Can I become an opera singer later in life?

Written by Violetta Lazin

Violetta Lazin, soprano, is a former student of the McCray Studio. Violetta lives in The Hague, Netherlands and is the co-founder and Artistic Director of ARTax Music.

August 17, 2017

Becoming a singer at a later age

For anyone considering a career in classical singing at any point in their lives, one question applies: ARE YOU CERTAIN YOU WANNA DO THIS?

I do believe everyone should sing and everyone should learn to sing to some extent. Many medical studies prove it’s incredibly healthy. It releases stress, increases joy, even lowers the chance of heart disease. This is why, I assume, most people do sing during their lives at least in the shower where most others won’t be able to hear them. But choosing to sing for a living is entirely a different thing. In wise words of a well-known singer and vocal teacher G. Stapp: 

 

If you are determined to be a singer, pause for a moment to consider this advice. If there is anything else that you can do well and that you enjoy, choose that as a career and save singing for an avocation. Unless the very essence of your being demands that you sing professionally – don’t do it. Get a life instead!

Seriously, too many people lose all enjoyment in music as they vainly struggle for professional and financial success. And no matter what, be sure to plan for an alternate career, too. After all, one is more likely to be elected to Congress than to ever earn enough money from singing that it’s necessary to pay annual net income taxes.

Is there a simple answer?

 

Armed with hopes, dreams and often illusions of a grandeur life, many young and not so young singers set out to become professionals unaware of the challenges and perils of the task. An even bigger amount of individuals and, sadly, institutions, big and small, profit from nurturing these ambitions in their students; out of self-interest and without introducing them to the truths and realities of such carriers.

Now: if you’ve informed yourself properly and you are still convinced this is a path you want to proceed on – I wish you the very best of luck. Along with a solid vocal technique and hard work, luck will be your most important factor.

But what if you are in your late twenties, thirties or even older: is it too late to realize your dreams of becoming a professional opera singer?
Let me disappoint you right away: the answer to this question is not a simple yes or no.

For many reasons, the world of opera is suffering a crisis. There are many things that plague the art form. From general lack of funding, through different, often ill conceived approaches to “modernize the form”; from the recording industry controlling a big chunk of the market to the lack of respect towards the old masters and traditions (composers, singers, conductors stagings); to a general demand of perceived realism (younger, faster, prettier) which most commonly leads to empty, uninteresting and inadequate.

Most singers, nowadays obtain their bachelor and master degrees by the age of 24. Their diplomas might not help them to acquire the job within the industry but the fact remains they have, at least to a certain extent, been trained in music theory, singing, acting, movement, some stage experience and all other traits one needs to become a classical singer.
The people with a late start tend to lack some or all of these at the age of 25.

Training? Yes, please.

There might be many reasons why one (re)discovers a passion for singing and desire to become a professional classical singer at a later age.

  • Late discoveries. For some singers, it was only later in life that they discovered that they had viable instruments. In (church) choirs where they were heard by conductors and encouraged to explore their voices more.
  • Dramatic voices often need longer to develop and mature and sometimes they go through fach changes which in turn require more time spent on technical work and learning a lot of new repertoire both of which are time-consuming. This implies, of course, that you know what your voice type is.
  • Singers who once had early aspirations for singing careers, but put them on hold because of competing priorities like raising children or simply putting food on the table.
  • Musicians who played an instrument who discovered they had fantastic voices
The singers from the last three categories mentioned above have some advantages. They all had previous music training which after years of “neglect” probably needed to be brushed up intensely but not learned from scratch. For the first category, regardless of age, perseverance and determination are the most important tools. If you plan to “catch up” you will need to work faster, harder, better, smarter and more efficiently than anyone younger than you to close the gap. You will need to build stamina and learn how to deal with stage fright, most likely to kick in given the lack of experience. I’m not trying to discourage you and I do believe that if you really want to do it then you will, but there’s no point in beat around the bushes. After all, you have no time to waste, do you?

Final thoughts

 

In some cases, age itself might not be a problem. If you happen to be a bass baritone or a dramatic mezzo your mature looks and gray hair won’t be an issue, as these voices usually portray aging characters. The experience might be a bigger requirement if the character in question is the lead but if you don’t mind singing a wide spectrum of supporting roles (and possibly work your way up) this might be a great opportunity.

