In my opinion, one major thing that isn't working right is thetraining. Ithink the teaching of singers is not in good shape these days. Fewteachers understand what to explore in a voice, how to find thesingers' unique gifts, and how to instill a reliable technique. Andthen there is the issue of young singers (sometimes? often?) not havinggood advocates/guidance during the early parts of their careers.
Back in the old days, many great singers made their debuts in Verdi and such in their twenties, even their early twenties. It was not unheard of for someone to debut in a major role in their late teens. Something else must be wrong. Perhaps the way people sing, or lyric voices that shouldn't sing heavier rep as opposed to heavier voices who should sing that kind of rep, or perhaps singers made debuts in smaller houses than now, or perhaps orchestras were smaller and conductors were kinder and didn't attempt to drown the singers out. Maybe singers trained earlier. Maybe there were better teachers. In any case, it isn't so much that singers are pushing themselves too soon, but rather pushing themselves into a fach they should never sing in the first place, or must now sing a dramatic role under more punishing circumstances than previously, or attempt to sing a demanding role without proper preparation and vocal skill. The demands are different today. Singers start later and must compete under different circumstances and master a broader spectrum of skills than yesterday. I blame bigger theaters, modern day technology and a misguided attempt to make opera popular. Opera will always appeal to a modest but steady customer base. It always has, and probably always will. It is an art form akin to museums. In reality, the percentage of the general public that goes to a museum is rather small, but does that mean we should do away with museums because they aren't part of mainstream popularity? Today it takes a professional opera singer an average of ten years to train. That training usually begins in the early twenties, usually when they discover they have a voice. Those who begin sooner usually have previous training in music, and often make their early mark singing in their native language. So in answer to your question, it depends on how big the theater is, how well trained the singer is, and what fach is proper for them. It is an individual issue that can only be ascertained for each singer. A well trained young singer can sing the same rep as an older one under the right circumstances, and have no wear and tear on his longevity. Most larger voices are lost because they aren't allowed to sing and develop as they should under the misguided idea that they are going to ruin their voices. This should not be confused with many singers who think they have large voices but do not, or singers who push their voices. Singers who push are ill prepared and improperly trained. So are singers that never learn to use their full voices. Here I blame many teachers who can't seem to tell the difference between pushing and simply using the large voice one has. John Rahbeck