are learning that audiences are changing so they may have to also. Here at the Omaha Opera Project, we not only recognize that but are passionate about that. We love that we have the opportunity to take part in this evolution and can not wait to help our audiences through it as well.
A Big Thank You to Marian High School
For making our first show, Puccini's Suor Angelica, a huge success! See photos from the performance below.