The reality of life is that your operatic career is a business like any other, and some aspects of it must be treated as such. Work breeds work. If you’re not in the «market,» you will most likely not get many other offers. If you’re working a lot, most likely, you will get more and more offers and even have to turn down things. In order to have a «big career,» you have to work!
So forget the idea in the beginning of «I’ll just do two gigs a year and teach and have babies on the side.» It sounds like a perfect compromise, but A) performing usually takes you away from your great teaching job just when the students need you and B)if you’re only doing two things a year, everyone’s going to forget who you are, (unless you established a great name for yourself first) and the performing work will dry up.
Let me be very simplistic and OVERLY pessimistic. Everyone thinks he/she is the exception to the rule. There are few exceptions to the rule, and one has to work really hard in order to earn the distinction of breaking the rule! Usually the exceptions busted their hineys for at least ten years, establishing themselves, and then decided to stay more in one place. More power to whomever is managing both careers, but I have yet to see someone who juggles both jobs of international performer and teacher perfectly.
In this business, you are either 100% IN, or you can get thrown out. High-level institutions hire people who are working and who are very visible in other high-level institutions. If you are not working 3/4 of the year in places with a lot of visibility (i.e. reviews, publicity, etc…), I guarantee you that offers from other high-level institutions will taper off and people will begin the dreaded «I wonder what happened to her..» They don’t think, «Oh, maybe she wants to have a LIFE, too…» or that casting people can be fickle or stupid. :-)
Day in, Day out…
I’ll talk more about things I know from my own experience, and not only from what I’ve seen… I have been singing full-time freelance since 1994 now and I am ALWAYS travelling. Just doing concerts has not been an option for me. My career just didn’t develop that way.
So, I am performing in operas in new places all the time. I spend an average of a month and a half in each place. In some years, I will have been away from home 8 months total by December 31. And that is not an especially busy year. And we’re talking about after 20 years of building up a career. Travel is not at all luxurious or glamourous. Living out of a suitcase is not easy; dragging the suitcases around these days, with the scarcity of porters, is not to be taken lightly. I don’t know one opera singer who has not had back problems, and I’m sure lugging luggage and sleeping in bad beds must be a few reasons why. Jetlag also takes a pretty large toll on voice and brain when you’ve flown trans-Atlantically. Since almost all airports are well outside of the destination city, it’s usually another hour from the airport to your rented apartment. Then there’s no one to help you carry all your stuff up the inevitable stairs.
First few days are usually spent getting lost and having no groceries (besides going to rehearsals of course.) Restocking a kitchen with salt, pepper, oil, rice, pasta, tea, sugar, the ever-missing can opener, spices, etc… every two months is not a joy. There’s usually something not quite right with the accomodations, that the host or landlord says «oh, you’re only there a month and a half, you can just put up with it, can’t you? (droning fridge, major roadwork first thing in the morning just below, saggy bed, real estate agents «popping in» to show the place to other prospective renters when you’re in the bathtub, bad smells, no oven — this is a favorite, drafts and/or heating problems, only two spoons and one glass,etc.. etc..) Things that you would have fixed in your own home don’t get fixed, and you just have to «put up with it» because A) it’s not your place B) you can’t meet the repairmen, anyhow, because you’re working.
Glamour? ha ha ha!!!
If you’re expecting glamour and fabulous parties after the show, I have big news. There are sometimes some great dinners afterwards with your colleagues, sometimes lots of fans wanting you to sign their programs, but usually, you just take off your makeup and go home. No big deal, it’s a job. Get your pleasure from your work, your musicianship, your public’s applause… but don’t expect the jubilant adulation and celebration that people will lead you to believe follows performances!
At school, did they say «In the REAL world, you can’t pull this kind of stuff…»? Well, the REAL world is even worse than school — — be prepared. Do you have nerves of steel? Can you put up with bad/destructive colleagues and reviews without breaking down? Both exist in the real world, too. Colleagues may suggest things to undermine your performance, or might even upstage you; directors can be bad, mean, mind-*%#!ers, or even worse — — nice, but incapable. It takes tactics and a cool head to handle. And the skin of a rhino. Remember that it’s most likely their own insecurity that’s the problem. Or their own stupidity. But instead of getting upset or throwing a fit or feeling hurt, you must first try their suggestion (it might just be a great idea!) and if it doesn’t work, figure out a way to get your own way while either A) making it sound like THEIR idea or B) making them THINK they got their own way or C) not letting them realize that you’re doing it your way.
After saying all this macho stuff, I actually tend to be very open to what the director wants me to do and try to throw myself into the show as he sees it. «Traditional» usually means some overblown, meaningless tradition of empty gestures and things you’re «supposed» to do. Most people don’t question who created these traditions and whether they’re still valid or effective today. Push the envelop; question things and TRY things out.
Major acting training is a must (Read on to the next page…) But in the long run, it is YOU who is judged by the performance, not the director. You need to feel comfortable in your role at the end of the rehearsal period. Bad reviews are the worst, especially if they criticize you for something the director or conductor expressly told you to do. A critic can’t know you were following directions. (Or at least, usually doesn’t.) — — No, you don’t write a letter to the editor; you just bear it in mind the next time you get a GOOD writeup for something you did that you know was dog poopoo. If you’re fragile as a spring flower, either get over it or don’t pursue this career.
— need I say more?The main reason people have nerves in my estimation is lack of preparation. So even if after you are super-prepared, you still suffer from this, figure it out! Either get therapy for it, psyche yourself somehow out of it, or don’t do this job. There are enough neurotic people in this business already. I think I’ve worked with the majority of them, too!!
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