Opera is considered to be one of the most challenging styles of singing, and for a good reason. Opera singers need to master the basics of singing. However, they also need to rely on their bodies to produce the tremendous volume levels needed to sing over a full orchestra.
If you have seen opera live on stage and have been impressed by the singer’s powerful voices, you might be inspired to learn more about the genre. To help you out, we have compiled a comprehensive guide on how to sing opera for beginners.
How To Sing Opera for Beginners
1. Watch and Listen
Start by listening to opera singers such as Renée Fleming, or the Three Tenors. In addition, listen to the compositions of Mozart, Puccini, Handel, Bizet, and Berlioz. By doing this, you’ll start to get a feel for the flow and style of this genre.
You can watch popular operas on DVD or on the big screen through the Met’s annual opera screens at a local movie theater. Visit big companies like the Glimmerglass, Santa Fe Opera, Metropolitan Opera, or Boston Lyric and find local opera performances in your communities.
By watching and listening to these operas, you will start discovering the chorus parts or roles that appeal to you most.
Here’s a video of Renée Fleming singing Casta Diva:
2. Master the Singing Fundamentals
Opera is a challenging and complex style to learn. Therefore, your foundation needs to be strong.
The two important things you need to focus on are how to sing high notes and how to sing with power. Your body and voice are the most powerful instruments, and you need to take care of them properly.
Several people end up straining their vocal cords, particularly when aiming for high notes. This can end up injuring your vocal cords. The same goes for singing with power. If you don’t do it properly, you can severely damage your voice.
By learning how to sing correctly, you can avoid tension, strain, and vocal cord damage. You should also register for a singing course, either online or in-person with an instructor, to solidify your basics before you start singing opera.
3. Study Classical Languages and Techniques
To develop the range, strength, and stamina of an opera singer, you need to study classical music and art songs first. These shorter operatic songs are excellent for young, developing voices, from teenagers to young adults.
If you’re serious about learning opera, you should also learn French, Spanish, Italian, and German – the languages that are most commonly sung in opera. You’ll be able to comprehend and express the intended message of the song while singing and also enjoy the opera better as a listener too.
It is also important for you to learn how to read music and to play the piano or a stringed instrument. You will often be asked to sight-read and sing challenging melodies, and being an opera singer, you won’t be able to get away by saying, “I don’t know how to read music.”
4. Find the Right Teacher
Once you have mastered the basics of singing and can hit high notes and manage your power consistently, you can move on to building your opera skills. However, it is nearly impossible to learn opera by yourself. Therefore, it is worthwhile to hire a coach who can facilitate you on your journey.
Finding the right teachers depends on several factors, including your existing skill level and how serious you are about singing opera. If you want to sing as a hobby or only part-time, several great opera teachers can help you learn opera singing at your own pace.
On the other hand, if you wish to make a career out of opera singing, you will have to be more discerning regarding the teacher you pick. Ideally, you should opt for a teacher who has strong knowledge of the “bel canto” technique, studied under experts of the genre, and attended master classes and other programs to polish their skills. Such experts aren’t easy to come across, and they can be selective about who they take on as students.
5. Learn Opera Singing Techniques
Apart from breathing and vocal warm-up exercises, your instructor will make you focus on your diaphragm – that is the key to supporting the airflow so that the note you sing lasts longer.
Another thing you’ll do in your opera lessons for beginners is become aware of the resonance of your voice. You should try to feel the resonance in your cartilage, chest, teeth, and the rest of your body and keep it there – you will notice how your voice doesn’t cut off and, with time, becomes more powerful.
Moreover, you need to pay attention to your expression. Opera singers convey emotions very intensely, but this doesn’t mean you need to be a good actor to master this. Rather, you need to work on your facial expressions, confidence, and diction.
All of this results in a strong charisma that every opera singer possesses.
6. Practice Daily
Opera is very demanding both mentally and physically, and you won’t be able to sing opera if you don’t practice properly. Therefore, it is important to practice this art form every day or at least every week. Remember, opera isn’t something that you can learn overnight. Rather, it takes months, or even years, to master a voice range, song, or role. Artists might sign opera contracts 2 to 3 years in advance of the performance so that they have sufficient time to prepare for the role.
There are plenty of helpful resources you can buy, including the vocal exercise books by Concone, Seiber, Vaccai, and Lutgen. These books are not too expensive, and you can use them daily to hone your opera singing skills.
It is also important to spend time mastering your arias. Nevertheless, bear in mind that there’s such a thing as over practicing. While there’s no magic number of minutes that every singer has to practice, pay attention to your body. If you experience any kind of fatigue, it is best to take a break, so you don’t end up damaging or straining your voice.
Once you and your instructor are confident about your singing progress, you should take a step forward and begin auditioning and performing.
Start small. There are several competitions, talent shows, and scholarships awarded to opera singers. Get experience performing your classical art songs. Also, try to put together scenes from your favorite opera. Look out for opera auditions taking place nearby.
To start off, you may want to audition for the chorus or a summer training program abroad. Singing in the chorus is an excellent way to start performing opera – you’ll learn a lot from other artists and about production. Attending a training program is also highly beneficial and a great addition to your resume.
Last Few Words
Opera is all about mastering the foundation of all singing fundamentals and of using them to their maximum potential. Remember that no one – not even Luciano – was born with this talent. He honed and improved it throughout his life. Start building your foundation, and don’t stop until you reach the highest point of your potential.
Eduardo Perez is a multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience playing instruments such as piano, guitar, ukulele, and bass. Having arranged songs and produced music in a recording studio, he has a wealth of knowledge to share about analyzing songs, composing, and producing. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Musical Studies at Berklee College School of Music. Featured on Entrepreneur.com. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, or follow him on Instagram.