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Voices


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Opera is a complex spectacle, intended to create the illusion of another world through the combined effects of the various branches of art. However, the public’s attention is always focused on the main element, the human voice. The trademark of an outstanding singer is always his or her ability to use the human voice to convey the meaning and emotion of the text and music.

However, few people are aware of all the technical preparation and other challenges involved for a singer, since they only see the finished product. The human voice casts a special spell, because it is an instrument that all possess but few master, and it also reflects the physical and emotional state of the artist. The use of language (and especially vowel sounds) is another aspect that contrasts with other instruments, since the colour and timbre of the singer’s voice can be changed to suit the musical requirements of the text. In opera, the singers must be able to make themselves heard over an orchestra, in concert halls seating between 1,000 and 3,500 people. In Québec City, for instance, the Grand Théâtre seats 1,800.

Training an opera singer is a process that takes many years. In contrast to athletes and instrumentalists, singers generally reach maturity later, after the age of 25, and their careers can span a quarter-century or more.

The training of an opera singer is a demanding artistic process, since it involves mastering physical mechanisms that remain invisible.

All voices fall into six main categories: soprano, mezzo-soprano and contralto for women’s voices, tenor, baritone and bass for men’s voices. However, each category also contains various sub-categories, depending on various factors such as the timbre, power and agility of an individual singer’s voice, and the type of role normally associated with the voice. Range, agility, timbre and power are the four factors that, combined, define each category.

Range

A singer’s range is defined by the notes that the singer can sing, from the lowest to the highest. Timbre is the colour of the voice; power defines the strength of the vibrations it produces; and agility refers to the ability to move quickly from one note to another.
Each of the three main ranges – low, medium and high – is often associated with roles of a particular type.


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