Becoming and being an opera singer Health, personality and skills

University dissertation from Stockholm : Psykologiska institutionen

Abstract: The present thesis explores factors and processes associated with the artistic profession and development of opera singers. The profession of opera singers has a long story deriving its origin in early 1600s in Italy. What is performed on opera stages today is written in the musical scores in the 18th and 19th century. The question arises how the modern opera singers live, learn and excel in their contemporary pursuit in order to meet the high demands on performance. The initial study identified health issues related to the professional activity of opera singers. Qualitative and quantitative measurements indicated that psychological problems were associated with a distinct worry for possible negative evaluation from significant others and a fear of vocal indisposition. A range of health-promoting activities was demonstrated aiming at preventing the occurrence of somatic problems that could cause vocal indisposition. Psychosocial problems concerned difficulties to maintain a family life and relations due to irregular working hours. In Study II, the psychological and physiological effects of singing lessons were investigated with respect to amateur and professional levels of singing experiences. Amateur singers experienced more well-being measured by self-reports of emotional states and by lower levels of stress hormones than professionals. In Study III, narrative accounts were collected to identify factors and processes in the artistic development during higher opera education. A descriptive model was created that embraced the development of various skills such as singing technique, means of expressiveness and interpersonal skills. Outcome variables from the education were artistic autonomy, artistic competence and change in self-concept. In Study IV, personality characteristics were assessed among elite students in opera and business education representing an artistic versus a traditional educational streaming. Female opera students, female business and male business students shared the personality characteristic of extraversion indicating a disposition towards sensation seeking. Male opera singers exhibited a profile of elevated levels of emotionality. In general, the findings across the studies demonstrate that the individual development of operatic artistry is a complex process where health-related issues, personality characteristics, skills acquisition and sociocultural values are critical constituents. A major result was the marked focus on the instrument per se, the voice. Vocal functioning in singing was described as a means of enabling operatic singing, a mode for artistic expression and indicator of health.