Unplugged: Can your voice fill an opera house?

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1. How do we sing?

Most of us sing, generally to ourselves in the car or the shower, blissfully unaware of the whole process. It’s as instinctive as talking – we just form the thought, open our mouths and out it comes.

Every day, I work with all kinds of singers from opera to musical theatre. Just like you, they sing by taking in breath, sending it up through the larynx into the head and out into the atmosphere.

But to make yourself heard in a large space without amplification, as opera singers do, something else has to happen.

2. Watch: Projecting your voice

With no microphone, opera singers need to use their bodies to fill an auditorium, allowing audiences to hear everything from the dying words of a consumptive heroine to the grandest of proclamations from a Norse god.

This clip contains photographs from three operas: Garsington Opera’s Così fan tutte (photo: John Snelling); Welsh National Opera’s Pelléas et Mélisande (photo: John Snelling); and Welsh National Opera’s The Magic Flute (photo: Robert Workman).

3. How singing happens

A complex combination of physical interactions took place in Luciano Pavarotti’s body to enable him to sing the role of Tosca’s lover, Cavaradossi.

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4. Having a go

Like athletes, singers have to warm up their voices to keep them fit and healthy. Vocal coach Mary King and singer Owen Webb demonstrate some of the techniques they use.

5. Making yourself heard

Which of these do you think plays the most important role in projection?

Physiology

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Physiology

The combination of the size and shape of the vocal folds and resonators and lung capacity affect how you sing. Some say it's the most important factor.

Venue

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Venue

Theatres often have little reverberation, whereas singers in outdoor arena and stadium concerts are usually amplified as the sound is not contained.

Voice type

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Voice type

It can be easier for soprano notes to be projected than deep bass ones, though this can depend on other factors, such as what is happening in the orchestra.

Charisma

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Charisma

Most agree that if someone has exceptional stage presence, your attention is rapt and you are more likely to hear them, even at the back of the theatre.