How to Sing Opera
It’s been a while since I wrote my last article, been busy with life. Hope you’re all doing good and getting ahead with your singing. I got a comment from one of my readers asking whether opera singers are born or whether they developed this. I think this is a question worth looking into more deeply.
I’ve always wondered about the talent issue and whether or not there is a ceiling as to how much you can grow in singing or in anything in life for that matter. There are a lot of gurus out there trying to convince us that “you can sing any song you want” and all that stuff. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for being accepting of whatever desires you have to express yourself, but sometimes there are things you need to understand that can’t be overcome just by psyching yourself up and putting in the work.
First off, let’s look at the question. It’s actually a 2-part question, number one being whether opera singers are born, number two is can you develop yourself into an opera singer. I’ll approach the first question as a question of sound. I’m a musician, and play and write songs myself, so I give an answer from that viewpoint.
I don’t listen to opera music, and I don’t write opera songs. So not a lot I can contribute there. But as a songwriter, when I’m writing songs, I tend to think about how I would like my lines or melodies to sound. Don’t worry, I’ll get to the point soon, but I think it’s important to explore this further because a simple yes or no answer does not really cover all the bases here.
So I write lines, and I imagine how I would like them to sound. Do I use piano? Keyboards? A horn section? A string quartet? All of these options will give you different results, because all of those instruments have different sound textures to them. A simple example would be rock songs stripped down to acoustic guitars minus the effects. Those sound more intimate and personal. Although I don’t hear much of a difference in those because they just switch from acoustic to electric guitars. The guitar texture is still the same. Another example would be the way The Scorpions used a symphony orchestra to accompany their concerts. Listen to the lines. They’re the exact same ideas, but sound really different when a symphony plays them instead of an electric guitar.
Think of it like how do you draw a cat? You can use a pencil, a paintbrush, spray paint, designs cut out on potatoes, etc. Get the picture? Now imagine the human voice. It’s the same exact thing! People’s voice’s vary a lot: some are like pencils – Very thin, but very precise; some are like spray paints – really broad and you’ll have a hard time telling where the borders are.
So with this approach to the voice, we have a better map of how we want to use the voices. A pencil voice works well if you want to outline those subtle in-between notes like in jazz music. A spray paint voice works well in rock styles where the singer needs to take up as much space as possible. Opera singers are more brush types. And this is by no means comprehensive. In fact, you should come out with your own analogies and share them with me.
Now, if you have a pencil-type voice, does it mean you can’t sing opera? Not necessarily. That’s where the ranges come in. Pencil type voices have better control in the higher registers. They can manoeuvre in all kinds of trills and runs and what have you. Finer details are where they shine. Sopranos are good examples of this. Spray paints in operas usually excel at the base ranges, where no acrobatics are required, only holding the notes for a long time and making them sound as full as possible.
So an opera singer is like any singer – they’re usually born as pencils, or brushes, or spray paints, but they learn to adapt to the other mediums as well. Even when they have learned other mediums, the good ones still realize where their best assets are and typically choose songs that showcase them to their full glory.
I remember a time 2 years ago when I decided to work on my bass notes. I looked in youtube and found some comparisons of bass notes from opera singers. I don’t remember the links, I was just hopping around. What caught my attention was that some of the bass notes were almost inaudible, and some were just ringing out in delicious bass vibrations – the kind that feels like it fills your entire being. The notes were the same, it was the same song. The singers are all professionals doing this for decades. So that’s when I thought, “there might be something here that I’m missing.”
Anyway, this is my hypothesis at this point, and it may not be true.
So the second question is can you develop yourself into a good opera singer? Yes, you can. The only points to remember is to know yourself and where your gifts are, and develop those into the best, self-expressive windows into your soul so that people can enjoy your passion for life and singing. The opera style requires you to master as many octaves as you can, but most of your focus should be on what you’re really good at.
I have this other thought that intuition is the thing that guides us through this life, and without it, we can’t really function because of the infinite choices that we have nowadays. I’ve always been into pop and jazz, and I see that as my intuition telling me that I probably have a cross between a pencil and a brush. I also happen to like songs that require agile vocals and I find that I don’t like to sing the raspy vocal rock songs. It’s good to do this kind of checking before you commit yourself to any long-term vocal project so that you don’t waste time and energy.
Having said that, this is not a definitive article on how to sing opera. Feel free to browse around some more until you get the answers you seek.