Singing Opera is a HUGE undertaking so in this article, I’m only going to talk about a few vital parts.
Breath is life. If breathing stops, life soon stops as well. Eastern traditions like yoga and zen have devoted thousands of years to understanding and training the breath and every singer who spends enough time practicing will eventually come to feel a sense of intimacy with their own breathing. If you watch a healthy baby breathe, the breath goes deep into the stomach. The stomach rises and falls rhythmically.
Our layers upon layers of cultural conditioning, ‘parenting’, fear-based ‘learning’ and the overload of stimuli in our modern society all disrupt our natural breathing pattern. It’s no wonder, then, that it can take years of training and unlearning to restore your natural, deep breathing. As you go through your singing journey, you’ll find that things can get pretty emotional from time to time. Why is that? Through singing, you become aware of things you weren’t aware of before. Things like tension patterns that arose in childhood, breathing difficulties rooted in unpleasant emotions and all sorts of other treasures.
Yes, I say treasures, because awareness is a cure. Merely by becoming aware — conscious — these tensions and bad habits begin to melt away and leave your body. There are ways to speed up the process, and I encourage you to explore them, but that’s a discussion for another article. For now, just remember that there are things within you that can’t stand in the light of awareness, and your singing journey will become a kind of daily therapy for you if you have the guts to stay aware.
Your breath is fuel for the fire of your vocal sound, and you can hear how a lot of pop singers really struggle to get enough air. They don’t have a solid breathing technique. That really hurts their sound and causes them to strain and engage compensatory muscles to make up for lack of proper breath support.
If you place your palms on the bottom of your ribcage and inhale, you’ll notice that the ribcage expands and elevates somewhat. The idea is to keep the ribcage in that slightly ‘floating’ position DURING singing. So if you inhale and then hold that inhalation for a second, you’ll feel the ribcage “snap” into that elevated spot. That’s the position used when singing opera.
It really allows you to control the airflow which then lets you control your sound better. As you sing, make sure the ribcage stays in this location – don’t let it drop back down until AFTER you’ve completed the musical phrase. You don’t need to take huge gulps of air just to sing a phrase on one breath. Just a normal amount of air is usually enough (unless it’s a real monster of a phrase). But this elevated position of your ‘carriage’, or rib structure, is like holding your fingertips at the opening of a balloon — it allows you to portion out your air and let it out in a controlled manner, rather than all at once.
Posture is also important because a good posture will help you relax and give a confident appearance while singing opera. So ideally you should be standing up tall and relaxed with your hands at your sides. One thing you’ll definitely want to make sure of is that your chest is high but not too high. The reason is that your ribs connect to chest bone and if your chest is low and deflated, your ribs will be as well. And that of course impacts your ability to take a full breath and control your airflow. Posture and breath control are fundamentals always taught when learning classical vocal technique.