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How to Be an Opera Singer: Career Guide

Research the requirements to become an opera singer. Learn about the job description and duties, and read the step-by-step process to start a career in opera singing.

Should I Become an Opera Singer?

Opera singers are professionals who undergo extensive training both within academia and outside of music school programs. Much like other performers, opera singers audition to become employed. Aspiring opera singers receive musical training all through their lives, including at the bachelor's and master's degree levels and via apprenticeship programs. Travel is normally required, and work is usually part-time and sporadic. Some singers offer vocal or music lessons to others.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree (suggested minimum), master's degree
Degree Field Music performance or theory
Experience Performance experience is essential, apprenticeships may be available
Key Skills Musical talent, discipline and perseverance, physical stamina
Salary $24.16 is the median hourly wage for musicians and singers (2014)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Step 1: Strengthen Singing and Acting Skills

Becoming an opera singer involves a long career path; it takes years to properly develop a voice. Students could begin by taking voice lessons early in school. Aside from having a well-trained voice, it's important for opera singers to have acting abilities. Becoming involved in community and school productions can be a good starting point for developing both vocal abilities and acting skills. Opera singers will need to continually work on their technique, which will help prepare them for auditions.

Success Tip:

  • Develop good people skills. Opera singers interact with numerous people, including conductors, music producers and musicians. Good interpersonal skills can help a prospective opera singer form good working relationships.
  • Prepare an audition piece for college admission. Being accepted into music school typically involves a pre-screening process and then an audition. Music schools specify the necessary types of vocal works needed for the audition process. The audition may be a video recording, a live audition or a CD/cassette tape submission. Regardless of the submission method, schools typically want students to memorize an aria or art song in several languages.

Step 2: Earn a Bachelor's Degree in Music

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that opera and classical singers need a minimum of a bachelor's degree. Common majors include music, music performance or music theory. These 4-year programs cover topics such as vocal performance and development, music history, chorus, acting, diction and ear training. Piano is typically included in the required content, too. Opera majors usually must give a solo performance prior to graduation.

Success Tips:

  • Learn additional languages. Operas are traditionally written in languages other than English, such as Italian, French, German or Russian. Having a general understanding of these languages may be a requirement for working as an opera singer. Bachelor's degree programs often include language studies as part of the curriculum.
  • Take advantage of student productions. Most music schools have a series of musical theater productions or fully-staged operas. Opera students can hone their singing and solo performance skills through these outlets.

Step 3: Consider an Advanced Degree

A Master of Music program offers students individual vocal classes. In addition to advanced vocal development, graduate programs begin to groom students for working in the professional world, including audition, vocal coaching and rehearsal preparation. Coursework might include opera staging, acting, history and diction. Graduate programs also provide many opportunities for performance within the music school.

Step 4: Apprentice at an Opera House

Opera houses offer apprenticeship programs for aspiring opera singers who are still completing their degree programs and those who've already graduated. Apprenticeship programs are season-long. Accepted singers are provided with intensive training and performance opportunities, including participating in productions. Apprenticeship programs also provide aspiring opera singers with experience and exposure for further advancement in the field.

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