How to succeed on your path towards an operatic career
With no course currently available to fill the gap between leaving school and moving on to postgraduate training, Susan Elkin seeks out options for aspiring opera singers to guide their way to becoming all-round performers
Suppose you’re still in your teens or early 20s and determined to make a career as an operatic singer. Where do you turn for initial specialist vocational training? Most of the established courses are not suitable because they’re at postgraduate or even post-masters level and all require demonstrable experience and developed technique. It will be several years before you’re ready for such a course.
“It’s a long journey and you have to establish the building blocks of an operatic career slowly and carefully,” says Leontine Hass, a vocal coach who trained as an opera singer with Joan Hammond. Ten years ago, Hass founded Associated Studios, based in Hammersmith, which provides part-time, often top-up, performance training for actors and singers, including opera.
“Somehow these keen youngsters have to fill the gap between leaving school and moving on to postgraduate training,” says Hass, pointing out that many aspirant opera singers do a first degree in something unrelated. “It’s best to build stamina slowly over time so that young voices are looked after properly.”
‘It’s a long journey and you have to establish the building blocks of an operatic career slowly and carefully’
She advises young people still at school, and hoping for professional careers in opera, to have singing lessons and to get some choral experience. “Lots of schools run choirs and there are community choirs in most areas,” she points out.
There are plenty of opportunities at university too. Irrespective of the student’s main subject, it makes sense to study singing as a sideline, and to sing in student ensembles. Get some drama experience as well if you can. “It’s very important today that opera singers are developed as all-round performers. They have to be able to connect with both the text and the audience,” Hass explains.
Meanwhile, perhaps, there is scope for someone somewhere to develop a course that fills this training gap for 18 to 24-year-olds. Hass has been trying to create one with Rose Bruford College. It would have been a full-time BA (hons) opera performance studies degree and was due to be launched this September. However, it has just failed to proceed through the university’s validation committee, so – for now – it’s back to the drawing board.
Some opera training courses
National Opera Studio
Short (summer) courses aimed at singers with varying degrees of training and experience. The Young Artists’ Programme, for which there are no fees, supports 12 singers and four repetiteurs through a nine-month programme.
Two-year (three days a week) diploma in opera performance studies, a one-year opera course (two days a week), and a four-month advanced opera course (two days a week) in addition to its new degree with RBC.
Guildhall School of Music and Drama
Opera Studies provides intensive postgraduate training for up to 24 singers and four student repetiteurs at any one time. There is some collaboration with the Royal Opera House. Applicants need “a developed vocal technique”.
Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama
MA in advanced opera – the course is based in Cardiff and includes some collaboration with Welsh National Opera. The two-year, full-time master’s course requires a 2:1 first degree or, alternatively, equivalent performance experience.
Royal Academy of Music
Advanced diploma in opera. Taught over two years to students who are expected to have a master’s degree or appropriate performance level. The course offers the chance to work in a small company within an educational framework.
Royal College of Music
Postgraduate artist diploma in opera. Applicants need “the potential to become professional operatic singers”. The course can be studied over one year or two years.
Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
MMus in opera – based in Glasgow. A two-year postgraduate course, with emphasis on experience and potential. It includes some collaboration with Scottish Opera.
Funding your opera training
• You can have a student loan of £10,609 for a master’s degree programme in addition to any student loan you may already have had for undergraduate study. A master’s programme typically costs around £12,000.
• You may be able to get a career development loan from a bank (usually Barclays or Co-op) to pay for your training.
• Many training providers have scholarships and bursaries available and some schemes, such as the National Opera Studios’ Young Artists’ Programme, are free.
• Consult the Directory of Grant Making Trusts. It can be worth applying to charities, if you fit their criteria. It is expensive to buy, but you can access it online or in hard copy via, or at, most public libraries.
Looking after your young voice
• Don’t smoke.
• Drink alcohol only in moderation.
• Don’t take recreational drugs.
• Drink plenty of water.
• Avoid spicy food.
• Get plenty of sleep.
• Always warm up before you sing.
• Don’t try to do too much too soon.
• Mozart and Haydn are good for young voices. Wagner is probably best left until later.
This feature was updated on June 1, 2018. In the sixth paragraph, the phrase “it has just been rejected by the university’s validation committee” was amended to “it has just failed to proceed through the university’s validation committee” after a clarification was received from Rose Bruford.