A Few Bonus Fun Facts and FAQs About Opera Voices
How do you train to become an opera singer?Training to become an opera singer is a long and challenging process—more so than many people realize. Opera singers typically start training very early in life. Over the years they learn everything from healthy singing techniques to endurance. (Operas can last as long as two to five or more hours, and making sure you can sing well for the entirety takes serious work.) They also will spend a lot of time learning different languages, since singers have to sing and sound fluent in an opera’s language even if they don’t actually speak it well.
The training process to become an opera singer is often very formalized. Individuals who are serious about pursuing the art form go from regular lessons to conservatories and eventually work their way up to fellowships designed to get them ready to perform on their own. These fellowships, like the Adler Fellowship at the San Francisco Opera, offer intensive individual coaching, professional seminars, opportunities to perform, and much more. Only after all these years of work and assorted programs is an opera singer ready to start their career in earnest.
How does a composer decide what voice type a character should have?It's a question of creativity—and each composer has to decide what voice type they feel best suits each of their characters. Take opera's favorite trickster, Figaro, for example. He's a character who has been interpreted and reinterpreted by numerous composers, including Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Gioachino Rossini, Giovanni Paisiello, Darius Milhaud, and John Corigliano. While Mozart cast the role as a bass or bass-baritone in his opera The Marriage of Figaro, Rossini styled the same character as a baritone for his The Barber of Seville.
Can opera voices change?
This is a tricky topic that is fiercely debated within the opera community. While some people believe that opera singers can change their voices either due to physiological changes or to conscious training, others believe that voices are fixed. While it’s unrealistic that an opera singer will have a huge shift in their voice during their careers, smaller changes over time are certainly possible.
Are stereotypes about opera voices true?
There are a lot of stereotypes about opera singers out there, many of which are outdated. One stereotype? That tenors are ALWAYS the male lead. While tenors certainly often play the male lead role (especially the romantic lead), there are many exceptions to this rule and baritones and basses also have opportunities to play many male lead roles.
Another common stereotype relates to mezzo-sopranos. People often think that mezzos can’t hit high notes. While their voices do usually sit lower than sopranos, they sing quite high on a regular basis and some mezzos even sing soprano roles on occasion.
Are voice types always based on gender?
While vocal categories traditionally fall along the male-female gender binary, that isn’t always the case in real life. With more trans and non-binary opera singers entering the scene, the gender-based distinctions around vocal categories are becoming less firm (and even less relevant). These changes and trends will be fascinating to watch in the coming years as we begin to see more opportunities for fluidity and variance within vocal types that align with our new understandings of gender beyond the binary.
Appreciating All of Opera’s Voice Types
While every operatic vocal type is beautiful, it’s when the voice types come together in an opera that you can really appreciate the unique flavor that each one brings to the table. The best way to experience that magic is by seeing it for yourself.
If you’re interested in learning more about the basics of opera, you can check out our other blogs covering A Brief History of Opera, 5 Things to Know About Opera, and much more. Or, if you’re ready to dive even deeper into opera, check out our website for opera synopses, artist spotlights, and much more..