What Makes Opera A Challenging Style?

What Makes Opera A Challenging Style?

If you’ve never had any formal training, you might think that singing is just singing.  It’s not, though:  you can sing in dozens of different styles and tones, and each one has its own demands and preferences.  Opera is among the hardest even today, and ultimately the reason it’s hard is because opera singers need to reach and impress a massive opera hall full of upper-class audience members.

The Need To Learn Resonance

If you decide to sing in an operatic style, you need to start by understanding how to make your voice resonate.  With enough resonance, people can hear your voice on the other side of an auditorium (and over a full orchestra) without needing a microphone.  At the same time, you won’t have to shout or strain your voice, an important feature when you need to sing for several hours at a time.  There are several places you can find the resonance you need:

  • Nasal resonance comes from the nasal cavity behind your nose and above your mouth.  The “N” sound uses nasal resonance, and if you focus on that you can create a nasal voice.
  • Pharyngeal resonance comes from your pharynx, the back of your throat.  You can get more of it by focusing on your chest, and doing so will deepen your voice.
  • Oral resonance comes from your oral cavity, your mouth.  Most people focus on their mouths to speak, so oral resonance sounds like natural speech but louder.

To get the volume they need without having to shout, most opera singers use a combination of all three resonances.  That’s why an operatic voice sounds different from a normal speaking voice.

The Physical Limits Of Your Voice

The reason it’s so important to learn resonance is because singing a full opera is taxing even to the most experienced professional.  Being that loud for a three-hour show is like running your voice through a marathon, especially if you have one of the lead roles.  You need years of practice to develop your vocal muscles enough to take that kind of punishment regularly, and even then you’ll need at least a day to rest your voice between performances or a microphone so you don’t have to project as hard.

The Challenges Of Style

Opera is a genre of music but saying that doesn’t really describe the intricacies that can go into becoming an opera singer.  Different subgenres and styles come with different rules for the singer, and even individual composers like Mozart and Wagner will make specific demands for each part in an opera.  One of these demands is learning how to precisely pronounce and sing words in a foreign language like Italian, French, or German.

Opera singing is tough because it makes a lot of demands from your voice, from your ability to memorize, and from your ability to adapt to new styles.  Plus even if you learn everything and become a great operatic singer, the profession has no real long-term gigs or job security.  Still, if you love to challenge yourself with classical works of music, becoming a professional opera singer can be a very rewarding experience.