Yellow Roses
  • Susan Byrdsong

Songbird: The Journey of an Opera Singer



Singing on the opera stage has been the most enjoyable time of my life. I have met and performed with some of the world’s best, most talented, and world-renowned opera singers to ever grace a stage, such as Denyce Graves and Othalie Graham. Both are outstanding and have graced the Charlotte stage for many Opera Carolina productions. Watching them work, listening to them sing, listening to their vocal warm-up exercises reminds me of my vocal training in college.


My training started in high school many years ago when the Michigan Opera Theatre visited with our Choral Director and arranged for some of her advanced singers to sing in an opera production with the company. There were many day and evening rehearsals which we all enjoyed immensely prior to performing three evening and one day show. In college, I changed my major to music education with an emphasis on vocal pedagogy. I wanted to learn how to sing properly so I could teach the concepts to others.



In college, vocal training is the beginning process. You learn breathing techniques using the diaphragm, vowel placement, phrasing, teeth, and tongue placement, singing in various keys in major and minor scales to not only develop your instrument but also increase vocal agility. Ear training and learning how to read music are essential components to singing with proficiency. This also helps to distinguish between relative and perfect pitch.


Opera singing is indeed an art form not to be taken lightly. It demands many years of continued vocal training and if needed or requested, a vocal coach is assigned after formal training is complete. It is the most challenging vocal art form to master. It takes years to become an opera star. This is due to the complexities of singing in various opera houses, in many cities, states, countries, and the constant traveling that makes it challenging most times.



Music rehearsals are fun primarily because we are learning a new opera and learning to sing in a new language. Once all music and language are learned, then comes blocking/staging rehearsals for placement on stage. Singing opera has always been a joy for me as it allows me to sing in various languages and learn about the composers and the style of music, dress, and the mindset of people during the various time periods.


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