I was guilty of ignorance towards the complexities of classical music and the opera. Before being exposed to so much information regarding it, I simply isolated myself from a genre that seem so foreign to me. However, as I dug deeper on the rich history of this unique art form, I realized that the combination of dramatic narratives, stagecraft and music, and extreme manipulation of the human voice, make opera the art form that comes closest to expressing pure emotion. Furthermore, I also learned that opera is a form of storytelling, where the expression of feeling is prioritized. Born in Italy more than 400 years ago during the Renaissance, opera is an interesting case for the exploration of voices because it is the very first multi media. The richness of opera is important to study because it reflects the social conflicts of that era and embodies the layers of cultural beliefs under it.
To learn more about this culture, I listened and took notes during an interview between ethnographer Lauren Vinderlan and classical soprano singer Naomi Merer. I took note of key details regarding opera, while Merer was relating her experience growing into an opera singer. Merer’s interview with Vinderlan was generally informational regarding the broad aspects of opera. She talked about the importance of honing your vocal technique. One of the important aspects of these process is finding comfortability in your voice because in opera, expressing emotion and emitting a certain feeling is the center of performance, and your voice needs to be able to switch around between those emotions without having to strain your vocals.
Merer mentioned that for classical singers, it is essential for them to be fluent in many language, if they want to be a good performer, and if they want more opportunities to perform. Merer talked about having to go through specific trainings, and having to completely learn, not just speak, a certain language or certain culture to be able to justify a performance. Since, the body of the singer is the site through which the culture is materialized and expressed, the singer needs to educated and a master on that culture.
Furthermore, on Wednesday, I also had the privilege of watching a live voice lesson with Professor Isabel Bayrakdarian and voice student Terra Giddens. Bayrakdarian emphasized that complex vocal warmups is essential before singing to wake up one’s voice by engaging every muscle that has to be engaged. She emphasized that cultivating your voice to be opera ready requires rigorous training and discipline. Watching this live opera lesson made me realize that opera singers have to master numerous disciplines on top of honing their vocal abilities to the extreme. I was privileged to watch a teacher and student harness their knowledge of opera and learn with them live.
The excellence that opera singers portray when they perform involves various responsibilities. Think about it, they have to be able to read music, master different languages and the culture, act, and know so many there specific skills ingrained in classical performance. One major thing I learned from the live voice lesson, is that opera singers also have psychological responsibilities they have to uphold when performing. She emphasized on the importance of removing your ego when singing. As a performer, she says, ones voice must simply be conduits between the music and the magic that comes out during the performance. If you mess up, that’s all you, separate from the performance. She said one must never show off or feel bad for themselves when they are singing; they have to be able to stay calm no matter what.
This experience definitely deepened my understanding of voice. The richness of opera singers voice enlightened me and helped recognized that layers of voices are involved every time an opera singer does something. Some of the voices involved are the vocal capabilities of the singer submerged in the voice of the character, as well as the vocal expressions accented by movements and music. And on top of that, performers have to immerse themselves in the voices of the characters and the cultures they represents.
As someone aiming to maximize the potential of my voice, this experience was very informational. I am planning to utilized the disciplines that Naomi Merer, Lauren Vinderlen, Professor Isabel Bayrakdarian, and Terra Gidden shared with us to improve the musical aspects of my voice. I plan to visualize my voice as an instrument, capable of numerous things, that I need to hone and protect. Despite initially being foreign to classical music, I could definitely apply the techniques and the disciplines that opera singers follow to other genres, other forms of music, and even other forms of art.