Photo: Roman Boed

4 Weird Questions for Opera Singers

How do you not deafen yourself with the sound of your own voice?

If you’ve been within ten feet of an opera singer doing their thing, you can vouch for the fact that they can create a lot of decibels. Even when they’re not singing at their full volume, the efficiency and focus in the sound they produce packs a serious punch.

It’s something that singers are aware of, and there’s even an unofficial “move” that you can spot during the odd operatic love duet; you can spot it often when two singers, playing lovers, embrace while singing either to each other (or at least slightly obliquely). Passed off as a loving caress, one singer will often slyly cover the ears of the other just before they go for that big, high phrase.

We’ve asked singers before about what they hear of their own sound, especially when it comes to big high notes; we’ve heard everything from “it sounds like a tiny little buzz” to “if I’m doing it right, all I hear is a rush of air”. Singers, do you ever get a deafening taste of the sound you’re capable of making?

Does your speaking voice “crack” more than the average person’s?

This might only affect women and countertenors – basically singers who generally operate with a good amount of “head voice”. With all the time spent singing outside of the normal speaking range, does it ever linger a bit into your everyday voice? After a good practice session, does your larynx play tricks on you in the form of puberty-reminiscent cracks? And are countertenors more susceptible than anyone else? If the voice cracks more often while speaking, is that a sign of some technical flaw, or is it a sign of something done right? Are these questions silly enough yet?

Do you ever stare at each others’ uvulae during a duet?

Like with the aforementioned don’t-deafen-your-colleague move, there’s plenty of “cheating downstage” in opera duets, so that the audience gets a better sound experience, and so that they can more easily see the conductor. But there’s a good amount of face-to-face action, too.

We always wonder, since it’s right there and wide open, do singers ever find themselves staring into the mouth of their duet partner? Do they become mesmerized by a waving uvula or trembling tongue? Are they making mental notes of the other singer’s techniques? And conversely, Are they conscious of having someone stare directly into their cavernous oral orifice as they holler away? Is it a bonding experience for both parties?

Do you ever get hiccups while you’re singing?

The body is a funny thing, and when it comes to opera singers, their diaphragms are definitely working in overdrive. Does that ever translate into mid-performance hiccups? Or burps, even, like when Rufus Wainwright let out a polite belch during “Hallelujah”? If so, what in the world do you do about it? The show must go on as usual, of course; but singers, are there any tricks of the trade for avoiding this kind of bad timing?

While we’re talking about it, here’s one of the most endearing singing videos ever. 7-year old Ethan is set to sing the Australian national anthem at a baseball game, and like a champ, he battles through a fierce case of the hiccups with a pro’s poker face:






By Jenna Simeonov. Republished with permission from Schmopera.