I love opera! Opera is a really cool performance medium. I didn’t always love it and I don’t love all opera, but for the most part I love it. I love learning about it and watching it and singing it – especially singing it. I know what you’re thinking: Opera? Yes, opera.
If you do a Google search for the history of opera, you will find all sorts of information. I am not going to talk about the history of opera here, but I do recommend looking it up. It is a wonderful story-telling medium. I want to share with you some of my experiences and insights.
Did you know….
- Opera singers are almost never amplified. Some theaters have house mics placed around the stage, but the singers generally do not wear lapel or wig mics. They don’t need it. Opera singers are trained to use their whole bodies to produce sound. As a result, they produce a sound that takes full advantage of the body’s natural amplification system. They can sing over a full orchestra and still be heard clearly. Cool, huh?
- Opera is funny. It’s true. I don’t know when operas started to consistently end with someone’s untimely demise, but there are operas that are funny. Particularly, Mozart operas. The plots are convoluted with the peasants outwitting the aristocracy and love triangles galore. Not only are the story lines funny, but the music masterfully enhances the experience with melodies that are enchanting and memorable.
- Opera singers can read almost any language. It’s true! Language study is an important part of a classical singer’s education. We often have to sing in non-native languages. The key is IPA (international phonetic alphabet). This is one of the very first things we learn. With the help of a diction teacher and our voice coach, we learn how to properly pronounce each symbol and learn some of the basic phonetic rules of the language. As long as we have the IPA for a given song, we can sing the words. We don’t always know what they mean, but we can read it and sing it convincingly.
- Opera singing is athletic. No one is ever going to make opera singing an olympic sport; however, like world-class athletes, opera singers have to undergo years of highly specialized training to be able to do what they do. Developing the voice of an opera singer means working the muscles of the abdomen and the singing mechanism; it means using the muscles of the legs and back to take pressure off the throat so the singer is simultaneously engaging and relaxing muscles all over the body. It takes careful and painstaking practice and guidance to figure out what each individual’s voice needs to be able to sing optimally. And it takes years for the voice to properly develop because age and maturity play an important role, too. That’s why a good teacher is so important.
What other entertaining medium requires someone to be on stage for roughly 3 hours under hot lights, often in high heels (even for the men) and heavy costumes, singing in a foreign language over a loud orchestra with no mic? None. Only opera requires this. In my opinion, opera is the most challenging of all the singing media. It requires discipline, both mental and physical, persistence, and patience. Over the course of their initial training, opera singers have to learn several languages, how to read music, how to use their bodies, how to act, and, of course, how to sing. While not everyone goes on to the world of professional opera, any student of singing (regardless of preferred genre) can benefit from some opera training. In my opinion, anyone who wants to be the best singer they can be should first sing opera.