How Can I Become an Opera Singer?

Research what it takes to become an opera singer. Learn about the job duties, education requirements, salary, and job outlook to find out if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Ethnomusicology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is an Opera Singer?

Opera singers sing with opera companies where they perform roles from the standard opera repertoire as well as newly composed music. This typically involves attending numerous auditions before landing a particular role. Once opera singers have signed on to a production, they attend rehearsals and work closely with the directors, other singers and crew to deliver quality performances. Opera singers may be required to travel to different venues to perform. They also help promote their production by attending promotional events and being interviewed by the media. The table below provides an outline of the general requirements for this career.

Training Required On-the-job training, private instructions, choir performance
Key Skills Ability to sing for extended periods of time, music literacy skills, music modification skills
Job Growth (2014-2024) 3% for all musicians and singers*
Median Hourly Salary (2015) $24.20 for musicians and singers*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Does an Opera Singer Do?

An opera singer is a classically trained performer. Opera differs from other types of vocal performances, such as musical theater, because opera is sung throughout the entire performance, whereas musical theater combines spoken lines with singing. As an opera singer, you would train to sing as a soloist or as part of an ensemble. You'll be expected to know how to read and memorize sheet music. You would interpret or modify music using your knowledge of harmony, rhythm and voice production. Opera singers are trained to perform both with and without musical accompaniment.

What Kind of Education and Training Will I Need?

Opera singers usually train with the intention of becoming live performers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), you'll most likely learn your craft through extensive on-the-job training and formal instruction. You'll need formal education if you want to pursue related careers in addition to opera singing. You might pursue a bachelor's degree program if you want to become a musical director, composer or basic music teacher. If you intend to teach music at the college or university level, you'll typically pursue a master's or doctoral degree (www.bls.gov).

Most singers begin training when they are young, either by private instruction or through choir and performance. The more knowledgeable you are in different styles of singing the more valuable your talent is. Opera singers can train in music programs at conservatories and universities. Universities offer degree programs including Bachelor of Fine Arts in Performance with a concentration in voice performance and Bachelor of Music programs. Depending on the university, you may be able to pursue a Master of Music in Performance degree or even a Doctor of Arts in Vocal Performance.

Conservatory and repertory schools tend to have more intense programs that focus on rigorous performance schedules. In addition to offering 4-year degrees, these schools may offer specialized diplomas in opera studies, which can last for two years. You usually have to audition and continue to meet a certain level of performance to stay in the program. The National Association of Schools of Music accredits about 650 schools, conservatories and universities dealing with music education (http://nasm.arts-accredit.org).

What Are the Job Outlook and Salary Expectations?

According to the BLS, singers and musicians in general held about 173,300 jobs in 2014. Around 40% were self-employed as of 2014. Employment of singers is expected to grow three percent between 2014 and 2024.

Finding work as an opera singer can be difficult since work is usually irregular and there can be long periods of unemployment in between performance jobs. Most opera singers have to work jobs outside of their chosen profession in order to earn a living. When work is available, you may find it anywhere from civic organizations to performing arts companies.

Since most performance jobs don't offer benefits or a sufficient wage, many artists choose to join a union. The American Guild of Musical Artists represents performers by negotiating for guaranteed salaries, regulated work hours and other kinds of compensation, such as paid vacation. Members have to pay yearly dues to be part of this union (www.musicalartists.org)

Salary expectations for opera singers vary depending on where the work is, how many hours you work, how talented you are and whether or not you are self-employed. The median hourly wage of singers and musicians in general was $24.20 in May 2015, according to the BLS.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

The performing arts offer a few alternative careers, including actors, dancers and choreographers. Actors typically have some college education, but do not require formal education. These performers develop characters to portray for an audience to help tell a story. They may perform in movies, television shows, theatre and more. Dancers typically require extensive training in their field. They may specialize in a particular style of dance, such as jazz, hip-hop or modern dance. Choreographers are usually dancers who have gone on to create and direct various dance numbers. They may be in charge of creating pieces for an entire production.

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