Do you like thrills? How about superhuman feats of talent? Epic displays of virtuosity testing the limits of human possibility?
If this sounds like you and you’re a singer, then you will love opera. Opera is the most demanding form of singing and showcases the human voice to its fullest extent. But every aspiring opera singer has to start somewhere right?
In this post, I’m going to share with you the three step process that aspiring opera singers follow to go from beginners to opera singers so you too can start to train like an aspiring opera singer and experience the thrill of full mastery over your voice that singing opera can offer.
Imagine opera as a full-length feature film. For actors, they usually have to start in plays or the theater before they get the lead role in a movie. Well the same is true for aspiring opera singers.
There is a three step progression of musical genres they sing before they get the lead role in an opera and I’m going to share them with you now. Keep in mind, this doesn’t represent all genres used to train aspiring opera singers but they are the three major ones in my opinion.
Step 1: Folk song
These are songs passed down through families or social groups. Typically, folk songs are learned through hearing rather than reading, also known as the oral tradition.
If we were to separate all music into two categories of classical and pop, then folk song would be the ancestor of our pop music today because it was the music of the people.
Folk songs typically have straightforward melodies, usually with only one or a few notes per syllable, so that anyone could sing them regardless of vocal training.
Step 2: Art song
Art song is where classical-music composers set poems by other poets to music. They are usually written for voice and piano. If operas are full-length feature films then think of art songs as short films.
Art songs are intended for singers with a history of vocal training in contrast to folk songs. The notes and lyrics are written down making them resistant to casual changes. Their lyrics tend to be sophisticated, and their melodies are often wide-ranging and complex.
Step 3: Opera arias
Opera is a show that has been known for centuries as the genre that brings all other art forms together, like music, drama, dance, and visual arts.
Opera arias are solo songs within the opera where a singer reflects on what is going on and expresses their emotions about it. It’s the point where we get to understand their character the most deeply because they get to be the center of attention for that part of the opera.
To give you some context, if we were to think of an opera as a musical theater show like Cats by Andrew Lloyd Webber, then an opera aria would be a song from the show, like “Memory,” in this case.
Opera arias are usually written for voice and orchestra, but you can easily find piano reductions. The music is usually written for the purposes of being very virtuosic and expressive, and is meant to showcase the singer’s voice to its fullest extent, making it a genre targeted to advanced singers.
Q: So why should you follow this three step progression if you’re a beginner and you want to sing opera?
A: The reason to start with folk song then art song before opera is that folk and art songs can usually be sung by any voice type and can be transposed to suit the range of any singer’s voice.
Opera arias on the other hand tend to be written for a specific voice type and are rarely transposed. This makes them a lot less forgiving and means they aren’t as customizable which is an important characteristic for beginners who are trying to find their voice rather than push it to its limits.
Q: How long should you sing these genres before you move to the next one?
A: The answer is usually about 3-5 years per genre but the lines are a little blurry and it depends on the singer. For instance, you could start learning some easy art songs while you’re singing folk songs, or some easy opera arias while you’re singing art songs.
Remember, the most important thing is to sing songs that you love to sing! Your love of what you are doing is what will carry you to the next level and beyond. So fall in love with finding and learning new songs, and enjoy exploring new repertoire on your way to becoming an opera singer because folk songs and art songs really have so much to offer, and they are worth your time and your voice.
So if you’re a beginner and you want to sing opera, this is the three step path you want to follow. You start with folk song, the art song, then opera, which is the same progression and training method aspiring opera singers follow. And if you do that, I know you’ll be singing opera before you know it and you’ll be doing it in a way that ensures your voice is always healthy and beautiful.
Folk Song Recommendations
-Greensleeves (English folk song)
-When The Saints Go Marching In (African American folk song)
-Santa Lucia (Italian folk song)
-Schwesterlein, Schwesterlein (German folk song)
-La belle est au jardin (French folk song)
-¿Dónde vas, Alfonso doce? (Spanish folk song)
Art Song Recommendations
-O del mio amato ben, Donaudy
-Beau soir, Debussy
-Après un rêve, Fauré
-Silent Noon, Vaughan Williams
-Sure On This Shining Night, Barber
Opera Aria Recommendations
Soprano: Casta Diva, from Norma, by Bellini
Soprano: Caro nome, from Rigoletto, by Verdi
Mezzo-soprano: Mon cœur s'ouvre à ta voix, from Samson and Delilah, by Saint-Saëns
Mezzo-soprano: When I am laid in earth, from Dido and Aeneas, by Purcell
Tenor: Che gelida manina, from La bohème, by Puccini
Tenor: Amor ti vieta, from Fedora by Giordano
Bass: Di provenza il mar, il suo, from La traviata, by Verdi
Bass: O du, mein holder Abendstern, from Tannhäuser, by Wagner