Sophie Bevan's top 10 tips for becoming an opera star

By Alison Feeney-Hart
BBC News


Soprano Sophie Bevan was crowned young singer of the year at the 2013 International Opera Awards, aged 29.

A graduate of the Benjamin Britten International Opera School, she studied as a Karaviotis Scholar with Lillian Watson and was awarded the Queen Mother Rose Bowl Award.

She has performed Yum-Yum in The Mikado, Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro and Pamina in The Magic Flute at the Royal Opera House.

Here are her top 10 tips for becoming an opera star.

1. Sing every day

I've been singing every day since I was 10 years old. It sort of totally took over my whole life really and it's been like that ever since I can remember. I was always picked out at choir to sing solo, I was always going to go to music college and become a professional singer - it was just assumed it was what I was going to do, it was already decided.

My mum encouraged me to join the local opera company as a child. They introduced me to the whole aspect of singing as well as dressing up and acting…I loved it! It filled me with huge excitement and I knew it was what I wanted to do.

I'm glad I didn't become the next Charlotte Church, I didn't want to. I was never looking to become a big star at a young age, even though my voice developed very young.

I wanted to do it in the way that most professional musicians who I aspire to be like did it. And that involves studying for a long time, learning on the job and eventually standing on stage and being an opera singer. Just recording Ave Maria as a young girl, wasn't really what I wanted to do.

It wasn't who I aspired to be, I wanted to be a proper, real, grown up opera singer, rather than a child star.

image captionSophie performed in Don Giovanni for Opera de Bauge surrounded by her sisters - who are also opera singers - as her bridesmaids

If you want to be an opera singer you should find a teacher and start singing every day. Build up your muscles, build up your strength. I don't agree with this tone deaf business, I think that you can be taught how to sing to a certain extent.

To get to the top, I think you need to have that sort of extra something - occasionally people without it manage to get there through sheer hard work.

Listen to singers you like on the internet, buy CDs, go watch operas and just get completely involved in the world you want to become a part of.

My family are all classical musicians and so we were never introduced to pop music when we were younger. I'm the eldest of eight children and my father used to say pop music would turn our brains to pus. We were never allowed to listen to it, simply because he couldn't stand it. It would make him really angry to even hear a drum beat anywhere, it wasn't an option!

When we were a bit older I tried to fit in and be cool and listen to other types of music but to be honest it's never really interested me. I've realised now, as I've got older and come to terms with who I am, that it's alright to be me and I've recognised that I don't really enjoy popular types of music.

Being an opera singer is not what most people think it is. It takes a lot of hard work. A lot of people don't realise what makes us so special is that we don't ever sing with microphones.

We spend years and years cultivating a way of singing whereby we use our natural resonances to project our voices to thousands of people in an opera house. And that's something people in musicals, for example, never do. It takes a long time to learn how to do it but it's incredibly rewarding.

image captionAt her first year at the Royal College of Music Sophie Bevan played the role of Flora in Britten's The Turn of the Screw

I think you have to be pretty easy going to be an opera singer. You have to be a friendly person - someone who likes working in groups, working with other people and someone who is willing to suck up a little bit to the people who are in charge!

You do hear about big divas, but in this day and age you are less likely to get work if you are like that. They would just pick a nicer person to work with. You absolutely have to love what you do. You have to be able to put your whole heart and soul into it because it takes up so much of your life.

If you are a homely person who needs to stay at home and be near your friends and family it can be very difficult because you spend so much time on the road. I'm going to be back home for Christmas with my family - hopefully it won't involve sitting round a piano and singing, hopefully more drinking and maybe dancing!

People do talk about the whole package a lot in opera nowadays. Opera is much more physical than it used to be. Last year I was performing in Covent Garden up on a wire, spinning in the air whilst singing. Things have definitely changed, you don't just stand there and open your mouth.

You can be how you like, you don't have to look good or try and stay healthy and slim but it helps I think if you do. There are some amazing looking opera singers out there - it's just rubbish this idea that an opera singer is some big fat woman with horns on her head.

Some people get to the top by entering lots and lots of competitions and it really works for them. I can't stand competitions and I've never really liked the idea of setting myself up against someone else and being compared with them.

I have won a few awards which has amazed me because I've never entered myself into anything. I'm very lucky in that sense and I'm very grateful but I will never ever put myself forward for a competition and I'll never tell anyone I teach or speak to they should unless they have a real burning desire to do it.

I know a lot of singers who spend a lot of time taking vitamins and going to bed early and being very good at that sort of thing, but everyone's different. I enjoy drinking and I even enjoy smoking a little bit, which I really shouldn't because it's naughty. For me, and this is just my way of doing it, I just tell myself that I'm never ill, so I don't ever get ill and I just carry on going.

If I've got a really big concert coming up, I'll try not to drink too much. I try to be a bit better but in general I'd say I'm pretty normal as a person. I don't go to bed early every night and I don't not drink or not indulge in the things that other people my age do because then I wouldn't be happy.

I am busy, but I think I just throw myself into everything that I do. I can't actually remember the last time I had a holiday…it's been a while. You do have to work hard so it's really important to love it, if not you'll hate it.

This isn't a job where you come home from an office, put your feet up and forget about what you did during the day. You carry your instrument around with you all the time, it's in your throat and so you are never really on holiday.

If you want to be an opera singer, it's a wonderful, wonderful life. You get to see the world as part of your job. You get to meet amazing, like-minded people and you are acting, singing, dressing up and you learn so much. It is incredibly rewarding, and it's a great life.

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