Alternate Career Titles:

Singer, Classical Singer, Operatic Singer

Career Overview: Sings, performs, and acts in operas.

Career Salary Range: $450 to $1,000+ per performance

Become an Opera Singer

Career Description

Opera Singers go through rigorous training in classical music and perform in classical theatrical productions that are set to music, singing dialogue instead of speaking. Opera Singers must also act on stage, in an effort to bring the story to life. Because of the fact that traditional operas were written and performed in a number of foreign languages, Opera Singers must be well versed in the language of the particular opera they are performing. This doesn’t mean the Opera Singer must know the language inside and out, but they at least need to learn to sing the part.

Individuals may sing lead, feature, or support roles – they also might sing in opera choruses. And, like most performance roles, they will need to audition and compete against other Opera Singers in order to land a role. Some Opera Singers hire Agents or Managers to find auditions for them, while others hear about openings through word of mouth, through the union, or through advertisements or notices in trade papers.

Once a part is landed, the Opera Singer must attend rehearsals to become familiar with the opera, while learning their part. During rehearsals, individuals will be fitted with costumes, and will have Stylists determine their hair and makeup. Because of this, work hours for the Opera Singer may vary depending on the schedule of rehearsals and performances – they often work in the afternoon, evenings, and on weekends.


Factors including the type of setting, the geographic location, and prestige, size and budget of the opera company determine the Opera Singer’s salary. Reputation and experience of the individual, along with the type of their role will also factor into determining the salary. Opera Singers are usually paid by the performance, or paid on a weekly basis. All things considered, accomplished Opera Singers usually earn between $450 to $1,000 per performance.

There are apprentice programs for aspiring Opera Singers, and they are usually paid between $300 and $500 or more plus housing costs. If one has brief experience, but is not considered a “professional,” but rather is a part of the Young Singer program, they can expect to earn between $500 and $750 per week.

Opera Singers can also earn royalties from recordings, and Opera Singers working in unionized halls have minimum earnings set by the American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA). The type of role an individual is singing, along with the number of required rehearsals and performances determine the levels of these minimum earnings.


Local, regional and national opera companies exist throughout the country, with the most major operas taking place in New York City.


In terms of advancement, individuals can climb the career ladder by singing with a more prestigious opera company or by obtaining a lead solo role. This is a highly competitive field.

Education and Training

One can’t expect to make an easy transition into becoming an Opera Singer. Instead, individuals must go through years of classical singing training. Apprenticeship programs are extremely useful for aspiring Opera Singers. And generally, Opera Singers major in classical music while attending music conservatories, music colleges or universities (check out our complete list of top music universities here). Also, many individuals learn from Vocal Coaches and Teachers to supplement their formal training.

Experience, Skills, and Personality

As mentioned, Opera Singers must obtain a lot of experience in singing classical music – which may be obtained through Young Singer and opera company sponsored apprenticeship programs. It goes without saying that an Opera Singer must have an amazing voice, while having the ability to act. It is also useful for the Opera Singer to be fluent in alternative languages when auditioning to sing in traditional operas.

Because one doesn’t just become an Opera Singer overnight, aspiring Opera Singers must have the drive and determination to practice long and hard – this requires physical and mental stamina.

Unions and Associations

The American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA) is the union that negotiates minimum earnings for members, while also outlining working conditions and standards. Opera Singers who work in unionized concert venues receive the benefits of this union.

Suggestions for Getting Started

  • Gain excellent experience by taking part in summer workshops and seminars.
  • While seminars are helpful, internships and apprenticeship programs provide the best opportunity to gain the experience needed to thrive in this career.
  • Find useful contacts and gain additional experience by attending opera competitions.
  • Even getting involved with a local opera company will prove to be useful.
  • Attend as many live operas as possible to get a feel for the techniques employed by professionals.
  • If you can’t attend a live opera, public broadcasting networks and cable stations shows operas occasionally, so be sure to tune in.

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