July 9, 2013

Opera singing loud?

Is opera singing about singing loud?

I have lost count on how often I have heard that operatic singing is “loud” singing. Yes an operatic voice has to have a minimum amount of decibels in order to be heard over a large orchestra and fill a large auditorium without the help of amplification but a loud voice does not an opera singer make. Let there be no mistake – an opera singer is born, you just have to have the natural predisposition to sing this way. If you are an opera singer your vocal cords, lungs and facial bone structure are special. The latter especially is crucial in giving you the quality and timbre of your voice. That is why your voice changes completely when you have a cold as your voice finds yucky “mucus” instead of healthy tissue and bone!

A good teacher will not teach you how to sing loud. Instead she or he will help you “find” your voice and “mould” it in the suitable repertoire according to your voice type. Ironically a good teacher will first start by finding your “piano” voice and develop there before even tackling the loud bits. Hence if you are straining and pushing your voice often during a performance something is wrong. Operatic singing is about pushing the voice beyond its comfort zone but not beyond already set “limits.”

The biggest irony in singing is that the more “unforced” a sound is the more they hear it in the auditorium and the more “goosebumps” it gives!


  1. mary calleja

    Hi Joseph, if you don’t read these mails, I hope the one who reads it give you my message. By the way, we are not related (ALAS, I WISH WE ARE)ha!ha!
    Now to something more serious, the last bit you wrote is really true, it always gives me goosebumps when I’m at your concerts, in Malta, because there is when I hear you sing live.
    This year I’m not attending, because although you’re going to sing too, it’s not like your first three concerts, we really enjoyed them, because they were truly operatic concerts, where your guests were always sopranos and baritones,and that’s what many of us still want to attend to.
    I hope that you will organise future concerts like your first three because many of us will start attending again.
    While sending you my very warm and sincere regards, I thank you for reading this message, and please I hope what I said will be taken into consideration, because I’m going to miss listening to you live this year.
    Beniamino Gigli was my favourite tenor before you came along, and he also didn’t force his voice, only sweetnes came out when he opened his lips to sing.

    Warm regards

    • admin

      Thanks for your message Maria which I appreciate. I perform an average of 55 purely operatic performances a year around the world where, more often than not, I end up dying with a “knife” in my back or in my stomach 🙂 Summer time in Malta its time to have fun and “mix” grand opera with more mainstream music which serves two purposes a)it is fun! b) it attracts new crowds (and talents!) to opera. One such tenor who believed in this “marriage of musical genres” was Mario Lanza. If it wasn’t for the latter I wonder whether I would have become an opera singer. Same Pavarotti, Domingo and Caruso to name but a few.

  2. Fatima Upegui Newton

    Operatic singing is life and power, is greatness and love.!

  3. Ilse Straub

    Opera singing is not too loud in my opinion. I personally love the quiet sounds as though, like the aria Lucevan et Stelle. Some arias sound very nice if the appropriate places are sung piano and the other forte are sung. I hope this helps you further. I ‘d like your concert at 04.07.2013 with Diana Damrau in the Gasteig very much also the concert “Tribute to Marion Lanza”.
    Ilse Straub

  4. Femke

    you are right Joseph,
    As opera singer you have to be able to apply dynamics without the use of a microphone. That is what makes an opera voice diverse and beautiful. I do not think opera is loud singing. I think that other vocal techniques, used in the pop music contain more loud singing.

  5. Laura

    Opera should not be about loud singing, but I can see why many people nowadays get this impression. Projection is the word, I guess. Make your voice travel to the very last seat of a house, whether it´s a whisperlike piano or a ringing top note. And that is not about volume. Of course, a ringing top is an exciting thing, and the temptation to just sing everything out fully is great, but I think it´s the nuancing and shading which is so vital and essential in singing and which distinguishes someone with a beautiful voice from an expert singer. A beautiful and carrying mezza voce, a diminuendo, a messa di voce all those trades a singer should have at his disposal in order to create a musical character. – One hears so much straining and squeezing and pushing and monotonous singing out fully, instead. It is so very soothing for one´s ears to hear a nuanced singer and a “relaxed” and effortless voice production like yours. Thank you.

  6. John-Paul

    I love the voice of Mr Calleja and hope to see him in person one day soon. My name is John-Paul and Im about to get my first lesson in singing…As with any new singer i BLAST and hurt my throat because I dont have the technique to do anything other then that. However, I have just been sing naturally and trying to sound beautiful rather than loud. This article further testifies to that approach.

    I would love for any singer or knowledgable opera lover, as well as Mr Calleja himself, to give a listen to these brief clips and give theyre thoughts on my voice/potential.

  7. Alanna

    I wanted to thank you for writing this blog as it has inspired me! I’m a music student, and have to choose a topic to write about for my final essay, and couldn’t decide what to do. Thanks to this blog I’ve decided to look into how build/bone structure etc. affect the voice, or something related to that. For years I’ve been told I’m suited to singing music like Purcell and Vivaldi, and that I probably shouldn’t sing things like Wagner, but no one has ever really explained why!! So it will be nice to research and find out more.
    Also I’m hoping to come and see you when you are in London next April! I’ll be prepared for goosebumps 🙂 All the best, hope you are well and having lots of fun.

  8. john harrod

    You said “make no mistake, opera singers are born.” I had a music instructor at Furman University tell me that any adult with a normal voice can learn to sing opera. He didn’t mean anyone couldl earn to sing opera professionally, like you, or to have a superb voice, but he said that with enough training, anyone could develop an operatic voice.

    Who is right?


    • admin

      I don’t think this can be correct. I think that one can educate his sound to “mimic” an opera singer but not sustained lines of what is considered “operatic singing.”

  9. Jagoda

    I’ve got a question. Who has a predisposition to sing opera?
    What are these abilities? I am learning to sing classicaly for 2 years, but I’m not sure if it will work.


Leave a Reply

Joseph's Blog

May 16th, 2016

Quo Vadis Eurovision and other stories

Malta did not win the Eurovision but lo and behold the sun still rose and the island (the center of the known universe) still spun…

My two cents is that Ira Losco gave a really good performance and that the whole presentation was excellent. She shouldn’t have performed cause she is pregnant? Come off it – I have performed repeatedly with pregnant opera singers well into their 7th and 8th month of pregnancy and trust me when I say that rehearsing and performing for a full opera production is much more physically demanding than a couple of days at the Eurovision. Of course there are those who know much better than the undersigned and who went on to say that the presentation was a tad “camp”…oh the irony when one considers that the Eurovision is the campest of them all.

Meanwhile, this wouldn’t be Malta and the Eurovision wouldn’t be the Eurovision unless its politicized to the exhaustible hilt. The inevitable “mud slinging competition,” which we will see a lot of in the coming 22 months, ensued and even yours truly (inexplicably) ended up in the midst of the fray, in yet another “supernova” in a tea cup. The Eurovision suddenly became an interchangeable bullet to be used ad nauseam by both sides much like bitter parents who use their innocent children during disputes.  I have always found sycophants interesting, even amusing but they will not be getting the much desired Streisand effect from me, thank you very much. It is part of human nature after all to conjure conspiracies and we are not going to let the simple truth get in the way of some exciting and convenient fiction.

Speaking of “conjuring” is it me or is a company advertising real estate using a chap “connected” with the tragic and unnecessary death of an underage girl? It must be a clone or a”doppleganger”, otherwise this would be the epitome of bad taste and a 100 shades of wrong. Don’t get me wrong I am all for “second chances” and all of that but shouldn’t there be due process first? After all Lisa Marie didn’t get a second chance did she?