The Opera Olympics: it's time

The Opera Olympics: it's time

Jenna Simeonov

Opera is where you’ll find the Olympic athletes of singers. The training is constant and rigorous, and they do things with their bodies that most other people can’t.

Big competitions like the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World, Operalia, and the Met’s National Council Auditions are basically the Olympic Games of opera; just like the athletes, these singers not only show the results of their intense training, but their professional careers get a much-deserved boost.

But in competition, singers are judged on the big picture that comes out of countless achievements in vocal technique, like foreign language skills, dramatic training and general charisma (can that be taught?). So, what if, like the Olympics, competitions were broken down into these smaller parts? Like gymnasts or track-and-field stars?

We propose a few Opera Olympic events for you, our enthusiastic opera fans.

Highest/lowest note

Direct and simple, like the 100-metre dash. Of course, there would be divisions based on voice type, so the basses and coloratura sopranos don’t steal all the medals simply with their genetic gifts. It’s a reasonable stipulation that the note must be held for at least one second, and ideally with a moment of audible vibrato. Squeaks and burps don’t count.

A bonus event: holding said high/low note for the longest.

Fastest patter

Like running hurdles, patter is about speed within structure. There would be at least four language divisions (Italian, German, English, French), and perhaps another category for patter in one’s native tongue. In all fairness, each language would have a set bit of text; medals could either go to the longest stretch of patter in one breath, or to the singer who makes it through the entire text in the shortest amount of time. We would definitely watch that event.

Consecutive staccato notes

Sort of like the rings in men’s gymnastics, repeated staccato notes are about control and stamina. Divided by voice type and various fixed pitches (the C6 category, the F2 category, etc.), each competitor sings repeated staccato notes for as long as they can. Medals go to those who can pump out the most staccati before they start to go out of tune or pass out from hyperventilation.

Singing with a twist

Like rhythmic gymnastics or synchronized swimming, this one is about showing physical prowess with creative circumstances. Sure, she can sing; but can she do it…upside down? What about while running up a flight of stairs? Dancing the polka? Accompanying herself on the glass armonica?

Most working singers have been asked to do some tough stuff on top of those tricky phrases and endless foreign words. Isn’t it time for them to actually “get a medal for that”?

In the spirit of athletic (and vocal) greatness, here’s a fun bit of cardio-speed opera from Vivaldi’s L’Olimpiade:

What events would you like to see in the Opera Olympics? Let us know in the comments below!

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