Stage & Screen
Opera: Meet the Singers (with a teacher)
This activity is for classroom use. Your teacher will have further material to use alongside the clips and information below.
SECTION 1: The singers
In small groups, we’re going to play a game to see if you can organise yourselves in a line from a low-sounding pitch to a high-sounding pitch. The challenge is that everyone in the group has to sing a different note! Your teacher will give you instructions.
Once you’re in a group, start by seeing who in the group can sing the lowest note and who can sing the highest note!
Now we’re going to see if you’ve completed the challenge successfully. Starting with the lowest note, each person should sing his or her note in turn: is each note different and do they steadily get higher the further along the line you go?
You may have noticed that some people can sing lower than others and some people can sing higher than others. The range of notes you can sing tells you what sort of voice you have. In opera, singers will often be given a specific type of character for the type of voice they have.
Look at the image below: can you match the three most important voice types in opera to the correct types of character?
SECTION 2: Guess who?
Listen to the following pieces of music and see how easily you can hear whether the singer is male or female:
Now we’re going to make it more challenging! You’re going to listen to the pieces of music again, but this time decide exactly which voice types are singing: soprano, tenor, bass or a combination?
Remember that in these extracts, the soprano voice is the only female voice. The tenor and bass voices both belong to men!
SECTION 3: There are more…
Now that you’ve got to know the main types of singers in an opera, it is time to introduce you to two more voice types that you may not have heard before! What name can you come up with for a male singer that sounds very high and for a female singer that sounds very low?
A very high male singer is called a countertenor and a very low female singer is called a contralto or often just ‘alto’. Now let’s see who can correctly identify the singer in the following pieces of music. Each piece is either a soprano, contralto or countertenor.
SECTION 4: Singing in an opera house
Look at one or two of things that singers have to do in an opera house. Can you think of other things they either need to do, or qualities they need to have?
The singers on stage have to be able to sing in many different ways, from loudly to quietly, fast to slow and high to low. This is often according to what they’re directed to do by a conductor or director. So now you’re going to see how well you can change the way you sing in a game called ‘Sing like a star’! Your teacher will explain the rules to you.
Bass: A low male voice
Contralto: A very low female voice; often shortened to ‘alto’
Countertenor: A very high male voice that has the range of a low female singer
Dynamics: The volume (degrees of loud and quiet) in a piece of music
Pitch: Whether a note is high or low
Soprano: A high female voice
Tempo: The speed of a piece of music
Tenor: A high male voice
Vocal range: From the lowest to the highest note of a singer’s voice
All media credits – titles, composers, artists, sources etc. – may be found in the Teacher Sheet, accessed from the Info box at the top of this page.