“Can anyone be an opera singer?”
In my inaugural blog post, I wanted to spend some time answering one of the most common questions I hear about this industry I love so much. I never get tired of sharing my love for opera with fans and audience members, but I believe this question is often left unanswered for fear of hurting someone’s feelings. I don’t mean to hurt anyone’s feelings, but I don’t believe anyone can be an opera singer, and here’s why.
Natural Talent Matters
Everyone knows someone who sings beautifully; thankfully as humans we have a fairly large number of people who are talented singers and can entertain us with their talent. If you have that talent, it’s certainly going to help you become an opera singer but it’s not going to be enough on its own.
You must utilize your talent – or potential talent – to become the best. Singing opera is not the same as popular music you hear on the radio, from a talent, skill, or style perspective. You must learn to take your beautiful voice and amplify it, cut it, push the same air through the same vocal cords in a different way, and place the air differently. A good opera singer can amplify their voice in a way that is loud enough to be heard in a large space without microphones.
Being an opera singer means being the best at these skills, and then learning how to use them professionally. So yes, natural talent matters, as does proper vocal training, and operatic training too.
Additional Components Opera Singers Need
Singing opera requires several additional components to be truly successful. After all, my goal in performing for you is not only to have you hear what I sing, but to have you feel it. I believe the following are instrumental parts of opera that every singer must embrace and overcome to truly succeed:
The right vibrato is different for every singer. In opera, a beautiful vibrato is usually falls between a medium and medium-fast speed, and hits what I call the “Sweet Spot”. This may be different for each singer, but we all know it when we hear that beautiful sound of air being liberated in just the right way through the vocal cords. I don’t want to discourage anyone who doesn’t have naturally beautiful speed because it’s different for each individual. It’s hard to talk about because it’s so subjective, but vibrato is a factor when someone says “that person has a beautiful sound”.
Consistent vibrato, too, is key to healthy, beautiful singing. The vibrato doesn’t change speed or begin to straight-tone. Straight toning is holding the holding of something in your apparatus your tongue, your jaw, your air, instead of letting the vibrato happen. It’s basically a release, or a liberation of the right amount of air with the right amount of pressure.
When I was a young artist I started to hear many famous opera singers live. I wondered why certain singers were famous and others not. Almost every famous singer that I heard had a sound that was uniquely their own. Like the kind of barrel we use to make wine, timbre is the distinctive quality of each individual singer’s voice. It’s how we recognize different singers on the radio, and each opera singer must have their own.
For me timbre of the voice is as unique and individualistic as a person’s fingerprint. Imagine your own “vocal fingerprint”. It’s when you listen to your own voicemail recording and think “do I really sound like that?” You do, and that makes you different – different is good! If you try to create an artificial sound, you end up sounding like someone else. By doing that, it means you are never truly reaching your full vocal potential. Once you embrace your own sound, you will have found your own “vocal fingerprint.”
Speaking of expression, this is often an implicit question when I am asked if anyone can be an opera singer: do you have to be a good actor? In short, no. You don’t have to be a world class actor to be a great opera singer; it’s more important to have a world class
voice and learn to use that voice to convey expression and emotion to your audience. This too can be coached or taught.
Expression, or acting, has recently become more important to the industry because of the Met’s HD broadcasts where the singer’s faces are closely picked up by camera. Normally a crowd of 1,200 people cannot see an opera singer’s face but with this recent trend, the singer’s actinghas become more precise and subtle, as compared to the large gestures they did in the past. The key component to crossing the divide between the intimacy of singing and the grandeur of the stage is for the singer to mean every word that they sing.
There is a very fine line to be walked when it comes to confidence. One must be confident but not cocky. You have to feel good enough about yourself to go out in front of 3,000 people and be impressive but not so impressed with yourself that you can do no wrong.
While it’s important to let go of some of your ego in the performing arts, confidence and charisma are vital to your success as an opera singer. If you can’t grab the attention of your audience in an audition or a performance, work on cultivating the confidence until you can.
Unfortunately, it is a reality that the majority of opera singers must now bow to the constraints of attractiveness and appearance as part of what they bring to the table. The state of opera has been highly influenced by the demands of a visual society. Unless you are in the minority of a very specific “fach” of opera, –Wagnerian Helden-singers –,
you must have very high demands of your body, and your professional appearance to succeed at opera. It is a sad note to touch on but it is the truth in today’s age of opera that singer’s will be cast not only for their talent anymore but for their looks as well.
Also a recent trend in opera, the ability to market oneself is increasingly imperative. I am
delighted to meet fans who would like to follow me on Instagram and Facebook (or read my blog!) but this means I need to learn how to do these things well. I must curate a professional appearance with a personal touch, and help you feel closer to me while simultaneously helping me keep earning work. It takes a lot of thought but I genuinely enjoy it – the connections are incomparable to any other platform. In the past, opera singers were bombarded with fans after a performance at the theatre’s stage door, but now I get to read posted comments and interact with all types of people everyday.
Thirst for Knowledge
Singing, and particularly opera, provides lifelong education. The more I learn about this
profession and my skills, the more I must acknowledge what I still need to learn. The work to improve one’s craft is never done, and if you’re dreaming of hitting a pinnacle then relaxing for the rest of your career, perhaps opera isn’t the right fit for you.
Thankfully, I don’t mean flexibility like yoga or ballet requires. Here, I mean flexibility about your life. The ability to relocate to a new country for several months, then do it again, and again isn’t a lifestyle for just anyone. Being an opera singer means moving around, adjusting to new places, new faces, and new situations on a fairly regular basis. If your life isn’t flexible, you will struggle in opera.
A Support System
At the end of the day, you will need a really good support system to make all of the above components come together in just the right way to help you succeed. I rely on my wife, family, friends, fans, coaches, teachers, and others I work with to help me take my natural talent, cultivate it, and bring it to life on stage in each performance. Without them I would struggle just as anyone does when trying to succeed all alone. And at the end of day, I have someone to enjoy my successes with instead of by myself. To experience both the ups and downs of this career is much more worthwhile alongside my loved ones.
Taking these components to the professional level is a different issue entirely. As I said, I am lucky to have a wonderful support system of people that help coach, encourage, train, console, and support my talent and lifestyle as an opera singer. They help me take my raw talent and push me to make myself the best with the talents and training I have. They support me on the road, give me confidence, and take care of some areas of the business where I need additional help.
I enjoy being able to point out some of my experiences and growing pains with aspiring singers. Mostly, I don’t want anyone to read this and feel they are not doing enough. Everyone learns the things they need to learn when they are ready to learn them. Think back to when you started out and be proud of how far you’ve come. Your old frustrations are now your new perfections. So, too, will be your new frustrations with time, effort, and practice.
Being an opera singer is so much more than just knowing how to sing. It requires education, taking your natural talent to a new level, and building a support team to help you reach your dreams. I am always grateful for the people who help build mine.
I look forward to sharing future stories with you through this blog.