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Opera/Pursuing an opera career


QUESTION: Hi, I've sent this question to another expert whose profile seems to fit it, but since I read this site doesn't discourage sending "multiple experts the same question", and I just saw your profile and your many years of experience, I'd also like to hear your invaluable opinion! This is the question:

I've seen a quite similar question here, but still I'd like to ask about my particular case. I'm Brazilian and just turned 20, I sing since I was a little girl, I want to be a singer but I'm finishing the second of five years in law school.

Law is not what I want, is what my family wants, and my mother says music is a hobby and that I should finish law school "just to be safe" financially in case I don't succeed singing, but I think that dividing my time with this and thinking about not succeeding is already half step to failure (I think her real wish is for me to focus on becoming a lawyer). Secondly, and more importantly, it would take me some more precious years, and maybe I'd be too old by when I get to start a career.

I'm also not sure where I should go to get a singing degree, for there are good universities and conservatories here (I'd have to go live in Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo, I live in a mid sized town), but the classical field is not that developed in my country, and there are some difficulties for a foreign student to get a place in a European or north American school. Yet, I intend to get at least a master's abroad.
My concern is particularly with the money (for surviving, not getting rich), since I would have to move to another city on my own anyway and I can't count on my parents forever, this considering their support is already slim. I mean, if I were sure I had money enough to keep me for years of study, I wouldn't even blink before leaving law school.

And I'm really willing to work my fingers to the bone to achieve this, it's about everything I like to do; besides music and opera itself,  I like historical things and I'm a real linguistics enthusiast, so learning languages is a big pleasure. I've already started with Italian and French (along with already speaking English and my native Portuguese). I've engaged on an acting studies group of the Cinema and Audiovisual course of my university, and I'm reading books on the matter. I'm also studying music theory and learning to play piano.

Besides all this, I'd like your opinion on if I truly have potential (after all, if I don't, there's no point). These are three samples of slightly different styles, recorded before I had any vocal training (I had my first lesson at 18).

I'd like a honest opinion on this whole situation, for I'm really uncertain because of my family's advice, mainly on the paying studies side, and what to do/where to go, but I know in my heart what I want to do with my life is to become (or at least know I tried all I could to become) a professional opera singer, even not knowing too well how it would be in this difficult path.

ANSWER: Hi Helen,

Well - you are in a situation that many creative people have.  It's very hard to make enough money just to live while you are working on learning your craft.  Certainly singing is a very tough profession to succeed in.  As you know, the competition is fierce in the world.

However, the people that do succeed are usually driven toward a singing career that nothing stops them.  So there is that; there is a great desire; and there is reality.

I like the recordings - although I would be interested to hear  you now after two years of voice study.  You definitely have talent!  Although it's hard for me to tell at this point as to whether an opera career is possible.  You have a special sound that I could see succeeding in the popular/jazz/broadway world for sure.  Before I could comment about opera I'd have to hear you after a couple of years of training.

As to law school... your parents are right to be concerned for you - they know that you do have to have a way to support yourself and afford the money to live and study.  Artists have said in the past that if you can see yourself doing anything else in the world but singing then you should do that.  Only you can decide whether or not you want to continue law.  But remember, too, that you can study music and get a music degree in other things than performance/voice.  You can get a degree that allows you to teach voice/music while you study singing.  And you can learn music therapy, arts management (having a law degree there would help), arts administration - there are many areas in music that you could investigate.  And with your language ability you could end up coaching/teaching that.

Of course you could continue your law studies and also work privately with a voice teacher to learn technique.  And you can do as you are doing - studying acting, working on languages and coaching repertoire without going to a university.  Although I think you probably would have to go to the big city to find the best voice teacher.  Whatever you do - finding a really good voice teacher is key.

And you are very young... I don't think that you would be too old if you waited until you finished law school - as long as you could can study vocal technique during those years.  Although it certainly is hard to do both - but many singers do that.

I would sing for professional singers/teachers there and get their advice.  You might consider trying music school for a year or two and see how it goes - you can always go back to law school.  What is so hard about singing is that it takes years to really mature as an artist and even if you are in school for an undergrad degree and then graduate degree you still have to be able to afford that and living expenses during those 4-6 years.  And then you have to be able to have enough money while pursuing a career.

But ultimately, you must decide what you want. If you could pursue a music degree where you can work toward a performing degree along with a teaching degree (or some degree that would allow you to support yourself) maybe your folks would help.

So in any case - keep studying; keep taking lessons (even in law school) and keep singing for people "in the business" and get their opinions.

Not sure this helps - but it's your life - you have to decide.  I wish you all the best of luck!


---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Again, thanks for answering my other question in such good will; since you said a more recent recording would be ideal I tried one new sample.
Also, I haven't been taking lessons for two years consecutively, I stayed a few months away and I'm returning to the conservatory in February, so I tried this on my own at home, with a headset microphone. I hope its not so good quality is at least enough to have an idea to comment about opera.

I also want to ask something else. This may be a silly question, but is there anyway to know if I have enough projection, without actually going and having someone hearing me in the far side of a theater or auditorium? An opera house is quite big, right?
I heard some people simply have big voices, and others don't, so just learning to project could be not enough, is that so?

Hi Helen,

You have a very pretty, young voice!  And you have nice high notes.  I think when you get to a teacher (a good teacher) your voice will fill out and be more connected to your body.  That will make it "bigger".  Each voice is unique - some are very large, others not so much.  But the secret to carrying in a big opera house has to do with singing with a proper technique - using the breath right, connecting the voice to the body, learning how to sing with the "ring" in the voice.  All of this you will learn with a good teacher.  Don't worry about projection at this point - just focus on learning good, basic vocal technique and singing with the most beautiful tone you can.  Once you do that you will have a better idea of what you can do.

Best wishes,



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Pamela Thomas


Questions on Opera performance, repertoire, vocal technique, acting for opera. I have some 20 years experience in opera in both leading roles and chorus. I have sung with New York City Opera since 1981. I have studied voice in NYC for over 20 years and have also taught technique and coached singers in acting.

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