Last but not least: set realistic goals. Treat this like a business that it is! Know your specific product and do your best to understand how it fits into the market. Focusing more on oratorio, lied performances, semi amateur productions etc.
Produce your own projects, collaborate with other artists of different genres, look at the Internet and new media as channels for creativity, and never give up on your passion and dreams – even if your path is not always linear.

An older singer might have to just accept this reality. Part of being a grown-up is not being cared for but learning how to take care of oneself. Therefore, the grown-up must create his/her own support system. Even the extremely young people face many trials and tribulations. In a graduating class of 15 people within 10 years chances are only a handful will still be singing actively and only 1 or 2 (if any) might “make it big”. This is the nature and reality of the operatic world, no matter the age.

Credits:
Cover photo by JC Bonassin
Background photo by Simon Wijers

About the author: Violetta Lazin

About the author: Violetta Lazin

Soprano

Violetta Lazin, soprano, is a former student of the McCray Studio. Violetta lives in The Hague, Netherlands and is the co-founder and Artistic Director of ARTax Music.

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7 Comments

  1. Beverly Boze

    I am 69 this year and have been working on my classical voice for 2 years now. I really don’t care if I get into any play or even an opera, I just love to sing my arias where the acoustics bring out the sound. Stair wells are good and people have smiles on their faces. That is enough for me to feel good. I sang jazz for many years and was singing all my life, so classical came easy. I would like people to know that it is not what you do with your voice, but how to enjoy the feeling of expressing a song. It is better than a million bucks.

    Reply
    • Diane

      Hi I am 67 and sang for several years anything from opera to rock and roll. I think about singing everyday but where do I go to get with a band or just a piano player. So many auditions go to a certain age. I still love to perform but where are there older entertainers?

      Reply
    • Miss A

      Bravo!!!!! I think people should stop being so obsessed with “success”, it’s about how good it makes you feel to sing and you can do it in a million of ways. You don’t have to be a star and famous. And that is not where true happiness lies in life. Just sing and see where it takes you, life is too short to be desperate about “success”. Enjoy your family that is not going to be around forever, along with real life values and with your singing. Do your best finding a job for regular income, since it’s harder to earn that from just singing, and be happy about how life takes care of you. Be thankful for every day that you open your eyes in the morning and can spend one more day on this amazing planet!
      So I agree with you 69 year old singer!! It’s wonderful that you enjoy it like you do!

      Reply
  2. Anne Curran

    Thanku for this message.i am 66 and have sung all my life Fe and would love to be in an opera singing ..so u have helped to inspire me

    Reply
  3. Carla L. Thomas

    Hello I’m 55 years old and I studied Classical Music/Opera in college for 3 years but I put it on hold to be married and raise a family. My voice is in very good shape and I still sing in a professional Choral ensemble. I also do individual gigs on my own. I would love to venture out and do more solo projects. How do I get myself out there more. I’d appreciate any advice given. I’m a Soprano that can sing 1st and Mezzo.

    Reply
  4. Anna Valjakka

    Thank you for this insightful article. I’m myself a 29-year-old soprano and I’ve sung in choirs and studied with private teachers most of my 20s, but now I’ve been developing my technique further (getting “better” I would say) and getting some experience singing as a soloist for 2 years now. I feel very “incapable” though, because I don’t have formal education in music/singing. I’m wondering if it’s “too late” to apply to schools at this point of age. Most of all I’m afraid I won’t get a good vocal teacher and that I will need to spend time working with lots of stuff that will be less useful, which will eventually be a waste of time (such as music theory, which I studied back then in music school though, so it’s not like my level is zero either).
    My voice type is something like a lyric-dramatic soprano with some ability for coloratura and a lot of “metal” sound. My teachers say that I have a very good instrument. Also my grandmother was a very successful opera singer with an international career, and I think I’ve got a similar voice to hers (with slightly warmer color)…
    I’m wondering if you have any insights about whether I should try to get in a music institution, or simply focus on working with technique with a good teacher, go to masterclasses, try to get some experience in amateur productions.. I don’t know if this is a silly question to start with.

    Reply

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