Technique is central to singing opera, but singing is also an art form, and no art form can be realized by the use of technique alone. Merging voice technique, musicality and emotion through competent acting skill is something that must be learned from the very beginning. This is because, when occupied in the emotion of the moment, the good voice will acquire nuances that are quintessentially important to conveying the emotional elements of the opera and will thus elevate the singer to a higher level of performance and riveting engagement with the audience. Language, with correct and expressive pronunciation, takes a performance to a higher level.
When a singer sounds fluent in the language in which they are singing, it’s impressive to audiences. So when language skills are lacking, it can be a turn-off. Someone I know recently auditioned at a top opera house and the conductor refused to hear one of her arias after she admitted she wasn’t fluent in Italian. There are excellent language courses available at home and abroad. The combination of a few weeks in Italy and a few months at home with online 1-on-1 tutoring would be ideal. Even if you can’t speak the language like a true polyglot, understanding the grammar, structure and even how the sounds feel in your mouth opens you up to a realm of possibilities (of the tiniest musical nuances) in the sounds you sing.
We live in a culture of quick fixes, instant gratification and the idea that talent is something that simply needs to be discovered and given a chance to shine. Yes, you need to have a bit of raw ability, but beyond that, hard work, a thick skin, self-reflection and patience – and I mean years of it – are what matter. Tell yourself there’s a reason that becoming an opera singer is so difficult, because what you are aiming for is extraordinary. If it could be achieved quickly, would it seem so worthwhile?
A crucial element to attaining that longed-for stellar career is finding the right voice teacher – and with their guidance, mastering the technique of singing. For a young singer it’s often hard to recognise when a teacher is merely adequate. Some students frequently continue their studies for years without making progress before they eventually either give up, believing themselves to be the problem, or pluck up the courage to look elsewhere. Your training should cover Italian Pronunciation for singers, ideally with a native speaker.
My prospects changed greatly when I began studying privately with tenor and professor Delfo Menicucci. My voice transformed and many exciting opportunities opened up. A few indicators of a great teacher include someone who can reveal the secret to a tricky phrase (rendering it easy), someone who spends equal time on vocal exercises as on repertoire and someone whose lessons you leave feeling elated.