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
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
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.