Opera Singers: Born or Made? (plus a bonus question)

Opera is one of my life passions. On this topic, I’ve often wondered the following:

Let’s say that identical twins to Luciano Pavarotti Cicilia Bartolli had never taken singing lessons. How close would their voices be to that of their siblings? Obviously, operatic superstars are endowed with phenomenal gifts upon which they must build even further. That said, would the twins have the same resonance, the same richness of voice–or even close to it? How much difference would there be?

Bonus question: what can a person such as myself (mid to late 30s) do to significantly improve the resonance in my singing voice? Just how much might signing lessons improve my voice? (I’ve never had lessons.)

Thanks in advance and have a great weekend.

I wonder how long it is before someone brings up castrati performers. First thing I thought of, at least.

Nature vs. Nurture at its best (worst?).


Whether they’re twin brothers or not, I would venture to say their voices would sound similar. Isn’t that usually the case with family? Hell, look at the Baldwins… they all sound (and look) the same to me. That doesn’t mean Pavarotti’s brother would be as good of a singer as he is, but at least the timbre of his voice would sound the same. Whether or not he chose to work on making it better by taking lessons would have to be seen.

I recommend you take singing lessons if you think it would be fun; there is a lot you can learn… you don’t have to be born with everything. You can learn to identify notes simply by hearing them, extend your range, use vibrato, etc. But again, the actual timbre of your voice, the way it sounds, probably isn’t going to change much, especially at the (relatively to most singers) late age of the mid-30’s. Probably the best thing you can gain from taking lessons is confidence, and that is what makes one performer stand out from another.

A girl I went to high school with was very much into theater, and was often cast in leading roles because of her beautiful voice. She’s been taking lessons for years.

Now she’s been studying opera for two years and after hearing her sing, I am amazed at how much her voice has improved. Her tone and resonance are simply phenomenal.

Formal lessons are great for improving singing voices.

Luciano Pavarotti answered this very question in an interview I watched several years ago.
He said, basically, that his pipes were natural but the sound they made was not. He likened voice to any other instrument, requiring skill and training to perfect., but you do need the instrument first.
He even sang an italian filk song in his natural voice. Sounded pretty good, but much different than his operatic voice. Better, IMO. But then I’m not a fan of the art.

I’m married to a woman who for years yearned for a career as an opera singer. Two things stopped her. 1) She didn’t have a “big enough” sound, and that’s popular these days in larger opera companies. 2) She didn’t want it badly enough to practice that much a day. She did and does, however, have an amazing “instrument”. Her control was measured in college once, an audio engineer offered to let the singers plot the vibrations of their vibrato on a scope and have it printed out, so they could see anomalys. Hers was apparently a very even sine wave. At 16, she already had a lot of diaphragmatic control.

It seems to me that it’s the nature AND nurture. She was born with a set of vocal chords. They can vibrate and produce sounds in a certain way. Whether or not they are developed into a finer instrument is entirely up to her. Yes, she has a raw gift. But she chose to develop it and hone it. The muscles now, at age 43, can do things with subtlety and depth of tone that she couldn’t do 15 years ago when I met her.

Look at Krista Yamaguchi. Or Venus Williams. Both went through puberty and arrived as young adults with a body type. They were both already perfecting their sport skill and muscles pre-puberty, and they made the most of the changes in muscle density and development that come with adulthood. They were at the top of their game, at their time. Well, Ms. Williams still is and Ms. Yamaguchi is still on the Pro Circuit.

Point is, they took the potential to the greatest possible length, and made the most of it. Same with any gift like that. Singers who have great instruments develop them to a high degree, and nurture them, hone them, baby them… " Vocal rest" wasn’t a religious experience in my life until I met my wife. ( Of course, 16 bitter years later, the concept of vocal rest has taken on a different meaning, but that’s a rant for antother thread :wink: ). The story related about about Pavarotti’s normal singing voice being pleasant but not overwhelming proves my point.

The vocal chords are developed literally into an instrument, with shading and subtlety. I’m not a huge fan of Sinead O’Connor’s but to listen to her sing is to hear the raw power and emotion, shot through a delightfully strong instrument. Same with many other singers.

If only they all didn’t turn into such divas :mad: