La Monnaie / De Munt La Monnaie
De Munt
Behind the scenes
In the wings of the opera

Rehearsal spaces

Rehearsal studios


Opera singing is an art, where the voice itself becomes an instrument crafted throughout years of training.

Opera singers project their voices without the aid of microphones, engaging over 200 muscles to amplify their sound—a workout worthy of an athlete! The singer's body is their instrument, and just like no two bodies are alike, each voice is unique.

Hugo Segers
Masterclass de la soprano Danielle de Niese avec la mezzo-soprano Estelle Defalque (MM Laureate)

What happens when we sing?

Exhaled air passing through the vocal cords causes them to vibrate. Men's vocal cords are typically longer than women's, resulting in deeper male voices.

The sound produced by the vocal cords then resonates in the pharynx, mouth, and nasal cavity. Even the size and shape of the singer's skull can affect the sound.

A short vocaliseVocalise - A singing exercise where the singer melodically modulates their voice using a vowel sound.

Do you hear a woman or a man’s voice?

Hugo Segers
Masterclass de la soprano Danielle de Niese avec la mezzo-soprano Estelle Defalque (MM Laureate)

In opera, singers tell stories, with each character represented by a specific vocal type.

Voices are distinguished by the following characteristics:

  • Their timbre and colour, which can vary from dark to bright or light.
  • Their power, capable of exceeding 110 decibels—significantly louder than normal conversation levels, which range between 50 and 65 decibels.
  • Their tessitura, referring to the span of notes they can comfortably sing, from the highest to the lowest, without straining.
Hugo Segers

The main tessituraTessitura - Tessitura denotes the range of notes, spanning from the lowest to the highest, that a singer can perform with comfort and ease. are:

  • BASS

For women, the soprano voice represents the highest pitch, with "sopra" meaning "above" in Italian. Mezzo-sopranos, as the name implies, perform at a more intermediate range, slightly deeper into the lower register than sopranos, and typically possess a rounder tone. Contraltos, the lowest of the female voices, are relatively rare.

Would you like to test your musical ear?

Link each excerpt to its corresponding voice type.

Excellent! Maybe are some of these melodies familiar to you? “L’amour est un oiseau rebelle” (mezzo-soprano) and the queen of the night aria (soprano) are well-known opera excerpts. You can regularly hear them in films, TV series, commercials or on social networks. That’s why you might be more of an expert in opera than you think!

For men, the baritone voice, occupying a medium range between the tenor and bass, is the most common. The tenor, being the highest male voice, has the capacity to sustain high notes for extended periods (the word "tenere" in Latin means "to hold"). The bass represents the lowest male vocal range.

Link each excerpt to its corresponding voice type.

What an ear! Congratulations!
Hugo Segers

How about the countertenor?

The countertenor is a male singer who sings in falsetto. When he speaks, his voice is much deeper than when he sings.

Not to be confused with castratiCastrato - Castrati were male singers who were castrated before puberty to preserve their prepubescent vocal characteristics. Castrati were particularly prevalent in 17th and 18th-century opera, with the practice being officially banned in 1902. !

Ready for the next level?

Link each excerpt to its corresponding voice type.

Waw! Impressive!
Hugo Segers
Masterclass de la soprano Danielle de Niese avec la mezzo-soprano Estelle Defalque (MM Laureate)

There are further sub-categories. Sopranos, for instance, can be categorised into various types, including light sopranos, known for their airy and agile voices, coloratura sopranos, who possess extraordinary agility in high registers, lyric sopranos, who balance agility with power, dramatic sopranos, with deeper voices capable of resonating over an orchestra of more than 100 musicians, and more.

Hugo Segers
Masterclass de la soprano Danielle de Niese avec la mezzo-soprano Estelle Defalque (MM Laureate)

Some roles can be sung by more than one voice type and some singers find their voices straddling two tessituras. This means the categories are not fixed. Over time, and with age, singers may experience changes in their voices, leading to a shift in tessitura. It's not uncommon for a tenor to transition into a baritone over the years.

Soprano Barbara Hannigan rehearses Lulu.

Singers dedicate immense effort to refining their voices, starting long before they arrive at the theatre and continuing in the rehearsal studios. They sculpt their voices to fit the music and the specific roles they will perform. In the video below, Canadian soprano Barbara Hannigan discusses her experiences with the virtuoso role of Lulu, which she performed at La Monnaie in 2012 and again in 2021.

Lulu (2021)

Soprano Barbara Hannigan rehearses Lulu