Do you really get to know the city where you’re singing, either? Everyone always assumes you have time to «vacation» in that city, which is not true. You have many things to do, most opera seasons are during the cruddiest weather periods (on purpose) of that region, and no one wants to wander around a foreign city in the cold and rain by himself. I’ve had to force myself to take a look around the places I’ve sung. Otherwise, what’s the perk in travelling to all these places? Making local friends is always the best bet. But naturally, that would require that you SPEAK THE LANGUAGE!
Speaking of working, let me explain about rehearsal schedules. (Small tangent.) Because most directors have no idea how far they’ll get from one day to the next, they have a very loose rehearsal schedule, which gets changed daily. You will know for sure the time periods of rehearsal usually, but not whether or not you’re called, until the day beforehand. This is STANDARD. This is not just a bad dream or one lone theater’s quirkiness! This means that although you can be relieved that you don’t have to rehearse every day from (for example) 10:30-12:30 and then 1:30-4:30, then 7-10, you could be called for any one of those time periods, or all. (Depending on the theater, of course.) You usually won’t know until the day beforehand, and even if you know two or three days beforehand, they can change their minds — — you’re there to work for THEM in that time period. There’s usually one day off a week — usually Sunday or Monday. Which means you can’t make plans to do anything in advance during the week, like dinner plans, dates with friends, going to the theater, going to a concert, having a doctor’s appointment, etc…. When you are working, things are as concentrated as possible, since it doesn’t pay for them to take their leisure to put a show together with all these people coming in from all over to do this show. So, your time will be very filled with your work. Your life can become JUST your work.
The major thing about travelling all the time is the loneliness. I still haven’t come to terms with this. Some men’s wives travel with them all the time. I have no idea what she does all day in a strange city while he rehearses. I’ve had a boyfriend travel with me in the past, which almost always is uncomfortable for him, since in our sexist world, people accept that a woman can spend her life doing nothing, but yet a man’s ego is continually battered if he’s not «doing something!» A very large percentage of singers I know are divorced, or having major relationship problems because of the distance. It’s hard work just to *maintain* a relationship long-distance and I’m not at all convinced that it can *grow* at a distance. Heck, it’s tough enough to have a good intimate relationship, period! Add stress and distance. Lots of opera singers cheat on their spouses; lots of singers form intense friendships with their costars, then forget them once they’ve left town. Then there’s always the problem of receiving mail, getting bills paid on time, and staying in touch with the people you need to stay in touch with, because your address and phone are always changing. Email for me is essential.
My next and favorite subject for young American singers is LANGUAGE! You MUST learn foreign languages if you want to do well in this business and if you want to do justice to your art. …Even if you don’t have a career in Europe. Not only must you communicate, but how else can you get the most out of the texts you’re singing? I’d always understood what I was saying and had good diction in Italian; but until I was fluent, I hadn’t realized what a huge difference it made in how I approached the music. It makes making music so much easier!! Although English has become the modern «lingua franca,» and it’s not too difficult to find someone in the cast or production team who speaks English, speaking more languages can only help you. All opera music is nuanced primarily by the words. If you only know the words by rote, or only know a word-for-word translation (bravo! but that’s not enough…) then you can miss out on the play and style of the music. Plus, you will gain much more respect in your work with conductors, directors and singers alike by speaking the language.
I don’t necessarily want to scare everyone to death about a free-lance opera career, but I think it’s so important to know what you’re getting into before doing it, so that you can safeguard against the pitfalls of this career. Most people think that love is enough, not realizing that making life decisions to actually SEE your spouse on a regular basis is tantamount to success in a relationship with a singer. And how do you want to raise your children? Do you want to home-school them, and drag them all around with you, uprooting them all the time? (Home-schooling is a very serious endeavor which is many times more labor-intensive and time-consuming on your part, and must needs be taken on with proper guidance, intense research and a great network of help!) Or do you want to become an absentee parent? They’re two extremes, but that’s why I asked in paragraph one what was important to you. You can carve out your ideal life with compromises on each front, if you keep in mind what is most important, whatever that might be for you. Without planning and foresight, you can be continually frustrated because one factor of your life is getting ignored.
Another disclaimer! and Options!
After all that negative spiel, I have to say that I love singing, and I love it that this career allows me to do what I love and actually get paid for it. I have to love it in order to put up with all the B.S. involved!!! If you don’t love it enough to put up with these kinds of bothers, then don’t do it!!!! There are so many other venues in which you can make music — — church choir, solos in your community, setting up recitals or private concerts, music THERAPY!, singing programs in nursing homes and hospices, starting your own little playhouse (don’t laugh, I have a friend who runs a quite successful one with other 9-5’ers who miss doing theater), or TEACHING (one of the most important jobs in this world!) The list is very long. It just matters if you feel you MUST sing opera as your CAREER, or maybe you’d like to have a «normal» life, too.
To read more about the lifestyle of someone who truly is a great singer, and the type of dedication to working on your music and voice required to be a great singer, read the auto-biography of Joan Sutherland. It’s a bit simple, but she decided against a ghost-writer; thus you get a real sense of this incredible woman. It wouldn’t hurt to read a few other auto-biographies, although some («Ma voix et moi» for example) tend to be patting themselves on the back a bit too much. Check out your local «artsy» bookstore, or library. The same themes will be found in all of these autobiographies — incredibly hard work, singlemindedness and passion for their art.