More and more young singers are being cast in opera’s biggest roles. But how are their voices coping?

Why are opera singers getting younger?

The simple answer: to attract a wider audience. While the mainstream entertainment industry has long been dominated by the young and beautiful, opera has only recently caught on to the commercial value of a youthful cast. It may be no coincidence, then, that most of today’s best-paid opera stars are also good-looking. Australian-born soprano Danielle de Niese and German tenor Jonas Kaufmann (neither of whom would look out of place on a catwalk) earn a salary of up to €15,000 (AU$19,600) for each opera performance.

What does this mean for young singers?

Although aspiring young opera singers now have a greater chance of being cast in lead roles, long rehearsals and schedules of more than 100 shows a year can quickly take their toll on the inexperienced. In 2009, while still in his thirties, Mexican tenor Rolando Villazón had surgery to remove a cyst on his vocal cords after singing, he admitted, “too much, too fast”.

Why are young voices so fragile?

It’s all about the density of the muscle fibres in a person’s vocal cords....

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